Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #8

Dear Ms. Martindale:

The entire fifth grade class thinks Stella is weird, like her late grandmother, the town psychic. Grandmother Hummingbird taught Stella about animal messages--and the Animal Spirits. If you pay attention to the animals that cross your path, you will receive messages to help you. When Stella tells her classmates she’s seen strange bats, no one believes her, but Stella believes it’s a sign.

While researching the mysterious bats, Stella discovers that Grandmother Hummingbird’s death was no accident--she was murdered. Her quest to learn more leads her to secret city, where animals monitor the Earth's environment and Dog Biscuit Day is a holiday. The big boss of flora and fauna, Mother Nature, recruits Stella to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and become an Earth Keeper.

In Earth Keeper training, Stella studies many animal languages and finds more clues about her grandmother’s death. Stella barks, chirps, and hisses, but when she sings to a whale, she learns about the ultimate evil--a plot to make a potion of doom. The fumes from this wicked brew could take down Mother Nature and the Earth in a wave of devastating air pollution. And the villain behind the sinister scheme, Ziegfried, could be her grandmother’s murderer. Now Stella must awaken her own psychic abilities and work with the Animal Spirits--to stop him.

Because you are seeking new concepts in fantasy, I am inquiring as to your interest in POTION OF DOOM, my 36,500-word middle grade novel. Pasted below are the first 250 words.

I have 20+ years experience as an environmental engineer and I illustrated and co-authored, XXXXXXX. I am also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
L.T.


POTION OF DOOM

Her teacher was wrong! Not all bats were nocturnal. Stella LaPlant flipped through the notebook on her school desk. She kept an animal journal and the bats she had seen were odd--maybe a new species. She pushed her sunglasses further up her nose and scoured her entries under “Strange Sightings. ”

Her finger slid down the page. Yes! She raised her hand and blurted. “Yesterday, I saw bats--large bats--flying in broad daylight. I know that we have bats in North Carolina, but these were some sort of giant mutant species. ” Leaning forward, she tapped the page. “And they had a ‘Z’ on their bellies! ”

The teacher dropped her eraser. “What?”

The entire Possum Trot Elementary fifth grade class fell silent, and looked at Stella as if she’d just blown peas out of her nose.

“Stella, that’s very…interesting.” The teacher rolled her eyes and turned back to the board.

Stella’s shoulders fell as snickers surrounded her. She should have known nobody would believe her. She shouldn’t have said mutants. Now she’d have to put up with another round of teasing.

“Woof, woof, dog eyes,” Cody whispered behind her. Stella clenched her teeth. She always wore sunglasses, even inside, to hide her eyes. Her classmates said she must be part animal, because only dogs and cats could have one blue eye and one brown eye. What was wrong with being like an animal? Her Grandmother Hummingbird, the town psychic, had taught Stella about Animal Medicine.

5 comments:

Riley Redgate said...

"When Stella tells her classmates she’s seen strange bats, no one believes her, but Stella believes it’s a sign." The phrasing in this throws me a little. It's probably the super-sudden introduction of "strange bats" - it feels too specific and too vague at the same time. Either get more specific - "bats with strange marks on their bellies flying in broad daylight," or less specific.

"While researching the mysterious bats, Stella discovers that Grandmother Hummingbird’s death was no accident--she was murdered. Her quest to learn more leads her to secret city, where animals monitor the Earth's environment and Dog Biscuit Day is a holiday."
The transition from murdered grandma to Dog Biscuit Holiday is quite jarring. The tones of the two sentences are contradictory - the first sets up suspense, and the second comes through with cute innocence instead. Maybe you could just cut 'she was murdered'? That's the darkest part, and it's sort of implied anyway.


"“Stella, that’s very…interesting.” The teacher rolled her eyes and turned back to the board." The teacher rolling her eyes is a clear physical telegraph for her disbelief. I think it'd show a more realistic (and sympathetic) character if the teacher weren't so outwardly dismissive. I mean, the girl is ten.

I'd be leery of starting the manuscript with a sentence punctuated by an exclamation point. It's a bit of a jolt coming in.

In elementary, middle, and high schools, sunglasses and hats and stuff aren't allowed unless it's a religious or medical condition. I'd need justification at some point for her being allowed to bend the rules, though not necessarily on page one.

Just my opinions, of course! Sounds like a fun story, and the conflict is laid out cleanly in the query.

Ninja Girl said...

The concept definitely stands out. I think the idea here is wonderful, love the thought of "Earth Keepers" and a young girl who's next in line to become one. I think the query could use a little work. It could be a bit shorter/sharper. Like this sentence, "When Stella tells her classmates she’s seen strange bats, no one believes her, but Stella believes it’s a sign." I think it might flow better and up the tension, if you just said, "When Stella spots a cluster of mutant bats, she knows it’s a sign." There's a good idea here; I just think the query could sell it a little better.

Now, the excerpt, I loved! I can imagine Stella (love that name btw) shouting out this statement about the bats and everyone, even the teacher, thinking she's a freak. The MG voice is one I'm still getting used to, but I think you've got it down. I already feel for Stella, and I have an instant hate of that Cody boy who called her "dog eyes." I really like your MC. If you could get the query and conflict to read clearer, I think you could definitely sell this premise. It's unique, speaks to a real world problem, and the fantasy element will keep it interesting.

Good job,

Ninja Girl

Melinda said...

I've seen this first page before, but I had no idea of the premise that went along with it.

I think the first page is great with the exception of the eye-rolling, as one of the commenters mentioned above.

The query feels a little long and could probably be tightened. It also reads a little flat, and I think it would be better if you could somehow give it a little more of the voice of your story.

Krista V. said...

I had a few quibbles with the query. First off, I believe you're missing an "a" in the second paragraph ("Her quest to learn more leads her to A secret city" instead of "Her quest to learn more leads her to secret city"). Also, where are Stella's parents while she's studying to become an Earth Keeper? Is she actually staying in the secret city, or does she go home every night? If she does go home, is it summer and that's why she doesn't have to go to school? Lastly, I wondered about the psychic abilities you mentioned at the end of the third paragraph. Do you mean receiving messages from animals? If so, you might just want to say that. If not, you might want to clarify what you mean by psychic abilities (or introduce that idea earlier in the query).

As for the excerpt, I think the other commenters have made some good points. She'd need to have a doctor's note or something to wear the sunglasses, and the teacher's obvious disdain for Stella is a little off-putting.

Also, as I was formatting the entries, I noticed you've got some extra spaces right before a few of your end quotation marks. I went back and checked if it was that way in the e-mail, and I'm pretty sure it was, so you'll probably want to delete those in your master draft.

Best of luck! I must say, the title made me smile. We call a lot of things "_____ of Doom" at our house:)

Taylor Martindale said...

This concept does sound interesting, but I’m sorry to say I just didn’t connect with it. I think the query could be stronger by indicating who the villain is in the scope of the book and what he has to gain by his plot. Otherwise, the first page just didn’t have the voice I was looking for. This is one of those times when the decision is purely instinctual, and I unfortunately just didn’t find a connection with the premise or voice.
Thank you for participating in this Agent’s Inbox!
Taylor Martindale
Full Circle Literary