Literary agent Rachel Vater is doing a query/first pages workshop on her LJ, . I submitted my query for _Camille’s Travels_, but I don’t know whether she’ll choose it to workshop or not. (I had already sent it through her webpage for consideration, as well.) She’ll be posting sample queries all week with her reactions, I think.
I’ve gotten a number of good responses from that query, but I suspect that when I don’t get a request for a partial, it’s not so much the query itself as the content of the book that they’re not interested in. I do SO wish that I hadn’t blown it with the original agent who said she loved the book and saw a future for it at some particular YA house (and we never actually discussed which one that might’ve been), as there probably never will be anyone else who even “gets” the book at all, let alone wants to represent me for it. Although I suppose I shouldn’t write off the fellow I’ve talked to before . . . he might be busy with preparations for the New Year 5767* coming up this weekend, though, as are some of my friends, so let’s not count the days until he responds.
Ahem. Craft. As I was saying, some agents and editors have a rule about never requesting manuscripts with opening scenes in which the protagonist (or ANYone) is dreaming or waking up.
3. PLEASE no wake up in the morning beginnings.
Now, I don’t believe that she means ANY old wake-up beginning, although she might. They’re always looking for the first possible reason to reject, I have been told. However, it’s a little different if your protagonist wakes up because the building is on fire and she has to grab her dog and laptop and crawl out the window and down a fire escape, kicking off the book . . . or if your heroine awakes to discover that her best friend is putting a spell on her as a thirtieth birthday gift. At least *I* think those are fine openings.
What I think she probably means is the typical, throat-clearing, “the start of the book is the start of the day” opening. Yours is probably nothing like that, if it starts with a terrible noise that jolts you awake and you run to find that it’s your autistic son, picking up the fish tank to bring it upstairs.
Here’s what she doesn’t want:
Herbie felt the warm rays of the sun streaming through the window and stirred under the covers–though he wasn’t “stirred” in the sexual sense. Stretching his arms wide, he opened his eyes and beheld the glory of the new day. Today would be the first day of the rest of his life.
His knees creaked and his toes crackled as he stretched his legs against the blanket. As he sat up, he thought about how his girlfriend was going to cheer and scream when he got down on bended knee and proposed to her. That would be fun!
His cat meowed from the end of the bed. “Good morning, Mr. Whiskers,” Herbie said, throwing back the covers and putting his feet on the cold hardwood floor. He needed to get the housekeeper to dust. Or maybe his girlfriend would do that, once she had moved in. Which he was sure she would.
The cat jumped off the bed and ran for the kitchen. Herbie walked to the mirror. Looking at himself, he couldn’t help thinking what a prize he was. . .
[[URK]] **crash** STOP STOP STOP we get the idea. Blargh!!
I know that you have read beginner stuff that reads just like that, and I believe that is what she is talking about. This author knows no better and will chronicle Herbie’s shower, shaving, admiring himself again so we can know his eye and hair and skin colors, his putting on his clothes and selecting from among three different shirts, all described in loving detail. Great Eye of Argon! Aaarghh!
On the other hand, who knows? Maybe there are a bunch of unwritten Rules that I’m going against. Nobody tells me anything.
# # #
In what I (at least) consider reverse order of crappiness (in other words, the first one’s the goodest o’ the crew), here are three of my openings for comparison, novel beginnings that do include, um, waking up. (I don’t think we should entirely rule out this event in an opening, for people do have that wake/sleep cycle daily/nightly. Also, you can have people waking up after being knocked out or not remembering how they got there, and not necessarily in the morning.) ICOCBW, as usual.
On the morning of her thirtieth birthday, Miranda Callahan came awake with the certain knowledge that her best friend was casting a spell on her.
“The moon enters the house of the dragon, and Hecate works her magick on me.” Miranda groaned, raising her head off the sketches for her latest cartoon panel. She’d fallen asleep at her drawing table again. The entire page was smudged like yesterday’s mascara. In the gentle morning light, the new cartoon seemed particularly uninspired. Her fingers flew to her temples, where they automatically started massaging in circles.
What could be worse than waking to unfamiliar magick–except, of course, waking up in a cold bed without Alex. Which she’d cleverly avoided by conking out at her desk around three in the morning.
This spell was benevolent, though, she’d swear. She felt optimistic, for a change, and a little buzzed, as if she’d been affected by the margaritas she vaguely remembered drinking in her dreams. Her stomach guggled. She hadn’t been spelled unexpectedly like this since her mother had semi-retired from the Craft.
(_Miranda’s Rights_, Shalanna Collins)
“Ariadne, pick up. I know you’re awake.”
My ex’s reedy tenor blared from my answering machine.
“Talk to me. You’re never asleep this early. Ari, babe, I know you’re there.” Eddie’s tone was pleading. “Are you all right, or has something happened to you, too?”
_What?_ I muted the television and groped for the portable phone on the coffee table, under the cable guide and yesterday’s newspaper. My arm tingled, half asleep from being propped against the ratty throw pillows that formed a makeshift nest on my sofa.
At last I located the handset and pressed the talk button. “It’s two in the morning. What’s wrong, Eddie?”
I didn’t bother to conceal my irritation. I still hadn’t forgiven him for the way he’d breezed into–and out of–my life. And kept doing so with regularity.
Then the “has something happened to you, too,” registered. I softened. “Ed? Are you there? What’s going on?”
“Buzz me in, Ari. I’ll explain.” He hung up without saying goodbye. It’s one of his most irritating habits.
(_Ariadne’s Web_, Shalanna Collins)
On her first day of freedom, Alyncia woke to the sound of footsteps overhead.
Not soft tiptoes, but the pounding of tens of little feet racing to class. Abruptly she sat up and bumped her temple on the sloped ceiling. Rubbing her head, she realized she wasn’t in her own bed. She was under the school’s main stairwell, in the linen closet, bedded down on a massive stack of clean sheets and towels.
(_Paladin Spellbound_, trunk novel #1 by Shalanna Collins)
(That last one owes a debt to “Lessa woke, cold,” the opening of Anne McCaffrey’s first Dragon novel.)
I dunno. People don’t like ’em, they don’t like me, and there’s no hope. However, we might have a fruitful (or fruitless, or fruity) discussion of these types of openings, so it will not all have been in vain. It will have been in self-centeredness, but not in vain.
* [Rosh Hashanah, New Year 5767, from sunset on September 22, 2006, to nightfall on September 24, 2006, according to http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday2.htm. The Jewish New Year is celebrated during the first 10 days of Tishri (Tish-ree), the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25. It’s followed by ten days of introspection and self-searching in preparation for Yom Kippur, the holiest of High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah, celebrated over the first and second days of Tishri, marks the time when, according to tradition, God created the world. (That is so cool.) Just so you know.]