Sunday, March 22, 2015

Become an Agent 2015 Post #10

Genre: YA Post-Apocalypptic
Word Count: 85,000


Zoe, a 17-year-old scavenger in a destroyed world, finds herself a pirate captain’s prisoner, tethered to Sam’s ship by a tracking device, but when she tries to escape, she discovers her connection with him goes beyond the device.

Somewhere onshore is the key to removing Zoe’s tracker, but with the general population turned into hosts for an unstoppable virus, and the shinigami—death gods—rising from the earth every night, hunting stragglers of the human race, her chances at freedom are slim.

When the ship is attacked, and Zoe left behind, she must travel though the ruined city of Los Angeles to stay within radius of the vessel before her the tracker biodegrades and leaves a hole in her side. Even if she finds Sam, her survival will be short-lived if they don’t work together to find a way to defeat the legion of shinigami monsters before the human race becomes extinct.

DARK IN NATURE is an 85,000-word YA post-apocalyptic.


Old bones held the scent of rotted seashells. I tried not to gag as I searched the Playa Fluff ‘n Fold. I should be indifferent to these abandoned nooks. Every town, city, island, it was the same story. The Pestilence had equaled fever, alteration, death—rinse and repeat.

My boots sank in rubble mounds of disintegrated building material mixed in with the remains of the people who’d once lived in this beach city. I shook out my hair, certain their dried flesh and tissue flakes had embedded themselves in my strands.

Every moment I spent salvaging made me care a little less for all those who were gone. After all, they’d gotten a kick in the ass through life’s door, the one marked: Easy Way Out.

And I was still here.

I hadn’t been infected. I hadn’t come forward. I’d stayed in my house with my family. And watched them turn.

Relying on my flashlight, I avoided cobwebs, gross, as I checked the dryers. Found a full one and yanked clothes out, hitting them against the machine. Stirred-up dust gathered in the back of my throat as I kept digging. There. A few T-shirts and bras, a perfect fit for my friend Cinder and me. Everything here had been washed two years ago, but hey, it was cleaner than what most of us wore.

I shoved what might be useful for the crew into my backpack and followed a path of broken tiles.


Zoe, a seventeen-year-old scavenger in a destroyed world, is tethered to a pirate ship by a tracking device. Somewhere onshore is the key to removing it. Find it and she can escape nineteen-year-old Sam, who implanted the device to keep her prisoner. But with the general population turned into hosts for an unstoppable virus, and monsters rising from the earth every night to hunt stragglers of the human race, her chances at success are slim . . . Until the ship is attacked and she’s left behind.

On her own, Zoe must travel though the ruined city of Los Angeles to stay within radius of the vessel. If she fails to do so, the tracker will incapacitate her—a death sentence on land. When she meets a hermit, a boy without a shadow, he offers her what she’s always wanted. Freedom. And safety. None of it lasts long as Zoe discovers the truth about Sam and their connection—a bond the boy is trying to destroy. Even if Zoe makes it back to Sam, her survival will be short-lived unless they work together to find a way to defeat the legion of hunters before the human race becomes extinct.

DARK IN NATURE is a YA Post-Apocalyptic retelling of Captain Hook and Peter Pan complete at 85,000 words.


Old bones held the scent of rotted seashells. I tried not to gag as I searched the Playa Fluff ‘n Fold. With flashlight in hand, I avoided slanted ceiling beams and spider webs. My boots sank into rubble mounds, leaving me nearly knee-deep in disintegrated building materials, and my heels grinding into the remains of people who’d once lived in this beach city. I shook out my hair, certain their dried flesh and tissue flakes had embedded themselves in my strands.

I should be indifferent to these abandoned nooks.

Give me a town, city, island with a different story. But there wasn’t one. The Pestilence had equaled fever, alteration, death—rinse and repeat.

I headed right for a wall of dryers. I yanked the clothes out of a full one, and managed to stir up enough dust to gather in the back of my throat. There. T-shirts and bras, a perfect fit for Cinder and me. Washed two years ago, but hey, it was cleaner than what most of us wore. I shoved items that might prove useful for the crew into my backpack and followed a path of broken tiles.

Every moment I spent salvaging made me care a little less for all those who were gone. After all, they’d gotten a kick in the ass through life’s door, the one marked: Easy Way Out.

And I was still here.
I hadn’t been infected. I hadn’t come forward. I’d stayed with my family. And watched them turn.


  1. Seeing a book marked as "post-apocalyptic" is one of my personal pet peeves. Dystopian is dystopian, no matter what you call it, and I'd honestly prefer that writers be honest about having written a book in a genre they know isn't selling well instead of trying to convince me it's something else. I was leaning toward no the second I saw the genre, and that's a bad start.

    There is a LOT going in the first sentence. It's a little disorienting, and it's 40 words. That's much too long. I'd break it up into two sentences and streamline it a little. The second sentence of your query is 44 words. See above. The third sentence is 38 words. And the fourth is 33. You might be able to get away with one or two long sentences in a query, but it shouldn't be nothing BUT long sentences. It'll flow much better if you vary the structure, and it'll help keep the reader's eyes from glazing over. I'm so distracted by that, I have no idea what the book is about. Even after re-reading it, I don't have a good sense of the story.

    I wonder if this story is starting in the right place. You've got a lot of exposition in the beginning, telling what lead the main character to this point, and you don't need it. The parts that AREN'T exposition - like the rubble mounds and her reaction to the spider - are really good, so you want as much of the main character as you can get on the first page. Backstory can come later.

    This is a good start, but if I found it in my query box, I'd have to say no.

  2. No.

    I love post-apocalyptic and though this is interesting and the writing is enjoyable, I just don't think it's fresh enough. It's true, unfortunately, that this genre isn't selling well which means this would have to really wow me to get a yes.

  3. No, for the following reason: There are grammatical errors in paragraph 3. For instance, "and Zoe IS left behind" and "...vessel before the tracker biodegrades..." (remove the word "her").

    However, I did like your writing style. Unfortunately, with grammatical errors in the QL, your pages might not make it to the agent/editors desk. Good luck!

  4. No.

    Dystopia is crowded, and nothing about this stands out. Even if it wasn't, this would still be a no for me. The stakes seem small, unless I'm misunderstanding them, which is possible, since the query confused me. (Zoe needs to remove a tracking device... but why?)

    The run-one sentences and confusing wording are a concern because I'd expect them in the pages.

    You do have voice, but the beginning didn't draw me in. I agree with a previous poster--maybe it starts in the wrong place. Look at other parts of the novel to see where the voice really shines and try to polish up the beginning just like that. Personally, I've found that I sometimes have to rewrite the opening chapters once I really get into a character's voice later on.

  5. No.

    The query is confusing, with a some very long sentences. Even after reading it several times, it all seemed a bit disconnected to me. Why was she captured? Are her Captors related to this unstoppable virus? Why would she work with her captor? Where do these death gods fit in?

    With that said, I think the writing of your first 250 is much better than your query. I like the voice and imagery. I think if your query was cleaned up and clarified, that could have made me want to request. Instead, I worried that your story writing would fall apart if I kept reading, and I wasn't sure where it was going anyway.

    I am #12

  6. This is a no for me.

    For the query, I think you need to break up some of your longer sentences. There are just too many of them. As well, I wasn't entirely clear on the story. How/why was she captured? Tell me more about this tracking device and why she's so valuable that the pirate would put one on her. How to the death gods fit in? What is their link to the virus? Why does she want to escape the pirate? While I understand that pirates are typically "bad", as a scavenger and in a land that doesn't seem safe, being on board a ship almost seems preferable.

    While I really liked the writing in the 250, it didn't draw me in. With the market being this crowded for this genre, this was just lacking a wow factor for me that would really make it stand out.

  7. I love dystopian stories (& agree with the first commenter that this is dystopian), and like the way you start the first 250 with the MC searching the laundromat for clothes. That's a vivid opener for sure that shows us a lot about the world Zoe lives in. That said, I feel like there's a lot of telling in the first 250--we have an awful lot of the backstory for the very first page. Create some mystery that might keep us turning pages.

    Unfortunately, the query is very confusing and that is ultimately why I am voting No on this. Is Sam the pirate who has captured her? If so, why is she searching for him? Is it the virus that's killing off humans or these death monsters (which are one of the more intriguing aspects of your story, by the way, so maybe starting with Zoe battling them in some way would be a better hook?)? Understanding Zoe's motivations, the choices before her, and what exactly is going on in the world you've created will help clean this up a bit.

  8. Sorry. I'm going to vote no.

    This sounds like it's a cool, action-packed story. But I did't think the query was clear. "Discovers her connection" sounds interesting. Can you be specific about how she discovered this? I bet that would really pull us into the story. Also when you say "destroyed", could you give us a couple more specific adjectives. I was surprised when you said "onshore" was where the monsters were. Isn't this where Zoe's from? Why would it be more difficult to deal with the monsters now than it was before. Naming the monsters doesn't make them feel scary to me. Telling me what they do to the people they hunt probably would. Also, is this an air ship? And who is Sam? The pirate?
    I'd also delete "captain." I think we'd assume that.

    On your first 250, "the playa" threw me out. I didn't get it. Maybe hold off on foreign language until we've gotten a bit more oriented to the story. Or found out the nationality of the character?

    Best of luck with revisions and querying!
    Rebecca (#11)

  9. This is a No. To be honest, there was nothing here that peaked my interest/seemed different from what's been done before. I read and was like, "eh" at the end. True, you mention pirates, but you also mention LA and a virus, and there just wasn't anything that stood out that made me interested to read it.

    As for the 250, there was nothing I didn't like about it. For this type of story, it starts in the right place, gives a glimpse of the past, etc. Overall though, I just wasn't interested, which of course is entirely SUBJECTIVE! Good luck!

  10. The first and second paragraphs of your query are really just two long sentences. Break those down a bit because they are a little lengthy.

    I like the 250 - clever with the laundromat. I like the third paragraph as a possible starting point. Get to the action a bit faster and then go back and fill in details.

    Dystopian is a very tough sell. You are a good writer. Don't give up! But this is a no for me.

  11. This is my second Yes. Sure, dystopian is dead, but I think it sounds like an interesting premise. I read through all the posts assigned to me last night. This morning, yours was still running through my head. So I think you have something here.
    With that said, aspects of your 250 grossed me out. I realize it's a dirty world--this place without any basic sanitation--but eww. :) I'd remove the stuff about human remains in the hair.
    Best of luck to you.
    I'm #14

  12. This is a no from me. The premise is interesting, which is hard to do in a genre as over saturated as post-apoc. I tend to favour stories like these because I write in the same-ish genre (pre-apoc). The problem is the query confused me. I only got a vague sense of what was going on and ended up with a hefty number of questions. The plot comes across pretty clear, but the world building is difficult. I don't understand how or why Zoe is tethered to the ship, why they are on a ship, or why she has a "deeper" connection with Sam.

    The 250 is good and I love your voice. You clarify the world a little more for me in the first paragraph. Still, it's not enough to answer all my questions and I don't like going into a story confused. I wish you luck with this. I am always rooting for fellow apocalypse survivors.

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  14. No.
    You definitely need to figure out your genre. depending on the device that leads to this dystopian future it't going to either be sci-fi or fantasy. The market isn't good for this particular kind of works right now, but i don't think that means you have give up on it. The query could some some clarification on the difference between the virus and the monsters, and why she needs to find her captor (maybe why he is a captor rather than an ally in a dangerous world).

    Tobias Eaton (4)

  15. Yes. I would read the heck out of this.

    First question: Is Sam the pirate captain? That’s unclear from the query.

    Otherwise, I like the stakes in this and I like the setting. What I wanted to see in the query (clich├ęd as it sounds) was a little bit more of Zoe’s internal self. Right now she seems like a character you might play in a game, and an awesome one, but her internal journey is what would make her a good character in a book.

    I love the first and last sentences of the 250. In between I think there is some wording that doesn’t ring true (Would Zoe even think of things as “gross” anymore?) and some exposition that just doesn’t need to be there (“my friend Cinder” – why not just refer to Cinder and let the facts of their friendship unfold organically). Rather than explaining about everything being washed two years ago Zoe could probably think something like, “Two years in the dryer? Cleaner than what I’ve got now and warmer than nothing.” That shares the same information without over-telling. Readers of speculative fiction like the challenge of working out the parameters of the new world from the details you provide them, and I can see you’re actually really good at imagining and describing those details, so feel freer to just go with it and not explain.

    Good luck!


  16. # 5 here - no, I probably wouldn't request pages.

    You capture the feel of a post-apocalyptic world perfectly in both your query and 250. And I think with some expansion and organization of the plot within the query, the premise you have here is really going to shine.

    First of all, your query is only @150 words! You have about 100 more words you can use to bring your characters and world to life in the query! Don't short change yourself! This is a complicated plot - you should need every one of those words!

    In the first paragraph of your query, I don't like words "finds herself," like she looked around and realized she was captured. Be active. Notice the difference in this: "Seventeen-year Zoe, a scavenger in a destroyed world, is captured by pirate captain Sam." Those are virtually all of your same words, just restructured into an active statement that engages us in Zoe's predicament. The shorter length also adds to a sense of urgency.

    You go on to add an interesting twist of mystery, that her connection to Sam is more than the tracking device. This is a place where more info would be nice, to understand the type of connection you're talking about.

    The second paragraph needs some clarification. What makes Zoe know that the key to unlocking the tracking device is onshore? And, she appears to be onshore when this novel begins - did she not have these same problems when she was there before she was captured? When you begin to talk about the gods and the deadly virus, etc. ... I think I'd take those out of the section where you're getting into plot and put those back at the beginning of the query, where you are setting up the story. Those details could be woven into the very beginning. I'd like to see the very beginning of your query tell us about the world, the virus, the gods, and that Zoe is a scavenger in this world. Set the tone for us. Then, Zoe being captured is the inciting incident. "When Zoe is captured by..." and so on. Then go on to tell us the conflict of Zoe trying to escape, both internal and external (the death gods, the biodegrading tracker, having to work with her captor and worse enemy). And, finally, what's at stake for her if she fails (just death.. or more?)

    Your 250 is appropriately bleak and both the voice and the writing are very good.

    Lots of luck!

  17. #15 here!

    Okay. This is an absolutely amazing transformation!!! YES!!!

    What a difference in the QL!!! Wonderful work! Sorry for all of the exclamation marks...

    You should feel very good about this revision. The 250 reds well too me also. I have a much better sense of the story, and I think a lot of that has to do with the changes to the QL. I wouldn't be surprised if an agent or editor would ask to see pages of this. Well, done!

  18. Revision critique from #17
    SOOOOO much better in that query! You made the conflict much clearer which is absolutely imperative because there is a lot going on in this story.

    The 250 - I'm still not sold on the whole "Playa" part of that laundromat (it just makes me ask too many unimportant questions) or the dead pieces of people in her hair (but I don't read post-apocalyptic so that could just be my personal bias coming out there). But, you sure do paint the destruction and despair very well in this section. So, with all of these improvements if I was an agent looking for dystopian works, I would definitely say yes!

  19. Hi, #19 here. Thanks for your comments on my revised submission.

    I didn't get a chance to read your submission the first time (darn work), but I read it first before moving on to your revisions.


    Revisions have really paid off here. I'm so glad you decided to expand. It gives you the chance to flesh out the stakes better and give the reader a better idea of your world, your character and why your story is unique. Post-Apoc, from what I've read lately, is a harder sell. BUT I have also read that as long as your story is well-written and interesting, there will always be a place for it.

    There was a few niggly terms you can tidy up. For instance, are the hunters the same as the monsters? But other than that, I thought it read pretty smooth.


    Ooo. I like this better. I'm not much for doom and gloom, but there's something bright about Zoe's anger. She strikes me as a strong, hard girl, but only because she's had to be. The line about her not caring about the people who were gone pushed her sympathy points through the roof for me. That's what makes me invested and you have done it off the bat. I'm now in her corner and I want her to win. Well done.

    I'm going to say yes, even though I don't really read Post-Apocalyptic.It was really the 250 and Zoe's voice that drew me in, so I would say you might want to do another pass or two over the query, just to make sure it's as strong as Zoe's character.

    Best of luck!

  20. Yeah! I think this query is much clearer!
    I’d cut the “Until the ship is attacked…” I think this would work better if you used it to start the next paragraph as a “Things get worse when the ship is attacked…”
    I think “the truth about Sam and their connection” is too vague. More concrete would be better here.
    In your first 250, I’m having a hard time getting an image with the first paragraph. If you mention old bones, I want to see them, before the spider webs and building materials. Or at least for her to scan the place for them.
    I think now I’d vote yes on the query, but still no on the 250. Best of luck with revisions and querying!
    Rebecca #11

  21. Good writing and high concepts stand above all in my opinion. And you have a very high concept query here. I also happen to love retellings so I’m saying YES. The first paragraph is extremely smooth and filled with character and tension. It immediately pulled me in.

    The second paragraph is good for the most part, only a few places I think could use some clarification. When you say, “Even if Zoe makes it back to Sam, her survival will be short-lived unless they work together...” I’m not sure if the ‘they’ is referring to Sam or the shadow-less boy. If it’s referring to Sam, what happens to the shadow-less boy?

    For the 250, I love how you begin by evoking the senses. Though in the next sentence, I’m not sure what the Playa Fluff n’ Fold until much later. Instead of her scanning slanted ceiling beams, could she scan an old dryer or something more obvious?

    Love the line about the “kick in the ass through life’s door” :P

    Good luck :D