Wednesday, September 5, 2012

CAGI Entry #10

Genre: YA Contemporary
Word Count: 70,000

Inside the Circle twists a suspenseful, dark love story through the subculture of ultra-rich teens in Scottsdale, Arizona and the drug cartels of Mexico and South America.
Inside the Circle is 17-year-old Kate Connor’s story. Kate and her friends are “The Circle,” a tight group of friends who grew up fast and are now as hard as diamonds. Their parents are distracted and absent, and the friends of The Circle promise to take care of each other without judgments.
They use their freedom to try anything at least once in the backyards of mountainside mansions and the shadows of late-night clubs. Eventually, though, their dangerous appetites land them in the dark counter-culture of serious adults who aren’t playing rich-kid games.
Kate unexpectedly falls for Marcos, the unwilling teenaged heir to the Vega cartel. Then, Kate’s reckless best friend ominously disappears. Kate’s unique voice evolves from the detachment of an ex-addict to the clarity of a strong, young woman who feels too much. Kate loves, she loses, and she learns to stand on her own, outside of the circle.
I’ve been teaching high school for sixteen years, and I love listening to the way that teenagers talk. I’m a member of SCBWI and PNWA. I received a BA in English Literature from Indiana University. I also have an MFA in Dance/Choreography from University of Arizona; I’m fascinated by artistic construction in all art forms. My writing was recently published in Silk Road Review.
First 250:
“I’m out in a couple of weeks. That’s what the doc said this morning,” Allison says offhandedly, like she doesn’t care if she stays or if she’s released. It’s freezing in here, like always. I shake off a shiver and lean back into the short, vinyl couch. Outside the window, the shadows on Camelback Mountain deepen as the sun starts to set. Nice view, I think. When I was in-patient here at the Center, my room faced the other way.

“A couple of weeks, that’s good, Allison. That’s nothing,” I say, watching her play with her platinum watch. She twists it around her wrist.

“It’s all bullshit anyway,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I just went too far one night, you know? I’m not an addict.” Sure about that? I want to ask her. Instead, I keep my face still.

I imagine her in daily group, doing those “complete the sentence” games that the doctors use to get a patient to discover her inner fuck-up.

Finish this sentence, Allison: I might be an addict if

Well, Doctor, I might be an addict if… I took a bunch of painkillers and drank half a bottle of whiskey and ended up in rehab. But that was just supposed to be a little jump-start before I started to party. Before lines of coke off the compact in my purse. And did I mention the fix that I keep in my car?

Oh, yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Or actually, an addict.


  1. My only hesitation with this one is it seems to read more like an adult novel, just with teen characters. The writing style, language, etc. But that could be just me, so obviously take it for what it's worth! However, you do a good job immediately introducing your reader to the characters and giving them a glimpse of their personalities.

  2. Thanks for your comment! These characters have grown up fast, so Kate's voice is a little older. I've worked to show her vulnerability as she develops through the novel, and hopefully, it works! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  3. I really enjoy the writing and would 100% keep reading, but the query itself is a lot more synopsis-like background than actual voice or story. This seems like it probably has a really fun and exciting plot, but all of it is being crammed into the fourth paragraph. The first three aren't really doing anything as interesting as your great page (and I'm sure ms) deserves.

  4. I love (love, love, love) your first 250! It has such great voice! I would definitely keep reading.

    I agree with Dahlia about your query. Can you get some of that spot-on voice from your manuscript into the query? That said, the plot sounds like it would make a great read!

    1. Thanks! I struggle with queries, for sure. I have about a thousand versions, so I'll take a look and see if a different query has stronger voice.

  5. Hi. I agree with the other readers. The first 250 instantly drew me in, but the query didn't work for me as well. Where you started to lose me a little with the query was halfway through the last paragraph:

    Kate’s unique voice evolves from the detachment of an ex-addict to the clarity of a strong, young woman who feels too much. Kate loves, she loses, and she learns to stand on her own, outside of the circle.

    That all reads a little vague and general. I didn't really take anything away from it, either about Kate or the plot. I might concentrate on the conflict of the book a bit more and try to show what situation makes her grow into a strong young woman, rather than just saying that's what happens.

    It sounds like a really interesting plot with a lot going on, so I think you just need to focus more on those details. Hope this helps. :)

    I'm number 29 if you want to check it out. Good luck with this!

  6. Your story concept and the first 250 are great. Yours is an example where dialogue works to open; it didn't feel distracting, I was just sucked in. I'm getting a Traffic (the movie) vibe which is an interesting angle for YA.

    I think reworking the beginning of the query will strengthen it. I'm a fan of edgy contemporary so I was interested regardless, but I found myself skimming the query to get to the crux of the story past some of the repetition.

    Instead of telling us the book is suspenseful and dark, just go right into the description of the book and those elements will be apparent. The whole first paragraph can be absorbed in the next section, that way you reduce the telling aspects and lose the repetition of the title.

    Seventeen-year-old Kate and her friends are “The Circle,” a tight group of friends in suburban Arizona who grew up fast and are now as hard as diamonds. Their parents are distracted and absent, and The Circle promises to take care of each other without judgments.

    Then you can move up the next paragraph to show how they try anything and live on the edge. The second paragraph can be the conflict, Kate falling for the cartel heir. I would suggest losing the word "unwilling" and stick with heir. I would also lose "ominously" as disappears is strong enough on its own. The "Kate's unique voice" kind of loses me, I can't tell if you're talking about the unique voice you created with your writing, her that her opinions are unique and integral to the story progression. I would keep to specifics of Kate's conflict and what she needs to overcome to get to her goal.

    I would read your story, it sounds really interesting. I wish you lots of luck!

    1. Wow, I really appreciate your detailed feedback. It's so nice to have new eyes looking at my query. Thank you for taking the time to comment so specifically and thoughtfully!

  7. I agree with Stephsco (and many of the other commenters) 100 percent! The query is okay, but it doesn't do your writing justice. My suggestions for the query were the same as Stephsco's. I thought the excerpt itself was great :)

  8. This is a great premise and first pages -- it's edgy and realistic and I think it would generate a lot of buzz. As the other commenters have pointed out, your query doesn't have the same tension and voice as your pages, however. I think Stephsco's recommendations for the body of the query are spot-on, so I'll simply second them and move onto your credentials section.

    The information that you're a high school English teacher is relevant and good, as are your SCBWI and PNWA memberships. And the Silk Road Review article is DEFINITELY good -- in fact, you might want to mention the name of the article and month of publication, so they can look it up if they want to. I think you can lose the part about going to IU, though -- it was sixteen years ago, and since you've already told them you teach English, they'll assume you went to college for it. You might also want to cut the info about your MFA -- it's an interesting fact, and one you could bring up when you and an agent chat on the phone, but it's not relevant to the story or your writing career. It's not absolutely necessary to get rid of it, but I don't think it'll gain you points, either.

    The pages are outstanding -- I love the narrator's voice and I think these kids sound exactly right -- very prematurely jaded and a teensy bit entitled, and I'd definitely read on. Congrats, and good luck!

    -- Erica

  9. Thank you for your help and your comments. I am reworking my query based on all of these suggestions, and I hope that I end up with a stronger letter! I appreciate your thoughtful remarks!