Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #5

Dear Mystery Agent:

Because you are open to fresh voices in middle grade fiction, I would love for you to consider my 55,000-word upper MG adventure, TRIPPLEHORN PARKER, HESITANT HEROINE EXTRAORDINAIRE.

Adventure-phobic 12-year-old Tripplehorn Parker is certain she’ll be dead by next week. It’s a definite possibility when leaving behind her debate club trophies to study 8,000-pound hippos with her researcher parents. It’s an even bigger possibility when she receives a message the night before leaving for Uganda, urging her to save the day--definitely not her strong suit. Something about an ancient tale, unimaginable power, and not failing. The last sentence isn’t exactly comforting: Only you can stop them.

Warnings and symbols continue to appear in Tripp’s backpack, prompting her to team up with a clever Ugandan boy named Lutalo. The number of suspicious characters hanging around hippo territory rises each day, and the reason soon becomes clear. According to clues and local legend, there’s a golden idol hidden nearby with the power to control destiny--a prize worth killing for. With parents oblivious to anything without 12-inch tusks, Tripp and Lutalo must outwit a nasty herd of bad guys and keep the idol from harm. Oh yes, and avoid ending up in the belly of an African beastie. Her family’s survival and the fate of the world depend on it.

This is a standalone novel with series potential that may appeal to fans of RL LaFevers’s Theodosia series and Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes mysteries. I am a member of SCBWI. The first page is included below.

Thank you for your time.



Slumping deeper into The Forum Coffee Emporium’s squishiest armchair, I imagined a number of gruesome and excruciating deaths for myself. It wasn’t hard to do. I could almost smell hopelessness in the air, mingling with the scent of coffee beans, brownies, and baklava bars. Tomorrow I would leave behind four-hundred and fifty-three days of perfect attendance at Winston Prep, one undefeated debate club record, eight stuffed animals, and zero friends, to possibly be torn apart by the most terrifying, murderous animal in the continent of Africa.

My eyes focused on a photograph of the savage beast. Raw gums glistened with saliva, and three ropes of drool tangled in the air while it charged. I’d torn it from a magazine in hopes of brainstorming possible defense techniques. None came to mind.

“Tripplehorn Parker, you sure drink a lot of coffee for an eleven-year-old girl,” said a low voice. “That can’t be good for you. Aren’t you British genius types supposed to be tea drinkers?”

Oh wonderful, shaggy-haired Benjamin of the coffee shop, I thought, taking comfort in the perfect mole above his lips. How I’ll miss you, especially if I die.

“I’ve adapted to your American ways,” I told him. “And you know it’s decaf. And you know I’m twelve. And this,” I pointed to the photo, “is something you don’t know. This fellow is about to become my closest acquaintance.”

Benjamin bent and winced. “Ouch. Hippos, huh. How long will you be gone?”

“Too long.” Five years to be exact.


Roxanne said...

So, I love the character's name, and I kind of love books with long titles like that, so that hooked me. I also really liked the first line. I like you immediately set Tripplehorn up as a worrywart. I can see where the book is going at this point. But the email is too vague for me. Who sent it? I want to know. It's probably part of the mystery, but then I want a sense of drama with that. Otherwise, it just feels lazy to me. Maybe it's a mysterious message? An anonymous message? Something?

I also felt the first page was a mix of awesome characterization and details that I didn't think added much. I love that Benjamin calls her a "British genius type," but don't love "coffee beans, brownies and baklava bars." I expect a coffee shop to smell like these things, but I feel like Tripplehorn is the kind of character who will notice things I don't expect.

Christine Sarmel said...

I love brainy girls as MG heroines and I think her worrywart tendencies are interesting and fun. The African setting is unusual and intriguing. I would have loved this book in my MG years.

Things to think about:
-In the query do need the phrase "A prize worth killing for" or is it implied by the rest of the

-Also in the query, why do the clues in her backpack cause her to pick an African child as a partner?

-I was surprised that someone as bright as this character seems did her research by tearing a pic from a magazine rather than internet or book.

-I got a little confused when Benjamin appeared in terms of whether or not she was happy to see him.

The Agent said...

Really engaging query and story premise. One small note is the reference to creatures with 12-inch tusks... however, the animal her parents is studying I thought was a hippo. So...?

As to the sample pages, I'm on the fence. There's a fun and quirky tone to the voice there, but it didn't fully draw me in. Now I wonder whether a better effect might be had with starting her story later, on the plane or upon landing? Since the whole story will take place already on her journey, would that be a better starting point?

Jess said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I really appreciate all of the suggestions!

Sorry about the query confusion, Mr./Ms. Agent~ big hippo teeth are actually called tusks, but I can see where the term might indicate another animal too :)

Janet Johnson said...

Saw this over at MSFV and I'm liking it even more. Great query and great voice. I love Tripp's overdramatic flair!

I would definitely love to read this one when it's published. :D

Jeff Chen said...

Great job with the query! I love the last line of the first paragraph - not only does it give me a flavor for Tripplehorn's nervous tendencies, but sets up the entire book in a succinct but powerful way. I would love to get my own query in this sort of shape!

However, I felt the tone of the first 250 words didn't match my expectations. She's imagining excruciating deaths... while sipping coffee and sighing over the hot barista? For me, there's a disconnect there. I'd imagine her maybe jittery, her eyes flitting back and forth as she sees the hippo rampaging toward her. The way she calmly points to the photo while drinking her decaf doesn't seem quite right.

Also, don't most Americans think of hippos as fun, and possibly peaceful creatures? I used to think so before I went to The Gambia two years ago, where I was surprised to learn that hippos are a major threat to both humans and their crops. I wonder if your audience will ask themselves why she (and the barista) are scared of lil' ol' hippos?

But I think you have a very promising premise that if pulled off in a Theodosia type way, could be fantastic! I agree with the Secret Agent that starting at a different point in the book - impending touchdown on the airplane perhaps? - could draw your reader in more effectively.

Good luck!