Friday, January 31, 2014

Become an Agent #2 - CASSIA

Genre: Upmarket
Word Count: 80,000

Dear Agent,

As an arts reporter living in Deep Ellum, Tanya Falgoust is accepted as part of the underground arts district, but living among free thinkers and musicians doesn’t make her one of them. Then she meets Cassia, a performance artist with the power to both deepen Tanya’s experience and strip everything from her.

Sensual, rebellious Cassia struts onto the stage and into Tanya’s bed. No one knows who she is, but her beauty and talents as an actress and dancer captivates the local theater scene. A Jesus freak warns Tanya about Cassia. But why should she listen to him? Anyone who tossed aside his father’s wealth to own a bar that doesn’t serve alcohol has obviously had way too many pot-induced religious experiences. But when Cassia refuses to divulge anything about herself, where she lives, or even her real name, Tanya comes to realize that her friend was right. As their relationship becomes more volatile, hurting others around them, Tanya must break from her desire for the performance artist before she loses the connections to the musicians who have accepted her into their community.

CASSIA is written in a framework style with the first and last chapters set twenty years after the main story.

First 250:

My life had become a series of baseball games, conferences, and fancy dinners with lobbyists and lawmakers. It wasn’t exactly the exciting life I’d wanted for myself, but it rescued me from the less than satisfactory situation that I’d chosen as a young idealist. Still, there were times when living in Jeffrey’s world made me feel like a dessert spoon at a dieter’s convention.

“Go! Get out of here.” Jeffrey leaned forward in his seat as the batter hit a long fly ball just to the right of the left foul line. The ball landed midway up the stands. The ballpark erupted into cheers and fireworks as everyone jumped to their feet. Jeffrey kissed me before turning to the congressman on the other side of him for a high-five.

Forgetting the game and the politician Jeffrey entertained, I checked my phone to see what art shows and related social events would be happening over the weekend. There was an awards ceremony for local sculptors. At one time, as an art and theater reporter, I would have covered that. I flipped through the events section. Two plays opened this weekend. Was she in one? So much time had gone since I last heard anything about her. I tried not to think about her, not to remember her at all. Most of the time she wasn’t even a memory, but there were times, like now, when it seemed the air had been knocked out of me with a baseball bat from the slightest thought of her.


  1. No. I couldn't connect with the MC and the query makes her appear passive in her own story. Also, the baseball element was distracting once the expectation was to dive into the arts scene. Left me wondering if the second chapter is the actual start of the story. (Entry #19)

  2. #7
    No.This was almost a yes, as I like the premise and the first 250 where well written. Unfortunately, the first 250 and query didn’t match up, which made me feel like this is the beginning of a prologue and not the actual story.

    The query is wordy and could use some tightening up in the hook. Also, there’s a lot going on in the second paragraph. I don’t believe you need the description of the Jesus freak, as it just gets in the way of the main plot of the story.

  3. Yes. I want to see where it all goes. I don't quite get a sense of the urgency of the stakes, though - how is the relationship volatile?

  4. (Entry #13)
    There is no prominence to your main character. She is taking a backseat to Cassia. It may be beneficial to bring Tanya more to the front.

  5. No. I don't really get an idea about the stakes at hand, so that makes it harder to connect. I also don't feel the connection your MC has with the musicians. I'm confused about how their relationship is volatile and how it hurts others.

  6. I have a feeling this is a good, character-driven story. It sounds very Jodi Picoult. And frankly, because I tend to write character-driven vs. plot driven myself, I always struggle with how to put concrete/easy to understand conflict in the meat of the query. It seems you may be in this boat with me. :)

    OK, here are a few things to consider:
    - you devote almost 2 full sentences to the Jesus-freak, but I had to read it twice to understand this was a friend of hers. Unless he is super important to the plot (in which case, he should have a name), I think you can cut some words about him and focus more on Cassia and Tanya.
    - The last few sentences are supposed to be a bang and I'm not feeling it because of the vague language. Cassia is mysterious, sure, and volatile, sure, but how does this impact Tanya and carry her story? What else does Tanya have to lose besides the acceptance of the musicians?
    - Consider this: I have no clear idea whether Tanya truly loves Cassia... if so, then her desire to help her lover should be greater than the acceptance of a group of musicians. If not, then why is it a struggle to let her go? Basically, what is so terrible about Cassia that makes this a personal dilemma for Tanya?
    - Tanya's motivation seems muddy - she wants to "infiltrate" this arts scene, Cassia helps her, and then in order to keep her foot in, she has to break it off with Cassia? I'm sure it's more layered and complicated than this, but I'm not clear on that from this query.

    The first 250 words is good, but the first paragraph could be strengthened (imho) by leaving out the reference to being a "young idealist". That seems like a bit of a set-up. I love the dessert-spoon metaphor, and as soon as she has her mini-panic attach re: this unknown woman, we know there's more to her story...

    As for a vote, I have to go with a No. But I feel your pain trying to describe this book well in 250 words!

    Best of luck!

    Jeannette (#6)

  7. Hey guys! Just bumping in here to say that the query does mention that the book is written using a frame story technique; as such, the 250 doesn't entirely need to match up to what the query is saying :) However, if you think it's still too big of a jump, feel free to mention it.

  8. It's tough, but I have to say no. This is primarily because the first 250 feels rushed. It feels like just fast-forwarding through Tanya's current life so she can think about Cassia. It would hook me a lot more if we got more of a sense of her current life and then something specific brought about the memory: a familiar scent, a flash of hair across the room, rustling fabric, etc. The way it's written now just doesn't grab me.

    I like the query, especially the voice, but the opening doesn't grab me. I feel like I need to be interested in Tanya's present to want to learn about her past.

  9. A no for me. Unfortunately, the query didn't hook me. From the beginning, you mention these musicians who Tanya has no connections with, but I have no idea how that folds into her meeting Cassia. And I also don't know why her connection to them is so pivotal. Also, this part is just too vague, IMO: "a performance artist with the power to both deepen Tanya’s experience and strip everything from her." How does she have the "power"? What does she do to Tanya? A few specifics would really help tighten the query. Also, the bit about the Jesus freak seems irrelevant.

    At first, "framework" threw me off, but then I realized that you were referring to "frame story". I actually like those kinds of stories, so I went on to read your 250.

    The writing isn't as literary as I would've liked, considering you call this "upmarket".


  10. No, although it's a reluctant no. I loved your first 250 - I really like the way you set up Tanya's life "now" but help us see that she's still got strong emotional ties to her past.
    It's the query that weakens your submission - in particular the section about the Jesus freak. I am guessing you refer to her friend that way in order to avoid introducing too many characters in your query? The problem is that you devote quite a bit of time to describing him, and so I feel I need to understand better why she is invested in him as well as in Cassia. I would consider just eliminating him entirely - especially if he isn't central to the maid plot - and just say Tanya was warned about Cassia - and spend more time hooking us with with more precise language about how Tanya's experience can be "deepened" and what can be "stripped" from her, and why it's so important that she not lose her connections to the musicians that accept her into the community. Is it for her job that these connections matter? OR something deeper? In your first 250 you have her leading a not-so-fringe-y life -- so how is it that she's so invested in living the life of the underground arts world?
    Good luck - as I said, your first 250 are great - loved your easy prose.

  11. Query:
    I have no idea what the “upmarket” genre is, but I think you should probably consider this a LGBT novel. Even if the story isn’t about your characters coming to terms with their sexuality, your novel features two females in a romantic relationship.

    Tanya refers to her friend as a Jesus freak?

    Overall, your query was pretty good. I know the characters, the problem and the stakes. I even got a hint or two of voice.

    First 250:
    I actually really liked your first 250. It was well-written and quickly gets to the exciting parts. I would definitely continue reading.

    Verdict: Yes.

    I don’t usually read LGBT, but your query and first 250 were good enough that I’d request a partial so I could continue reading.

    Good luck!
    -Tiff (#3)

  12. Yes! I loved your first 250--I would definitely keep reading because I want to know how it plays out. I take issue with the genre, though. When you say "Upmarket" I imagine that you're only trying to sell to an upscale market (and that's not the case, right?).