Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #17

Dear Mystery Agent,

I hope you enjoy this little bit of JIM AND JACK, a story aimed at and beta-read by boys ages 12-16. Nine out of ten said they'd read a sequel and would recommend it to friends. The tenth wanted a vampire in it.

When fourteen-year-old Brian Edwards finds a box in the attic filled with old newspaper clippings and a signet ring just like his grandfather’s, he realizes that he’s stumbled across the family secret: Jack.

With Grandpa Jim going into assisted-living, Brian's dad decides that he and Brian should move to the Ohio River island where the Edwards family has lived since 1802. Resentful about his new life in the boonies, Brian's negative attitude is stalled by his discovery that at age fifteen, Grandpa Jim was framed for a crime by an identical twin Brian has never even heard of. The twin died suddenly with no explanations, and Grandpa Jim has not spoken of him since. Brian feels badly for his grandfather, but he has his own problems. The past would be the last thing on his mind, if he could just stop turning up clues about Jack.

Brian's present-day story alternates with Jim and Jack's in 1929. When Jim unwittingly decides to pursue his twin's secret crush, Jack retaliates with a series of poor decisions that end in his mysterious death. The stories converge in the last few chapters. When Brian finds out what really happened to Jack, his own troubles are quickly put into perspective, and Grandpa Jim can finally make sense of the past.

At 56,000 words, JIM AND JACK is a younger YA realistic literary mystery which includes a potentially interactive glossary of historical references. I am a sixth grade language-arts teacher working on my master's degree in gifted education, as well as an amateur genealogist. The story is loosely based on actual events that happened in my own family in the early 1900s.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
L.B.W.


JIM AND JACK

Jack awakened early, the island still in slumber except for the songbirds, whose chaotic warbling kept him from rolling over and going back to sleep. He listened for the different voices, identifying first a thrush, then a cardinal and a robin. A mourning dove cooed its gentle trill and he could hear the distant tapping of a woodpecker.

A jay screeched overhead, breaking the peacefulness of the moment. Jack rolled over in the half-light to examine his identical twin, asleep in the other bed. Jim was lying on his side with his mouth slightly open, a light snore issuing softly with each breath.

“Jim!” Jack hissed. His brother remained motionless, pajama-clad legs entangled in the white cotton bedspread.

With a grin, Jack reached over to the desk and tore a corner off some scrap paper. Wadding it up, he tossed it, aiming for Jim’s mouth but missing, the pellet landing instead in the dark curls of his brother’s hair.

Jack sat up and tried again, managing to land the crumpled paper near his twin’s right eye. Jim, still asleep, rubbed his hand against his brow, but fell back to deeper slumber. Jack aimed his third try more carefully, and the paper landed right in Jim’s mouth.

The results were impressive. Jack gaped as Jim sat bolt upright, choking, an expression of confusion and consternation on his face. Coughing the offending wad into his hand, he shot an accusing look at Jack. “What was that for?” he demanded, bleary eyed.

10 comments:

amber said...

HAHA i LOVE the first line of your query! It's really fresh and hints at something special (and funny) coming up ... which is weird because the 'funny' doesn't show up again. The story is intriguing -- you never mention Brian's real-world issues, though. Not that I think you need to, I'm just saying it's a missing element.

The story: 'Jack awakened early' -- How about 'Jack woke up early.' It seems a little less melodramatic. Overall, I feel like the writing is feminine. It's soft and pretty ... and in a story about boys, that's feels a bit off. It's good writing, though.

kfillius said...

I like it.

Not sure you need the last two sentences of body 3 in the query. Also not sure you need to mention your master's work. Though I do like the bit about being an amateur genealogist.

The first paragraph of your story is lovely, but not sure the difficulty level hits your target age group....

Tatum said...

The first part of the query cracked me up. Perfect. I thought it was cheesy and then, bam, hilarious.

But, I'd work on a different opener. I too have fallen victim to starting a story with a character waking up, but it's just not the best option, too overdone.

Jo said...

Not sure how I feel about the opening. It is very funny, but it doesn't seem to fit your story. If you keep it, I'd move it down towards the bio. I was VERY confused about what the central conflict was, and by the time you start talking about the last chapters, I felt like I was reading a synopsis. Also, I think you'll be hard press to find a "Younger YA realistic literary fiction mystery" agent because that genre doesn't exist. You'd be fine with lower YA mystery. Hope this helps!

Emily said...

After writing a bunch of comments I realized it would be easier to cut and paste and comment directly in the query


When fourteen-year-old Brian Edwards finds a box in the attic filled with old newspaper clippings and a signet ring just like his grandfather’s, he realizes that he’s stumbled across the family secret: Jack. I'm not crazy about this beginning as a hook. It doesn't grab me, although I'm slightly curious as to who Jack is.

{With Grandpa Jim going into assisted-living, Brian's dad decides that he and Brian should move to the Ohio River island where the Edwards family has lived since 1802. Resentful about his new life in the boonies, Brian's negative attitude is stalled by his discovery that}I would cut this bracketed part. Not really necessary

At age fifteen, Grandpa Jim was framed for a crime by an identical twin thatBrian has never even heard of. The twin died suddenly with no explanations, and Grandpa Jim has not spoken of him since.

I would cut this next part unless you plan to hint more as what what Brian's problems are
{Brian feels badly for his grandfather, but he has his own problems. The past would be the last thing on his mind, if he could just stop turning up clues about Jack.}

{Brian's present-day story alternates with Jim and Jack's in 1929.}
this line takes me out of the story. Maybe something slightly less distracting could be: Skip back to 1929.

At fifteen Jim unwittingly decides to pursue his twin's secret crush. Jack retaliates with a series of poor decisions that end in his mysterious death.

cut this next line about the chapters. It takes us out of the story again{The stories converge in the last few chapters.}

When Brian finds out what really happened to Jack, his own troubles are quickly put into perspective, and Grandpa Jim can finally make sense of the past.

At 56,000 words, JIM AND JACK is YA mystery. The story is loosely based on events that happened in my own family in the early 1900s.


Sample: Starting the book with someone waking up, especially in the very first three words, is a big No No. It is so done and a turn off to agents and avid readers.

I like this bit. It's fun and so "boy" and I can see brother's just constantly bugging each other.
The language is too pretty to be a 15-year-old boy though, even one from 1929.

Melanie Stanford said...

I thought the opening paragraph of your query was hilarious. I think the query could be reworked though. The story sounds interesting, but I don't think you're selling it as good as you could. I don't think you need to mention Brian's new move. Cut all that out and go from ":Jack." to something like, "Brian discovers that his Grandpa Jim was framed..."
I don't know if I'd mention Brian's problems. Either cut that out completely, or show us a contrast between Jim and Jack's issues and Brians own. I agree with Emily- the "Brian's present-day story" line takes me completely out of the story. And YA realistic literary mystery- a no-no. Just call it YA mystery.

The writing was great- totally boy. I was a little surprised you open your book with Jim and Jack though. You call the book Jim and Jack and yet the query is more about Brian. I would start the story with Brian.

Starting a story with waking up is a HUGE no-no. Trust me, I know since I had to re-do my own beginning because it started with waking up. Nathan Bransford has a really great blog post (done a month ago or so) about this.

LBW said...

Should probably have indicated that the first 250 begins the prologue. :o

Alex said...

I love boy books set in the country and the back in the day. I think the intertwining of the two has a lot of potential and I liked the first page.

It held my attention and kept me interested.

I do think that in the query in the second paragraph you can get to the meat of the story quicker. You could probably shave 20 to 30 words off that.

Overall great job I'd read on.

The Agent said...

L.B.W. - The 1st paragraph of your query turned me off. No agent wants to hear that your beta readers are 12-16 year old boys! Whether they liked it or disliked it doesn't mean they know anything about the quality of the writing. Sorry, but even if you meant to be funny, I'd rather just hear about the book. Especially since the 1st real line of your query is really great. It drew me in and I wanted to know more. I think the 2nd full paragraph can be condensed a bit, but other than that I really like the story you've set up here. As for the writing, avoid opening a novel with a character waking up. It's overdone and cliche and agents will be put off by it. You also have too much detail about what's happening outside the window that the average teen boy wouldn't care about or even think about. Careful not to infuse your perspective into the writing. Keep your audience in mind.

LBW said...

Dear Agent,

Thank you for your comments, they have been very helpful. It has bothered me that the first few pages seemed a little too "soft," but I've been too close to the MS to see how to remedy that. Getting rid of the bird-contemplation should help a lot.

Also, this was the first time I've used that intro paragraph on the query - now it's also the last! Good to know. :)

Thanks again, LBW.