Hi gang! Happy Agent Monday to you all. With Mother’s Day approaching this upcoming weekend (a big happy Mom’s Day to each of you!), I thought I’d pose this question to writers submitting to me: What do you have against moms? Or dads? You seem to have an obsession with killing them off. Poor mom and dad.
It’s one of those weird things I see in numerous queries every day – the protagonist is an orphan. The parents died in an accident (sometimes the protagonist feels at fault), or from an illness, or one died and the other had already left the family years before. So many orphans. We’re talking about middle grade and YA novel submissions here.
If it’s a contemporary novel, then this orphan has been shuffled off to live with a weird relative – an eccentric, usually. Perhaps they return to their mom’s home town to live with an estranged grandparent and begin to learn more and more about their mom’s past – full of surprises and secrets.
If the novel has any sort of fantastical element to it, the child – who lives with an eccentric relative now – discovers that mom didn’t just die from a disease, it was actually all a coverup for something bigger – an epic war is at hand and mom died fighting the good fight with whatever powers she had (magic, was a mythical being, could shoot lightning bolts out of her eyes – you get the idea). Said orphan learns that he or she has those powers too, was left some talisman that will help with the fight, must figure out what’s happened/will happen or the entire world will come to an end, or something along those lines. Cough cough, Harry Potter, cough, cough.
And sometimes, in the fantasy scenario, mom isn’t dead for good and the child’s actions can bring them back.
Now hold up. I can almost feel you folks ready to comment with a whole “It’s a fairy tale motif,” “It’s a classic fantasy trope,” “It’s a way for a child to embark on their own autonomous story,” “It’s how classic stories for kids have been shaped forever!”
I know, gang. I’ve read those stories. Studied ’em. Even took several courses on the fairy tale when I was at Penn.
But here’s the thing: how many orphans did you know growing up? How many do your kids know right now at this moment? Maybe it does tap into some dark fantasy in a resentful child’s mind or some “I’m on my own” desire ala My Side of the Mountain… But (and this is a big but, I can not lie!) it is done and done and done again and again.
Sometimes finding this all too familiar scenario makes me sigh aloud and I just can’t read yet another word. Do you think editors might feel that way too? Can you recast your novel to play out differently and thereby make it stand out in a fresh way?
And, couldn’t a parent, sometimes, be a part of the story? Part of the humor? Part of the heart? Part of the conflict (without it going straight to abuse, which I see a lot of as well)?
I’m just putting this out into the stratosphere, because it just might result in more realistic reads, even in the fantasy genre. And it just might make your story stand out.
So go honor your mother!
*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.