Sunday, September 30, 2012

GUTGAA Pitch #12 Title: The Siren and the Whale

Title: The Siren and the Whale
Genre: MG cultural fantasy
Word Count: 42,000

QUERY:
Twelve year-old Marie, although abandoned at a young age, hears her mother calling each night, asking to be found. When an earthquake strikes and a wave sweeps Marie away, she meets the legendary Siren, a creature who promises to fulfill Marie’s greatest wish. At first, the Siren’s offer meets Marie’s every dream; not only does she find her mother, she even gains the power to reshape the Siren’s city with her mind. With help from Josephine, the only other girl in the city, and a mysterious whale whom even the Siren fears, Marie discovers all who remain in the Siren’s city for too long eventually go mad. When the Siren imprisons Josephine, the whale is the only one who can help Marie, but she must choose: leave the city and lose her mother and her new powers forever, or remain with the Siren and lose Josephine—and herself.

THE SIREN AND THE WHALE is set in Port au-Prince around the 2010 earthquake. A blend ofThe Books of Elsewhere and The Never-Ending Story, it is a modern fairy tale based on Haitian legend.


First 150:
Far below the ocean surface, off the coast of Haiti, a twelve year-old girl named Marie drifted along the currents. Dark waters wrapped around her like a cocoon as she slept fitfully. Her body twitched and jerked as images crashed and tossed in her dreams. Children laughed and called hermalsòti, or “weirdo”. An old woman with dreadlocks peered down over wire-rimmed glasses and scolded her for being disobedient. Their faces twirled and crashed together, becoming a giant wave that swallowed Marie, spinning her around and around until she couldn’t tell if she was up or down.
           
Help me! she screamed in her dream. Someone please help!
           
I’m here, dear one, a familiar voice said. I’ll protect you.
           
The waters in her dream parted, revealing her mother’s soft brown eyes that were the color of warm banana yam pudding. Thin lips stretched from one high cheekbone to the other in the most beautiful smile Marie could imagine.

9 comments:

  1. I almost feel like the query is a bit too vague. It's a brilliant idea--I absolutely love The Never Ending Story so the comparison automatically has me going "Oooh!". First is an obvious thing that might not confuse others but did me: The wave sweeping her away. I'd suggest establishing that she is near the ocean when the earthquake hits. I'm confused by how she reshapes the Siren's city. Why does it need to be reshaped? Does she just have the power to reshape things with her mind so that they become what she wants them to be? I'd go into a bit more detail about these powers she discovers and why they are so great that she would regret giving them up. Her mother also left me with questions. If everyone in the Siren's city loses their mind, does that mean that Josephine and her mother are already crazy? Help us to understand the stakes better. You say that leaving the city means losing her powers (no question there) and her mother (Why? Can her mother not leave?).

    I really love the first 150. I feel for Marie and I love the way you turn her dream almost into an ocean that is crashing around her. I think that foreshadows the wave you mentioned in the query pretty well. I love the way you describe her mother, too. Great job!

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  2. I'm going to leave comments on all the entries and then make my way back with votes.

    I really like that your setting is not typical, that you're picking up on an old legend. I think this concept has tons of potential. Very cool.

    For your query, I would break the large paragraph into several smaller ones to ensure you have plenty of white space. I'm not sure you need the phrase 'although abandoned at a young age'. That bogs down the first sentence.

    You also might consider breaking down some of the long sentences in your query to give a better mix of flow. They seemed awfully long for MG. I thought the part of the sentence about 'eventually go mad' was so important it deserved it's own space. I think there is room in the query to add a little personality and voice to Marie. Right now, the query is a little flat.

    Your First 150 was super. Loved the comparison to her mother's eye color and pudding. One small suggestion would be to consider changing 'Marie could imagine' to a more simple 'imaginable'.

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  3. I like this entry. I like the idea that it’s based on cultural fantasy. I’ve already got a good feel for Marie. I would recommend giving us a little white space in the query though. The one paragraph is tough on the eyes.(I have an example of how I would split it up below). I’d also expand on ‘reshaping the Siren’s city with her mind’. It sounds cool, but I’m not understanding how that is relevant. I’m also unclear as to why she has to leave her mother if she leaves the city. Why not just bring her mother with her? You’ve got plenty of room to expand this query, so just fill in a bit of the details.

    Example of how I would split it up:
    Twelve year-old Marie, although abandoned at a young age, hears her mother calling each night, asking to be found. When an earthquake strikes and a wave sweeps Marie away, she meets the legendary Siren, a creature who promises to fulfill Marie’s greatest wish.

    At first, the Siren’s offer meets Marie’s every dream; not only does she find her mother, she even gains the power to reshape the Siren’s city with her mind. With help from Josephine, the only other girl in the city, and a mysterious whale whom even the Siren fears, Marie discovers all who remain in the Siren’s city for too long eventually go mad.

    When the Siren imprisons Josephine, the whale is the only one who can help Marie, but she must choose: leave the city and lose her mother and her new powers forever, or remain with the Siren and lose Josephine—and herself.

    Overall, I didn’t choose this entry because I needed a little more clarified in the query. I would also caution on starting a story out with a dream. I don’t think it’s a make or break, but I’ve heard some agents say it’s overdone. This is a really good entry though. I think it will go far with a little tweaking.

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  4. You've got my vote!

    I love the vision of another culture. Good luck!

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  5. Thank you so much for the vote, Goldilocks! And thanks everyone for your great feedback. I've been struggling with this query for a while and actually completely rewrote this an hour before the contest deadline; that's why it's all clumped together and not as tight as it could be. I definitely agree with spacing it out and tightening the wording to bring in more voice. I suppose what I could do is instead of being so specific about reshaping the city, instead say that "Marie gains the power to create the life she always wanted" (which, of course, includes her mother). I think that will address both Mara's and Just Sayin's concerns (why it's important). As far as clarifying that she's near the ocean, I could probably just say "when an earthquake strikes Haiti", as that will make the connection more obvious. Mara's question about Josephine and her mother digs a little too deeply into the plot and climax, so I can't give that away in the query! But I can make it clearer that her mother is part of the city and can't leave.

    For the first 150, I love Goldilocks' wording suggestion and have already made the change in the ms. Yes, I've also heard that agents don't like dream starts, but the first two sentences in this story make it clear this is not your typical kid waking up from a dream safe in her bed; she really is underwater. The point of the dream is to orient the reader to Marie, what has already happened and what's at stake, as well as to give more impact when she wakes and realizes she's breathing underwater. I could possibly turn it into a vision instead of a dream if editors really hated it, but that would definitely dull the impact of Marie being underwater and already forgetting things.

    Anyway, thanks so much! I feel like I'm at least finally close to getting it just right. Cheers!

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    Replies
    1. These changes sound brilliant! It's such an intriguing story, I know it will do well.

      Good luck!

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  6. What a fun idea this is. The Haitian culture is so great and I'm glad to see a new idea in MG. I do agree about the dream being cliche, BUT I don't mind it here. It's short and concise...and the water image is intriguing. GL!

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  7. Does this work better for the first part?

    Every night from her orphanage, for as long as she can remember, twelve-year-old Marie hears her mother calling out to be found again. When an earthquake strikes Haiti while Marie is playing at the beach and a wave sweeps her away, she meets the legendary Siren, who offers to fulfill Marie’s greatest wish. At first the Siren’s offer meets Marie’s every dream: she not only finds her mother, but she gains the power to create the life she always wanted.

    Does it give too much away that she "finds her mother"? That's of course not the climax, but perhaps it is TMI. Maybe it would be better simply to say:

    ...she meets the legendary Siren, who offers to find Marie's mother. At first the Siren’s offer seems like a dream, as Marie gains the power to create the life she always wanted, but it soon becomes a nightmare.

    What do you think?

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  8. I would go with the second idea--leaving the mother as unfound. Also maybe cut 'again' from the end of your first sentence.

    MG is hot right now. I have my fingers crossed for you in the agent search.

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