Thursday, March 17, 2016

Agent Wish List: Joan Paquette #3

TITLE: Pieces of Isla
GENRE: YA - Novel in Verse set in Thailand

Dear Ms. Paquette,

I completely enjoyed your own MG novel NOWHERE GIRL, which made me miss Thailand, where I grew up.

When fifteen-year-old Isla's dad doesn’t come home from his run, Isla’s world shatters. Isla's mother moves them from Emerald Isle, North Carolina to Bangkok, Thailand. But the culture shock of the new country only enunciates Isla’s grief and drives a wedge between Isla and her mom. Isla suspects her mom of jumping into a new relationship. The divide between them grows wider until Isla discovers her mother hasn’t been chasing after a new boyfriend. PIECES OF ISLA, complete at 19,500 words. Isla learns to navigate her new country, find a new normal, and develop a few surprise relationships along the way.

I hold a M.A. and M.F.A., both in Children’s Literature, from Hollins University, where I was the two-time recipient of the program’s most competitive honor, the Shirley Henn Creative Writing Award. I am the author of Ancient China (ABDO, 2015), and have also written for Children’s Writer, Appleseeds Magazine, StarrMatica, SRA/McGraw-Hill, Interactive Achievement, DIYMFA, and SCBWI Bulletin.  I am an elementary librarian and an active member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12x12. I also write about mentor texts, both for the classroom and for writers, at I am planning to attend the Highlights Foundation workshop on Novels in Verse in May.

I'm looking for an agent willing to represent my middle grade novels and my picture books as well.
Thank you for this opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you!



They named me Isla,
with a silent s,
like island.
Dad named me Isla.
I'd be strong
as an island in a hurricane,
fearless in fierce water.

Mom named me Isla,
for Emerald Isle,
where we grew up--
brushing the Atlantic
off North Carolina.
She hoped I'd be as priceless
as that jewel in the sea.

I can't live up to my name,
avoiding ocean,

I'm Isla,
awash in grief.

Bangkok, Thailand

We are running
from salty breeze—
the smell of Dad
after a swim
in Emerald waves.

The beach
sandpapers my heart,
rubs me raw
memories wash up with every tide,
drowning me.

Mom copes by dragging
me to Bangkok—
the farthest place in the world
from Emerald Isle.
If you go any farther,
you head back

We Are Here

Thirty-two hours,
layovers in Charlotte, Chicago, Seoul,
three cardboard dinners,
one breakfast,
two movies.

My eyelids drooped
but my mind stayed awake.

My backpack
strapped to my stomach,
protects the Mason jar
tucked in the front pocket.

My restless legs
itch to run
down the aisle,
across the tarmac.
I’m a marathon runner
at the back of the pack—
thirty-six rows
from freedom.

Mom shoots me a be-patient stare,
my legs wrestle
to go.
Get out.

Bangkok air sucks
the breath
out of me,
thicker than North Carolina air,
a mix of sewer, sweat,


  1. What a lovely submission. The setting and prose drew me right in with their imagery, and had me empathizing with Isla's grief. There were so many beautiful turns of phrase along the way ("fearless in fierce water", "cardboard dinners", "sewer, sweat, stir-fry", to name a few).

    My only tiny critique was my momentary confusion in the second section since the heading says Bangkok, yet the first two stanzas occur back in North Carolina. Maybe just alter the section heading?

    Overall, this is a strong piece by a clearly talented writer. Wishing the author the best of luck!

  2. oh man, I love this so, so much. I would pick this up in a heartbeat. The verse is so lovely, and full of grief and other emotions. They just come off the page.

    The only thing that tripped me up (and this is super minor and only because I was really trying to find something to help you with (and also, this may just be due to the small sample)) is that the second poem is titled August, Bangkok, so then I assume they're already there, but then the third poem suggests that they're just arriving, so it pulled me out a bit, wondering about the timeline of events, or where she is.

    But, if the poems are non-linear for the whole novel, then that would make sense.

    "If you go any farther,
    you head back
    home." - Fantastic

  3. How ambitious! The description in the query letter needs a bit more explanation - is Isla's mom from thailand? Is that why they moved? But the excerpt is gorgeous!

  4. This is fantastic, Marcie! The words painted an incredible picture of a grieving girl. Well done! My favorite:

    The beach
    sandpapers my heart,
    rubs me raw
    memories wash up with every tide,
    drowning me.

    Loved it so much! Brava!

  5. Beautiful. I felt like I was with you on your journey.

  6. The writing is gorgeous and her feelings are immediately palpable. I would read on if I came across this in a book store.

  7. I absolutely love the idea of this, and the author has a lovely voice and captures the poetic inflection really well. My hesitation on reading this opener, though, is that I had a hard time following the actual story events across these opening poems. It might be that things are explained a bit more as the story unfolds, but based on just these pages, I feel a bit unclear about what's going on. (#1 - grief, why? we learn her name but have no idea why she is upset or what is going on; it is also so early on that it's hard to be truly moved by her plight. #2 - I think her parents are separating, but it's not really clear - why running? why coping?) etc.

    I know verse novels are by definition lighter-stroke stories, but still it's essential for the reader to stay grounded and, especially at the start of a novel, to a strong connection to the story and its main characters.

    Because of my hesitation with these opening pages--and the relatively low word count, even for a verse novel, which tells me the rest may have a similar lack--I would probably not request more pages at this point. But if the author wanted to revise this opening, and look through the rest of the manuscript as well with an eye for clarity and storytelling narrative, I would be interested in taking a look at a revision.

    An excellent book to study is Melanie Crowder's AUDACITY, which is exquisitely written, but at no expensive to setting, story, and historical background.

  8. Wow--these are gems! So many lines that say so much in so few, sparkling words. A couple of favorites are

    an island in a hurricane,
    fearless in fierce water.


    If you go any farther,
    you head back