Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Face-Lift 251


Guess the Plot

Trail of Hope

1. Commentators from Fox News discuss the forced relocation of the Cherokee in 1838.

2. Orphaned sisters Hope and Patience Tudor cross the Atlantic on the Mayflower. Twelve year old Hope has heard fanciful stories of seven idyllic golden cities in the west, ruled by a benevolent sorceress, and runs away to find them. Can Patience find her before it's too late?

3. A pioneer woman treks from Connecticut to Oregon and starts a new life raising a child. Then, from out of nowhere, her husband shows up, wanting to know where the kid came from.

4. Hope McGhee, 16, gets dragged along with her nature-loving parents for a two-week trip to the wilds of Alaska. Furious to be so far from malls and MySpace, she half-asses the survival courses, which leaves her up a creek, stranded by a freak summer storm. Can Hope blaze a trail to safety?

5. The clues point to murder, as crack private eye Dick Peters hunts for the missing debutante, Hope Diamond. Her killer left bits and pieces of her along the road, and Peters follows the Trail of Hope into peril.

6. Little Suze Hanford loves her pet banana slug Hope. But when Hope starts spelling out hot stock tips with her slime trail, she's kidnapped by Suze's next door neighbor, an unscrupulous day-trader. Will Suze ever see her pet again?


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my historical fiction, Trail of Hope, complete at 135,000 words.

When her husband Frank decides to start a fresh life elsewhere, Abigail finds herself trekking from Connecticut to the Oregon Territory in 1848. [You might include the phrase "with him," somewhere in there. Otherwise it sounds like Frank took off for Virginia with the babysitter.] To survive, Abigail must develop the physical strength and endurance to withstand the rigors of the trail west and the mental and emotional fortitude necessary to build a new life. Through fire, flood, accidents, and deaths, Abigail finds new friendships [Those sound more like things that would end her friendships. Permanently.] to sustain her and the courage necessary to succeed. But Frank questions her changing attitudes and new friends, especially the leader’s son. [The leader? Leader of what?]

[Frank: Where've you been?
Abigail: I was with the leader's son.
Frank: The leader? Leader of what?]

[Does the leader have a name? If so, I think it would add a mysterious, foreboding aspect to the book if you eliminated the name and always referred to him as "The Entity."]

Will the hardships of the journey forge Abigail and Frank tighter, or tear them apart?

First of a trilogy, Trail of Hope closes with Abigail gazing out at her new homeland, believing herself a widow, [What happened to Frank? Did the hardships of the journey tear them apart?] sheltering a newborn entrusted to her care. Book Two opens with Frank appearing out of nowhere, [No one appears out of nowhere. Is that his explanation? Because I don't see Abigail buying it.] convinced the toddler at the door is proof of her infidelity. [Oh, like Frank wasn't off boffing Miss Kitty in the room over the saloon in Cheyenne for the past year.] Book Three continues the story of that child and the growth of Portland and surrounding areas. [Your series morphs into a textbook for Urban Studies 101?] More than the story of Abigail, the series probes the reasons men and women traveled west to settle and develop new cities and territories. Why did they risk hardship, illness, even death, abandoning the settled lands in the east, especially before the 1849 gold rush? [Also, why didn't they just take the train?]

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

If I'm in Connecticut and I want to start over in a new place, and I'm traveling by covered wagon, I'm heading for New York. If my kids don't like it there, they can move to Ohio, and their kids can try Kansas, and eventually my descendents might make it to Portland, Oregon. No way am I leaving Connecticut in a covered wagon heading for Oregon. Even if that was the original plan, at some point I'm gonna tell "the leader," look pal, I know we were planning to go to Oregon, but it's been ten months, and suddenly this Pittsburgh place isn't looking half bad.

Is 135,000 the word count for book 1? Is the entire trilogy complete? Trekking across the country could be interesting. Settling in Portland with this Frank clown sounds like a drag of a book. And the history of Portland (book 3) is pure dullsville. I recommend limiting the query to book 1.

If you don't like "The Entity," for a more comical slant, call the leader "The Big Enchilada."

Frank: Where've you been?
Abigail: I was with The Little Enchilada.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love these writers who are so sure they've written the great American novel that they announce that it's "the first of a trilogy".

Anonymous said...

I have heard that editors look for authors with series in mind, but I believe they'd rather you serialize the main characters. Growth of a city comes only thru time. Sounds like you're working on an American historical family saga.

Lp

pjd said...

First of a trilogy, Trail of Hope closes with Abigail gazing out at her new homeland...

As I dig through this query trying to form my comments, I see a lot in the story that I think I might like. Unfortunately, on first read the query makes the whole thing sound tedious.

Things that intrigue me: How does Abigail feel about having this journey thrust on her? What kind of woman is she before the journey? How does she grow and develop the courage and endurance to survive? Who are the other characters? Is Frank an antagonist or not? And what's up with the leader's son? Is he love interest, hero, scoundrel, murderer, toddler?

But then you squelch my interest when you tell me it's essentially 135,000 words of back story. I would suggest trimming the entire "part of a trilogy" paragraph to say something like this: "Trail of Hope is the first in a trilogy that spans two generations in growing Portland." Leave it at that, and focus the rest of your query on convincing me to read the first book. I'm not going to read 135,000 words just so I can get to the next book, which really just leads up to what you're really writing (the history of Portland).

Fortunately, if you've done the first book well, Abigail sounds like an interesting character, and as long as you haven't simply strung together scenes from old movies, it's possible you've got something worth reading.

verification word: opouxchy
The name of an Indian tribe that shows up in the middle of "Trail of Hope" to provide comic relief.

Anonymous said...

GTP #5 is very funny.

As for the story line here, it's always best to take EE's advice. Also, the minions mean well so check your ego at the door and pay attention. -JTC

dancinghorse said...

I love (and write) historicals, and this synopsis as written doesn't work for me. If the book is written in the same style, it needs to be pruned, focused, and thought through more carefully. I don't see enough story to support 135,000 words, let alone 135K x 3 (hubby goes away, she takes in a kid, Big Misunderstanding ensues--this is the plot for a romance novel in the 70K range) and the concept for the rest lacks characters and story--it's an idea, which is nice, but it needs a lot of fleshing out. You might frame it as, "This is the saga of the X family and their rise from dirt farmers to wealthy pillars of society. Volume I tells the story of X (supply concise and "hook-y" details). In volume II, we live through (events) with X's daughter Y (brief, punchy details), and in the final volume, granddaughter Z founds the city of Z-ville and gets all the marbles--but can't find happiness at any price, until (emotionally satisfying denouement)."

There's nothing wrong with a trilogy or a generational saga, but the writing needs to be compelling and the story needs to pull the reader along. We need strong characters and a fully realized setting, and a plot with good old sweep and scope and emotional power. Your synopsis has to suggest all this. You may also want to tie it in more explicitly to the history, though you don't want to slide too far into that, either, or you lose the human element in all the dates and events.

bunnygirl said...

EE and pjd have it right, Author. Limit your query to the first book and if you feel you must mention that it's one of a trilogy, keep it brief-- one line will suffice. One pitch per book!

charlie said...

GTP #1 had me laughing for 5 minutes.

Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

"Will the hardships of the journey forge Abigail and Frank tighter, or tear them apart?"

The use of the word "forge" hear is clumsy at best, and just plain wrong at worst. I'd find a neater way to say this. The query letter is your showcase. If the language isn't perfect here, an agent might get frightened.

kis said...

The Entity was just too funny. I think I might steal it.

As for trilogies, it's fine to mention that, but you don't have to get into the details. If you feel you must give an agent a glimpse of what books two and three will be like, maybe you can include a partial, very brief view at the end of your book one synopsis. Even if the agent doesn't request a synopsis in a query package, if you get a partial request, you can include it there. That way, your query is devoted entirely to hooking the agent into reading book one.

HawkOwl said...

I wouldn't mind having a look at GTP #2. The real query, not so much. I didn't like the opening particularly, and this isn't really inspiring either. For one thing, she wouldn't develop the strength and endurance to survive while on the trail. If she didn't have it already, she'd pretty much just die. Also, neither the opening nor the query suggest any hope that Frank and Abigail will grow closer. They pretty much hate each other's guts, as far as I can tell.

So in short, the premise is interesting, but the execution doesn't seem relatable.

Writerious said...

Seeing that the destination was Portland and the heroine's name was Abigail, I had to check to see that this wasn't going to be the life of Abigail Scott Duniway. But the events don't match, so I reckon not.

You may want to read her autobiography, though, as well as diaries of other women who crossed the continent on the Oregon Trail.

I used to wonder why people crossed miles and miles of what is now the corn belt, then had to cross the Rockies, to go to Oregon, where they cut down forests to make farmland. I found out there were two reasons. First, it wasn't until the invention of the steel plow that farmers had a means of cutting through the deep turf, and second, people of European descent were used to cutting down forests to make farmland, and thought that wide open plains must be barren and infertile. Imagine their surprise when they discovered six feet of rich topsoil under that "barren" turf.

cm allison said...

Thank you folks, I appreciate all the comments and will revise as many suggest. Yes Writerous, have read many of the diaries, plus history and visited the Oregon Trail Museum, as I wanted all my "ducks in a row" before attempting to put Abby's story to paper. I think the paper-work pile of facts is as tall as the ms. Maybe it won't hit print, but at least I have Abby off my back as I've had many people read the ms as it's been written and revised several times. Having her story read by others seems to have quieted her down some, at least for now. Thanks all! (Meanwhile another lady from the period is yelling at me! Arugh!)

Anonymous said...

It's days and days later, but I'm still laughing at GTP #1. Perfect.

cm allison, have confidence in your themes of Abigail developing physical strength and mental and emotional fortitude. True, if she was physically wimpy at the outset, she'd probably die on the journey, but emotional strength can grow in those conditions. This is the stuff fiction is made of.

Speaking into an empty room,
pulp