Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 3, 2021

November Agent of the Month – Claire Anderson-Wheeler – First Page Results

November’s Agent of the Month

Claire Anderson-Wheeler at Regal Hoffmann & Associates

Claire Anderson-Wheeler started her career at the Christine Green Authors’ Agency in London in 2008, before crossing the pond to New York. She has been at Regal Hoffmann & Associates (RHA) since 2013. Claire has a Law degree from Trinity College, Dublin, and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, UK. Claire is Irish, was born in DC, and grew up in Dublin, Geneva, and Brussels.

She’s currently seeking MG and YA fiction, be it fantasy, historical, contemporary, or a mash-up – so long as it is challenging, emotionally sophisticated, and sincere. #OwnVoices manuscripts by BIPOC writers are particularly welcome.

Claire loves a story arc, no matter the genre. In terms of the fiction side, there is little she would reject out of hand, but there are certainly some genres she is less likely to go for. Example: Horror has never been her thing; nor has romance. 

She likes some fantasy, and some sci-fi. As with any other genre, though, the story has to feel original.  She, also likes books where there’s a little bit of fatalism, and some really interesting characters. 

She is seeking: YA or MG with a strong voice (realistic or high-concept).

FICTION GENRES

Middle Grade
Young Adult

SPECIAL INTERESTS

  • Enjoys historical and crime elements in YA
  • Likes alt-historical fantasy and smart mash-ups

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HERE ARE THE FOUR FIRST PASGE RESULTS:

JACK THE DRAGON by Eric Haan – Middle Grade – Fantasy

Jake Bruggman squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his temples with his middle fingers. He had not slept well. He thought he might have had a bad dream. He was running. No, not just running. He was being chased. And whoever was chasing him had just about caught him when his alarm went off and he woke up.

And the weirdest thing had happened when he had opened his eyes. He’d looked at his hands as he always did and there was dirt under his fingernails. Not just a little, either. Dirt so dark it was almost black, jammed under every single nail. He had spent fifteen minutes scrubbing them under hot water and then filing them smooth again. And that had messed up his whole morning routine. And now he had a math test, first period.

At least his hands were clean.

He took out a crisp new sheet of college-ruled notebook paper from behind the “paper” tab in his school binder and wrote his name neatly in the top right corner, setting it to the side of his math test. This would be scratch paper. It was important to keep the test neat and uncluttered.

He started solving problems, working calculations, showing his answers with meticulous, tiny handwriting on his paper. Mrs. Muller strolled around the room, observing the students’ progress, resting a reassuring hand on the shoulders of a few nervous-looking kids. Her feet made almost no sound. She stopped near his desk, and he heard her voice a surprised “Hm!”  He looked up to find her eyes on him, her brow slightly creased.

“That’s a little disturbing, Jake,” she said.

Jake felt his face get hot and he knew his ears were going to turn red.

“What is, Mrs. Muller?” he asked.

She gestured at his paper. “I’ve never seen a student draw something so… sinister,” she said. “And we’re almost out of time and you’ve only completed half of the problems.”

HERE IS CLAIRE:

Jake the Dragon Talker
The writing rhythm feels easy, flowing, and natural, and the vocabulary and sentence structure feels very appropriate to this close-third person, middle grade voice. Moreover, Jake is already an appealing character in this first page–in small ways, like showing him neatly and carefully attempting his schoolwork, and how carefully he scrubs his nails, there is a sense of vulnerability and earnest effort conveyed. I appreciate this natural and economical way of bringing character to life through action.

From my experience with the slush pile, though, opening paragraphs in which a character wakes from a dream which is clearly more than a dream, are becoming quite a common trope these days. Of course that doesn’t mean that you can’t use it!–but it can make it harder for originality to shine through. Since by the end of that paragraph we’ve moved to Jake sitting in the classroom anyway, I would suggest possibly opening into that scene instead, and really leaning in to evoking the sights and sounds of first period and going from there. (You can always reference the strange dream later–we don’t have to experience everything chronologically just because the character does.) While no writer needs to stay away from something because ‘it’s been done before’, I would also suggest really showcasing a story’s individuality and distinctiveness especially on that important opening page.

*******

FLEA by Kim Hart – Middle Grade Historical Fantasy

ONE – The Box

Montgomery Home for Orphan Boys – London November 1888

There was a room behind Director Farthing’s desk that he only opened when a boy left the orphanage. And the only way a boy left was by adoption, or on their fourteenth birthday. Then, they were expelled into the bustling, sooty London streets with only the clothes on their back and their box from the room.

The streets tonight were empty; no vendors hawking their wares, no horses clip-clopping along the cobblestones as they pulled omnibuses. It seemed everyone in the city was asleep—everyone except Flea.

By the soft glow of a gas lamp, he jiggled a hairpin in the lock of the Director’s office and heard the telltale click of success. Flea had learned a lot of things, including lock-picking, from boys who had lived on the streets long before they came to the orphanage. Flea inched the heavy door open.

Crawling through the Director’s office with only the light of a full moon seeping through the window to guide him was either the bravest thing he’d ever done in his twelve years or the most stupid. If he stopped to think what would happen if he was caught, he would probably turn around and sprint straight back to bed. In a year and six months, he’d be receiving the box anyway, so it was pointless to come here tonight. But an itch in the back of his brain was compelling him to get his possessions out of his box. NOW!

The door to the box room wasn’t locked. Flea pulled a candle stub and match from his pocket, pleased with himself for planning ahead. Placing the candle on the nearest shelf, he lit it and gazed at the sight before him.

HERE IS CLAIRE:

Flea
This is a great first sentence and the opening page flows very smoothly and enjoyably from there. The time/place indicator is helpful, but even without it the text does great work conjuring a sense of place and mood immediately–even a glancing reference to this person called Director Farthing gives us a very Vicotiran, Charles Dickens/Oliver Twist feel. I liked how the second paragraph economically painted a dual portrait for the reader: what the everyday world here is like, and the ways in which it’s different tonight, which really sets the tone up well and gives a pleasing little drumroll feel for the reader, as we know we’re at a jumping-off point for something strange to happen. I also liked how we learned about the protagonist fully through his actions–we did not need to be told that he was an intrepid, impatient, brave, curious child. All of this is conveyed through his choices and actions alone.

Just a couple of small things I would note. I had to re-read the first paragraph because the second sentence–about what happens when the boys leave the orphanage–had pointed me in a sort of different direction. I would suggest cutting that sentence. It’s interesting information but a bit of a side-note, and given the momentum with which a reader moves through the first paragraph, it’s extra important to have everything in there line up to push the reader’s thoughts in one single direction, quickly anchoring them, and then once they’re anchored is a great time for interesting little digressions and asides. Secondly, motivation is a big key to strong storytelling, and I wondered if “an itch in the back of [Foley’s] brain” could be strengthened a bit, so that we have a better reason for why he is compelled to do this tonight of all nights–might some change have happened earlier today that prompted it?

*******

HERE AND NOW by Cathy McKelway – YA  Speculative

CHAPTER ONE – MINA – September, Monday –

Time gave up on this high school, which is what I like most. It’s beat up. Left behind. Scuffed up but still useful. The teachers know everyone’s name and they know their grandparents’ names and their aunts’ and uncles’ names. In Appleton, Vermont everyone knows everyone. Not that anyone knows me, which is my other favorite thing. It’s easy to like people if you don’t know too much about them.

In this town the air is always just the right amount of perfect. Dust doesn’t fill my nose or coat my boots. Empty chip bags, blown across used car lots by factory fumes, don’t get in my way. I don’t have to wonder where bus fare is coming from; there’s no busses in a town this small. Walking is free.

I pull the wooden doors of the school open and go inside. There’s a crowd and I recognize the configuration – the high school version of gladiator. Someone’s going to fight someone and everyone else is going to watch. This is the first time Appleton has disappointed me in this particular way.

I’m short, so I weasel myself to the front of the crowd and sure enough, some huge guy is glowering at a pale skinny boy who’s trying not to snivel though he’s got plenty to cry about. His hair is all chopped up shaggy on one side of his head and shaved clean on the other. It’s a statement, but it’s not working for him the way he’d hoped. He can’t help himself; He sniffles back a tear which is exactly what the bully wants. Never give a bully what he wants. Who does that?

I step into the center of the crowd and stick my hand out to the hulking guy. “I’m Mina,” I say by way of introduction. I haven’t met this particular bully.

HERE IS CLAIRE:

Here and Now

The voice, sentence rhythm and prose all felt very natural here and I could feel a character starting to take shape. It felt like a convincing first person and there was a sense of immediacy in how the voice is ‘confiding in’ the reader which is well evoked. Here we learn a lot about the character, not just through their actions, but through what they like and dislike. Hearing them describe the town they live in does the double job of setting a scene, and also gives clues about their character through their subjectivity.

While I really like some of the more abstract ways the character talks about their home, I would suggest maybe in the first line or two, doing a bit more to ground us in a concrete world so we can establish some basics right off the bat. The current opening lines are interesting but they are kind of happening in a vacuum before we know where we are. (When I first read “time gave up on this place,” I didn’t know if we were in a dystopian universe where that was meant literally, or a more contemporary setting–inner-city, suburban, rural…). But as soon as I read “Appleton, Vermont” I immediately had context and a visual snapped into place. I think the line “in Appleton, Vermont everyone knows everyone” might actually be a better opening line because it immediately does a lot of work situating us in a visual way. I would say never underestimate the scene-setting power of the opening couple of paragraphs.

*******

The Elephant in the Room by Judy Young – Middle Grade Contemporary Fiction

When Josie stepped out of Aunt Una’s car on a Friday afternoon in the middle of August, the first thing she noticed was the noise. A small, black and white dog yipped incessantly from behind a picket fence that surrounded the house. A large, yellow dog let out low, rhythmical barks but didn’t move from its position on the front porch. Outside the fence, a white cat darted out from under a bush at the corner of the detached garage. It raced past Josie, leapt over the fence, ran across the yard, and then jumped again, landing on the porch railing. Another cat—this one an orange and white tiger-striped cat with only three legs—meowed loudly as it hobbled across the drive and made figure eights around Josie’s ankles.

“Quiet down!” Aunt Una hollered at the small, yippy dog as she pulled a grocery bag from the backseat, then headed to the gate by the driveway. The dog paid no attention to the command. “Jip! I said hush!”

At Aunt Una’s second command, Jip quieted, but as Josie started to follow her aunt through the gate, a big, gray goose filled the void, honking raucously as it scuttled across the yard flapping one wing. The other wing hung limply to its side, dragging through the grass as the goose headed intently toward Josie. Defensively, Josie jumped back and slammed the gate shut, blocking the goose’s assault.

“Oh, don’t worry about her. All you have to do is wave your arms and she’ll back off,” Aunt Una stated. The old woman with frizzy, gray hair fluttered her hands at the bird, saying, “Shoo, Mother, shoo.”

The goose continued honking but waddled off to the shade of a tree in the far corner of the yard. Keeping her eye on both Mother and Jip, Josie tentatively opened the gate. Jip started yapping again as the twelve-year-old girl with long, dark hair and deep brown eyes followed the elderly woman up the sidewalk that curved to the porch. As they climbed the porch steps, the

HERE IS CLAIRE:

The Elephant in the Room
The first line here is quite arresting and the sense of cacophony and busyness in the scene is strongly, colourfully conveyed. It definitely feels like things are a bit chaotic and we start to get the sense that Aunt Una might be something of an eccentric and that some challenging farm-world experiences might be in store for Josie!

I did wonder if it might serve the narrative even better to trim down the descriptions a bit, so as to focus more on Josie herself. I can appreciate that the text wants to convey to the reader all the visual and sound detail that Josie is getting so we experience that same kind of assault on the senses. But it’s not the noisy animals in and of themselves that are of chief interest to the story–it’s what they mean to Josie in this moment. While any perspective choice is a valid authorial choice, I would suggest perhaps experimenting with a closer third-person approach here (rather than observing Josie from a distance, as we seem to be now) to see if that can bring us into closer connection with our protagonist in these opening paragraphs. Just dropping an enigmatic reference or two in the right places could also make the reader start to ask the right questions–perhaps, where are Josie’s parents; why is she here; or, how long is this trip going to be? It’s always helpful if you can inspire readers’ curiosity about how and why we got here, as well as what the future holds.

*******

Claire, thank you for sharing your time and expertise with everyone. Writers can lean so much from these first pages. Keep in ouch and enjoy your holidays.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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