Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Face-Lift 53

Guess the Plot

Heart of Desire

1. A thirty-something heart transplant patient falls in love with his donor’s wife. With a chapel in the hospital, they waste no time tying the knot.

2. Two archeologists fall in love while searching for the legendary heart-shaped Ming vase known as the Heart of Desire.

3. Desiré Plum and Harry Hart are engaged. Then one day Harry meets Sally. Can Desiré tear her Harry from a blockbuster movie script?

4. A retired nun explores the facets of love on the back of a Harley. On the front: Cardinal O'Malley.

5. Desiré was just another organ donor, but her heart can change the fate of mankind...if only they can find it.

6. The love child of the American president and a journalist has the ability to transcend time and space. And the oil companies want her.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

It's my understanding from reading your listing in the 2006 Guide to Literary Agents that you're interested in representing thrillers and literary/mainstream fiction. My 91,000-word literary thriller manuscript, Heart of Desire, may be of interest to you.

Set against the backdrop of Washington D.C., several colorful Arizona locations, and, at the story's culmination, Tibet, Heart of Desire has speculative fiction elements, romance, mystery, action, and a multi-ethnic cast of characters. Its themes examine contemporary corporate politics, hardship created by emotional attachment, the power of the human mind, and the quest to understand life's true nature. [It is all genres, all styles, and all things to all people, and should appeal to those who read books, and even to those who don't.] My writing style is reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver meets Dan Brown with some Ray Bradbury thrown in. [Yes, Evil Editor can see the influence of all of them in this query letter, and not only them--I'm surprised you didn't also include John Dickson Carr, Philip K. Dick, Emily Dickinson, and Dick Vitale.]

Written in rotating first person POV with a third-person prologue and epilogue, the story takes an intimate look at the lives of six primary characters: Tess Shearer, a reclusive counterculture journalist and single mother of Mikka, an "Indigo" child, Tess's former lover and Mikka's father, U.S. President Harrison Cantrell Henry, a politician with an unusual agenda, Paul Shearer, Tess's clueless, gay brother, [You can't make the gay guy clueless; gay people will protest until all the major chains pull your books from the shelves.] the Reverends Marshall and Savannah Updike, New Age ministers specializing in conspiracy theory, [They preach the doctrine of The Da Vinci Code.] and Carson Hodges, Native seer and spiritual friend. [Carson the friendly ghost.] [You shouldn't be spending an entire paragraph on your characters.]

The Synopsis:
~~A chance meeting in Phoenix, Arizona between Clintonesque President Harrison Cantrell Henry and reclusive counterculture journalist Tess Shearer [You just described her as a reclusive counterculture journalist in the last paragraph.] [Presidents aren't allowed to have chance meetings.] leads to a steamy, unpublicized love affair. [The president has an affair with a journalist, and doesn't suspect her tell-all book will be on shelves three hours after he breaks it off?] Henry ends the relationship after increasing pressure from the tenacious Moral Right and the ubiquitous Company in a repressive political backlash. Tess disappears into her quiet Arizona life and secretly gives birth to Mikka, a precocious child able to transcend time and space. [She's the new nexus of time travel itself.] The powerful controllers pulling the strings of Earth's petroleum politics soon seek the toddler for a clandestine study. [How do they know Mikka exists, if Tess disappeared and secretly gave birth?] [And even if they know she exists, why would they suspect she has the power to transcend time and space?] [Why does she have this power?] [What exactly does it mean to transcend time and space?]

Constitutionally bankrupt after implementation of Patriot Acts I-V, laundered drug profits grease the palms of American political schemers, [How can laundered drug profits be constitutionally bankrupt?] bent on control of world oil and mineral supplies. While many Americans are still blind to their nation's dilemma, the world understands the United States is run by a shadow government of financial and military elites. What many inside and outside the U.S. don't realize is that alien masters manipulate the American imperial conquest. [Oh, I think we all know that alien manipulation is the only possible explanation for the state of our government.]

President Henry disappears in a coup disguised as an assassination during the final year of his term, near the anniversary of the JFK murder, [Coincidence? Or predicted by astrology?] just as he tries to act on his unusual political agenda—putting people and the environment before profit [How did this guy get elected?] and giving the American public full disclosure about the UFO enigma. Tess is teased out of retirement to cover the assassination story in Washington, aware of the mortal danger that she and her daughter face.

Frightened by what she learns, Tess flees the federal district for her mountain home, more interested in keeping Mikka's identity and talents a secret [A secret? If they're a secret, why were the oil companies after her?] than in confronting the system that harasses her. Assisted by New Age minister friends versed in the undercurrent of American history, a Native spiritual seer, as well as her hapless gay brother, the unwitting dupe of a Company agent, Tess manages to stay one step ahead of her nefarious pursuers. The lovers' lives collide again in the back country of Yavapai County, Arizona, where they grapple with their personal desires and chances for survival, as their small daughter makes a mysterious, transcendental Tibetan journey. [If transcending time and space means she can suddenly find herself stuck in Tibet in 1948, she can have the power.] [The president disappears, then turns up in Arizona, and doesn't immediately come forward?] ~~

The sequel to Heart of Desire will be The Fifth Revolution. The sequel's premise concerns the failure of the current petroleum-based world economy and the patriarchal paradigm that supports it - an earth doomed to chaos until a movement supported by a variety of brave bodhisattvas [Doughnuts come in varieties; brave Bodhisattvas come in bands, for alliterative purposes.] restore the earth's balance, thus initiating the dawn of an enlightened era. [It's not every day that you see the words "paradigm" and "bodhisattvas" in the same sentence.]

[Lengthy paragraphs of credits deleted because this is already way too long.]

Thank you for opportunity to share my work. This is a simultaneous query. I'd be happy to supply a chapter synopsis and/or a partial manuscript if you're interested.


Evil Editor started to write a revised version, but it isn't clear whether the focus is on government conspiracy or on Tess and her daughter. If it's both, the query should probably focus on Tess, as that seems more interesting.

In an attempt to reduce the length, consider that there isn't much in paragraphs 2, 3, 5, or 8 that we can't do without.


S. W. Vaughn said...


This may well be an interesting story, author. You certainly have a lot happening -- but I'm with EE on the focus thing.

As a reader I find it amazing that you were able to pack this much story into 91,000 words! :-)

corydon said...

How can a journalist be reclusive?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. I still have no idea what that book is about.

Novelust said...

*Deep breath*

Take out the politics.

Ow, ow - stop hitting me! Not all of them. It's obviously near and dear to the author's heart, but the weight given to those elements undermines the query. You don't need to take the time out to explain what an evil shadow government does, or how the evil oil tycoons are paying them off, or that evil alien overlords are controlling them. Oil men, aliens, shadow government = bad. We got it. You can explain in your book.

The gay brother. He's clueless and gay, then he's hapless and gay? Is that really the length and breadth of his character? Meet Paul, the homosexual blockhead! Um. I'd think about changing that in your query. You might treat him like an absolute peach in your novel, but this makes it look like he's been borrowed from the Big Book of Stereotypes.

Also, the plot seemed like it began with the Presidential coup/assassination. Big event, sets things in motion - if your novel does begin with this event, I'd suggest starting your query with it. (If not... can the Moral Right drive apart Tess and the President with a car chase or two? The hapless, gay Paul can accidentally drive a squad car through a barn full of chickens -Oh, that wacky Paul! What will he think of next?)

Me said...

How is this a "Literary thriller"? This sounds like a dystopian sci-fi. Aliens, the time traveling kid, futuristic setting, think about it.

As for the politics, subtlety is not your strong suit that's for sure.

kis said...

After the ubiquitous Company that secretly runs America puts an end to her affair with President Harrison Cantrell Henry, journalist Tess Shearer disappears into a qiet Arizona life. There she gives birth to Harrison's daughter, Mikka, born with the unexpected ability to transcend time and space. But the corporate forces that pull the strings in government want Mikka for their own ends, and Tess must enlist the help of blahbiddy blah and blah, as well as her naive gay brother, to escape.

And now--just as he is about to reveal to an ignorant public the manipulation of aliens on American foreign policy--the president vanishes in a staged assassination. When he and Tess meet again in the wilds of Arizona, Tess must choose between her duty as a human being, and her responsibility to protect her daughter from those who would use her power for evil.

Can she keep her daughter safe long enough to save the world?

There ya go. Best I could do in five minutes.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the indigo children thing will still be believible by the time this book goes to press. Once these kids hit puberty I seriously doubt that their parents will think they're so magical.

michaelgav said...

Some random reactions...

HEART OF DESIRE sounds a little flat to me. You've conjured up a pretty wild storyline, why settle for a ho-hum title?

The hapless gay brother as an unwitting dupe? I picture Harvey Fierstein reviving Jackie Gleason's "The Poor Soul." (And how's that for an obscure, old-skewing reference?)

I think you have to refrain in your query from comparing your style to anyone else's, least of all the author of the biggest-selling novel in years and one of the most revered science fiction writers of all time. You'll be attaching sample pages, right? Let the agents come up with their own comparisons.

President Harrison Cantrell Henry... Wasn't William Henry Harrison the real U.S. president who died four weeks after taking office? Speaking only for myself, it would be great if you turned out to be the world's foremost scholar on President Harrison, and sprinkled in all manner of William Henry Harrison tidbits. Otherwise, I found the name distracting. How about just Harrison Cantrell?

Good luck with your book.

michaelgav said...

And kis, that was damn impressive.

Anonymous said...

I agree. kis, that's fantastic.

On the other hand, I'm wondering if the original author is actually from Yavapai County, Arizona--we seem to have a lot of 'literary' yahoos floating around over here. :3

katwrite said...

Very helpful, all. I thank you, Evil Editor and you faithful commenting minions. I appreciate the time you've taken to critique and counsel.

I see the error of my ways. . . hopefully the novel is better written than the synopis - eight years on the novel and just weeks on the query and synopsis.

Hmm, in addition to serious revision, perhaps I should also fire my crit group! :} Just joshing, they don't know what to do with me, either.

Clueless author

Anonymous said...

This thing has more plot holes than you can shake a stick at and it's far from focussed. Try to choose one genre (the one which most of the book can be categorized with) --I'd say it's a thriller and cut the name dropping. It's better to do the writing do the talking instead of telling your writing is like that of X, Y, and Z. That takes precious space on your paper.

Anonymous said...

"Man, I have so much to say about the environment and how very, very evil and wrong the US governemtn is. How can I get my message out there, because nobody's ever heard such a message before?

"I know, I'll write a novel! I can create a bunch of characters and make them do whatever I want, and I'll Stick It To The Man! And just so nobody suggests my overcrowded, plotless mishmash of a million different things I read in Fortean Times is just a dummy story for me to trick people into believing what I want them to believe, I'll throw in a gay guy who's dumb as a post so people won't know my secret ultra-leftist agenda!

"Why, it's...genius!"

Kirsten said...

I see bestseller written all over this one . . . I also agree that the politics part has to be toned down tho.

WM said...

Why is it the more lunatic the idea the more people think it will succeed? Is it just, "This is so crazy people will have to read it just to see how nuts it gets!"

It's really sad.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

WM, I believe you've described Clive Cussler's formula for his success perfectly.

desert minion said...

The lovers' lives collide again in the back country of Yavapai County, Arizona, where they grapple with their personal desires and chances for survival

Oh, the survival part is easy. Not like you can't find a Circle K or two in Yavapai County. :-)

fggpttrj said...

Indigo children?! Run!

Anonymous said...

So seriously, a baby with the unexpected ability to transend space and time? How is that written in a revolving 1st person perspective? From Tess? "Oh, DAMN! Where did I put that baby again? Was it in my reclusive den or was it in pre WW II Nazi Germany?" or the baby? "Goooooooo gaaaaahhhhh oh yummy caveman turds!"

Get real.

Anonymous said...

Bring it on baby - you'll just have to find out by reading it, won't you?

Clueless author

Simonbun said...

Wow. A book in which aliens really do arrive in Chapter Twelve! Cool!

Anonymous said...

Actually, they appear in chapter one. Way cooler.

Clueless author

Watercolorz said...

Why is it the more lunatic the idea the more people think it will succeed?
Personally I like off center plots, with wacky characters. But then I was weaned on John Irving so you probably got to blame my mom for that one, rest her soul.

I sympathize with the struggles in this query because I think that it is difficult for an author to condense the ideas of their work when the plot isn’t traditional or straightforward.

And then kis comes along and pulls an Amadeus move… now I understand why Salieri was so bitter. ~W

Anonymous said...

Actually, dear watercolorz, I deeply appreciate the empathy, but think the sloppiness of my query was not due so much to trying to condense the idea of a plot, for I had a coherent logline for my story, but in reading voluminous agent and publisher listings, forgetting the forest in the sea of trees. Rather unminionly of me, especially since I've written dozens of succint queries for my other published work. I worried about conveying enough information in the initial query - the story is different in its approach and I felt insecure about it, not wanting agents to envision a more genre-like thriller. Among other insecurities . . .

Yesterday at dawn I whipped out my dastardly revision sword and thrust it through the undeserving swine of untightened query prose, inspired by Sir/Lady Kis and his/her 5-minute recap (do you tremble, oh Evil at the apprentice's skill?) Armed with a leaner, meaner letter, I electronically cast it upon the waters to a group of agents hungry for action. One out of seven replied by the setting sun, asking for fifty pages of my dully titled tale (the first working title was worse, but I haven't been struck by the bolt of the title muse lately.)

Better than the one request in twenty I'd received before - I dare not think of the raucous laughter my other letter must have engendered at the inbox of suffering agents. Snark! Did the one who asked for three chapters have all her wits, seeing a diamond in the lump of coal or did she wish to amuse herself with writerly incompetence?

Oh Evil One, in a previous face-lift you told a writer you'd hold fast and take a second look at revised queries. My new, more humble, and already successful query looks like this:

Dear Agent in Shining Armor:

Because you're looking for new talent in mainstream and literary fiction, including thrillers, you may be interested in my 92,000-word speculative thriller manuscript, Heart of Desire:

Retired counterculture journalist Tess Shearer returns to her quiet life in Arizona bearing a secret after her steamy, unpublicized love affair with Clintonesque President Harrison Cantrell Henry. She gives birth to Mikka, an "Indigo" child with the mysterious ability to transcend time and space. When Henry disappears in a staged assassination as he attempts to act on his unusual political agenda - full disclosure of the UFO enigma - Shearer flees her mountain home, pursued by the powerful shadow government who wants Mikka for their own ends. The lovers' lives collide again in the Arizona wilderness, where they grapple with their personal desires and chances for survival.

I've written the story in rotating first person POV, delving into the lives of six primary characters. It is set against the backdrop of Washington D.C., several colorful Arizona locations, and at the story's culmination, Tibet.

Two paragraphs of tightened credits appear here(shame on me, a Yavapai County yahoo knave for their former looseness.)

Thank you for opportunity to share my work. I'd be happy to mail a synopsis and partial if you're interested.

What think ye, Evil One? Is this parchment one that might allow a glimmer of kindness into your heart?

Clueless Author

Anonymous said...

PS - Depart me now to obsess, driven to quivering fear and hope on the fifty pages . . .

Clueless Author

Evil Editor said...

This is much better. You could probably get by with one paragraph of credits, and I still don't see how the shadow government knows the baby exists and is special, but I'm confident this is explained fully in the book.

kis said...

yeah, much better. Hook them with the plot right away, then explain the rotating pov.

I wrote a big story, too, with several plot threads, all vital to the way it turns out. But my query had to focus mainly on the one thread that was most important. I mentioned the others in passing, but designated one sentence--or even half of a sentence--to each one. That gives a feel for the hugeness of the story, without bogging the query reader down in loads and loads of info. Because no matter how well you write a query, no one's reading it for pleasure. Hopefully that's what the book's for! ;)

Anonymous said...

Um, your confidence is justified. You know they can read your wristwatch from 200 miles up in space . . .

Thanks for the rebound assistance.

Yikes - missed the errors in my previous post. Still combing through the first ten pages of my manuscript - a NY agent of my queried seven requested those by e-mail this morning. Have I fooled them into thinking they're getting something grand? Yow!

Clueless Author

Anonymous said...

Thanks, kis, you're a gem.


msjones said...

CA Katwrite, I liked the premise of the sequel better (the world-wide collapse of an oil-based economy) and when it comes out it print I'll read it.

Here's some title suggestions to replace "Heart of Desire," which sounds like a Harlequin romance and isn't ambitious or grabby enough for the opus you've written:

Evil Oil

Oiled Evil

Alien Oil

Alien Evil

Code Indigo

Indigo Outcome

Absolute Power

Absolute Power, Absolute Evil

Evil Power

Alien Company

Company Alien*

Seven Person Stud**

Powerdice Lost***

Aliens End****

* a riff on company man, which is an oil industry representative

** all bets are off when the baby comes along

*** like Paradise Lost, your book is about gambling with sex, redemption from a child, power, and who inherits the earth - us or the aliens?

**** a riff on Howards End, which dealt with the question of who would take over England, kultur or the oil interests

Evil Editor said...

You would, of course, need permission to use the word "evil" in the title.

Anonymous said...

Nice work, msjones. How 'bout "Seven Evil Oily Alien Indigo Stud"!!

katwrite, the clueless author