Monday, September 10, 2012

Pitch Polish #11

TITLE: The Siren and the Whale
GENRE: MG Fantasy
WORD COUNT: 44,000


In the city of the Siren, it’s easy to live out one’s dreams—it’s much harder to wake up.

Eleven-year-old Haitian orphan Marie believes her mother is waiting for her on the other side of the ocean. When the mythical Siren rescues her from a tsunami and promises to find her mother, Marie sees it as a dream come true—all she has to do is stay in an underwater city and follow the Siren’s rules. However, after discovering a hallway filled with locked doors, a bracelet similar to the one she lost when she joined the orphanage, and a giant creature that frightens even the Siren, Marie wonders if her dream is becoming a nightmare. Her only friend is a girl who speaks in riddles and seems excessively afraid of the Siren. Although the Siren gives Marie the power to reshape the city to suit her imagination, Marie’s control over her life slips away. As her dream city slowly replaces her memories of her past, Marie must face the ultimate decision: leave the city and lose her mother forever—or remain and lose everything else.

THE SIREN AND THE WHALE is a 44,000 word upper middle-grade fantasy novel set in Port au-Prince around the 2010 earthquake that is part The Books of Elsewhere and part The Never-Ending Story.

FIRST 150 WORDS:  (Note: When I tried to paste this after the query Yahoo italicized everything. Sorry!)

        The blazing sun was in retreat when the earthquake struck Haiti’s southern port city of Jacmel. The children of the Ailes de l’Esprit orphanage were playing on a rocky hill overlooking a tiny beach. It had been a busy day of swimming and playing, and now they held hands, danced in a circle, and sang:
LaSirène, LaBalenn,
Chapo’m tonbe nan la me.
LaSirène, LaBalenn,
Marie tonbe nan la me.
            In English, this means:
The Siren, the Whale,
My hat falls in the sea.
The Siren, the Whale,
Marie falls in the sea.
            “Children, stop that!” Madame Beauvais, the orphanage director, stepped between the children. Her long, dark braids bounced as she glared at each of them one by one over her tiny, wire-rimmed glasses. “You know better than to taunt the spirits. Do you want the Siren to carry you away and drive you mad?”
            “No, Madame Beauvais,” the children answered in unison.


Jaye Robin Brown said...

Love this premise and your first 150. One suggestion, I would lose the "In English, this means:" It's apparent by including the second verse that is what you are doing. It stops the flow and seems redundant.

In your query, things got a touch murky with the list of things that lead to nightmares. How is the Siren going to find her mother? Was that ever the Siren's plan? I like the last line, and the showing of stakes, the first line seems the teensiest cliche - Is she sleeping? or is she actually living in an underwater city (so cool - I'd pump this up)

In short - your pages are very strong, but the query (though formatted perfectly) could be a bit clearer.

Erin said...

A good rule of thumb with queries is to always start with your main character (Marie). "In the city of the Siren, it's easy to live out one's dreams-- it's much harder to wake up," is an interesting sentence, but it might be better if it were part of the body paragraph rather than at the beginning.

Also, be careful that you are not listing a series of events in your query. What you really want to get across is the plot. The first two sentences are perfect for setting up the plot. Then it gets a little muddy. Try answering these three questions: What will happen if Marie stays in the city and follows the Siren's rules? What will happen if she doesn't? And why might she be tempted to choose either path?

Thanks you for sharing your writing! Hopefully my comments will help. Keep up the good work!

Unknown said...

Okay, Sirens rock, as does the first sentence of your query and the follow-up sentence. Thinking her mother awaits her across the sea is a compelling motivation, and we're told about it right off the bat. Maybe you could include the song translation in a footnote? That way you could keep that nice touch without clunking up your prose. Just a thought. Sirens and an underwater adventure--very nice concept!!

Katie Slivensky said...

Very cool. I'm drawn in!

I think you can shorten up some of the first paragraph of your query a bit. For instance, you can take out the bracelet line in third line (so it'll just be "However, after discovering a hallway filled with locked doors and a giant creature that frightens even the Siren, Marie wonders if her dream is becoming a nightmare.") Little things like that can help to keep this query moving.

Also, you could break up that big paragraph into two smaller ones. That'll make it easier to read through.

The query itself is awesome, so don't mind my nitpicking too much.

I also enjoyed your first 150 words. I agree that you can take out the line telling us that we're translating into English.

I wonder if we can see more of Marie in the first 150 words. Without the main character to ground us, it's not as easy to find a reason to keep reading. I want to keep reading mostly because of the query itself. The 150 words are well written and interesting, but I want to be with Marie right away.

Just my thoughts. Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I love the setting and tie-in to recent history. I also love the notion of fantasy touching so close to a time and tragedy that must have seemed so surreal in itself. The MC's conflict makes her sympathetic and likable.

I liked the content of the query though it should probably be formatted into two paragraphs. I'd split them at the However. And maybe connect the sentence about the riddle-speaking friend a little more fully.

150: Is the French really needed? I know it's realistic, but might you say "...and sang a French nursery rhyme that meant" and follow with the English? Another little picky thing: you have them on a rocky hill but then they are dancing in a circle. The imagery is not easy.

I love the words of Madame Beauvais -- a little creepy, nicely done!
Good luck!

Katharina Gerlach said...

The query is perfect, but I'd suggest you leave out the English translation in the sample.

Then, send it to TU-Publishing. I'm sure they'd love to have a look at it. ;-)

Jayme said...

I love your query’s opening hook, but agree with Katie that you can trim the first paragraph a little. Your final sentence was also a little confusing because of the way it was constructed. I would suggest breaking it in half: “THE SIREN AND THE WHALE is a 44,000 word upper middle-grade fantasy novel set in Port au-Prince around the 2010 earthquake. It is part The Books of Elsewhere and part The Never-Ending Story.”

I enjoy your 150, but I wonder if it would be more appropriate as a prologue. That way, if an agent wants to see Marie right away, they can scroll passed the prologue and come back to it if they are interested. I submitted my last book this way and it really helped my request rate.

Overall, really nice work! :)

Robin said...

Oh wow-the first line in your query-I am SO hooked. Nice job! I do get a little lost in all the details of the Siren and the reshape-able city. Not sure what is reality or what is her dreaming.

I again with Jay Robin Brown on taking out "in English it means"

Do the children take turns putting in their names? I do like the 1st 150 although the POV is rather distant and I'm not usually as sucked in to stories told that way. I want to meet Marie on the first page to know if I want to go with her on this journey. Of course this is just my reading preference. Writing-wise, this looks great and the details-the glasses and the dark braids, I liked those a lot.

Confused with the first line-it makes it sound like the earthquake has already occurred, but it hasn't, right?

Good luck with your MS-Love the title as well:)

If you have a chance I'm Lovesense #51

Dr. Milestone said...

Thanks so much everyone for your comments and feedback! I agree that the first 150 don't present the main character and makes it hard to get a sense of the story. In fact, my wife suggested eliminating the first chapter altogether and starting with Marie meeting the siren...which is what I've done and written an entirely new first chapter in media res. If it's helpful, I can post this on my blog and see what you all think...

Regarding the query, that's also very helpful. It is a bit long and I can easily trim it down. I actually have a pitch line that includes Marie...maybe I can merge the two so the effect is still there. Again, I could post the new version on my blog and see what you all think.


Anonymous said...

I read the query to my (almost) 12 year old daughter and she said it sounded really cool & she wants to read it so that's one of the biggest compliments you can get, right?

I also like the first 150 but perhaps this part should come later, after an introduction of the MC Marie. Overall, great job! Good luck :)

Heidi Schulz said...

I love the premise and the writing is quite good. I hope I get to read it one day!
In the first line of your query I would lose the contractions. One (one's dreams) is more formal and the contractions do not mesh well with it.
I was a bit confused about the bracelet. It doesn't seem frightening, but it's placement in the query seems to indicate that it is.

I really like the first 150, but I agree that the "in English" phrase is unnecessary.
Good luck!