Thursday, April 05, 2007

Face-Lift 309

Guess the Plot

The Vember Mill

1. Grampa says hundreds of years ago they made a drink called cider here. Now it's where I come to meditate. To contemplate life. And to plan my revenge.

2. Jason has the most boring job ever, grinding pepper on people's salads. Then one afternoon in a curiosity shoppe he finds a small package of spice called vember. Now the female customers are throwing themselves at him, he makes more in tips than Trump, and the beautiful restaurant manager has given him Fridays off.

3. Max and Brad grind their coffee by hand in an antique mill Max got in Vember, Idaho. When the mill falls off the counter and breaks, revealing a secret treasure map, will they repair the appliance and resume their routine? Or will they follow the map to terrifying adventure . . . and romance?

4. Everyone in Rose Hill avoided the old, half-ruined Vember Mill. But when Karrie's dog Ralph chases a ball into the crumbling hulk, she follows--and discovers a portal to the ninth dimension.

5. As construction on his new mill nears completion, an evil miller makes plans to increase profits by enslaving the river spirits, forcing them to make water flow faster through his mill.

6. Forget the salt mines. Forget the rack. Forget the electrodes on the genitals. Evil Overlord Quarg has devised a more perfect form of torture . . . The Vember Mill.

Original Version

Please consider my 70,000 word YA novel, The Vember Mill. It is a modern rural fantasy about a boy who befriends a family of river spirits, and about the impending environmental catastrophe they face.

Preston can’t understand why people won’t just fix their own problems and get on with life. Everybody he knows is whining or sulking all the time, but Preston would never let himself feel like a victim. Maybe he doesn’t like the fact that he had to move away from his home and his school to live in Northern Utah surrounded by farms. Maybe he doesn’t like the way everyone avoids talking about his father’s death. But at least Preston isn’t sulking or whining.

Unfortunately, Preston’s own friends are sulkers, and they’re not even human. Corvery is a cornfield raven who worries about a mean shabby hound that went missing a long time ago, and seems to have returned. The Toll siblings are river spirits from the nearby hills, where an environmentally unsound mill is soon to be built. Everybody has a problem, but nobody is doing anything about it. Preston decides to change that. [That's two paragraphs just to introduce the setting and a few characters.]

But when he starts pushing them to take control of their lives, his friends learn that their problems run deeper than they thought. The miller plans to enslave the river spirits. They have a lot of power over their river, and he wants to use it to make water flow more quickly through his mill. He has profits and losses to consider, and if he wears out the spirits and turns a whole river to poison, so be it. Never mind the damage it will do to the Tolls, or the fact that the poisoned water will then flow down to the irrigation ditches used by farmers. To make matters worse, Corvery’s hound is on the miller’s side, and has gotten more vicious since the last time Corvery saw him. [Fortunately, Corvery has an ace up his sleeve: he knows how to fly.]

To fend off construction of the mill, Preston and his friends will need help from people who don’t want to solve their own problems, let alone somebody else’s. They’ll need help from Preston’s over-stressed stepfather, or from his depression-addled mother, or from the monstrous hawk that would rather eat Corvery than assist him. But the risks are acceptable. [Sure, they're acceptable--to Preston; he's not the one in danger of being eaten.] Preston is not willing to sulk away from a problem. [This whole thing is setting up the situation. The story, I assume, lies in the attempt to take down the miller. You never get to that part. What's their plan? What does the miller do to foil their plan? What's their new plan? Does anyone think to call in the EPA, which has strict laws against slavery?]

My short fiction has been published in paying markets, and this is my first novel. I look forward to hearing from you.

Revised Version

Preston Sturgess had to move to Northern Utah with his mom and his stepfather. He wasn't happy about it, but he's finally made some new friends, including a cornfield raven named Corvery and the Toll siblings, river spirits from the nearby hills. Okay, they're not human friends, but what do you expect? It's Utah.

A new mill is under construction, and the miller plans to enslave the river spirits. They have a lot of power over their river, and he wants to use it to make water flow more quickly through his mill. He has profits and losses to consider, and if he wears out the spirits and turns a whole river to poison, so be it. Never mind that the poisoned water will then flow down to the irrigation ditches used by farmers.

Preston isn't one to ignore a problem; he decides it's up to him to fend off construction of the mill. With help from his friends, he trains a giant hawk as a suicide bomber to blow up the mill. But the miller has allies too, an army of mercenary basset hounds who'll stop at nothing to destroy all life on the planet. Will team Preston survive to prevent an environmental catastrophe? Or will the state of Utah become a turbid cesspool of feculence, all because of . . . The Vember Mill?

The Vember Mill is a 70,000-word modern rural fantasy for a YA audience. My short fiction has been published in paying markets; this is my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This sounds like a book for a younger audience than YA. Teens may not flock to a book about a boy whose best friend is a crow.

Much of this is repetitive and general/vague. You keep saying people won't solve their own problems, won't take control of their lives, whine and sulk. Say it once, preferably specifying which people and problems you're talking about. Or leave it out entirely, as it's kind of boring.

It's not clear how it poisons the river if more water flows by. Presumably in times of melting snow or heavy rain there would be more water flowing--does this also cause pollution?

What's "vember"?

The dog may play a major role in the book, but it's not adding anything here.

If the miller plans to grind the farmers' grain, poisoning their water supply seems like bad business. It's like a company that sells bottled spring water building a plastic bottle factory that dumps chemical sludge into the lake they get the water from. Evil businessmen, like evil editors, are seldom complete idiots.


blogless_troll said...

If there weren't any river spirits around he could buy a couple of big diesel engines to ramp up productivity. More pollution bang for your buck. Screw water power.

Also, trapping whiny disembodied entities doesn't sound very cost effective, 'cause you'd have to design a device to catch them, fabricate a prototype, test and retest until an acceptable level of efficiency was achieved, etc. You'd have to hire and train somebody to use it because you wouldn't want to hang around the mill all day, and with such experimental technology employed in your day to day operations your workman's comp premium would be through the roof.

And how can you submit that query and not tell us what a vember is?

Anonymous said...

Hanging out with a talking crow, a dog, and water spirits doesn't sound quite right for "young adult" types, unless he's also got a girlfriend you forgot to mention. Little kids yearn to talk to animals. Young adults are more interested in dating.

I didn't see how the water spirits are connected to the pollution. That whole part of the plot was sort of a bewildering twist.

BuffySquirrel said...

"depression-addled" is, well, offensive. Just "depressed" will do.

Dave said...

This is very young adult. The query letter is a bit sparse but it the story is there, then it is very commercial.

It reminds me of the story "Sprited Away" that came out of Japan a few years ago. Or in the same line, "Howl's Moving Castle" for the magical side of it. BOTH of these stories are about young people who have to find their true selves and help other people out of big jams.

Robin S. said...

This sounds like it could be an interesting story. I wish you good luck with your query rewrite, to bring that story out.

And I really would like to know what vember means. Is it simply a last name or a place name, or does it mean something more?

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe that Evil Editor, master of the anagram and palindrome, has not yet figured out the meaning of Vember!

Anonymous said...

Weighing in on the "young adult" issue: no one in the publishing world is quite sure what "young adult" means, either -- the definition is always being debated. And fantasy YA could certainly include talking crows and water spirits. Fairies seem to be hot right now, believe it or not.

phoenix said...

The issue I see being debated about YA is generally around what is YA and what is Adult, not about what's YA and what's upper Middle Grade. If the story and language are sophisticated enough, you can have communicative ravens (note the author doesn't say the raven actually talks), fairies, or just about anything else and still call it YA.

However, the style and language of this query plants the story firmly in MG territory. Especially if Preston is 12 or 13 years old, which I'm guessing he must be since he "needs" the help of his mom and dad to solve the situation. This sentence, especially, sets the language expectation level for the novel:

They have a lot of power over their river, and he wants to use it to make water flow more quickly through his mill.

If the novel is written at a more sophisticated level, then the author needs to up the tone of the query to match.

I'm not following the poisoning thing either. Moving water, except in flood-type situations, is usually better aerated and filtered. Controlling water, whether through damming or locks, is generally a concern not because of resultant water purity, but because of what it does to surrounding habitats: either depriving areas of needed water or flooding bog areas and destroying the plants and animals that need that kind of habitat to survive. Increasing the speed of water already flowing in a river? I don't get the poisoning effect.

With a little modification, I can see this story idea working at the MG level. With a lot of modification to include more of the exciting plot details (they're there, right?) and tightening to include a lot of EE's rewrite, I can see this query working.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, actually there's quite a lot of debate about what's YA vs. what's middle grade. There is really not a clear definition -- probably because preteens and teenagers are all over the map in both their interests and their reading level.
However, I'm not sure this is helpful information to the author of the query.

Loose Screw said...

I assumed Vember was the name of the mill.
I agree with EE - the query doesn't seem to say what the story is about. Is it about just stopping the construction of the mill, or maybe convincing the mill operator to make it environmentally sound? Or is it about Preston forcing people to stop sulking and take control of their lives?

No Evil Monkeys said...

Vember, clearly, is the opposite of November.

42 said...

I know this face-lift is three years old, but I'm still going to post my comments.

What kind of mill is it? As EE said, if it's a grain mill then poisoning the irrigation systems is moronic. (Plus, Utah--even northern Utah--is a desert. Good luck harnessing constant water flow except in the springtime, when milling grain seems least likely. Utah water is snow runoff. You can't force water flow when there's not water to be had).

If it's a sawmill, the Evil Miller will run into problems, as Utah--even northern Utah--is a desert; he'd have better luck finding trees in, say, Canada.

If it's a mill that generates power, the Evil Miller should consider setting up an account with the power company. Even Utah has electricity nowadays.

So unless Evil Miller is avoiding the electric company for some reason (say, he needs a TON of electricity so he can restore to life a bunch of dairy cows in Logan, UT, thereby creating an army of ZOMBIE COWS), harnessing the power of water spirits and risking a poisoned water supply makes little sense.