Thursday, February 18, 2016

Agent Wish List: Deidre Knight #2

GENRE: Adult - Historical/Women's Fiction


Dear Ms Knight,

In 19th century Hong Kong, everything from flesh to secrets has a price.

Siu Lin is a concubine who knows never to expect love from her master. Helena is an English woman seeking a husband in order to escape her past. When betrayal and disaster throw Siu Lin onto the streets of Hong Kong, it's Helena who saves her life. Despite the constraints of race and class, a friendship is born from their shared interest in social reform. Together they work for change by safeguarding prostitutes and taking in orphans.

But both women are hiding secrets. When a plague sweeps Hong Kong, Helena takes custody of another family's son for his protection, and comes precariously close to revealing her connection with the boy. Meanwhile, Siu Lin learns that her own long-lost son has suffered at the hands of Helena’s abusive husband. Now the life of Helena’s family hangs in the balance, and the women discover just how far they are willing to go for the love of a child.

CALL OF THE KOEL, recently short-listed for the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award (which honours unpublished works), is my first novel. At approximately 110,000 words, CALL OF THE KOEL is a stand-alone historical novel.

I’m an American by birth, but I was raised in British Hong Kong. I have a B.A. in English from Duke University, and I live in Singapore (where I was selected to participate in the 2013 Curtis Brown Creative Novel Writing Bootcamp, taught by Anna Davis and Jake Arnott).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

May 1866, Hong Kong

At last, and too soon, they arrived at the painted green door. Siu Lin leaned against a rough wooden post, her legs sponge and marrow from the walking that had begun the day before. Her younger brothers sat down by the side of the alley to wait.

"Don't make trouble." Baba's voice was soft, but he didn't stand for disobedience.

"Come, Siu Lin," Mama said. Siu Lin looked again at her brothers tracing lines in the dirt.

She followed her parents across the threshold. Inside, the damp earth floor, musty in the humidity, teased at the back of her throat. Baba murmured low to the woman they had walked so far to see.
An anxious current, choppy and fitful, rippled in her stomach and she drifted toward the open seas of despair. She shoved away thoughts of home and cast her nets, instead, on the strangeness of this place. A candle flickered and shadows danced over the walls. Two beds. A large wardrobe. What did the woman keep inside?

Baba was still speaking with the woman. The matchmaker amah. Finally, the woman nodded, brushed past Baba and came to stand in front of her.

Ah Yip. The name had haunted her for weeks. Now it had a face, round and expressionless like the barren moon.

"We cannot afford to keep her," Baba said in a hollow voice and looked to the floor.


  1. I would like to preface this review by saying you have a very strong story concept here. I was immediately hooked by your query’s tagline, and oh my goodness, I would love to read this story! Your entry is very strong, so it was difficult for me to critique. Most of my comments are nit-picky, so please keep that in mind.

    The opening paragraph was perfect. The image of this mysterious green door draws the readers in, and you have also established what has been happening the past few days. Jumping right to this moment was a very good choice—this is where your story begins.

    “’Don’t make trouble.’ Baba’s voice…” Great line of dialogue that reveals this character’s nature. He’s sympathetic, but firm. I sense that he may come back into the story later.

    “Siu Lin looked again at her brothers tracing lines in the dirt [with the heels of their worn shoes]” This is a nit-picky change, but I thought you might specify how they draw the lines. They could be either standing and dragging their feet in the dirt or crouching and drawing lines with their fingers. I don’t know what kind of shoes/sandals would be worn during this period/region so I’ll leave that to you!

    I like that you chose not to immediately reveal the woman is a matchmaker. In this way, the tension was stretched out.

    “An anxious current…” I thought this prose was lovely.

    “A large wardrobe. What did…” This signaled that this wardrobe is significant. I began wondering what sort of illicit or wondrous items it held. I also considered the possibility that the matchmaker would lock your main character inside, though that might have been a stretch:) I do wonder if the wardrobe was deliberately highlighted…

    Overall, this entry is near to perfection. I’m sorry I couldn’t offer more commentary. I absolutely loved the set-up—I would continue reading! Best of luck on your publishing journey!

  2. I was very intrigued by the query--that first line is a wonderful hook. And given the query describes where Siu Lin will end up, I think you did a great job showing her naivete and premonitions in the first page. I would turn the page. Best of luck!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed your story! The hook is definitely there. And I already want to know the connections between Siu Lin and Helena.

    I would also like to note that your query letter is nicely written. I've read so many queries that don't portray the story or the author correctly, and their manuscripts are overlooked. I like that your personal background plays a part in your story and should give an agent confidence that you deeply understand your topic. Nice job!

  4. I agree with most of Emily Reeves' comments.

    Your query definitely intrigued me. I felt it could have had more specifics: "escape her past" is a phrase over-used in place of solid details. But I know you might have kept that secret in order to not spoil the plot. The query still kept my interest, so you're okay.

    The "safeguarding prostitutes and taking in orphans" felt sudden. All we know about the women is that Siu Lin doesn't expect love and Helena is hiding her past. This is super nitpicky, but it might help if you say, "born from *a* shared interest..." to signal that this is information we haven't heard before.

    Your accolades are awesome, pertinent, and well-phrased like the In the Inbox blogger suggested ( I'm kind of addicted to that blog haha!

    Your first page definitely caught my attention, and I have no comments on it! It had a feel like THE GOOD EARTH. Another comp I instantly thought of is WOMEN OF THE SILK. It definitely fits the style, mood, and world-building of other Asia-based women's fiction I've read.

    Fantastic job!

  5. I love the descriptions in your opener, especially of the matchmaker.

    Regarding the query letter, it definitely grabbed my interest.The only part that tripped me up was the references to Helena's husband. I wasn't sure if the abusive husband in the second paragraph was the Hong Kong husband Helena was seeking in the first paragraph or if he was part of the past she was trying to escape.

    Best to you with this query!

  6. Your query letter is so intriguing - I'm impressed by the way the style of your query echoes the feel of your actual work. Your novel is set in a fascinating period and place, and you're lucky to have the detailed insight of having grown up there! I'm really struck by your novel's first line - you convey so much in those few words, and the brief dialogue also carries emotional weight. I feel you've taken me through this green door and now I want to know what lies beyond for this poor young girl! Good luck with your query.

  7. I, too, liked the query, particularly that stunning first line. The first 250 words were beautifully rendered as well. Love the "don't make trouble" line ... so much communicated right there. Just one slight quibble -- the family approaches the green door, and then they cross the threshold, but we never see the door open. I thought I'd missed something and went back to check. Not a big thing, obviously, but it did stop me so I thought I'd mention it. Good luck!

  8. The query is fantastic! I’d have requested this right away as it does a great job of creating an atmospheric story, and also captivating the reader’s interest. I’d say you have an extremely strong query. The opening is beautiful, but a little quiet in some ways. That said, the lyrical writing and the set up are intriguing, and it makes me want to read more. So I’d definitely love to see the first three chapters.

    One comment—I found the following line a little problematic: An anxious current, choppy and fitful, rippled in her stomach and she drifted toward the open seas of despair. It’s so early in the narrative and comes across as a bit over-written. It’s lyrical, but keeps us at a remove from your protagonist by working so hard *to* be lyrical. Early in the book work especially hard to keep things as immediate as possible so we can make that strong emotional connection. I did, however, like the part about her casting the net. So maybe just simplify the first part? Nitpicky, but figured I’d mention it.