Sunday, March 22, 2015

Become an Agent 2015 Post #3

Title: Devil Springs
Genre: Contemporary YA
Word Count: 70k

Query:

The senior year Mesa has pictured slips away when her grandmother, mayor of Devil Springs, calls for revival and a town name change to mark the devil’s official banishment from his hold on the town, particularly its teenagers. Grandma Avis buys Mesa a hope chest, pressures her to get baptized, and stands in the way of her relationship with Cody, Mesa’s new cross country running partner. At first Mesa resists falling for Cody, the school’s golden-boy athlete and every girl’s not-so-secret crush, but when he agrees to help Drew, Mesa’s autistic neighbor, her resolve waivers. 

Mesa prepares to fight Avis--the name change, the fanatical march around the city, the dictates on who Mesa is supposed to befriend and how she’s supposed to think--all of it. But going against her grandma could mean losing Cody, her friends, and even her spot on the track team. Worst of all, it’s hardening in Mesa a reactive-atheism when what she really needs, especially when Drew gets lost during the town’s worst storm in a century, is a swell of faith.

DEVIL SPRINGS, a work of contemporary young adult fiction complete at 70,000 words, takes the emotional landscape of doubt found in Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost and sets it in the southern grit of a Flannery O’Connor terrain.

First 250:

Avis cries out in the kitchen, but I only come when she starts hollering for me. From the entry, I can see her standing at the sink, blood dripping from her finger.

“Mesa! Get this out of the way,” she snaps, shoving a colander filled with strawberries toward me. She lifts her finger in the air and reaches to turn on the water with her other hand. I grab the bowl and watch as the blood runs down her wrist and begins to seep into the cuff of her blouse, crimson blooming in white threads.

“It’s the devil attacking me.”

I’m pretty sure the paring knife she’d been using to the hull the berries just slipped and she cut herself, but I nod. My friend Kenzi and her mom will be here in ten minutes to pick me up for our senior picture appointment; I don’t need to get into it with Avis right now.

“He’s in this town. Staked his claim into its very name.”

This again. Avis has been trying to get the town name changed from Devil Springs to Life Springs for as long as I can remember.

“I’ll get the band-aids,” I say.

In a few quick steps, I’m at the hall bathroom and have the entire plastic container of first aid trappings in my hands, but when I get back to the kitchen entry, I pause. Avis is talking, and it’s not to me.


Query:
The senior year Mesa has pictured slips away when her grandmother Avis, mayor of Devil Springs, sets out to ban the devil from his hold on the town, particularly its teenagers. (Stupid skinny dipping cheerleaders and their stupid Facebook posts.)

Mesa’s Avis-strategy has always been to lay-low, follow the rules, and tick off the days until the freedom of graduation. It’s worked fine until Avis ratchets up both her expectations and restrictions. Hope chests and pamphlets on baptism start showing up in Mesa’s room, and a no-dating policy stands firm even after Mesa’s 17th birthday. Not a problem until the yummiest possible running partner on the track team wants to start training with her.


Mesa is sick of being bullied into fake piety, but standing up to Avis is a risk she’s never taken before. It could mean losing the small allowances she does have including her spot on the track team. As Mesa suffers under Avis’s judgement, her own disbelief cements. But when a storm rolls in on top of Avis’s devil-banning march and Mesa’s neighbor goes missing, what she really needs is a swell of faith.

Complete at 70,000 words, DEVIL SPRINGS is contemporary young adult fiction. It features the emotions of a doubting teen such as in Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost set in the southern grit of a Flannery O’Connor landscape.

250:

Avis cries out in the kitchen, but I wait a second to see if I’m needed. Avis likes to holler.

“Mesa! Get in here!”

I toss my book aside and go. She stands at the sink, blood dripping from her finger.

“Get this out of the way,” she snaps, shoving a colander filled with strawberries toward me. She lifts her finger in the air and reaches to turn on the water with her other hand. I grab the bowl as the blood runs down her wrist and begins to seep into the cuff of her blouse, crimson blooming in white threads.

“It’s the devil attacking me.”

I’m pretty sure the paring knife she’d been using to hull the berries just slipped, and she cut herself, but I nod. My friend Kenzi and her mom will be here in ten minutes to pick me up for our senior picture appointment; I don’t need to get into it with Avis right now.

“He’s in this town. Staked his claim into its very name.”

This again. Avis has been trying to get the town name changed from Devil Springs to Life Springs for as long as I can remember.

“I’ll get the band-aids,” I say.

In a few quick steps, I’m at the hall bathroom with the entire plastic container of first aid trappings in my hands, but when I get back to the kitchen, I pause. Avis is talking, and it’s not to me.

24 comments:

  1. Hi,
    Post #9 here
    You have a lovely writing style, something I admire. But I have to say no to this, unfortunately. The query reads a bit like a synopsis and I don't get a feel of the character's voice. I also don't have a clear idea of the stakes. It looks like the grandmother wants to stop Mesa's relationship with Cody, but I'm not sure why. Is there something about Cody she finds unlikable, or is it just because she wants to control Mesa's life?
    Also, the last sentence confused me. Are the stakes between Mesa's choice - her grandmother's strictness vs her freedom? Or is it realizing she needed faith to save Cody? If it is the latter, how does the grandmother come into it?

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  2. Query: Interesting premise. I love the "devil’s hold on the town and teenagers" idea. Would like to understand that better and how that affects/affected Mesa.The promise of the bad storm is great. Cody is intriguing. Mention of grandmother’s name (Avis) causes some confusion and may not be needed in query. (She is a great character though.) That first sentence, second paragraph is confusing in general with the list of things Mesa is resisting.
    First 250: If I hadn’t read the query, I may not have understand Mesa’s reaction to her grandmother. Mesa might appear cold and without understanding their background, she verges on unsympathetic. Going from the immediate problem (grandma bleeding and claims of the devil) to the town name change doesn’t seem to fit. However, I really like that ending with Avis talking but not to Mesa. Nice creepiness to it. That part makes me want to read on, so it was a tough call, but will go with No -- (#10)

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  3. Okay, contemporary is not a genre. It just tells the reader that this story takes place in modern times. I think it's really important for writers to know this because I see it a lot, and agents don't like it if you're not well-researched. Be sure to follow #tenqueries, #500queries, #querytips, and #pubtips on Twitter. If I were an agent, this would be an automatic pass. Only because I'd have 100 of these queries to get through every day, and I'd only want clients as diligent as me. However, I'm not really an agent so I read you work.

    The query was a little hard for me to follow. I wasn't able to discern what the real plot or genre of this story is. Is this a fantasy? If the devil is real in this novel and chasing teenagers, you might have an urban fantasy. I would suggest checking out queryshark.com they have a some good info on query crafting, also see (Twitter) @atrueblood5 blog for successful query letters and great tips, and @Michelle4Laughs blog for agent interviews.

    The 250 is very good, you have a distinctive voice and I always love the rare. However, there were a few red flags. I noticed some missing words, unnecessary words, and mixed tenses. That tells me the author either hasn’t done enough passes on edits or just isn't ready yet.

    So that would be a no, sorry.

    Critiqued by #7

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    Replies
    1. Hey! Sorry for bumping in here, just wanted to push back on something a little. As far as I know, contemporary is a genre :D There are loads and loads of agents looking specifically for YA Contemporary, a genre that signals not only modern-day settings but also modern-day problems and issues. But I don't know everything about genres - if there is something I'm missing, please let me know!

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    2. Oh my gosh, the debate begins. I'm definitely not an expert but as far as I know, contemporary is the classification that the text is set during or after 1960. A genre is the category reflective to the plots subject matter. While the form of contemporary content may sway the choice of genre selection it alone does not tell the reader what to expect, such as romance, mystery, horror, fantasy, and so on. I've seen quite a few tweets from agents stating that contemporary is not a genre as well. However, NA never used to be a thing and stuff changes so quickly in this industry so I could just be an old-hat on this one.

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    3. Hi Anonymous! Contemp YA as a genre is not only an indicator of time but also denotes realism. As in, its the catch all for modern YA that isn't paranormal, magical realism, urban fantasy, etc.

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  4. Hi,

    The query's off to a good start, but it could use some tweaking. I feel like you've got a lot of characters in the query, and we don't necessarily need them all. I'd either take out Cody in the first instance and then put "her boyfriend" in the second, or rework a little to remove Drew's name (preferably the first). We don't really know much about Drew here. He's Mesa's neighbor, he's autistic. Give me another sentence or two about their relationship so I get really upset at the idea that he's lost in the storm. You're at 220 words total, and you can go up to 250 with the meat of the query (before the final paragraph), so try to elaborate a bit more to give us a clear picture of the story and the conflict.

    The first 250 are pretty good, but watch out for unnecessary words like "can" and filter words like "see." Instead of "can see," you'd paint a better image simply showing Grandmother Avis at the sink. Also, Mesa comes across as a bit cold and unconcerned that her grandmother cut herself. Even if their relationship is primarily antagonistic, it would help readers connect with Mesa if she showed a bit of sympathy. My grandmother's incredibly religious too, and we don't see eye-to-eye on much, but if she cuts her hand, the first words out of my mouth would be, "Are you okay?"

    A really great idea, but another polish would really make it shine. This is a no for me.

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    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. One more time without the goofy typo…

      Thanks, Laura. Funny note about the first line bc at first I Mesa rushing in, but then I guess I had the pendulum swing the other way :-)

      Have revised the top so that now it's:

      Avis cries out in the kitchen, but I wait a second to see if I’m needed. Avis likes to holler.
      “Mesa! Get in here!”
      So I toss my book aside and go. She stands at the sink, blood dripping from her finger.
      “Get this out of the way,” she snaps, shoving a colander filled with strawberries toward me.

      Delete
  5. Hello!

    This sounds interesting! And technically, your writing is just about there there. However I have to say no because I feel like the hyper-controlling Southern sort-of-Christian paranormal authority character is overdone big time in the market. Sorry!!

    #16

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  6. I'm intrigued by a YA book that tackles issues of belief/faith etc., head on. Having said that, however, I think the query is problematic in several places:

    1) It took me two or three tries to get through the first sentence. It's very long, and packs in a lot of information (and makes me worried the book will do the same thing).

    2) Too many named characters in the query (the general rule of thumb is no more than three unless absolutely necessary).

    3) Some points seem to contradict other points (for example, at first it says grandma stands in the way of her relationship with Cody, but later that going against her grandma could mean losing Cody; if her grandma is opposed to Cody, then wouldn't going against her grandma imply getting closer to Cody?).

    Also, while the query includes a number of potentially gripping elements, I think the final hook could be more strongly framed.

    This is a no for me.

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  7. Yes.

    Bystander here. I went through all 20 entries, made my yes, no, and maybe pile. This started out in the maybe pile. Congrats, you made it into the yes pile. ;)

    The conflict to me is interesting, and the query sets it out very well except for one small detail that I had an issue with: How does Avis actually stand in the way of Mesa doing anything? "Going against her grandmother could mean losing..." But how? She's old enough to move out and get a job, right? Screw grandma, she can't tell me what to do!

    Anyway, I definitely like this kind of antagonist, the crazy uber-religious hypocritical type, who hopefully gets her comeuppance. However, this is a super subjective yes, because I do like that kind of story. I see a lot of no's here, which makes me realize how subjective this business really is!

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  8. I think this is a really interesting premise, but this is a no for me.

    The query confused me, and I got really tripped up on the first sentence. I'm not really sure I understand why Mesa wants to stop the town name change. It's just a name, so why does it matter? I'm also curious why Avis has a problem with Mesa's running partner. Does she just oppose all dating? Then later you mention that going against her grandma could make her lose Cody, but how? You mention that "she needs faith" but it isn't clear why. I'd also recommend limiting the named characters to no more than three.

    The 250 is almost there. The voice is good, but there are a few filter words lingering. I actually don't think that Mesa comes across as being cold, and I definitely got a good sense of the relationship she has with her grandmother.

    With a little reworking on the query and a polish on the 250, this could go from a no to a yes.

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  9. No.

    This is interesting, but I think some representations - which are viewed as stereotypes whenever we can't read the full manuscript, which usually has incredibly more nuanced portrayals - could hurt your chances at getting requests. Namely, the portrayal of the religious community may be seen as too extreme in the first 250. But that's not that big of a deal and not why I'm saying 'No.'

    The query was good. This line made me stumble: "Worst of all, it’s hardening in Mesa a reactive-atheism when" Maybe it should be, "A reactive atheism is hardening in Mesa"? Also, I was unsure about Mesa's motivations in the query. Why is it such a big fight *not* to change the town's name? Why does Mesa care so much? We need to know more about Mesa. And how exactly can her grandmother stop her from dating others? Does she live with her grandmother?

    The 250 could have been tighter. It's a slightly intense scene and yet the prose is with long sentences and slow. Reading it out loud would help a lot :D

    Post #8

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  10. This is No for me. Here's the thing, I like the 250. Not sure I'd change much, but the query is all over the place. I had a hard time following exactly what was going on. The hope chest, baptism, etc., didn't make sense to me. Also, I'm not sure why changing the name of the town is so important that she'd fight against it, and what does it mean that she's going against her grandmother? Because she doesn't want to change the name--or is she doing something about it? And where do Drew and Cody fall into things? If the town changes names she can't see Cody? I think I just need a little more connecting those links and making the conflict clearer. Good luck!

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  11. I kinda love that I instantly thought of Footloose when i read through the query portion.
    I did get a little lost because there were so many characters introduced in so little time, and there was a bit of an info-dump (I'm guilty of this too). The story seems to be essentially about Mesa and her theological opposition to her Grandmother, and the other players, Cody and Drew are just cogs on the wheel of this basic struggle. I would recommend eliminating the extra info about their characters and sticking with the main focus on how Grandma is changing the town and how Mesa struggles against it. Talking about the love interest and the neighbor getting lost is good, but less info on them in the query would tighten the story up.
    I liked the first 250, i'ts strong and you feel the tension between the two women without being told (BRAVO!!) I i do kinda hate the very last line though. but that's just my taste.

    i'm giving this is a YES, with a more focused Query, it could be awesome, I'm already casting Kevin Bacon as a pastor or something in the movie version i just created in my head. (I really love Footloose.)

    Tobias Eaton (4)

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  12. I thought of Footloose too and that was a good thing!
    My problem, and I think this is a personal one, is that having lived in Arizona for quite some time, I kept reading "Mesa" in your query and thinking things belonged to the city of Mesa instead of a human being. But I got my brain going in the right direction eventually.

    I agree that there are too many names in the query. The first sentence is too long for me.

    Your 250 is better than your query for sure. I prefer past tense over present, but I enjoyed this! You have a good voice and I am already getting a good feel for Avis' character. I can tell that I would want to read more scenes with her in it. I have her pictured in my head completely!

    This is a no for me, but due to the query only.

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  13. I'm #6.

    This is a no for me, but a reluctant no. I agree with #17 above me, I read Mesa as a location and had to go back and reread the first sentence several times. Also, speaking of the first sentence, for me it's too long. I understand the urge to want to put everything into the first sentence, but it gets to be hard to focus on it. Also in the first paragraph I feel like in the last sentence there was a bit too much detail. I'm not sure if we need to know about Mesa's autistic neighbor, and also Cody the track star. It gets to be a little too much to keep track of and I'm not sure why I should care about everyone. I think the second paragraph is strong, and gives us good stakes but I would work on varying sentence length a little.

    I really enjoy the first 250, I like the voice there, and the concept for me is solid, but I think the query needs a little polish before it's ready to go. Best of luck with this!

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  14. #5 here - Yes, I am going to request pages from you.

    This query needs to be focused and tightened, but I really like the premise.

    The opening sentence in particular I think could use rephrasing and tightening. I also found a little of the phrasing to be confusing. For instance, "call for revival and a town name change." Saying "Avis wants a revival and to change the town's name" is more active and engaging.

    I agree with what others have said about Cody. I think it's useful to mention him, but can you tie him into the theme of Avis's religious fervor disrupting Mesa's life? And I agree it's not necessary to mention the reason why Mesa falls for him, just that she is starting this relationship and Avis is wrecking it. Keep the focus on the Avis-Mesa dynamic as much as possible.

    I like that you first present the ways Mesa is going along to appease her grandmother, with the hope chest, etc. But what's the breaking point for Mesa? Is it Avis interfering with her and Cody's new romance? If so, that's the perfect place to both give us the inciting incident and bring in the romance.

    And I do want to know what she has to *gain* from opposing her grandmother since she has so much to lose? If you can elegantly tie together the reason she could lose so much with why she's willing to forge ahead, that would be great. Also, is there a point in the book where Mesa begins to understand her grandmother's fervor, and is this a turning point for her personally? If so, some nod to that would be nice.

    One other thing that made me pause is the "reactive-atheism." Resisting overt religious fervor is a long way from being an atheist. Many people resist the dictates of fundamental Christianity despite being middle-of-the-road, mainstream Christians themselves. So, that reaction to Avis, from townspeople who presumably were believers when this whole thing got going, seems too extreme. From the standpoint of #writeinclusively, I'm all for you tossing in atheists, though. They are often misrepresented and misunderstood. But I'm only for it if it's organic and believable within your story.

    However, I absolutely love the contrast you draw between the pushback on religious belief and the "swell of faith" that Mesa needs. I think this idea alone may have swayed me.

    The last thing I'll mention is, would you reconsider your lead character names of Mesa and Avis? You are probably very attached to them and I completely understand that. But I did find myself tripping over them. Both visually and phonetically they are a bit too similar, in my opinion.

    I really enjoyed your 250. It immediately brought us into Mesa's conflict with dealing with her grandmother, and she is a very sympathetic heroine right off the bat.

    Most of all, I love the premise of this novel and I hope with some tweaking it will be hard for agents to resist! Good luck!

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  15. No.

    I think this could be a really fun read but I’m not quite seeing that in this query and first 250. Is it funny? Is it serious? Is it gritty? Right now I read a little too much synopsis with not enough feel. I want more details about Cody too. Why would Mesa resist him? I also need to know why she would stand up to her grandmother. I see that Avis is pushing Mesa to do thing’s Avis wants her to do, but Mesa is in her senior year of high school. If she was planning to leave after graduation, she might just go along with everything knowing it doesn’t really matter to her in the long run. So why does Mesa care so much? What is her history with her grandmother that Mesa needs to make her stand now?

    What do you mean about Mesa needing faith? If this is Christian lit you might want to say so because I think it will actually increase your chances of getting published.

    Good luck!

    #2

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  16. Revision from #17
    I think you did a much better job with your query this time. There is a voice there now that wasn't as strong before. Even Mesa's name read more smoothly for me (I kept thinking of Mesa, AZ the first time around and it was tripping me up.). You did a better job setting up your stakes. It does still read a bit like it is Christian Lit with that line about faith at the end. So I still think you need to address that part as others said in the first round of critiques. But I would request pages based on this query now.

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  17. Revision from #8:

    I like the query better but it can be even stronger. The last line really jumps out of place in that it introduces three new plot lines: the storm, the missing neighbor, and her internal struggle with faith - all as the last line of the query. That doesn't work. I do like all it contains, though, but it occurs too fast. I think that you can tighten up the rest of the query and expand on the last line more - make it more internal and about the main character instead of the guy!

    Good job :) I think I'd vote no on this right now, but I bet that'd change if the query is worked on a bit.

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  18. Revision notes from #1: The query did have a nice pace and voice, but I wanted to know why Mesa stands up to Avis now. What is the trigger -- wanting to date or train with the cute boy? If she's close to graduation, there needs to be something that makes Mesa's situation urgent, especially since the query says she never stands up to her grandmother. I had one additional concern -- if Avis has been elected Mayor, I assume she is a feet-on-the-ground type of person, but the query makes her sound like she's halfway 'round the bend. If Avis has had a sudden change/intensification of her beliefs, can you fold that in? As written, it had me wondering how she got elected. Some picky points -- the phrase 'small allowances' stopped me as it made me think of a weekly allowance. Perhaps a different word or phrasing, such as '....losing the small pleasures/freedoms she is allowed....'?

    The opening 250 sailed along and gave a nice introduction to these characters and their world. Mine is a 'no' vote, but with a few more questions answered in the query, it would quickly become a 'yes'.

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