Thursday, March 29, 2018

An Agent's Inbox #4

Dear Wonderful Agent,

When 17-year-old Greer Carson loses her insulin after planning her own kidnapping, her whole scheme unravels.

I see on your Manuscript Wish List you are interested in stories with “big questions at their center,” and I believe A GREEN AND BRITTLE TREE addresses sexual assault with gentle hope for the victims.

My YA suspense/thriller stands at 70,000 words, with alternating POV, and told in less than a 24-hour time frame.

Set in the fictional town of Walburn, Washington, on the outskirts of Seattle, Kenny’s girlfriend Greer is abducted, setting off memories of a suppressed past molestation. Kenny has no idea that Greer masterminded her own abduction to reveal the abuse of her now deceased little brother at the hands of the same pedophile that abused Kenny: her father, Pastor Carson.

Kenny searches for Greer before she goes into diabetic shock. As pieces of his memory attack him, Kenny realizes he must go to the police to save others. As pieces of his childhood, still hidden, batter him he becomes enraged, facing Carson one last time.

At books end, Kenny realizes the abuse he suffered at the hands of Greer’s father was not his fault, and he is not the coward he once believed.

I’ve attended numerous writing conferences, including both New York and California, SCBWI, and Chautauqua Highlights Conference. I include the first ten pages here. This is a simultaneous submission.



Chapter One
Saturday Night

Park lights flicker the moment I turn the truck engine off and Greer lays her head on my shoulder.
“Dude,” Lucky, my best friend says, sitting on the other side of Greer. He holds a joint out to her, that looks like finely rolled prosciutto. “Gotta take a leak,” he says sounding like he’s going to burst.

Coughing, he opens the door of the Dodge, sending a screech to mingle with the night sounds, and grabs his smokes from his tee shirt pocket, at the same time.

“Kenny, we need to talk,” Greer says.

Oh, no. Talking, to Greer, means discussing our feelings. She’s big on feelings. Probably because of the fact her dad’s a Pastor.

She tugs on the necklace I gave her five months ago.

From a distance, the sound of a motor edges closer. Kids playing chicken on the quiet streets? So, Walburn. Nothing to do. The three of us have been coming to Strathemen’s all summer after closing the restaurant down. More than once we’ve had to leave early because other people came to party. But not tonight. We got here first. Maybe they live in one of those houses.

Across the parking lot, the perfect row of houses keeps guard with their porch lights on. Tidy yards, neat lives.

“Instead of talking,” I say. Then I kiss Greer long and hard. The frog orchestra at Stratheman's Park accompanies us, the automatic sprinklers shooting on with their cha-cha-chugging, for background.


LH said...

The query starts out great! I love the opening line but it loses some momentum by putting the personalization in at that point. See if you can find a way to keep that momentum movies. I also got a little lost in the portion about the molestation. It's probably perfectly clear in your head as you wrote it but I had a hard time following.

The first page has some great imagery about the setting and I can recognize where they are and the feeling that place evokes.

K. Stoker said...

This sounds so intense! I do agree with LH that it might be better to keep your first hook line closer to the actual query. A couple of points for the query: I think keeping it focused on one character (even though it’s dual POV) will help the reader track more with what’s at stake for that character. Also, you might try and rewrite the query so there is more of a hanging question that leaves us wondering if everything is going to be ok. I hope that makes sense…. More like the back cover of a book that makes you want to find out what happens rather than a synopsis that tells you how everything will wrap up.
I loved the small town feel of the opening page, great descriptions!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

I'm with the other commenters who mentioned that the tagline at the beginning feels out of place. You might consider cutting it altogether or moving the housekeeping paragraphs down so the query feels less disjointed. And as for those housekeeping paragraphs, if you're going to include personalization, make sure it's real personalization--since you don't know who The Agent is, you can't know what's on his or her manuscript wish list:)

I also agree that your summary would be stronger if you kept it focused on one of your POV characters. The first summary paragraph is strong, but the last two lose some of the first's specificity. What specific memory makes him decide he has to go to the police, and why? If you add a few more details about his search for Greer, you can cut the sentences that begin "As pieces of his childhood" and "At [book's] end." I think you'll find that your summary will be more compelling if you set up a dilemma that Kenny's going to face or a choice he'll have to make and leave us anxious to find out which way he decides to go.

Your first page, especially when combined with your query, is deceptively hooking. The scene seems normal enough, but because we know what Greer is planning, her desire to talk--and Kenny's desire to avoid talking--creates a lot of tension. A few small suggestions: I'd make the first sentence its own paragraph, then tweak that new second paragraph:

"Dude," Lucky, my best friend, says from the other side of Greer. The joint he holds out to her looks like finely rolled prosciutto. "Gotta take a leak," he says, sounding like he's going to burst.

Note that I added a few commas and got rid of a few others. Some sentence structures require commas (like the one between "says" and "sounding" above), but you might consider reading this first page out loud to make sure your comma placements aren't creating unnecessary pauses.

Good luck to you and A GREEN AND BRITTLE TREE (which, by the way, is such an evocative title)!

Shelley said...

Thanks, everyone! This feedback is wonderful and so helpful.
The specific critique to the query has helped in the rewrite/revision.
Krista Van Dozer, thanks especially for comma/sentence help. Reads better. The first sentence is it's own paragraph but didn't transfer in the cut and paste.
Thanks for this opportunity!

THE AGENT said...

This seems like a big book that discusses tough issues, and that can be so hard to summarize in a query, without losing sight of the character and the plot. The query is a little bit scattered at the moment; we jump from seemingly being in Greer's POV, to you addressing the agent, to Kenny's POV. I know the book is written in multiple POV (Greer and Kenny presumably?) but I think there's a better way to organize this.

First, I'd start simply:

"A GREEN AND BRITTLE TREE is a 70,000 word YA thriller, told in alternating POVs over a 24-hour time frame."

Next, perhaps one paragraph focused on Greer's arc, one on Kenny's, and a third on their shared stakes: why their story has to be told together, what they both hope to find, and what they stand to lose.

For example, in Paragraph 1: Greer has planned her own abduction, hoping to bring to light the abuse of her little brother at the hands of her father, Pastor Carson (we also need to know how her plan would accomplish that) but things go awry when she loses her insulin.

Paragraph 2: Unaware that Greer is behind her kidnapping, Kenny searches for her, triggering repressed memories of his own abuse at the hands of Pastor Carson in the process.

Paragraph 3: As Kenny struggles to find Greer before time runs out, they must both come to terms with their pasts in order to have a future (obviously you can write this better than I can :) )

I like this opening interaction between Kenny and Greer! It sets the tone of their relationship. I admit, I did wonder how a joint would look like proscuitto...