Monday, September 10, 2012

Pitch Polish #2


Confessions of a Cornhead
Middle Grade Contemporary
38,000

Query:

Dear Agent,

Twelve-year-old year old Bernie Taylor wants to be an actress but not your typical country-music lovin’, cowboy-boot wearin’, beef-eatin’ actress you’d expect from Cornville, Illinois. No way. She wants to go to Chicago to be a real actress, just like her mom did the summer before she died of breast cancer. Bernie keeps a journal that her Mom gave her and writes down all her confessions, not the things she does wrong, but her deepest feelings of the heart, ‘cause she doesn’t want any of those regrets Mom talked about. Regrets sound too much like those bubbly blisters she keeps getting on her feet from wearing shoes she just shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s just not easy to do what she wants to do with Dad getting in her way, kind of like trying to fit into a two inch high pair of last year’s Christian Louboutin knock-offs.

Then, during the announcement of the sixth grade play, Bernie’s teacher reveals that there will be one scholarship to the prestigious Tai Royale Summer Camp for the Performing Arts in Chicago. Bernie knows it’s her one big chance to achieve her dream. She spends too much time dreaming of the lead role in the play (which includes kissing Cameron Edmunds) and not enough time practicing her audition lines. She bumbles her lines, blows her audition, and battles her bully, Dixie Moxley, reigning Jr. Miss Corn Harvest Queen. She digs in the heels of her hand-me-down knee-high boots, determined to win that scholarship-somehow. If she doesn't, she'll be stuck in Cornville forever, far away from the fame she craves.

CONFESSIONS OF A CORNHEAD is a middle-grade novel complete at 38,000 words. Each chapter title is a different confession along the lines of Meg Cabot’s ALLIE FINKLE’S RULES FOR GIRLS.

I am a teacher and freelance writer. My first picture book, AM I LIKE MY DADDY?, in the children’s grief genre, will be released by university publisher Bronze Man Books at Millikin University in October 2012. I am a member of SCBWI.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my novel.


First 150 words:

Confessions of a Cornhead

Chapter 1: I’m gonna win an Oscar someday.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Bernadette Taylor…Applause…Applause…Walk to stage, careful not to trip on my one-of-a-kind, single-shouldered, floor length, 
midnight blue dress......I’d like to thank the academy for recognizing my talent with an Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role. Ryan, Taylor, Johnny…to be able to act with such fine Hollywood talent has been a dream.

I write my acceptance speech in my math notebook, along the edge next to the spiral binder. I'm having a hard time getting through class today. I don’t know too many Hollywood actors who thank their math teachers in their acceptance speeches for teaching them algorithmic equations. I won’t be the first.

“What are you writing, Bernie?” I know that corn syrup voice, sweet, sugary, and fake.

“None of your business, Dixie.” I shut my notebook and gather my books, waiting for the bell to ring and bring me one day closer to getting out of Cornville Middle School and into Chicago where I’ll be a big star, just like Mom.

19 comments:

Cat said...
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Jessica L. Foster said...
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Anonymous said...

Um... I don't think these comments go with my pitch. I don't have main characters named Adam or Travis. Nor is my story about alcoholism?? Somehow these got put with someone else's pitch?? Or my computer's screwed up? Hmm....

cocoanqueso said...

Some of the comments do seem to be mixed up. If this one gets misplaced, it is referring to Pitch Polish #2, Confessions of a Cornhead.

I like the query a lot. Especially when it starts to get into the plot in the second paragraph.

Though I think most of the first paragraph is necessary backstory, I think there are some areas you could cut it down a little bit. For example, "Regrets sound too much like those bubbly blisters she keeps getting on her feet from wearing shoes she just shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s just not easy to do what she wants to do with Dad getting in her way, kind of like trying to fit into a two inch high pair of last year’s Christian Louboutin knock-offs." Might become "Regrets sound too much like those bubbly blisters she keeps getting on her feet from wearing two inch high pair of last year’s Christian Louboutin knock-offs." Then you'd have to put dad in somewhere else.

You make three referenes to uncomfortable shoes, so I'm just wondering if this is a big theme in the book. If not, I'd consider using something else to show how Bernie is trying to play the part (ha!) of an actress.

The query seems to fit with the first 150 words. Good work!

Deana said...

Yes, there were a couple mixed up. I accidentally posted some too early this morning and people commented on them right away. When I fixed the problem, they had new numbers and the comments were left on the old number. I just removed those two comments and put them where they belong. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Deana!

Jayme said...

I love the voice! Very authentic. And your title had me instantly hooked. Very nice. I also liked the comparison to Meg Cabot’s Allie Finkle books.

I agree with cocoanqueso that you could streamline a bit. Some suggestions:

“Bernie keeps a journal that her Mom gave her and writes down all the deepest feelings of her heart, ‘cause she doesn’t want any of those regrets Mom talked about. Regrets sound too much like those blisters she keeps getting from her two-inch pair of Christian Louboutin knock-offs.” (I’m not sure the conflict with her dad is absolutely necessary for a query, but that’s just my opinion)

“When Bernie’s teacher announces a scholarship to a prestigious Performing Arts camp in Chicago, Bernie knows it’s her big chance.” (Again, not sure the Tai Royale Summer Camp title is necessary, but I’m not a theater buff. It might be, for the right agent, this catches their eye)

I also think you could streamline your pages a bit too. For example, when you describe Bernie’s dress, I’m not sure you need four adjectives. Maybe “…one-of-a-kind, midnight blue dress”

Also, you might be able to tighten here: “I scribble my acceptance speech next to the spiral of my math notebook. I'm having a hard time getting through class today. I don’t know any Hollywood actors who’ve thanked their math teachers in their acceptance speeches. I won’t be the first.”

Again, just suggestions. Overall, I really think you have a strong submission here. :)

Shiela Calderón Blankemeier said...

Great voice, clear stakes, overall very well done! I agree it could be trimmed a bit - dropping the dad since he's not mentioned again so it appears that he's not a part of the central conflict. Loved the corn-syrup analogy. I would drop either sugary or sweet since they both say the same thing. I vote for sweet and fake myself :) Nice job!

Christine Sarmel said...

I think you've gotten great comments above about trimming just a little bit. The only thing I would add is a question about the sentence when she's having a hard time getting through math. I wondered why - is she bored? not understanding? focused on something else?

Cat said...

You can cut the first paragraph of the query entirely. The second one starts the story. In the query you want the agent to be enticed to read more, not to get bogged down with backstory.

The sample starts off well, but I agree, you could add why she doesn't get through math. (I'm assuming it's too boring for her?)

Connie B. Dowell said...

I agree with other posters. The first paragraph could use some trimming, though I wouldn't cut it completely. Just leave what little you need to set up the situation. The diary, while an interesting detail, distracts from the launch of the plot.
On the other hand, you've done a great job establishing a voice both in your exerpt and in your query (not an easy task).

Heidi Schulz said...

I love the voice. Great job getting that to come through in your query.
Query - Your fist line felt a little clunky to me, but I think it's an easy fix.
Try changing "your" to "the", replacing one of the actresses, and adding an em dash, like this:
Twelve-year-old year old Bernie Taylor wants to be an actress - but not the typical country-music lovin’, cowboy-boot wearin’, beef-eatin’ kind you’d expect from Cornville, Illinois.
Though the rest of the first paragraph is well written, I agree that it can be trimmed down.

First 150
I like how this starts - particularly the exchange between Bernadette and Dixie. I'd suggest that you slightly trim the acceptance speech to get us to the action a bit sooner.
Good luck!

Traci VanWagoner said...

You've already got some great feedback. I want to add something I'm always having to look out for in my writing. Every sentence in your second paragraph of your writing sample starts with "I". I would try to vary that. I would also like to know why she's having trouble focusing today.

You have some great details that help define your character, i.e. writing along the edge next to the spiral binder. You also could tighten up your writing a bit by cutting some extra adverbs. That's another problem I've worked on over the years -- over adjectivitice.

I would read on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the helpful comments thus far.

Elaine Smith said...

I love the voice. The line: not the typical country-music lovin’, cowboy-boot wearin’, beef-eatin’ kind you’d expect from Cornville, Illinois really made me smile

I agree that the rest could be trimmed down. My expectations plummeted when I read of her mother's death, multiply this by Dad troubles sent me too far from the happy place ;)

In your excerpt, I liked the idea of the acceptance speech but I felt it ran on a little. Your characterisation worked well when Bernie and Dixie began to interact.
Good luck!

Jambo said...

Hi Marcie
I think you have a wonderful story here.
Something that stands out for me ( and this may be because I am an Aussie) but I am not sure if focusing on the shoes is needed in the query.
I can see that you MC, has had to deal with grief and loss and and she doesnt want to live in regret. You still want to keep it light becaue its Middle Grade, but the designer shoes reference for me, makes this feel like language a child of 12 would not use. I hope that is helpful, but I can see that you have had a lot of helpful comments above, so best of luck.

gailecn said...

Yay - another MG theater book! :) So I'm a little biased, but I love this concept. Big surprise, right? ;)

Your query is full of voice, and you do a great job laying out the stakes. I think it might go on a bit too long in the first paragraph - especially since it looks as though the bulk of the plot is in the second paragraph. As much as I love your writing in that first paragraph, I think you might be better off to end it after the sentence about going to Chicago like her mom. Then - as funny and voice-y as it is, cut the rest of the paragraph.

I can't find a fault with your first 150. The voice is there, and I know exactly what the MC wants by the end of it. :)

Tara Tyler said...

great voice! and sweet story!
my only rec is to tighten it up, a little less detail

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