Wednesday, January 11, 2012

JanuQuery: Forbidden Secrets

Today's query critique comes from Megan Shepherd.  Read about her debut novel THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER below.
Dear Agent X:
<<Include agent personalization here>>  I hope you’ll find my young adult paranormal romance willcompliment complement your list.  FORBIDDEN SECRETS is complete at 94,000 words and set in fictional Hawthorne Ridge, NC.
Good intro. Professional and to the point. The compliment/complement issue may not seem major, but writers must understand grammar. However, I think most agents would look past one or two slips.
Closet psychic, seventeen year-old Kyra Siefert races toward two senior year goals—a full track scholarship to college and defending her state cross-country title.  Telling us she’s a “closet psychic” is a huge revelation, but then her two goals are rather mundane and have nothing to do with being psychic. I’d just cut the “closet psychic” in the first line and let this next line speak for itself: Things change when Kyra begins to see visions.  Terrifying visions of events she can’t control.  Visions that yank her into an alternate reality at the most inopportune moments.  Now, hiding her psychic curse and avoiding the label “Koo Koo CuckooKyra” becomes priority number-one.  Until she falls for Aidan.
Eighteen year-old Aidan MacGregor might be immortal, but he’s not invincible. This makes me wonder how he can be immortal and 18 at the same time. Did he stop aging at 18 or what? Consider rewriting: Aidan MacGregor may look eighteen, but he’s immortal—though not invincible. Aidan descends from a Highland Clan of Celtic immortals on the brink of war with the rogues that murdered his brother. I love the Highlander twist here. There’s been quite a few YA immortal paranormal romances, but this is a nice angle. Side note…“war” implies two very large groups. How many rouges are there? Maybe “battle” or “feud” would be better? Still grieving and guilt-ridden, Aidan uses his artistic talents as an escape. I love this character detail, but it’s too vague. Why does he feel guilty? And what kind of artistic talents? Until he falls for Kyra--a romance that would jeopardize his clan’s strict code of secrecy and honor. 
Bound by a strict code of secrecy and honor, falling in love with a mortal jeopardizes everything Aidan’s sworn to preserve.  I condensed the previous line into the previous paragraph for clarity’s sake. In thisRomeo and Juliet meets Highlander, Kyra becomes the pawn in a deadly game of immortal revenge, forcing Aidan to choose between loyalty to his family or protecting the girl he loves.  But haunted by visions of Aidan killing her, keeping her psychic curse a secret may ultimately cost Kyra everything – even her life. Overall this is very nice, but I find the last line slightly confusing. Why is she in love with him if she keeps having visions that he's killing her? Is keeping her vision secret really the most important thing, even more than staying alive or getting to the bottom of their source? The visions feel a bit disjointed from the rest of the story.
With a multicultural cast of characters, including a bi-racial heroine, FORBIDDEN SECRETS weaves contemporary teenage life with the magic of Celtic legend and brings a paranormal twist to Scottish history.  This story will appeal to fans of Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series or Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush series. Nice. These seem like good, realistic comparisons.
FORBIDDEN SECRETS is a finalist in the 2011 Windy City RWA Chapter’s Four Seasons Contest.AwesomeI was an NCAA All-American in cross-country and track while attending Villanova University on a full-athletic scholarship.  Since cross-country running is only a minor detail in the query, this doesn’t add anything. But congrats on the running accomplishment J I’m an active member of the Southern Breeze chapter of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Romance Writers of America, including the Young Adult (YARWA) and Celtic Hearts Special Interest chapters. Good credentials.
Per submission guidelines, I’ve pasted sample pages below.  Thank you very much for your time and consideration. 

TL Sumner

Overall, this was a great query and I wouldn’t be surprised if it received some agent interest. I would advise you to have a critique partner look over it first, mostly just for grammar and word usage. There were a few misused words and the font changed several times (maybe that's not visible here)—little details I know, but easy fixes that can make you look more professional.

I like the premise. Though there are so many YA paranormal romances out there, the Scottish Highlander angle seemed fresh and appealing. I’m not entirely sure I understood from the query what Kyra’s psychic powers had to do with the central plot—maybe you could tweak the first paragraph to give the various story elements a little more cohesion. Instead of just saying the visions are terrifying and related to an alternate reality, you could tie them more specifically to a handsome young man or Scottish countryside or something along those lines.

Best of luck—this feels very promising and I enjoyed reading the query!

About the author: Megan Shepherd grew up among the bookshelves of her parents’ independent bookstore in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reading everything from A Little Princess to Heart of Darkness. After living and studying in various countries, learning a bunch of languages she may never speak again, and spending two years in an African mud hut, she ended up right back in the Western North Carolina mountains. She writes full-time and is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary. Her debut YA is THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER, the first of a historical thriller trilogy loosely inspired by gothic-era classics. 

Book description: London, 1894. Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns her father is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations were true.

Juliet is accompanied by the doctor’s handsome young assistant and an enigmatic castaway, who both attract Juliet for very different reasons. They travel to the island only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: he has created animals that have been vivisected to resemble, speak, and behave as humans. Worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape the island, even though her horror is mixed with her own scientific curiosity. As the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.


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