Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Face-Lift 32


Guess the Plot


The Last Lion of Sparta

1. Sparta has become the laughingstock of Greek city-states. Can Buttercup and Wesley forge a plan to return her to her glorious status?

2. In the far-distant future, a genetically-engineered race of lion-human hybrids looks to the ancient world for inspiration in its battle against an insectile hive-mind.

3. Aurora Phillips was enchanted by the sights of historic Greece, and longed for the romance of the past. When she found herself swept back in time and captured by brusque Spartan captain Phylon, the brutal reality was anything but romantic.

4. Roberto is old. He looks over the sparkling Aegean Sea, and recounts his life story to his great-granddaughter. Roberto's story crosses two oceans, five women, and three murders. Will he survive his memories?

5. By day, Leo drives a cab around Chicago. But when the full moon rises he transforms into a wildly maned warrior. All he needs now is an enemy.

6. The wily fox Alcibiades advises the lions of Sparta in their campaigns against the Athenians. All the while the Helot jackals look for their chance to overthrow their lion overlords.


Original Version

Dear Ms. Agent:

Whatever happened to Sparta? [Evil Editor has no idea. Nor do I know what happened to Troy. Hell, I don't even know what happened to Troy Donahue.] Did she just fade from the pages of history? Did her formidable army ever tangle with Rome? Interest in these questions led me to write my 106,500-word historical novel The Last Lion of Sparta. [Ironically, you could have Googled "Sparta" and satisfied your curiosity in five seconds; instead, you write a 106,500-word novel, and you still don't know what happened to Sparta.]

A father and son, attempting to survive the Goth invasion of Greece 1600 years ago, discover an ancient codex in the ruins of Sparta describing the exploits of Cleomenes and his queen Agiatis 600 years earlier. The father reads from the tome when he can. His story, in present tense, is interwoven with the main story of Cleomenes in past tense. [This is like The Princess Bride; the father reading to the son is like Peter Falk reading to Fred Savage. Except, Peter Falk and Fred Savage weren't trying to survive a Goth invasion at the time.]

After a protracted decline, Sparta at that time is a third-rate backwater trying to survive on her past reputation. The real power lies in the hands of Damochares, [Count Rugen] chief of a corrupt board of magistrates. Damochares convinces Cleomenes’ father the king [Prince Humperdinck] to execute a reform-minded aristocrat. The king forces the murdered man’s wife Agiatis, who has just inherited considerable property, to marry eighteen-year-old Cleomenes to keep the wealth in the king’s family. [I don't hear Agiatis complaining about trading in her 60-year-old husband for an 18-year-old stud muffin.]

Against all odds, Agiatis and Cleomenes [Buttercup and Wesley, of course.] fall in love. Her influence becomes the smith’s bellows that fans Cleomenes’ predisposition for change into a roaring flame. He and Agiatis devise a plan to return Sparta to the ancient austerity and equality that once made her a legend. [Her legendary austerity is why Sparta disappeared. If women can't at least have a little color in the curtains, they're not hanging around long.] They know they have to be careful, but their time is limited. They must overcome Damochares, warring Greek cities and a ruthless warlord in time to build a coalition strong enough to prevent Rome from overrunning Greece.

Recent movies such as Gladiator and Alexander [Gladiator and Alexander? I thought it was Fannie and Alexander.] as well as Steven Pressfield’s best-seller Gates of Fire show that a sizeable adult market continues to exist for historical drama concerning ancient Greece and Rome. As the first novel involving both Sparta and Rome, The Last Lion of Sparta should be of considerable interest to readers of literary fiction. [Another reason Troy gets a blockbuster movie and a condom, while Sparta gets nothing: the Horse. After being duped by the Trojan Horse, Troy should be laughingstocks; instead they're famous. Goes to show there's no such thing as bad publicity.] [Now if Sparta had fallen for the Spartan Cow, instead of setting it on fire, maybe it would be a different story today.]

I base my dramatization of Cleomenes and Agiatis on my study of ancient sources [Including a 1600-year-old codex I found in my basement.] and modern histories. My fiction has recently appeared in the literary magazine Lynx Eye and Nth Degree.

Knowing agents face a slush pile of queries that grows faster than Jack’s beanstalk, I appreciate you taking the time to read mine. I have enclosed the first five pages. The complete manuscript is available upon request.

Sincerely,


Revised Version

Dear Ms. Agent:

Whatever happened to Sparta? Did she simply fade from the pages of history? Did her formidable army ever tangle with Rome? Interest in these questions led me to write my 106,500-word historical novel The Last Lion of Sparta.

After a protracted decline, Sparta of 200 B.C. is a third-rate backwater trying to survive on her past reputation. The real power of the state lies in the hands of Damochares, chief of a corrupt board of magistrates. Damochares convinces the king to have a reform-minded aristocrat executed. The king then forces the dead man’s wife, Agiatis, to marry his son, Cleomenes, bringing her newly inherited wealth and property into the king’s family.

Against all odds, Agiatis and Cleomenes fall in love. Her influence becomes the bellows that fans Cleomenes’ predisposition for change into a roaring flame. He and Agiatis devise a plan to return Sparta to the ancient austerity and equality that once made her a legend. But their time is limited. They must overcome Damochares, warring Greek cities and a ruthless warlord in time to build a coalition strong enough to prevent Rome from overrunning Greece.

I have based my dramatization of Cleomenes and Agiatis on a lifetime spent studying ancient and modern histories. A sizeable adult market has long existed for historical drama involving ancient Greece and Rome. As perhaps the first novel involving both Sparta and Rome, The Last Lion of Sparta should be of considerable interest to readers of historical fiction.

My fiction has recently appeared in the literary magazine Lynx Eye and Nth Degree. I appreciate your taking the time to consider this query. I have enclosed the first five pages; the complete manuscript is available upon request.

Sincerely,


Notes

The original query was fine. What isn't clear is the role played by the father/son who find the codex. If they're merely a literary device telling the story, do you really need them? Do readers want to deal with Sparta vs. Rome at the same time they're dealing with a Goth invasion 600 years later? The codex may as well be discovered in present day, and mentioned only in a prologue. If at all. If the father/son do play an integral role in the book, it's worth considering telling their story in past tense. Present tense becomes annoying after a while.

Agomonestra enters the agora with his son, Hippodrome. "Look, Hippo," Agomonestra says, "a codex, in the temple ruins."

Hippodrome stares at Agomonestra blankly and asks, "What's a codex?"

That's about as much present tense as Evil Editor can bear to read before he sets fire to an author's codex.

18 comments:

tlh said...

Hey, just a tiny question (not from me, I don't know an ancient codex from a... something else I don't know). A friend who is heavily into ancient history (he's definitely the target audience for this novel) wanted to know what the codex is written on. He's of the opinion that the common writing materials of 2200 years ago would be vellum and papyrus, and that neither of these would survive Greece's climate for 600+ years. I voted for the 'refrigerator' theory but I was vetoed.

I would be happy to prove him wrong (first time for everything!), but he isn't going to believe it without a solid source.

Greek Geek said...

I think the idea of the codex/father & son thing presents some problems. Not just the wear factor like tlh mentioned, but if they're living 600 years later, how do you write any internal action with the Spartan characters in the past or does the father with the codex take some dramatic liberties in recounting the story?

Pressfield in his Greek historical novels or Bernard Cornwell in many of his historical military novels usually have a narrator telling the story from a later date that was present for the major events but was sort of an accessory to what happened. Gates of Fire uses a slave who was a squire to a Spartan warrior for instance.

So I just don't see the father/son/Goth invasion thing as very credible.

Bernita said...

Er...Dead Sea Scrolls?
There's always clay tablets, of course.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

And these days, Sparta is remembered more for enslaving the people they conquered than equality. Maybe it's just the Spartans who were equal.

All animals are equal...
...but some are more equal than others.

Feemus said...

tlh is quite right. The codex form (leaves bound in flippable form) is only about 2000 years old.

writing was done on papyrus rolls, which were very unweildy. These were sold in bookstalls in the Athenian agora, but were by no means common.

papyri *can* be fairly durable--they require much less preservation care than medieval or even Early Modern books.

J. Ray said...

Speaking of tenses ... I enjoyed reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson so much that I ended up doing a similar thing in the novel I'm getting ready to query. The story takes place over three weeks. The first week is told in past tense, in flashbacks, and the second and third weeks are told in present tense. I loved the overall result, but after reading this post I'm feeling a little ... tense.

Is there any hope for a manuscript that uses this device? Should I go through and change it all to past tense? Did anyone else enjoy Pattern Recognition, or is the dislike of present tense pretty much universal?

tlh said...

I have to admit, I don't like present tense at all. It can be involving if done well, but I always feel vaguely uneasy while I'm reading it, as if something's about to spring out at me from the page.

tlh is quite right. The codex form (leaves bound in flippable form) is only about 2000 years old.

No credit to me, I had to ask an expert. :D He said also said something about how ancient papyrus is sometimes found in Egypt because it is dry and thus preserved longer, but in Greece it'd be much less durable (and vellum is sheep skin, so...).

Hand Maiden of Dog said...

J. Ray, I've seen a few books published in present tense, and am currently trying to get past the first chapter of one that had good reviews -- with little success. My problem with present tense is it has been adopted by role players in their games, so I usually feel like I'm in a D and D adventure, instead of enjoying a good book.

kis said...

If I remember right, women in Sparta were off limits to the point that unmarried couples caught in the act of, well, you know, were put to death.

I think that's where the encouragement of homosexual relationships among single men came in. Of course, there was nothing like that for the single women...

Book-elf said...

J. Ray, the answer to your question is terribly simple. a) No, it is not impossible to get a novel partially or completely in present tense published. b) Yes, all other things being equal it's going to reduce your chances -- just like having an unusual length, or any of a great many other things.

Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes. But if you demand advice, I will for friendship's sake give it. I think you shouldn't worry about it. Your first part is in past tense, so if your writing's great, people will read on. If you get personalized rejections complaining about the present tense, consider rewriting it. If you get representation/a contract, be prepared that you may get a call asking for a rewrite.

alau said...

really? I thought "adultery" was unknown to the Spartans and that men encouraged their wives to have kids with other guys. Wasn't the focus on having as many healthy children to defend the city the point of everything?

Maybe you had to be married to "play"; then you could go "play" with whoever you liked...

tlh said...

The Spartans by Paul Cartledge has a chapter on women in Sparta. According to this, to paraphrase, there were no adultery laws, sometimes men would 'loan out' their wives to another man in the hopes of creating an heir who would inherit the other man's "household and lineage", and women liked this because it meant they had multiple households to boss around.

This is just the first book that came to hand on the subject, and I'm too lazy to look through the others for verification. :D I may have to actually read the rest of this one, though, it looks pretty interesting.

kis said...

Dang, I'm married, and I NEVER get to play.

Anonymous said...

Who knew there were so many Sparta fans and knowledgeable readers about?!

One thing I get from the comments is the need to be very well informed when tackling historical fiction because there will always be critics to show you where you screwed up. But then, people enjoy being critics, so perhaps that's why historical fiction is so popular!

Gabriele C. said...

I think it can be an interesting approach to have two historical epochs parallel and use them to reflect each other. But they should have a few things in common.

The Roman Empire was on the verge of decline though I don't know how aware of this anyone living in the empire would have been. Your characters could see their fight against the Goths as prevention of the fate of Sparta, worry about weak successors (Arcadius and Honorius) ..., things like that, if you can make it work without giving historical persons insights only modern historians have. (An aside: in my novel taking place 408-415 AD, Stilicho is the only one who sees the problems, and we know what happened to him. :)

And is there a romance in the Roman part to mirror the romance in Sparta? Could be fun.

Good luck. If read someting about Sparta, Goths and Rome on the backcover, I'd give the book a closer look.

E. M. #667 said...

Anonymous (hey, pick a name, pal) hit the nail on the head: If you're writing historical fiction, you gotta research EVERY DAMN THING. Because there is an army of nit-pickers out there whose numbers are beyond counting. And even if you have solid evidence for everything, you'll get a whole bunch of self-appointed experts claiming you are wrong about stuff that conflicts with what they think they know.

kis said...

e.m.#667,

Hah! That's why I write fantasy.

Also, I live in a fantasy world where children all know how to behave in the bank, and Gerard Butler awaits me at home with a six-pack of beer and a clean toilet.

word verification: vggcuck. A mutated fowl that thrives in a post-apocalyptic war zone?

BuffySquirrel said...

Even when you're writing alternate history, you get a bunch of people telling you you're wrong about things.

Er, that's part of the point...