Wednesday, July 29, 2009

37 Query Contest

Dear Ms. Meadows,

All Cheyenne Butler wants is to be a normal teen: hang out with friends, sleep in class, maybe even date. But after spending five years in juvenile hall for accidentally causing her aunt’s death, she knew it would be a challenge.

A few days after Cheyenne is released into her Uncle Andy’s care, her ailing father passes away, leaving Cheyenne an orphan. After her initial visit with her new therapist, she avoids going, convinced she can handle everything on her own. From her cousin Joey’s accounts, North Maltwood is so bland it’s earned the nickname “Normal,” so it can’t be that hard to adjust to the outside world.

And it wouldn’t be if the people in school were as normal as the town’s nickname. Her cousin’s extraordinarily dim girlfriend, Kelly, is a constant bone of contention within Joey’s, and now Cheyenne’s, social circle – a subset of a school club only known by D.M.S. After a close friend from this tight-knit group goes missing, Cheyenne’s life begins to fall apart. Through all this, Cheyenne discovers that the common definition of a normal teen may be the most abnormal thing of all.

As a native middle-class suburban Bostonian, I bring some of my own adolescent experiences into Cheyenne’s world.

I have been published in Commonthought two years consecutively and studied under author Laurie Foos for one semester at Lesley University. I am also a member of SCBWI and Grub Street, Inc. In addition to working on the sequel to FALLING TO NORMAL, I am currently co-authoring an adult novel that explores romance and the quarter-life crisis.

Thank you for your consideration. If you would like to read the entire 55,000-word manuscript for FALLING TO NORMAL, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I truly look forward to hearing from you and thank you in advance for your time.

In December of 1993, it was official; I was no longer a ward of the State. After four and a half years being locked away, the time had finally come.

I looked at my uncle Andy, who nodded. He was sitting in a chair next to me, both of us across from Director Lady.

I couldn’t believe it. “I’m done?”

“We think it’s best you stay for another two weeks and continue with the program,” she said. “This is a probation period, Cheyenne . Craig has voiced his concerns regarding this move. You will need to continue with your therapy.”

I wrinkled my nose. “With him?” Craig was the psychiatrist on staff and looked like Jerry Garcia’s long-lost pedophiliac brother. Whenever I met with him, I couldn’t get past the way he looked and that made it hard for me to take anything he said seriously.

Andy spoke, his Canadian accent a little thicker than normal. “I’ve set up an appointment with Dr. Kleghorn.” I groaned before he quickly added. “She’s not like the one you ‘ave ‘ere.”

I didn’t want to examine my inner workings anymore, but if that was the condition on me leaving, I would suffer meeting the family therapist. “When do I need to go?”

“You have an appointment with her next week,” Director Lady said. “One of the direct care staff will bring you.”

“Great.” What else could I say?

“It will be under her recommendation whether or not your tenure in North Maltwood will be temporary.”


  1. QUERY: Hooked, with questions. I'm interested in Cheyenne's juvie background, and intrigued by the social group. Good circle, starting with normal teen, and ending with how that definition might be abnormal.

    You have this interesting background, but don't touch on how it relates to what seems the bulk of the story - the missing friend. You never actually give the novel a genre - is it YA? Literary? Mystery?

    Great bio section. You could drop the prior line about bringing your own experiences into the story.

    Reading on to the opening.

    250 WORDS: Enough background to set us in the scene, good teen voice, and a realistic situation. I like how the probation period hangs over her, so we already know there is conflict. This works for me, and I want to read more.

  2. Query: hooked enough to want to read the sample pages. It seemed like an interesting plot and I have enough of a feel of the character.

    "you would like to read the entire 55,000-word manuscript for FALLING TO NORMAL"

    Taking that literally, does that mean you wouldn't accept a request for a partial? :D

    Sample pages: It has nice voice and I’m intrigued with the probation. I’d read on.

  3. Hooked. Good job. Interesting story. I want to know how the aunt died so that's a great hook. The writing holds up, too.

  4. Not hooked. I'm not exactly sure why but there was nothing in this that enticed me to read the attached page.

  5. I got hooked too. Sounds like a good premise.

  6. I think your query could be tighter--shorter. It takes three paragraphs for me to see the conflict (missing friend). I would rather know more about this conflict than about Cheyenne's background. That would not stop me from reading the sample, though, so...

    ...on to the pages...

    The writing is well done in the sample, and you have some great turns of phrase. Well done!

  7. I'm hooked. A few things.

    Focus on only one book. So what if you're currently co-authoring an adult novel exploring romance and the quarter-life crisis. The agent only wants to hear about the book you're querying.

    The other thing. Saying someone has a Canadian accent is like referring to someone with an American accent. Those of us from the west coast have a different accent to those who live on the east coast. Just like someone from Texas sounds different compared to someone from Washington. But thank you for not throwing in the stereotypical 'eh'.

    Good luck!

  8. This works for me.

    I did raise my eyebrows at the canadian accent and the dropping 'h's. Most canadians I know (admittedly from Ontario area) don't talk like that. :P

  9. Not quite hooked.

    You made me pay attention with the accidental death of her aunt and I thought, hmmm, maybe a YA about real life issues. That seems actually refreshing.

    I got bogged down in the language of the query here:

    "Her cousin’s extraordinarily dim girlfriend, Kelly, is a constant bone of contention within Joey’s, and now Cheyenne’s, social circle – a subset of a school club only known by D.M.S."

    I'd untangle this sentence a bit. I got lost on who the subject of the sentence was and the possessives made it more confusing. The first time "Joey's" was used in the first paragraph was also a little awkward for me: "From her cousin Joey’s accounts,"

    I did read the page though. I wasn't hooked because it seems like the death of her Aunt is no big deal to her. She's sitting across from her uncle - who I assume is the husband of the aunt? And she has no internal thought as to what brought her there. I would expect something like that which featured prominently in the query to be hinted at early on -- especially considering where the opening scene takes place.

  10. The Query didn't really hook me--a little too much telling and backstory--but I chose to read on anyway and liked the partial.

    One note: the Canadian accent reference jarred me. I have no idea where North Maltwood is but the "'ave 'ere" isn't typically Canadian at all... maybe more British. Canadians don't drop their H's unless perhaps they are immigrants.

  11. Lots of characters just want to be normal. The beginning of this query needs to be more unique to grab me. Like accidentally causing her aunt's death. :)

    Is the Uncle Andy she goes to live with married to her newly dead aunt? Ouch.

    There are a *lot* of characters introduced here. I won't be able to keep them straight. I'm also unsure about the conflict here. What are the stakes? What is Cheyenne's goal, aside from being normal? (What is her external goal.)

    Is this novel set in 1993? Is there a reason for that? Say someone bought this novel tomorrow; it wouldn't be in bookstores until 2011, almost 18 years after the time your novel takes place. The YA audience generally wants to read about *now*. Cassette tapes and VCRs are obsolete. Teenagers hardly know what they are.

    The pages don't draw me in. I'm having a hard time understanding what's going on, and we haven't been told here why she's a ward of the state. The query mentions she accidentally killed her aunt, but I want more details on that.