Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #20

Dear Competition Agent,

When a smart, imaginative eleven-year-old tries to make sense of a seemingly callous world, he discovers that dark family secrets are being kept right under his nose, and the most shocking, most heartbreaking is about him.

Blake Payne goes queasy at the sight of blood, thinks he might be in love with an older girl who uses him as a decoy in her schoolyard trafficking business and has riled his steely mother by getting suspended from school. He wants to repair his image. He wants his mother to like him again.  Mostly, he wants to understand why his parents suddenly take off in different directions (which has never happened before) leaving him with his ailing grandparents.  Piecing together disturbing things his snarly older sister says, Blake is sure it has something to do with an uncle he’s never even seen.

Blake means to get to the bottom of the mystery but life keeps getting more complicated.  His normally down-to-earth grandfather starts asking crazy questions--like is the kitchen floor bucking under their feet.  His Grandma is snappy all the time.  Even Nelson, Grandpa’s sad-faced dog is behaving skittishly. What Blake finds out will change his life forever.  What happens to his Grandpa will put his own problems into perspective.  How his mother comes out of it will be almost as big a shock as where his mild tempered father fits in.

At 53,000 words, THE UNLUCKY PANDA is a YA novel in the realistic vein of stories like Kimberley Willis Holt’s WHEN ZACCHARY BEAVER CAME TO TOWN and the Scandinavian cult-classic, MY LIFE AS A DOG.  Although this is a first novel I have written four non-fiction books, one published by McGraw-Hill and three published in the"for Dummies" series by Wiley. Per your guidelines I have pasted the 250 words of my new work at the end of this post. The whole book is available immediately. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
T.W.


THE UNLUCKY PANDA

Blake Payne rocked.  In the physical, nervous sense.  Gripping the sides of his chair, his eyes set straight ahead to delay the sickening moment when he would see the outside door open and his mom come marching in, he swayed forwards and backwards.  It was like he thought he might somehow wind-up the plastic, stackable, bad kids’ chair.  He might set it into motion and then it might take off with him.  Idiotic.  It wouldn’t happen.  Aside from the limitation of it being a chair and not a helicopter or space rocket, and the whole sequence of events being a stupid and utter fantasy cooked up in his brainless head as a distraction, it would also be a piece of good luck.

For once Blake didn’t really care what he looked like.  He rocked like a mental case.  If any of the sour faced secretaries in their open plan office, or any a** kissing student bringing a note from class, or any older girl clutching her stomach and pretending to be on the brink of death, saw him, he couldn’t care less.  The rocking was better than slamming his fist into a wall, or screaming, or, the mosthumiliating thing he’d done recently, crying.

His mom would be here soon.  Leaving her limp, gray-skinned patients, she was on her way.  Had she told her staff sister the truth he wondered--that she was going to her jerk son’s school to sign him out on suspension?  Blake seriously doubted it.

10 comments:

The Agent said...

You keep repeating that there is a mystery, and at first I thought you were going to reveal it, only at the end did I realize that the mystery has to be revealed in the ms. You also have a lot of elements here--most funny and most work. Some agents might read all of it, some might not (I would be in the latter category). Try to tighten it up.

Sample Page: Who is Payne? I started skimming to figure out who Payne was, then gave up.

TW said...

The first two words in the 250 got separated, it should read "Blake Payne..." :) TW

Emily said...

Unfortunately I would not have finished reading this query if I didn't want to give a critique. The first line wasn't enough of a "hook". It just didn't grab me.

When a smart, imaginative eleven-year-old tries to make sense of a seemingly callous world, he discovers that dark family secrets are being kept right under his nose, and the most shocking, most heartbreaking is about him.(if you're going to bring up a heartbreaking secret about him I'm going to guess it has to do with the main plot and could probably also be mentioned near the end)

Blake Payne goes queasy at the sight of blood, thinks he might be in love with an older girl who uses him as a decoy in her schoolyard trafficking business and has riled his steely mother by getting suspended from school. He wants to repair his image. He wants his mother to like him again.
(the bit about the girl and trafficking is interesting character and background building, but it doesn't relate much to the rest of the query)

Mostly, he wants to understand why his parents suddenly take off in different directions (which has never happened before) leaving him with his ailing grandparents.
(his parents taking off is the real "inciting incident" this should be very clear. The events that happen in the story all started with this right?)

Piecing together disturbing things his snarly older sister says, Blake is sure it has something to do with an uncle he’s never even seen. (mentioning the uncle once here is weird. I would either bring it up later or not mention him at all)

Blake means to get to the bottom of the mystery but life keeps getting more complicated. His normally down-to-earth grandfather starts asking crazy questions--like is the kitchen floor bucking under their feet. His Grandma is snappy all the time. Even Nelson, Grandpa’s sad-faced dog is behaving skittishly.
(the other people acting crazy also seems like part of the initial problem and a reason why Blake is trying to find answers. If it's possible to put this earlier, closer to parents dissappearing, I would)
(After that point then I would put what Blake is doing about the problem. Trying to find answers. How is he doing that? asking his sister. What else? What happens in the story? Give us some story arc. Then Blake's actions lead us to the consequence)

What Blake finds out will change his life forever. What happens to his Grandpa will put his own problems into perspective. How his mother comes out of it will be almost as big a shock as where his mild tempered father fits in.
(This ending is too general. It needs a clear consequence directly related to the first line "hook" and to the inciting incident. does it all have to do with this heartbreaking secret about Blake? Does he find his parents and learns something?)

Notes:
The voice could pop out more, maybe sound more like how an eleven-year-old boy would describe the world.
I like the bit about the grandpa and the snarly older sister. I have a feeling that something weird is going on and that this could be a good story, but I don't have enough to go on.

I like Blake in the beginning excerpt you gave. He acts like an eleven-year-old, swaying in his chair out of nervousness. There's more voice in the second paragraph, the things Blake would think about. I'd like to see the voice come through even more during the rest of the excerpt - like the last sentence in the first paragraph: I like what it's saying but it's worded in a confusing way. Use language the audience would relate to.

Thank you for sharing and giving us the honor to read and critique your work. I am by no means an expert so I hope you get a lot of feedback from others as well.

tw said...

Oh my, oh my, what fun! Thank you so much. All comments really helpful and much appreciated.

erica and christy said...

I get the other comments about the problems with the mystery, but for me it was the voice. Maybe it's just that I have a son at this age, but there were some long sentences and words I can't see him or his friends using (even if it's 3rd person). My kid would wear the same clothes every day and never take a shower or brush his teeth if I didn't make him - very different from this one! (again, it just might be mine)

Love the line about just wanting his mom to like him again - seems like something a kid would want and just a hint of mystery!
erica

Krista V. said...

TW, thanks for pointing out the problem in the first line of the excerpt. I'll correct it when I'm fixing the formatting issues.

Beth said...

The query didn't hook me, but I liked the sample. the last paragraph of the sample is confusing. I understand his mother's coming, but maybe it was just the wording that seemed to throw things off. I'd keep reading though to see how this part will play out

Melinda said...

For me the query was too long with too many details. I don't think the parenthesis part was needed.

The details are interesting, but after awhile they just start to run together. Especially, if you were an agent reading a bunch of queries in a row.

But the idea sounds interesting. Good job!

Nicole Zoltack said...

I liked the query but it was bogged down by too many details. Tighten and condense it, and it will read much better.

For the sample, I enjoyed the first two paragraphs but the third seemed a little off to me. Not quite sure why though.

A.E. Martin said...

I think your query has good elements but it gets bogged down by things you don't need to say in the query; it starts to get a little synopsis-like. I think you need to chip away at a lot of your supporting sentences and just state who the protag is, what the conflict is, and what's at stake. The first paragraph I don't think you need at all, it's more telling than showing. It's okay not to have all your major elements in your query, you just need enough flesh it out.

I think with your first page, some of your sentences didn't quite read like the voice of an eleven year old, he seemed a lot edgier and older than eleven and I think some of the descriptiveness can be whittled away so we can learn more about the importance of what's going on with this opening scene.