Basically this is me asking for help from you guys! I’m preparing to query agents even as I work on condensing ITSOL (target: 135~140k from 165k), and when querying agents, usually 5~10 sample pages are sent in.
I hope you guys can read over my query and my first 10 pages and give me some feedback on:
- Can you understand the query? Is it interesting?
- If you were browsing a book store and read these pages in a book, what would you think?
- These pages should draw a reader into the story. Is there a hook? If so, what grabbed you?
- And of course pointing out any typos or grammar mistakes would be very helpful!
You can comment or email me or DM me on bookstagram, whichever you like. I’d be really*1000 grateful to any bit of help you guys can give me!
Marla’s life on Earth is a lie. She was captured on a mission for Somret, hidden city and sanctuary against a power-hungry government. Forced into a mind prison, she lives a faux life on Earth while her body suffers experimentation on her home world Ilah. Rescued after a year, she returns to Somret. Accusations trail her: Spy. Traitor. Murderer. All because she is the sole survivor of that damning mission.
Marla doesn’t know where she belongs. Earth is fresh in her mind, whereas her memories of Ilah’s metal forests and lightning-fueled cities are gone. Worse, she discovers the mind prison woke in her the power to cross to other worlds and enter people’s minds. This makes her a weapon — someone to be feared and manipulated.
A botched supply run and a dying messenger lead Marla to the truth of that fateful mission a year ago. She no longer knows who the enemy is: the government that imprisoned her, the city that is home, or herself. Somret is her only sanctuary, but staying means risking her freedom, her friends, and her life.
IN THE SHADOW OF LIES is YA science fiction with elements of fantasy, told from multiple perspectives. Complete at 130,000 words, it has series potential and will appeal to fans of Rick Yancey’s THE 5TH WAVE and Victoria Aveyard’s RED QUEEN.
First 10 pages
Apart from three short months of winter, Taipei is perpetually, brutally hot. Pavement shimmering with heat waves, perspiration soaking your shirt after one minute in the sun, type of hot. Even after four years in this city, stepping out into the glare of a mid-June day after two hours in a blissfully cool movie theater is a special kind of torture.
Beside me, Jay squints in the bright light. “Mary, it’ll take us twenty minutes just to reach the station.”
Ximending. One of the most crowded areas in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. On a weekday, you can barely walk without rubbing shoulders with strangers. On a Saturday…
“Come on. You’ll be late.” I step into the crowd, beginning the dance of dodging and ducking and sidestepping I have yet to perfect.
“I really hate those salespeople,” Jay mutters, following me.
Aside from the shoppers and movie-goers milling around, salespeople choke the narrow streets of Ximending, always ready to pounce. ‘Uniquely-designed pens’ pressed into your hands. Fliers trailing you even though you’ve already said you don’t need a foreign caregiver. Beauty products, shampoo gel packets, lesson discounts, and even the odd squirrel thrust into your hands.
I grab Jay’s arm to keep from being separated. “No. I don’t want to try your leg razors now,” I scowl at an aggressively cheery salesperson, too aggravated to fake politeness.
Before we can escape into the safety of the metro station, a hand grabs my elbow. It’s a man, stuffed into a crisp suit he must be sweating hellishly under. My frown turns into a grin at the sight of his perfectly gelled hair. Salesperson though he must be, that alone might make him a soul mate for Jay.
“Ni hao. Hi!” He pulls out a business card. “You have potential we’re looking for; I was wondering if you would consider working with us, Miss…?”
His question hangs in the air until Jay snatches up the card. “Holistic Photography?” Jay says incredulously. “You want her to be a…model?” He lets out a sound between a cough and a donkey bray.
“Your friend has a very unique style—”
I suppress an eye roll. I’d wager he’s used that line fifty times today. “Sorry, but I’m not interested.”
Jay sniggers once we’re inside the metro station. “Ooh, someone’s got a very unique style—”
“Even if he weren’t randomly asking every girl on the street, it’s just the hair.” It really is. My white-blonde, almost silver in the sun hair is nothing special. Well, it’s rare here, but it’s just…hair. Most of the time, it’s bedhead hair.
Jay snorts and runs a hand through his own stiffly gelled hair. “Nonsense. If we’re talking about hair, mine’s definitely better.”
Just to annoy him, I reach out a hand to crush his precious hair. “Hey! That’s fifteen minutes of work you’re ruining,” he pouts, ducking.
That’s Jay. Vain in a way that straddles truth and pretend, but still annoyingly good-looking—his sharp features[ Perhaps insert an adjective here? (delicate features? striking features? unusual features?)] a mix of Asian and Caucasian, his skin a light tan, his hair raven-black.
In retaliation, Jay jabs a thumb at one of my eyebrows.
“Stop it! I don’t have a brow liner with me — stop it.” I swat his hand away.
“It’s unrealistic. They’re much too dark to go with your hair.”
“The hell you know about eyebrows, Jacob.” I scowl, flipping him the finger when he tries again.
Thankfully, the metro arrives and the press of the crowd stops our bickering. Jay starts patting his pockets instead. “Damn, I forgot to bring my resume,” he murmurs, earning pointed glares from the people he jostles with his elbows.
“You’ve been to five interviews already. How could you forget?”
“How could you forget?” he mimics. “My father’s asks me that at least once a day. Let’s just agree I have a terrible memory and move on.”
After high school, Jay’s family moved back to Taiwan for his father’s business. Well, his mother moved back to Taiwan. Their return was the first time Jay had ever set foot on the island. Despite Jay’s frequent requests to move out during four years of university, he’s still living with his parents. “What can I say? My mother’s traditional and doesn’t want me to move out until I’m married.”
Pathetically for eighteen-year-old me, I followed him here. Across the freaking Pacific. Despite his overly-gelled hair, how he’s late all the time, and his abysmal memory, he’s my best friend. My only friend. Though if he tries to wipe off my eyebrows again, I’ll have to reconsider that statement.
Back in high school, I lived five hundred miles from my parents and barely spoke to my roommate. People don’t tend to take notice of me. I fade into the background, my name forgotten and asked for again and again. Only Jay has been around for me since high school. That’s why I’m here.
Jay continues, attracting attention simply because he’s speaking English, “How much are you willing to bet this interview’s going to be a flop?”
“Since you forgot your resume… The more meaningful question would be how badly you’ll fail.”
He shoots me a scowl. “Like you’re having better luck.”
Unfortunately, I can’t refute this point. I have a diploma in biology, a resume back in my dorm, and no idea what I want in life. Sometimes I feel ungrounded, as if I’m a passerby to this world, observing a film of someone else’s life.
Occasionally in my dreams, I’m someone else. Someone who can run without clutching at a stitch, who has more of a purpose than to just…exist. Some dreams are ridiculous, the kind you know aren’t true even while you’re in them. But some make me believe. And when I wake up, it rips me apart to realize it wasn’t real.
The metro comes to a lurching halt, and Jay staggers into the wall of passengers. “Oops—sorry—it’s my stop—” He fumbles in his pockets for his metro card. None of the other passengers are too aggravated. They’re used to being stuffed into buses and metros like sardines.
“Remember! Dinner at six!” I call to his back. “If you’re late again, I’ll shave you bald!”
The smell of barbecued meat and spicy kimchi wafts out of the restaurant and my stomach growls in desperation. I check my phone again. Five past six.
I call Jay. Usually I wait ten minutes, since his arriving anytime before that is a small miracle, but today I’m too hungry to wait. I’m not sure why but, as I listen to his phone ringing, the scent of food makes me slightly nauseated. Which is ridiculous, because usually just smelling Korean food sets me on a rabid hunt to find it.
“Come on, Jay,” I growl at his annoying ringtone for the thousandth time.
When he doesn’t pick up, I stuff my phone in my pocket and start mentally designing the pattern I’m going to shave the stubble of his hair into. My stomach curls and clenches, so empty I’m beginning to lose my appetite—I’m also dizzy, my vision blurring slightly. God, I didn’t know having low blood sugar could do this.
Finally my phone rings and I reach for it with a hand that’s surprisingly numb. My fingers fumble. My phone clatters to the ground. I have only a moment to panic before the entire world tilts and the ground falls away.
My mind swirls, my vision a whirl of blue and yellow. Everything around me feels… vast. Not empty, but full of endless possibility. Instead of darkness, white mist engulfs me, swallowing me completely.
Just before the mist covers my eyes, the world steadies and I see a tiny island with pale, sandy shores and a cloudless sky. There’s a strange sense of familiarity but, at the same time, my mind is completely blank.
Something happened to me, something terrible. But I don’t even know who I am.
I’m being squeezed from all sides, my head trapped in a vice, my arms bound and prickling, tingles of fear running up and down my skin. I feel slow, lethargic.
I feel drugged.
Sound rushes into my ears as if someone suddenly turned up the volume. I hear my breathing, incongruously slow and steady. I hear a gentle scritch-scratching around me, like the sound of wires rubbing against each other. I also hear murmuring. People.
Whether this is a dream or a hallucination or the work of my fevered mind, I know one thing for sure: I need to escape the box I’m in. I need to be free of this suffocating darkness. I writhe, jerking at the straps tying me down, a keening howl of desperation clawing up my throat.
The murmurs die down. Please let me out, I think, not knowing who I’m begging. They start again, but I only understand one sentence. “More sedation. Knock her out.”
Ren took a running leap, arcing through the night, and landed waist-deep in the river.
For a moment, he considered letting the thrashing current drag him under; perhaps the water could drain the despair, the memories, and the nightmares out of him. Out of his lungs, out of his heart, until—
“We’re closing the gates! Hurry up!”
Ren looked up at the water gates, snatched back from his morbid thoughts. As he splashed his way up the ramp, the numbing chill of the river was almost welcome. The water gates rumbled shut behind him, sealing Somret off from the rest of Ilah once more. After days hiding on a barge, the tunnels of the hidden city, gritty as they were with dirt, were welcome.
His roommate looked up from his novel when Ren slouched into their shared room, and his blue eyes narrowed with worry. Thankfully, he didn’t comment on how Ren was trailing in river water or ask why his friend had obviously fumbled an easy barge jump.
Ignoring Jastin’s frown, Ren began rummaging in his closet. Disappointingly, all his clothes were dirty. But dirty was better than soaking wet, so Ren shucked off his sodden clothes and kicked them into his corner. He took more care with his halfsword, drying the blade with a rag. The vambrace took more time, with all its grooves and crevices.
Jastin waited for Ren to wrap his weapons up in cloth before asking, “How was the mission?”
Ren shrugged, and collapsed onto his bed. “Standard. Collect the runners, deliver ‘em, get out.”
Jastin quirked up an eyebrow. Really? He glanced pointedly at Ren’s left arm.
“Just a scratch.” Ren showed Jastin the inside of his forearm. “Nothing escapes you, huh?”
“You were favoring that hand,” Jastin replied vaguely, turning his gaze back to his novel though, knowing Jastin, it could also have been a manual of military tactics.
“Probably could use stitches, but it’s too late for that,” Ren mused. “Anything fun happen while I was gone, hmm?” He did his best to grin.
Jastin flicked his eyes up to meet Ren’s, the twitching of his eyelids a sure sign of guilt.
“You don’t have to lie; I’m single, not naive. You might as well admit Karin’s been sleeping here.” Once the words escaped, Ren flinched. He always let his mouth run away with him. Karin’s been sleeping here because she still hasn’t gotten a new roommate since Marla. To cover up his pain, he grinned even wider. “Did you have fun?”
Finally, Jastin cracked a pleased smile. Ren reached over and punched him in the arm. “I hope you didn’t use my bed. That’s crossing the line, man.” Jastin’s smile widened and Ren groaned. “Jastin—”
A knock had Ren rolling into an upright position, but Jastin got to the door first and opened it to reveal Temmol, with his fist frozen in midair.
Temmol looked more agitated than usual, his fingers shaking as he tucked away an escaped strand of hair from the tie at the nape of his neck. Ren gave a sarcastic salute. “Hey, Tem. O great Councillor.”
Temmol grimaced, twisting his hands together.
“Is it…” Jastin shuffled his feet.
Ren narrowed his eyes. “What happened?”
“Classified,” Jastin murmured.
Ren was sick of that word. After a year of hearing it, it had crossed annoying and entered enraging.
Temmol cleared his throat. “You’re being summoned.” Ren’s heart gave a great leap. “The Council will… tell you more later.”
“Now?” Ren asked, already scrambling for a clean pair of socks. He failed. To make matters worse, he only had one pair of boots, freshly soaked in mud and river water.
Resignedly, Ren forced his feet into his wet shoes, and, squelching, followed Temmol down the corridor.
“What’s this all about, Temmol?” Ren’s heart beat a staccato rhythm of hope and fear as he waited for the young Councillor’s answer. When the words he’d waited a year to hear were spoken, even his heart seemed to stop and listen.
“They’ve found Marla.”
Ren was on the construction site of the new wing of the Perrans Research Institute, a week and four hours after leaving Somret. Still a mess of metal, the security was close to nonexistent. It’d been easy to scramble up the half-completed structure, avoiding the workers wending their way down after a long day.
When he reached the same height as the security room of the main building, Ren transformed a hanging crossbeam into a ram, using cables and pulleys scrounged from the site. Hopefully it’d work, otherwise Ren would be left staring at a fortium-enforced window.
As midnight approached, Ren put on a very tight harness and shimmied across a beam connecting the two buildings, all the while gripping the cable tethering the ram in place. He hung there, a little away from the security room. Hopefully, he was far away enough that, to the two guards inside, he’d look like another black shadow.
Karin should have made contact by now, but all Ren could hear from his transmitter was static. Ren prodded his earbud, gritting his teeth in annoyance that Karin and Jastin were late, doing the Legends knew what.
His fingers tapped frenetically against his harness, and he cursed the damn thing for being so tight that his entire lower body was numb. The screeching wind didn’t help—his very bones were frigid. He needed to move, to run, to fight. He didn’t need to hang there like an idiot while somewhere inside that building…
His throat tightened and he tried to ignore the whispering doubts in his mind. She might be dead. She might not be here. She might—
Ren decided to try transmitting again. Maybe he just wasn’t using it correctly. There weren’t any of these in Somret, and his attention had wandered off when Karin began gushing about the thing was cool new tech with awesome coding and…blah blah blah.
He did remember her saying that when the alarms were down there’d be a short burst of electricity running along the edges of the windows. That meant he could break in. Any time before and the alarms would bring the whole security force of Perrans.
“Legends’ teeth, what are you two doing? Do not tell me you’re kissing,” Ren hissed into the transmitter, which was beeping at him mockingly.
A long moment of crackling static, then Jastin’s deep, irritated voice answered, “Wait.”
“Wait? I’ve done nothing but wait for more than—” But Karin, sneaky little techie, muted his line and began talking in her usual rapid-fire way.
“I’ve broken into the alarm system, but it can only be turned off for an hour. Also, I can only get to the automatic alarms. Every guard in Perrans will still rush here if a manual alarm—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ren muttered under his breath. “We’ve been over this at least five times. Blast the window, knock the guards out before they set off the alarm. Yada yada yada.”
“We’ve been waiting for the last rotation shift.” Karin continued. Ren peered in the window and sure enough, the door opened and two men came in. “Get ready… twenty, nineteen, eighteen…”
Ren yanked out his earbud, letting it swing around his neck as he loosened the metal cable. The two guards on the previous shift left, yawning and stretching. As he finished untying the knot, white lines of electricity raced around every window in the building. Just a brief flash, not enough to draw the guards’ attentions.
Ren waited two seconds, then released the metal cable clenched in his hand. The crossbeam crashed right through the reinforced window, swinging into the two guards. Ren punched the air, crowing at his ingenuity—“Ye-ahhhh!”—he swung in the ruined window and landed with a heavy thud.
Within minutes the guards were out cold, trussed up with their own bootlaces and stuffed under desks. As Ren straightened, he realized his harness was still on. “Stupid. Tight. Ugly. Harness.” He cut a strap with every word and let out a small sigh of relief as the mutilated fabric fell to the ground. Then, he stuffed his earbud back in.
“What in Yaseth’s underpants are you doing, Renyll?”
Ren whistled under his breath. Karin must really be pissed if she was taking Yaseth’s name in vain.
“If you don’t answer right now—”
“Chill, okay? The guards are out. I’m going.”
“You can’t disconnect her without me. Wait for us.”
“No, I’m going now. I’ll help you guys get rid of the guards on the way.”
Silence. Then Karin sighed, “Go. Remember to open the North Gate for us.”
Ren looked wildly around for the correct screen. “There are four guards inside. Jas, it’s your time to shine.”
Jastin grumbled over the transmitter as Ren punched the green button below the screen and spun for the door, once again pulling out his earbud. There was an annoyed buzzing. “Did you pull it out again?”
He ignored Karin and began running, as if his speed could make any difference to the odds of his best friend still being alive.
An obnoxious ringing screeches in my brain, shrill and insistent and demanding. It comes to a crashing halt when I knock the alarm clock onto the floor.
I’m stumbling to the bathroom before I realize something’s wrong. My room is unchanged: clothes folded at the foot of the bed; my computer humming to itself; the white-tiled floor; shelves messy with novels. The small, cramped dorm room is as it’s always been.
Why am I here? I fainted in front of the restaurant. Now I’m barefoot in my bathroom. It’s morning, watery sunlight slanting through the small window. Morning. Not night.
How the hell did I get here? What happened to the rest of yesterday?
I remember the movie—I wince at how terrible an adaptation it was. I remember coming back here to trawl through my career options for the hundredth time.
What happened after that? My mind moves sluggishly, turning the question over and over. Ah, the restaurant. I must have passed out just as Jay called me. He must have brought me back here. But when I find my phone it has dozens of unanswered calls, all from Jay. From last evening until two minutes ago.
It rings again, and Jay’s picture lights up the screen. My fingers shake so much I drop the phone twice before managing to hit accept. “Hi?” I sink onto the bed, knees too weak to keep me standing.
“Mary!” he drags out my name in a shout. “Finally! Where were you last night? At first I figured you’d forgotten, but that’s what I do. You have no idea how many places I went looking for you. I even went to that fish n’ chips place—the owner’s apron is crazy, man—”
“Um… I was just really tired,” I lie, unable to confront the strangeness of this whole situation. “Came home and basically blacked out.”
“Don’t do that again. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
I nearly gave me a heart attack. “I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted. Want to grab waffles before that biotech interview?”
“Um…” My mind is searching for a logical explanation, but it’s coming up blank. Either I fainted and someone else brought me home, which is creepy, or I never went to the restaurant and it was all a hallucination, which is crazy, or I was possessed and that resulted in time-loss, which is creepy and crazy and Jay’s still rambling about the goddamn waffles. “Sure, whatever. Hey, did I call you yesterday?”
Jay laughs. “You call me every day. Now, about those waffles—”
“No, I mean—” I begin to protest, but decide better. “Okay, fine. Give me twenty minutes.”
“See ya.” The line goes quiet, leaving me staring at my phone. Don’t freak out. You’re just confused. Some waffles and you’ll be normal again.