Thursday, March 29, 2018

An Agent's Inbox #13

Dear Mystery Agent,

In The Guardian Mermaid, sisterhood is more than skin and scales. It is forged from a heartstring, tethered to a sword. This 100,000-word young adult fantasy re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" stars Niele, a mermaid princess who becomes human to learn the arts of sword fighting and heroism by tying her life and future to a human princess who is skilled and strong enough to slay a kraken.

When Niele ascends to the surface of the ocean for the first time in her life on her fifteenth birthday, she witnesses two humans sparring with swords on a beach. Over the next few weeks, she trades between her duties as a mermaid princess and her curiosity about these humans--a taboo topic that she can only openly discuss with the Sea Witch Maleah, a salamander sorceress who has assumed the form of a mermaid. When a kraken attacks the humans' ship, Niele witnesses the human princess Neva dive into the water and slay the beast single-handedly. The crippled ship breaks apart and sinks in a storm, and though it goes against all mermaid tradition, Niele saves Princess Neva's life.

Because she wants to learn to be as heroic as Princess Neva, Niele makes a deal with the Sea Witch to become human, trading away her siren magic and long mermaid life for a spell that binds her life to Neva's and turns her into a human. Neva does not recognize Niele or even realize a mermaid saved her life, but she agrees to train this peculiar foreigner. Their friendship grows over the course of their adventures slaying monsters and rescuing helpless villagers, until word comes that Neva's betrothed went missing and Niele begins to feel a strange splintering in the spell that binds her life and heart to Neva's.

The Guardian Mermaid explores the impact of friendship and mentorship on the life of a young asexual woman and honors platonic relationships as equally valuable alongside familial and romantic relationships. I wrote this novel as one of two capstone projects for my MFA from Simmons College. It has been through a rigorous revision process, supported in part by a literary agent. The complete manuscript is available at your request.




I didn't know the meaning of the word.

I did know the gentle push and pull of the sea. I knew how to read the currents, the shifting temperatures, the pressure of the water around me, the fluttering vibration that signaled movement around me. Even in the darkest depths, I would always know when I was alone, where danger lurked, how to find my prey.

My fingers gripped the shaft of my spear tightly. I remained perfectly still in the water, my only movement the slightest pulse of my gills as I breathed, slow and calm. Distance, awareness, and most of all stealth were my greatest allies out here, in the vast openness of the hunting waters. Between me and the ocean's surface, a whole school of fish--tuna, maybe--swam about in blissful ignorance of the predator that lurked beneath them. If I had the mind for it, and maybe a few other merfolk to help, I could have untied the net from around my midriff and used it to bring in a nice haul.

But quantity wasn't the name of the hunt today. Today was all about finding the perfect fish.

The longer I waited, the more I could feel the tingle of motion that moved through the water and across my skin and scales. I used the subtle vibrations to measure the distance between me and the fish, to aim my strike. When I was sure of my prey, I coiled my muscles tightly, then sprang.


Unknown said...

I might have fallen in love with this. And by that I mean, definitely. The Little Mermaid is my favorite princess. And I've been feeling that her story needs more retellings.

I think that your wordcount might be a bit high. I know most agents get antsy about some past 95K (I say this while mine is 98K lol). There seems to be a lot of information in the query, and not all of it is needed. I'd try to tighten it up a bit.

Here's an example of how I'd shorten a sentence: "On her fifteenth birthday, her first time breaking surface, Niele witnesses two humans sparing with swords and her curiosity of the humans sparks--a taboo topic." The description of the Sea Witch isn't absolutely necessary in that paragraph, I believe. Maybe cut that?

I do want to know a little bit more about Neva's betrothed and what happens to him, as I feel that is a strong point in the story's tension.

I honestly fell in love with your excerpt! I would definitely pick this up if I read it on a shelf.

Mananda9 said...

Query: To me, the first paragraph bogs down your query. This might just be my preference, but I prefer when a query starts with the hook instead of a bunch of info. I think it's taking up valuable space in your query, and I would probably cut it. I also get a little lost toward the end regarding Neva and Niele's life being bound together. What is the problem exactly? And what will happen if the problem isn't solved?

First pages: The first couple lines don't do anything for me. They don't seem relevant to the rest of the page. While the writing is well done, nothing is happening until the middle of the fourth paragraph. I'd like to get a better sense of the hunt sooner.

M.R. said...

I was immediately intrigued by your query, in part because I love Hans Christian Andersen and I also liked your twist on the story. The word count was unexpected but when I was a young reader I would have been drawn to it for its length, so it could be an asset. Your query was also easy to understand.

I liked the first pages but I was curious as to how the first line would play into the rest of it. I think perhaps it might be explained soon, but if not you might want to get to it sooner.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You've got a strong query here. My only quibble is that the first paragraph feels overly long, especially since you go on to describe those plot points in more detail below. You might consider changing that third sentence to just "This 100,000-word young adult fantasy is a re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Little Mermaid'" and letting your summary speak for itself.

As for your first page, it was on the quieter side, but it still drew me in. Some readers might find it a little too quiet, but as long as something happens within the next page or two, I think the pacing is fine. You have a lovely writing style that perfectly suits Niele and this story.

Best of luck to you and THE GUARDIAN MERMAID!

THE AGENT said...

This is a compelling query letter! The language is lovely and promissory; I know this will be a lushly written fantasy from the first sentences. I like that it quickly establishes an active goal for Niele, who wants to learn to be a hero like Neva, and the potential derailment of that goal in the splintering of the spell. I'm also glad the last paragraph establishes Niele and Neva's relationship as platonic, but valuable, so I know where to set my expectations as a reader.

I did think the letter could be pared down a bit, as some of the details are a bit redundant. For instance, the first paragraph summarizes the rest of the query, when all we really need is something like:

"Sisterhood is more than skin and scales. In THE GUARDIAN MERMAID, a 100,000-word reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid", it is forged from a heartstring, tethered to a sword."

Also, a few of the plot points felt a little too vague. Niele wants to learn to be a hero--why exactly? Are her duties as a princess to stifling and restrictive for her tastes? Does her kingdom face a threat, and she'd like to participate in its protection? (Probably not, since she gives up her kingdom to become a human hero.) And, although we get a lot about what happens before Neva trains Niele, what happens afterward is vague and broadly stated: "Word comes that Neva's betrothed went missing and Niele begins to feel a strange splintering in the spell that binds her life and heart to Neva's." What does that mean, and what does Niele fear will happen if the spell splinters? That she'll go back to her life as a mermaid? That she'll lose her sense of purpose? Lose her friend? And why is this triggered by Neva's betrothed? So I think that a few less details up front and a few more further in will really sharpen this letter.

As for the opening scene, I also like that it's active! Niele has an immediate goal, and that's always a compelling way to begin a story. But I wanted it to be a little more related to the events of the query, or to at least evoke Niele's longing to be heroic/strong, if that makes sense.