Sunday, March 22, 2015

Become an Agent 2015 Post #9

Title: Imperfect Lives
Genre: YA Contemporary
Word Count: 56,000


A text message leads seventeen-year-old Shaun Daley to question what everyone else has taken at face value—that his gifted twin committed suicide.

He tracks down the ex-classmate who sent the message, only to witness the guy’s death in a freak hit-and-run. Unable to get the answers he needed, he seeks out his brother’s best friend—nerdy, introverted Mira Patel.

Mira has her own problems, struggling between unrealistic parental expectations and a sister who breaks every rule in their traditional Indian household. When Shaun demands her help, she agrees, though his arrogant attitude annoys the heck out of her. Then her sister dies of a drug overdose. And she finds out Shaun shares her belief that her sister was murdered.

As their grief draws them closer together, she helps Shaun investigate the deaths. They discover clues linking the hit-and-run to her sister’s overdose and, ultimately, his brother’s suicide. Soon they’re in a race to expose a killer before he finishes them off, too.

First 250: 


The walls of our three-story colonial could withstand force five gales, but did nothing to muffle my mom’s sobs from the adjoining room, or my dad’s frenzied pacing in the hall outside.

Something heavy thudded against my bedroom wall, followed by the sound of glass shattering. Dad stopped pacing. “What the hell, Terese?” A pause, then, “Oh, for God’s sake, cut it out! He’s not coming back.”

Dad was great at stating the obvious.

Mom answered, her voice too low for me to hear, but I didn’t need to. Their arguments always ended with Dad either sleeping on the couch or leaving the house. Lately he’d been leaving more often. I dragged a pair of jeans over my boxers and sat at the edge of the bed, staring at my clenched hands.

My brother would’ve known the right thing to do. But, if he was here, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. Damn you, David. Why the hell did you do it? I blinked hard, wishing I’d gone out. I could be drinking with the guys right now, instead of sitting here missing my brother and listening to my parents tear each other apart.

Dad’s footsteps paused outside my door. I waited for him to continue toward the stairs. He hadn’t set foot in my room since David died a month ago.

The door handle turned.


A text message leads seventeen-year-old Shaun Daley to question what everyone else has taken at face value—that his gifted twin committed suicide.

Torn apart already by grief and his parents’ crumbling marriage, Shaun turns to his brother’s best friend—nerdy, introverted Mira Patel—for help with the message.

Mira has her own problems, struggling between unrealistic parental expectations and a sister who breaks every rule in their traditional Indian household. But she helps Shaun track down the ex-classmate who sent the text, only to witness the guy’s death in a freak hit-and-run. Then her sister dies of a drug overdose.

Three deaths—a hit-and-run, a suicide, and the overdose—yet they share a common link. And the only way Mira and Shaun can stop a killer clever enough to mask his murders as accidental, is to find that link and stop him before he finishes them off, too.

My Young Adult contemporary, IMPERFECT LIVES, told in dual POV, is complete at 56,000 words.

First 250:


Seven hundred and forty fours. And I had lived in hell every second.

David was gone forever. Repeating that phrase a million times in my mind the past thirty-one days hadn’t made any difference. I still expected to wake up to my twin’s screeching in the shower.

I never knew I’d miss that awful sound. That I’d give anything to hear it again.

Sheets tangled around my legs as I lay in bed and waited out the minutes creeping by on my cell phone screen.

Forty four thousand, six hundred and forty seconds of emptiness since my life got ripped apart. I hadn’t realized emptiness could hurt so hard.

Whoever said time was the ultimate healer was an idiot.

I stared at the ceiling in the early morning light filtering through the curtains, then gave up and dragged a pair of jeans over my boxers. I wasn’t getting any sleep tonight, and by the sounds of it, neither were my parents.

The walls of our three-story colonial could withstand force five gales, but did nothing to muffle my mom’s sobs from the adjoining room, or my dad’s frenzied pacing in the hall outside.

Something heavy thudded against my bedroom wall, followed by the sound of glass shattering. Dad stopped pacing. “What the hell, Terese?” A pause, then, “Oh, for God’s sake, get a grip! He’s not coming back.”

Dad was great at stating the obvious.


  1. Unfortunately, I would have to say no.

    In the 3rd QL paragraph, I found that the sentences seemed abrupt and choppy. Also, I would like to have more information about why the killer wants Mira and Shaun dead. Do they get to close to finding the killer? Is there another connection? I felt I would need to know more before committing to ask for more pages.

    That said, I love the premise! If you can get the QL to really shine, I think you'll really have something here!

  2. Query: Interesting premise. Overall, good job showing voice in your query (from Mira) and nicely blending the two narrators. Good mystery element with the deaths. I might question why Mira would help Shaun if he’s arrogant. Not sure you need the part about the ex-classmate, could go right into "unable to get answers". First 250: Nice opening with the wind vs. the noises of turmoil in the house. Good tension with the Dad's footsteps at the door. The only thing is that last line almost reads too dramatic. Maybe show how her focus is drawn to the handle moving in another way. Not an easy decision to pass on this one, but although I understood Shaun’s problems, I felt more drawn in by Mira and her story. — No (#10)

  3. You hooked me at your opening line. I really love the query letter, although it's a little on the short side. I'd like some more information about Shaun and Mira's relationship. I agree with Maddie that it probably doesn't matter that the person who sent the message was an ex-classmate - no need to add information to a query that only raises questions. Overall, though, a great premise that makes me want to get to the pages.

    In the first 250, it reads a bit too old for YA, especially when he mentions "drinking with the guys." That's something I'd expect a college student to say, not a teenager. Even just adding something like "drinking stolen beers" or something might help-I mean, yes, I realize that teenagers drink, it hasn't been that long since I was one. But a nod at the fact that it's not legal might help me. Or change the phrasing to sound more teen-like.

    If I'm an agent, the main reason I wouldn't accept this is that I personally don't like first person dual POV in romance, and I have to make some difficult choices. (If it's NOT a contemporary romance, then I'd revise the query a bit, because at the moment, that's what it reads like.) A very subjective no.

  4. No.

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

    I had this problem with another entry, so I don't know if it's just me or something that agents would look for. My biggest problem was that I feel like you're hinting around some big reveals that make your story stand out, but you're not delivering them. I don't need the ending, but I do need to know more than just the setup and back story. It reads like a thriller/mystery, so I, in my role as agent, would like to know more about just who the characters are. What drives the plot? What makes the reader keep turning pages and staying up till all hours of the morning wanting to find out what happens next?

    I do like the 250 because they're emotional, but we're seeing the parents' emotion instead of the main character's. If there's any way that you could start with him in the middle of the fight, that might make it more engaging.

  5. I really wanted to vote yes on this one because I think the stakes are great and I found myself wanting to know more, but in the end, I could only give two Yes votes and this one didn't make it. To make this one a yes, I think I need to feel a more authentic YA voice (this guy seemed like a college-aged guy to me for some reason), a few more details about how the mystery is going to unfold, and a first 250 more focused on the MC and his reactions rather than his parents' reactions. Best of luck.

  6. Yes--mainly based on the 250.

    The query: While I think Mira's paragraph is generally good and gives us a good sense of her and her problems, I can't say the same about Shaun. I'd suggest reworking and combining those first two paragraphs. Also, I think the last two sentences in Mira's paragraph can be tweaked a little, since, as-is, they read a little choppy. I'd recommend adjusting the genre--this is a Contemporary what? Mystery/thriller/romance? My only other concern is the word count. 56k is on the low end for YA.

    The 250: I really loved this and fell right into the scene. I agree that the voice does sound a little older than YA, but with a quick tweak on the drinking I think that might do the trick.

    Great job!

  7. Yes!

    This sounds like a story filled with mystery and tension.

    The first two paragraphs of your query start out great. In paragraph 3, why does she agree to help? The comment on her finding him annoying makes me wonder if the ms is dual pov. Even if it is, the query is so short, it's best to stick with 1 pov in it. Query shark has a couple entries on this. Also, the trail leads to Mira, not to her sister. Do they have any idea why the sister was killed? Do they wonder why? I do. You have a great closing sentence on the query.

    In the 250, I love "Damn you, David. Why the hell did you do it? I blinked hard, wishing I’d gone out." But following that with "I could have been drinking..." makes him seem shallow. His brother's killed himself and his parents are fighting and he's wishing he was hanging out swigging beers? I don't think this is what you're trying to convey, maybe a small change or two would make this stronger.

    I hope this helps. Best luck with your revisions and query.


  8. This is a No from me. There's a LOT going on in the query, from a twin suicide, to another death, to Mira, Mira's sister, and then Shaun. I'd try and focus more on Shaun and the danger he's in, the reason he's investigating, and the problems he's having with the investigation. I read it as most of the book being about trying to catch his twin's killer, who could be related to these other deaths, and who is now after Shaun. THAT sounds interesting. I'd flush out more details on that part-the investigation and the threats against him.

    I like the 250. It tells us his brother is dead, his parents are fighting, and he feels alone without his brother there to help him. Perfect. Good luck!

  9. This is a no for me because of the query. But with that said, I thought the first 250 were great. I simply had a difficult time keeping tract of who was who in the query. I had to read it three times to really "get" the plot.

    The plot is interesting, and I'm intrigued. I really need to know just a little tiny bit more. I need a hint at what we're dealing with here. Why are these teens being killed? Can you give me just a little hint in the query?

    Best of luck to you. You are a strong writer. That query will come along in no time! I'm #14

  10. This is a no for me, unfortunately, even though I love that you're setting up a cross cultural friendship/possibly romance and I love the murder mystery element.
    Here's why it's a no:
    Query: As others have said, your first paragraph got confusing with too many details. I think you can cut straight to the chase - Shaun and Mira team up to investigate his brother's murder. Then you need to tell us more. Why does he think Mira's sister's overdose was a murder? Why does he annoy her? Is there a personal stake - beyond being a target of a killer - that you can hook us with so we get invested in your characters?
    Also - I've heard agents say they prefer you to tell them straight up when you've got dual POV, so I'd mention that in your query.
    First 250: The part I found hard to stomach was his father's response to his mother's grief. He sounds so unsympathetic - is that realistic? I can see them being divided by grief, but maybe you need to help us understand if the dad is just cold or that's his grief showing or something.
    Also, I would hesitate to start with so much detail about his parents' conversation - this is the part of the story I want to be investing in HIM, not his parents, and in order to make his parents sound authentic, you need to spend more time on their fight. So I'd put that somewhere else and introduce us to him first.
    Re: genre - 56K may be a tad light. I wouldn't go over 75K, but YA tends to be longer these days.

  11. Commenting from the audience: This is one of my YES picks. Although the query needs tightening, it still conveys the basis of the story and provokes interest to hear more. The writing in the 250 was excellent. With that said, I think it could be improved by strengthening the depth of the MC's emotions, like drowning his sorrows in some stolen booze instead of implied partying with the guys. The voice is tricky for the older YA but I think you're really close; it's hard to tell from the 250 because of the nature of the opening. This was an easy yes for me because of the interesting premise and the quality of the writing in the 250. Best wishes to the author!

  12. I read this yesterday, but wasn't ready to give a critique. I struggled with my thoughts on yours more than any other. I cannot put my finger on exactly why. I think its that I love the storyline, and want to read this story, but I am also not feeling any emotion. It's like I'm wanting to love your story, and just waiting for you to make me do it.

    I want to feel more of the connection that will bring Mira and Shaun together, acknowledging their unique backgrounds that make them feel different from each other, but also the common human experience that draws them together.

    On the first 250, I want to feel the emptiness of a home where parents have lost a child, a young man has lost a brother, but its not drawing me in. But I know with some tweaking, it can definitely get there.

    So, its a no. But make me feel, and it would be a definite yes.

  13. Yes! But the query needs work. I had to read it a few times to get it all in my head. It needs to be stream-lined a bit more. There was too much going on for me and I was getting lost.

    But the 250 had me. I could feel the emotion. I get why dad isn't patient with mom anymore. Her grief on top of his own is too much to handle and she isn't handling her own well so he has to separate himself from it. Traumas can break up relationships and often do. But I agree that you might need to add a line in there to help make that more clear.

    I don't like the idea of him going out drinking with the guys. Not all grief has to be masked with alcohol/drugs. I mean, I realize that teens drink and some DO self-medicate that way, but it seems like a stereotype that just doesn't NEED to be here. Use his grief to teach about who he is, how does he choose to cope? I realize that you will show that and this is just a scarce 250 words, but you might want to who something he is doing or holding that links his staying in to his grief.

    Excited to see this one in print!

  14. No.
    I don't really have anything to add that hasn't already been said.

    The writing is very good, and I'm sure this will find a place with just a little work.

    Tobias Eaton (4)

  15. Yes

    I like the query a lot. I might add a line to explain that investigating the text message is the break Shaun needs from the misery at home. I’d also invert the two clauses of the first sentence of the last paragraph in the query. You’ve already described Shaun and Mira as investigating together, their grief can draw them together as they investigate.

    In the first 250 I was left wondering if Shaun’s parents had been fighting before David died, otherwise the way Shaun described his father’s fleeing in a jaded tone sounds too soon. It’s only been a month since David’s death and that time would have included a funeral.

    I like the description and I like the idea a lot. I love seeing a teenager of Indian background in a YA.

    Good luck!


  16. #5 here - I am going to say no, but I do really love the premise and writing here. It's a no because of the query as it's currently written.

    You lead with the inciting incident, I think - the text message that makes Shaun question how his brother died. Before that, can you ground us in your character? He and his family are reeling from his gifted twin's suicide. I need you to set the scene for me first. That way when we see the inciting incident, we are both intrigued and we care, because we've already met Shaun.

    In the next paragraph, when you say 'unable to get the answers he needs," who is being reticent? The police? This guy's parents? And why should he be expected to get answers? Is this a hint to the antagonist that would intrigue us? You can use this part to draw us into the intrigue a bit more.

    It seems like Mira Patel is a last resort or sorts. Why has he held back from contacting her before this point? Do they have a relationship of their own that you can mention? You talk about Mira's situation but you don't tell us what *they're* conflict is. I really hope they have one, because it sounds like it will be lots of pages of them solving this mystery, and some conflict within their relationship will make this story even more fun to read as they search for the answers to this mystery.

    In Mira's paragraph, you do a nice job of telling us about her (actually we know way more about her than Shaun from this query - everything about Shaun is related to plot). I would like to know why Shaun and Mira think her sister was murdered.

    The 250 is really great, I enjoyed it very much!

    Lots of luck to you!

  17. Revision critique from #17
    You query is LOADS better. I like that it flow between Shaun and Mira. It is much clearer than before.
    Your 250 changed a lot, but I like it! I did not get the first line though. So, that confused me a bit. Still a yes from me!

  18. Revision crit from #8

    Query, so much better. I'm giving this a Yes. I want to read it! The query flows much better than it did before. I think I'd still have voted Yes (or, more likely, a hesitant no) on the original entry simply due to the power of the story and your 250, but this entry is a lot stronger and much better. I'd replace "Then her sister" with "Then Mira's sister" so it's more clear. You don't want anyone reading backwards to find out who a pronoun is referring to.

    When I began reading it, I was going to say the 250 was not an improvement, but as I went on I liked it a lot and it was much clearer and better as to what was going on in the family and the scene. Really good improvement. I wasn't a fan of the second line, though, thought it was a bit cliche. You're a strong writer, we can see that, and you can find something better :D

  19. Hi from #15!

    Big improvements on the QL! On that basis, I would ask for pages. However, the first line: Should it be, "Seven hundred and forty HOURS." ?? Maybe that is the reason for the confusion. If so, I would definitely be careful when sending to an agent. If not, I guess I was just confused. On that basis, unfortunately I still say "no".

    Keep at it! This is a cool plot, I can tell be the amazing changes in the QL. Good luck to you!

  20. I missed this one before, but it's a yes from me. The query does a great job setting up the premise, introducing the characters and the stakes -- without giving away 'the bad guy' -- always tricky! The opening 250 also held me with its mix of despair and character details. The practical way Shaun measures time tells us so much about him -- as does the fact that though he aches for his lost brother, he doesn't romanticize his singing ability. Well done. I'd keep on reading.

    Revision notes from #1

  21. Great revision! I think the query is very clear now. Nitpiks: “Then her sister…” I’d put Mira’s name there. With the hit-and-run in between, I had to double check. “yet they share a common link” makes it sound like the mc’s know what the link is, so I want to know. But when I read the next sentence it sounds like they assume there’s a link. Maybe “Three accidental deaths in a small town high school within a month? It can’t be coincidence.” I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Just something to show they assume there’s a link. They don’t know what it is yet.
    On your first 250, also great! And this is a pretty big change. I like the emotion in it.
    Nitpiks: “I never knew I’d miss that awful sound.” I think you can go stronger on this. “I’d hated that awful sound.” Again, it’s you’re story, use your own words. But The second sentence in that paragraph is begging for a bit more emotion and voice in the one before it.
    “something thudded against my bedroom wall” sounds like it happened in the bedroom. “hallway wall” or “the other side of the wall my head was inches from.” Something to make it clear it’s outside the room.
    I’ll vote yes. Best of luck with revisions and querying!
    Rebecca (#11)