Sunday, March 22, 2015

Become an Agent 2015 Post #13

Title: Suomi's Song
Genre: MG Fantasy
Word Count: 50,000

Ten-year-old Henry would rather be on the basketball court perfecting his fadeaway jump shot than on a one-way trip to Helsinki, Finland. So when Henry’s sister, Lauren, steals his copy of The Kalevala, Finland’s creation myth, during their first week at international school and shows it to their new teacher to get extra brownie points that should have been his, yeah, he overreacts. And lands himself and his sister in Finnish lessons for the whole semester as punishment for fighting.

But the Finnish lessons turn into Introduction to Weird 101 when their hip Finnish teacher admits he’s part of an ancient society that protects magical artifacts like Henry’s book, which the original copy of The Kalevala. Weirder still, the book has a connection to Henry that pulls him deeper into the mystery with each rune they read.

Now, in addition to adjusting to the dark, frigid winter and the endless servings of salmon soup, Henry and Lauren must help their teacher locate the Sampo, the mythical horn of plenty from The Kalevala, that keeps the Earth’s magnetic energy in balance. When they realize their Dad’s new boss wants the power of the Sampo for himself, they must stop him to save the Sampo and their father.

SUOMI’S SONG, a dual POV middle-grade fantasy that stands alone but has series potential, is complete at 50,000 words and will appeal to fans of Marissa Burt’s Storybound and Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories series.

First 250:

Lauren’s sprawled out on her beanbag, nose in a book. Avoiding the heat just like every other hot Colorado afternoon we’ve had this summer.

“Put the book down, sis,” I say. When she ignores me, I kick the bag a few times to get her attention. “Seriously. We’ve got a situation.”

She still doesn’t look up, so I grab the book out of her hands. “Macbeth? You know this stuff will turn you into a nerd, right?” That got her attention.

“Give it back, Henry.” She glares at me, clenching her teeth. That’s one scary metal mouth.

“Jeez, relax,” I say, stepping back in case she decides to bite. I hold the book out and she snatches it, sinking back into the bag. “Just messing with you! But seriously, I have to tell you something.” I swing her door closed. “In private.”

She groans, but puts the book down.

“Mom and Dad are up to something,” I say, crouching down next to her.

“Whatever, Hen,” Lauren says, fiddling with the frayed edge of her jean shorts and yawning.

“No, really. I just overheard them talking in the kitchen as Dad was heading out the door to work. They said something about selling the house.”

The fiddling stops. She’s paying attention now, her green eyes wide behind the her thick glasses. “Again? Where? Boston? Seattle? Not Dallas.”

“Even worse,” I say. “Helsinki.”

She pulls her hair in front of her eyes, hiding her face. “Helsinki? In Finland? No way.”

Genre: MG Fantasy
Word Count: 52,000


Ten-year-old Henry would rather be on the basketball court perfecting his fadeaway jump shot. Not on a one-way trip to Helsinki, Finland because of his Dad’s new job. Then Henry’s big sister, Lauren, steals a mysterious old Finnish book that appears in his room and shows it to their new teacher to get brownie points that should have been his. The resulting fight lands them in extra Finnish lessons for the whole semester as punishment.

But the Finnish lessons turn into Intro to Weird 101 when they discover their hip Finnish teacher's part of an ancient society that protects magical artifacts like Henry’s book, which is the original copy of The Kalevala, Finland’s creation myth. Weirder still, whenever someone reads from the book, Henry gets pulled into the story.

In addition to adjusting to the dark, frigid winter and the endless servings of salmon soup, Henry and Lauren must help their teacher locate the Sampo, the mythical horn of plenty from The Kalevala, that keeps the Earth’s magnetic energy in balance. When they realize their Dad’s new boss wants the power of the Sampo for himself, they must stop him to save the Sampo, their father, and the world.

QUEST FOR THE KALEVALA, a dual-POV middle-grade fantasy that stands alone but has series potential, is complete at 52,000 words and will appeal to fans of Marissa Burt’s Storybound and Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories series.

FIRST 250:

“A job?” I glare at Mom as she stands in the kitchen unpacking boxes. She’s got to be joking. “Seriously? Like moving to Finland wasn’t bad enough, now you’re putting me to work.”

“Henry, it’s not like I’m asking you to pick up forty hours a week,” she replies. “It’s just an hour or two helping out a nice elderly neighbor.”

“A creepy old Finnish lady,” I add. “Does she even speak English?”

“Henry James Rollins.” Mom wags a finger at me. “That isn’t nice and you know it. Her name is Mrs. Lönnrot and she speaks English as well as you do.”

I cringe at her lecture and my name. Why did Dad have to name me after some old punk rocker? “Oh come on, Mom, Lawn-rot?” I groan. “Even her name creeps me out!”

“It’s a very old, very non-creepy Finnish name,” she says, hand on her hip, hazel eyes giving me the look that usually comes right before she tells me I’m “pushing my luck.”

“Have you ever seen her in the sunlight? Maybe she’s a vampire. No, no, I’ve got it—an evil enchantress!” I shudder dramatically. She’s right, I am pushing my luck, but I can’t help it. The lady gives me a serious case of the squirms. Her wispy hair, crooked teeth, and weird washed-out eyes watched from her window the whole time we were lugging boxes into the house. Like a ghost or something.


  1. YES!

    I do not write all... but I work with middle schoolers, and you have the voice DOWN! I would change a couple of things. Inn the QL, I would shorten Introduction to Intro. And in paragraph 3 of the query, remove "now".

    I loved the 250! Good luck!

  2. Also, I love that your entry has a connection to Finland. Nice!

  3. This is a reluctant No for me.

    I'm reluctant because there was some really good stuff in there. I like the voice you captured ("yeah, he overreacts"), (scary metal mouth). And I love the Helsinki element. I've been there, and it's a fantastic city. Too, it would be interesting for kids to learn about Finnish myths.
    But I have two reservations. 1. I'm not sure about a dual POV for middle grade. I think I'd be more drawn to this work if it was just told from the brother's POV. As is, I don't see the need for two. (I'm sure in the full manuscript it's perfectly clear!) 2. I also have a feeling you're starting at the wrong place. You have a lot of ground to cover. Why start with the hint of a move? Why not start right in the midst of things? Middle grade readers need in medias res starts.
    So those are my two reservations, but it was hard to say no to you. :)

  4. Sorry. I forgot to say, I'm number 14.

  5. The first paragraph of the query is too convoluted for me. I have no idea what's going on and why. It feels rushed. Introduce me to Harry as a character. Why is he going to Finland? It sounded more like his parents were shipping him off to boarding school than a family move. Then give me the conflict and spell out the stakes. If the book is dual POV, the query letter should also introduce each character's perspective.

    The first 250 are fine, but if the story starts when they're already in Finland, then starting with news that they're about to move feels like an unnecessary prologue. The backstory that put them in Finland doesn't seem relevant (although the rest of the MS could make it clear).

    This is also really subjective for me - I'm not a fan of first-person present tense, especially when it's dual POV. Other agents obviously feel differently. But no.

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  7. I have to agree with Laura that the first paragraph of the query is too convoluted. I also got the feeling of boarding school, but from your 250 I see that his Dad is really getting relocated. Also, if this is a dual POV MS then I'd like to see that in the query. As-is I don't see why the second POV would be necessary.

    I really love the voice in the 250 and that the setting is unique. Take this with a grain of salt as I don't write or read much MG, but would a 10-year-old really know anything about Macbeth? I'd also love to know if his sister is younger or older. As for the tense, I actually love first-person present, so that's not a negative for me. But, I have to say that I think this might be starting in the wrong place. I'd almost like the opening to be them unpacking in Finland since I think that's when the story is going to really get going.

    This is a no from me, but super close to being a yes.

  8. No.

    Bystander here. I went through all 20 entries, made my yes, no, and maybe pile. This started out in the maybe pile. It went into a second round maybe pile; however, my two spots were filled with other maybe entries. I had to do some cutting, and this one didn't make it.

    The query had me worried right away because of the complexity of sentences. Going into the 250 showed me that you knew how to write MG, with simpler, punchy sentences, so that alleviated some of that. My biggest issue is why the children have to help. Of course it's a story for children, so they are going to be helping, but it still has to make sense in the context of the story. If you fixed that, it would be all-out war with some of my other yes's.

  9. Hi, #20 here!


    May be a little personal bias coming in here, but I can't say no to a story about basketball and the Kalevala. I love that your bringing this folklore (and magic hopefully!) into a middle grade book! Also, Henry just oozes character and character is why I read books.

    My yes comes with two reservations, however. First, I'm not sure how I feel about the dual POV. From the query, this seems like Henry's story. Is there a way you could make Lauren as rounded as Henry? Also, I'm concerned you're starting in the wrong place. Starting before a move is cliche and boring. Start with them already in Helsinki.

    Good luck!

  10. #17
    This is a really cool premise. I'm going to give you a "no" but only because there were a couple of others that pulled me in just a bit more.
    You have a great voice and your query works for me except that second sentence in the first paragraph - it is too muddy for me.

    For your 250, I couldn't get a feel for how old his sister is in relation to him and I had a tough time buying that any character in MG would be reading Macbeth even if she is a very intellectual young lady.

    I think you have a good thing going here. Good luck!

  11. This is a close No for me. The query has a couple grammatical errors--I think you mean to say the teacher has the original book, so it should be, "which is the original copy." But more importantly is that with every "weird" and "weirder" reference, I found myself thinking that it's not weird when without that being true there would be no story. I would get rid of the "weirds" and just say it straight out.

    Also, if you're going to mention the strange connection between Henry and the book, I think you need to say what the connection is. Now it's just sort of thrown in there and is vague. Same thing for Dad's boss being involved. It doesn't add anything to the stakes because they already have to locate the Sampo to save the world. Now, if Dad is the protector of the Sampo or by stealing it Dad loses his job or something, maybe then there's additional stakes. But right now it just muddles things up. Finallly, like one of the other MG entries, I'm perfectly fine with dual POV in MG. Lemonade Wars and Fablehaven show it can work. But, we need to make sure both characters have their own issues and work to solve those issues. Here, nothing is known about Lauren's stakes or how they're different from Harry's. There has to be a reason to do dual POV, and nothing in your query shows me what that is.

    The 250 is strong, good voice, but I thought Harry was a jerk for the way he's treating Lauren. Taking the book out of her hand is one thing, then making fun of her and Macbeth, then thinking to himself that she is a scary metal mouth are two more all within the first page. I'm sure you're foreshadowing that now they don't get along and later they will, but it seems overboard, and I already didn't like Harry, which cinched the No for me, but of course is very subjective. Good luck!!

  12. This one made me want to revoke my MG voter apathy. I am currently in LOVE with all the Norse/Viking shows and the gods, and a Viking Percy Jackson is on my "to-read" wishlist!

    I'm not going to say yes or no because of one major factor: The query read well, but then it got to the end and mentioned it was dual POV, but the rest of the query doesn't hint at that all. It makes me wonder if the story really needs both POVs to tell it.

    Tobias Eaton (4)

  13. I'm a visitor. I think you have a great story to tell and there's a lot I like about your voice. Listen to the comments above. Your query threw me off in the first paragraph and I never got back into the flow. Can you shorten your sentences and make sure people can understand your MC, conflict and stakes clearly? There's absolutely nothing wrong with your words, and I like the voice, but it seems fairly passive for MG opening. I feel like you can tweak your query and (maybe) consider if you're starting in the right spot--and take off running. The writing is there, and so is a great story.

  14. This is a no from me.

    I liked the idea and setting the bulk of the story in Finland, but had some reservations, too. I thought the opening sentence of the query was strong, but the second felt run-on. Could you unpack this a bit? Like, since Henry doesn't want to be in Finland, why is he the one who has a copy of the Kalevala? In the 2nd paragraph, I liked the 'Introduction to Weird 101', but you're missing a verb at the end:'...which the original copy of the Kalevala.' I also liked the fish out of water aspects of the story introduced in the 3rd paragraph of the query -- adjusting to the dark, the cold, the food -- but also thought this sentence would work better if it were trimmed a bit.

    In the first 250, I didn't get a clear feeling for the age difference between Henry and his sister. I'm guessing she's older because she has braces, but wasn't sure. I also felt Henry's dialogue sounded a tad grown-up for a ten-year-old boy and also a bit 'tell-ish', e.g., 'I just overheard them talking in the kitchen as Dad was heading out the door to work.' I like the way you folded in through the sister's reaction that this is not the family's first move and their new home location makes for a nice bombshell.


  15. Hi,
    I'm doing a second round of seven. I love the voice in the 250. You really nailed that. But the query is convoluted, but I'm left wondering why Henry gets the book *seems contrived), which then makes the teacher confess who he is. If you could smooth out some of the plot points, the voice would land you a request for pages. As it is now, I have to give it a no. #9

  16. No, which is bumming me out because I really like the idea of this. You were my seventh “yes”.

    I’m surprised by all the criticism of a two POV middle grade book. I turned around to look at my bookshelf of middle grade books to see if it was actually true, and it is true of more modern books, but it wasn’t always true. The Narnia books, for example, often have multiple POVs, as do some of the Dark is Rising series. I think for a fantasy adventure there’s plenty of precedent for multiple POVs.

    The query. That second sentence has six commas in it. Break that pup up. I would also make it clear that the copy Lauren steals is old and weird so that the events of the second paragraph make more sense.

    How old is Lauren? It feels strange to know more about Henry if the book is from both points of view.

    This is a quibble: Why is it a punishment to take Finnish classes? Most international schools require students to study the local language even if they do most of their schoolwork in English. I’d believe it more if it was extra lessons set up by their parents to teach Henry and Lauren some respect for local culture, as well as help them integrate faster.

    I would also check on the status of basketball as a sport in Finland. It’s likely kids would play it at school as it can be played inside year round. It’s quite popular in Northern Europe, especially in Baltic countries. Henry might not have any trouble finding games and friends.

    The first 250. I like the concept of a brother-sister relationship. What I’m critical of is the slightly too-broad sketching of character (sister with glasses reading a book = nerd) and too easy sketching out of what’s coming. I agree with other commenters that you might be better off beginning with Henry and Lauren arriving in Finland. Alternately, another high drama moment would be Henry overhearing his parents and realizing he’s facing another move. I think many kids can relate to that “oh-no-the-world-as-I-know-it-is-ending” moment.

    Good luck!


  17. Yes.

    Although I'm not really into MG fiction, I thought this was really interesting. The voice seems perfect for the genre, and I also enjoyed the connections to Finland. Good luck

  18. Hi, I'm #19.


    Hehe, my dog's name is Henry, so I kind of liked this one off the bat. This sounds like a fun romp. But Helsinki sounds amazing! Who wouldn't want to go there? :) The myth and folklore angle is interesting to me as well, since I don't know much about it. It certainly grabbed my attention off the bat.

    I know some commenters thought the query was convoluted, but I didn't have the same problem. Yes, it can be simplified and broken down into smaller sentences. However, for me it did it's job in making me want to move onto the 250.

    From my own challenges with my own fantasy query with double POV, I know that having both characters come out as equals is tough. I've heard a lot of different pieces of advice, from concentrating on one character's story only to just having the two POV's. For me, I've settled on the two POV's plus a connecting paragraph. I'd suggest playing around with the format if you haven't already. :) Maybe you'll come up with something better than you already have.


    I will preface this with saying that I haven't read a ton of recent MG. Others who have think that the voice is spot on. I thought it sounded a little old, but again, I'm probably not the best one to ask in that regard. I think part of that was Lauren reading Macbeth. That's normally reserved for high schoolers, though I imagine she's not reading it for school. I don't know of many kids that age even interested in Shakespeare, so for me it was a bit of stretch. You do have short, concise sentences down though. That worked for me.

    Have you started in the right place? I'm not sure. I'd have to see more to determine that. I think, for me, it depends on how quick the characters get to Helsinki. If they get there without a ton of preamble, I'm okay with starting when they find out.

    For me, this was a yes. I still think the query could be pared down or the format changed up. The 250 might need a clean up as well, but I was excited about the premise and interested in a culture I don't know much about. Keep it up. :)

  19. # 5 here - yes, I would request pages.

    I think this premise is really great! The setting is interesting, the mystery intriguing, and I love a brother/sister relationship as the centerpiece of the book. My main suggestion for the query is to make more clear why it's necessary for them to help solve this mystery with their teacher. I presume it's because of Henry's connection to the book (and can you tell us this connection without giving too much away?) but is this the only reason they MUST help locate the Sampo? And, you might want to tell us someone else wants the power of the Sampo for himself, but not tell us who that is. That's probably a fun reveal in the book, and we should be intrigued by your query to want to find out who it is.

    I though the 250 was great, I loved the immediate sister/brother interaction, and you set up the plot quite nicely right away. Great voice, too!

    Good luck with this!

  20. Revision critique #17
    So, I am laughing because as soon as I got to the Henry Jame Rollins part, I paused...plugged Henry Rollins into Google because I just KNEW that guy was a musician from somewhere and I was going to make sure you were aware of that..but then address that right there in the first 250. :)

    I like this 250 MUCH better than the first one. It has loads more voice than before and you plunge us right into his new environment. Much better start.

    The query...I had a couple of places that tripped me up. For some reason have "into" right before "Intro" just threw me off. And although it would make for a long first sentence...the way it is written now, I think the first two sentences of your query need to be combined.

    Fix that in the query and you would get a yes from me!

  21. Hi from #15!

    Still a big YES from me :)

    You really have the voice down in both the QL and the 250. I notice that you changed the title and the opening 250 quite a bit. Looking back, I might prefer the original entry a bit more, but that is just my personal preference.

    Well done! I can't wait to learn about this story's success!

  22. Still love the premise and your revision helps it shine all the more :D

    I’m not changing my YES, but I do have a few more suggestions to help it shine:

    Since book stealing is the inciting incident, instead of a then…blah, blah…I might phrase the first action as: “When a mysterious old Finnish book appears in Henry’s room, his older sister, Lauren, steals it and shows it to their new teacher to steal brownie points.” Love the rest.

    The I in “Into” should not be capitalized.

    I’m still not sure why this needs to be a dual POV narrative. It seems like Henry’s story. But that’s just me and I really like Henry :D

    So glad you decided to start the pages after they’ve already moved. Starting before a move is a pet peeve of mine (why introduce us to a setting that has no bearing on the plot?). This jumps right into the story more. To take the pages from good to irresistible, I’d suggest briefing in a few more sensory details. What does this kitchen look like? Smell like? Are their any distinct noises? We know their in Finland. What does it feel like?

    Great job with this. Can’t wait to see it in print :D


  23. Yes! I really like your revisions and think the query is much more clear about the characters and conflict.

    I like this new starting point -- this feels much deeper into the story, but not so deep that we don't get to know Henry and his family before the sampo hits the fan. I still like the idea of a story set in Finland and being introduced to a different culture through the eyes of a recently transplanted 10-year-old boy and his sister.

    Revision notes from #1

    1. "Sampo hits the fan" hahahahahaha! I love anyone who can make a Kalevala joke :) Thanks for the feedback!

  24. Hi Julie, #19 here. Thanks for your crit on my revision.

    So, I'm still a yes. :)


    The edits here are subtle, but I think they are an improvement over your first submission. I like that you bring in more detail into the second paragraph. Getting pulled into the stories grabbed my attention and it helps show what makes your MS unique. Great job.

    I think, for your query, the single POV works. Especially since both characters are most likely together for the majority of the story. I love the idea of the brother/sister angle too, especially if their relationship with each other grows stronger over the course of the story.


    Very different. Very voice-y. The job part threw me off for a second and I had to go back to the query to look for Henry's age. I don't know that it's a problem, but I thought I'd mention it just in case it's useful.

    I do like throwing the reader right into the new environment. While the lead-up to the move can provide great tension, your story doesn't really start until they get to Finland anyway. I think that this will tighten the story up. Good choice. :)

    The 'pushing your luck' line was classic. Instantly, I could relate to Henry, which is so important in the first few pages.

    Best of luck with the rest of your journey!