Friday, July 21, 2006

Face-Lift 128


Guess the Plot

Junior Raines is Dead

1. When the Baltimore Orioles release a single that shoots up the pop music charts, nerdy paraplegic Yankees fan Timmy Blithesdale sees a mysterious message spelled out backwards in the MP3 data file. Can he and his alcoholic former detective pal solve the riddle and prevent the Yankees from winning another World Series?

2. Millie had problems. The soda shop wouldn't take her check; her neighbor, local mime and mechanic Junior Raines, turned up dead. Worse, Junior had willed Milly his prize-winning turtle. Then things got interesting...

3. A NASCAR groupie in mourning for her favorite driver falls for a hunky mechanic - who may have forgotten to tighten Junior's lug nuts.

4. Jazz trumpeter Junior Raines brought nothing but heartache to his wife, his five children, his two mistresses, and his bandmates. But when Junior dies suddenly, the void he leaves in their lives is more profound than anyone had anticipated.

5. When his uncle dies, Conrad hopes for an inheritance. But the estate is controlled by Conrad's mother, who's fed up with Conrad lately. Will mother be the next to go?

6. Junior Raines is dead. Sonny Clear is the prime suspect. Can Detective Weathers sort out the facts before a storm front of murder strikes Big Muddy?


Original Version

Dear Agent:

I'm writing to ask you to consider representing my 111,000-word literary novel titled Junior Raines is Dead.

In the space of a week, Conrad Marshall finds his uncle's dead body, [If his uncle is Junior Raines, you might say so, thus avoiding having readers reach the end of the query and think, Yeah, but who the hell is Junior Raines?] loses his job, acts on his persistent attraction to his brother's wife, and learns that he may receive a large inheritance from his uncle—if he can convince his mother he won’t squander the money. [His mother knows better. He'll squander it on a Mexican jewelry kiosk at the mall.]

Conrad is a dreamer whose failure to meet the expectations of his accomplished, established Southern family is a source of constant frustration and friction. He dreams of owning a jewelry store [Aha! I finally guessed one right.] and impressing his family with his success. After his wealthy uncle dies, Conrad plans to use his inheritance to start his store. But his mother controls the estate, and she's reluctant to finance Conrad's ambitions, [Which leads to the sequel: Conrad Marshall's Mother is Dead.] especially after he loses his job and begins flirting with his sister-in-law. While waiting for his inheritance, Conrad discovers a Native American burial ground deep in the family's woods. His uncle's best friend, Vance Ledbetter, is raiding the burial ground and selling the artifacts on the black market. Rather than alert the authorities, Conrad sabotages the dig, [He plants land mines all around it, until, inevitably . . . Vance Ledbetter is Dead.] hoping to earn his mother's respect and his inheritance in the process. [You blew up a Native American burial ground and killed Vance? You've proven you deserve a jewelry store of your own.] But Vance is on to Conrad. His men find Conrad alone one day, [and . . . Conrad Marshall is Dead.] and the resulting violence forces him to do some belated growing up. [How profitable is it for Vance to dig up this stuff if he has a team of men on his payroll, sneaking the most valuable items into their pockets? Presumably these men were hired to dig up artifacts; that they aren't reluctant to commit violent acts against Conrad seems somewhat unlikely.] He takes control of his future and in doing so earns his store and an opportunity for real-life success and satisfaction. [That's a bit quick. Thugs beat him up so he grows up and takes control of his life? It could just as easily inspire him to seek revenge.]

Junior Raines is Dead explores the disconnect between dreams and reality and the dynamics of family acceptance and obligation. This novel should appeal to readers who enjoyed Richard Russo's Empire Falls. I’ve enclosed the first three pages and an SASE. The complete manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your valuable time.

Sincerely,


Revised Version

Dear Agent:

In the space of a week, Conrad Marshall finds his uncle's dead body, loses his job, acts on his persistent attraction to his brother's wife, and learns that he may receive a large inheritance from his uncle—if he can convince his mother he won’t squander the money.

Conrad is a dreamer whose failure to meet the expectations of his accomplished, established Southern family is a source of constant frustration and friction. He dreams of owning a jewelry store and impressing his family with his success. Conrad plans to use his inheritance to start his store. But his mother controls the estate, and she's reluctant to finance Conrad's ambitions.

When Conrad discovers that his uncle's best friend, Vance Ledbetter, is raiding a Native American burial ground deep in the family's woods, and selling the artifacts on the black market, he sees an opportunity to earn his mother's respect--and his inheritance. He sabotages the dig. But Vance is on to Conrad, and a violent encounter forces Conrad to do some belated growing up.

My 111,000-word literary novel titled Junior Raines is Dead explores the disconnect between dreams and reality and the dynamics of family acceptance and obligation. I’ve enclosed the first three pages and an SASE. The complete manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your valuable time.

Sincerely,


Notes

Have you given any thought to turning this into a murder mystery? First the rich uncle dies, then the mother who won't give Conrad his inheritance. Conrad is a suspect, but so is Ledbetter, and the old Native American patriarch whose ancestors are buried on the property, and Conrad's father, who's universally hated, and Richard Russo, whose novel was erroneously cited, etc.

I ask only because the opening (In the space of a week, Conrad Marshall finds his uncle's dead body, loses his job, acts on his persistent attraction to his brother's wife, and learns that he may receive a large inheritance from his uncle—if he can convince his mother he won’t squander the money.) has the tone of a query for a humorous murder mystery.

So . . . who the hell is Junior Raines?

16 comments:

Mazement said...

Problem: Your mother thinks that you have poor judgement, and you want to prove her wrong.

Opportunity: You discover that a family friend has been looting an Indian graveyard and selling the artifacts on the black market.

Possible courses of action:
1 - Blackmail the family friend into giving you a share of the profits. Hope that your mother will be impressed by your new-found wealth.

2 - Go down to the local university and tell Professor Jones about the graveyard, so he can dig up the rest of the artifacts and put them in a museum where they belong. Hope that your mother will be impressed by your new-found civic-mindedness.

3 - Sabotage the graveyard such that all the artifacts are broken or unrecoverable. Hope that your mother will be impressed by your ability to think outside the box.

Anonymous said...

If someone could write an entire novel based on plot #6 and keep the theme going throughout, I would like to read it. -JTC

moonpunter said...

Is this guy serious comparing it to a great, Pulitzer-winning novel like Richard Russo's Empire Falls? I've read Richard Russo's novels and you sir are no Richard Russo. You're not even Rene Russo.

bonniers said...

There's also #4 -- call the police, or the FBI.

That's right where your query would go onto my reject pile -- I don't like reading about stupid people. If it's humor, maybe, but the query doesn't sound like humor.

BuffySquirrel said...

How is an affair with his sister-in-law going to convince his mother that he's a responsible adult?

Luna said...

The second I read "Native American burial ground" I thought, "All right, zombie ghost demons from hell terrorize [accomplished, established] Southern family!"

But alas, there was only a lame plot about grave-robbing.

You may want to change Vance Ledbetter's villainous scheme to something less apt to conjure visions of the creepy lady from 'Poltergeist' in the general public.

Although if there were Native American zombie ghosts, I'd read it.

yujxhdg said...

Although if there were Native American zombie ghosts, I'd read it.

I'm pretty sure any beings that come back from the dead have to choose between being a zombie or a ghost. They're, like, opposites.

tlh said...

I could see ghost zombies. Zombies (walking, shambling undead who hunger for brains) who are also ghostly (incorporeal, moan a lot). And extremely frustrated as they try to eat your brains but their hands go right through.

Or ghost who have become zombies by possessing corpses. That'd work too. But then they wouldn't technically by zombies... oh, I give up.

I giggled at the Rene Russo joke, by the way.

msjaobsh: voodoo term for ghost zombies.

daniel said...

Hi Author,

A few suggestions...

People seem to be having a knee-jerk reaction to the term "Native American burial ground" because of strong associations with the movie Poltergeist. (Apparently changing the word "Indian" to "Native American" isn't enough to break the connection.) I would phrase it differently to get away from those associations. Instead of saying Native American, name the specific tribe--Choctaw, Cherokee, etc. This will lend a bit of authenticity to it. Then, instead of saying "burial ground," say "burial site" or even just "graveyard." Also, mention what artifacts Vance is stealing. Pottery? Jewelry? By being general about it, the readers are left to fill in the blanks with their imaginations, and sometimes peoples' imaginations conjure up some crazy crap, as you have probably seen.

The phrase "black market" is also burdened by many previous associations, some of which are undesirable if you are writing literary fiction. Instead, I would say that Vance is illegally selling protected artifacts to collectors (assuming that is what he's doing).

Regarding Conrad's sabotage of the dig, my understanding is that this action is meant to be a mistake in the context of the story. You should clarify that the poor judgment belongs to the character and not to the author. You can simply add a few words, such as, "Perhaps proving his mother's fears of his immaturity, Conrad rashly decides to..." (Phrase it more eloquently than this, of course.) This is presumably clear in the novel itself, but sometimes you need to connect the dots for the reader in a query.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. Good luck, author!

anonymous plotter said...

Plot #6 might end up being featured on TWC, if it were actually made into a full-length novel.

Anonymous said...

I'm praying Altar Boy will give me similarly good comments when my query comes up (soon).

I must be tired because I just got lost in the query. I thought there was some threat to his mother's life from the blurb (among the fake plots) and that Conrad might even be guilty. But the story did not go in that direction. Instead, Conrad grows up--which sounds like a YA plot.

And I immediately had a disconnect between the title and the genre as "literary." I was expecting murder mystery or humor or both.

All proving queries are difficult. Getting the tone, content and appeal across in a few paragraphs is tough, especially when the reader can be anyone, coming with preconceived notions.

daniel said...

I'm praying Altar Boy will give me similarly good comments when my query comes up (soon).

I've changed my display name to Daniel because the name Altar Boy was sending weird signals. (On a related note, will the minion calling himself "Papa Priest" please stop emailing me pictures of himself. And no, I will not make Papa's secret wish come true.)

I will agree to give you good comments, but only insofar as they relate to Indian burial grounds and black markets. Beyond that, we'll see.

Mazement said...

Regarding Conrad's sabotage of the dig, my understanding is that this action is meant to be a mistake in the context of the story. You should clarify that the poor judgment belongs to the character and not to the author.

That's not the problem I had with that bit. It's obvious from the query that sabotaging the dig was a bad idea. What I'm not getting is why Conrad thought it was a good idea. I could understand somebody doing that on impulse, as an emotional reaction to the desecretion of the graveyard. But I'm not seeing that in the query; it sounds like he considered going to the authorities but then decided that it would be better to sabotage the dig.

daniel said...

What I'm not getting is why Conrad thought it was a good idea.

In the query, the author should explain Conrad's motives for choosing this course of action. Perhaps Conrad thought he would look like a hero if he stopped Vance single-handedly. I don't know.

I understand the point people are making about wanting to read books about smart characters, but I can also imagine a compelling book about a basically bright young man who nevertheless makes some stupid choices and learns from the resulting fallout. I'm not saying "Junior Raines" is necessarily that book, but I think it could be done.

We all do stupid things growing up. God knows I did. I mean, was that really me who tried to catch a nail fired from a nail gun between my teeth? No it wasn't. But I did some other stuff that was pretty stupid.

kis said...

Am I crazy, or did I read a sample of this story on the Crapometer a coupla months ago?

Anonymous said...

How lovely! I return from my vacation to find that EE has reviewed my query. Thank you, Evil, for your kind suggestions and your excellent revision. And Daniel, what a sweetheart! Have you considered (EE, avert your eyes!) starting your own advice blog for aspiring authors? Last but not least, Moonpunter, it's clear you've discovered my true identity. For years I've managed to keep my parentage a secret, but I suppose the combination of Dad's talent and Mom's good looks was bound to give me away eventually.