Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #9

Dear Amazing Agent,

A recent entry in your blog sharing your thoughts on MG/Tween “boy” books encouraged me to contact you. I hope I have the story you’re looking for!

Complete at 47,000 words, my tween adventure MIRAGE combines a contemporary sibling relationship akin to Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts with a Gary Paulsen, Hatchet-like twist of desert survival.

Teen photographer Paul Wilson wants to delete memories of his bullied seventh grade year like blurred shots from his camera. He arrives on his uncle’s Arizona ranch inspired to create a taunt-proof image for himself. With a summer to shoot all things alien to his southeastern home, Paul is possessed by photography. That is, until he meets twelve-year-old stable hand, Felipa and learns of the Lost Dutchman’s cursed gold. Yet before taking award-winning shots or mystery-solving Paul must keep an eye on Abby, his intellectually-challenged older sister. She is drawn to an unpredictable stallion, Spitfire, and has her own unique perception of what’s best for her.

After only hours on the ranch Paul’s new confidence dissolves when Spitfire charges Abby and he freezes. With his “brother knows best” image erased in a single moment, Paul tries to hide his sudden fear of horses (especially Spitfire) to protect his sister. Struggling to rebuild his courage, Paul finds friendship with Felipa and pursues the Dutchman mystery. Yet as July temperatures rise tempers flare between Paul and Abby, deeply damaging their relationship. Paul pushes to become his idea of courage, but a reckless act at summer’s end buries him and Abby in a cave-in beneath Superstition Mountain. After surviving days underground Paul makes a brutal desert trek for help. During his ordeal he solves the Dutchman mystery, but will he have to leave the proof behind to save his sister?

MIRAGE is Paul’s coming-of-age summer where he discovers the truth about his courage and understands that Abby has a right to take her place in the world. And, wherever his or her path leads, family is about loving each other--unconditionally.

I freelance as a writer, editor, and photographer. Previously, I was an editor for XYZ magazine in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a children’s book review columnist. My website provides a complete bio and more about my work.

I appreciate your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
M.B.


MIRAGE

Paul Wilson inhaled bone-dry air and slung his camera strap over one shoulder. Grinning wider than the desert horizon he headed toward the cactus-studded land behind his uncle’s stables. Nothing like this in North Carolina.

“Got water?” Aunt Penny leaned out a stable window. “Remember what I said!”

Not likely he’d forget her lecture on D&D (dehydration and death) in ten minutes. “It’s in my backpack.” Paul stopped for a moment. “Is Abby okay?
She--”

“Your sister is safe with me,” his aunt said. “Keep the stables in sight and be back in two hours, if you want a riding lesson before dinner. Watch out for snakes!” She waved and vanished into the stable.

That’s exactly what he hoped to find along with huge hairy tarantulas and a prehistoric-looking Gila monster.

Something red slithered beneath a tumbleweed to his left. He froze. A snake, two feet long, with a black head and red-and-yellow-banded body rustled the brittle bush. Easing into a crouch, Paul focused his SLR C50x and got three shots before it disappeared.

Perfect. An awesome start on his quest for a new eighth grade image: get lost “weird Wilson” and howdy “Mr. Cool photographer!” With a light heart Paul deleted his seventh grade memories like blurred shots from his camera. Starting today everything would change.

He stashed his equipment backpack under a towering cottonwood tree near the corral, pocketed a spare battery, and screwed on a lens light hood. After a few experimental shots he’d come back for his pack.

6 comments:

The Agent said...

This query feels very long and goes into too much detail for me to be able to parse out a story. There are some very intriguing elements in here, but it's just far too long and dense. Also, how old is the main character?

The pages, on the other hand, feel very strong. There's a really nice tone and feel, and I would certainly read on to find out more about this story.

Emily S said...

I really like the last bit of the blurb - about the cave-in and saving his sister.
The query seems to repeat some info more than it needs to - such as him taking pictures, or issues with courage. I had to read it over a few times to get things straight. You can include all the same info in a cleaner, shorter query. Here's my version (of course your style is very different) just as an example of how it can be cut down:

Dear Amazing Agent,

A recent entry in your blog sharing your thoughts on MG/Tween “boy” books encouraged me to contact you. I hope I have the story you’re looking for!

Teen photographer Paul Wilsonarrives on his uncle’s Arizona ranch ready to shoot all things alien to his southeastern home. Unfortunately he’s too busy taking care of his ditzy older sister. She just won’t leave Spitfire, the unpredictable stallion, alone.

When Spitfire charges Abby, Paul wants protect her and say ‘I told you so’, but he’s too busy running away. Feeling like a coward, Paul spends the summer trying to rebuild his courage. When he learns of the Lost Dutchman’s cursed gold he’s got a new mission in mind. If only Abby would stay out of his way.

[a specific act (if possible)] buries him and Abby in a cave beneath Superstition Mountain. After surviving days underground Paul makes a brutal desert trek for help. During his ordeal he solves the Dutchman mystery, but will he have to leave the proof behind to save his sister?

MIRAGE is a tween adventure, complete at 47,000 words. I freelance as a writer, editor, and photographer. Previously, I was an editor for XYZ magazine in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a children’s book review columnist. My website author.com provides a complete bio and more about my work.

I cut the paragraph about what he learned and the comparison to other books because I've seen a few agents advise against it. Others might disagree.

I like the sample page. He's such a boy.

Jessica Leake said...

This story sounds so good--love anything with horses :). I think the query could be trimmed down a bit, though. It seemed to read more as a synopsis. Try to stick to the main plot, conflict, and stakes. Also, since you have the title of the story twice, you might want to cut the first mention of it and leave the second.

First page was great. I would definitely read on.

Jayzee said...

Your first page definitely left me wanting to read more. As much as I love fantasy, I found it refreshing that your main character is a real boy dealing with real life, hungry for change--for adventure and to make a new image for himself. And, no doubt, changes are coming, though I suspect not the kind he is hoping for. The desert setting is also a nice change of pace.

Leiann Bynum said...

First of all, I like that the character is from my state of North Carolina!

Anyway, I agree that the query letter is too long. It seems like most of the fourth paragraph could be cut or condensed.

You have a few issues with commas. Such as in this part: "Yet before taking award-winning shots or mystery-solving (comma needed here) Paul must keep an eye on Abby" and this part: "Yet as July temperatures rise (comma needed here) tempers flare between Paul and Abby". By the way, both of these sentences start with 'yet' and I don't think you should do that twice.

You also have some missing commas in your first page. But otherwise the writing is great! I like Paul's voice and personality. You show it very well.

Jeff Chen said...

Great job with the pages! I was immediately drawn into the meat of the book. I liked how efficiently you grounded me into your setting and into Paul's desires within just a few short paragraphs.

A small point, the punctuation plucked me a bit out of your story. I agree with others' comments re: commas, and would add I don't think the exclamation points are necessary. They tend to make me remember that I'm reading a book rather than imagining a scene in my head.

Is "a light heart" appropriate for the character? I'd think an eighth-grader would harbor feelings of resentment toward these negative feelings. Being able to get rid of them would lighten his burden, but wouldn't it come with residual angst?

I think you've already gotten good feedback on your query, which lost my attention in the first paragraph. One additional item: the "coming-of-age summer" phrase makes me groan. I'm not sure if agents would react similarly, but for me it makes your nice premise sound awfully corny.

Finally, I might move the Choldenko comparison down to the end of the query. As it is, I immediately asked myself how this is any different than the relationship between Moose and Natalie. I like that you're drawing comparisons to successful work, but it feel too similar. And the Hatchet comparison works for me too (although would Holes be better?) but I find it a bit jarring to compare your book to two very disparate styles.

Good luck! And please let me know if you're interested in trading critiques - I like your writing style.

Best,
Jeff

jeffchen1972 (at) gmail (dot) com