Unveiling our July Mystery Agent:
Michelle Humphrey of Martha Kaplan Literary Agency
Before returning to the Martha Kaplan Agency, where she was previously an agent 2009-2010, Michelle Humphrey was an agent with International Creative Management and Sterling Lord Literistic. She has served as an assistant for Renee Zuckerbrot Agency and Anderson Literary and worked as an English teacher, proofreader, and freelance book reviewer.
For this month's contest, Michelle requested a first line contest instead of a one-line pitch, and she explains what grabbed her in each winner. Without further adieu, the winners!
Michelle's Picks and Comments
Runner Up #3: Ari Susu-Mago / UNFAMILIAR SPELLINGS. First line: "It was way too early to be awake and this idea was stupid."
First, I should say, I'm drawn to first lines that both establish an interesting character and set a plot in motion, and this opener definitely does both. I already like this protagonist because she's not a morning person (something I rather subjectively connect with) and I'm enamored with the humorous notion that she's embarking on something she feels is a bad idea; my interest is piqued to discover what this bad idea might be, and I'd like to read on.
Runner Up #2: Janice Sperry / SHE CAME FROM THE HILL. First line: "Nothing thrived at the far end of the park."
Interestingly, this line doesn't quite follow my formula of establishing character and plot, but rather evokes what is, to me, a very intriguing setting. I have a sense of what this section of the park looks like -- dead trees, junkyard stuff on the ground, lots of shadows -- it successfully conjures a mood and an archetypal place that has an immediacy and makes me want to read on.
Runner Up #1: Nikki Urang / BROKEN. First line: "Red and blue lights dance off the roof of my mother's car."
I love the duality of the line: we are about to encounter the police and the tension that follows, as well as meet the character who caused the trouble in the first place. I also suspect the narrator is a counterpoint to the mom, and likely a reasonable sort of young person with a wry sense of humor. (I'm particularly enamored with the way the police are evoked -- a concise, light-hearted description of their lights dancing. ) Well done.
WINNER: LL McKinney / COVETED. First line: Caleb learned long ago being friends with Martin MacMurty required two things, inhuman patience and a tolerance for impromptu fashion shows.
This is the line that made me (and my intern Aimee) laugh out loud. Martin MacMurty, in one line, successfully comes across as a quirky and humorout character; as a counterpoint, Caleb comes across as tolerant and cynical, almost Martin's "straight man" buddy. And, I suspect that tension between the two will follow shortly. So: we have the establishment of two characters, really effective humor (which is partly effective because the line is so concisely worded), and the promise of conflict. Really nicely done.
Congrats to the winners! Runners-Up should send a query and 10 pages to Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Winner, please send your full.
Michelle also answered a few more questions about what she's looking for and is open to other queries as well.
On to the questions!
What kind of books are you most interested in seeing right now?
Middle grade and Young Adult contemporary. Also, I'd love a murder mystery, something intricate, like an Agatha Christie YA or middle grade. I'm also looking for non-fiction picture books -- perhaps a biography about someone from the 20th Century who accomplished something important, but who appears to be a bit overlooked by the history books.
Rejections often say "I couldn't connect with your character." What makes a main character appeal to you?
In the first three pages or so, I look for a character's nuances: specific details that make her/him both likeable and flawed, as well as a sense that this is a character who very clearly desires something, and they're nowhere near getting it. As a writing teacher, I loved doing an exercise where the class would read the first five pages of a book, and make a list of all the memorable details about the main character - things that were really quirky, unusual, contradicting, and surprising (and thus, human.) The more "quirky" details I get about a character, the more likely I'll connect.
Can you tell us about any recent or upcoming client books you're excited about?
I'm very excited about Denise Jaden's NEVER ENOUGH, a young-adult novel about two sisters, one of whom struggles with bulimia. It's a poignant, moving, and very page-turning story; I'm also excited about 37 THINGS I LOVE by Kekla Magoon, which came out last spring, a young-adult novel about a girl who deals with a quickly-changing friendship with her best friend while her family goes through difficult times (her dad is in a coma and she and her mom are at odds over the decision to remove him from life support). Both books have been getting great reviews.
Other than client books, what other recent books have you enjoyed?
I'm in a book club, so other books would include what we have been choosing to read as a group: QUIET, by Susan Cain, POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt, and DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Eric Larson. We read a lot of adult fiction and non-fiction, but I'm hopeful our next pick will be a YA. :)
Thank you to Michelle and all the participants, and congrats to the winners. Come back August 1 for our next Mystery Agent contest -- get your pitches and first lines ready. You never know when you have a chance to pitch!