Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CAGI Entry #93

Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: 74,000


As circus performer, seventeen-year old Marisa was famous for her magical ability to charm animals with her silver flute. But after a tragic accident tore her family apart and left her penniless, she ended up in the Dumps—a walled ghetto outside downtown Los Angeles. With the support of her neighbors and her close friend, Josh, she has managed to survive. But she’d give anything to escape the slums.

When valuable lab rats from pharmaceuticals giant Dyna Corp invade the Dumps, Marisa sees a chance to profit from her unique talents. Assured of a generous reward, she uses her flute to round up the rats. But after she reveals she can also control people with her music, a high-ranking scientist at Dyna makes her a proposition. If she lets him study her powers, she’ll earn enough to leave the ghetto forever.

Marisa is tempted, until she learns that her neighborhood is overrun with a deadly new strain of rat, infected by a disease created in Dyna’s labs. With Josh seriously ill from a rat bite and the Dumps at risk of an epidemic, Marisa must decide whether to put herself first or help her community—even if it means taking on Dyna Corp.

An urban twist on The Pied Piper fairy tale, PIPER GIRL will appeal to fans of Marissa Meyer’s CINDER and Anna Sheehan’s A LONG, LONG SLEEP. I am a member of RWA and SCBWI.

First 250:

The sirens sound like they’re right outside my door.

Burrowing my head under the pillow, I try to block out the noise. Enough, already. It’s no use. I reach over to turn on the lamp, but nothing happens. The electricity’s out again.

Without my trusty fan whirring away, my room is stifling. If I try going back to sleep now, I’ll end up tossing and turning on my mattress, growing sweatier by the minute. I fumble in the darkness until I feel the hard plastic of my flashlight. When I twist it on, a few cockroaches skitter away into the shadows.

I slip on flip-flops, but hesitate before unbolting my door. Do I really want to go out there? Sirens usually mean cops—a rarity in this neighborhood. If they’ve ventured into the Dumps, the situation must be serious.

But I’m too restless to stay cooped up inside. Maybe just a quick peek.

Before I go, I shine my flashlight around the room, to ensure there’s nothing visible worth stealing. What little cash I have is hidden behind a loose cinder block in the wall, along with my precious silver flute. I couldn’t care less about the money, but I’d be devastated if someone took my flute.

I lock the door, pocket the key, and navigate the narrow stairwell to the ground floor. Out on the street, a blast of hot, dry air hits me in the face, bringing with it the acrid smell of smoke. Something’s on fire.


  1. This reads really well and I think it could be the start of something good :)

    Some suggestions for possible edits:

    'The sirens sound like they’re right outside my door.' - I struggled with this sentence straight up. It just didn't do it for me. One possible alternative is to begin with 'Burrowing...' then add 'of the sirens' after 'noise'.

    'Without my trusty fan whirring away, my room is stifling.' You might conider dropping this. It's telling, and somewhat obvious given the next line, which more effectively shows us it is hot.

    'a few cockroaches skitter away into the shadows.' Nice.

    'I slip on flip-flops,' Maybe add 'my'

    'but hesitate before unbolting my door.' You could maybe reverse this to 'before unbolting the door, I hesitate' to make 'hesitate' more of an action.

    'Sirens usually mean cops' - or ambulances, fire trucks...

    'What little cash I have is hidden behind a loose cinder block in the wall, along with my precious silver flute.' You might consider rejigging this and the last sentence. They're telling now, but could easily be showing e.g. 'I lift a little cinder block, dislodging a little roll of cash and my precious silver flute' - or something.

    'but I’d be devastated if someone took my flute.' again I'd love to be shown this. Perhaps an action, maybe have your character check it over very carefully? Or smile at it?

    'acrid smell of smoke.' - just one more nit - I see the word acrid coupled with smoke really often. I'm not sure it is becoming cliched, but just thought I'd say something.

    Anyway, I think this reads pretty well and you've got a good premise. You could tighten just a litlle to get us to the action quicker I suppose, but it's hard to judge in 250. As it stands I'd keep reading, well done :)

  2. What an unusual premise. I like it. The first line of your query threw me a bit. It seems to be missing an "a". And I would change strain of rat to species of rat.

    The voice is good in the first 250. I would leave out "on my mattress" unless you're trying to make a point that she's not on the floor. You might get rid of "a rarity in this neighborhood" too. Your next line makes that clear. And I agree with the previous comment about the cash and the flute. Let her check on it instead of telling us that she hides it and where.

    I would definitely keep reading. Good job!

  3. OMG your concept! It is AMAZING. I would buy this so fast, just by reading the query. I thought "Oh, I could pre-order this" until I realized you're seeking an agent, and sadly, it hasn't sold. But it must. IT MUST!

  4. Hey - you've already gotten good editing advice, so I'll just throw this out there. I'm a research scientist, and while I don't work with vertebrates, I can categorically say a bunch of lab rats that escape into the outside world just totally lost their value. In any study, you want the subjects to have as few uncontrolled influences as possible (like picking up parasites, diseases, etc.) that wouldn't apply to the entire group. Of course you very probably address this - maybe Dyna doesn't want their competitors getting their hands on the rats because they've been genetically altered or some such. I'm not trying to be nit-picky here - just letting you know what will be coming at you if these issues aren't clear. And by the way, I think your premise is unique, creative and very intriguing.

  5. I love the premise of this. :) I agree you've got lots of good editing advice and I don't feel I can really add anything there. I'm a biologist, too, so can support Heather's comment that as a general rule, research subjects escaping their controlled conditions pretty much screws the project. However, if they had a huge number of rats, and they can recover enough of them, and they can still identify which was which (assuming different treatment groups), then by virtue of the large number they can *probably* eliminate possible outside contamination as a contributing factor to the observed results. (I mean, think about human studies. It's impossible to control the environment of all the humans participating. But they can get around this with number.) And so the rats could still have value for data. Alternatively, there is also the competition angle that Heather suggests in terms of protecting their data/knowledge.

    Anyway, I enjoyed both the query and the excerpt and think you've got a unique story here. Good luck!

  6. Seabrooke and Heather - thanks for your great comments! I love getting inside info from people in the field. The full story isn't apparent from my query letter, but the reason Dyna wants to round up the rats is to get rid of them. They're infected with a dangerous experimental virus. So, they're not going to study them, but they don't want them to infect the population!

    1. Gotcha! That totally works. Goodness knows, it's a real threat (bird flu research anyone?) and has, in fact, happened.

    2. It can be hard to sum up a complex plot in a query. I think you've done pretty well though. I definitely like this retelling idea you've got. Retellings have been popular recently (not sure if it's a trend? or has been a trend? or just gearing up? hard to tell). Anyway, it's one of the really good ones I've seen recently. Chilling concept!

  7. I love modern retellings, and the Pied Piper is a very interesting (and good) choice. Based on the query alone (and it's very well structured), I would read this. Everyone has covered the editing aspects and I agree with them. Heather and Seabrooke make very good points as well. Overall, I think you've done a very good job here. Good luck!

  8. I would agree with the editing advice you've already been given so I won't go there--but,

    I LOVE your title, your main character, your plot, and would love to read it someday.

    Good luck!

  9. You have a typo in the very first line of your query: It should read "As *A* circus performer".

    I also find the query confusing in general because your premise sounds very, very sci-fi to me, but you've categorized it as fantasy. I have to be honest and say that kind of disparity up front throws me off quite a bit, and I was also confused about the setting the first time I read this.

    THAT SAID. I think your opener is VERY strong (and I like all the things that Jessica hates, ha!). Like, I really dig it and I want to read more.

    Sometimes the pages are just straight-up better than the query. I think this is one of those times.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions about the category. I've struggled with that a lot, and I think you're right, Science Fiction is a better label for it. That's what I'm calling it in my revised version for the Agent Round. I'm glad you liked my opening page!

  10. I love this query and your concept. The title is perfect. Any comments I have were already said in other comments. This is a strong submission and I hope you make it through to the next round! And if you don't, then I hope you find success elsewhere. :)

  11. I liked the premise, but I have to agree with Rick. The query was confusing. Marisa is a circus performer. Usually, circus performers live on site. What tragic accident? How does that leave Marisa penniless? I'm not following how she ended up in the ghetto. How her family is tied into her and circus. Are they also part of the circus? She is 17-years-old. LOVE THE FLUTE-CHARMING ANIMALS.

    You got some great, helpful advice. THE PAGES OMG - LOVE LOVE LOVE. I felt myself running with her. Damn flip-flops. What's on fire :) NICE! Good luck.

  12. Wow, I'd read this. I love the retelling of the Pied Piper and the dystopian setting. Both the query and the first words draw me in.