Show Us Your Prowess...

Hélène is bravely posting her revised query for shredification. Please take a moment to add your thoughts in the comment section. This sounds like a fab novel, one we'd love to see in a bookstore!

Dear Dream Agent,

Fourteen year-old Jade’s quest for the perfect bathing suit is cringe-worthy, especially when played out in front of the three-way mirror of truth at her local Jay-Mart. Who ever thought big girls could pull off green metallic sequins, anyway? Besides, the very thought of swimming makes Jade’s heart ache with the painful memory of her mom’s drowning accident. Add a way overdue first visit from Aunt Flo (late bloomer = freak of nature) and the reasons for skipping her BFF’s pool party pile up faster than the discarded tankinis on the dressing room floor.

It’s times like these when Jade misses Mom the most. But, Dad’s theory is right (he Googled it, after all). A relaxing bath in Epsom salt really does take the edge off the growing pains of puberty and the angst of missing Mom—at least for a while. Until those raging hormones coupled with the bath salts trip off another metamorphosis—complete with flippers and scales. Talk about freak of nature! How’s Jade going to explain THIS at the pool party?

It’s then that Dad is forced to reveal the shocking truth; Jade’s mom was once a mermaid and apparently, the gene is not recessive.

Which raises the question… how does a mermaid drown, exactly?

BIG SPLASH (upper middle-grade) is complete at 40,000 words and available at your request. My writing received an Honorable Mention in the 2008 Surrey International Writers' Conference literary competition (Writing for Children) and I was also recently awarded a juried literary grant from the Ontario Arts Council. I have four published middle-grade books to my credit (bio attached).

Thank you for taking the time to consider this project.

Hopeful Author

18 comments:

Laurie said...

This is the only thing that tripped me up:

Until those raging hormones coupled with the bath salts trip off another metamorphosis—complete with flippers and scales. Talk about freak of nature! How’s Jade going to explain THIS at the pool party?

At first I thought some sort of fish had appeared in the bath water. Just for clarity, here's what I'd suggest for a tweak:

Until those raging hormones coupled with the bath salts trip off another metamorphosis—Jade sprouts flippers and scales. Talk about freak of nature! How’s she going to explain THIS at the pool party?

Just my two cents. Love the voice and it sounds like a fun read.

Just_Me said...

Helene, you are brave. This is good. But there are some things that bother me. I'm not an agent. I'm not a MG or YA writer, so take this all with a grain of salt.

1) cringe-worthy... as long as the book is written with this same tone I think this will pass. Otherwise, cut it.

2) Besides, the very thought of swimming makes Jade’s heart ache with the painful memory of her mom’s drowning accident. Please, cut the "besides" --- I think this paragraph needs to move up. This is the real crux of the story. The major drama centers around Jade's missing mother (I think, I can't tell from the query), so make this your main point.

3) Cut the parathentical (late bloomer = freak of nature). You've clung to this line for two drafts at least, but it doesn't work. It breaks up the flow and I feel hammered by the second freak of nature reference. Let it go.

4) I love the line about discarded tankinis. If the entire book is like that line, I already love it.

5) The second paragraph works okay. I don't love the whole pitch of Dad googling epsom salts. Where is Grandma or Auntie or someone? The neighbor maybe? But that's just me. It sets up dad's character.

6) It’s then that Dad is forced to reveal the shocking truth; Jade’s mom was once a mermaid and apparently, the gene is not recessive. I'd reword. "...truth: Jade's mom was a mermaid and, apparently, she is too." The recessive gene thing is something some people won't get. Especially at the midgrade level. To me, I'd guess you use the same line in the text and I don't think an 8 yr old will get it.

7) "...exactly?Jade is going to find out." For the love of monkeys, tell me what the story is going to be about! You've pitched the first chapter. Great, fabulous, good voice. What is the story actually about? What keeps the plot moving? Does Jade turn to a mermaid, call in sick to the party, and move on to be a great gymnast? Or does she hunt down mom? Or is she kidnapped by a secret government agency? I don't know. There's nothing in the query hinting about what Jade is going to do. And that leaves me going, "Yeah, so what? Why do I care? Pass."



Suggestion: Rewrite the first paragraph and add a sentence or two about Jade's adventure at the end.

Sharon said...

Helene,

Thanks for letting us look at this. I love your voice, and the premise is great!

Here are a few comments I had:

1st paragraph - You have Jade trying on bathing suits, but then tell us that her heart aches at the thought of swimming and she's missing her BFF's pool party. I'm wondering why her quest is to find the perfect bathing suit?

2nd paragraph - I don't know what POV this is written in, but it feels like you get out of your mc's head and think as an adult here: "A relaxing bath in Epsom salt really does take the edge off the growing pains of puberty and the angst of missing Mom—at least for a while. Until those raging hormones..." Would a 14-yr. old think like this?

4th paragraph: I agree with Just Me and would like to know more about what happens. Add a few sentences that tell how Jade deals with her 'condition.' What kinds of problems arise? How does she overcome them?

JaxPop said...

I agree with the points raised by the 3 folks ahead of me so I won't be redundant, but I do like it.

Is it a 'quest' or just a difficult search? (I dunno, never personally struggled with a purchase like that - don't think sequins would be my thing. Sorry.)

Do you have to point out that mom's drowning was an accident? Can you leave it up in the air as a question? Is the fact that it was an accident important?

I don't know if Dad would be recommending relaxing baths. Maybe Aunt Flo? Hey - I raised boys so maybe my perspective is out of wack.

Dad finally explains that mom had always guarded her secret life as a mermaid, but now it seems that Jade is following in the same flip-steps. (OK - I'm kidding on that part, but I'd get rid of shocking -once & the recessive gene thing. Hormones tend to scare me.)

Good luck - you're doin' a good job. (To be fair - I also write YA - for boys - so I'm coming atcha from out in left field.) Your story sounds good - maybe include a little more....

Angela said...

First, great comments, everyone! Thank you all for popping in to help with this!

I'm going to break things up into paras, and I'll try not to repeat any of my earlier comments. :)

1st para: I feel like this para still needs some streamlining. After all, the important bits are the period and the drowned mom, yet most of the para is about the swimsuit fit and Bff party. I'm thinking this is probably the opening scene of your book, and as someone pointed out, you do what to give an idea of the book's scope, not just the first chapter. If you could tighten this a bit or at least show the high stakes that cause Jade to feel she must attend, I could see giving the whole suit thing air time. If there are no abnormally huge stakes, then I'd trim this so emphasis is more on the dead mom and the period and the bathing suit/BFF party is stage setting.

Para 2: I stumble a bit on 'Dad's theory'-I know whem I suggest rewrites I toyed with something like Dad, the master of Google, suggests a soak in Epsom salt...etc just to make it roll better. I think you can keep a google mention (it shows he's a bit inempt/unprepared at the whole raising-daughter-alone thing) but does it matter that he has a theory and it's proven by Google? I feel like the way it's presented, it does have special importance, like he knows it will cause the metamorphosis or something, but I don't think that's what your going for. Still love the last line...so perfect!

Para 3--I agree with the comment about 'recessive' and I agree that likely the target audience wouldn't get it without some explanation. I like the simplified suggestion of 'And Jade is too'.

That's all I really wanted to point out--I think the reviewers have made some excellent points. Just remember that you know your story best, so go with what you feel works the best for it. It realy, really sounds like a winner--very unique and has huge girl appeal. I know you'll have luck with it!

And dang girl, 4 mid-grades published? Why hasn't an agent snapped you up yet? Halllo, agents!!

Mary Witzl said...

God, I'd have loved this book as a kid, for so many reasons!

The only line I had to reread was the one about green metallic sequins; "Who ever thought...?" suggested to me that Jade liked the sequins and was pleasantly surprised that they worked. Having read the others' comments, I do think the Epsom salt paragraph could be made snappier and more kid-friendly, though I really like the idea of Dad googling this.

Hélène Boudreau said...

Thanks, everyone!

I'm working (again!) on rewriting this dang thing and really appreciate all of your comments and insights.

From your comments, I can see that I need to shift the focus to the inciting incident some more and give a hint of the fallout.

In my rewrite I'll be focusing on these salient points:

-Jade misses her mom.
-Her mom has drowned.
-Jade gets her period.
-Dad suggests a bath.
-Puberty + salt trips off the mermaid thing.
-The truth about mom is revealed.
-Jade later discovers ex-mermaids don't drown. They get pulled under.
-She's determined to reclaim her mom from the rogue mer-society, keeping Mom as a slave.

The MS is written in first person and Jade the narrator is humourous (I hope) and quirky. Hopefully, that comes through in the query.

Thanks to all! This is really helping.

Hélène Boudreau said...

And my rewrite, for anyone who's interested. Thanks for all your help. This was fun! (as fun as query-writing goes, that is)

:-)

Dear Dream Agent,

Fourteen year-old Jade misses her mom. It doesn’t help that every bathing suit she tries on at the local Jay-Mart rekindles the memory of her mother’s tragic drowning. Add to that, an understandable fear of swimming plus a long overdue first period and Jade’s reasons for skipping her BFF’s pool party pile up faster than the discarded tankinis on the dressing room floor.

It’s times like these when a girl could really use her momma. But, Dad tries his best, assisted by the power of Google, and suggests a warm bath in Epsom salts. It helps, until those raging hormones coupled with the bath salts trip off another metamorphosis in Jade—complete with flippers and scales. How is she ever going to explain THIS at the pool party?

Dad is forced to reveal the truth; Mom was once a mermaid and it seems Jade takes after that side of the family. Thankfully for Jade, the effects are reversible, but it still leaves her with the nagging question…can mermaids really drown?

Jade later discovers her mother is very much alive. Relief turns to terror, though, when she realizes Mom was pulled underwater by a rogue, lake-dwelling mer-society and made a slave. Jade is determined to rescue Mom from her captors and free her to the ocean where she can learn to become human again. But, how does an aqua-phobic mer-girl with an aversion to shell bikinis go about doing that, exactly?

BIG SPLASH (upper middle-grade) is complete at 40,000 words and available at your request. My writing received an Honorable Mention in the 2008 Surrey International Writers' Conference literary competition (Writing for Children) and I was also recently awarded a juried literary grant from the Ontario Arts Council. I have four published middle-grade books to my credit (bio attached).

Thank you for taking the time to consider this project.

Hopeful Author

Creative A said...

Hey Helene! Looks like I jumped in a little late in the game, but here goes.

I thought the first paragraph was OK: you took care of all the comments but I think it lost a little of it's voice. The "Jade misses her mom" is a bit dry in relation to the rest of your query. But I think you recover the voice in the next few sentences, so it's not really a problem; it's just not such a whopping hook as it was before.

Also, we still don't know why Jade feels this need to find the perfect bathing suit. It almost sounds like a psychological way of dealing with her mothers death?

2cnd paragraph - perfect. I think you've got it right and the whole dad+Google+epsom salts thing just works.

I think the 4th paragraph could use a leetle bit of tightening up, maybe in the first few lines, but the last are great. They really sum it all up and leave you wanting more.

Nice job :)

-CA

Angela said...

Love aqua-phobic mer-girl! That's awesome, and sums it right up!

I agree with Creative A, the voice is drained from the first para, which is one of your query's biggest strengths. I would try reworking it to rekindle some of what you had going on in the previous drafts. I also think that you don't need to state outright that she misses her mom because the plot line and 'times like these, a girl needs her mom bit' tell us that already. Keep the focus on the imediate fear of water and the pressure of attending the party, with the period being the last straw. I got a really good sense of that in your first draft, and I think bringing that out a bit stronger helps us really get into her head.

You show a much better story arc here which is great. I wonder if we need to know about Jade being able to reverse the mermaid thing here in the query, though. It might be better to skip it and go right into the question of how a mermaid drowns, then lead right into her trapped mother and rescue.

Another suggestion would be to maybe tighten this up:

Jade is determined to rescue Mom from her captors and free her to the ocean where she can learn to become human again. But, how does an aqua-phobic mer-girl with an aversion to shell bikinis go about doing that, exactly?

To:

Jade is determined to rescue Mom and help her to become human again. Only how does an aqua-phobic mer-girl with an aversion to shell bikinis go about doing that, exactly?

Oh and i'd love to see tha 'Talk about a freak of nature!' return to right before the line about explaining it at the pool party, because it's a really good voice bit and it characterizes just how Jade feels, setting up that she will need to get over her adversion to help her mom. I think having two 'freaks of nature' bits in the query was too much, but keeping one here will be perfect!

Just a few thoughts. :-) I know rewriting a query is like sticking a screwdriver in your brain. You are doing a great job at sticking with it!

Becca said...

Ack! I was drowned down like Jade's mom, only it wasn't rogue mer-people; it was Thanksgiving.

Helene, more family shenanigans tonight; tomorrow I'll get to your rewrite!

Becca said...

Getting better! Revising sucks, but it pays off ;).

I agree that you've lost some of the excellent voice from the earlier version. Try to revive that throughout the query.

Here's my attempt at tightening the rest:

Fourteen year-old Jade misses her mom. It doesn’t help that every bathing suit she tries on at the local Jay-Mart rekindles the memory of her mother’s tragic drowning. Add a long overdue period to her understandable fear of swimming, and Jade's reasons for skipping her BFF's pool party pile up faster than discarded tankinis on the dressing room floor.

An Epsom salt bath is just the relaxing ticket, until the salts coupled with those raging hormones trigger another metamorphosis—complete with flippers and scales. How's she going to explain THIS at the pool party?

Apparently, her mom was once a mermaid and Jade takes after that side of the family. The effects are reversible, but it still leaves her with the nagging question…can mermaids really drown?

**Here's where it breaks down for me; the voice and plotline go from quirky-teenage-girl-dealing-with-puberty-problems to mermaid-heroine-on-a-dangerous-adventure. I think you need to either revise that final para to match the quirky teenage voice, or cut that para entirely. It's an important part of the plot, but your query can stand alone without it. Remember that the query is supposed to give the agent a taste of the story, an overall idea of what it's about with enough intrigue to make him/her want to read more. The synopsis is the place to lay out the entire storyline :).

Those are my thoughts. Good for you, for keeping at it. It's easier to give up, but each rewrite makes it better and better.

Hélène Boudreau said...

Oh, golly. :-?

I guess I won't be able to incorporate everyone's suggestions since I'm getting conflicting input, but I am trying to deal with the underlying issues of what works and what doesn't.

One concern was I should put the fact that Jade misses her mom at the forefront. Another comment was that I treated the topic in a flip matter (on another board) So hopefully my rewrite of the first paragraph strikes a balance of being sensitive to her mom's death but injects some of Jade's voice in the query. Another comment was that I hadn't expanded the story arc enough in the original query. My last iteration seemed to change tone too much in that section, so I tried to maintain the voice in that portion in this rewrite. I also hope this new rewrite ties the beginning of the query with the end so that everything mentioned seems relevant.

Thanks a million for your help. I'll probably go with this query with slight word choice changes, but the big question is: Would you request pages from this query or am I getting further and further away?

Dear Dream Agent,

Fourteen year-old Jade misses her mom. Big time. And every bathing suit she tries on at the local Jay-Mart reminds her of how Mom drowned and the reason she hates swimming. Add a long overdue first period and a run-in with a sophomore named Luke in the tampon aisle while Dad Googles ‘menstruation’ on his Blackberry and Jade's reasons for skipping her BFF's pool party pile up faster than the discarded tankinis on the dressing room floor.

Jade just wants to go home and forget the day ever happened. A warm bath helps, until those raging hormones coupled with bath salts trip off yet another reason for Jade to avoid pool parties—complete with flippers and a mermaid’s tail. Talk about freak of nature!

Dad finally reveals the truth. Seems like Jade takes after Mom’s side of the family. But, Jade wonders, if Mom was once a mermaid, did she drown, dive or get pulled under?

Jade is determined to find out, but how does an aqua-phobic mer-girl with an aversion to shell bikinis go about doing that, exactly? Especially since it looks like Luke from the feminine hygiene products aisle is the only person who might be able to help.

BIG SPLASH (upper middle-grade) is complete at 40,000 words and available at your request. My writing received an Honorable Mention in the 2008 Surrey International Writers' Conference literary competition (Writing for Children) and I was also recently awarded a juried literary grant from the Ontario Arts Council. I have four published middle-grade books to my credit (bio attached).

Thank you for taking the time to consider this project.

Hopeful Author

Becca said...

All the advice is hard to wade through, but the important thing is that you stick with what YOU know the query needs.

The only quibble I have with the latest version is the final sentence in the first para (starting with Add to that). It's a little rambly and I had to re-read it for clarity.

I love what you've done with the final para; it's much smoother now! Overall, I'd say this version is the best one yet! Best of luck with this :).

Hélène Boudreau said...

Thanks, Becca! This has been awesome. I'll probably lose "while Dad Googles ‘menstruation’ on his Blackberry" to make it flow better.

I'll be querying after the holidays and will report back.

:-)

Angela said...

This is like real critique feedback, because often people do give conflicting advice and it's up to the author to decide what 'feels right' and what seems off base.

I do like the new addition of Luke, a potential embarrassment and then being forced to team up despite it all...sets me up for an interesting book. But is this new info the heart of the book?

I think one thing that this critique process has shown me is that there are many elements to your book: mermaid genes, pressure to attend a pool party, a dead mom who turns out not to be dead but inmprisoned, a possible romantical thing with Luke (I think), Luke having something to do with it all, a rescue of mom, a secret evil mer-society, dealing with water fears... Each version we see something new added, but I think you have to choose which elements are the strongest and pick those to pull on in your query.

So I have some questions for you--what is your strongest element or elements in this novel--a mystery, a coming of age story, a fantasy, a romance? Depending on what your book emphasizes, I think your query should put more weight on certain things and leave others in the background or for the synopsis.

Also, if you had to condense your story into a single sentence, what would it be?

Hélène Boudreau said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Angela.

If I had to sum up the book in a sentence it would be:

"As if dealing with a first period and a first crush weren't enough, an aqua-phobic half mer-girl must figure out whether her mermaid mom really drowned, and if not, will she ever come back home?"

The hardest part about writing a query as the author is that *everything* seems relevant and it's a chore to get it down to the meaty bits.

:-)

Angela said...

Sorry it took so long for me to respond--I lost my internet for a day ad then yesterday I spent steam cleaming...ugh. I can't wait until I get wooden floors!

Anyway, here aere my thoughts.

For the query, it's important to give enough shape so the agent can see the direction the story is going in, but not the full monty. Ultimately your goal is to catch their interest enough that they feel compelled to request and read your full MS.

So that said, there are a few things I would concetrate on, others I would leave out.

Keep: Fear of water
Keep: feelings of inadequacy/body issues (swim suits)
Keep: dead mom
Keep: metamorphosis
Keep: discovery of mom's
imprisonment (mention evil mer-society)
Keep: determination to save her yet unsure of how

The most important part of your query is your voice. The voice is what will capture the agent's attention and as long as they believe you have a viable story, I do believe they will request it. The great thing here is that you have both. I would try scaling back on the story plot and try to recapture the 'being a momless teen is tough enough without phobias and periods, thank you very much' snappiness from your ealier drafts.

I think how you had, 'Times like this, a girl really misses her momma' was good because it instilled voice and balance, showing Jade is trying to deal, but it's hard. You give just enough to the whole 'I miss my mom' without sappiness or making it seem like we're being pushed to feel sorry for Jade. IMO, the line is natural and offers balance--we feel sorry for her, admire her trying to be strong and root for her all at the same time. The metamorphosis is a complication she doesn't need, especially seeing as her mom drowned and she's afaid of water. Then when we find out her mom isn't gone after all but imprisioned and Jade wants to face all her fears to save her but doesn't know how, we're totally cheering at that point and want to be with her to see her succeed.

I think characterizing dad isn't a big deal at this point, but showing life without mom is. If you mention google fine, but keep it brief--it isn't about dad, it's about a lack of momly instinct, right?

About the crush--I know showing a love interest can be a big pull, but I feel like it doesn't factor in here at the query level as much. That's just MO. I would try to concentrate on voice and story.

Anyway, just my thoughts!

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