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Successful Queries: Literary Agent Kate Schafer Testerman and "The Last Good Place of Lily Odilon"

This series is called "Successful Queries" and I'm posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked. The 44th installment in this series is with agent Kate Schafer Testerman (kt literary) and her author, Sara Beitia, for her YA suspense novel, The Last Good Place of Lily Odilon, which was released in Oct. 2010 from Flux. Kirkus Reviews says this of the novel: "Reminiscent of John Green's Paper Towns (2008), this noir thriller hooks readers with realistic dialogue, fully fleshed characters and plenty of twists. Terrific to the last, good page."

This series is called "Successful Queries" and I'm posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked.

The 44th installment in this series is with agent Kate Schafer Testerman (kt literary) and her author, Sara Beitia, for her YA suspense novel, The Last Good Place of Lily Odilon, which was released in Oct. 2010 from Flux. Kirkus Reviews says this of the novel: "Reminiscent of John Green's Paper Towns (2008), this noir thriller hooks readers with realistic dialogue, fully fleshed characters and plenty of twists. Terrific to the last, good page."

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Dear Ms. Schafer:

In The Last Good Place of Lily Odilon, my 65,000-word YA suspense novel, seventeen-year-old Albert Morales has one goal: find his missing girlfriend, Lily.

Albert
and Lily have been dating for just a matter of weeks, but in that time they’ve formed a connection that, in the way of first-love intensity, feels like forever. From the day his family moved to town, shy, awkward Albert has been hung up on Lily, a complicated and confusing girl—and he is subsequently consumed with her after the night she leaves her bedroom after a tryst and doesn’t come back.

Things are
complicated by the fact that Lily’s stepfather and the local police are looking for her, too. Egged on by Lily’s stepfather, the authorities are convinced that Albert, the last known person to see Lily, may have had something to do with her disappearance. But Albert, with Lily’s sister, Olivia, makes two big discoveries. First, Lily wasn’t abducted; rather, spurred by emerging memories and a sudden, violent confrontation, she took the course she knows best: She vanished. Their other discovery: Lily’s secret record revealing her stepfather’s compelling reason to want her to stay gone.

Soon after running away, Lily reaches out in a frustratingly cryptic manner to Albert for help, but at the same
time, seems afraid he won’t be able to help her. She acts as if wants to be found by him, but makes him hunt for her. So, reconstructing events in Lily’s recent past, Albert and Olivia, pursued, set out to find Lily and help her understand and reveal the truth before her stepfather gets to her first and silences her for good.

The Last Good Place of Lily Odilon is told from Albert’s perspective (third person limited POV) in thirty-one short chapters. Alternating between the past—the days after Lily’s disappearance—and the present—Albert and Olivia on Lily’s trail—these thirty-one mosaic pieces form a complete picture of what’s happened and suggest what’s to come for Lily and those whose fates are tangled with hers.

A brief (but relevant) bit about myself: Though I was late getting there, I graduated from Albertson College of
Idaho in 2003 summa cum laude with a double major in Philosophy and Creative Writing. Professionally, my publishing credits have been in the journalism arena with Boise Weekly, where over the past few years I’ve penned numerous articles ranging from feature to arts to news writing. Some months ago, I gave up journalism and my job as BW’s Arts Editor—the place was sucking up all my time and creativity—in order to devote my energies to my first love, fiction writing.

If you’re interested in taking a look at The Last Good Place of Lily Odilon, I’d love to send the manuscript for your review. In any event, thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Sara Beitia

Commentary from Kate:

Right off the bat, I was hooked by the idea of a YA suspense novel. Bearing in mind that this came to me some time ago (if you consider the usual delay between querying and publication), at the time I first read this, I wasn’t seeing much in the way of suspense in the YA market, particularly in a contemporary, non-paranormal setting.

I was also compelled by the bedroom tryst between Albert and Lily. So often in teen fiction, the physical relationship between the main characters is the main source of the drama – here, though, it was presented almost as an aside, a la “this happened, but it’s not the main point.” And that seemed real to me, and interesting.

Reading on, I liked the idea of Albert teaming up with Lily’s sister Olivia. We’re not told much about the relationship between these two, and I was curious. How do these two people, with Lily as the connecting thread between them, deal with each other? Were they close before? Are they working together now only because of the circumstances?

Plus, the idea that part of Albert and Olivia’s goal in finding Lily is to “help her understand” the truth – I loved the further mystery it hinted at to me, that not even the main participants know everything that’s going on, that it’s something that can only be pieced together through the work of several people.

With the help of Sara’s brilliant editor Brian Farrey at Flux, the book was published this month! (Buy it here.)

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