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Ask Daphne! About My Query LXXXII

bootsHang onto your boots, dear readers, we’ve got another one!

Dear Ms. Schafer Testerman,

Seventeen-year-old Adriana is no class president, valedictorian, or even cheer captain. She’s never gotten above a C at her elite high school, and her extracurriculars include punching boys, boldface lying, and sharp powers of observation. But when Adriana gets sucked into an international criminal scheme, she discovers that her unique skillset comes in pretty handy.

When two crooks bang on her front door and leave cryptic messages for her stepdad, Steven, Adriana begins to suspect that her stepdad is not who she thought he was. The burly men ask to talk to her real dad, who died under mysterious circumstances when Adriana was four, and mention something about “Comrade” paying a visit. Adriana can’t get any straight answers from her mom and Steven, but, apparently scared of Comrade, they drag Adriana off to Rome. Almost as soon as they arrive in Italy, Steven disappears, at the mercy of members of a Peruvian drug cartel. Adriana, who has access to a secret flash drive, is the only one who can find him. She can’t give up on her stepdad just when she’s finally getting to know him—and besides he has information about her real dad. Adriana’s hunt to save Steven leads her from Rome, Italy, to Basel, Switzerland. Her ingrained spy skills won’t help her figure out what she wants to be when she grows up, but they just might keep her alive and her family together.

“How to Catch a Spy,” a young adult spy thriller, is complete at 45,000 words. Your interest in X should draw you to this thrilling, fast-paced story.

I’m an editor and freelance writer. In 2007, I published an anthology of essays with [Small Press] titled [Title]. I have also contributed freelance articles for several publications, including The Boulder Weekly and The Westword, and I am a member of the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop.

Per your guidelines, I have included the first ten pages. Thank you in advance for considering my manuscript.


Right off of the bat, you tell me what your protagonist isn’t. I’d love to see this open up instead with some facts about who Ardriana IS, rather than what she’s not. Also, side note, if she’s never gotten above a C at her elite high school, how does she still manage to stay there? Is that an opportunity to tell your reader more about who she is?

The next paragraph is very action-heavy, and may be too confusing. How does Adriana know the two guys are crooks? Are they leaving messages for Steven, or asking for Adriana’s real dad? There’s also some very hard-to-follow pronouns going on — I had to read the sentence twice to figure out that it was Adriana’s mom and Steven that drag her off to Rome, not the two burly men. If Steven “disappears,” how does Adriana know he’s at the mercy of a Peruvian drug cartel? “Disapppearing” has a very different connotation than being kidnapped or captured. And is it Adriana’s possession of the secret flash drive that’s going to help her find Steven, or her so-called “ingrained spy skills”?

Basically, I don’t buy the premise as it’s presented to me, although I can see the real kernel of something interesting in a brawling, lying, loner who see what others don’t being good spy material — I just don’t accept that it’s a sort of “natural” skill set.

Oh, and a final nitpick — I wouldn’t suggest you describe your thriller as “thrilling.”

What do you guys think? Are you picturing a young Sydney Bristow, or is that just me?

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