The Writer’s Voice Entry

This year’s Writer’s Voice contest is live, and I was chosen by the Rafflecopter as one of the entries. Even though I’ve decided to pursue indie publication for my longer books, I still haven’t entirely given up the idea of traditional publication for my much-shorter books. The contest is again hosted by Cupid’s Literary Connection, Brenda Lee Drake, Mónica B.W. of Love YA, and Krista Van Dolzer. Twelve agents will be judging the finalists.

This year I’m going to be using my first Atlantic City book instead of Jakob’s story. I just decided that Jaap’s story probably works better as adult than YA in the current North American market, in spite of how he ages from 14-20. I’ve been calling this The Very First since its genesis in October ’92 and have a hard time thinking of it under any other title, but I’m open to suggestions on a more original title! Note: I deliberately made Sparky and Cinni’s age ambiguous during the radical rewrite and restructuring, though it’s stated that they’re under 12.

Query:

Dear [Agent],

When German-born Katherine Brandt immigrates in 1938, her dearest wish is to become a real American girl. She even accepts the American nickname Sparky to try to gain acceptance. But before she can realize her dream, she’s going to have to learn the ins and outs of the unusual town and group of friends she’s joined.

Sparky is taken under the wing of Cinnimin Filliard, who teaches her a thing or two about American life and their strange Atlantic City neighborhood. Sparky wants to believe Cinni is steering her right, but Cinni has some conflicting attitudes. Cinni is nice and intelligent, but she often cops a superior attitude just because she was voted Most Popular Girl. Particularly to neighbor Violet, whom Cinni is convinced is after her title.

Sparky will do almost anything to fit in, except compromise her Judaism. She longs to be Sparky to her friends while remaining Kätchen to her family and staying true to her values. But along the way, Cinni, who tries to tempt her into wearing shorter skirts and eating non-kosher food, slowly begins realizing that there’s more than one acceptable way to be a real American. Only one thing is for certain—on Sparky’s upcoming birthday, she’s going to wish to be a real American girl, and she wants that wish to come true, even if she has to make some modifications she once thought she’d never make.

THE VERY FIRST, a work of upper MG historical fiction with elements of social satire, is complete at 60,000 words.

I have a BA from [redacted] in history and Russian and Eastern European Studies, with a focus on 20th century Russian history and the World War II/Shoah era, and worked in the production room of an Albany, NY-based newspaper, The Jewish World, for five years, writing, researching, and proofreading articles.

First 250:

Cinnimin Filliard reached for the candy bowl on her father’s desk and popped a handful of gumdrops into her mouth.  Her father had said the five longterm houseguests they were expecting would arrive today, and she figured indulging her sweet tooth would help get rid of her nervousness and put her mind on other things.

“Can I see your photo albums, Daddy?  I wanna know what they look like before they move into our house.  I hope they’re nicer houseguests than Aunt Lucinda, Uncle Jasper, and stupid Elmira.”

Mr. Filliard smiled indulgently at his pet child, his deep brown eyes twinkling. “You know you never need my permission to do anything.”

Cinni took a photo album and plopped down on the floor. “Oh, brother, this Katherine girl really needs a makeover.  No one wears long skirts anymore.” She pushed her long curly hair out of her face. “Who better than the Most Popular Girl to make her over?”

“They’re religious Jews, I told you.  They do things a little differently.  I’m sure Katherine will tell you she’s got reasons of her own for wearing clothes that look a little out of fashion to you.  You know most girls these days have much shorter hair than yours, but you have your own reasons for never wanting another haircut.”

Cinni went to the front window and raised the curtain. “I don’t see their taxi yet.  Do you think they got lost?”

“Maybe their train was late, or their taxi got caught in traffic.  They’ll be here soon enough, and you can start getting to know them.  I hope you don’t mind sharing your room with Katherine.”

IWSG—My classification conundrum

My Horny Hump Day post is here.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

Every first Wednesday of the month, the Insecure Writers Support Group meets. Participants share their insecurities, fears, hesitations, and issues as writers, and support other writers in the process.

I did not query much at all in 2012. I sent out a few queries for my Russian novel (which I’ve since done even more rewriting, editing, and revision on), and just got rejections. I was rather miffed that I got a form rejection from one agent who specifically said in a blog post that she was hungry for long, sweeping historical sagas like GWTW and wasn’t afraid of very long books. I’d figured I’d at least get a partial request, since my book is exactly the type she said she was interested in!

I entered Jakob’s story in a number of contests and actually got a few partial requests, but no offers of representation. I was kind of confused at one rejection that said the agent wished the historical voice had been stronger. I’ve been told many times that I have a very natural, strong historical voice, so I’m wondering if perhaps some of that criticism came from the fact that it’s third-person omniscient and not as directly personal and in-your-face of a voice as first-person.

A lot of my querying hesitation came from the fact that I’ve been legitimately confused and torn over whether to query that book as upper YA or regular adult that just happens to have a protagonist who ages from 14 to 20. Modern YA historical in the U.S. is not what it was when I was growing up. The best YA historicals I’ve read from recent years have been published abroad. A lot of these American YA historicals seem teen-centric first and historical as a distant, minor second. And that’s not necessarily bad, if you just want something light and fluffy, but those aren’t the kinds of stories I enjoy reading or writing.

I’ve gotten a fair number of comments from people who have liked what they’ve read of Jakob’s story, even people who have just read the query. A number of those people expressed the idea that it does seem more adult in nature and voice, and I don’t recall anyone in any of the various contests, where I classified it as adult, asking why it wasn’t YA because of his age.

I’ve read a lot of novels and memoirs set during the WWII/Shoah era. So I’m used to following a character over a long period of time, and seeing the character age from a child to a teen, or a young teen to the late teens or early twenties. The same goes for reading a book set during other long-running events, like the Civil War, the Vietnam War, the American Revolution, the Russian Civil War, or World War I.

I would think other people who love historical feel the same way, that it’s normal for a character to age over time and for the story to cover 5+ years. If you like the story and the character, you can connect and sympathize with him or her even if you’re not in the same age range for the entire story. It makes me sad to think about the classic Bildungsromans like Anne of Green Gables or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn that would have a hard time getting published today, since the protagonists age so much, thus making the books harder to shoe-horn into one age-based category.

I worked really hard on making Jakob like a teenage boy, albeit a teen boy of the 1940s. I even did a tasteful fade to black in the wedding night scene, where he and Rachel don’t technically consummate the marriage (for fear of creating a potential half-orphan), but do other sexual things. I wanted to make everything about it a young man’s story. For a very brief moment at the beginning, I even played with the idea of doing it in first-person, then remembered that that’s not only not my personal style, but something I haven’t done in about 20 years. I’m so far out of practice in first-person, outside of short interludes like letters or journal entries. But it is a lot closer to third-person limited than I usually do.

In scope, tone, and voice, I’ve realized it feels a lot closer to the adult historical I’ve grown up reading, even if the character is young. For similar reasons, I realized Little Ragdoll doesn’t read like YA at all, in spite of Adicia aging from 5 to 20. I really think that if any of my books could be successfully queried as YA or upper MG, it would be my Atlantic City books. I’m even iffy on those, but I’d at least be willing to try to query The Very First (which has been rewritten so that the ages are ambiguous, but known to be under 12) as upper MG and see what happens.

Haunted Writing Clinic—Revamped Queries and First Pages

The third week of the Haunted Writing Clinic is now in progress, and participants are posting revamped queries and first pages. I’ll be so glad when October is over, since I’ve had such a high volume of blog posts I’ve had to write for October!

This is my query for my historical Bildungsroman, which by now I seem to have received a majority of advice suggesting this seems more like an adult novel in spite of the teen protagonist. (I still may query it as upper YA in a few places.) Please keep in mind that it’s more a character-based book, not primarily plot-centric. It’s the journey of a boy becoming a man during a very turbulent time, and then readjusting to so-called normal life.

Dear Super Villain,

Jakob DeJonghe can think of nothing but revenge when the Nazis coerce his father into suicide and his little sister mysteriously disappears the day before Yom Kippur.  As conditions in Amsterdam worsen, Jakob is determined to fight back and be the master of his own destiny, just as his heroes the Maccabees did in ancient times.

While en route from Westerbork, Jakob seizes an opportunity to jump from a death train, breaking his foot as he lands.  As he limps for his life towards a forest, he’s found by four young resistance fighters and taken to a safe house.  Even though Jakob has been left with a permanent limp, he’s still determined to defend his country and track down the men who killed his father.

He thinks his dream has come true when he joins his new friends’ resistance group, but after a chance meeting with a spirited young woman on one of his missions, he’s jolted by emotions he thought he’d buried.  After he’s recruited into the Princess Irene Brigade and made a real soldier, Jakob realizes his battle is only half-won.  Neither he or the world will ever be ordinary again, and if he wants to survive this changed world, love and not hate will have to carry him through.  But if he finds his dream girl again, this painful readjustment just might be easier.

And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, a historical fiction Bildungsroman set in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies between 1940-46, is complete at 120,000 words.  Though it works as a standalone, it has family saga potential.

I have a BA from UMass Amherst in history and Russian and Eastern European Studies, with a focus on 20th century Russian history and the World War II/Shoah era, and worked in the production room of an Albany, NY-based newspaper, The Jewish World, for five years, writing, researching, and proofreading articles.

Thank you for your time and attention.

************************

For my revamped first page, I decided to add a few brief descriptors of the murderers. They’re described in more detail several times later on, but I thought it might be a good idea to describe their appearance a bit up-front.

Jakob DeJonghe looked away from a German soldier as he and his mother Luisa headed home from the Waterlooplein market.  Tomorrow, at Yom Kippur services, he planned to pray for these fiends to leave his country.  Five months of occupation were about all he could take.  But in the meantime, he was looking forward to making chocolate cake when they got home.

“You’re the world’s best cook, Moeder.” Jakob shifted a heavy bag of groceries to his other arm. “I wish I were still as little as Emilia so I could lick the spoon.”

He and Luisa halted at unfamiliar voices coming from the open back door of their home.  His father Rudolf sat on the floor sobbing as three Nazis stood above him.  One had an oddly-shaped nose, another was chubby and had a face full of measles or chickenpox scars, and the third was a bit short for a man and had a scar on his forehead.  So much for so-called Aryans being the master race, Jakob thought as he drew back.

Jakob grabbed Luisa’s arm and pulled her back. “Don’t go in there, Mama,” he whispered.  Since his bar mitzvah last year, he’d stopped calling his parents Mama and Papa, but he sometimes still called Luisa Mama in emotional situations. “They can’t see us.  It might make more trouble if we go in there.  I don’t want anyone to hurt you.”

Luisa looked towards the man who’d been her husband for thirty-four years, then back at the firstborn child she’d waited forty years for.  She stepped back to Jakob, shaking.

“No matter what happens to Vader, I’ll protect you.” Jakob felt sick to his stomach as he observed the scene inside the house, unable to believe he’d just been thinking of something as trivial as chocolate cake.

Haunted Writing Clinic—Queries

Today begins the month-long Haunted Writing Clinic and Contest, sponsored by Curiosity Quills. I don’t write in any of their favored genres, but it’s always worth a shot. At the moment, all of my soft sci-fi projects are on hiatus. During the first week, minions (writers with query-ready manuscripts) and super villains (writers published by CQ) will post and critique queries.

For this contest, I’m pitching my Jakob’s story as regular adult historical, though I intend to query it as both adult and upper YA, depending on the agent. As I’ve explained before, I’m really on the fence about whether certain of my historicals with young leading characters would really be considered marketable YA today, or if they’re more along the lines of adult books that happen to have young characters.

I’ve really tightened my query up over the past few months, which I don’t think is a small feat, seeing as how this isn’t really a plot-centric book but more about the journey of a boy becoming a man during a very turbulent time.

***

Dear Super Villain,

Jakob DeJonghe can think of nothing but revenge when the Nazis coerce his father into suicide and his little sister mysteriously disappears the day before Yom Kippur.  As conditions in Amsterdam worsen, Jakob is determined to fight back and be the master of his own destiny, just as his heroes the Maccabees did in ancient times.

While en route from Westerbork, Jakob seizes an opportunity to jump from a death train, breaking his foot as he lands.  As he limps for his life towards a forest, he’s found by four young resistance fighters and taken to a safe house.  Even though Jakob has been left with a permanent limp, he’s still determined to defend his country and track down the men who killed his father.

His dream comes true when he joins his new friends’ resistance group, but after a chance meeting with a spirited young woman on one of his missions, he’s jolted by emotions he thought he’d buried.  And when he’s recruited into the Princess Irene Brigade and made a real soldier, Jakob realizes his battle is only half-won.  If he ever wants to survive a world that will never be ordinary again, love and not hate will have to carry him through.  And if he finds his dream girl again, this painful readjustment just might be easier.

And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, a historical fiction Bildungsroman set in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies between 1940-46, is complete at 120,000 words.  Though it works as a standalone, it has family saga potential.

I have a BA from UMass Amherst in history and Russian and Eastern European Studies, with a focus on 20th century Russian history and the World War II/Shoah era, and worked in the production room of an Albany, NY-based newspaper, The Jewish World, for five years, writing, researching, and proofreading articles.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Unofficial GUTGAA Small Press Query Hop

(As a Who freak, it makes me rather excited to see this is Post 515!)

Though I got into the first round of the Agent Pitch Contest for Gearing Up to Get an Agent, I didn’t get any votes from the judges, and so won’t be moving onto the next, agent-judged round. Later there’s going to be a similar contest for small presses, and I hope to make it into that one.

In spite of encouraging comments I get, I sometimes feel like the odds are stacked against me in a lot of contests because straight historical isn’t such a hot genre in YA at the moment, or even in regular adult literature. Gone are the days of gigantic, sweeping historical epics like War and Remembrance, “…And Ladies of the Club,” Gone with the Wind, Forever Amber, Trinity, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, The Source. I understand that, but I remain hopeful that enough people are hungry for long books they can climb into and live in for a few weeks, instead of 250-page books they can read in a few hours.

I have heard some comments to the effect that historical may be gaining more traction in YA, and I really hope this is true. I want to see more straight historicals featuring young people, and covering a larger span of time. There’s nothing wrong with setting a fantasy or paranormal story in the past, but I don’t want to read about werewolves on the Titanic or fairies in Buckingham Palace. Nor do I want to read Gossip Girl in period clothes. The historical fiction I’ve been reading since I was in elementary school was not like that, and I really hope the pendulum starts swinging back soon.

I am a bit encouraged by how my historical YA entry won at the recent short story contest at YA Stands. It’s always so encouraging to make potential converts of people who normally aren’t that into historical. (It’s under my new “Writing Samples” tab, if you’re interested, and called “Kálmán Runs Away.”)

Here’s my query for Jakob’s story. I’m thinking of querying it as both upper YA and regular adult, but in my heart, I really still feel it’s YA.

Jakob DeJonghe can think of nothing but revenge when the Nazis coerce his father into suicide and his little sister mysteriously disappears the day before Yom Kippur.  As conditions in Amsterdam worsen, Jakob is determined to fight back and be the master of his own destiny, just as his heroes the Maccabees did in ancient times.

While en route from Westerbork, Jakob seizes an opportunity to jump from a death train, breaking his foot as he lands.  As he limps for his life towards a forest, he’s found by four young resistance fighters and taken to a safe house.  Even though Jakob has been left with a permanent limp, he’s still determined to defend his country and track down the men who killed his father.

His dream comes true when he joins his new friends’ resistance group, but after a chance meeting with a spirited young woman on one of his missions, he’s jolted by emotions he thought he’d buried.  After being recruited into the Princess Irene Brigade and made a real soldier, Jakob realizes his battle is only half-won.  If he ever wants to survive a world that will never be ordinary again, love and not hate will have to carry him through.  And if he finds his dream girl again, this painful readjustment just might be easier.

And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, an upper YA historical fiction Bildungsroman set in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies between 1940-46, is complete at 120,000 words.

I have a BA from [redacted] in history and Russian and Eastern European Studies, with a focus on 20th century Russian history and the World War II/Shoah era, and worked in the production room of an Albany, NY-based newspaper, The Jewish World, for five years, writing, researching, and proofreading articles.

First 150 words:

Jakob DeJonghe looked away from a German soldier as he and his mother Luisa headed home from the Waterlooplein market.  Tomorrow, at Yom Kippur services, he planned to pray for these fiends to leave his country.  Five months of occupation were about all he could take.  But in the meantime, Luisa had promised to make a special dessert tonight.  Her delicious food always made everything right.

“I can’t wait till our chocolate cake fills my stomach tonight!” Jakob declared as he shifted a heavy bag of groceries to his other arm. “I wish I were still as little as Emilia so I could lick the extra frosting and batter!”

He and Luisa abruptly halted when they heard unfamiliar voices coming from their home and saw the back door open.  Then he heard his father Rudolf sobbing.  As he drew closer, he saw his father sitting on the floor as three Nazis stood above him.