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Author Topic: YA Contemporary, BLACKBERRY JAM  (Read 776 times)
slightlysmall
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« on: June 19, 2017, 05:51:03 PM »

Finally finished the book and will start querying soon. Still hate writing a query for contemporary stories... This is the (slightly edited) query I last posted a few months ago (??) that mostly got thumbs up, but I'm still not entirely happy with it...

Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old Blanca Olmos has been writing love songs about Lucas de Vries, her childhood best friend, for years. There is nothing she wants more than a Happily Ever After with the boy she considers her soul mate. No matter that he moved away in seventh grade; it will work out somehow. When she learns Lucas and his family are moving back, it seems like a sign straight from the Virgin Mary, but the Lucas who returns is nothing like she remembers. Though she's seen him enough to know their childhood connection has grown into an overwhelming chemistry, he seems bent on avoiding her.

Problems have been sprouting around Blanca like weeds. Her second-best friend is pregnant with a baby her boyfriend doesn't want, and rumors of an unwed pregnancy--and gossip about whose it is--are spreading through their Parish. The blackberry bushes Blanca's family relies on to make their famous jam haven't even started to bud, and money is already tight. Among the weeds, Blanca gets the flower of a relationship with Lucas. However, continuing their relationship means accepting terms she would normally despise. Soon it becomes clear that she can manipulate her way to Ever After, but it will cost her everything else. Maybe even the "Happily."

Told with excerpts from Blanca's songs interspersed with the narrative, BLACKBERRY JAM is a YA contemporary with elements of magical realism complete at 85,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Jandy Nelson and Anna-Marie McLemore.

I am a freelance editor for novels and dissertations. My essay "The Dark Lord's Descent" was published in Harry Potter for Nerds II in 2015.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
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loose leaf
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« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2017, 06:03:40 PM »


Dear Agent, So I'm assuming you'll be starting off with a more personalized greeting for each agent, right?

Seventeen-year-old Blanca Olmos has been writing love songs about Lucas de Vries, her childhood best friend, for years. There is nothing she wants more than a Happily Ever After with the boy she considers her soul mate. No matter that he moved away in seventh grade; it will work out somehow I would change the part before this to make it more enticing; as it is right now, it's not very engrossing; make it more exciting and unique. When she learns Lucas and his family are moving back, it seems like a sign straight from the Virgin Mary this sounds awkward, but the Lucas who returns is nothing like she remembers. Though she's seen him enough to know their childhood connection has grown into an overwhelming chemistry, he seems bent on avoiding her. When has she seen him enough? I thought they haven't met in years.

Problems have been sprouting around Blanca like weeds I wouldn't include this part; you're already showing this in the proceeding sentences so you don't have to tell about it first. Her second-bestseems childish to mention second-best. it's one of her best friends or just her friend. that would sound better. friend is pregnant with a baby her boyfriend doesn't want, and rumors of an unwed pregnancy--and gossip about whose it is--are spreading through their Parish. The blackberry bushes Blanca's family relies on to make their famous jam haven't even started to bud, and money is already tight. Among the weeds, Blanca gets the flower of a relationship with Lucas again, I would just remove this; you don't want so much literary stuff in a query. However, continuing their relationship means accepting terms she would normally despise. Soon it becomes clear that she can manipulate her way to Ever After, but it will cost her everything else. Maybe even the "Happily."

Told with excerpts from Blanca's songs interspersed with the narrative, BLACKBERRY JAM is a YA contemporary with elements of magical realism wait whaaaat? magical realism? you should really mention in the query how exactly that takes place! complete at 85,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Jandy Nelson and Anna-Marie McLemore.

I am a freelance editor for novels and dissertations. My essay "The Dark Lord's Descent" was published in Harry Potter for Nerds II in 2015.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


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slynna
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« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2017, 07:32:11 PM »

Finally finished the book and will start querying soon. Still hate writing a query for contemporary stories... This is the (slightly edited) query I last posted a few months ago (??) that mostly got thumbs up, but I'm still not entirely happy with it...

Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old Blanca Olmos has been writing love songs about Lucas de Vries, her childhood best friend, for years. There is nothing she wants more than a Happily Ever After with the boy she considers her soul mate. No matter that he moved away in seventh grade; it will work out somehow. When she learns Lucas and his family are moving back, it seems like a sign straight from the Virgin Mary, (this makes me think there are religious elements. Is that what you were going for?) but the Lucas who returns is nothing like she remembers. Though she's seen him enough to know their childhood connection has grown into an overwhelming chemistry, he seems bent on avoiding her.

Problems have been sprouting around Blanca like weeds.(I love this imagery--but I agree with loose leaf about cutting it.)   Her second-best friend is pregnant with a baby her boyfriend doesn't want, and rumors of an unwed pregnancy--and gossip about whose it is--are spreading through their Parish.  The blackberry bushes Blanca's family relies on to make their famous jam haven't even started to bud, and money is already tight. Among the weeds, Blanca gets the flower of a relationship with Lucas. (Again, see where you're going, but seems a little unclear) However, continuing their relationship means accepting terms she would normally despise. Soon it becomes clear that she can manipulate her way to Ever After, but it will cost her everything else. Maybe even the "Happily."

Told with excerpts from Blanca's songs interspersed with the narrative, BLACKBERRY JAM is a YA contemporary with elements of magical realism (I think magical realism was too subtly represented in the query. Perhaps that could be expanded upon? Like how is she going to "manipulate her way to Ever After.") complete at 85,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Jandy Nelson and Anna-Marie McLemore.

I am a freelance editor for novels and dissertations. My essay "The Dark Lord's Descent" was published in Harry Potter for Nerds II in 2015.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I'd read it. But I'm a sucker for Happily Ever Afters. Good luck!
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slightlysmall
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« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2017, 10:34:29 PM »

The story has a lot of interesting elements, which, I think, need to be connected a little more. For example, how do all these non-Lucas problems (her pregnant friend, her family's money woes with the blackberry jam business) affect her interactions/hopes with Lucas? As written, they read simply as a bunch of things going on in her life at the same time. Can't tell if she weathers this stuff with amazing grace or she's overwhelmed to the point where it has some bad effect on trying to work things out with Lucas. Or maybe she's so single-mindedly bent on working things out with Lucas that her friend and family feel forgotten, or even betrayed. And what does Blanca do as a result? I don't know what happens in the book, but if you're going to include this info in the query, there should be some impact.

The opening sentence led me to expect more about her songwriting, but what follows is totally unrelated. We don't hear any more about the songs except how the book is put together in a way that includes excerpts from these lyrics. Yet I get the impression that the songs are very important to the book, so I can see why you mention them early on. As written, though, it's not a compelling start.

I tinkered with the first paragraph to include the songwriting a few lines down as a sample of another place it could go and possibly a way to refer to the songs in a way with some special meaning since Lucas is back. Here's the revision:

Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old Blanca Olmos wants nothing short of a Happily Ever After with Lucas DeVries, the boy she considers her soul mate. No matter that he moved away in seventh grade. She’ll just keep writing songs about him and things will work out somehow. When she learns Lucas and his family are moving back, it seems like a sign straight from the Virgin Mary, but the Lucas who returns is nothing like [the adjective, some specific sort of boy] she remembers. Though she's seen him enough to know  Within a week [or some time frame] she can tell their childhood connection has grown into an overwhelming chemistry, yet he seems bent on avoiding her.


Yeah, it's a hard book to write into a query... I left out two subplots entirely, one of which is the songwriting one. I've tried using the songwriting plot as the driving plot in a query, but can't get it to work that way. the stakes are much clearer when I focus on Lucas. Naturally, all the subplots come together in the end, which makes it difficult to write. I do like the way you worked the songwriting in later in the paragraph instead, so I'll steal that. Smiley

With the other things happening in her life, it's definitely your last guess--she gets so single-mindedly focused on Lucas that she neglects her friends and family. With that in mind (and comments from slynna and loose leaf), here's a revision.

Quote
Seventeen-year-old Blanca Olmos wants nothing short of a Happily Ever After with Lucas De Vries, the boy she considers her soul mate. No matter that he moved away in seventh grade. She’ll just keep writing songs about him and things will work out somehow. When she learns Lucas and his family are moving back, it seems like a sign straight from the Virgin Mary, but the Lucas who returns is nothing like she remembers. A single conversation makes it clear their childhood connection has grown into an overwhelming chemistry, yet he seems bent on avoiding her.

As she focuses on getting Lucas to see that they're soul mates, she ignores the perils building up around her. Her friend is pregnant with a baby her boyfriend doesn't want, and rumors of an unwed pregnancy--and gossip about whose it is--are spreading through their parish. The blackberry bushes Blanca's family relies on to make their famous jam haven't even started to bud, and money is already tight. A local band is relying on her songs to create an EP worthy of a record label's attention, but their guitarist's rivalry with Lucas leaves her the impossible task of writing about something else. Despite her growing guilt about the responsibilities she's neglecting, it pays off when Lucas finally kisses her. However, continuing their relationship means accepting terms she would normally despise. Soon it becomes clear she can manipulate her way to Ever After, but it will cost her everything else. Maybe even the "Happily."

Told with excerpts from Blanca's songs interspersed with the narrative, BLACKBERRY JAM is a YA contemporary with elements of magical realism complete at 85,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Jandy Nelson and Anna-Marie McLemore.

I am a freelance editor for novels and dissertations. My essay "The Dark Lord's Descent" was published in Harry Potter for Nerds II in 2015.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Does adding a third problem she's neglecting make it too long? Does it sort-of-kind-of clarify how the songs will be important in the narrative?

Regarding the magical realism, it's in small doses that play into the symbolism. Everyone around Blanca has their own ideal they're neglecting the truth to hold onto, and it manifests in different ways. Lucas lives in a house that ages the more his mother tries to clean it, and it serves as a loose metaphor for her marriage. Blanca's Mami lives twenty years in the past, obsessed over a relationship that never worked out, to the point where she's insubstantial in the present--a ghost of sorts who only comes alive when making jam. And Blanca has a tree house which plays to her ideals, as well. Perhaps it's too minor to even mention?
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mgmystery
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« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2017, 10:00:24 AM »

I like the changes--especially the addition about her songwriting!

Seventeen-year-old Blanca Olmos wants nothing short of a Happily Ever After with Lucas De Vries, the boy she considers her soul mate. No matter that he moved away in seventh grade. She’ll just keep writing songs about him and things will work out somehow. When she learns Lucas and his family are moving back, it seems like a sign straight from the Virgin Mary, but the Lucas who returns is nothing like she remembers. A single conversation makes it clear their childhood connection has grown into an overwhelming chemistry, yet he seems bent on avoiding her.

As she focuses on getting Lucas to see that Determined to show Lucas they're soul mates, she Bianca ignores the perils building up around her. Her friend is pregnant with a baby her boyfriend doesn't want, (I know this is important in the story but I think you can skip it for a smoother query.) and rumors of an unwed pregnancy--and gossip about whose it is--are spreading through their parish. The blackberry bushes Blanca's family relies on to make their famous jam haven't even started to bud, and money is already tight. A local band is relying on her songs to create an EP worthy of a record label's attention, but their guitarist's rivalry with Lucas leaves her the impossible task of writing about something else. Despite her growing guilt about the responsibilities she's neglecting, it pays off when Lucas finally kisses her. However, continuing their relationship means accepting terms she would normally despise. Soon it becomes clear she can manipulate her way to Ever After, but it will cost her everything else. Maybe even the "Happily." Love this last sentence!
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slightlysmall
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« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2017, 03:41:32 PM »

mgmystery, I love your line edits! Glad you think it works with the additional sentence about what her songs are for. Smiley

My one concern is that, if you still want to call this Magical Realism, the elements of that aren't shown here in the query. One of your earlier posts said something about it having "elements of Magical Realism." Maybe that 's good enough since you may not want to devote query space to those elements you described in a post telling more about book. They were interesting to read, though.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. I could be reading it wrong but it seems like you're contradicting yourself, first saying maybe I should just call it contemporary then that I should keep it as "elements of MR." I definitely won't be describing the ways in which MR comes into play since they aren't relevant to the plot at hand, so do I leave it and hope it's intriguing, or just call it a contemporary? (It could be argued it's a contemporary written with an unreliable narrator who has an overactive imagination, but that's the joy of magical realism...)
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slightlysmall
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« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2017, 03:44:05 PM »

Oh, and just so we have the whole thing in one place:

Seventeen-year-old Blanca Olmos wants nothing short of a Happily Ever After with Lucas De Vries, the boy she considers her soul mate. No matter that he moved away in seventh grade. She’ll just keep writing songs about him and things will work out somehow. When she learns Lucas and his family are moving back, it seems like a sign straight from the Virgin Mary, but the Lucas who returns is nothing like she remembers. A single conversation makes it clear their childhood connection has grown into an overwhelming chemistry, yet he seems bent on avoiding her.

Determined to show Lucas they're soul mates, Blanca ignores the perils building up around her. Her friend is pregnant and rumors of an unwed pregnancy--and gossip about whose it is--are spreading through their parish. The blackberry bushes Blanca's family relies on to make their famous jam haven't even started to bud, and money is already tight. A local band needs her songs to create an EP worthy of a record label's attention, but their guitarist's rivalry with Lucas leaves Blanca the impossible task of writing about something else. Despite her growing guilt about the responsibilities she's neglecting, it pays off when Lucas finally kisses her. However, continuing their relationship means accepting terms she would normally despise. It soon becomes clear she can manipulate her way to Ever After, but it will cost her everything else. Maybe even the "Happily."

Told with excerpts from Blanca's songs interspersed with the narrative, BLACKBERRY JAM is a YA contemporary with elements of magical realism complete at 85,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Jandy Nelson and Anna-Marie McLemore.

I am a freelance editor for novels and dissertations. My essay "The Dark Lord's Descent" was published in Harry Potter for Nerds II in 2015.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2017, 05:01:08 PM by slightlysmall » Logged

Falthor
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« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2017, 10:55:43 PM »

just kicking in my two cents.

I love the opening paragraph.  to me that is perfect, there's a nice little hook burred in it and it really shows your voice as a writer.

the second paragraph for me has a couple bumps that throw me.  It feels a little long, with a couple "...and then" moments as you get to the end.  I'm not sure if it's too many ideas being put into it, or just the wording that's used to introduce them.  truthfully when i went back and read the second paragraph again about the only point that could be dropped from it would have to be Bianca's family's money problems, this is the only time it's ever mentioned in the query or her family is even hinted at and to me it stands out like a sore thumb.


great query so far SS...  will keep tuned in.
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mgmystery
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« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2017, 08:50:24 AM »

I connected the money problems with her hope of getting paid for writing songs. So maybe make the actual connection or leave it out. I agree that you have enough going on without it.

As for the magical realism, I don't mind the query the way it is with magical realism elements to show it's there. (I have no idea how agents feel, though.) I think the real question is-- Does the magic seem like it's possibly her imagination in the book? If so, I'd skip the mention completely.
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slightlysmall
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« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2017, 02:54:31 PM »

Hey, no worries Ragweed. I didn't mean to sound as harsh as it seems like you took me to be. I'm trying to figure it out, too--if it's something worth mentioning. But I'll save the question for my CPs, since they've read the book and can offer more advice about whether it's necessary in the query.

mgmystery--you made the connection correctly. At least, it's part of why she's hoping the songs work out. My only remaining concern about removing that reference is that the title is a little strange and at least that line begins to make sense of it. If it's cool to have a title that's confusing, I may delete that line, keep the "elements of magical realism" line, and at least use it for my first test run.

After all, we're picking nits now, which is an excellent place to be, I think.

(now if only I could get my synopsis to cooperate... it's not even in posting-here-for-feedback shape. :-/ )
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Falthor
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« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2017, 03:02:52 PM »

i wouldn't worry about a confusing title SS, they can't all be "John Dies at the end" and realistically the title isn't going to make an agent bite or not.  they want to see the query and the pages.

How many times have we both told people and been told that the title you have in your book is not necessarily going to be the one it's published with?  Pretty sure you'll be fine either way.
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mgmystery
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« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2017, 08:48:07 AM »

Yes! Picking nits is a great place to be.  Grin I think a weird title is fine, but if you keep the money part in, you could just say " A local band is willing to pay for her songs..."

It's a good query!  Thumbs Up
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