Thursday, August 7, 2014

Become an Agent #3

Title: Children of Canaan
Genre: YA Cyberpunk
Word Count: 91,000

After a military-grade artillery shell decimates his home, family, and most of his internal organs, fourteen-year-old Maxwell makes a deal with the devil.

To survive, he’ll share his body with Death himself. Bored and lonely, Death accepts. Maxwell gains the power to avenge his family, and Death gets five years to stir things up on the earthly plane. For three years, Maxwell and the rest of the Alliance battle the superpowered squads of the Federation. In the futuristic city of Canaan, being born a Talent—an individual with psychokinetic abilities—means you belong to the Fed, and you’re tagged to become one of two things: an enforcer or an experiment. Death's presence doesn't exactly make Maxwell a Talent, but he's definitely a target, all the more reason to shut the Fed down.

If the Alliance can weaken Fed influence, it'll leave them vulnerable to attack. All of Maxwell’s planning will finally pay off. Enter the snag: Isaac Nizal is intelligent, attractive, and the Alliance’s new secret weapon. Providing inside info on Federation workings, he helps even the playing field. Color Maxwell impressed. As the boys’ mutual admiration grows into more, Maxwell hears talk of taking out Fed HQ. The strategy calls for sacrificing the latest recruit. Isaac has no idea and warning him will upend everything, destroying any shot Maxwell has at revenge. Death reminds him there's no time for do-overs. He’s gotta decide if he’s willing to live his last few years in a Federation controlled word with Isaac, or give him up to take the shot and take them out.


ABT (After Bio-Tech) 195

“I’ll make you a bet,” the boy wheezed.

He gazed at me without really seeing me. Most mortals couldn't, but the gaping hole in his side weakened his life force enough to reveal my presence. He held on, desperate, stubborn even with a punctured lung.

“Well?” he rasped. “It’s not like I have all day.”

Annoying. I resisted the urge to hurry things along and shake him loose from the mortal coil.
“Speak,” I urged.
“Spare me. Share my body.” He gazed at his ruined lower extremities then turned his glazed eyes heavenward. Rain pounded his face, washing away the blood oozing from various wounds. “What’s left of it.”
“It could have been worse.”
Others lay scattered around him, soggy and bloated, reduced to chunks of flesh by the blast.
He chuckled, more a choppy cough than laughter. “Bet you say that to all the bleeding saps.”
Cracking jokes instead of begging for mercy; so young and already cynical. I liked him. “Go on.”
“Right.” He swallowed thickly. “We shack up. You give me ten years, and—”
“Five,” I countered. I liked him, but not that much.
“What? That’s—” His words dissolved into choking, his breaths labored, wet, and weak. He was fading.
“Fine, five.” He shut his eyes. “You help me get even with them for this.” His jaw tensed and his fingers twisted the tattered hem of his shirt. “Help me make them pay…and my soul’s yours.”


  1. Query
    When I started reading this query my eyes lit up. It was sharp and clever and got me in all the right places… but then you lost me when you got to mentioning the “Alliance” - i had no idea who or what Alliance was.
    I had to read this bit 2 times to get it, and then I re-read the entire QL a third time to really get it.
    Right up to that point, I loved it and was ready to SHOUT YES, but then the voice changed and I got a little lost. Though, because the first bit was so good, if I was an agent (not that I know what an agent would say but still) I would read your pages to see if I got the same voice as in the first part of the query.
    Overall, the query did it’s job, that is, to entice me to read the pages. However, if you work on the 2nd half of your QL you’ll have (in my opinion) a killer query 

    I really struggled to follow the beginning. I guess, because I was looking for the voice in the first part of the query, I had set myself up for an expectation. I did however read it, twice…to be far.
    Overall, I think you have something here, but I think you need to decide what the voice of your MS & QL are, as I think they are fractured a little and you could lose an agent looking for query part (a) voice when they read part (b) voice.
    For me it's a reluctant no.

    NO =#7

  2. Query- I liked your hook. It made me want to keep reading your query. But then when I got to the part about the Alliance I went "Huh? Did I miss something?" And went back to the beginning to re-read. As a reader we don't know who the Alliance or the Federation is. So the rest was just a jumble to me. I feel like if you started off with our main characters world before you get into the plot it would help ground us, and help us understand. For example if you started with this line. "In the futuristic city of Canaan..." Then you can explain a bit about who the Alliance and Federation are so we understand.
    First 250- The fact that you are starting off with Death (I'm assuming) threw me off. I thought your main character is Maxwell. I like that you are starting off with action though.

  3. you say he makes a deal with Death, but is it Death (which is not a being but a state of being) or the Devil? This was confusing. Then it jumps into the Alliance and Federation. I have no idea what these are or why the mc cares about them until later. This seems disjointed. And I'm not sure why the mc is a target if he's not really a Fed. does he have special abilities now that he's made this deal with Death? I got lost in the query.

    For the 250, I have no idea who these people are. It sounds like we are in the pov of Death, but the query has the pov of the boy as the mc. this was too confusing.

    No (#11)

  4. The query started off enticing, but then it just went on and on. I got a little bored. The ending confused me a little. Why are the feds after him?
    I was thrown for a loop in the first 250. I expected the POV to be of Maxwell. Maybe point that out if the POVs change.
    Interesting concept, but sadly it didn't hook me enough
    No (#4)

  5. I like the hook, totally made want to know what happens!

    Although I really like the query, it feels dystopian-ish (is that a word...oh well, I'm using it). I'm willing to bet most agents wouldn't read on, only because the dystopian thing is hard to sell, which SC pointed out. I also think you have too much going on in the letter. It became confusing and I had to read it again.

    Same with the first 250...I was confused at first.

    Unfortunately it's a no for me, which sucks because I think I'd totally read this!!

    Best of luck!

    No. (non-contestant)

  6. When you start off with cyberpunk, then start talking about Death, that's confusing to me. It feels more like fantasy - the sci-fi/cyberpunk elements don't really come out until the third paragraph (especially because I don't know what a Talent is at this point). I'd try to rework it to bring some of those elements in earlier. Give a hint of the world we're in, other than just the military shell, which could be anywhere.

    From the query, I expected Maxwell to be the main character. So when you opened with Death's perspective, that threw me. It took me about half the page to figure it out. You may want to tag it with Death's POV at the top - but if it's dueling POV's, it should say so in the query. If it's not, then this is really a prologue and agents don't like prologues. Give the scene from Maxwell's perspective. Tell me how it feels to have a hole in your stomach.

    Not a huge deal, but "the boy" makes me think Maxwell's younger than a teenager.

    For those reasons, I'd probably have to say no. I'm just not clear enough on what's going on here.

  7. I like the idea of Death being bored and lonely enough to share his body with Maxwell. Perhaps the reference to the Alliance could be folded in more smoothly and the Fed named as the ones who shelled Maxwell's home in the opening paragraph. There was one typo I noted -- which probably isn't in your original document, but just in case -- Federation-controlled world vs. Federation controlled word. I also think if you let us know the story will be told from Death's POV -- or dual POV with Maxwell and Death -- the reader won't be immediately confused. I also wondered at Death agreeing so quickly to the bargain -- we only know from the query that he's lonely. I wanted a bit more grounding within the story for his action.

    NO (#9)

  8. I love, love, love that the opening POV is Death. That said, I suggest rearranging the second paragraph with the opening dialogue paragraph.

    And I know it's harsh, but I think you have a typo in the last line of your query. You have "word" and I think you mean "world." That had me leaning the wrong way.

    I was confused by the third paragraph. "Enter the snag..." sounds like Isaac is going to be trouble. But it's the opposite. Because Maxwell likes Isaac, that creates a snag. Intriguing stakes, but I'm going to have to vote

    NO (from the audience)

  9. Hi! So, first of all, this is probably going to be long. I’m sorry if it looks intimidating. I swear every bit of it is me elaborating on some point I made—or babbling with the hope of sparking some idea on your end—for your benefit.

    Right here we go.

    Your hook made me think: Well, shit, Maxwell, that’s an extreme reaction. I like the morbidity of it, though I’m not fond of how long it all is. I’m also hesitating because fourteen is REALLY young for YA. And this seems from the first line to have some seriously dark humor (either that, or I’M the messed up one, for grinning a little at “most of his internal organs”). It’s close enough to the boundary of YA and MG that it might be tough to sell if it’s too dark.

    Oh, the second paragraph is confusing me. :S You’re skipping around in POVs from Max’s to Death’s and back. Then you start jumping in time. It can work, but now I’m unsure how old Max is, what Talents have to do with it all, what the Alliance is, etc. I feel like I just got dropped into a vat of sci-fi buzzwords, and I don’t know nearly enough about Maxwell and his world to know what the heck’s going on.

    By the third paragraph, I have such a poor grasp of what’s happening that I can’t even follow your stakes. In fact, they’re barely there. I feel like I just read the first half of a rushed synopsis, not a query.

    Pick one conflict and stay with it. Is it Maxwell bonding with Death? Is it their super fun wartime adventures with the rest of the Alliance (still don’t know what this is)? Is it him being mistaken for a Talent? Or is it Isaac McSteamy? (Mildly off-topic: Isaac’s a secret weapon apparently? For WHAT? You keep throwing these details in off-handedly, but they obfuscate more than they help.) Your query isn’t supposed to explain every conflict in the first half of the book. Just the major one. It’s up to you to figure out what’s worth stressing to sell your book.

    Above all else, though, I’m bummed that you missed the most important part of YA queries: VOICE. It’s so important that I put it in all caps. Where’s Maxwell’s voice in all of this? Your writing is technically fine, but there’s nothing Maxwelly- about it. It’s just there. This is an agent’s first impression of your writing ability, after all. And the tradition in YA queries in particular is to match the tone of your query to the tone of your book/MC. How would a whatever-year-old kid who has lost everyone he loves and is sharing a body with Death narrate a book? Because that kid sounds metal as heck, and I’d love to read his story. I’d love to read his /query/.

    A quick side note: Is there any way for you to illustrate what makes this cyperpunk as opposed to outright scifi or dystopia?

    250 words:
    I just got to your excerpt and I’m bewildered. Death is the narrator? I thought that it would be Maxwell, if anybody. Isn’t Maxwell your MC? Unless it’s like THE BOOK THIEF? This seems like something worth mentioning in the query so it’s less jolting. (Sorry, I seem to be bombarding you with questions. They’re nearly all rhetorical, I swear.)

    Though I’m confused, I do like the dynamic of the scene. It could be really intense. Some fourteen year old kid begging for his life and being all hardcore and tough while doing it? That’s awesome. I don’t think I have enough context to really get the conflict, though. Plus, I know how it ends. I mean, I read the query.

    I guess my question—much as I like the writing—is why start here and not further down the line? This seems like backstory more than anything else.

    Regretfully, I’ll have to say no, even though your query hook made me really want to say yes.

    I seem to be getting more and more longwinded with every critique. x) I hope something I said helped.

    - Audience Member @mostlytaylor

    (Tweeter at me if you have any questions about anything I said. :) )

  10. Query:

    I love your query and your concept. If I were an agent I'd request pages. The query did get a bit long towards the end. The part about the Allience threw me. Stick with the McCain and his struggles in the query. You don't need to tell the whole story or give a summary in the query. Short, sweet and to the point.


    I love this. I like the way it starts and I want to read more. I'm worried the boy doesn't sound quite his age, or that death may make him sound older, but all in all I feel you did an excellent job.


  11. I like this. The query could be focused a little bit more. Remember that you don't have to sum up the whole novel, just the first act, so everything up to the inciting incident. If you can give us more than that, it's fine, but focus on the main threat at hand. This is sort of a pep talk to say, your query is a little too long. Stay focused on the main problem-the guy is dying and death is willing to fix him up to stir stuff up in the mortal realm.

    Your first 250 is great. The only problem is that your POV slips a little, so when you read through make sure we know who's the narrator and give us just that one narrator (per scene, obviously).

    That's all I've got, because this is good, and I'm intrigued.

    Yes (#20)

    (side note, Death has a starring role in many YA novels, so make sure to do some research there and make sure you have a fresh take on it)

  12. The query has some typos/grammar issues that smacked me in the face, and I am not quite sure how this would be classified because of the dealing with Death thing - this comes off like YA Fantasy/ScienceFiction, and I REALLY want to see a good "and this is why it works" but I'm not finding it in the query at all. If I were a Beta reader, I would be asking if there was any way to rewrite Death/Devil to get rid of the fantasy elements. I would give it a frustrated No, because I would feel like it was almost ALMOST there.

    No. (#5)