Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Query is the Winner! + Week Four of the GUTGAA Blogfest

I am beyond excited that Lora Rivera picked my query letter as the grand prize winner during Week Three of Deana Barnhart's "Gearing Up to Get an Agent" Blogfest last week. I received so much helpful query advice from everyone, and Lora just finished my free five-page critique, so I feel jazzed, refreshed and ready to take on some agencies! (Check out Deana's blog announcement here: GUTGAA Query Winner! + Final Week Around the Corner.)

Lora's feedback was invaluable, and I am so appreciative for the time and effort she and Deana have put into making this Blogfest a success. I am also indebted to the talented writers who have stopped by to give me so much great advice. What a great opportunity to hone our skills, meet other bloggers, build our platforms and learn about all the other awesome stories in the works!

Week Four of the Blogfest has now begun, and this week, we are all posting the first 200 words of our manuscripts in order to receive feedback. Two winners will be announced at the end of this week, and each will receive either a query and 30 page critique from agent Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, or a 10 page critique from Monica Bustamante Wagner, YA writer represented by Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary.

Here are the first 200 words of my YA urban fantasy, THE MERMAID GENE, and thanks in advance for your help!

Photo Courtesy of marfis75

The dolphin twists sideways in my arms. Eyeing me through one widened, gleaming black eye, she opens her blowhole and gurgles. Her voice sounds breathless and weak, and the tips of her flukes feel hot against my fingertips.

“What are you waiting for, Kai? Tighten up on her, or she’s gonna bolt.” My father’s warning booms from a nearby research vessel as I struggle for footing in the tea-stained waters of Tampa Bay. “Do it quick; she’s baiting you.”

The concern in his voice sends a fresh wave of anxiety grinding through me, and I wrinkle my nose in protest as I realize the truth of his words. Growing up watching him perform countless catch-and-release medical exams just like this one, I know researchers only have four, maybe five seconds to restrain a bottlenose dolphin before it fights back and escapes capture.

Wrapped around this animal’s tail, I should follow protocol by pulling her flukes into my chest and bracing myself for her inevitable thrashing. Instead, I find myself lost in her plaintive, lucid eye contact. Her pupils, shrunk into tiny circles in the sunlight, roll back and forth as she cranes her head, and a shallow scar splits the silvery bulge of her forehead.

Hesitating, I loosen my grip on her dorsal ridge and exhale. Poor thing’s exhausted. Isn’t even fighting anymore.

That's my first mistake.

33 comments:

kpsimmon said...

Hi LisaAnn,

All of the sudden I can totally picture those eyes on that dolphin. What a lovely job! I think the word "eyeing" is misspelled in your second sentence. Also, I don't mind the first sentence. It makes sense to me! Congrats on winning the critique last week. That's awesomeness!
KP

LisaAnn said...

@Kpsimmon: Yikes! Great catch... I have changed it on my post. And whew, thanks so much for your kind words. It's always scary to post these things for the first time!

Alleged Author said...

Love the imagery and LURVE the present tense. Always been a fan of present tense. Only comment is you may want to watch the use of adjectives in the first 200 words because there are quite a few. Instead of saying _____ what about describing what she sees? (i.e. instead of muscular, how does the character know the dolphin is muscular? Poor example, I know. :P )

Robin Weeks said...

I'm fascinated by the description of dolphin-handling, even though I'm not a fan of present tense. :) I'd read on just to learn more about it! You have such a cool job!

I did have a problem with the first sentence, myself, since it sort of confused me on whether she'd been kicked yet--especially when it went on for several paragraphs without a kick. Can you build the tension in a different way? Without telling us what is going to happen before it actually happens? I'd suggest starting with the dolphin twisting in her arms, then have the MC glance nervously toward the bone ridge or whatever ends up bashing her nose. Foreshadow instead of prophesy. :)

Still, very cool stuff--and congrats on your query win!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Loved this!! I predict you're going to get some attention with this fab intro. I could go either way on the first sentence; it doesn't bother me, but again, it might be cool if you start it off w/her holding the dolphin as it slaps her and starts the nose bleed. But she still keeps a hold of it. It would allude to a very tenacious MC with great courage. Plus, while her dad's hollering at her, we can be walked through the pain she's feeling in her nose and head, the taste of the blood, etc... bringing us deeper into her POV. Just a thought. But I like it just the way it is, too!

Michelle Fayard said...

After reading your query, I’ve been waiting with anticipation to read the first 200 words, Lisa!

Regarding the first sentence, I'd vote to modify it slightly so we don't see Kai thinking about something that hasn't happened yet.

What I love best is how I'm learning about an entirely new world for me; excellent!

I’m so happy to hear Lora’s critique was both uplifting and invaluable.

Angie Cothran said...

I didn't know Kai hadn't been struck until you said so at the end of the post. I think I would change it because you are using present tense to make what happens to her present tense.

You do a lovely job of describing a situation that hardly anyone knows first hand. I felt like I was there. Beautiful.

LisaAnn said...

@Alleged Author: Thanks for your advice! "Muscular" has been dropped, and I will watch out for extraneous, pesky adjectives!

@Robin: Lora Rivera had a problem with the first sentence as well, for the exact same reason. She suggested I try it out on a few other people to make sure it wasn't just her, but I think her point is definitely resonating already!

@Anita: You are so good to me! Thanks for the suggestion about the initial nosebleed; it was Lora's suggestion as well, but I just can't work it in correctly, because when the dolphin DOES kick, Kai freaks out and drops her, so it's a big FAIL for her. It's definitely great advice, though; I really appreciate it!

@Michelle: Hahaha, I totally agree. Funny how the rules of present tense have escaped me!

@Angie: Agreed. The change is official. I think I will go back and modify my original post so new folks don't have to read this version first. I will paste the original below, however, so newcomers can see all the great feedback you guys have given me already!

THE MERMAID GENE

Moments before she kicks and sends blood cascading from my nostrils into the tea-stained waters of Tampa Bay, the dolphin twists sideways in my arms. Eyeing me through one widened, gleaming black eye, she opens her blowhole and gurgles. Her voice sounds breathless and weak, and the tips of her flukes feel hot against my fingertips.

“What are you waiting for, Kai? Tighten up on her, or she’s gonna bolt.” My father’s warning booms from a nearby research vessel. “Do it quick; she’s baiting you.”

The concern in his voice sends a fresh wave of anxiety grinding through me, and I wrinkle my nose in protest even as I realize the truth of his words. Growing up watching him perform countless catch-and-release medical exams just like this one, I know researchers generally have four, maybe five seconds to restrain a bottlenose dolphin before it fights back and escapes capture.

Wrapped around this dolphin’s muscular tail, I should follow protocol by pulling her flukes into my chest and bracing myself for her inevitable thrashing in the shallows. Instead, I find myself lost in her plaintive, lucid eye contact. Her pupils, shrunk into tiny circles in the sunlight, roll back and forth as she cranes her head, and a shallow scar splits the silvery bulge of her forehead.

cherie said...

Congrats on the query win!

I love the way you describe things--I felt as if I was there along with Kai. Nice job!

Kate Larkindale said...

Very nice! Loved your query (congrats on the win) and was looking forward to reading your work.

It's very nice. I can see the scene vividly and I get a good sense of who the MC is, even in this short section.

Awesome!

Lora R. Rivera said...

Lisa, this is kicking. I love that we now get a sense of the distance between Kai and her father, and I'm glad you feel comfortable with the first sentence. (I was afraid I was being overly nitpicky!)

Great writing. Love it.
--Lora

Christa said...

Congrats on the contest. This is a great first 200 words, a really nice blend of action and letting us know exactly where we are.

Andrea Mack said...

I loved reading your query, and thought that this was a novel I'd like to read. And now that I read the beginning, I'm even more intrigued. Lovely writing!

A couple of lines stuck out for me as awkward or maybe not needed:

"I wrinkle my nose in protest even as I realize the truth of his words" - For me, this physical reaction interrupted the flow of the story, I felt like it wasn't needed.

"Ignoring protocol as guilt washes through me" - This just sounded awkward. I don't think you need to mention "protocol" again, because you've already done it. Maybe just show what she does, without telling this info to the reader? Show her guilt instead?

But these are really minor points. I loved the details woven in about dolphin research, the story felt very authentic to me and I really wanted to read more!

jamieayres said...

Congrats on the win and I love your beginning. I'm a fan of present tense--helps me to show and not tell:) Good luck! You will have a wonderful platform w/ school visits once you get published! What cool photos on your site--I could spend the whole day here.

Lori M. Lee said...

Congrats on the win! You had an awesome query (and you also left awesome advice for my on mine so you obviously know what you're doing :D ).

Love this opening. It really gives us a great idea of who Kai is (love that name, btw, it's also the name of the MC in my wip) and your description of the dolphin was perfect.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Love this opening! One sentence kinda jarred me - "I wrinkle my nose in protest even as I realize the truth of his words." I'm not sure why it did so this might not be helpful at all but I thought I would mention it.

I would definitely want to continue reading!

amy kennedy said...

Love this. Love the description of the dolphin -- Although, I agree with Aleged's advice -- I want to "feel" the muscularity, not be told. Make sense?

The last 2 paragraphs are dreamy -- and I want to read the rest.

lindy said...

Refreshing! I've never had the opportunity to read a book on this particular subject. Looks like you've already received some great advice, so I have nothing to add.

K.V. Briar said...

Congratulations on your win! You totally deserved it :)

Wow what a way to start a book! Your first hand knowledge really shows! LOVED: the first person present tense, the setting, the dolphin, and I love Kai already. I'm completely hooked and I really want to read more.

I don't think I can make any suggestions beyond what all the others have said so far. Great job!

~K.V. Briar

alexia said...

Congrats on the query contest!!

I really love this opening, so I don't have anything to critique!

amber said...

The first line: (Moments before she kicks and sends blood cascading from my nostrils into the tea-stained waters of Tampa Bay, the dolphin twists sideways in my arms.)

This is VERY awkward. Does she kick eventually? When does this happen? If it doesn't happen in the first 200 words, you shouldn't mention it. I thought the original post was great. Very interesting. No need to make changes -- especially ones that make it ahrder to understand. The first line is the most important -- honestly, I think you had it without the help.

JRo - Jaye Robin Brown said...

Watch some comma stuff in the 3rd paragraph. Think it shoud be "Growing up, watching him..." Love that you're writing to what you know. Seems like you have an amazing career. I'm a new blog follower!

Vicky Bruere said...

Hi LisaAnn

Fantastic opening. The only thing I'd have another look at is the last paragraph - as per Andrea's suggestion. I think on rereading it that you could drop the protocol reference and get straight to the guilt part.

Congratulations on your query win and the beautiful photo's on your site :)

Josh Hoyt said...

First of congrats on winning. You did a great job on the query. I like the start and I can tell that you understand a lot about what you are writing about. One thing that caught my attention was "I know researchers generally have four, maybe five seconds" I don't feel her hurrying at this point. She;s taking to much time thinking. It seems like it should be a little more tense. Just a thought.

kathy stemke said...

Congrats on your win!

I like the new beginning MUCH better. You make me feel very close to the dolphin. It's a wonderful experience. I agree you need to loose one of the protocols and make us feel what the MC feels.

Great start!

kathy

Donna Perugini said...

Your rewrite flows well. Love the father's booming voice and can almost feel the water lapping Kai's face while holding onto the dolphin.
The one part that bothers me is "Growing up watching him perform countless catch-and-release medical exams just like this one, I know researchers generally have four, maybe five seconds to restrain a bottlenose dolphin before it fights back and escapes capture." It sounds like a 'technical' addition and I understand that you need to get the information in the story. Can you write it in more informally?
I love that you are able to inject your animal training background into the story!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Congrats on the win. And I love your 200 words.

RAD - Dot Painter said...

Incredible voice.

LisaAnn said...

Wow, what amazing advice... Thanks so much to everyone!

I just finished visiting all your blogs, and it looks like my first 200 words are in great company! I have so many books on my "To-Read" list now that I'm getting itchy for the agents and book deals to start rolling in for all of you!

Elliot Grace said...

...what's that saying? "Write what you know." That's how the magic happens...but from reading this post, I'd say that you already know that ;)

Love your description of the dolphin encounter.

Well done,

EL

Fresh Garden said...

Stunning! Fascinating!
Thanks, Lisa!

magpiewrites said...

Hey LisaAnn
Congrats on the first 200 words finalists - this is probably the best blogfest I've ever participated in. Everyone is some *good*.

Just wanted to let you know, I've given you an award. check it out here:
http://bit.ly/otCQXN

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