Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #11

Dear Secret Agent,

Twelve-year-old Isabelle Tresdon doesn’t have a magical bone in her body--but she does have one seriously freaky silver strand of hair.

The Silver Strand is that hair’s story. Okay, well, it’s Isabelle’s story, sure, but she's about to figure out that she’s nothing without that strand. Because of that hair, Isabelle can transform particles of energy into matter. Because of her strand, she will be invited to study magic at Mastermind Academy, a secret school inside the earth’s core. And because of that school, Isabelle’s life will change forever. So it’s too bad that her silver strand is about to suddenly wither and drain Isabelle’s magic and life in just five days.

At 55,000 words, The Silver Strand is a children’s fantasy adventure for fans of secret underground worlds, unexpected villains and monsters, high-tech flying devices, and the kind of humor featured in fantasies like Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl. I won a first chapter critique from Deborah Halverson (formerly of Harcourt Children's Books USA), for which she said the following: 'strong opening', 'you've got the voice and pacing down,' 'the voice is on and has great youthful sensibility with fun and quirky elements'. I’m hoping it’ll be up your alley and have included the first two hundred and fifty words for your consideration.

At present I am writing the second novel of this series. I have been a member of the Young Adult Novel Workshop (critique group) on for two years, have worked with a writing mentor and undertaken various writing for children courses through the New South Wales Writing Centre, Australia.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.



“Let me pluck your silver hair.” Bianca’s stumpy fingers crept up Isabelle’s arm.

“Shhhh!” Isabelle swiped them away and glared at her loud-mouthed best friend.

No doubt everyone on the crowded school bus had heard, and forty-two pair of eyes stared at the girl with the freaky, silver strand. She glanced around the rows of black vinyl seats. Four rows behind her, a girl hung over the back of her seat, showing off to her friends and blowing gum bubbles. One seventh grade boy dished out dead arms to some poor kid across the aisle. The kids crunched up his face, sucking up the pain of the fist sized bruise forming on his arm.

Repeated elbow nudges fuelled Isabelle’s consideration of punching Bianca’s arm. Raised on a farm, her best friend had learned to lasso a horse at age eight and trained mustangs by ten. Compared to being kicked, trod on or thrown off a horse, Isabelle’s punches would have felt like a playful slap on the arm.

Instead, Isabelle slumped back in her chair and listened to the bus’ shudders and groans at the punishing hill. It had already broken down three times that month with smoke pouring out the engine and pieces falling off. With each bump over an endless stream of potholes on the narrow country road, she bet the wheels were next to go, and they’d roll back down the hill and into a paddock, collecting ten cows along the way.


Roxanne said...

So, I adore your query. It was very unexpected. I love that you start off with the idea that this is the story not of a girl, but of a silver strand on a girl, and then you work backwards explaining why that strand is so important. I also really like the way you categorize your work in relation to other works. I was like...I love secret underground worlds and unexpected villains and monsters! Sign me up! Personally, I wouldn't care what someone else said about your story, but I'm not an agent. I thought it spoke for itself.

The first page didn't grab me in quite the same way as the query. It started off strong, but I wanted to stick with Isabelle and the strand. I felt like I got a little lost in the description of the other kids and the bus.

But the query! LOVED the query.

Christine Sarmel said...

Your story reminds me of the many girls who are running about with a feather in their hair:)

My biggest question about the query concerns the stakes. How does she know she's losing her powers? Does she care? Why would she fight to save them?

The secret underground school with the flying objects reminds me a bit of Harry Potter... maybe highlight the ways your story is different.

I thought your description at the opening was very vivid - loved the ten cows. But I'd like to know a little more about the main character before we dive into where she it.

The Agent said...

The query has a nice tone, but I'm not sure you need all the critique quotes. Simply mentioning her name and endorsement should be enough.

The opening paragraphs feel a bit talky and occasionally clumsy (as in the fingers climbing Isabelle's arm, seemingly independently) and could use some further polishing.

Jessica Leake said...

I thought your query was quirky with a unique voice. Loved it! I thought the sample page was good, too--perhaps a little too wordy for MG. (i.e. her thoughts on the condition of the school bus). I would read on, though, because it's such a great premise.

Jeff Chen said...

I think you have an interesting premise! Nice tone in the first two paragraphs - it gives me the sense of what your character will be like.

One issue came to my mind right away: I wondered why a twelve-year old girl wouldn't have plucked out a weird looking strand of hair when she first noticed it. Isn't it only a single strand? Hopefully I'm the only one who thinks this?

The query's second paragraph is interesting, but it jumps too fast for me. There's particle into matter, an invitation to study magic, and the strand withering away. I'm not sure how it all relates, and because of that I lost some of interest.

The pages did lose my attention, unfortunately. It's hard to start with a speaker's line without knowing anything about the speaker. The third paragraph tries to set the scene, but I come away sort of lost, trying to figure out who all these people are. It's a bit confusing to me.

You may have already done this, but I wonder if reading this out loud to someone (or having someone read it out loud to you) would help?

Finally, I think saying you're working on the next book in the series might be detrimental. On one hand it shows you're willing to work at it to create more, but some agents seem to blog that they think it shows a sense of not being grounded (spending time working on a sequel instead of revising, editing and polishing your first).

Anyway, these are just one person's opinions. Good luck!