Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Agent's Inbox #1

Dear Ms. Shea,

In several interviews, you've stated a desire for character-driven fiction with strong emotion. With that in mind I would like to introduce you to Chris Burke, the protagonist of PARALLEL LIVES, a story of friendship, forgiveness, and accepting responsibility for your actions.

Chris Burke is a Good Guy. He helps out his aging parents. He counsels troubled teens. But he’s also that Chris Burke, the one who killed James LaValle thirty years ago. Chris has paid his debt to society and rebuilt his life. He wants to put the past behind him and live anonymously. And then Madison Cooper calls.

Madison was his best friend, the girl he fell in love with. Chris hasn’t spoken with her since the day he killed James, hasn’t seen her since she stepped down from the witness stand, hasn’t really thought about her in years. Her voice stirs up old memories and, with them, feelings Chris buried long ago. Madison needs Chris to help make sense of her life. He soon realizes not all prisons come with barred doors and wire-topped walls: the past can hold you as tightly as any jail. He can free them both, but it may drive her away for good this time. And it might thrust him back in the spotlight he is desperate to avoid.

Complete at 93,000 words, PARALLEL LIVES is a work of Literary/Commercial fiction and will appeal to readers who enjoyed HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET. The full manuscript is available on request. Thank you for your consideration.



My arms and shoulders burned as they hoisted my body up and down. I took deep, controlled breaths, filling and emptying my lungs with each repetition. Beads of sweat formed on my brow, at my hairline. As I lowered myself, a drop rolled down the side of my nose, held to the tip, and fell, leaving a dark spot on the gray carpet.


A nightly ritual. Push ups. Sit ups. Squats. I didn’t have free weights to lift, but that was alright. I wasn’t interested in sculpting my body. This wasn’t done to impress anyone. I did it to stay in shape, for the benefits of mind and body, and because, like any habit, good or bad, it was hard to break.


The phone shrilled, its irritating electronic chirp gnawing at my concentration. I didn’t want to interrupt the rhythm of my exercises--fifteen more push-ups and I could rest--but nighttime calls worried me. It was too late in the evening for telemarketers, too late in the year for campaign calls, and too late in my life for a “Hey, let’s meet at the bar for a beer.” Late phone calls used to be a way of life. The older you get the more often they seem to bring bad news. I hustled across the small apartment to the kitchen, drying my face with the bottom of my shirt as I went, and picked up the phone.


At first there was nothing but the sound of an open line, maybe some music, faint in the background.


Janelle said...

I like the Chris Burke you introduce at the beginning of the query--he's obviously a guy who feels he made a mistake, continues to struggle with guilt, and wants to move on. You also have some good characterization of him in your 1st 250 with his thought about habits, good or bad, being hard to break. Those things make him real and intriguing.

But without knowing why he killed James LaValle, it's hard to find him sympathetic. Maybe that's part of the mystery you're trying to set up, I'm not sure.

My other sticking point is why would he expect that he could put killing someone behind him, even after 30 years? Did all that time in jail change him? As it's stated in the query, all he did was "pay his debt." Without some hint of what happened in prison, the present tension doesn't feel believable. Also sort of unbelievable is that he would "forget" about his best friend for 30 years.

As I said, I like that characterizing detail about habits. But I think you take a risk opening on sit-ups unless you describe them in some really amazing way, and here the writing is clean and effective, but not urgent. You could spice this up by changing "thirty-two...thirty-three" to "one hundred and two, one hundred and three" to get some sense of how he still has to work hard to bury his past, even if he's not aware of it.

Robbin said...

The query confused me, but the actual writing is good. Chris Burke wants to live anonymously yet he counsels troubled teens? Can anyone put the past behind them? It doesn't sound like Chris can. I don't think they can put a minor on the witness stand. The murder/killing happened 30 years ago. Madison and Chris were minors, right? Not sure I followed he can free them both? Overall, it sounds like an interesting read. Good luck.

Melinda said...

Interesting. I would read on. The issues that the other commenters mentioned didn't really concern me.

Jodi R. said...

Ooh - I want to know why this Good Guy killed poor old James! Was James a Good Guy too? Hmmm...

I think this sounds interesting, but you have a lot of telling in the query and in the sample. You could tighten things up in places, for sure. There is also a jarring tense switch in the query.

I think in the query that you have to get a little more into what's at stake - tightening it up so it's really zingy might be an option too. Don't overexplain, but give more info... How's that for cryptic? lol (It makes sense in MY head, of course!)

Your word choice is a bit off in places - e.g, you can't hoist yourself down, and I don't think shrill is a verb. Get someone else to read through your MS and they will likely point some of these things out.

I understand that you are showing the typical guy-who-has-been-in-jail tendency to work out to pass the time, and also show that this guy as his habits verging on OCD (for good reason), but I found there was a little too much "choreography" and it tended to tell rather than show. Also, the reader doesn't know that he's been in prison. (Though they might guess.)

Re: tightening - I love the line about it being "Too late in the evening..." but I think you need to kill the campaign part so it really zings. (I love it though - but you have to kill your darlings, right?)

Finally, I have a hard time believing this is literary fiction. The tone and story seem more like a hard-boiled detective novel and/or mystery/commercial fiction - definitely not literary. (And that's a compliment coming from me - I tend to loathe literary stuff!)

Thanks for sharing and good luck!

Cari said...

Choosing a male character as your protagonist differentiates you from the crowd (just in this contest!) so that's a big plus. I really like the segue you make from the agent's preferences to your mss in the first graf.
I read (and enjoyed) Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet and am having trouble seeing parallels between it and this novel, though of course the query offers limited insight. Henry revisits his past as does Chris, but the ethnic aspects and WWII setting of "Hotel" loomed so large for me that it seems incomparable to this -- again, at least as it's described in the query.
In the excerpt, I really like the series of "too lates." I would read further. Good luck!

Katie Shea said...

The one-sentence pitch isn't strong enough. It is simply stating themes and not actually what the book is about. Why would I want to read this? What makes THIS book different than the rest? This query didn't engage me further than the first paragraph.

JeffO said...

Well, I am disappointed but undaunted. A big thanks to Krista for running the contest, and Ms. Shea for your honesty, and to everyone who read and took the time to comment. I have learned a great deal from this experience. Back to the drawing board!