Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 27, 2020

March Agent of the Month – Katie Grimm – First Page Results

KATIE GRIMM

Don Congdon Associates

Originally from Colorado, Katie earned her BA in History and Spanish Literature from Bowdoin College. She joined Don Congdon Associates in 2007 as the assistant for the agency, and she still works with many of the agency’s Estates in addition to her own list of novelists, essayists, academics, scientists, critics, and translators. Her clients have been awarded the Booker International Prize, the O. Henry Award, and the Pura Belpré Honor, and they have been long- and shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the National Book Award for Translated Literature, and New England Book Award, among others. Her clients’ books are frequently selected for the Junior Library Guild, Indie Next List, and yearly “Best of” lists. She currently splits her time between New York and North Carolina and is actively looking for new voices from the South while she’s there.

Here is Katie:

Most generally, I focus on adult literary fiction, narrative and creative non-fiction, and literary fiction for middle grade and young adult audiences. Across all genres and ages, I’ll always be interested in the darker and weirder side of the human condition as well as previously under- or misrepresented experiences and voices. I look for books with a heartbeat, and “tragicomic” is one of my favorite descriptors.

In adult fiction, I enjoy literary and up-market fiction and cohesive short story collections with a unique voice that evokes a strong emotion and necessitates a conversation—be it contemporary, historical, mysterious or speculative. I’m delighted when an unusual structure or form functions at a higher level.

In non-fiction, I’m also looking for distinct voice and new perspectives. I enjoy narratives that blend the personal and investigative, are nerdy deep-dives into a particular topic, and/or use individual stories as a lens to analyze a systemic problem or issue.

In children’s fiction, I love the idea of finding a new middle grade classic that I wished I had as a child to guide me through complicated feelings or take me to faraway lands. I’m also looking for contemporary and speculative young adult novels that use genre tropes and form to create an emotional space to work through issues in a new way. In MG and YA, I’m open to every genre—from magical realism to horror to high fantasy to sci-fi—as long as the focus is on the characters’ personal growth and relationships, with an emphasis on creating wonder and building empathy.

How to Submit to Katie at Don Congdon:

Submissions should be emailed to dca@doncongdon.com

Please include a first chapter or 15 pages with your query letter (if you have a prologue, you can include both, for alternating POV, please include a chapter from each) in the body of the email as we don’t open unsolicited attachments. I usually respond within eight weeks if I’m interested in seeing more, but please do follow up if there are any changes on your end. I do not accept paper queries.

Visit: www.doncongdon.com/submissions.shtml for more guideline details.

*******

BELOW ARE THE FOUR FIRST PAGES WITH KATIE’S COMMENTS:

 

IMPROVISANDO by Wendy Parciak – MG

Chapter 1. The Conquest

You have to attack that first note. The B. It tells your audience everything about what’s to come. Quasi improvisando, the music says. You need to put your life into it. You need to show that you can be wild, fanciful, dramatic, free. [Love the voice in these first lines, grabbing me right away with the direct address to reader. Also the punch of the next line nicely sets up the major tension.]

Basically, everything I’m not.

Mr. Loyola would announce the results any moment. …And first place in Gleam’s Champion Cellist Competition goes to Briar Palustra, he’d say. [Nit-picky, but not sure you need the ellipsis and “he’d say.” and consider not using italics here if you’ll also have italics for interior monologue.] I adjusted my tortoiseshell glasses so I didn’t have to look at the other finalists standing next to me in the wings. Especially Damian Silver. I could feel his dark glare from a meter away.

He knows you’re a fake. Heat spread across my cheeks to my ears. My hair usually covered them, but Mother insisted on pinning it up in some sort of lumpy braided thing. I adjusted the silvery feather earrings that my brother Brook made for me to wear for finals. [Really like how these visual details like the braid and earrings also reveal more about familial expectations/dynamics.]

“I’m supposed to win,” Damian hissed. “You haven’t even had your Career Commitment Recital yet. You’re not a real musician.” [I am feeling a little in the weeds about here, as I am not understanding how not having a “career commitment” recital makes her a fake. When she said “fake” I assumed it meant she was pretending to play type of “fake” not that she didn’t follow a (seemingly arbitrary if they easily changed the rules) progression. They’re in middle school after all, so also wondering a bit too much on “career commitment” bit—as in, if this is contemporary MG or if we’re in another world where kids choose their career when they’re 13? Just trying to guess from context clues, which is pulling me out of the page, but if I had the query, I probably wouldn’t get so stuck.]

“They changed the rules, remember?” Entirely for me—not a teenager for two more days—because Mr. Loyola thought I deserved it. If I won this contest, I’d become an official Champion as soon as I performed the customary thirteenth-birthday Commitment Recital. [Again, confused by this—she should have waited until she was 13 when she would do this special recital, and then she could be Champion? So why did Mr. Loyola give her the ability to skip forward if she weren’t very good (aka a fake)? What’s the advantage/disadvantage of skipping step? Does this mean Damian will never get to be a Champion?]

“Come on, Briar.” He gouged the backstage floor with the pointy tip of his cello’s endpin. “You could’ve waited.” [I got a little disoriented spatially, maybe because I was thinking of the wings as something different than backstage, you can tell I’m not a performer!]

SUMMARY OF KATIE’S THOUGHTS:

      I think this is a great opening, aside from perhaps either too much detail or not enough about the Champion and Commitment Recital, which as capitalized, make me wonder about this world we’re in a touch too much (though again, if I had the query, I’m sure it would make sense). I do think it’s worth either glossing over the details a little more to get us further into the scene before giving us everything about why skipping the recital is a big deal OR give us a bit more information. It’s hard to understand if this is a “big deal” (as Damian thinks) or not (as Mr. Loyola obviously could unilaterally change the rules) given the (lack of) context we have right now. I love the idea that she knows how she’s supposed to be a goof performer/champion but is instead a “fake” from the opening lines, but all the following details make me question her original assertion—not necessarily feel lied too, but distrustful of Briar. Is she exaggerating her “fake” status or has she just not properly explained her deception of Mr. Loyola? As a MG reader, I want to be on her side, and as presented, I am questioning her more than I should so consider continuing to tweak the context information. Otherwise, great use of voice and hooking the reader—thanks for sharing!

*******

 

Daily Bread by AT Martin  – Historial fiction – MG     

Chapter 1   Wait For Me!

“Wait for me!” shouted Lily.

Lily’s breath hung in the black cold. [“Black cold” is simple but evocative.] She slid down the stoop and caught the railing before she slipped off the bottom step. [A little confusing here—she slid down the steps of the stoop? I thought she was sliding down the stoop railing at first.] Her hand stung from grabbing the frozen metal. There was no time to race up four flights of stairs for mittens. Lily held her book and ran down Mott Street. [Where did the book come from? Hard to imagine it was in her hand during the sliding down the stairs moment, so maybe introduce it sooner then so we get a better sense of her juggling a few things and why sliding down the (snowy? icy?) stairs seemed like a good idea.] If she weren’t so mad at her sister, she would have feared the frozen darkness.  Margaret was not in sight. Lily’s coat flapped as she ran on the icy sidewalk.

A bundled form approached a dimming gaslight. [How was she not in sight and then ahead of her? Did Lily turn the corner shortly after running on the sidewalk? An easy add because otherwise, I got spatially confused. I appreciate the detail about the gaslight, I now know we are in the past.]

“Margaret, you have to stop!”

The figure turned. Margaret’s head, nose, and mouth were wrapped in her gray shawl. She wore the dark peacoat Papa brought home two nights ago. It had originally belonged to a smaller man. Although not meant for a girl, Margaret appreciated its thick warmth. [Watch for head-hopping—we seemed to be in a limited 3rd person from Lily, but now we know Margaret appreciated its warmth. Consider changing “appreciated” (since anyone would) to Margaret “needed” it to get across the same beggars can’t be choosers idea across. Or even consider cutting the line as probably not necessary anyway.] Everyone knew not to ask Papa why the small man no longer needed the coat. [Good.]

Lily slid to the lamppost and crashed into Margaret, her arms bracing for Margaret’s steadfast catch. [Good use of “steadfast,” already situating Margaret as trustworth even if she had left Lily behind—we now know that Margaret wasn’t running away from home, but Lily was the one late.]

“You have to wait for me, Margaret. Mama said—”

“I know what Mama said,” said Margaret. She tugged on Lily’s coat to close the buttons. “There’s a lot I have to do. Where is your hat?” [Nice job with this—I love how Margaret closing Lily’s coat immediately cements their relationship without having to tell us who is older/more responsible.]

“With my mittens,” said Lily.

“You make me crazy,” said Margaret. She sighed a long cold breath and added Lily’s book to the books under her arm. “Put your hands in your pockets.” [Also good, but now I’m orienting a bit more to Margaret’s perspective rather than Lily’s, and I’d like a touch more from the narrative voice to tip the balance toward Lily—could be acknowledging it wasn’t that cold or Margaret worried too much or it was more important to be not left behind than warm.]

SUMMARY OF KATIE’S THOUGHTS:

            I think this is a great opening to a MG historical—I know so much already from the dynamics between the sisters with just a few key word choices and descriptions. While MG novels often do open with more scene setting or descriptions to contextualize (at least, more often than YA), young readers will appreciate that the narrative voice isn’t talking down to them, as they’ll be able to pick up on these clues on their own. Watch though the (almost) wandering narrative voice. While there’s more 1st person MG in the market than before, 3rd still works—but I prefer limited rather than omniscient (or objective), as it more mimics 1st with the window into the protagonist’s emotional state with the (sometimes narratively helpful) mystery into what others are thinking. Maybe you’d want omniscient f you gave the narrator more personality—as in MG you can have a narrator that becomes a character figuratively or literally too (Lemony Snicket being a classic example), but not sure if that would fit with your tone or emotional goals here so I’d stick with close third on Lily to get the benefits of 1st person and 3rd in one. Otherwise, a promising start and thanks for sharing!

*******

 

I’m Counting on You by Patrick Thornton–  YA

He looks over at me and smiles. “We’re cool.”

Stan’s the best friend a girl ever had. [Because he didn’t take her honest reaction to his platitude personally? Not quite sure he’s doing enough here for me to get “best friend” status, maybe she says something harsher?] I get to my feet. “I gotta go.”

“Hope you make it to the bathroom,” Stan says with the hint of a grin. [The dialogue here–both internal “best friend a girl ever had” and in conversation “Hope you make it to the bathroom”—strikes me as more MG than YA.]

I roll my eyes and flap a hand at him as I open my front door. [Flap a hand? Stumbled over this image, might be unusual use of “flap” instead of “waved”?]  There is a second when I turn back and our eyes meet. “See you tomorrow,” I say. He nods and I go inside.

Upstairs, I sit on the edge of my bed trying not to think about tomorrow. The chart I made

matching up the two time zones—here in Virginia and in Afghanistan where Dad will be—is on the wall. I’ll use it to know what time it is for Dad when I’m getting up in the morning or having [Wouldn’t she just use world clock set to Afghanistan time zone on her phone? Another detail that strikes me as not as contemporary, at least that’s how I remind myself of friends/clients in other countries, and surely a teen who never lived in a time without smartphones would be even more dependent on technology like this? Maybe indicative of character, but just a thought.]

SUMMARY OF KATIE’S THOUGHTS:

There are definitely intriguing aspects of the friendship dynamic between Dilla and Stan, but in both the way they speak with each other and the (lack of) depth emotionally here (I know it’s because she’s avoiding her feelings, but what if she let them all out for a moment?), it strikes me as more MG in handling of issues and friendship than YA. I’d like to see more nuance or layers to Dilla’s emotional state—she is avoiding thinking about tomorrow, and we can assume she’s scared and perhaps angry, but I want to know more. Part of the reason it strikes me as MG is the thing they’re dreading is a little more off page/removed, and they’re talking about her dad leaving like it’s the first time, the first time too they’re considering something bad might actually happen—and this distance and “first time dealing with intense issue” aspect could create a safe space for a MG reader to experience it alongside the protagonist. Whereas in YA, the volume is often turned up a bit more, emotional reactions can be rawer, as readers want to delve deeper into intense feelings. Dilla would maybe lash out more to Stan’s empty re-assurance, or he might not even say it will “all be okay,” because he knows it might not. I’d consider maybe it’s not the first time her dad has gone overseas, so she’d have a more intimate relationship with these feelings. Maybe in the past “it will all be okay” or burying her feelings has worked, but now nothing is helping the fear she feels? Worth thinking on what sort of emotional snapshot will really resonate and intrigue the reader and perhaps some details of the plot can be tweaked to bring this out. Also too consider checking out some contemporary MG as maybe that’s a better space for the story, depending on major themes? Has the potential of an important story regardless, so good luck in nailing the right age of your audience and thanks for sharing your work!

*******

 

Book of Shadows by Doherty – YA

One

With everything my mum had told me about them, I’d half expected my aunts’ house to be perched atop a cliff overlooking the cruel sea. [I stumbled over this line a couple times—“I’d half expected” especially. I’d simplify regardless and consider a completely different first line to open with to grab the reader. Even something like, “I always imagined my aunts’ house to be a ramshackle one, perched atop a cliff overlooking a cruel sea” puts the image first.]

It did not. [Will also admit I don’t understand the meaning behind the differing expectations—why a “cruel sea” and why is the below so different? If Ivy was imagining something rundown, I’d emphasize that (I added “ramshackle”), and also add that the house is a “stately” mansion or something similar, as the description of the below could be of a rundown house too, I can’t tell what I’m supposed to glean from these specific details.]

Its large white façade was built from wooden slats, coloured glass windows jutted out sideways on slim metal hinges. Ornate wooden columns, like twisted legs of barley sugar, held up the verandah, while speckled ivy clung to every surface, climbing for the corrugated roof. The large angular door was painted a deep, iridescent blue, like the sheen of a beetle.

I arrived on their doorstep while the air was thick and warm, with a heady scent of crushed flowers and overripe mangoes. I wasn’t used to Queensland weather. I wasn’t used to the sweat dribbling down my temples without exhaustion.

I was holding tight to my excessively wheeled suitcase, wishing I’d left it behind like everything else. Who thought eight wheels was a good idea? It was constantly biting at my ankles or rolling away in whichever direction it chose, as though it too had wanted to remain in Melbourne. [Not sure if the suitcase is as indicative of state of mind as the protagonist is implying. Consider focusing on something else.]

The mosaic plaque to the left of the door read, Hecate. Odd name for a house. [Think the editorialization can be unsaid or further pointed. Odd name or odd to name any house?] All up along the arched doorway were symbols etched into the wood. At the base, by the mat made from crisscrossed twigs, were two large pots of flourishing marigolds.

The bronze doorbell was in the shape of a strange-looking man – his hair and beard were oak leaves, I could see pointed ears ever-so slightly protruding, and his mouth was twisted into a mischievous grin. The bell was an acorn. [Great—these particular details are much more interesting!]

The door opened before I could ring the elven-man.

‘Ivy!’ exclaimed the woman who’d thrown the door wide. [I’d like her to say more here that foreshadows their relationship and gives us more data about how they feel about Ivy (perhaps versus Ivy’s expectations or fears).] Maia was my Aunt Lucy’s wife. I’d never met her before, but mum had told me stories. [I think more could be done with mom, but so far, still not sure what mom has said (or if she’s credible), so this “mum had told me stories” is less ominous than it could be, especially since I didn’t get as much out of the “cruel sea” reference at opening.]

SUMMARY OF KATIE’S THOUGHTS:

By the end of the page, I’m so intrigued by these aunts and what seems to be a magical house (and in a fresh way too with references to Hecate, magical symbols and an elven man), but I was confused enough by the first couple paragraphs, that I’d fear readers would stop sooner (depending on the query, some agents only read the first few lines to confirm/challenge what they thought of the premise). Rather than focusing on expectations of the house vs. reality, as this mires us perhaps too much in scene setting and architectural description, I’d like to see more emotionality from the protagonist (dread, excitement, something more than annoyance about the many-wheeled bag). In YA, readers expect to be dropped right into the middle of the emotion (even if there isn’t intense action), whereas here, it feels like the protagonist is clearing her throat perhaps too much, almost avoiding telling us about herself. Perhaps that’s true to her character at the moment, but it doesn’t seize our attention—we need to see both Ivy’s state of mind and hear her unique voice, even when balancing world building (it might help to flip to a few openings of other contemporary fantasies to be reminded how much readers expect to be packed into the opening). I’d also try writing out a couple pages of her inner monologue of this moment without any context/scene setting and see what comes out of that. I’m sure she’d have a lot to say that you could weave in more here. Best of luck on this promising magical premise and thanks for sharing!

Katie, great job! I am sure your thoughts will help the four writers and the rest of us, too.  No doubt we’ll find things to correct in our own writing. Loved having you this month. 

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

 


Responses

  1. Thank you, Kathy, for orchestrating and coordinating First Pages. This was an enlightening and exciting opportunity.

    Like


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