Mar 13, 2009

QUERY: THE UNICORN TAMER

Dear Agent,

With a pro-environment motif similar to Carl Hiaasen's HOOT, THE UNICORN TAMER is Greek mythology meets Pokémon.

Try being 13 and discovering that your parents spent your whole life lying to you.

Try being 13 and having to deal with a kidnapped dad.

Try being 13 and learning that your mom - yeah, she can create fire with her bare hands.

When Emma Brown's dad mysteriously disappears, Emma is catapulted back to her birthplace - a dimension where fairies are anything but tales. In the wonderland called Drualtys, teenagers study to become Tamers - people who for unique bonds with legendary animals to save them from extinction. Through this bond, Tamers absorb the creatures' majick, special powers ranging from the ability to control lightening, run on water, or see through skin.

Emma embraces her taming lessons to rescue her dad from the Hunters, a ruthless clan of humans hell-bent on proving that man is the most powerful beast of all. Their mission: murder the creatures of Drualtys and steal their majickal abilities. The prize: a unicorn's cloak of invisibility. Together with her newfound friends, including a half-pixie who's too pretty for his own good and a whimsical boy who can talk to animals, Emma must stay one step ahead of the Hunters and save her dad and the unicorns - before she is hunted herself.

THE UNICORN TAMER is approximately 100,000 words and is the first in a middle-grade fantasy trilogy. Upon your request, I'd be more than happy to send you the complete manuscript.

I graduated from Santa Clara University with a Major in Communications and a Minor in Creative Writing. I worked on my university's literary magazine as well as a Children's Storyteller at Barnes and Noble.

Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Christine

9 comments:

Bane of Anubis said...

Hey C - I like the premise. I also like the intro (though I'm not sure how good it is to stress an ideology - i.e., Pro-Env - particularly to your audience)...

Also, the 3rd "Try" line isn't a complete sentence - i.e., it doesn't have parallelism to your previous 2 "Trys"

My only other nitpick is on the length - you might want to remarket this as YA as opposed to Middle-grade for the length.

Overall, nice query and excellent idea, IMO.

The Screaming Guppy said...

Hi Christine and thanks for sharing! Here’s my 2 cents:

With a pro-environment motif similar to Carl Hiaasen's HOOT, THE UNICORN TAMER is Greek mythology meets Pokémon.

I don’t know the book HOOT, but I assume your target agent will. As for the second part, I’m interested. Sounds fun, and I like both of these things. It also tells me right away that your target is a younger audience. Cool. Not my genre, but seems as far as I can tell that it would get the agent’s attention.

Try being 13 and discovering that your parents spent your whole life lying to you.

Try being 13 and having to deal with a kidnapped dad.

Try being 13 and learning that your mom - yeah, she can create fire with her bare hands.


Not a fan of this repetition, nor what information you elect to use as examples. None of these things seem overly original or strikingly unique. Even the fire with the bare hands is pretty common with modern culture filled with comic book heroes. I would opt to cut this OR use something more exciting and original from the rest of your query in place of the selections you made here.

When Emma Brown's dad mysteriously disappears, Emma is catapulted back to her birthplace - a dimension where fairies are anything but tales. In the wonderland called Drualtys, teenagers study to become Tamers - people who form unique bonds with legendary animals to save them from extinction. Through this bond, Tamers absorb the creatures' majick, special powers ranging from the ability to control lightening, run on water, or see through skin.

Small typo, which I bolded. Second Emma could be replaced with she I think. I think maybe you need something like …absorbs the creatures’ majick in order to gain special powers ranging... or …which grants them special powers… The last sentence feels incomplete right now to me.

Emma embraces her taming lessons to rescue her dad from the Hunters, a ruthless clan of humans hell-bent on proving that man is the most powerful beast of all. Their mission: murder the creatures of Drualtys and steal their majickal abilities. The prize: a unicorn's cloak of invisibility. Together with her newfound friends, including a half-pixie who's too pretty for his own good and a whimsical boy who can talk to animals, Emma must stay one step ahead of the Hunters and save her dad and the unicorns - before she is hunted herself.

I don’t know if I’m right on this one, but hell-bent seems like a strong word to use for middle grade fiction, even if this is the query only. Bent would work just fine, and avoid any possible concern about age appropriateness. “Their mission” is referring to the hunters? What does that have to do with Emma’s Dad? This paragraph implies that her Dad and the unicorns are connected, but I’m left wondering how exactly. Is there something else about the whimsical boy that is unique besides talking to animals that you can pull out for this? To me, it seems like all of the kids would know how to do this as tamers?

I graduated from Santa Clara University with a Major in Communications and a Minor in Creative Writing. I worked on my university's literary magazine as well as a Children's Storyteller at Barnes and Noble.

Hmmm. I’m wondering if this paragraph is relevant enough to include in the query. From what I hear, agents only what to know “real” writing credentials. Having a creative writing degree doesn’t mean you can write well. (I have one as well, so don’t take this as putting you down in any way.) I don’t know what a Children’s Storyteller at Barnes and Noble means. Do you actually write stories and are they published somehow? If not, this might not be worth including. Are agents going to know what this is? Or just blow it off?

I was interested enough to want to read a sample, even though this is middle grade. The idea sounds interesting. There’s a nice voice that sounds like it would appeal to your target audience. You have a magic school, but it sounds different enough for Harry Potter for me to not think it’s just another clone attempt. I think it’s a good start, but needs some work.

Best of luck, and I hope this helps. :)

Anonymous said...

Query:

Dear Ms/Mr Agent,

In THE GHOST OF ZORRO, a 35,000-word book for boys, Zorro comes alive to save a thirteen-year-old living in New York

I’m Carlos Rodriguez and my life’s been one bad event after another since my father went out for cigarettes one day three years ago, and never came back.
My mother says I’m the man in the family now, and I’m in charge of my little brother.
What a handful. He’s trying to join a gang and I have to stop him, but how much can a
thirteen-year-old do?
One night after my brother just about got killed, I couldn’t sleep, and so I watched an old Zorro movie on TV. After I saw all the things he could do, I made a wish to be just like him. This part you won’t believe. I know I don’t. When I woke up the next day, he was in my bedroom. Zorro! I think he’s just a ghost, but he told me he was going to teach me to be a man. That’s when my life started changing.

My writing-related experience includes: decades of living and working in New York, publication of a humorous short story in the University of South Florida’s writing journal, PALM PRINTS; winning fiction awards from the National Writers Association and the Florida State Writing Competition; participating in numerous critique groups and writing conferences; being interviewed on over thirty radio stations; and providing library and book store talks for more than 20 nonfiction books. My long-term plans are to write many more stories featuring this cast of clever kids.

Thank you for considering my novel.

Best,

Anonymous said...

In THE GHOST OF ZORRO, a 35,000-word book for boys, Zorro comes alive to save a thirteen-year-old living in New York

I’m Carlos Rodriguez and my life’s been one bad event after another since my father went out for cigarettes one day three years ago, and never came back. My
mother says I’m the man in the family now, and I’m in charge of my little brother.
What a handful. He’s trying to join a gang and I have to stop him, but how much can a
thirteen-year-old do?
One night after my brother just about got killed, I couldn’t sleep, and so I watched an old Zorro movie on TV. After I saw all the things he could do, I made a wish to be just like him. This part you won’t believe. I know I don’t. When I woke up the next day, he was in my bedroom. Zorro! I think he’s just a ghost, but he told me he was going to teach me to be a man. That’s when my life started changing.

My writing-related experience includes: decades of living and working in New York, publication of a humorous short story in the University of South Florida’s writing journal, PALM PRINTS; winning fiction awards from the National Writers Association and the Florida State Writing Competition; participating in numerous critique groups and writing conferences; being interviewed on over thirty radio stations; and providing library and book store talks for more than 20 nonfiction books. My long-term plans are to write many more stories featuring this cast of clever kids.

I've copied in the first pages below.

Thank you for your consideration.

THE GHOST OF ZORRO
1


Word on the street: my little brother’s trying to join a gang.

I’d been looking for him everywhere. So far, no results. My eyes watered from the cold and I had to zip up my Day-Glo Jets jacket just to block out the wind. I rushed along, hoping to find Manuel.

He was my responsibility. My mother told me so.

She’d sat me down three years ago after my father went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back. “You’re the man in the family now, Carlos,” she told me, tears in her eyes, sadness in her voice.

Too much for a ten-year-old to understand, but I’ve been growing up fast. Out of a possible ten, I gave myself a four on how I was doing. What I really needed was a father to show me the ropes about how to be a man. So far, I hadn’t found one.

So, there I was on the street, pushing people out of the way and zigzagging around tamale vendors and taquerias, the smells of quesadillas filled with pork tantalizing my nose. I didn’t have time to stop. I had to find Manuel before he did something really stupid.

No one looked friendly, but maybe that was because I was nervous. Not because of the crowd, but because I might be too late.

“¡Cuidado!” A Nuyorican elbowed me as I ran by.

“Sorry,” I shouted back. Didn’t my brother know gangs just played on your weaknesses and fear? They made you do bad things. What gave him the idea to join a gang?

One of the men jostled me as I shoved past.

Another shouted in what sounded like Chinese. “Jiănsù!”

Not daring to look back, or take time to explain, I kept running. Split by weather and speckled with spit and flattened chewing gum, the cement felt cold under my sneakers. What if I couldn’t find my brother in time?

Manuel could get hurt or worse. If only I’d been able to keep him out of trouble.

Salsa, soul, rap and reggae music tumbled from windows above me and cars alongside me. As I neared McDonald’s, the smells of snow cones, uncollected garbage, and fresh-cut flowers combined with the lure of French fries.

I had no idea how to stop my brother or even how to find him. My heart thundered and my lungs ached, but I kept going. I threaded my way around the two-for-one sweat suits, evening gowns, underwear and overcoats hanging on racks and lying in bins that spilled from the open doors of discount stores and the folding tables of temporary merchants.

“Slow down!” One of the employees raised a fist and shouted when I nearly tripped over his decrepit chair held together with speaker wire and duct tape.

I didn’t answer. I had to find Manuel and according to my calculations, it had to be soon.

At the corner, almost covered over by a dumpster and scaffolding, graffiti marked the building with a portrait of the salsa king, Tito Puente. Next to that, a Rest in Peace mural marked the site of a local tragedy. Charred by soot, a temporary altar made of a cardboard box, candle, and liquor bottles depicted the dead kid’s face.

I jumped back when a gypsy cab driver in a black Lincoln Town Car tapped his horn at me in the intersection. I ran around the back of the vehicle and across the street past his favorite bodega. Throat dry and stomach empty, I wanted to stop for a package of mini-donuts and a bottle of quarter water, but I didn’t have the time or the money.

I rushed toward Mr. Blanco’s vegetable stand like a cat, listening for any sound that might give me a clue. I stopped for a gulp of air in front of a hardware store where a couple of gray-haired men sat on a bench, talking.

“Have you seen a boy, about eight years old, about this tall?” I held my hand shoulder high. “Black hair, brown eyes.”

They pointed down the street. “About a dozen boys that size just ran by here going towards the river,” one of them said.

Half a block down, I saw two of Manuel’s friends run across the street to join about a dozen other boys.

“Wait!” I shouted to them, but they kept going, moving as if some kind of invisible force pulled them along. If they were here, Manuel wasn’t far behind. I squinted down the street. He might even be with them.

They wore high-top sneakers and jackets with patches sewn on them and bright-colored baseball hats. Some of the gang wannabees wore their red handkerchiefs in the wrong pocket. Their breath came out like smoke in the chilly air as they streamed across the street, dodging in between cars and trucks, all shouting and whooping. They headed for Mr. Blanco’s stand.

“Hey, you.” I yelled at the boys. “Stop. Manuel?” They paid no attention. I told myself not to think the worst, but with Manuel for a brother, it was hard not to.

I knew I looked even smaller and skinnier than I was in the too big jeans and jacket my mother bought me. But I was big enough and fast enough to teach Manuel a lesson. If I caught him stealing fruit, I’d make him eat lemons, skin and all, for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two weeks.

Still shouting and whooping, the boys rushed up to Mr. Blanco’s stand. They grabbed handfuls of shiny red apples and knobby oranges and most of the bananas. They dropped some of the fruit and it smashed onto the ground. The boys just ran away.

Deborah Blake Dempsey said...

Hi Christine:

I think Bane and Screaming hit really good points on tightening up your query.

The story sounds really interesting but the query was a bit too long and I began to lose interest, which is not what you want an agent to do. Strip your query down to the point it kicks the reader in the gut. Instead of beginning with three "Try being. . ." sentences, you could start with something like,

"When thirteen 13-year old Emma Brown's liar of a father mysteriously disappears, Emma is catapulted back to her birthplace.”

My first instinct would be to wonder, what is he lying about, where did he go, where is she and where exactly did she go. My curiosity is up and it’s only the first sentence.

I wish you well in your endeavor.

Good luck and good writing,
Deb

Carley said...

Christine,
I like your idea, but I agree with what others have said, first that you may want to switch the market to YA, 100,000 words is really long for a MG book. Second, I'm not a big fan of the repetetive 'Try' bit going on in the opener. Maybe use something like "Being thirteen is hard enough without discovering that your parents have lied to you your whole life, followed by your dad being kidnapped. Oh, yeah, and your mom, she can create fire with her bare hands." something along those lines maybe?

I also think the query needs to be tightened up, shortened a bit, to only include the very important highlights of your book. With fantasy this is hard,(believe me I know, and quite frankly I feel like a hypocrite even saying this) because you want to tell everyone just how cool the world you created is. You can, and do, in the book. I think the idea of a query is just to hint at it.Just to give a big enough taste so the agent wants more.

Some thoughts on tightening it up, IMO, are as follows:
//After Emma Brown's dad mysteriously disappears, Emma is catapulted back to her birthple- a dimension where fairies are anthing by tales-called Drualtys. Here tennagers study to become Tamers of legendary animals to save them from extinction, and absorb the creatures' majick.//
o that's just an idea, but it shortens it up a little.

//Emma embraces her taming lessons with the hope of rescueing her dad from the Hunters, a ruthless clan of humans bent on proving that man is the most powerful beast of all by murdering the creatures of Drualtys and stealing their majickal abilities.
o-I know that leaves out a lot, but I think it highlights the main points.(I hope)
// Together with her newfound friends, Emma must stay one step ahead of the Hunters in order to save her dad and the unicorns - before she is hunted herself.// (as a side note, if Emma falls for the pixie I cut out, you may want to add a blurb about losing her heart along the way or something, if it's relevent to the plot.)

o-As to your closing, the mention of your degree, I don't see any harm in that. You worked hard for it, why not use it. I would however leave out the Barnes and Noble bit, I'm not sure what that means and I have kids, lol. If you have had anything published at all though, be sure to include that. I really don't think there's a written rule on this. I believe it's the wonderful rule of "It is until is isn't" as far as queries go.

Over all, I think you did a fine job with your query. I look forward to seeing your revision.

Rick Daley said...

I think the basic structure of this query is good. I know THE GOLDEN COMPASS has characters with bonds to animals. Fantasy is not my key area, so I don't know if your description of the bond clearly differentiates your work from THE GOLDEN COMPASS, but I would think you want to highlight a key difference to show unique value to your story.

I think the work at Barnes & Nobel shows some comfort in public readings at bookstores, and since you are promoting this as middle-grade, it has some relevance.

For your university's literary magazine, did you write anything that was published in it? If so, say "My work [TITLE] was published in [NAME OF MAGAZINE]." You don't need to specify that it was the university magazine, just its name.

In your closing, I've read posts from many agents saying they prefer "Thank you for your time and consideration" without saying you look forward to hearing from them.

Anette J Kres said...

I don’t really like the comparisons in the first paragraph. Don’t tell me what it’s like, tell me what it IS. I suggest dropping the three “try” paragraphs. “When Emma Brown’s dad…” is a good opener. From that point on, the query is pretty solid. Kept my interest. I’d drop “approximately” from your word count since word counts are rounded to the nearest thousand, so agents know it’s approximate. Also, 100,000 words is REALLY long for a MG fantasy. YA fantasies are usually 60-80k and MG slightly shorter.

Christine said...

Thank you everyone for your time and awesome feedback! I am still working on perfecting my query (it's really hard!) and your comments were all constructive. Best of luck to everyone on their queries!

Christine