3rd SR Crapometer #99

Dear Miss Snark:

I am seeking representation for Precious Ghost, an upper middle grade novel of approximately 44,000 words.

When Carrie Jefferson hears mysterious nighttime tappings in her bedroom wall, her summer before seventh grade takes an unexpected twist. Their “new” old house was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Carrie’s bedroom is right above the slaves’ secret hiding place.

Andrew, a descendent of former slaves, helps her decode the tapping using Morse Code. She decides to share her secret with Trey, her gorgeous new boyfriend. But, when Trey and Andrew meet, Carrie discovers that not everything from the past is dead. And she must choose between illusion and truth. (some specifics here would help me figure out what the HELL you mean).

Not a typical ghost story (since there are no "real" ghosts), Precious Ghost deals with growing, changing, and discovering what a girl will and won't do when her core beliefs are challenged. (clunk) I would love the opportunity to send you a synopsis and the first few chapters of Precious Ghost or the complete manuscript for your consideration. (Thank you for your time and consideration is all you need to say. I know you want to send your stuff. )

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing back from you.


Chapter One
My life is ruined. Carrie Jefferson stared out the car window at the ancient house in front of her. It’s all Mom’s fault. She had to live in this stupid house. I hate it. Looking away, Carrie shoved the cage beside her toward her little sister, Lucy.

ok, what the hell?
"My life is ruined" is first person
"Carrie Jefferson stared out of the car window" is third person.

You're either missing punctuation or ..well, the other doesn't even bear thinking about. If in fact, she is THINKING this, then you need to say "My life is ruined," Carrie thought as she stared out the car window. Don't depend on formatting to convey your meaning. Lots of agents will take email queries now and you have to strip out all the formatting to get past the email conversions.

“Stop it!” Lucy exclaimed. “You’ll hurt Olga.” She put a protective arm around the cage. “Mom, make her stop.”
“Girls,” their father said. “Let’s be careful.
I would never hurt Olga, Carrie thought. But, she wasn’t going to tell Lucy. It was her own business that she loved Olga, too.
Something rumbled behind the car.
“Here’s the moving van,” Mr. Jefferson said. “Let’s get Olga into the house, Shortcakes.”
“Okay.” Lucy hopped out of the car, removing the wire cage; a tawny-colored guinea pig huddled in one corner. “It’s all right, Olga,” Lucy cooed. “I have you, you’re safe.” Then she yelled, “I get the corner room! Dibs on the corner room!”
“Yes, dear, we know…” Mrs. Jefferson said. She glanced over her shoulder at Carrie. “You coming?”
“Mom...” Carrie’s lower lip quivered. “Can’t I still go to Thornton? Please?”
“Honey, we’ve been all through that. It’s impossible to drive you across town to go to school outside the district. You have to be here in the afternoon when Lucy gets home. You’ll see Molly and Jo often, and in two years you’ll be with them in high school. It’s not like we’ve moved to the moon, you know.”
Carrie dropped her gaze, tracing the paisley pattern on her shirt. “It isn’t the same,” she mumbled.
“Carrie, come on…now.” Her mother’s tone and The Look told her further discussion was pointless.
She got out of the car and noticed the neighbors across the street peeking through their drapes. Carrie had the sudden urge to stick her tongue out at them. But, no self-respecting, almost seventh grade girl would do something so childish. Lucy might, but not her big sister. She did it anyway, hiding the gesture behind her arm as she closed the door. So there, she thought. I might have to live here – but I don’t have to be nice.
Carrie followed her mom into the house.
"This will be the breakfast room," Mrs. Jefferson announced.
Carrie figured she’d better not press her luck by noting that the kitchen table had been good enough for breakfast at their old house. She dragged her feet through that room, the kitchen and the “formal” dining room. (It looked like a plain old dining room to her.) Barely glancing out the French doors at the stone patio beyond, she went straight through the hallway and stomped up the stairs.
Carrie stopped at Lucy’s open door, watching her walk around the room; Olga cradled in her arms. Lucy showed Olga the closet, the window and window seat; explaining where everything would go when the movers brought them upstairs.
Carrie stuck her tongue out at her sister’s back, and then scuffled into her own room. She had a window seat, too, and that’s where she plopped down; elbows on the sill, her chin in her hands. Carrie looked outside.

If the house is a character you need to show it as such. This is telling, not showing. This is pedestrian, and your first paragraph has made me reel back in horror.

You're starting at the beginning. Dropping us into the middle of the story is almost always a better choice. Like when she first hears the knocking.

Form rejection.


Dave said...

Those tapping noises in my house...
When I hear those noises, I think either my baseboard heater has air in it or the field mice have invaded the attic again. You didn't do anything to dispel that thought. You have to convince the reader that the noises are something other than mundane happenings.

As for the "reluctant teen" - - it's s stereotype, a cliche. Find something new to make her/him interesting.

"Andrew, a descendent of former slaves," YIKES! that's not a requirement for recognizing morse code. In fact, it's a mere coincedence.

You say there is no real ghost, but Andrew is a ghost and not real.
that's too confusing a description.

CORE beliefs in a rebellious teen? Teens are just learning and you should use that to your advantage.

You know, it would be nice if Carrie was African American and her boyfriend was a droopy pants slacker compare to Andrew the ambitious slave.

A bit trite but if it had a few ennobling themes...

Anonymous said...

dave - doesn't sound to me like Andrew's a ghost - since he's a descendent - just sounds like set-up IMHO

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of the story! I'd read more though I do agree with Miss Snark, dropping us in the middle of the action would have been more exciting.

Good luck, writer!

Writerious said...

While Samuel Morse invented his famous code in the 1830's, and was used by telegraph operators for decades afterwards, it seems unlikely that it would be used by "passengers" on the underground railroad. It was rare enough for a slave to be literate, since there were laws in some states that made it illegal to teach slaves to read. To use Morse code, a person would have to be literate AND know the code (since the code transmits individual letters). That would be a rare "passenger," indeed. You're going to have to come up with some solid evidence to convince me that it the code was actually used in the underground railroad operations.

The whole, "oh, woe, we're moving and I have to leave my friends" is an overdone theme in children's literature. See if you can find a way to freshen this up.

I hope they have a larger cage for that guinea pig. A cage that fits in a child's lap is too small for a hamster, let alone an active guinea pig. Here's the size that the critter really needs: http://www.guineapigcages.com/

Anonymous said...

"scuffled" is not a verb that means hurried, walked, or any other kind of movement. A scuffle is a fight so scuffled, means fought. I think you mean "scuttled." If you're not sure that it's the right word (and it isn't) use the dictionary.

Virginia Miss said...

The tapping and underground railroad and ghost stuff sounded interesting but the opening was boring. Author, good luck finding a better spot to open.

Alison S said...

My first thought was that it was unlikely that runaway slaves would be using Morse Code, too.
Isn't it funny how we have no trouble at all with the idea of ghostly tapping, but are immediately thrown by the ghosts tapping something improbable? It's weird how the brain works...

Anonymous said...

thanks for all the comments - I see I have some work to do - particularly on the query letter and my starting point - which led to certain expectations on the part of readers as I can see from your comments

I think 12 year olds do have core beliefs - those are usually what they rebel against.

And - Andrew is not a ghost - he is a contemporary friend Carrie meets and he helps her follow clues...

The morse code part has nothing to do with the Underground Railroad per se - just that the tapping sounds like Morse Code and using it to decode the taps, Carrie gets clues. I think kids are pretty quick to pick up on how things might fit together (think of all the "connections" in Chasing Vermeer) - and a series of taps would've sounded like Morse Code to me - but, I see I will have to make that very clear in the book

writerious - The guinea pig was being transported in a small wire cage - its "home" is far bigger (which is shown in the book) and would never have fit in the back seat of a car since it's a veritable guinea pig mansion

Merriam Webster defines scuffle as "to move with a quick shuffling gait" (I do own several dictionaries and thesauruses - thanks!) - but, if it raises a question I might rethink its use there.

Again - thanks - this has been a real eye-opener