Saturday, April 21, 2007

Face-Lift 321

Guess the Plot

Thousand Year Silence

1. In 1962, Harper Lee overhears an insightful young lad on a New York train savaging her To Kill A Mockingbird. She vows not to write again for a thousand years. The young man grows up to run a popular writing blog.

2. Searching her deceased grandmother's belongings, Naomi finds a journal that reveals a family secret that's been kept for . . . well, a very long time.

3. In March of 2375, North American Union President George M. Bush III announces the War on Terror will last at least another thousand years. So, until then, no one should disagree with him.

4. Conducting a seance at Stonehenge. the Abernethy siblings release the Wizard Merlin from a stone in which he's been trapped for a thousand years. Now if they could only shut him up.

5. As he wanders the Colorado countryside in search of a job, a car and a meal, an aspiring novelist begins to regret his vow not to speak until his book is published.

6. In the year 1006, Mary Halfweather witnesses an unspeakable crime at the convent to which she's been sent by her destitute parents. Alone, terrified, and bearing evidence that can identify the killer, Mary perishes on the journey home. A thousand years later, an archaeologist discovers her bones--and pieces together a story that's been kept silent for a millennium.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Agent:

I am writing to you about my first novel titled "Thousand Year Silence" which is complete at 97,000 words.

In 1942, the lives of a Japanese officer and an American private cross paths twice during the course of the war. [No need to say "during the course of the war"; it's obvious.] Once in the Philippines when the American saves his captured enemy’s life, and again in Japan, when their roles reverse at a prisoner of war camp. After the war, the Japanese officer would be branded a war criminal; the American- a war hero. Both, however, shared something in common which would remain a secret for [. . . a thousand years?] sixty years. [Sixty? Okay, I guess Sixty-year Silence doesn't sound as impressive. Hey . . .

  • The Hundred Years War actually lasted 116 years.
  • The movie One Million Years B.C. could have taken place no earlier than 200,000 B.C.
  • Unless I read it wrong, there were four Musketeers.
  • A "league" is approximately three miles; anything 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would be 52,000 miles out the other side of the Earth, or well on its way to the moon. But who would have bought a book titled One Measly League Under the Sea?]
Having just lost her grandmother, Naomi Yamamoto discovers an old prison journal belonging to her grandfather, Captain Shiro Yamamoto. The journal brings to life the story of the bond between two enemies and the woman between them. Here, she learns the secret that nearly died with her grandmother. Her real grandfather was the American private who had abandoned his lover upon liberation. To Naomi, the past is the answer to the memory of her grandmother, [Not clear what that means.] a woman who raised her American granddaughter despite her own extreme hatred of Americans. Finding her real grandfather, Naomi discovers the truth of love, betrayal and a marriage of calculated convenience that would forever embitter the woman who was her grandmother.

I have been a practicing attorney for fifteen years in the entertainment industry, as well as a producer of a television series and children's DVDs. [With your connections, you'd be perfect to produce Novel Deviations: The Movie. I see it as 50 or 60 hilarious two-minute scenes. Get started on the preliminary arrangements, will you?] Currently, I am an adjunct faculty member of George Mason University teaching research and writing comprehensive courses. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


(Slightly) Revised Version

In 1942, the lives of a Japanese officer and an American private cross paths twice: once in the Philippines when the American saves his captured enemy’s life, and later in Japan, when their roles reverse at a POW camp. After the war, the Japanese officer would be branded a war criminal, the American a war hero. Both, however, shared something which would remain a secret for sixty years.

Having just lost her grandmother, Naomi Yamamoto discovers an old prison journal belonging to her grandfather, Captain Shiro Yamamoto. The journal brings to light the bond between two enemies and the woman they both loved. Here, Naomi learns the secret that nearly died with her grandmother: her real grandfather was an American private who abandoned his lover upon liberation.

Naomi feels that memories of her grandmother will be illuminated if she learns what she can about her birth grandfather. When she discovers he's still alive, living in Kentucky, she drops everything and flies out. Their meeting reveals a heartbreaking story of love and betrayal and a marriage of calculated convenience that forever embittered the woman who was Naomi's grandmother.

Thousand Year Silence is a completed novel at 97,000 words. I have been a practicing attorney for fifteen years in the entertainment industry, as well as a producer of a television series and children's DVDs. Currently, I am an adjunct faculty member of George Mason University. Thank you for your time and consideration.


It sounds like a fascinating story. I'm not sure it's clear in the query that she finds her grandfather in person. The first time through I assumed you meant she "found" him by reading the journal. But perhaps a guy's wartime prison journal wouldn't have that much about love and betrayal.

You might want to mention the format. How much is Naomi's story? Is she merely a tool through which excerpts from the journal are channeled? Or is this her story, with reading the journal a crucial (but not space-consuming) event that sets her on a quest to find her birth grandfather? If, as I suspect, it's the latter, you might want to condense what's here, and expand on what happens when she finds her grandfather.

It seems unlikely a Japanese officer stationed in a combat zone would be reassigned to a POW camp. Are all officers trained for both combat and POW camp operations? You wouldn't want to waste General Patton running a POW camp, any more than you'd want Colonel Klink on your front lines, losing your war.

No doubt there are explanations for how a captured Japanese officer ends up back in Japan, and why Naomi's parents didn't raise her. Not important to the query, I guess, though I did find myself wondering.


Anonymous said...

That's not what the 20,000 in 20K Leagues Under the Sea was referring to.

I find this explains it well.

CSInman said...

#2 and #3 are great.

Anonymous said...

Ok sooo, you seem to have left out the actual connection between these far-flung characters. That's not the kind of secret to keep from your would-be-agent because the plot's not making much sense without it. I'm guessing the American messed around with the Japanese officer's daughter. Wife? Neice? Girlfriend? Or something. And Naomi was the result. Or maybe her mom was, or her dad. If that was a big secret, how did this branch of the family end up in the USA? Who did they think the dad was?

I keep finding books with plots involving women protagonists mixed up in international or supernatural intrigues and it then it turns out the Big Secret to be discovered is the identity of her parent[s] or the father of her child. Which is always a crushing disappointment. Even in the DaVinci Code, I was crushed. Why? Because I keep hoping the chick is an actual spy or nuclear scientist or sorceress or whatever terrific audacious accomplished person in her own right, not simply an unclaimed or hidden daughter/granddaughter, or someone who had sex with Mr. More Important and raised "his" child.

I would be a lot more interested in your 1942 story without having it filtered through 60 years and a granddaughter. Perhaps you should meditate on the old Ram Dass motto: Be Here Now and then revise. For the heart of your story I'm guessing the real Here = Japan and the real Now = 1942. So why would you set the novel in the USA 2002? I can't figure.

Janet said...

Um, if the American private was anything but Asian, it would have been very obvious that the resulting child was not pure Japanese. I just don't see how a secret like that could be kept. None of the relatives would have bought the cover-up.

Unless I'm missing something important here, the basic premise of the novel lacks credibility.

Anonymous said...

I, too, would want to see how the mixed race child was kept secret. I'm not an expert, but from what I've read, post-war Japanese were very aware of those GI babies and were not tolerant of their existence.

It's hard to accept the premise as shown in the query. It would be a good idea to include whatever special circumstances there are.

Robin S. said...

GTP #1 - Gotta love it, even though you're messing with my girl Harper. The only thing is, an insightful young man in 1962, unless he was one amazingly young (child) prodigy, could be closing in fast on Geezerville status at this point. Did it take him a really long time to find himself?

Isn't #6 something close to what we've seen here at some point?

I like the idea of the novel behind this query; it sounds like something I'd want to read. I would like to find out more about the answers to the question posed by Janet - is Naomi's biological grandfather's genetic background Asian, Caucasian?

pacatrue said...

Well, my perceptions may be warped, but I live in Hawaii where about 30% of the citizens are Caucasian and about 70% Asian / Pacific, with by far the largest Asian ethnicity being Japanese. And, here, the majority of marriages, and therefore children, are indeed interracial. Frequently people who are of mixed race clearly are so, but sometimes they are not. I'm thinking through the faces at my son's daycare right now and I couldn't guess the exact ethnic parentage correctly for everyone there, most maybe but not all. In fact one of his more frequent playmates has a Japanese mother, but I can't guarantee from the child's appearance what ethnicity his father is.

So the daughter would be fairly lucky to appear Japanese, but it's not crazily unlikey. I will assume the author has done a lot of reading about American GI / Japanese women relationships. If not....

Anonymous said...

I believe Japanese Americans in the military were all sent to fight in Europe or Africa during WWII, not the "Pacific theater" but people with Chinese, Korean, or other west Asian heritage might have gone anywhere. Also, a significant number of Native Americans [Navajo] were serving as "code talkers" in the west Pacific. There is no good reason to assume that either an American soldier in WWII or his child couldn't "look Asian". I think it is more reasonable to assume such a well educated and experienced author has of course taken the fundamentals of genetics into account. She just didn't mention it.

What these race questions really point out is that the query does not give readers a clear picture of the key characters. We know virtually nothing about the American. It's not clear whether the book is really about Naomi or if she's primarily there to introduce us to other characters and to illustrate the concequences of war.

the author said...

I want to start off by saying a big thank you to EE for your comments and your great advice. You really made my day when I saw you thought my story was fascinating. Thank you, thank you.

You asked how a Japanse officer could be made a prison camp commander. This position was a lowly one. The officer had been captured in the Philippines but managed to escape (not so hard given the state the American troops were in by that time) he was badly injured. When he goes back to Japan he does something that disgraces himself and his family and is sent to be a prison camp commander. And the granddaughter does find her real grandfather from a copy of a signed affidavit that was left in the journal, an affidavit on behalf of the Japanese officer when he was sent to prison. Hope this helps explain it.

I spent 5 years researching for this book and tried to make sure I covered every base and yet I always get people commenting on the dubiousness of how someone of mixed race could pass as one race or another. My niece and nephew are half white and half asian and since they were babies, everyone thought they were pure asian. They are not alone. This is not a fluke. My sister-in-law would stroll out with her blood children but because she was white and they looked asian, everyone always assumed they were adopted. That said, it is not such a secret that the child is mixed in my novel. People know and assume the child is mixed and furthermore tease him brutally all his life. He is sent to get an education in the US for a better future.

The secret is only really a secret from the granddaughter and the real grandfather, who never knew he fathered a child in Japan. The grandmother was no relation of the Japanese officer. She was left pregnant and starving with no parents and younger brothers and sisters. This happened between the surrender and the actual liberation which was over a month and a half (for all those thinking it couldn't happen - it actually happened quite a lot because the Japanese people were starving at that time and the POWs were air dropped tons of food by the US air force and so they actually helped feed the starving locals.) She is trying to find the American POW and turns to the Japanese camp commander in a hope that he can help her locate him. But the Japanese officer thinks the American POW would be better off not ever knowing and should leave Japan with no loose ends to tie him to a land he suffers so much in. Another secret is that the American POW lives with the guilt of causing the death of his girlfriend's father, a foreman at the slave labor camp who had actually taken good care of him.

The Japanese officer having lost his wife and children in Nagasaki decides to take pity on this poor girl and marries her in order to have her take care of his sick and elderly mother while he goes to prison. But all of this seems too much for a query letter.

The book is told in 3 parts interwoven together. It is told from the part of the Japanese officer during the war, the American POW both from the war and present time, and the granddaughter who has discovered the journal.

I have had an incredibly hard time trying to figure out how to work important information into a short query letter. Given the comments, I see I may have failed again, but also feel that I'm getting closer - at least I hope I am! ;o)

Anyway, thanks for all the great comments. If anyone has any ideas of what should and shouldn't go into my query from the mass of information above, please let me know! I will be forever grateful!

takoda said...

Hi, As I was reading the query, I really felt I was reading a poorly-written query for a good book. It was all over the place, but with just enough information that made your story sound intriguing. I was glad to read your follow-up!

I hope you can nail the query!


Robin S. said...

Hi Author,

As takoda said, your book sounds even more interesting now. Thanks very much for the background information!

I'm not sure how much of this material should/would go into the query, but I like the idea of using what you mentioned here:

"The book is told in 3 parts interwoven together. It is told from the part of the Japanese officer during the war, the American POW both from the war and present time, and the granddaughter who has discovered the journal"

Anonymous said...

I still think you have story-backstroy and structure issues. I'm not a fan of the multigenerational saga structure generally, and in this case particularly, I don't think it's helping you. Each character has their own interesting subplot, the subplots are tied together thematically, but you've scattered the main characters and their respective troubles so far across time and space most of them never meet and many never know the others exist. These characters are not in the same story. That's a structure problem.

Here's the basic story structure of a novel:
Pages 1-5 we meet Protagonist, his/her world, and his/her big Problem.
Pages 6-350 Protagonist experiences triumph, despair, hope, and frustration as a solution to the Problem is sought.
Pages 351-360 Protagonist finally resolves the Problem or dies.

It's easy to write a coherent query for a novel structured like that. It's very hard to write one for your project because you introduce Naomi as the Protagonist, in a world of 2002 USA, but her biggest problem is that she doesn't know who her real grandpa is and her solution is to read pretend grandpa's diary, which contains the truth. That rates about a 2 on the Problem scale. A girl reading someone's old journal is not what we call an active protagonist. She has an important revelation but she just doesn't do very much. This is worthy of about a 4-6,000 word short story.

The active people in your book with the really big size 10 Problems that would be worthy of a 600 page novel and movie are all in Japan in 1942. But you've relegated all that to backstory and stuck in an intervening generation-long story about some poor bastard being treated badly.

That's why your queries are not working.

author said...

You know I have to agree with anonymous. I wrote my entire book based in 1942. Took a class with a published author who told me that I needed to tie my story to the now and make Naomi (who was a very small part of my story) a larger part of my story. I just don't know who to listen to anymore.

Anonymous said...

Forget tying it to here & now, that's just that person's ethnocentrism talking. Your story is about those people there and then. Call it a historic piece and you can totally cut Naomi.

AmyB said...

Just to throw in my two cents, I was intrigued by the query. This sounds like a really good story. And I've known plenty of mixed-race kids who looked pure Asian.

pacatrue said...

Hey, author. I guess one way to decide is ask yourself which version of the story you liked better. Then, try querying that one a bit. If it goes nowhere, then shift it to the other version and query it -- but not to the same agents I assume.

Robin S. said...


Knowing now that you hadn't orginally intended to stretch your novel across generations, and having read anon. 12:43 pm's comments, I'd say the way to go is to listen to your original self, the one who wrote the novel based in 1942.

I realize that I'm now disagreeing with my earlier post - I do enjoy plots tolds from different points of view, different generations, etc., but, if that wasn't your original intent, I'd go back where you began. Your core story is very interesting. It doesn't need extra sheething and layering if that's not what you orginally intended, in my opinion.