Monday, May 07, 2007

Face-Lift 331

Guess the Plot


1. She has but one wish before she dies—to kill everyone else on the planet! Simone, feisty bastard daughter of an ex-president, has gotten her manicured nails on a nuke, brother, and isn’t afraid to use it!

2. Obsessed with the drawing of a house she did, a feisty schoolgirl named Simone sets out to find the actual house--if it exists. When she does find it, the owner tries to poison her and then moves to India. But Simone hunts her down for revenge . . . or at least a reasonable explanation.

3. The heartwarming story of a feisty girl who grows up in an orphanage in a Rio de Janeiro ghetto, playing soccer with her older brothers, finally ending up scoring the winning "golden goal" in the Women's World Cup. Also, a sympathetic gas station attendant.

4. Feisty, flatulent, and totally out of control, Simone Brewster wages war on every man who ever wronged her, including Brad Wiltonhouse III, the boyfriend who left her for dead in a drainage ditch on Interstate 55 . . . and then kicked her dog.

5. Simon Cohen has been the starting pitcher for the Temple Beth Tigers for almost a year. Now the college scouts are coming around. How will he tell them he's really his feisty twin sister Simone?

6. Ollie Dunton's meditations in the Nevada desert are disrupted when a spacecraft lands beside his tent. A tall blonde spacewoman climbs out, sporting a pair of amazing ray guns. She zaps Ollie's car into a roaring fireball. This is Simone. She's on the lam from Planet 03, 27, 12. She needs 25 pounds of U238 and she's not leaving until she gets it. Also, a feisty alien dog.

Original Version

Dear Editor/Agent,

I am seeking representation for my novel Simone. The completed manuscript is fiction and 110,000 words. [Someday someone's gonna claim to have written a novel that's nonfiction; then we'll all feel stupid for having mocked those who claimed to write fiction novels.] Simone is the story of Simone Allocette, who, spurred by the image of a house she has drawn since childhood, journeys across two continents to unravel its mystery – unaware she is hunting down the links to her true identity.

In the midwest in the 1870s, young Simone Allocette becomes obsessed with the image of a house she has drawn many times. When a school assignment has her exchanging letters with an imprisoned man, she offers him a picture of the house which he claims to recognize. Believing she is closer to its meaning, Simone and her mother travel to find the house which is occupied by a woman named Anna.

[Simone: Look mom, I drew a picture of a house.
Mom: Very nice. I'd put it on the refrigerator, except refrigerators haven't been invented yet.
Simone: Can we go to this house?
Mom: It exists?
Simone: Yes, I wrote to a guy in prison and he told me it looks like one he saw in California.
Mom: Okay, I'll book a flight on Travelocity. Oh wait, they haven't invented the Internet yet. Or computers. Or airplanes. Or cars. This inmate you wrote to--are you sure he can be trusted?]

[I've obtained a copy of Simone's drawing, showing the house she and her mother were eventually able to locate. You may view it here.] Simone is at once intrigued by Anna’s affluent lifestyle and tales of great tragedy, but when she tries to find a meaningful connection with her, this woman she has only just met tries to poison her [, but fails when Simone finds Anna's cookies too dry, and surreptitiously slips them to the dog].

Led to believe she had fallen ill, it is six years before Simone learns of the murder attempt [when she returns to confront Anna, and finds the dog dead]. She then pursues an answer, but to find Anna again, Simone must board a ship to India on a journey that is long and hazardous. [Is it really worth traveling to 1870s India just to find out why some woman tried to poison you? If someone showed up uninvited at my door claiming to be obsessed with my house, I'd try to kill her too. Before she killed me.] Once there, amid the time of the British occupation, she pretends to be an English woman and locates Anna in the small village she has moved to. Staying close to her, she begins to learn the secrets explaining the woman’s past actions, and in turn, Simone learns her own past goes back to another life. [Turns out Simone, in a past incarnation, poisoned Anna, in her past incarnation. But the only reason she did so was because in an even earlier incarnation, Anna poisoned Simone. But . . . ]

Your name and information are included in XYZ publication and I believe my novel is suited to your interests. I look forward to hearing from you.



Even if the kid is so talented she's able to draw a picture of a house so accurate it's recognizable to someone who's merely seen the house, I find it hard to believe her mother is going to join her in searching for the house, especially if we're talking about traveling a great distance in the 1870s.

In fact, in the 1870s, parents didn't drop everything just because their kid asked them to, like they do today. Back then they just whipped the kid.

Does Anna know this woman who shows up in her village is the girl she tried to poison? If she recognized her from a past life in the US, seems like she'd also recognize her from a past life in India, even if she is cleverly disguised as an Englishwoman.

It's a pretty inept poisoner who fails to kill a person who doesn't suspect she's being poisoned. How does Simone discover she was poisoned, six years after the fact? It was the CSI guys, right?


Xenith said...

I've obtained a copy of Simone's drawing, showing the house she and her mother were eventually able to locate. You may view it here.

I've seen that house! It's just up the road a bit.

Seriously. It's a modern child care and it looks very much like, well, that picture.

blogless_troll said...

The majority of these recent queries seem incomplete. They're frontloaded with backstory and sprinkled with hints of what happens instead of just telling us. No need to make it mysterious. Just lay it out there. If I were an agent or editor, this would get old real fast.

Bernita said...

Among other things, I have trouble believing that correspondence with the incarcerated would be a school assignment in the 1870's.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I too find this one tough to swallow. Maybe chop out a helluva lot of the details and just go for broad concept in the query.

EE, you were particularly en pointe today I believe.

pjd said...

I'm with Bernita. As I read through this, I was still stuck on the idea that a young girl would be encouraged to correspond with prison inmates in the 1870s. I also am skeptical that the postal system at the time lent itself well to ongoing correspondence of this sort. Keep in mind that in the 1780s mail would go overland by stage taking several months to get from the Midwest to California. Where are Simone, the prisoner, and the house? Without that information, the correspondence to me seems a little... anachronistic.

Unfamiliar with that timeframe, however, I defer to research I'm sure you've done.

In the query, you're hinting at what underlies Simone's quest, and I find that more annoying than intriguing. Early on, you tell us she's "hunting down the links to her true identity," and at the end you use the phrase "another life." But I'm left unsure whether there is a supernatural thing going on (e.g., in a past life, Simone and her husband built the house) or something more normal (e.g., as a baby she was kidnapped from that house and later adopted by her current family).

I think this is an important question you need to answer more fully in the query. Which are we supposed to interpret literally: "true identity" or "past life"?

I think that if you were to make that clear, I could find the story intriguing enough to believe the correspondence with the prisoner. (Personally, I'd be more interested in the kidnapped-as-a-baby version than the past life version, but that's neither here nor there.)

author said...

Thanks for this opportunity, EE. Thanks also to everyone who has offered a comment.

Everything that raises a question in this query I feel confident is believable in the course of the novel. However, I knew my challenge would be how to make the story sound plausible in two paragraphs. There's obviously so much I don't have room to explain.

I'm thinking Maggie has the best idea, that I should leave out the details and be more broad. Any opinions on whether this is a good way to go?

pjd said...

(Sorry, I realize I meant to write 1870s but wrote 1780s in my first comment.)

Perhaps it's not the detailed nature of the plot summary but the particular details you chose to use. Is it necessary to know that the person Simone corresponds with is imprisoned? Take that out, and it becomes simple correspondence with some penpal.

You might also find more room for different details by rewording some things. For example, why say, "She then pursues an answer, but to find Anna again, Simone must board a ship to India on a journey that is long and hazardous" instead of something more like this: "To get the answers she needs, Simone must pursue Anna to India." I think several runs through this and you'll find similar places you could prune to make room for other details.

Rei said...

There are so many believability-stretching things presented here. My take:

1) Midwest school assignment to write prisoners in the 1870s. This, back in a time when some prisons had "no laughing" or even "no talking" policies and made the inmates do hard labor.

2) Communications delays for such a task.

3) Her mother taking her across country for any purpose she came up with.

4) Her mother taking her cross-country specifically because of something a prisoner said.

5) Poisoned, but only discovered it six years later.

6) Decides to track this woman down in India.

7) Her mother actually takes her to India (even less likely than cross-country) so that this kid can try to track down a would-be murderer.

8) Actually tracks down this woman in India.

I'd find this all implausible *today*, let alone in the 1870s. Note that I'm not even mentioning the standard novel implausibilities, like her happening to correspond with the right prisoner or hooking up with a woman connected to her through past lives.

Beyond the numerous implausibilities, there's issues with what you present us. So, this woman tried to poison her, and ... ? And what? They're connected somehow through past lives? There's a huge gap in there, and you're not filling it in for us.

Re, Maggie's suggestion: Perhaps. But if you're vague, you won't get any interest, either. Instead, I'd focus on a very narrow section of what happens -- a small slice of time with few implausibilities in it. You can then flesh that out with your voice, with character development, etc. You'll still want a sense of action or tension, though. Aren't hooks tricky? :)

pjd said...

Her mother actually takes her to India (even less likely than cross-country) so that this kid can try to track down a would-be murderer.

I got the sense that she went to India as a young woman, not with her mother. I think this illustrates how the timeline may be clear in the author's head, but the reader does not know what age Simone is at any point.

Author: I sense that there could be a very interesting self-discovery novel under all this. I can imagine ways that the implausibilities become plausible through the course of the story. I don't actually think you're that far off from a good query if you answer a few of the basic questions and avoid some others.

Evil Editor said...

I should leave out the details and be more broad. Any opinions on whether this is a good way to go?

We must know Simone's age and we must know where the house is. The claim that Simone crossed two continents leads one to believe one of those crossings was to the house, the other India. If Simone is 16 and the house is on the other side of town, we can believe the mother takes her to find the house. If Simone is nine and the house is a thousand miles away, you need to leave out some details. For instance, leave out the prisoner and the distance, and just say that she and her mother come upon a house that looks like the one she's been drawing all her life.

You could leave out India and just say she discovers she was poisoned and embarks on a search for Anna that will not only explain Anna's actions, but also provide new insight into Simone's own history.

That India pops up in the book but not the query won't matter if indeed everything is plausibly presented in the book.

author said...

Thank you for your comments and advice. This novel is in fact "a journey of self-discovery" for the main character. All of the unusual situations she finds herself in lead her to learning that she's been reincarnated.

I suppose a rewrite of this query letter is in order.

author said...

Thanks again, EE. This is exactly the kind of help I needed. Know that your time and effort are truly appreciated.

BuffySquirrel said...

Given the state of medicine in the 1870s, I would think it possible not to realise that an illness was the result of a deliberate poisoning. Unfortunately, that's about the only aspect of this story that I do find plausible.

Anonymous said...

The voice is so monotone. Even if the implausible problem wasn't so big, the flat tone does nothing for me. Is this a spooky haunted-house-and-demons horror story? A mystical magical revelation story? Or what? The monotone combined with the main character's transient set of goals, the coincidental causality, and the long long time span make me fear it's basically one of those dreaded "and then" plots.

Anonymous said...

Author, think about keeping India in your query. It adds interest.


writtenwyrdd said...

Improbability award to you, Author.
I can't get past the several things that just don't seem likely, possible, or logistically possible in the 1870s.

I apologize to you because I can't think of anything nice to say about the plot as is. I think you have some interesting ideas, but my suspicion is that you need to move this plot to the present day or even a futuristic setting for it to be really workable.

If you can't get this sold as is, you might consider picking which you prefer, the historical time period or the plot elements.