Friday, June 09, 2006

Face-Lift 57


Guess the Plot

Critical Mass

1. After some unkind words by his preacher one Sunday, addled ranchhand Hayseus Rioja declares a blood feud with the preacher, the church, and God herself.

2. At a summer camp for gifted children, campers are tricked into developing dangerous pathogens to be used in biological weapons by the U.S. military.

3. A morbidly obese food critic for a gourmet cooking magazine is found gutted in the freezer of a restaurant he panned.

4. When San Francisco attorney Rick Strong ploughs his BMW into a group of Critical Mass bicycle riders in a fit of road rage, he must deal with the fact that his estranged daughter and her lesbian lover are among the injured.

5. A former police detective comes out of retirement to hunt down the 700-pound serial killer known as "The Brachiosaurus."

6. When Missy Larkin's cat, Buttons, reaches gigantic proportions, Missy takes her to Kitty Kat Fat Farm. There she meets the proprietor, Ridley Chesterton, and falls in love.


Original Version

When a child goes missing from her summer camp, most camp directors would call her parents and the local police, not the FBI, but Katie Brenner is no ordinary girl and the Teller Institute is no ordinary summer camp. [Nor does it sound like one. Scanning this directory of summer camps, which one's name would inspire you to consider it for your kid: Camp Laurelwood, Camp Tippecanoe, Camp Walden, or The Teller Institute?]

The Teller Institute is a government program to allow extremely gifted students to do real research and serve their country. Under normal conditions, Katie wouldn’t have cleared admissions, but this year the Teller Institute allowed humanities prodigies to attend along with the science and math specialists. [The Marines: We're looking for a few good poets.] All the more surprising then that Katie was the one kidnapped instead of her brilliant roommate, Karen Jacobs. After all, Karen is heading up the research team and Katie can’t tell a code from a cipher. [She can, however, do something Karen can't: recite the prologue to The Canterbury Tales.]

Special Agent John Wilkes is hard pressed to sort out this case. He dismisses his preliminary instinct that something is wrong, attributing it to his discomfort around the geeky kids [Who keep calling him John Wilkes Booth.] working at the camp where a Rubik’s cube is a more common accessory than a handbag. [Evil Editor has a Rubik's Cube, and no handbag. Are you calling him a geek?] The more he investigates, the more tangled the case appears. Someone is trying to hide the disappearance from Katie’s parents [That's going to look good at the end of August, when Katie's parents come to pick her up, and discover she's been missing since June 12th.] and the camp director, Glen Pribbs, is reluctant to let Wilkes distract the students from their research, duplicating a dangerous pathogen that vague intelligence reports suggest is being manufactured by terrorists. [Why are humanities prodigies helping on a project to develop a deadly pathogen? Are they the ones who write the instruction manuals? Or are they the guinea pigs?] [I wonder if any of the parents are going to send their kids to the Teller Institute next summer, after they learn the kids spent this summer developing deadly pathogens.]

With the help of some of the students, Wilkes discovers that the terrorist threat is a fake. The students, instead of providing data to the government, have been doing its dirty work, developing new biological weapons. [Does the government really need to use eight-year-olds to develop their weaponry?] Now Wilkes will need the students’ help to save Katie, who fled after discovering the truth, [The kids get pulled off their job doing the government scientists' work so they can start doing the FBI's work.] and to bring down the Teller Institute. Too bad many of the students would do anything [Including releasing deadly pathogens into the population.] to keep the camp from closing so as not to return to their normal lives. [What normal, red-blooded kids would want to go home where they only get to destroy the world on their Playstations, when they can stay at camp and do it for real?]

CRITICAL MASS is my first novel and mixes fast-paced narration with documents from the case file, [Such as sex offender records of the camp counselors, fingerprints of Glenn Pribbs, and little Katie's Grand Jury testimony.] allowing the reader to better understand the characters and their world. This geeky thriller is intended for a YA/teen audience. [It would appeal to anyone who enjoyed How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Wiped Out Twelve Million People, or Harry Potter and the Vial of Smallpox.] I have included a SASE if you would be interested in a full or partial manuscript.


Revised Version

When a child goes missing from her summer camp, most camp directors would call her parents, not the FBI. But Katie Brenner is no ordinary child, and the Teller Institute is no ordinary summer camp--it's a government program employing extremely gifted students as a research team.

Special Agent John Wilkes dismisses his preliminary instinct that something is wrong, attributing it to his discomfort around the geeky kids working at the camp. But the more he investigates, the more tangled the case appears. The camp director, Glen Pribbs, is reluctant to let Wilkes distract the students from their project, duplicating a dangerous pathogen that vague intelligence reports suggest is being manufactured by terrorists.

Wilkes eventually discovers that the terrorist story is a fake, that the students have actually been doing the government's dirty work, developing new biological weapons. Wilkes has no choice but to recruit the campers, both to save Katie, who fled after discovering the truth, and to bring down the Teller Institute.

CRITICAL MASS is my first novel. It mixes fast-paced narration with documents from the case file, allowing the reader to better understand the characters and their world. This geeky thriller is intended for a YA/teen audience. I have included a SASE for your reply. Thank you.


Notes

Maybe it would be more appealing to the YA/teen audience if Katie and a couple kids brought down the Teller Institute, without the FBI's help. In fact, why not have them bring down the entire U.S. military-industrial complex?

The whole idea of the camp is pretty far-fetched. And Evil Editor isn't sure books about developing pathogens for bio-weapons are appropriate for your declared audience.

On the other hand, I applaud your attempt to show kids that science is far from boring, and only wish you had demonstrated this with a less-dramatic example than a weapons development program capable of ending the human race.

17 comments:

ozviaaz said...

Evil Editor,

As I look around the state of our country and the world today, I conclude that it's not as far fetched as it might be. Perhaps we ARE ruled by eight year old prodigies (8 year old evil vigilante sorcerers). Sigh. :)

I almost prefer to believe that than to think this mess is caused by adults.

Kara said...

I really liked this query. I would want to read the book if I were a YA editor. I especially like the "geeky thriller" label--it's something new and different, and very appealing. Sort of reminds me of the movie WARGAMES.

It does sound a little far-fetched, but sometimes it's hard to fully explain things in a query.

Bibliophile Bitch said...

Was Katie kidnapped or did she run away? Seems to be two different statements there.
Actually, the idea kind of intrigues me. EE I agree that having the kids be the heros would be more interesting for a YA.
It ain't Harry Potter, but maybe that's a relief!

holly said...

One of the few rules of YA books is that the narrator should be a teenager. If this is told from the FBI investigator's perspective, it's not YA.

Anonymous said...

If the main characters become teens at the camp (though the FBI investigator could still be lurking around, causing trouble), and the weirdness of having the runaway be a humanities prodigy (because why would the camp need one, and couldn't a science geek be just as troubled by the work being done there?), I would be intrigued enough to read this. Could work really well, actually.

Anon #365 said...

And Evil Editor isn't sure books about developing pathogens for bio-weapons are appropriate for your declared audience.

They're totally appropriate for this audience!

Now the middle grade crowd, yeah, it might be a bit old for them. :-)

Leah said...

I'm a 16-year-old in New York, and I don't find it so farfetched. I spent the last four years at CTY, a gifted education camp, but this summer I'm working on cancer genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Labs.

Lots of my classmates work at summer programs at government and private research institutions. On the science fair circuit I've seen kids who have worked on everything from gender studies to torpedo design to the spread of diseases. I wouldn't find it surprising to find that some of these kids have data that could be used for weapons.

I'll let EE know if my lab resembles the Teller Institute.

quot libros said...

Thanks a lot EE. I think you're right that the FBI agent doesn't belong at the center of the story. I'm going to look it over and see if I can rework it.

I realize that the humanities kids seem somewhat out of place. I think the letter didn't frame it properly. These kids are still in advanced classes, but their talents lie elsewhere. They are at the camp because they provide a different perspective. To produce a virus, you don't just need biochemists; you need social scientists who can analyze human behavior to predict the best release points and times.

The different perspective is how Katie figures out the ruse. The camp administrators inform the students what they've "discovered" the terrorists are doing and the students are supposed to reproduce the results. Katie keeps pushing for more information on where the reports are coming from. She figures that analyzing what sorts of materials and space the terrorists have access to could allow them to predict what modifications are possible. The answers she gets allow her to logically deduce that the reports are phony.

Additionally, Katie manages to flummox the math kids by leaving a note that is encoded not encrypted. Encryption uses a function to change letters into numbers and can be analyzed mathematically. Codes are random and must be memorized. Her code uses literary references.

Anonymous said...

Of course the biggest problem with this book is not the plot or audience, which sounds like it could work, (tho' I do agree that kids would probably like it if they were the ones solving, not the FBI) Because if Katie is missing, the camp would be filled with counselors/and or teachers who are mandated first reporters, which means they have to notify law enforcement and the kid's guardians that said kid is missing. It doesn't matter that they notify FBI as opposed to local cops. But to believe that no one would contact the parents to see if Katie returned home? You'd be talking about major incompetence on part of FBI and camp. And law suits galore if they found Katie harmed or dead.

Anonynono said...

Isn't this fiction?

Aint nobody got to inform nobody.

quot libros said...

The camp does try to notify Katie's family. The campers keep the message from going through; they don't want their parents to find out and get spooked.

Beth said...

Anonynono--

Even in fiction you must have credibility.

I keep wondering why the government doesn't have trained research scientists doing this work.

Anonymous said...

I keep wondering why the government doesn't have trained research scientists doing this work.

Budget cuts. :-)

Rei said...

1) "Critical mass" is a term that has to do with nuclear weaponry, not biological weaponry.

2) Even the best educated 8 year old won't have the requisite background for this sort of work. If this wasn't targetted at teenagers, but simply children, I might buy into that more, since they're not up on accuracy and like to think that they can do anything.

3) Sounds too much like "Real Genius", only less realistic.

I'll state that I mention all of this as a graduate of the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS), a program sponsored by the Texas state government for "geeky" students in which their last two years of high school are done at a college, taking normal college classes (and some classes that are tougher than the normal college equivalents) and getting two years of college credit at the same time. The normal college students hated us because we ruined the curve in their classes. We had Tamsters as young as 12 years old (pre-pubescent boys look really out of place in college classes), although most were 15-16. If you're curious what real geeky kids do when they're clustered into one location away from their parents, just ask.

For example: there's a rule in the TAMS handbook banning "lasers and other dangerous scientific equipment". This was because, back before those little diode lasers became cheap, a couple Tamsters built a small gas laser and panned it across the windows of Bruce hall, awakening the Brucelings from their drug-induced hazes.

quot libros said...

rei--

Critical Mass does not refer to the biological weapon but rather to the effects of concentrating all of the students together.

j. ray said...

Sorry, this comment is a little late to the game, but I thought I'd add it anyway because this was one of the more interesting queries I've read on this site. I just have one suggestion/question.

What if the discovery of the pathogen is serendipitous? Maybe the kids aren't necessarily supposed to be working on this sort of thing and one of Katie's friends (or Katie herself) stumbles across it. I think something like that might make the premise a bit easier to swallow. Kids working on biological pathogens sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen...

Also, thought I'd add that the set up reminded me a little of Ender's Game, which is a good thing 'cause I really liked that book.

_*Rachel*_ said...

Far-fetched or not, it could sell. Ever heard of Cody Banks?