Saturday, May 19, 2007

Face-Lift 336

Guess the Plot

A Time to Say Goodbye

1. Pert Susie Martin knows exactly what time it is when the appletinis wear off at the bar, and she finds herself chatting with Mort Hurmp about his insurance business.

2. When your yappy little dog shits on the neighbor’s carpet; after your mother-in-law says hello; right before the waitress brings the check.

3. Southern belle May Lynn falls in love with the preacher, but she's already engaged to her cousin. Which of them will she tell that it's . . . Time to Say Goodbye?

4. Not when he set fire to her Manolo’s. Not when he threatened her with a Ka-Bar combat knife. Not even when he shaved her head in the middle of the night. But when he melts her Lyle Lovett CD collection in the oven, she realizes it's . . . Time to Say Goodbye.

5. When Buster the Turtle dies, Marge has to face explaining mortality to little Timmy. When Timmy finds the concept difficult to grasp, Marge finally finds a way she can make her fat, lazy husband useful . . . as another example.

6. The Craddocks are hospitable, but the Morleys have no concept of time. Norma Craddock snores in the recliner while her husband is already under the covers upstairs. But the Morleys, still at the dining table recounting their latest vacation, don't realize it is . . . A Time to Say Goodbye.

Original Version

Dear Editor

From researching your website, I learned that you are looking for historical inspiration novels. My novel, A Time to Say Goodbye, is a completed 70,000-word novel about a young white woman from the Old South who becomes an abolitionist. While traveling through England with her family, May Lynn, the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, falls in love with Michael, an aspiring preacher. This causes conflict within her family because she is already betrothed to her cousin, through an arranged marriage. A plan to elope meets with disastrous consequences, which include her rape and Michael's disappearance. The pain inflicted on May Lynn from the rape, opens her eyes to the sorrowful life of the slaves on her father's plantation. [Some people have to experience pain to discover the awful truth: it hurts. Other people are able to figure this out from the screaming and moaning that accompany the whippings.] She embarks on a career of helping slaves while she tries to heal from her past.

There are many novels on the market about Southern Belles who become abolitionists; However, the young ladies in those novel usually for no apparent reason believe slavery is wrong. [Slavery? Wrong? Where do authors come up with these ridiculous characters?] My novel presents a believable reason why a Southern Belle would forget her upbringing and pursue freedom for an enslaved people. [So, if a woman lives on a southern plantation, surrounded by slavery, it's inexplicable that she would come to believe slavery is bad, but if some guy rapes her while she's touring England, the truth dawns on her?] [Idea for another novel: same story, but instead of becoming an abolitionist, the woman invents the telephone and starts England's first rape crisis hot line.] A Time to Say Goodbye is my first novel. However, I have worked as an editorial assistant for the North Carolina Literary Review. I have a MA in Literature and have studied creative writing at East Carolina University. Thank you for looking at my query. I will gladly send you the rest of my manuscript.



I'm guessing that at the time this is set, a trip to England took two weeks each way. Plus they're over there long enough for her to fall in love with a guy? Who's running the plantation during the three or four months the family is in England? How much contact would a woman traveling with her family have with one guy if she's touring the country? Is May Lynn's cousin part of the troupe? Is Michael traveling with them for some reason?

You don't need to answer all these questions in the query, though they do occur to the reader, so you might clear up some of them. You probably have room to touch on what her helping of slaves consists of, as well. Does she help them escape? Work to get them better conditions? Is this close to the war, or well before?

I'd merely stick with the facts (her cruel treatment opens her eyes) rather than imply that books in which heroines simply realize that slavery is wrong are somehow inferior. That few southern belles tried to do anything about slavery doesn't mean few knew it was wrong.


phoenix said...

While it's probably quite clear to you, Author, the connection between Mary Lynn's rape in Europe and her sudden realization that slavery in America is wrong is, I'm afraid, lost on this reader.

Also, what happened to Michael? He seems to have disappeared not only from Mary Lynn's life, but from the query as well. As does the cousin. Does Mary Lynn also give up marriage and/or looking for her missing co-eloper in lieu of her abolitionist efforts? If so, why is the family conflict and cousin even in the query?

And what is an historical inspiration novel? Is it a story inspired by history (what most of us call historical fiction, which is how EE labeled this one, or simply an historical novel)? Or do you mean historical inspirational -- hence the preacher man and, perhaps, a clue that religion plays some sort of role in her reversal of ideas about slavery?

And no, I don't buy that your plot is different because you have a believable reason for your Southern Belle to become an abolitionist. Find something else that sets it apart. In most stories, there IS a trigger that gets the heroine on her path. She doesn't just wake up one day and think, "I'm bored. What shall I do today? Oh, I know -- abolish the great southern tradition of slavery just, well, you know, because." Besides, as it's set up, your "believable" trigger sounds even thinner than that excuse.

ME said...

Your tough luck to be up on
The Day no Snarks would Bark.
The Minions and Snarklings are in mourning, just now.
I'm sure you'll get feedback tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you started with the Travelogue plot, then zoomed through the Rape plot, to plot Abolition, exchanging formerly important characters for new, etc. So by the end of the book we've totally left the initial set of issues & characters behind. Resolved them? Or just morphed onward and forgot them? This type of discontinuity is always present when a narrative has problems with being unfocused and digressive. Maybe you don't have that trouble but the query gives an impression you might need to do more editing for structure and subdue your subplots.

pacatrue said...

I think EE, phoenix, and anonymous, and now myself, are all hitting the same basic point, which is that in this query we are losing our main character and her actions in this story. We find out that she meets someone great, that a horrible crime happens to her, and that she changes her opinion on slavery and does... something. Try to change the query letter around so that it's all about what the main character does in the book and what obstacles are in her way. Is the central plot about her romance? If so, that has to be the thread through the query, and I'm guessing that her opinions on slavery become the catalyst for most of the obstacles she faces to cementing the relationship. It is in the end a romance, right?

cruisecontrol said...

I think part of the problem in your query might be the tone. And I understand your desire to point out why your novel is different, but I think when agents say to “tell them why your novel is different from all the rest,” I think they mean “show” why it is different. I really don’t believe they expect you to trample others work to make your point. With that said, maybe you can build more empathy for your character, something like:

May Lynn, daughter of a wealthy Mississippi plantation owner in {insert date}, is unaware of her position and affluence, until a rape steals everything she has come to depend upon. (It’s a bit hard to tie these things together a little more substantially not knowing who raped her, unless it’s just a “nobody” in the story) Unable to tell her parents because______, May Lynn endures the secret alone (I’m guessing here), while her view of the plantation, her family’s fortune, and slavery are forever changed. Caught in a spiraling despair, May Lynn turns to the only thing she knows for sure, her position and affluence, and turns them against her father to free his slaves. Her efforts are met with swift and devastating retaliation when her father threatens to_____. But the struggle brings May Lynn closer to her own heart, her own resolve, and her own healing.

I’m just snowballing here, but this seems to make May Lynn less altruistic and more human. I know I have left out the part about Michael and the cousin because I can’t see how they figure into the main action of the book, which is about (as you state first in your query, which I would not BTW, because an agent may feel it’s just another abolitionist story) a young white woman from the Old South who becomes an abolitionist.

Best of luck.

batgirl said...

I'll give the author props for one thing - recognising the difficulty of seeing the evil in your own society. It isn't easy. And yeah, I get sick of historical heroines who somehow have acquired 21st century ethics and views without explanation.
The query needs work, and the point is hammered more than it needs, but it's good to see it noted.

mominmaking said...

Hey all, this is the author. I just wanted to tell you thank you and that your suggestions are much appreciated.