Thursday, April 26, 2007

Face-Lift 324

Guess the Plot

The Promise

1. Lucas's dad promised him they'd be out of debt soon, but then dad got killed. Now the family's only chance is the dog. But Lucas knows nothing about training dogs. Can he convince the woman who trains chickens for the carnival to show him the ropes?

2. When his girlfriend tells him he’s getting fat, Gilly Winston vows to lay off fast food and take up meditation. But can Gilly find enlightenment in soy crisps and low-trans granola, or will he blow off everything for the winking girl behind the counter at Donut World?

3. Reilly was a surgeon. Denise was a debt collection specialist. They promised one another "till death do us part," but when Reilly finds out the patient with the emergency double-knee replacement surgery was in debt to Denise, and that he's not the first gambler she's visited in a ski mask with a crowbar, Reilly isn't sure he can keep . . . The Promise.

4. When Judy was 14, Jesus promised her she'd marry Elvis and ride in a pink car driven by a sexy chauffeur, plus have a career in pictures. Now 57, she's having a crisis of faith. Sure, her husband looks like Elvis in his heavyset years, her Geo Metro is pink, and her son Todd drives her to church on Sundays. But since when does selling popcorn at the 4-plex count as a career in pictures?

5. Sally only engaged in scandalous behavior with Tiffany after getting a sworn promise NO ONE would ever know. And what happened? Thanks to a hidden camera, they're on You-Tube -- two chocolate-smeared fat girls with bad hair trying to break the world's 120 second speed record for eating a gigantic banana split. She's going to call an attorney tomorrow and get her million dollar revenge.

6. George has broken so many promises the Guinness Book of World Records is tracking his progress and London bookies are taking bets on what broken promise will finally break the record. Heaviest betting is on "I'll respect you in the morning," and "I'll keep this presentation brief."

Original Version

Dear :

Ten-year-old Lucas Gibson knows there's not enough money for his mom's textbooks, a new alternator for the truck, or even a Mega Mini Scooter, but he's not worried. His dad has been hired to train an imported curly coated retriever for a field trial, and he promises that when they win, their family problems will be over. The promise seems for naught when his father is killed in an accident that injures Lucas and the dog and leaves their family deep in debt.

But Lucas can't forget. Despite his mother's objections, the disabled boy takes on the challenge of rehabbing the dog. Joined by his alcoholic uncle and a woman who trains chickens for carnivals, Lucas sets out to save his crumbling family only to find that field trials don't have a cash prize, the bank is going to foreclose on their farm regardless, [So if dad trained the dog to victory their troubles were over, but if Lucas trains the dog to victory, they lose everything?] [So dad's a farmer? Why did the dog's owner hire this down-on-his-luck farmer instead of a professional dog trainer?] and if he succeeds, the dog's original owner will reclaim him. His dad's promise sure isn't turning out like Lucas imagined.

[Lucas: Hey Mister, my dad was supposed to train your dog, but he's dead.

Owner: My dog's dead?!

Lucas: No, my dad's dead.

Owner: Oh, whew. Well, I guess if I want to win, now I'll have to hire a professional trainer.

Lucas: No, me and my drunk uncle and this woman I know who trains chickens will do it.

Owner: Okay. And if you win, I'll pay off the mortgage on your farm.

Lucas: Not so fast. I also get to keep the dog.]

THE PROMISE is a middle grade novel about faith and family. I have included the first five pages for your review. I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to hearing from you.



Lemme get this straight. The kid's father's dead, the kid's injured, the family's bankrupt, and winning the field trial won't help any of this. And middle-graders will want to read this because . . . they'll see that there's always someone worse off than they are?

Two or three more sentences would help. Instead of implying that all is hopeless, maybe you should hint at what might happen to save the family from complete destitution. Or add another paragraph in which you spill the ending, how Lucas wins and the dog owner marries the chicken lady and finances a dog-training franchise for Lucas, who becomes rich rich rich.


Anonymous said...

I dated a carnival chicken training woman once, and let me tell you she didn't know squat about dogs. And her beard tickled.

I'm guessing this story is inspirational in the calvinistic sense of it doesn't matter what you do, you're still going to burn in heck?

The query seems to set up the premise, but we don't get much about what actually happens or how the story resolves.

Anonymous said...

This is a parody of literary affiction plot stories, is it not? Potentially hilarious, although the humor will be lost on youth, I'm sure.

If you're serious, it sounds like you overdid the misery. There's a huge difference between A] a few charming characters with interesting adversity to overcome and B] a cast of freaky miserable characters who are all pathetically fraught with insurmountable afflictions.

This sounds likely to be too category B for me. You'd have maybe two pages to show that you're doing brilliant comedy here, not another sniveling melodrama.

AmyB said...

Wow, a query letter involving retriever field trials! Something I actually know something about! I was hooked based on that alone, though I agree with EE and the other commenters that we need a sense there's some way Lucas can get himself out of this mess, otherwise it's just depressing.

A few notes about training and field trials. (You can probably get away with stretching some things since few people know anything about field trialing.)

1. Curly coated retrievers don't win field trials. It's a bummer, but Labradors own the sport, with Golden Retrievers and Chesapeakes occasionally eking out a win.

2. There is no money in field trials. Instead, it's a huuuuge money sink. If you have a big-winning male dog, you may recoup some of the costs through stud fees, but there's a reason many owners of trial dogs are doctors and lawyers.

3. The vast majority of field trial dogs are professionally trained. They are trained daily with a group of other dogs, for hours on end. (They love the work!)

4. Someone training chickens for the carnival probably isn't going to be able to help, unless he/she has previous field training experience. Field training is different from any other type of dog training. It's highly specialized and can't be done with a clicker. Unusual training techniques are needed, to teach the dog to take direction while hundreds of yards away from his handler. The dog also needs lots and lots of practice at locating actual birds. (I suppose he could locate the chickens! But the chickens might not be so keen on that idea.)

You may know all this stuff already. It's hard to get an idea of the details based just on this query, but without knowing those details, a few things strained credibility for me.

phoenix said...

You left out that the dog's owner is suing Lucas' family because the dog -- an imported, therefore "expensive" dog -- was injured while in their care.

I do like the idea of the lady who trains chickens for carnivals, but I'm probably biased because I have a little flock of free-ranging chickens that don't obey me worth a darn. Except they do all come running when it's treat time. However, if the chicken trainer likes birds, then why would she consent to help train a field trial dog? A retriever retrieves. That means a lot of dead birds during training and during the trials.

Plus, it costs money to enter field trials and, unlike a stakes race in horse racing where it only takes one win, a single win in a field trial doesn't mean much. It's an expensive hobby.

So, we see some potential plot holes, BUT ... it's a nicely written query, style-wise. I like the writing and the voice. There's lots of promise here that you know how to write and tell a story for the middle-grade crowd. If this isn't the book to get you noticed, I bet your next one will be!

takoda said...

I'm almost finished reading one of the best books I've ever read. It's called "A Fine Balance," by Rohington Mistry. It takes the reader to 1975 India, into the lives of 4 people struggling with poverty and the caste system.

Anyway, how does this relate to your story? There should be a fine balance between despair and hope. I agree that another couple of sentences should do the trick. Give the reader some hope.

And I'm sincerely hoping your story isn't meant to be dark humor for kids.

Good luck,


Robin S. said...

Hi Author,

I'd need to see the point of your story becfore I can say anything.

You know, like in a kid's story such as Old Yeller - the boy had to shoot his dog because it became rabid while defending the family from a wolf or a bear - I think I remember that - and it
was depressing as hell to a kid watching, but at the same time it was understood that this was a rite of passage of sorts (to the boy, not the dog).

blogless_troll said...

I was going to make some smart ass remark about how carnivals--in the bearded lady, dancing bears sense-- don't really exist anymore, and about the even rarer phenomenon of performing chickens, but I stand corrected.

Megan said...

I loved this query. Well written and coherent. I'd definitely be interested in reading it if I found it in the book store.

Author, take the advice given you, but don't give up hope. This sounds great.

Melissa said...

Hi, I'm the author. Thanks everyone for your comments. I want to give some more information, just to satisfy everyone's curiosity.

The book isn't as depressing as I apparently made it out to be. Lucas's father convinced the dog's owner to give him a chance to train the dog, believing that if he could successfully do so, he would be able to make a living as a pro hunting dog trainer. Why did the owner agree? Because he hadn't intended on hunting the dog at all! Curlies don't win American field trials. This was his intended to be his wife's pet... but he felt sorry for Jake.

Lucas doesn't know any of this. He latches onto "Our family's problems will be over" and just assumes the trial will save their bacon. It doesn't, not financially away. But the project brings together his estranged family and they creating a different future that does ultimately "save" them.

Thanks again for all the feedback. I'm new at this query writing thing, and I really struggled with how much to include. I think my next iteration will be much better!

Melissa said...

Oh, and if you want to see some really cool trained chickens, go here and check out the video at the top of the page:

writtenwyrdd said...

I kept thinking of As I Lay Dying and thinking of Faulkner as I read this. It sounds like dark humor where everyone ends up dead.

Perhaps consider what is the thing that redeems the horrible plot complications from disaster and telling us what that is?

I loved that chicken trainer. It saved the query.