Thursday, March 29, 2018

An Agent's Inbox #6

Dear Agent:

In the laboratory, every experimental test subject is expendable--but fifteen-year-old Avery is determined to be more than another forgotten number.

With only a hazy memory of her life as Test Subject 215, Avery’s surprised when her powers surface during an experiment--then disappear after her daily medications. She knows the key to answers is in the cold and cunning Dr. Baring, who hunts for the origin and extent of her abilities. Avery’s ability to heal herself and control the five senses around her grows stronger, heightening her gift to avoid guards and manipulate her own environment. But with the medications making her powers disappear, she must rely on her own strength as well.

After Rae, a fellow test subject, attempts an escape and fails, Avery gains a feisty cellmate with the same goals: find answers and escape. Despite being tortured for protecting another subject, Avery is tempted by Rae’s rebellious spirit to fight back. But Rae is hiding something, only half-answering questions, and Avery doubts her trustworthiness.

When the girls break into Dr. Baring’s office, they discover Avery’s file dates back only nine days, not the many years of her murky memory… and worse, an experiment is scheduled that will pit subject against subject--making Rae her rival. Rae plans an escape, inviting Avery along. Now, Avery must make a choice: trust her cellmate or submit to the scientists. But with security tightened, they risk their lives and failing means facing a fate worse than death--life as a subject.

Readers who love the strong female friendship in Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch and the powers and mystery in X-Men will enjoy A FIRE TO RESIST, a young adult science fiction novel complete at 98,000 words. I currently work as a bookseller at Barnes& Noble, where I have been for over three years, and have gained knowledge in bookselling and promoting. Thank you for your time and consideration.



“He’s late.” Her small whisper shattered the silence. Subject 210 lay on the lone cot bolted to the black floor along the wall of our cell. She shivered, with a force to rattle the bed, and her ankle bracelet knocked against the wall. Dirty blonde hair fell over the cot’s edge, messy from her fitful sleep. Her big blue eyes stared through the glass door, as if watching a scene only she could see. 

I glanced through the transparent pane. Nurses and overseers hustled about, their daily routine beginning. Other subjects traversed the hallway beyond our cell door, each garbed in poorly fitted grey outfits. A cell group followed their overseer in a loose mass. Behind the confident posture of the tanned woman, the pale kids curled into themselves, hands tucked against their bodies.

I sighed. “Yeah, he’s late.”

“He’s going to be angry.” Her small figure drowned in oversized grey shirt and pants, pooling around her tiny waist and shoulders. The rattling increased as her shaking grew faster--from fear, not chills.

That’s nothing new. I pulled my knees to my chest, bare feet sliding against the frigid stone, and wrapped my hands around my ankles. The thick metal band shackled on my right side felt like ice under my fingers. “It’ll be okay.”

It was probably a lie, but it calmed her. Subject 210 shifted her wide gaze to me, biting her lip blue. A purple bruise on her jaw shone in the dim light.


Lindsi said...


I already feel so invested in your characters! I hate that they are just numbers and desperately want to give them names, haha. I'm sure that comes later! I wish it had been more than 250 words, because I need to know what is about to happen to these two girls. Who is mad? What does that mean for them? Why are they cold and being treated so poorly? I have so many questions after your brief synopsis, but I guess that's the point. Nice job!

In your synopsis, I was intrigued when you compared your novel to X-Men. I'm a big fan of comics, Wolverine in particular, and this has a very Wolverine-like vibe. Experiments, numbers instead of names, healing, and being help captive while looking to escape. Her lack of memory and lost time also seems very reminiscent of Wolverine. I'm so intrigued by this!

I also like the idea of her powers and being able to control the five senses. It's an interesting concept that I would love to learn more about. Where did her powers come from, how does she use them, etc. If you were trying to give information about your book, but also make the reader curious for more, I think you've succeeded.

"Her small figure drowned in oversized grey shirt and pants, pooling around her tiny waist and shoulders." I think you need to add "an" before "oversized" in this sentence.

Good luck!
Lindsi (L.R.)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

What an exciting query! You've done a great job of including enough specifics to make us feel invested in Avery and her story without giving everything away. Two small suggestions: first, you might consider cutting "experimental" from the first line, since it feels redundant with your mentions of the laboratory and test subjects, and second, I was confused by the first sentence in your second paragraph. If her memories of her life as a test subject are hazy, why is she still involved in experiments? The first half of that sentence made me think she's no longer living in a lab, but then the second half implied that she still is. By the end of the query, I'd gotten the impression that this confusion was supposed to be part of the plot, but you still might want to come up with another way to express it so agents don't feel confused from the outset.

As for your first page, it definitely delivers on the promise of the query. Honestly, I have no suggestions. Some agents might stop reading here, but only because of their personal preferences. The writing is tight, the scene doesn't feel rushed, and you've already managed to create a ton of tension. Nice job.

Best of luck to you and A FIRE TO RESIST!

brinestone said...

My kids are super interested in the game Portal, so I'm picturing a book about a superpowered Chell, which I would buy for them in an instant if it existed. Cool concept.

Here's a few thoughts I had for how to make it even stronger:

1. I agree about cutting the word "experimental" in the first sentence.
2. I also agree that "hazy memory" seems to imply that she's left the lab, but my assumption is that she is still there but has only hazy memories of her time there and her arrival. If that's true, it would be an easy fix to clarify.
3. I think a little more about what controlling the five senses entails--just a hint--would be helpful. Does she control other people's senses so they, say, smell something that isn't there, or don't smell something that is? Does she control her own senses so she can hear things far away or very quiet, or block out things she doesn't want to hear? As is, my reaction was, "Maybe cool, but what does that actually mean?"
4. The wording of the third paragraph led me to believe at first that Rae and the feisty new cellmate were two different people.
5. I would omit "only half-answering questions" or "is hiding something." One or the other will do enough work.
6. Is the scene in Dr. Baring's office the inciting incident? This feels like maybe too big a reveal for a query letter, unless it happens early in the book and there are lots of other, awesome reveals throughout the book--in which case, it's a great hint as to what the rest of your book will be like. :)
7. I was slightly confused by "Rae plans an escape." They're already breaking into Dr. Baring's office. I thought that was part of an existing escape plan. If it's not, was the plan to break into the office and then slip back into their cell?
8. I think you can do better with the last two sentences. The choice between trying to escape or submitting to the scientists is too easy. It's obvious what she'll choose. And if the consequence of failing is basically "everything stays the same," what have they got to lose? The effect of not trying is the same as the effect of trying and failing, but trying MIGHT yield amazing results.

That's it for the query. :) Truthfully, this sounds really cool; I'm just zooming in on details.

brinestone said...

Now for the sample:

1. In the first sentence, we have a "He" and a "her." Do you need to play coy with the names of these characters? I need grounding from the get-go, and this kept me at arm's length. Instead, I would start with "Subject 210 . . . " as your first sentence and save the dialogue for a little later.

2. Where is Avery relative to Subject 210? Where is the transparent pane? I can't quite picture what Avery sees.

3. By starting with a description of subject 210, I thought subject 210 was the main character and the book would be in 3rd limited. Maybe insert "I" into that paragraph somehow so we know from the beginning whose head we're in.

4. I don't like the word "outfits" in paragraph 2. Be more specific. Are they grey jumpsuits? Something more like scrubs? Pants and a sweater?

5. Are all the kids pale? No diversity in this lab, eh? ;)

6. Be super clear that subject 210 is the one who says "he's late," and also the one whose small figure drowns in her clothes. Use names more often in the first paragraph than you would otherwise. Lean on the side of clarity.

7. "That's nothing new." What does THAT refer to here? His being late? Subject 210 being terrified of him? Something else?

8. I can't quite picture how a thick metal band can be shackled on her right side. What does it encircle? What does it mean for it to be under her fingers? She's touching it?

9. Do lips turn blue when you bite them?

Again, cool scene. I think the main thing I'd work on is clarity. I might also suggest getting into Avery's head a bit sooner, and a bit more often. How does she feel about subject 210? How does she feel physically? What is she sensing?

THE AGENT said...

This is a compelling and exciting query! I'm invested in your character's plight, her friendship with Rae, and the stakes: imprisonment rather than death, which is a terrible fate indeed.

I do think there are a few to many plot details, particularly in the second paragraph. I don't need to know quite so much about Avery's powers, and what we learn is vague. She can heal herself, and control the five senses...of others, I think...but also make actual changes to her environment? That's a lot, and I'm not quite sure how any of it manifests, so I'm confused rather than intrigued. Better to keep it concrete. For instance, "When Avery is able to heal her own broken bone following an experiment, she searches for answers as to the full extent of her powers." Or, you know, better written then that.

I'm also confused by some of the word choice--why is Avery's memory of her life hazy when she still lives in the lab? Do you mean that she can't remember life before becoming a test subject? And that this is shocking when they realize she's only been there for nine days? Also, I think it should be "Rae plans another escape" in the fourth paragraph."

Lastly, X-Men might not be the best comp, since it's a pretty broad connection--maybe SHATTER ME would be better?

You set the scene very well in the opening page. It's well paced and evocative in its harsh details! I'm not usually a reader of hard sci-fi, but I'm intrigued.