Sunday, March 22, 2015

Become an Agent 2015 Post #18

Title: Morrow
Genre: YA Speculative Romance
Word Count: 73,000


Imani has long known that Orphans have to look out for themselves. As one of the unchosen, she’s lived in three different Complexes and assisted multiple families, and she’s not even eighteen yet. Years of training, along with her fiercely redheaded roommate, have taught her that Orphans exist simply to assist Achievers. Nothing less, and certainly nothing more. So when a guy who isn’t legally required to wear a bracelet or have a tattoo asks about her milkshake preferences, she balks at his attempt to humiliate her and walks away.

Andrew Fischer doesn’t understand her refusal, or why it took him two whole years to finally run into one of the most beautiful girls he’s ever seen. Even the ever-present threat of jail doesn’t sway him from trying to get her to change her initial impression of him. He’s heard of Achievers not trusting Orphans; the other way around is kind of new.

With only three months of summer sunsets, he resolves to show her that the Decency Laws are more guidelines than firm rules. The Administrators may have laid down the law. But they didn’t anticipate this. Besides, there's nothing transgressive about having a conversation. It's just good manners. He doesn’t love her, but he can. And that small fact threatens to ruin them both.

The manuscript for my young adult speculative romance novel, Morrow, is complete at 73,000 words, and has a planned sequel. However, this title has the ability to stand alone.

First 250:

Three things made the less-than-spectacular task of grocery shopping somewhat more bearable: 1. air conditioning 2. riding the cart like a scooter 3. cantaloupe testing. In a life-threatening situation, Imani might place the second reason before the first. Just because there was a certain calm that came with the mindless click-clack, click-clack of the wheels over linoleum. It slowed her heart and numbed her mind into a blissful ease.

Because she’d somehow ignored the overflowing cardboard bin of cantaloupes when stopping at the freshly showered shelves of produce for parsley, she was now back, one leg propped lazily on the cart, shaking to her heart’s content. Angela’s emphatic descriptions were more to blame than she was; they were the reason Imani was thinking about sand and demon-birds called seagulls.

“Nope,” Imani popped the ‘p’ and grabbed another cantaloupe, shaking it like the maracas she’d played with in elementary school. The second one failed the test, so she squeezed it more firmly. Too hard. Tossing it back, she grabbed another one and mindlessly returned to quality testing, listening for sloshing seeds.

It was because of Angela that she all but threw the cantaloupe when the stranger next to her began speaking.


His appearance was so unexpected she dropped her latest target back into the container with a flustered thud. At the same time, eyes wide, her hand instinctively flew to her pocket, ready to whip out her identification card—the slim paper listing her name and date of birth, nothing else.


The Decency Laws were written to monitor population growth and to funnel only the most qualified into leadership positions. All the rest could serve.

Imani failed to impress her parents mere hours after her birth. So she wound up an Orphan. The ten foremost laws dictate that Orphans are good for one thing only: assisting Achievers, the babies with the APGAR scores pointing towards future greatness. Achievers like Andrew, who randomly strikes up a conversation with her in the grocery store. He tries asking her out without even realizing he’s breaking the law.

If there’s one rule that everyone knows, it’s that Orphans and Achievers are not supposed to have non-assistance relationships. Ever. Orphans show up to their assigned houses, complete their tasks, and then return to their Complexes. That’s it. Andrew knows that what he’s planning is completely against the rules, but Imani is beautiful and he wants her to stay.

With move-in day for his freshman year of college rapidly approaching, he resolves to show her that the Decency Laws can act more like guidelines than firm rules. Besides, there's nothing transgressive about having a conversation. It's just good manners. He doesn’t love her, but he can. And that small fact threatens to put him in jail and have her labelled ‘unruly’.

Narrated with dual points-of-view, the manuscript for my young adult romantic fantasy novel, Morrow, is complete at 73,000 words, and has a planned sequel. However, this title has the ability to stand alone.

First 250:


4 Months After The Trip

When he took her, he said he was doing it for his son’s peace of mind, not hers. Achievers never owed Orphans any favors.

She’d left her other half on a picnic table in a Virginia sunrise. Five slowly curving letters to emphasize all the ways she’d swooped and bent to assist and accommodate. She is me. She was me? Wait…I am her?

He told her to forget, said it rather emphatically. But pretending like she wasn’t someone else before arriving in a new place, halfway across the country, was like willing herself to jump through a burning hoop. It took heel-digging-fixed-eyed-resolution. She needed to look that hoop in the face and say with moxie, “I’ve got this. I’ll do it.”

Don’t slip. Don’t mess up. Just forget and you’ll be safe.

Safe, she was. But Imani, apparently she was not.

It’d been 120 days, and she was still standing in front of that stupid hoop, sweating and trying oh-so-hard to just leap. Willing herself to believe that everything would be as peachy as that sunrise on the other side of those teasing flames. Her moxie was wavering like a lit candle wick in the breeze, flickering in and out, shivering if someone came a little too close. And she felt almost…pathetic. But then she had his words on her skin, her name in his mouth, the welcoming press of all six letters.


  1. No.
    I love speculative and romance too, so I wanted to like this -- but I found both the query and first 250 a little jumpy and confusing.
    This sounds like a dual POV but your query doesn't say that, so when you begin discussing the story from Andrew's point of view, it's confusing.
    Good luck revising - I am sure it's going to be great one day!
    In the first paragraph, you introduce Imani but also her redheaded roomate and the guy who asks about her milkshake preference -- we are assuming that's Andrew? Sorry, but that's confusing!
    In the first 250, the canteloupe detail is funny but goes on too long, and I found myself wishing I knew who Angela was since you mention her twice.

  2. No.

    I was lost in the first paragraph of the query. What exactly is an Orphan and an Achiever? You're giving a ton of information but not explaining any of it. Why would he be required to wear a bracelet and have a tattoo? Why would him asking about her milkshake preference be humiliating? There's just a lot going on yet I have no idea what the ground rules are for this world you've created. Imani's POV is interesting but maybe a bit of exposition and world building would clear things up.

  3. This is a no for me.

    While I think the idea of the Orphan's fear of accepting friendship (or more) from an Achiever is interesting and has potential, I wasn't caught up enough by the query and 1st 250. I felt a need to be more fully grounded in the situation. The terms and situation needed a bit more clarifying -- at least in the query. I also found the 'fiercely redheaded roommate' line distracting and found myself wondering if the roommate's hair looked fierce or if it was her personality that was fierce or if 'fierce' was being used to describe the color or her hair. I also wanted to know why Andrew has '...only three months of summer sunsets' -- does this mean he sets this time frame as his goal to win her over or is there an external force which sets this time limit? I'm sure this sounds picky, but figure you don't want anything to push the reader off-track in the query.

    In the first 250, I found some of the prose confusing -- like why riding in the cart would be preferable in a life-threatening situation. Also, the scene with the cantaloupes was a tad confusing -- I wasn't clear at first what 'shaking to her heart's content' referred to -- whether she was shaking with fear or cold -- or as the next paragraph tells us -- shaking the cantaloupes.

  4. No.

    I was confused by the world. You used too much world-building terminology but with not enough actual meat to explain how your world stands out. It just felt like "a romance" set in "a world." I couldn't see what was new and different about this story.

    Another thing I got stuck on was the way you phrased the part about the sequel. Romances generally don't have sequels because they have HEA's. You can have companion novels about different couples, but you can't really continue a series as a romance. So I wonder if you know your genre. (Caveat: I don't, really--just enough to be dangerous--so take that for what it's worth.)

    The first 250 actually, sadly, made this go from my "maybe" pile to my "no" pile. I had to reread the first two paragraphs twice to try and figure out what was going on, and I'm still not sure that I did. Then when I finally moved on, you introduced about someone named Angela. Who is Angela? Was she in the grocery store? I didn't think so. Anyway, it made me scratch my head and made me give up on trying to figure this submission out.

  5. First, take a look on Janet Reid's blog about "what the heck is speculative fiction"?

    Is this sci-fi? Fantasy? Paranormal romance? If so, say so. Don't call it speculative romance because it's hard to sell paranormal romance these days. I don't get the sense that these are paranormal creatures, so just call it Romantic Science Fiction or Romantic Fantasy.

    In the query, I'm honestly very confused. Capitalizing "orphans" makes me think it's something beyond the normal meaning of the word, but I have no idea what it refers to. I also don't know what an Achiever is. Because I'm not grounded in your world yet, the final sentence of the first paragraph means nothing to me. You could substitute made up words for tattoos and milkshakes, and I'd have the same idea of what's going on. Why is Andrew risking jail to be with Imani? Why do we get his last name but not hers? Also clarify the stakes a bit - what does "ruin them both" mean? Will Imani be required to walk around singing Justin Bieber songs? Will Andrew have to downgrade to the second most expensive car in the galaxy? We need a little more to want to root for these characters.

    I actually really liked the first 250, but there are some unnecessary words, and the mentions of Angela are jarring. It might flow better if Angela were actually there, speaking to her.

    No, mostly because of the query.

  6. No.

    Like several others said, I was confused by the world. What are Orphans and Achievers? Why would she be humiliated that he asked her about milkshakes? Why does Andrew only have three months of summer sunsets? Personally, I'd leave out the mention of Imani's roommate in the query as it doesn't seem to serve a purpose. The biggest thing here for me is the stakes. Without clarifying that I have no clear idea why Andrew and Imani can't be together. What do they risk? What's at stake? And if this is a true romance, the mention of a sequel does make me a little concerned. Most romances have a HEA, so the fact that these two may not get one in this book makes me think there needs to be a lot more "meat" in regards to the difficulties with the world. With that being said, I didn't get a sense of a strong plotline outside of the romance that would support that.

    On a positive note I did like the voice in the 250--the way she popped her 'p' and riding around on the grocery cart. Give us some more clarity so we can really root for these characters.

  7. No.

    I liked the first 250 more than I liked the query here. The minor satisfactions of grocery shopping were recognizable and amusing, but Imani, terrified, whipping out her identity card in self-defense should therefore come as a smack in the face and shake the reader up. Yet it doesn’t come off that way, and that may be because we aren’t getting fear and rage off of her that would tell us about the real dangers of her society.

    This also highlights the problem that the tone and the plot aren’t meshing properly yet in the query. The tone feels light and romantic and it doesn’t match the threat implied by the premise. The way Andrew’s written, he sounds kind of thoughtless and entitled (at least at the start). His pursuit of Imani could be a real threat to her. At the very least it would be frightening to her. Yet he’s just “trying to be polite” and prove a point? I’d like to get a little more sense of what might be heroic about him, as well as why Imani would find him interesting enough to take risks for.

    I agree with the other commenters that there was a lot explanation via asides in the query that I think can be tightened up. You don’t need to introduce the terminology for your world in the query. Just explain the ground rules of that world in simple terms then give the arc of the story and the main characters.

    What would also help would be a sense of what makes this a unique retelling of a Romeo-Juliet romance. Is it voice? Is it the characters themselves? Is it the nature of their romance? I’m worried that the dystopia by itself is no longer unique enough. Find that uniqueness and get the tone right, and I think this could go places.


  8. #3 Commenting…

    If this is a Romeo and Juliet retelling say so. If not, then never mind :-)

    The "along with her fiercely redheaded roommate" seems totally out of place. What does the red-hair have to do with anything? The milkshake preference bit is also confusing - does Imani work in a restaurant or something? I need more details. Consider starting your query this way: Orphans exist to serve Achievers. No more, no less and, as one of the Unchosen cast into the Orphan sect, this is Imani's life. So when Andrew Fischer, an Achiever, walks into (wherever) she's prepared to serve. When he asks for her opinion, she's unnerved. (or whatever she's feeling) Because this is a more direct way to get at the story, at least what I think the story is.

    As for the 250: I don't get the "In a life-threatening situation, Imani might place the second reason before the first. Just because there was a certain calm that came with the mindless click-clack, click-clack of the wheels over linoleum. It slowed her heart and numbed her mind into a blissful ease." part. This seems like a simple shopping outing with her friend, Angela. She's just listed three fun things - why would it become a life or death situation, what does one have to do with another? I'd go from your first line to the visual of Imani standing there sloshing cantaloupes with Angela - have some silly girlfriend banter, casual all is well, and then immediate unease because here comes the Achiever, that's what she gets for putting her guard down…

    I feel like this has a good way to go before it's ready, so for me this is a no.

  9. No.

    The challenge of worldbuilding caught you in the query, but that isn't the whole reason for the no. When you capitalize normal words that actually makes them less clear, not more clear. And establishing the worldbuilding around a character we don't know yet makes them both harder to identify.

    I, too, am confused if this is a dual POV, the switch from Imani whose introduction is difficult to follow to Andrew weakens Imani.

    The 250 has great descriptions, but the liberal use of pronouns make it hard to follow. Two females and no proper introductions turn 'she' into a really confusing word.

    When I see the capitalized nouns with the description Speculative Romance, it makes me think you're trying to hide a dystopian, which hurts more than helps. Don't be afraid of your genre, own it, or put it as close to a specific genre as you can get so it doesn't feel like you're hiding anything.

  10. Hi *waves* #20 here.

    I think you’re trying to do a little too much in your query so it’s easy to get lost. Try cutting back on the number of proper nouns and fantasy words. I’ve read you should only include 2-3 names per query and that includes names of races/places ext. In the first paragraph we have Imani, Orphans, unchosen, Complexes, and Achievers. I get that Imani is the MC but I’m not really sure what any other the others mean.

    I would take a look at the synopsis for RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard. Here: You seem to have a similar power dynamic going on and I find that looking at successful examples of similar synopsis/queries helps me focus.

    For the 250, I loved the opening image. Who doesn’t love riding the grocery carts like a scooter. It definitely drew me in. The first sentence of the second paragraph was a bit tough to swallow though. If you read it allowed, it’s a little hard to say in one breath. That’s a good test of sentence length/pacing. After that I’m not really sure what “Angela’s emphatic descriptions” are or what they’re to blame for?

    Eeek. Great way to end the 250 though. You’re writing is close. Just a few edits needed for clarity. I’d target that second paragraph.

    It’s a NO for me because I’m not really sure what the story’s about based on the query, but if you bring it up to the level of your sample, you’ll be well on your way to a yes :)

  11. # 5 here - I probably would not request more pages as the query is currently written.

    Love, love the voice in both the query and the 250 and I really love the potential in this story. Yes, as nearly everyone has mentioned, you should ground us in your world before you use the lingo. That being said, I completely followed the class separation of Orphans and Achievers, that your leads are from two different worlds, that he's going to pursue her against the odds and she is resistant to it. I think the first paragraph of your query is clear and well written.

    When we get to the second paragraph, though, I start to wonder about Andrew. He seems woefully naive. I'd feel more invested in their story if I got the sense that he understands the stakes in pursuing her, and is willing to take it. (And if he is - is it more than her beauty that makes her worth it?) It's currently reading a bit like he's just going to show everyone that they were all wrong to think an Achiever couldn't fall in love with an Orphan. I would also like more insight into his plan to show Imani that the restrictions placed on them are more guidelines than laws. That seems like it's the meat of the plot, during which she (hopefully) falls in love with him and they gain some higher understanding of the arbitrariness of a class system. I love the social commentary aspect of this book. I would just suggest grounding the query with higher stakes and consequences and more concrete plotlines, though, so it shows what makes your story unique.

    As for the 250, again, wonderful voice and a great sense of Imani's character shines through. She is instantly likable. I agree with everyone's comments re: Angela and the references to her - they are confusing. But aside from that, I enjoyed your writing very much and would definitely have read on.

    All in all, this was a hard no for me. I love a good love story and I love a novel with social commentary, and I think this one is going to be great! Lots of luck!

  12. This is a No from me. The Query lost me with the milkshake. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and from there the world-building with the plot got muddled. The only reason I know it's a book about these two is because the genre is speculative romance. Otherwise, I'd have no idea if the book was about overthrowing the government, her trying to escape the Orphan complex, or something else. I agree with the others that you need to go back and revise and try to focus on getting the conflict and stakes--with specifics--through in the query and sacrifice the world building if you must. There's just too many terms--Orphans, Achievers, etc. to digest along with the romantic elements.

    For the 250, you have great voice, but I too would hold off on Angela, and I also didn't get the reference to a life-threatening situation. In a life-threatening situation, none of those things are important, right? Anyway, those things were a tad confusing for me.

    Good luck!

  13. No from me. I didn't quite understand the world building behind the story. Why there is a distinction between Orphans and Achievers. The first 250 didn't clear that up either. Your sentence structure is entertaining, but the second paragraph confused me a little. I don't know who Angela is or who Imani is talking to.

  14. I want to say yes so hard but I just cant!
    I'm a huge sucker for that Delirium kind of forbidden love, and this feels like it has it. But the Query was too full of terminology and not enough description of the actual story. What are Orphans? What are Achievers? Is it actually necessary to capitalize them?
    I've got all the same notes on HEA and sequels, and about narrowing down your genre as everyone else so i wont go into them.

    The first 250 was pretty delightful, a little more descriptions mixed into the actions would be nice though. you mention the friend a few times, it would be nice to know something about her, hair color, the way she carries herself, anything about what she looks like to start the mental picture going. But it's pretty solid.

    Tobias Eaton (4)

  15. Hi, I'm #19.


    Overall, I think the query needs some work. Mine does too. They're tough to get right.

    For me, there were a lot of terms and names that muddled the premise. If I tried to explain the story to someone in my own words, I wouldn't know where to begin. A few phrases like 'fiercely redheaded' left me confused. The last sentence in the first paragraph about tattoos and milkshakes was also hard to follow. It seems to be part your worldbuilding, but it isn't clear in the query as it stands.

    I like the hints of plot that you give us in the query, but really punch what makes your story unique. If this is a forbidden romance, what specifically do they stand to lose? Why are Achievers and Orphans not allowed to be together? Keep the stakes and tension high, clean up some of the extra terms and you'll be on your way.


    I really like the idea of starting off with a list of reasons your MC comes up with to make grocery shopping less daunting. It's something that gains my sympathy right off the bat. I don't like grocery shopping, she doesn't like grocery shopping. We have something in common already.

    But then you lost me a little with the second paragraph. I had to reread several times to get that she was daydreaming about something Angela told her, that she was thinking about seagulls and possibly the ocean. Making it clearer that she's daydreaming would help. It would have the added bonus of bringing us into her perspective as well. And that's what you want. To bring your reader right there with your MC.

    I do have to ask...can you really hear sloshing seeds in a cantaloupe? I don't think I've ever thought to shake one before. It certainly brings my attention and it makes me wonder if your MC is a little eccentric. That could be fun.

    For me, this will have the be a no. I think you have some great material here to work with though, so keep it up. :)

    Jen #19

  16. You have a great voice. Really, really good. I completely hear her talking. BUT in the 250, I have no idea who Amanda is, so that makes me cringe a bit. Is she replaying a conversation in her head? Is Amanda there with her? I have no idea. So, that confuses me. In the second paragraph, that first sentence needs to be shortened. It just kept going and I needed to wrap my mind on what it was saying so I could get the description.

    But it is really the query that I need more from. I don't get the relationship between the Orphans and the Achievers and in order to give a yes, that is just a piece of info that I have to have.

    Super great voice!

  17. Great revisions! I get a much clearer idea of the world here. A few mores suggestions to tighten this up:

    Watch out for tense in your query. You want to stay in third person present (even if something happens before the story), so the opening would read like: “The Decency Laws monitor population growth and funnel only the most qualified into leadership positions. All the rest serve.” Sounds so much more immediate, right?

    Second paragraph, I have a much better sense of the hierarchy, but I still think you could simplify a touch: “Imani failed to impress her parents so she wound up and Orphan, only good for one thing: assisting the Achievers, those whose test results point toward future greatness.”

    Also, is the only reason Andrew is intrigued by Imani because of her beauty? That’s seems a little shallow. But maybe that’s his character?

    I lose track of Imani at the end. The query format I’ve found most effective for dual POV novels is: hook, POV 1, POV 2, synthesis (stakes/ how their stories collide). This is by no means a rule, but it may hep you strike a balance between the characters. I love your hook (especially after you clean up the tense issue), and I love the way you introduce Imani. I would give Andrew his own paragraph. Then in the last paragraph bring them together.

    For the 250, personally, I like the first version better. I’m not really sure what’s going on in this one. It feels like it jumps POV in the second paragraph, so I’m not 100% sure who’s talking, where they are, what they are doing, or what this hoop is. Maybe it’s just be, but I prefer an opening that grounds me in the setting and POV more. At least, it’s easier to digest.

    Good luck!


  18. Revision critique from #17
    I like this query MUCH better. One thing though - in the second paragraph it says that Andrew is asking her out but doesn't realize he is breaking a rule. In the next paragraph you say that everyone knows that Orphans and Achievers can't have a relationship outside of it benefiting the shouldn't Andrew know that when he asks her out? I'm just a bit confused by that.

    I love the part about her disappointing her parents right after her birth. That immediately makes me want to cheer for her.

    The 250 confused me. I like the first one better. The second one just has too many questions and not enough answers for me. Where is she? What is this hoop? What is the other half of her?

    Keep at it. You are getting there.

  19. Revision No. Difficult decision as I love your premise and your writing style. Beautiful wording and imagery!

    I'm not pulled in by the first line of the query, it's a very distant in tone. This line is great: Imani failed to impress her parents mere hours after her birth. That could start off the query pretty easily. I love this divide of Orphans and Achievers. Good voice in query. But I don't feel the stakes presented aren't high enough. Although I like the rhythm of the 250 words, the content leaves me disoriented. The "he" and "she" gives me nothing to latch on to as far as character. Even when you mention Imani, I'm lost. (#10)

    1. p.s. I forgot to say, I like your new query overall because of the voice, but for the 250 words there was something about the original post where you had us in the action of something happening, and the main problem of the boy talking to her is introduced there, which is good. And that may be a better foundation for your opening.

  20. Revised version from #1 here. I think the new query is much stronger in terms of showing us Imani's world and the line about Imani disappointing her parents is strong. It did confuse me when Andrew doesn't know he's breaking the law in paragraph 2. If it is because Imani doesn't 'look' like an orphan (and I'm not sure what that would entail), I think it needs a rephrase. When I read paragraph 3 and Andrew knows he's breaking the law, I became confused and again, in paragraph 4, when his position is that the laws are guidelines, not rules to live by. I don't know if this means that Andrew goes through some sort of change in how he views the laws or ?

    I liked the prologue, but felt a bit ungrounded in it. If Imani were more present, more concrete in this opening, I think it would work better. The previous opening, with the mix of physical action had a more immediate feeling.

  21. In this query revision, you say Andrew doesn't realize he's breaking the law and then that he knows what he's planning is against the rules. So… which is it? Also, you tell us this is dual POV but this query makes it just seem like Andrew's story. The beginning where you explain the world is better/clearer, but I think you should still play with explaining Andrew's interest/motivation and bring back Imani deeper into the query!

  22. #2 commenting on the revision. I'm in agreement with the comments above me: there's now some confusion between whether Andrew does or doesn't know the rules. I'm also in agreement that I liked the original first 250 you had more than the new one. I can see this new 250 coming later in the book and making much more sense. I did like the imagery in it very much.

    I think the world-building aspects of the revised query work very well. I would still like a better sense of Andrew as a character. It might help to have details about both him and Imani that tell me about their state of mind and make them vivid enough to carry the conflict.

    Good luck!