Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXI

February 12th, 2010 • Kate

Salomon Ski Boots 2In honor of my adventures on the slopes today, a par of ski boots to see us into the weekend! And an AMQ post from Lisa, which I’m going to once again ask my incredibly intelligent (and likely less-muscle fatigued) readers to critique first. Ready? Let’s go!

Dear Ms. Unfeasible,

A mystical book transports a great-grandfather back to his youth.Β  There he must decide whether to return to the aches and grief of old age or remain twelve years old forever.

In LANE & FINN’S BIG BOOK OF ADVENTURE, a 28,000-word middle-grade novel, Lane regains his childhood and reunites with his beloved dog, Finn. Together they relive the escapades of their youth: The proper care and feeding of dust bunnies, the effects of drinking jelly bean juice, the lifespan of a doughnut tree, and more. Lane discovers the magic of the book will live on, enchanting the lives of his family for multiple generations, but only if he makes the correct choice.

Manuscript is available at your request.Β  Thank you for your consideration.


I will start the conversation with one question, though: does this sound like a middle grade novel to you? Why or why not? My answer on Sunday!

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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19 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About My Query XXXXI”

  1. Georgiana Says:

    Hi Lisa,

    I think you have a cute idea and I like your description, like the care and feeding of dust bunnies, but to me this sounds more like a script for a family film — the Neverending Story meets the Twilight Zone episode Kick the Can.

    This could just be my own biases, but it sounds like the kind of story that families could enjoy watching and it sounds visual to me. If you want to take a crack at writing it as a script Script Frenzy will be taking place in April and can be a lot of fun.



  2. Darra Says:

    does this sound like a middle grade novel to you?

    Honestly? No. It's essentially about an old man. I don't believe children want to read about books that depict childhood's rosy glow. Actual childhood is embarrassing, and confusing, and steeped in powerlessness. Besides, whether to get old or not isn't a problem middle-schoolers face.

  3. Amy L. Sonnichsen Says:

    I really like this premise, Lisa. To answer Daphne's question, I would say no also, but for different reasons. Since your mc seems to spend most of his time as a child, I admit it may be more difficult to hook a child reader with an older character (though my eight-year-old has loved books with elderly protagonists — don't know if it's the same for all children, though! ie. Mr Putter books & another book about a little old lady who lives in a cottage with all her animals, more of a chapter book, can't think fo the name right now). In this book, though, the action seems to be about this mc as a little boy. The things he does seem to be things a much younger child would do, so that's why I'm not sure this would appeal to a middle grade audience. Usually you're looking for a protagonist who is at the top of the age range for a particular book, so I'd guess this book would appeal more to lower grade schoolers than to middle graders. It sounds like a lot of fun, though — something I think my eight-year-old would enjoy reading.

    I'm interested to read Daphne's answer to this question. So often I *think* I know what I'm talking about, but I'm wrong! πŸ™‚

  4. Lisa Gibson Says:

    Georgiana,that's an idea I will keep in mind. I am strongly considering doing Script Frenzy this year.

    Amy, my mc is an old man for one page in the beginning, goes back to being seven and ends up twelve in the end.

    Interesting question that Daphne has posed. I'm interested to see the further comments and what she has to say as well. Thanks for the input thus far. Have a great weekend!

  5. Susan Says:

    I'll agree with Amy that when I read it, the actions sounded like something a younger set (chapter book crowd) would read about. Jellybeans and doughnut trees and dustbunnies all sound adorable and definitely younger than your typical MG.

    I was also a little thrown by the fact that the dog is mentioned in the title as a sort of main character and in the description of the action ("together they…"). Can the dog talk to the boy? If not, can he really hold equal footing as a character? Maybe so, but I'm trying to imagine it.

    On the other hand, you have the old man problem the others have mentioned. Personally, I love MG stories that include the care and concerns of adults (instead of implying that kids are the most important beings in the universe and the only ones with thoughts and feelings). I can name lots of favorite authors (Streatfeild, for one) who did this well. But here you've described right up front that the MC must decide if he should remain MG age or return to the"aches and grief of old age"–frankly, that phrasing sounds like there's a "it stinks to be old, kids!" theme going on here. If there isn't, maybe a rephrasing is in order.

    Overall, though, I would especially like to see this query rewritten to reflect more voice. You have phrases in here like "regains his childhood," "relive the escapades," and "enchanting the lives of his family for multiple generations." It sounds like the copy for a commercial–one aimed at older adults.

    I'm not saying pitch your query at kids (don't!), but you really should be getting across to the target agent/ed. "I am a person who can write well for this age group" and this query isn't quite there. The "magical book that transports X to Y" is a well-worn device, making this already an uphill battle. You'll need to try even harder to show how unique and fresh this story and your writing are.

    Try to capture the tone your story is written in and write the query in that same tone. Does Lane say to himself "This book will enchant the lives of my family for multiple generations! or would he phrase it in a different way? Don't write a query FROM your character (a real no-no) to the agent. But do try to capture the spirit of your writing in your query a bit more.

  6. Kathleen Says:

    I don't really think this would work for middle grade either. The doughnut tree and jelly bean juice, etc. sound like childhood adventures…yet it's based upon the whole question of "Should he stay a child?" I can't see children being interested in that. When I was in elementary school and middle school, growing up was this far-off dream, which I viewed far from realistically. I didn't know what I know now, and my concept of what it meant to be grown up was much different than it is now. Consequently, my concept of what it means to be a child is different than it was then.

    What I think this means is that the point of view of the main character, having been an old man, is going to be something that children simply can't relate to.

    Who IS the target market for a story like this? Well…I don't know. Maybe adults would like to read this kind of story…sort of like 17 Again was. The only thing is, this story written for adults would have to be more in-depth and literary, and if you've written it to the length and style of middle-grade, then I don't know what to suggest!

  7. Kathleen Says:

    Thinking about this more…I think it might depend on how much that whole "should I get old again?" question is really part of the adventures. In other words, did you write this so the mindset of the main character is that of an old man reliving childhood, or a child with occasional old thoughts?

    If the story takes place in the mind of an old man, then like I said, I think it's hard to know how kids would like it.

    But if, on the other hand, he has the child mindset, and there is only brief mentions of the getting-old question, then maybe you could re-work it so that he doesn't initially remember being an old man. Maybe he has to figure out what happened to him and what to do about it? Of course…how well that would work depends entirely upon how you answered the big question in the end.

  8. De Says:

    Er, where's the conflict?

  9. Shannon Says:

    I'm not sure if "Hatchet" is considered YA or MG, but my child read it at 10 years old. General principal is the same. Young kid helping an old person – sort of a role reversal. Obviously the stories are different.

    I think that publishers (or who ever makes those decisions) severly underestimate what topics kids can handle. Lots of kids in sixth grade (girls mostly) have read Twilight, or seen the movie (that's 10, 11, 12 ages)

    I think the key to MG is that the parents are still a deciding factor. IMO, the parents wants light, happy, fun – mysteries, adventures. But, I think the kids are ready for a little more life in their books. At least I have 2 MGers and they prefer more mature topics.

    As far as the Query is concerned, I struggled with the first 2 sentences. They could be clearer. If the age thing isn't the focal point of the story, then it has potential.

    If the grandpa dies – not MG. imo.

  10. Sandy Shin Says:

    In other words, did you write this so the mindset of the main character is that of an old man reliving childhood, or a child with occasional old thoughts?

    I agree with Kathleen about the statement above; I think the voice is the deciding factor. If the focus is on the nostalgia told in an old man's voice, with all the thoughts and experiences of a life-time behind him, it probably won't read like a MG.

  11. Kate Says:

    hm your last statement raises questions- if he is completely transported back to his childhood and thinks like a child than surely his life as an old man will no longer be part of his concious thought. And if it isn't part of his conscious thought than I'm not sure how the question of whether to return to old age or not ever comes up again (though that is probably just a lack of information not necessarily a fault of your novel). That said, I think that the old man's struggle with mortality- the conflict between enjoying his youth and recognising that eventually we have to grow up (and die presumably) is probably what makes the book interesting and also in my opinion which would make it difficult and perhaps too mature for an mg readership- that said I bet you could tweak this to become an adult novel or a proper mg.

  12. Shannon Says:

    I apologize. I shouldn't be allowed to comment until after my first cup of coffee. So I missed the part about the dog. After re-reading your query here are my thoughts.

    When I think of MG I think of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." So, when MG veers from the light-hearted fun adventures it can be dangerous for getting published. That's not to say that it hasn't been done successfully.

    It sounds like your book might be light-hearted and fun with a sort of internal conflict. The problem is the fun part of your book is being overshadowed by this age thing.

    Take DWK books again. The books are basically about a kid that doesn't fit in, gets bullied, made fun of, jerk of a big brother etc. So, how did that author pitch his book to make those things sound fun?

    If 90+% of your book is about a kid who wants to stay 12 – then focus on that.

  13. Lisa Gibson Says:

    I wrote this with the MC who in the first page transports back and is a child (in thought and action throughout), until the last chapter of the book where he must make the decision to stay and remain 12 or go back to adulthood.

  14. Lisa Gibson Says:

    This is awesome! You all have given me so much to consider.

    When Lane, my mc reaches the end of the book is when his choice of whether to return or not must be made.

    It's clear I have plenty of work to do on this ms. Just which direction I'll be going with it, has yet to be determined. Thanks a bunch for weighing in with your comments thus far. Truly thought provoking. πŸ™‚

  15. Kate Says:

    ps- I’m not Kate as in Daphne Kate I’m just someone who shares her name.

  16. Susan Says:

    I read MG almost exclusively and I’ve written what I’d consider young MG, middle MG, and older nearly-YA MG. I just love, love, love MG. πŸ™‚

    That being said, I love serious MG just as much as lighthearted MG. Plenty of more serious MG is published, in my opinion. A book like Rules is not exactly light-hearted and fun, but still gets read and cherished and has a definite place.

    But the funny thing is–when I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I thought “this is not really MG. It seems like adult fare masquerading as MG.” Nevertheless all the kids in my daughter’s then-third grade class were buying it at the book fair. So what do I know? πŸ™‚

    Sorry, this had very little to do with the query at hand. I just wanted to throw that out there.

  17. Kate Says:

    Thanks to everyone who's commented on Lisa's query. I'll chime in with my thoughts now, though you've all made some good points.

    For me, this doesn't read as middle grade. The emphasis in the query on the MC being a great-grandfather who becomes a child again has been pointed out as being misleading, so I would consider if you could start your query (and your book, perhaps) with a young boy who finds a mystical book. Maybe.

    I'm also concerned that he ages 5 years in the course of the story — that's a lot of ground to cover in MG. It took Harry Potter seven books to age 7 years — not just to spread out the story, but because the concerns of a 12 year old are not the same as those of a 7-year old.

    From your comments responding to others, it seems as if you're up for a rewrite of your query, which is great. I'd focus more on Lane's adventures as a child, and maybe take a look at some early chapter books, to see if that might be your age range, rather than MG.

    Good luck!

  18. callie Says:

    I saw that Kate already answered, but I wrote this earlier but never posted because I ended up going to take care of my sick husband. By the time he was better and I came back the query had been answered, but I thought I’d add a few thoughts anyway, since I already wrote most of them. πŸ™‚

    I was commenting on the query itself, since everyone had already answered the question on whether not it was MG.

    You start out with: “A mystical book transports a great-grandfather back to his youth.”

    I’d try to word it in a way that really captures the essence of the book, without relying on any kind of overused phrases or ideas.

    IE:Mystical book transports reader to another age/era/land.

    That just sounds too familiar to me. Your book isn’t the same as other stories that have used this concept. You need to get across how it’s different and keep the focus on that.

    “There he must decide whether to return to the aches and grief of old age or remain twelve years old forever.”

    I know it’s already been said, but the “aches and grief of old age” doesn’t seem to work for MG. To me, it automatically sounds depressing. Since the story itself doesn’t sound as if it’s sad, I wouldn’t want to use any words in my query that might give an agent the wrong impression.

    Plus, when you word it that way, Lane’s choice seems inevitable, so it takes away all the suspense. It sounds like he’s miserable as an old man and happy as a young boy, so I feel like I already know what he’ll choose.

    Maybe you could go with something like, “Once there he must decide whether to return to the natural course of his life or remain twelve years old forever.” Or something along those lines.

    I also thought the title sounded very young. Anything that has the phrase, “Big book of” makes me think of toddlers or preschoolers. No offense at all. I just have five kids. Over the years I spent a lot of time in the little kid section of the bookstore. It feels like I saw that phrase a lot! πŸ™‚

    Lastly,I wanted to ask about the dog. His name is in the title and you write that the Lane has his adventures with him, so I’m assuming he’s a large part of the story. I’d like to know why…to see the dog really jump off the page at me. Write something funny or mischievous he does. Maybe refer to his breed so we can get a visual.

    IE:Instead of saying, “and his beloved dog Finn” you could say, “and his beloved Beagle,Finn.”

    I’m going to leave the rest of the query alone since it sounds like you might be changing it quite a bit.

    Good luck with this. Remember that ninety percent of writing is rewriting! Hope it goes well for you. πŸ™‚

  19. Luciana Says:

    I myself am in 5th grade right now, so perhaps my opinion could count for something?
    I'd say this is a bit childish sounding for me (though I suppose I'm more mature than the average 10 year old), and sounds like something I'd find in a book for 1st graders.
    Books I'm reading tend to be like The Hunger Games, or The Giver. This sounds like something I would read when I was 6-7, maybe 8 πŸ™‚
    So, its on the lower end of the spectrum, or a kids book.