Entry #1: THE WAY IT IS, 1959
I would like to submit my middle grade historical manuscript, THE WAY IT IS, 1959, with embedded poetry and complete at 41,000 words for your consideration.[KP1]
PATSY DANCY, a ten-year-old white girl, hates change with a purple passion and despises how grownups never answer her many questions. Living on the cusp of social changes in Charlotte, North Carolina, Patsy struggles with peer relationships and a school bully, with discord inside her family, and with new racial attitudes in her southern culture as traditional roles are redefined. She searches for answers and her place in this world of racial segregation, family secrets, and white gloves worn to church on Sunday. I believe the novel could have series potential.[KP2]
Patsy is a “noticer”. She questions the inequitable treatment of “Coloreds” and wonders why the rules change from whites to Negroes. To her, the rules should be the same for all, no matter the skin color. If Skeeter from THE HELP was in fifth grade, she would be Patsy.[KP3] Patsy’s opinion in a world of segregation proves unpopular with her white friends, even her best friend, even her teacher. The person at the top of her trust list is Viola, the colored maid next door.[KP4]
For a girl who hates change, this year’s a doozy and throws Patsy into a tizzy. She is targeted by the most notorious bully in the school—"Wayne the Tormentor”. She fears a showdown will be unavoidable. She fills a red journal, hidden under her bed, with her questions and poems. Patsy’s poems appear at the end of chapters. As 1959 ends, Patsy worries about what 1960 will bring. She feels as if a storm is brewing and heading her way—an unstoppable storm of change. Tarnation, what can she do but grow through it?[KP5] That’s just the way it is.[KP6][KP7][KP8]
[KP1] This would be a great place to put in a personalization! “Because of your love of MG Historical novels with a southern feel, I would like to submit…”
[KP2] This paragraph should introduce your character and what their drive is. What do they want? What are their goals? Who are the main characters?
[KP3] The difference I see here between The Help and your query is that your query is about the young, white girl version of Skeeter, whereas The Help is focused on people of color and the stories that they have to share. It’s focused on raising their voices up to be heard, rightly so. How does THE WAY IT IS lift the people of color in your story and their voices up to be heard and help to influence everyone’s lives for the better?
[KP4] This paragraph should introduce the turning point of the story and what happens to get in the way of those goals or interrupt the story and change her goals. What is the inciting incident to catalyze the story?
[KP5] You need a bio paragraph after this. =)
[KP6] This paragraph should be the decisions made in lieu of the inciting incident and how that creates the stakes. What is she going to do about the incident and her obstacles? What stakes will she face if she succeeds or fails?
[KP7] Saying it’s just the way it is diminishes her agency to be able to do anything throughout the story. If she accepted life as it was and had no goals and nothing to stand up for, then there wouldn’t be any story. What are the stakes here? What does she want? What will happen if she doesn’t succeed?
[KP8] Make sure this isn’t giving away the ending of your novel. What are the stakes? Leave the agent/editor wanting to read more in order to find out what happens. Don’t give them the resolution.
“Patsy, stop that infernal daydreaming!” The words whooshed out of Mother like air from a punctured bicycle tire. Then after a sharp inhale, “Don’t you drop that sheet in the dirt!”
“Yes, ma’am.” I grabbed the wet sheet corner and sniffed the unmistakable scent of Clorox. Mother would have a hissy-fit for sure if I let go of the sheet.
Boy Howdy, Mother always interrupted my daydreams. I conjured up another as I held up the sheet. Winter. Snow. I was tramping through mounds of fresh snow wearing show shoes woven from cane. I sank to my knees with each step…[KP9]
“Patsy?” Mother called my name with an arched eyebrow.
Dang it! Busted again. How does she do it?[KP10] I swiped away a sweat mustache with the back of my free hand, then licked the salt from my lips. Lordy mordy.[KP11] Mother thinks August and chores go together like bread and mayonnaise.
Perspiration dripped onto the lenses of my glasses. Do they make glasses with windshield wipers? I pushed the mother-of-pearl frames up for the umpteenth time and wished I’d pulled my hair into a ponytail this morning. It hung thick around my neck and shoulders like the Cowardly Lion’s mane in The Wizard of Oz.
The sweet scent of honeysuckle drifted towards me from branches draped over the fence behind the clothesline. Daddy’ll be home in a few hours, I thought,[KP12] and pressed my lips together. That familiar, uneasy-butterfly-feeling began in the pit of my stomach again.[KP13]
[KP9] Does this daydream need to be here? It might be easier to connect us with your main character a bit more before diving into the depths of her mind and imagination, as that essentially means you have to build two worlds (reality and a dream world) as opposed to one.
[KP10] Busted doing what? Is she simply day dreaming and moving through the motions, or does she stop day moving/working while she day dreams? I think some physicality before this to clarify what her mother sees when she calls Patsy out would be helpful in order to visualize the scene.
[KP11] There’s a lot of older slang in these first few paragraphs. I’d suggest introducing slang a bit more slowly, as your readers won’t know what they mean until you use them a few times in very purposeful locations. It also forces your reader to pull away from your manuscript when you put sayings and words in there that they can’t necessarily connect with or use quick context clues to grasp.
[KP12] Thoughts are usually italicized.
[KP13] Unfortunately, I’m just not connecting with the voice and premise, so I’m going to have to pass.