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Wednesday, 13 June 2012  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Genre: Upper YA historical fiction, Bildungsroman

Word count: 120,000
Dear [Agent],
I noticed you’re interested in historical fiction, and hope you will consider And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, an upper YA historical Bildungsroman set in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies between 1940-46.
Fourteen-year-old Jakob DeJonghe can think of nothing but revenge when the Nazis coerce his father into suicide and his little sister mysteriously disappears the day before Yom Kippur 1940.  As the situation in occupied Amsterdam worsens, he becomes ever more determined to do something, anything, to fight back and be the master of his own destiny, just as his heroes the Maccabees did in ancient times.
In November 1942, he feels his chance has finally come.  Knowing it’s now or never, Jakob jumps from a death train and severely breaks his foot.  As he’s trying to run to safety, he’s found by four young resistance fighters and taken to a safe house to recover.  Even though Jakob has been left with a permanent limp, he’s still determined to defend his country and track down the men who killed his father.  The only person he has left to live for is himself, and the wall around his heart grows even thicker.
His dream comes true when he joins the resistance and later is recruited into the Princess Irene Brigade of the Dutch Free Forces.  But he can’t stop thinking about Rachel Roggenfelder, a beautiful, spirited young woman he ran into on one of his missions, and he starts to feel the slow reawakening of emotions he thought he’d buried when he went on his quest for revenge.  Jakob is even more surprised when they cross paths again a year and a half later.  But will the new love in his heart be enough to sustain him during a tour of duty in the Dutch East Indies and life in a shell shocked postwar Amsterdam, while Rachel is an ocean away in America?
And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away is complete at 120,000 words. Though it works as a standalone, a companion volume about Jakob’s first year in America is planned.
I have a degree in history from [redacted], with one of my areas of focus being World War II and the Shoah. I also worked in the production room of a local newspaper for five years, writing, researching, and proofreading stories.
Thank you for your time and attention.
250-word excerpt:
Jakob DeJonghe looked away from a German soldier as he and his mother Luisa headed home from the Waterlooplein market.  Tomorrow, at Yom Kippur services, he planned to pray for these fiends to leave his country.  Five months of occupation were about all he could take.  But in the meantime, Luisa had promised to make a special dessert tonight.  Her delicious food always made everything right.
“I can’t wait till our chocolate cake fills my stomach tonight!” Jakob declared as he shifted a heavy bag of groceries to his other arm. “I wish I were still as little as Emilia so I could lick the extra frosting and batter!”
He and Luisa abruptly halted when they heard unfamiliar voices coming from their home and saw the back door open. The only thing Jakob knew for sure was that these definitely weren’t the parents of his baby sister Emilia’s play date, dropping her home early.  Then he heard his father Rudolf sobbing.  As he drew closer, he saw his father sitting on the floor as three Nazis stood above him.  Their hateful, steely little eyes were fixed only on Ruud, not on his wife and son.
“Here you go.” One of Them pushed a gun into Ruud’s hand. “Tell us again how much you hate us for conquering your pathetic little country.  And then you’re going to kill yourself.”
“I’m only fifty-five years old!  I’m not going to take my own life!”
“Well, would you rather we do it for you?”

Filed: Contests, Misc

  • Yikes, 120K, I would bring that down under 100K, especially for a YA. Agents may look at that and not even read your query. I’m sorry to be so blunt.


    There’s a lot going on in this. It’s interesting and I can see the appeal of a boy joining a resistance, but I think you’re giving us some unneeded details. I would try and focus on the main plot. You mention that his sister disappears in the beginning of the query, yet it moves to him falling for a girl and fighting for this resistance. What about his sister? Does he try and rescue her? Also, would a 14-year-old call someone a young woman? It seems like he should be at least 16 if that were the case. I supposed in the 40’s they called them that? I don’t know. I think this needs more focus.


    Watch the exclamation points in the dialogue. I see this a lot. Use sparingly. I’m not sure I like where you start here. The part about chocolate cake is cute, but I really like what is next better. The moment with the dad would be compelling if we knew what this was doing to Jakob. A moment like this needs to be full of emotion and I didn’t feel any. I wanted to though. This is a good moment. If it’s reworked with some emotion I think it could really make this scene excel. I think there was a lot going on in that query, so I’m not sure I would have made it to the pages. And if I did, I’m not sure I would have made it past the beginning. I wanted to be sucked in. If you start with the father suicide scene, I think you would have a captive audience.

    Thank you for sharing your work ;o)

  • Carrie-Anne says:

    I’ve seen tons of YA historicals that are over 400 pages, and am always leery of any historical for someone over age 12 that’s too short. (I also think many books today are too short in general, and always prefer books that are at least 400 pages.) 120K is actually a drop in the bucket for me, given how long my non-YA historicals are. I just feel most comfortable and fulfilled crafting long sagas instead of condensing everything into all of 300 pages, and it does span five and a half years.

    Jakob is 17 by the time he first meets Rachel, who’s also 17. At the beginning, he and the family friend he moves in with try to look for the little sister, but she’s mysteriously disappeared along with the family who was hosting her, and none of the neighbors knew where they were going or why they left so suddenly.

    When I was having some consulting sessions with Diane Holmes of Pitch University for my superlong Russian historical novel last year, she told me that when you’re pitching or querying a deliberately long saga, it’s important to focus on high stakes, important events, not things that look minor in comparison. (For example, a novel like Gone with the Wind or Forever Amber would come across as an overly long romance novel if you didn’t know all the epic events unfolding across the pages.) She said it’s important that agents and publishers understand WHY something is very long, and also advised me to leave out word count, at least for my Russian novel, so I could be judged on opinions of the writing, NOT a preconceived notion about books over a certain length.

    I’ve been seriously considering pitching some of my historicals with young characters as just regular historicals, not YA, since I’m not so sure they’d fit in with the current YA market.

  • Thanks for the explanation ;o)

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