Thursday, August 7, 2014

Become an Agent #16

Title: Within the Sickle's Compass; or, The Haunting of Springett Hall
Genre: YA historical mystery
Word Count: 73,000


Lucy's such an incompetent ghost that nobody notices she's haunting the Victorian estate of Springett Hall, but she's certain she died trying to fix some terrible mistake—one she must remember and set right before oblivion reclaims her forever.

Ghosts terrorize the household as Lucy tries to piece together the mystery surrounding her death, and shadows close around her each night, forcing her back into the darkness. The servants whisper about black magic and cursed souls. She suspects her forgotten task is the key to stopping the supernatural attacks as well as saving herself.

When someone finally sees her, she grasps the connection to the world of the living, even if it's only Philip, the assistant gamekeeper. His memories are as fragmented as hers, though, and as they delve into the secrets of Springett Hall, Lucy worries that her only friend, for whom she's developing an impossible attraction, may have been her mortal enemy.

With ghosts tormenting the living, a beast stalking the halls by moonlight, and cords of black magic tightening around Lucy and Philip, they have to face their past and unravel its secrets to save everyone at Springett Hall from a curse that reaches beyond death.


Light drew me back from oblivion's abyss. The sun’s rays pooled around me through a crack in red velvet curtains and spilled across the floor. I blinked at them, my mind as still and dark as a well. Shimmering flecks of dust hovered in the air. I waved to stir them, and they floated through my palm.

I gasped and jerked my hand back, staring at it. Through it, really. Even when I covered my eyes, I could see the furniture on the other side of the room: a grandfather clock with its hands stopped, a mahogany side table and sofa, and a portrait draped in black.

Someone had died.

I turned my translucent hand back and forth. Yes. Someone had.

My eyes tingled, but no tears came. I raced to the curtains to fling them open. My fingers passed through their thick folds. Trembling, I wrapped my arms around myself and paced. It was a nightmare. I would wake up. Everything looked solid and real, though. Everything except me.

I fled the room. My skirts swayed but didn't rustle. Nor did the crinolette weigh on my hips, or my corset squeeze my ribs. The memory of them clung to me, but I'd moved beyond their pressures.

A housemaid dressed in black strolled down the hallway, dusting delicate side tables. She didn't glance in my direction, even when I scooted closer.

“Hello?” My voice rasped out in a whisper.

The girl shook her dust rag and walked through me.


  1. I really, really, really, really, really want to say yes. However, the opening line kills it for me. I get what you're doing, I think it's a cute idea, and I love the voice. However, with that one line I have no faith in her as a main character. I think if you can find a way to make her quirky and naive without sounding like she'd trip over her own ectoplasm and press the big red button, I'd totally request pages.

  2. Yes!

    I really like the premise, especially that Lucy & Philip are trying to piece together a past in which they may have been enemies. I like the setting and mood that you set up in the query (though it's not entirely clear whether this is humorous or serious). I'd request pages!

    The 250 starts in a difficult (but, I suspect, necessary, based on the premise) place -- Lucy's in crisis, but we haven't met her yet and aren't invested enough to necessarily care. I think you could heighten reader investment by really focusing on her character in this critical first scene. Right now, the scene could be from anyone's point of view -- can you show us a reaction to this situation that is very much quintessentially Lucy, full of her voice, her observations, the particular things only she would notice? That might give us enough character to get us quick investment here.

    Good luck!


  3. The hook of your query is way too long. perhaps just break it up into two or three sentences. After that, it just gets confusing. You say no one knows she haunts the place, as if she wants to be seen. And she's a ghost but other ghost haunt the house too? why is it so important that people see her? And it sounds like the boy is real, then a ghost, then real. Not sure what's going on.

    As for the 250, this is too much purple prose for me. With so much description, I have a hard time following what is actually going on.

    No. (#11)

  4. Query:

    I LOVE THIS. Main critique though is that you need to break up the opening line to make it more punchy. Like…

    Lucy's such an incompetent ghost that nobody notices she's haunting the Victorian estate of Springett Hall. She's certain she died trying to fix some terrible mistake—one she must remember and set right before oblivion reclaims her forever.

    First 250
    LOVE. Just so much love for this.

    YES (#13)

  5. Yes!
    You had me at your first line...I actually want to know more about why she's so incompetent as a ghost! What does she do wrong? Maybe give a specific example to help show voice.

    I also really like the rest of your query and plot. I definitely want to read more.

    I think your first 250 could be punchier. I'd start with "Someone had died." And then maybe it takes her a bit to realize it's herself that has died (lending to the "incompetent" part?).

    Great work! (#18)

  6. I love the premise. I'm not sure about the groundskeeper, but I'd definitely be willing to give this a shot. I know some of the other commenters have mentioned that they didn't like the first line, and I have to admit that it wasn't my favorite. However, the rest of it was really good.

    I vote Yes (#20)

  7. Your hook is a little confusing and clunky. I'd rewrite that. The rest of the query got me so excited, I started skimming to get to the first 250.

    The first 250 did not disappoint. Like the voice, love her realization that she's dead, and I'm curious to see how this information affects her (I mean, I'd be a little freaked out).

    YES, please!

  8. Thanks so much for the helpful and encouraging feedback, everyone! The hook--especially the first line--is getting some major reworking now. :)

  9. Yes. I love the idea of the incompetent ghost, but I think the hook should be broken into two sentences. I do love the voice, and the way that Lucy slowly comes to realize that she's a ghost.


  10. I absolutely love the first line of the query. It's such a strong image of a lone ghost that is haunting this estate, but no one realizes it. Then the other ghosts move into the query and I've suddenly lost the thread. There's definitely a lot of things I like about this idea, but the other ghosts and the black magic and curse feel like after thoughts in the query rather than the focus.

    No. (#19)

  11. I love a good ghost story, and I'm sure yours is unique, but it's not quite coming through for me. This was a close one. I was rooting for you once I read the first paragraph. It's a really nice hook. I also think if there is a historical angle, you should spell out the setting and time period to make it that much more rich.

    I also feel I've seen many similar opening scenes where someone realizes they are a ghost. Is there a more surprising way to start that is more dynamic? For instance, what does it look like when Lucy is trying and failing to be a good ghost? Showing her in the middle of that struggle may make it more interesting and increase tension from the beginning.

    Also, it is technically paranormal, not historical mystery once you are dealing with ghosts....:)

  12. Hi, and this is a YES from this audience member! I think you can shorten the first paragraph--it's a tad clunky. Also, I think you overuse "Springett Hall" a tad. ;-) The 250 is a little verbose. I think you can omit some words like the, "at them" after blinking, and later when she's running to the curtains, I don't think you need "to fling them open," because the next sentence she's grabbing and opening them. Revising to that extent would make it cleaner and tighter, in my opinion. Good luck!

  13. Yay! I have one more YES and I'm giving it to you.

    First, get rid of one of the titles. I don't care which one. They are both good, but having both is overkill.

    I love the idea of a historical mystery, and the ghost trying to figure out the mystery. So often it's a live character who figures it out with the help of ghosts. But yours is the other way around!

    The 250 is also very gripping. I didn't even finish it before I was going,

    YES! (from an audience member)

  14. I love this. Great concept of the incompetent ghost. My one quibble with the query is that I'd like to know how old Lucy was when she died. In the first 250, I loved the simplicity of 'Yes. Someone had.' and the beauty of 'The memory of them clung to me...' A solid YES from me. (#9)

  15. This has a strong Victorian feel to it that I can't put a finger on, but I like it. It feels together, if a little purple. I also want an explanation of how she's so terrible at being a ghost - it may benefit the character if the opening scene involves this, to help the reader connect better with the MC. It's usually called the Pratfall effect, and I think it would come very naturally to this story. The first line is something I have trouble with; it feels a little like a "darling" that never got put down. It's purple enough that it's like a little hard ball of wax in the throat, rather than smooth honey, in that it feels like it needs to be part of the next sentence, so that it's one flowing series of words.

    Yes. (#5)