So I just hit SEND on my first query, and I sort of feel like throwing up. It’s just one of many, but in honor of this momentous (at least to me!) occasion, I’m going to post my query and first ten pages for all of you to see. Minus the pertinent info. I don’t need anyone from Australia calling me in the middle of the night! 🙂
Dear Ms. Dream Agent:
When I discovered you were (Amazing Author)’s agent, and (Another Amazing Author)’s as well, I knew you would be at the top of my list. I adore (Amazing Author)’s musical prose, and (Another Amazing Author)’s (Awesome Book) was a punch in the gut from which I have yet to recover.
I Have No Name (96,000 words) is a YA Post-Apocalyptic novel that fits somewhere between Mindy McGinnis’s stark, gritty Not a Drop to Drink and the commercial appeal of Demitria Lunetta’s In the After. It follows Nona, a girl emotionally crippled by loss, as she slowly realizes there’s more to life than just survival.
At sixteen, Nona’s best friends are a mannequin named Frank and a Ruger 9mm. Frank’s the strong, silent type, but the Ruger keeps wild animals at bay. After two years alone in a remote Michigan town, survival is all that matters.
When a band of plague survivors called the Community claims Nona’s deserted town, she and the Ruger tell the trespassers to get lost, but they don’t take the hint. Especially Joshua McKinnell, whose friendly banter isn’t silenced by the sight of her gun. Joshua’s grin and Nona’s need for human contact whittle her resistance, and before she knows it, Nona has a friend. The Ruger remains strapped to her leg—old habits die hard—but poor Frank’s abandoned to a crumbling dinner. He was never much of a conversationalist anyway.
Just as Nona accepts the Community, she’s captured by the American Brotherhood. They’re known for brainwashing child-soldiers and enslaving survivors, so Nona expects the worst, until Will Kennedy, a friend from her past, steps in to claim her. Technically, she’s a slave, but Will treats her like a guest. As Nona navigates the dangerous Brotherhood society, she discovers Will has been finding good homes for survivors and requesting kids be assigned to his unit, all to protect the innocent. Friends don’t hold friends hostage, but Nona can’t help liking Will, though she’s terrified of the rush she feels whenever he’s near.
Before Nona can decipher her heart, Will and the Brotherhood are ordered to lay siege to the Community’s stronghold. This is one situation the Ruger can’t help. Nona must convince both sides to back down before full-scale fighting breaks out. But if that fails, she’ll need all her survival skills to protect Will and Joshua, the friends she never meant to make.
Though this is my first query, I will be submitting to more agents in the near future. I have included the first ten pages below, per your guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration.
I HAVE NO NAME
I watch them stroll down Main Street through the scope of my rifle. Maybe men, maybe boys. Too hard to tell from here. There are two of them, and they wade through weeds and saplings clawing through the crumbling pavement, their boots crunching on broken bits of glass and brick and asphalt. A brown bottle passes between them, and they take long sips, laughing and talking, though they’re too far away to make out words.
With the sun at my back and hidden behind the metal sign above the diner, the barrel of my gun resting in the crook of the rusty “N”, I don’t think they’ll see me. Not unless they look hard, and they aren’t. Too interested in that bottle.
Sweat prickles my skin, and I quietly wipe slick palms one by one on my cargo pants. This stifling August heat doesn’t help, but that’s not why I’m flush and sweaty. Or why my heart beats like a trapped rabbit’s. I haven’t seen another living soul in two years, not since the Black Flu took the last ones. Part of me want’s to run down the street screaming for joy, but mostly I want them to go away.
Aching muscles protest my vigil and I take a quick glance at my watch. Inherited from Dad. Wide leather cuff with a big silver face inset with a moon and stars. Underneath my skin is white and pasty. And sweaty. I shift the band, itching the skin. I’ve been here awhile, arms supporting my rifle and legs cramped from sitting. Shifting my weight, broken glass from long-gone marquee lights grinds under me, so I stop. My heart stops too. I can’t be heard. Dad warned me about men, and what they’ll do to defenseless women.
Leaning back I give my eyes a break. They’re a few blocks away, moving closer. With a rush of breath I blow sandy hair from my clammy forehead. Just a habit. Not long enough to get in my eyes anymore. Shaved it off almost a year ago. Don’t know what came over me. Everything I guess. Believing you’re the last person alive can make you crazy.
I return to the scope, and to wondering why they’re here. Sand Beach is a tiny, derelict town with nothing but Lake Huron to the east and overgrown cornfields to the west. There’s a cache of supplies, but as fast as the plague took its toll, there are supplies everywhere. And they can’t be here for me, or they’d have gone to my farm.
Could be Gangs of Detroit, but I haven’t seen them in years. Probably died out like everyone else. Besides, they’re wearing military fatigues. And not the desert tans featured in old Newsweeks, but green camo. Assault rifles dangle from their shoulders, handguns strapped to their legs. U.S. Army? If they still exist. But now they’re closer, and I can see they’re just kids. No older than me, so sixteen maybe. One’s taller than the other, but both are slight. Camo shirts rolled up to the elbows hang loosely on boyish frames.
Drifters, then? Haven’t seen any of them in years either, but I guess that would be best. Take what they want and move on. But why would drifters have matching uniforms? No, they’re too organized. My grip tightens, breath trembling. Organized could mean civilization, but is that good or bad?
Dad’s voice whispers in my ear, “You can’t trust no one, Ladybug.” With a jolt, I find my finger curled around the trigger. Dad would want me to, but I can’t. Kill the first two people I’ve seen in years? Trembling nerves shiver across my body as I lay my finger along the stock of the gun, back where it belongs.
I’ve made up my mind to wait them out, when gravel crunches behind me. I whip around, but my barrel clatters against the metal “N”. It’s caught in the crook.
“Drop it and turn around,” a voice commands, quiet. Muscles tense, I set down the gun, rising to the balls of my feet with measured movements. When I turn to face him, I stay low. I’m not giving the two in the street an easy target.
Twenty feet away, a third man crouches on the flat roof, his rifle pointing at my chest. I blink at the sight of him. There’s something surreal about this one. Cold, calculating eyes in a face that’s . . . perfect. He’s a sun-kissed model in a teen magazine. The ones who advertise clothing, but wear very little.
Military fatigues, assault rifle, everything the same as the other two, but he’s not playing soldier. Though he’s older, I think the difference is those eyes. He looks like someone you shouldn’t mess with. And I let him sneak up on me.
“That one, too. And the knife.” He indicates my Ruger and knife with the tip of his rifle. I lay them both gently on the roof. Why is he so quiet? It’s obvious he’s with the two in the street.
I keep my eyes locked on his. Icy pools of Arctic blue. Concentrate. Don’t worry about his stupid eyes. There’s another knife strapped to my calf, hidden by my pant leg. Something else Dad taught me, but the guy will probably shoot me before I reach it. And he’s much bigger, so hand-to-hand fighting is out anyway.
But his heaviness might be useful. The roof of the diner is rotted in places. Most of the town is falling apart. Maneuver him toward a weak spot, the ones I’ve learned to avoid, and let gravity do the rest.
“I need you to listen,” he whispers, but I’m not. I’m planning. Mapping where I need to be, and where I need him to be. A voice in the back of my head says, Pay attention. But I don’t like being on this end of a gun.
Before he can say anything more, I run. He follows, his heavy boots pounding the roof. “Wait,” he stage-whispers, though being quiet now is pointless. With a loud crack, the roof gives out, and he disappears into the hole.
Skidding to a stop I think about going back for a gun, but there’s a gaping void between me and my rifle, and the man’s is nowhere in sight. From inside the hole an arm appears, clutching the edge of debris. He’s pulling himself back up. There’s no time. I have to get away. Find a new place to hide.
Shouting in the street reminds me there are two more to deal with. The rickety ladder on the side of the building is not an option. They’ll be there before I reach the ground. No, I knew my choices to begin with. I’m going to have to jump.
Backing up a few steps, I get a running start. I need speed as I head for the back of the dinner and the narrow alley separating me from escape. The alley is wider than I remember, but there’s no time for second thoughts. My foot hits the lip, I take a huge leap and sail through the air.
Feet slam into the roof across the alley, and a shock of elation runs through me, but it’s short lived. Falling forward I smash into the sloped roof. My breath escapes in a painful umph, and the world spins. It’s only when the rough shingles scrap my belly I realize I’m sliding. Hands scramble for a hold as rotting shingles slip through my fingers. When space opens beneath my feet, my heart drops into my stomach, and I slide over the edge. My fingers wrap around an exposed 2×4 at the last second, and I’m dangling, the ground a good ten feet away.
Gritting my teeth, muscles straining, I try to pull myself up, but it’s no use. My skinny arms don’t have the strength. Below, the two boys gape at me. Probably think I’m crazy. They motion for me to let go, but I shake my head even as my grip loosens. After a few more agonizing seconds, the blood pounding in my ears, my fingers slip, and I fall.
They catch me. Well, sort of. Arms around my waist and chest, sandwiched between them. But my foot hits the ground hard, twisting, pain stabbing through my shin. Their arms knock the wind from my lungs, but I’m focused on the throbbing, swelling ache spreading through my ankle. It’s a moment before I’m aware I’m leaning against the taller boy, unable to bear my own weight.
Tall Boy laughs, pulling me closer. My skin crawls at the contact. It’s alien and wrong, the scent of sweat, cigarettes and alcohol smothering me. The smaller boy clutches one of my arms, yanking it like a child fighting over a toy.
“Don’t worry, Scrub,” Tall Boy laughs. “She’s enough for both of us. Let’s get somewhere Will can’t find us.”
Dad’s warnings are a siren in my head, but I tamp down the hysteria. Keep them off guard, I think, leaning heavily against Tall Boy.
“Trent, I thought I heard Will up there.” Scrub is pointing at the diner, but Trent isn’t listening. With his arm around my waist, his hand rests on my stomach. When it slides to my chest, egg and biscuit from breakfast rise in my throat. I choke it back. But I keep hold of the anger that came with it. It’s time to make my move.
Trent doubles over with a hard knee to the groin. His red face makes no sign of breathing, and he’s clutching himself with both hands. Clenching my free hand into a fist, I drive it into Scrub’s face before he knows what’s happening. The crunch of cartilage vibrates through my hand and blood spews from his nose. He let’s go. I’m free. I turn and run.
I barely make it two hobbling steps before something slams into my head. Lights explode behind my eyelids, pulsing and throbbing, and my mouth fills with a metallic taste. Weightless and falling, I hit the pavement, crashing back to reality. Trent, his face an ugly mask of violence, kicks my chest and I curl into a protective ball.
“Frank,” I scream, “Frank, help!” A kick to the back stops my yelling, but it doesn’t matter. I cover my face with my hands. Frank can’t help me. There’s no one to help me. One sob escapes my throat, but I stifle the next. I won’t let them see me cry.
The blows continue, but now there are more. Scrub has joined Trent. Payment for his broken nose. Play dead. You can take it. Just survive.
“Stand down! Stand down!” A distant voice shouts the order, and feet hammer the pavement. It’s the man from the roof. There’s a reprieve, but I remain curled, waiting, not daring to move. After a few seconds and no more strikes, I hazard a peek through my fingers. Both boys stand rigid, staring into space. Trent’s face knots in pain while blood dribbles from Scrub’s nose and down his lips.
Kneeling beside me, the man asks, “Are you okay?” He lays a hand on my leg, but I jerk away. Pulling myself to a half-sitting/half-lying position, I scoot backward until I hit a building. Flaking paint crackles against my T-shirt, and I lean my head against the rough wooden boards. Tears streak my face, but I swipe them away.
The man sighs, his face dark. I glare back, but he isn’t angry at me.
“Will, we was only—” Trent begins, but Will cuts him off.
“Sir,” Trent says, resuming his rigid stance, ”we caught her when she jumped from the building. We offered assistance—” I snort in disbelief ”—but she attacked us. We were only trying to subdue her for questioning.”
Wiping a trickle of blood from my split lip, I gauge Will’s reaction. His eyes follow the motion, his jaw clenched in a hard line, but he only shakes his head.
When Will doesn’t say anything, Trent loses his stiff posture. “Girl as pretty as this, she’ll get bought by some Assembly member or something. Sucks wasting her on an old man.”
I don’t know what surprises me more: the idea I could be sold or the existence of more people. Where have they been all this time? Why have I been left alone? I search Will’s face for answers, hoping he’ll contradict Trent, but he’s unreadable.
“We still get our cut though, right?” Trent demands, but he’s a cowering dog when Will’s attention snaps back to him.
“Yes, you’ll get your percentage of the Sponsorship. Now stand watch while I talk to her.” Will indicates either direction of the narrow alley, and Trent and Scrub take up position.
When Will walks toward me, I tense. His blond hair curls around the edge of his hat, and his blue eyes are no longer cold. More like tropical waters on the postcard Aunt Jessie sent from her honeymoon. I remind myself he’s still the enemy. Saving me from these boys doesn’t change that.
“What’s your name?” he asks, flashing a dazzling smile as he crouches next to me. His tone is friendly, now that he’s not ordering his soldiers about.
My answer is caught in my throat. It’s not that I never speak. I do. But this conversation is real and the strangeness swallows my voice. “I have no name,” I finally croak with a scowl. I’m still a prisoner, and based on the previous conversation I’m not out of danger yet.
“You have to have a name,” Will says with another smile. “Everyone has a name.”
“I have no name,” I repeat, my voice clear and strong this time, but I break eye contact. I discarded that name, that person, years ago. Back when life discarded me. I’m nobody now. No name, no future, and no hope, just survival. But I fear those eyes can see inside my head. See things I don’t want to think about.