Thursday, August 7, 2014

Become an Agent #5

Title: THE KILLING MOON
Genre: (Adult) Urban Fantasy
Word Count: 100,000 words

Query:

Anna Marlowe needs a steady paycheck without going back to dancing in “butt floss.” She’s so desperate she heads to Piedmont Park for what she swore she wouldn’t do — use magic for the first time in years. Instead of throwing a spell for some luck, she finds a corpse infected with dirty magic so toxic it can stop the heart with a touch. To Anna’s trained eyes it’s the work of an alchemist who can twist power and science into an abomination of magic. A killer targeting witches for deadly experiments.

Atlanta’s Supernatural Investigations Unit needs an outsider like Anna. She might be an unlicensed necromancer, but she isn’t compromised by local supernatural politics and as a dead-talker she can help when their only witnesses are on a slab in the morgue.

The last thing Anna wants is to involve herself in the hunt for a magic-wielding serial killer. She’s scared using her powers again will turn her into the same kind of monster the cops are hunting, or worse, the same kind of monster who trained her. But she can’t walk away when people are dying, and the local coven she refuses to join already blames her for the murders. If she doesn’t find the killer, they’ll make sure she pays with her life.

250:

Atlanta’s Piedmont Park was a place to commune with nature. The dead woman hanging in a tree ruined it for me.

Raw poisonous power infected her body, leaving a quicksilver shine to her skin and an angry shimmer in the air like a magic bomb had gone off in her heart. I breathed in death, tasting ashes and tears. She had been tortured.

Anna, you are so screwed.


Tonight, I’d planned to throw a spell to keep me from going back to stripping or waiting tables. Some extra luck getting a job with a dental plan and without guys grabbing at me. Instead I sat on the back bumper of a police car at four in the morning while cops decided whether or not I should wear handcuffs.

The patrol officer had taken my statement and now I waited for a detective to repeat the process. I wanted to go home and sleep.

The medical examiner was taking pictures with a digital camera. His hands kept twitching the same way a kid at a museum tries to resist fondling the statues.

“Don’t do it,” I said under my breath. His plastic gloves wouldn’t keep him safe, but warning the cops about dirty magic required answers I didn’t want to give. My finding the body was suspicious enough. I walked away from necromancy five years ago and wanted nothing more with that world of ghosts and death. I was already pushing it with this luck spell, if I ever got the chance to do it.

Title: DEADTALKER (renamed)
Genre: (Adult) Urban Fantasy
Word Count: 100,000 words

Query:

Anna Marlowe needs a steady paycheck without going back to dancing in “butt floss.” Desperate, she hits Piedmont Park to use magic for the first time in years. Plans for a good luck spell are shattered when she finds a corpse infected with dirty magic so toxic it can stop the heart with a touch. The newest victim of a rogue alchemist twisting science and magic into deadly experiments.

Detective Wynn needs an outsider like Anna to help solve the case, so he offers her something she can’t refuse. A job. She might be an unlicensed necromancer, but she isn’t compromised by local supernatural politics and she can help when his only witnesses are on a slab in the morgue.

Anna might rely on sharpies instead of wands, but she is scared using magic again could turn her into the same kind of monster the cops are hunting, or worse, the same kind of monster who trained her. When a local coven blames her for the murders it becomes too late to back out. Helping the cops means confronting the seductive power of forbidden magic and risking a death warrant. But if she can’t prove her innocence, the coven will make sure she pays with her life.

First 250:


Atlanta’s Piedmont Park was a place to commune with nature. The dead woman hanging in a tree ruined it for me.

Raw poisonous power infected her body, leaving a quicksilver shine to her skin and an angry shimmer in the air like a magic bomb had gone off in her heart. I breathed in death, tasting ashes and tears. She had been tortured.

Man, I am so screwed.
Dinner wanted to abandon my stomach for the safety of some tall wet grass.

Tonight I was in Piedmont Park for a spell to keep me from going back to stripping or waiting tables. Some extra luck finding a job with a dental plan and without guys grabbing at me.

Luck. Hah. Now I sat on the back bumper of a police car at four in the morning while cops decided whether or not I should wear handcuffs.

The patrol officer had taken my statement and now I waited for a detective to repeat the process. I wanted to go home and sleep.

The medical examiner was taking pictures with a digital camera. His hands kept twitching the same way a kid at a museum tries to resist fondling the statues.

“Don’t do it,” I said under my breath. His plastic gloves wouldn’t keep him safe, but warning the cops about dirty magic required answers I didn’t want to give. My finding the body was suspicious enough. After walking away from magic five years ago, I wanted nothing more with that world of ghosts and death.

15 comments:

  1. Query:
    Overall this is a pretty good job, but I would suggest (and see what others say) taking out the entire 1st paragraph and starting with the 2nd one. the 1st one sounds really overused and overdone, while the second one is much sharper and a great starting point.

    1st 250
    There are some awesome 1-liners in this and I'm a sucker for clever one liners! I think you could sharpen this to make it even tighter, for example the line where it starts "Tonight I planned to throw a spell..." make it more in tune with the rest of the words, perhaps more dry-wit gritty befitting the overall voice.
    e.g. "To hell with it, tonight I'm gonna throw the damned spell and..."

    Overall, great job. And even with not being a super fan of paragraph one of your QL this would be a YES to more pages for me.

    YES #7

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  2. YES (#11)

    The query was a little convoluted and needs to be tweaked a little. It felt like I was going back and forth from present to past there. Just switching some info from the third to the second paragraph might help.

    The first 250 pulled me in. I got a sense of who she is, where she is, and what's going on with very little description. VERY well done. Loved the opening line of the 250.

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  3. I love this query. The first line was awesome, and I feel you do a great job of letting us know exactly who the main character is and what she wants. I don't read a lot of adult, but I would read this book. I love the foreshadowing "or worse, the same kind of monster who trained her."
    In the first 250 I love your first line as well. And the rest of it pulled me right in. I would keep reading for sure.
    Yes!!!
    [#8]

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  4. Throw a really sassy hook at the beginning, before you get into the story. I don't get the last line of the first para though. Other than that I loved it! I have a good idea of your MC's stakes and consequences.

    250: I'm a YA reader so I'm accustomed to shorter paragraphs, but I definitely see where you should hit ENTER in there a few times. It could use an edit too.

    Overall, I really liked it. I wanted the book after the query and I wanted the book after the 250...so, yes!

    Yes. (non-contestant)

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  5. I love this. It's very Anita Blake meets Charlaine Harris (Not True Blood, but the series with the woman who talks to the dead). And those are both good things.

    You start with a dead woman hanging in a tree talking to a live person. That's really all I need to know that I'm going to want to keep reading. You've got hints at her past and a good, strong voice. It all just really works.

    YES. Emphatically yes.

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  6. On the query, I thought some bits could be trimmed back such as '...use magic (for the first time in years).' I think her reluctance to use magic comes across in the query and the sentence would be stronger without the 'first time in years' portion. I liked the concept of 'dirty magic' but did think you might want to make things a bit clearer to the reader . I wasn't sure if being a 'dead-talker' (a term I love) is the same as being a necromancer --or if someone could have one power but not the other. I don't think this needs to be answered in the query, but you may want to trim back since we have magic, necromancer, dead-talker, alchemists and witches mentioned. With the coven suspecting Anna is the killer, that led me to think she might also be an alchemist?

    The first 250 - I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpt. One small note -- the opening line is great, but it does make the MC seem a bit cold. Not sure if this is important to you.

    YES (#9)

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  7. Audience voter here… I agree above comment to start with second paragraph - I love that paragraph! Clear stakes. Talking to the dead. I'm a yes!

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  8. Yes! I love the tension, the voice, and the opening line. You fit in a lot of stakes, character, and world building, too. Great job.

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  9. To give you an idea of my own “agent” so you can understand why I am commenting the way I am:

    If it is YA, I am hoping that it is intelligent YA. One of the best series that falls in the category for me is Harry Potter. Twilight and Divergent, to me, are trite and treat the reader as less intelligent than they are. The concepts, ideas, and language can be more complex. That is what I am looking for in all areas. BTW 30% of YA books right now are read by women in their 30s. Just sayin’.

    NA? It better be intelligent and deal in some type of social commentary. Think of The Catcher in The Rye. This NA romance trend right now, to me, is appalling. Are scratching your head asking why The Catcher in The Rye? It still sells 50,000 copies per year, that’s why. The Lovely Bones fits in here for me as well, although it tracked well with females aged 13 - 20, which would make it more YA than NA.

    Adult, This better deal with complex issues regardless of the genre, and doesn’t need a happy ending. Authors here? Stephen King, John Grisham, etc.

    MG? I read To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, and The Hobbit in the middle grande range. That would be the level of work I am looking for here.

    Agent #12:

    No.

    The language and voice in the query and the first 250 seem much younger than an adult novel.

    The query reads okay, but I am not a fan of the “or worse” and the language seems young for me.

    I know that many people look to jump right into the acton, but this doesn’t feel right for me, the first line actually through me off. Again, only for the reason that opening lines like that are usually used on a younger audience.

    My 2 cents.

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  10. Hey! So, you might notice that I wrote a novel of a critique down below. That’s mostly because I’m rambley and doing my best to provide enough information to be helpful. :)

    Query:
    Your hook made me smile. The quotes around butt floss might be overkill for some, but whatever. I’m childish and liked it.

    The rest of the query kind of… faltered, though. It seems universally incongruous. For example, this sentence: “Instead of throwing a spell for some luck, she finds a corpse infected with dirty magic so toxic it can stop the heart with a touch.” I’ve read this several times, and I still don’t get what it’s supposed to mean. Like, how does not throwing up a spell for luck automatically make her find this corpse? Your phrasing implies that it does. You have similar sentences all throughout here that just aren’t logical, even if the writing is technically fine. That makes reading your query rough and confusing, despite its snappy voicey-ness (which is totally a word).

    I was also throw when you got to Atlanta’s Supernatural Investigations Unit. Because, honestly, it’s pretty out of nowhere. You went from a former stripper magician to a random corpse to that and it’s just not flowing. I’m not seeing a natural progression from Point A to Point B. You know?

    I’m also struggling to understand your stakes. I LOVE that you’re bringing Anna’s internal conflicts into all of this. I just don’t see why she’d think using her powers would make her some kind of murderous jerkface. You haven’t established enough precedence for why she feels that way, which makes her motivation feel a teensy bit disingenuous.

    However, if I were an agent, I’d keep reading because of the voice. It reminds me of a lady Harry Dresden. If that’s his name. You know, from the series by Jim Butcher? I’m all about that gritty supernatural mystery thing, so my bias is definitely in your favor on this one. :P

    250:
    I love the opening lines! But I’m uncertain of the chronology on this one. You went from Anna discovering the body, back to her not throwing up the luck spell, to her suddenly in the back of a cop car. I had to reread your first 250 a couple of times to figure out what’s going on.

    Overall, it just feels rushed. I get that you want to cram as much plot into the first page as possible, to get right to the point, but this is too much for me.

    Sadly, because of that, I’d have to say no. But were I an agent, it would be a personalized, regrettable rejection imploring you to contact me for your next project. I really wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t get into the first page with the presentation as-is.

    - Audience Member @mostlytaylor

    PS: Feel free to contact me on Twitter if you have any questions about any of my comments. :)

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  11. I'm pretty torn about this one. I'm curious. It is well written, but it feels like a story I've already read.

    It's UF in the strictest sense of "there's a person with powers and she's getting involved in an investigation because there's a murderer with magic."

    I've read this story before (LKH, Jim Butcher and Mercedes Lackey just for starters). The problem with the mystery involving some magic is that it's been done a lot. Jim Butcher's series isn't even finished yet. So you need to bring something really unique to the table. You've got a great voice and your writing really is strong. The problem is that I feel like I've read this before (It's a strong match with the Diana Tregard series by Lackey from the late 80s).

    Also, I've seen this entry in a high profile contest (Writer's Voice), so I already know it's been shopped around. It's a very crowded market, and even with the great writing, it isn't enough. If the query gave me any reason to think this wasn't just another UF with a magical murderer and the lone witch trying to keep her nose out of trouble, I'd be interested.

    So, my only advice is to show us how this is different from a set of books written 25 years ago. Do this in the query, and then think about your first 250, and how that can be used to really show your strengths.

    Sorry it's a no. #20

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  12. I've seen this in other contests and I thought it was great. I love the snarky voice.I didn't see anything to change. I'd give this a yes #4

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  13. Revision Crit -

    I actually liked your pre-revision query and 250 better! I'd go back to those -- they felt more polished, the voice came through more strongly, and I don't think you gained anything in the revision.

    Mind you, it's a yes for me either way -- I love this query. :) But I do think the earlier version is stronger. If there's anything you want to keep from the revision that you like better, you could always import that specifically to the earlier version.

    Good luck! I really hope this story gets published, because I want to read it!

    (#17)

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  14. Yep...I still want to read this!

    Just my opinion, but I think if you took the best stuff from your original and the best from your revision, you'd have an amazing query/250!

    Best of luck!

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  15. I thought the revised query's opening paragraph was more clear and I still think it's an engaging premise. While I get what you're saying in the 1st sentence of the 3rd paragraph, perhaps divide it in two between 'hunting' and 'or worse'? One other picky point -- may want to remove the passive 'it becomes too late to back out' for something more active, i.e., 'When the local coven blames her for the murders, Anna has no choice but to find the real killer' (or whatever it is Anna must do). In the first 250, I liked the addition of her physical reaction to finding the corpse -- I thought I nicely balanced out her character, made her seem less harsh. A yes from me. (#9)

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