Thursday, August 26, 2010

11 Pitch Entry #41: Shelliep

Title: THE LAST STATIONMASTER

Genre: YA/Historical

Meet Nate Daniels, a fifteen-year-old middle-class African-American with a reputation for pranks. His parents worries he's becoming a juvenile delinquent and send him to his grandparents' North Carolina farm for the summer. But soon after he arrives, Nate uncovers a long kept family secret.

Nate learns the farm has been passed through the family since antebellum times. He questions how his African-American forefathers ran the farm during slavery, but no one wants to talk about it.

With laptop and cell phone privileges revoked, Nate's efforts to research the farm's history stalls until he meets Hannah and her brother. The snooping trio uncovers a link between the farm and the Underground Railroad. Good, right? But more research suggests that Nate's very distant and very black grandfather owned slaves.

Things get complicated when Nate finds an accused terrorist hiding on the farm. But when the terrorist saves Nate's life, it convinces Nate he's innocent. To evade disaster Nate must discover the secrets of the farm, deliver the terrorist to safety, and become THE LAST STATIONMASTER.

11 comments:

  1. Hi Shelliep!

    Overall, I think this is a good query with the potential to be great. I believe queries should always have some sort of punch in the beginning. You don't want to start off too dry or you may lose the reader right away. I just think the intro needs a little fine-tuning, giving it a little more zing so to speak!

    I feel in your intro there is no need to write, "fifteen-year-old middle-class African-American". That's a bit of a mouthful and as you read, it's clear Nate is African-American and comes from a caring all American family, just at the mere fact that his "worried parents" send him off to the grandparents and later on you mention his heritage at least twice.

    It's hard to give dead-on advice, since I haven't read your novel (which really sounds awesome), so please forgive me if my intro misses the mark in terms of your story or writing style. Here is how I reworked the intro.

    *Nate's been bad. At the ripe old age of fifteen, Nate Daniels has become somewhat of a juvenile delinquent, forcing his worried parents to ship him off to his grandparents' farm in North Carolina for some much needed discipline. Just when Nate thinks his summer couldn't be more boring, he uncovers an unthinkable secret that throws his whole world into disarray, revealing a shocking family history.*

    To me, this packs a bit more punch and makes me want to read on, but of course, this is all very subjective and I'm sure you can do wonders with the intro on your own! I think the bulk of your query is excellent and explains the story well. I am intrigued to say the least!

    I hope I helped in some small way, but seriously, you are on the right track with this in my book! And I would be very surprised if agents were not requesting more from you.

    Good luck!!!

    xoxo -- Hilary

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  2. Thanks Hilary, that helps a lot. My critique groups are always telling mw they keep forgetting my MC is black, which is the main reason I start off with it. But I agree, the rest of the pitch makes it clear.

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  3. Like I said, I LOVE the idea for your story! I hope to see it in print some day soon! :)

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  4. Meet Nate Daniels, a fifteen-year-old middle-class African-American with a reputation for pranks. (That sort of feels like an infodump.) His parents worries(worry) he's becoming a juvenile delinquent and send him to his grandparents' North Carolina farm for the summer. But soon after he arrives, Nate uncovers a long kept family secret. (nice but the opening can be tightened - Because of his penchant for pranks, Nate Daniels winds up at his grandparents' NC farm for the summer... or something.)

    Nate learns the farm has been passed through the family since (the Antebellum era - you're referring to the specific period of time pre-Civil War). He questions how his African-American forefathers ran the farm during slavery, but no one wants to talk about it. (I wonder, too. If it were in the North, that happened, but in NC? Woah!)

    With laptop and cell phone privileges revoked,(why?) Nate's efforts to research the farm's history stalls(stall - and mentioning your story stalling is not good - makes me think the paces crawls or nothing happens!) until he meets Hannah and her brother.

    The snooping trio uncovers a link between the farm and the Underground Railroad. Good, right? But more research suggests that Nate's very distant and very black grandfather owned slaves.

    Things get complicated (because they aren't already? *G*)when Nate finds an accused terrorist hiding on the farm (NON SEQUITUR ALERT). But when the terrorist saves Nate's life, it convinces Nate he's innocent. To evade disaster (what disaster?) Nate must discover the secrets of the farm, deliver the terrorist to safety, and become THE LAST STATIONMASTER.(what does that mean/have to do with anything?)

    You had me so hooked until the last para!! I'm worried about the 'discover the secrets of the farm' bit - it doesn't sound like anything actually *happens* in that plot line. Reading about research is kinda boring, even if the discoveries made are cool. And then the terrorist bit is totally random. How does it fit? Can you draw a parallel between the Underground Railroad use and hiding this innocent accused? Maybe? I'm also not sure what the stakes are or where the title comes from. Sounds like a neat story buried in here, though!

    Good luck!

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  5. Thanks for your comments, Jess. I did have the connection to Nate, the terrorist, and the Underground Railroad in play, but it got lost in the 175 words cut.

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  6. Wow, this sounds interesting!

    My story also has a non-white MC, so I know how it feels to try to squeeze that info into your pitch somewhere without it sounding like an info dump. It is mentioned twice here, so maybe remove one of the references to make it a little more natural.

    I like the history of the underground railroad, the modern tie to terrorism, and I am SO curious about his black ancestors owning slaves!! That alone makes me want to pick this up.

    I am curious what role Hannah and her brother play, what is at stake as Nate goes deeper into his research (like someone said above, research alone is boring, but research when there is something big on the line can be exciting, so maybe mention the stakes), and if you could fit in the tie in the terrorist has, I think the whole thing would come together more.

    This sounds like such a cool story. Good luck!

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  7. Shellie, this sounds like a really interesting read, but I think you can condense the beginning so you can include those connections we are missing. Since I haven't read it, I don't know, but make sure none of the first part of the query is backstory. Where does the story start, precisely?

    Meet Nate Daniels, a fifteen-year-old middle-class African-American with a reputation for pranks. His parents worries he's becoming a juvenile delinquent and send him to his grandparents' North Carolina farm for the summer. But soon after he arrives, Nate uncovers a long kept family secret.

    Nate learns the farm has been passed through the family since antebellum times. He questions how his African-American forefathers ran the farm during slavery, but no one wants to talk about it.

    With laptop and cell phone privileges revoked, Nate's efforts to research the farm's history stalls until he meets Hannah and her brother. (I think you can condense all of the above to one or two sentences. Nate's been bad, sent to live with relatives, and starts to research the family farm's strange history with newfound friends Hannah and ___. This is where I think the story really starts, right?)

    The snooping trio uncovers a link between the farm and the Underground Railroad. Good, right? But more research suggests that Nate's very distant and very black grandfather owned slaves. (This is good.)

    Things get complicated when Nate finds an accused terrorist hiding on the farm. But when the terrorist saves Nate's life, it convinces Nate he's innocent. To evade disaster Nate must discover the secrets of the farm, deliver the terrorist to safety, and become THE LAST STATIONMASTER. (We need more lead in for the terrorist, and cutting the beginning will give you room for that. The terrorist seems to come out of nowhere. Linking it to the Underground Railroad thing might help, but I haven't read it, so I don't know how it flows in.)

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  8. Jessica, what a great name. It should be on the cover of a bestselling book, a romance perhaps. Thanks for your comments. I'm going to rework the pitch with them in mind.

    Larissa, you're right. The first part is backstory. I would include it in a synopsis, but I can see where it can be drop from the pitch.

    Thanks everyone!!!

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  9. Great premise! But it seemed to me there was enough going on before you threw in the terrorist. Two little things: "His parents worries" should be "His parents worry" and "snooping trio uncovers" should also be singular: uncover. Sounds like a great story, one I'd love to read.

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  10. My suggestion:
    Nate Daniels' parents worry that he's becoming a juvenile delinquent. They send him to his grandparents' North Carolina farm for the summer. But soon after he arrives, Nate uncovers a long kept family secret.

    Nate learns that the farm has been passed through the family since antebellum times. He questions how his African-American forefathers ran the farm during slavery, but no one [[who else is on the farm? Just his grandparents?]]wants to talk about it.

    With laptop and cell phone privileges revoked [[I like this]], Nate's efforts to research the farm's history stalls, until he meets Hannah and her brother. The snooping trio uncovers a link between the farm and the Underground Railroad. A good start. But more research suggests that Nate's ancestor may have actually owned slaves. [[interesting twist!]]

    Things get more complicated when Nate finds an accused terrorist hiding on the farm [[ I'm assuming the terrorist's nationality here, which is awful on my part, but a little more detail might help clarify]] But when the terrorist saves Nate's life [[ maybe mention the terrorist's name to humanize and so you don't have to say "the terrorist" again?]], it [[ it? no, he or she, right? ]] convinces Nate he's innocent. To evade disaster [[ what disaster exactly?]] Nate must discover the secrets of the farm, deliver the terrorist to safety, and become THE LAST STATIONMASTER.

    Great premise and good delivery of your pitch! Could be tightened up a little bit and pared down.

    I really like how you layer the present situation (Nate) with the past (black ancestors owning black slaves) and the uncertain future (terrorist).
    Very very interested to see how it all works out! Good luck!

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  11. Meet Nate Daniels, a fifteen-year-old middle-class African-American with a reputation for pranks. His parents worries he's becoming a juvenile delinquent and send him to his grandparents' North Carolina farm for the summer. But soon after he arrives, Nate uncovers a long kept family secret.
    --

    Ok, I'm already interested. I like the set-up and I'm intrigued by the main character. The fact he enjoys pranks made me smile and like him more (so long as they're not cruel pranks, of course!).

    --

    Nate learns the farm has been passed through the family since antebellum times. He questions how his African-American forefathers ran the farm during slavery, but no one wants to talk about it.

    --

    Oooh. What a neat plot.

    --

    With laptop and cell phone privileges revoked, Nate's efforts to research the farm's history stalls until he meets Hannah and her brother. The snooping trio uncovers a link between the farm and the Underground Railroad. Good, right? But more research suggests that Nate's very distant and very black grandfather owned slaves.

    --

    I've researched some into free black men owning slaves. It's a fascinating part of history to study. I mean, fascinating from a psychological standpoint. I would totally read this book.

    --

    Things get complicated when Nate finds an accused terrorist hiding on the farm.

    --

    I'm not a fan of 'things get complicated.' That's telling. You give us specifics which make it obvious that things get complicated. Pointing a verbal arrow is unneeded.

    Not sure how I feel about the terrorist being thrown into the plot. It was about one thing and now it's about another. The plot splits.

    --

    But when the terrorist saves Nate's life, it convinces Nate he's innocent.

    --

    Agreed with the above that you don't want to use 'terrorist' here, especially if he's innocent. Use the guy's name.

    --

    To evade disaster Nate must discover the secrets of the farm, deliver the terrorist to safety, and become THE LAST STATIONMASTER.

    --

    Comma after 'disaster.'

    How...does he become the last stationmaster? We haven't said a thing about this before. What does that mean and how does it happen?

    Again with not using 'terrorist' anymore. If he's not a terrorist, he shouldn't be referred to as such.

    Is there a correlation between your underground railroad references and this new plot with the accused guy? Something about shuttling someone to freedom? If so, pretty neat. And I suppose he'd be hiding in the underground railroad hiding places. So he'd go through a similar experience as in the 19th century with his family. That's really cool.

    As said, I would read this book. I think the pitch just needs some smoothing out, a few more specifics and some tying together of themes. It could really pack an emotional punch if you made it clear that Nate's experience parallels his ancestors' (if that is indeed what you were doing) as he aids an unjust situation.

    Also, we hear nothing more about the fact that they owned slaves. How does this tie in?

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