Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear Katie:

I was delighted to see that you are judging this contest. Last year, you requested my women’s fiction manuscript, GENTLY USED, first as a partial and then in full, but ultimately passed. Since then, I have made significant revisions to address your concerns with the plot and pacing, which were echoed by other agents who considered the material. I know you have since changed agencies and are building your client list, so I wondered if you may be interested in taking another look at GENTLY USED.

Behind the doors of Hourglass Vintage, every garment has a story--a textured and sometimes tumultuous past. So, too, do the women who work and shop there. Violet Turner, the boutique's owner, knows the personal history behind each item in her store, from a Chanel suit to a Bakelite cocktail ring. Yet when it comes to her own life, she’s determined never to revisit her troubled past, even if it means forever closing off her heart.

April Morgan, a sales clerk and high school senior, is halfway through an unplanned pregnancy when her boyfriend calls off their hasty engagement. The perfect 1950's wedding dress April had planned to wear now hangs limp in the store's back room, ignored, just like her dreams.

Shop customer Amithi Singh has struggled to share the traditions of her native India with her only daughter, with limited success. Now facing an empty nest, Amithi longs to be useful in some way, but after decades of housekeeping and parenting, fears she has nothing more to offer.

Hourglass Vintage, the place where these unlikely women become friends, is a shop riddled with financial woes. If Violet, April and Amithi can’t save it, the shop will be forgotten like the costume jewelry and crinoline gowns on its sales floor.

An excerpt from GENTLY USED won the ninth "Dear Lucky Agent" contest on Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents site and the April "Mystery Agent" contest on the Operation Awesome blog. The manuscript is complete at 80,000 words and ready to send upon request.



Beneath the ash trees on Johnson Street, just east of campus, Hourglass Vintage stood in a weathered brick building, wedged between a fair trade coffee shop and a bike repair business. Behind the boutique's windows, Violet Turner was buttoning a mannequin into a smocked sundress.

She sighed as undergraduates with bright scarves and red faces rushed by without glancing at her or the garments on display. Gray spring days like this one were all about hurrying and practicality, and Violet had never liked either concept. People in practical moods didn't wander into the shop to buy turn-of-the-century kid gloves or 1930s Bakelite jewelry.

Violet bent down to put espadrille sandals on the mannequin. When she stood up, a pair of blue eyes stared back at her. A girl, no older than twenty, stood inches from the window, clutching a 1950s wedding dress against her fleece jacket.

Violet remembered that the girl had come in just a few weeks earlier, trying on half a dozen gowns before selecting the full-skirted one she held now, which flapped in the wind like a surrender flag.

The girl entered the store and spread the dress on the register counter. “I need to return this."

“I’m sorry, we don’t allow returns,” Violet said. She took her place behind the counter and felt a blast of heat from the old radiator affixed to the wall. She peeled off her cardigan, a find from her grandmother’s closet, revealing a tattoo of a phoenix on her left shoulder.


Melinda said...

I don't typically read this genre, but I enjoyed this and think your writing and query are strong.

A few nitpicks:
--the apostrophe should be removed from the 1950s that appears in the query (it's correct in the first page)

--Violet Turner was buttoning... I think this would be stronger as 'Violet Turner buttoned...'

--revealing a tattoo of a phoenix on her left shoulder.--This is a POV slip unless she can both see her own tattoo and would have a reason to think of it at this moment. I would save the description of this for a scene when you are in one of the other characters' POV.

--the blog contest wins--I'm not sure if contests like this are 'big enough' to mention in a query. I'm curious what others and the agent think about this.

Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cari said...

I love that you're trying again with this agent, and I think you make a really good case for her to reconsider.

Amithi is the character who appeals most to me. Violet and April sound like they could be rather cookie-cutter - but I would be willing to read further into the mss to find out.

On the POV issue on the tattoo, I'm reading it as omniscient and therefor OK.

I know titles are terribly hard but I find "Gently Used" as a general concept a bit of a turnoff -seems it always turns out the item was in fact not so gently used.
Good luck!

Mary Vettel said...

I remember this from another place and really like it. I agree about the POV on the tattoo being fine. I can't wait to read this entire story and get to know Violet, April and Amithi.

The title could have a negative connotation to some. Perhaps Hourglass Vintage would serve well as a title?

Good luck!

JeffO said...

Your query reads very much like jacket copy. If I picked it up in a bookstore, I would be interested. In terms of a query, I'm not sure how well it works, however. You might be better off sticking to one of the main characters (Violet, most likely) for this. Also, the shop closing is presented as the ultimate conflict, and, while it will be an obvious blow to the three women, it doesn't feel 'big' enough the way it's presented here. I'm not sure if I'm being clear, but I can't seem to express it any better.

I like your sample, though I feel you might be better-served by starting a little wider and giving us more 'town flavor' before narrowing in on Violet. I would read on. Nicely done.

JeffO said...

Oh, I did my comments without reading what others had to say. I'll just go on record as liking the title. I think it works. Cari points out that 'gently used' items have often been used more than gently, but I get the impression that applies to some of the characters, too.

Jodi R. said...

I love this idea and your writing and would definitely read this book.

I like the way you handled the re-submission - very well done! Although I wasn't sure about calling the agent by her first name - unless, of course, you were on a first-name basis when you went through the submission process before.

The contest wins are impressive, but they don't "sound" impressive. I know they're great but they sound a little rinky-dink to be taken seriously/professionally. (Especially if the agent wasn't familiar with them.)

I really like this and think it's just a matter of time till you get it published!

Best of luck with it -

Katie Shea said...

I remember this writer immediately and I am always keen to taking a second look. I love reading about unlikely friendships, and I am into the vintage style. I connect with this novel in many ways. Obviously a good writer, and certainly will want to see more.

Susan said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Lots of good points.