I’m going through my query inbox today, working to get it back down to manageable levels before I take a week off in Florida with the family, and I’m noticing something interesting — well, at least to me. I’ve been a mommy for just over 5 months now, and though I knew being responsible for someone else had changed me, I wasn’t aware of just how much until I recognized that the mere mention of a child’s death in a query or novel has me reaching to reject. It’s almost a gut reaction, an automatic trigger. I do my best to read on, to find what the author is attempting to say by using the death of a child to tell a story, but I have to admit, it’s difficult.
Now, I’m not saying that you can’t query me at all if a child dies in your novel, but I am more emotionally invested now in a character the moment you tell me his or her (young) age, and you better have an EXCELLENT reason to kill it off. Don’t hurt this young mom’s heart without cause!
Interestingly (again, maybe just to me), I’m also finding all sorts of movies more affecting. Pre-baby, I wept like a little girl at a certain scene in True Grit, when [Someone] had to [Something] to the horse. Post-baby, I tear up at the end of 50 First Dates, when Adam Sandler reintroduces Drew Barrymore to her daughter. The other day, I had to turn off Labyrinth when I kept yelling at the tv for Jennifer Connelly to just pick up her poor crying baby brother. So I know I’m emotional about the subject.
But I hadn’t figured on it affecting my work! I mean, I read Living Dead Girl, Tender Morsels, and Room right after Baby Beau was born! I practically sought out the worst books a new mom could read, without effect!
And yet… there it is. So what can you, the possibly querying writer with a novel that includes a child’s death, do about it? Well, I can’t advise you to research every agent for the possibility they might be an emotional new mom like me. But be aware that you’re using a hot-button topic, and maybe find a way to broach the subject in a careful, conscientious manner. Or hell, maybe avoid the topic altogether, at least in your query. If the agent is reading your novel and comes across that event, they may be already invested enough to read on — a connection that can be hard to make in a short query.
Fellow agents, moms, and readers — your thoughts?