Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Face-Lift 339

Guess the Plot

Below the Thermocline

1. It came from the Deep, and now the northern city of Eureka is covered with orange slime. Where will it spew next? San Francisco? Monterey? LA? Only the monstrous Gastropod knows. Tanya Moonbeam, marine biologist, slings off her bikini to think in the hot tub. Only her ex -- scuba expert and bastard son of Jacques Cousteau, Bud Winkerstein -- can save California from this scourge. But where is he?

2. Thirty years ago Jeremy caused Arthur's death by drowning. Now some woman has published a novel Arthur wrote, and Jeremy is worried. Is she the reincarnation of Arthur? Or . . . did she discover Arthur's body, preserved in the cold depths below the thermocline, and re-animate him?

3. An obsessive compulsive writer, in his haste to have an evil blog editor review his query, submits relentlessly, over and over the same damn material, slightly changed, but sadly still lurking . . . below the thermocline.

4. When Judy Clamsworth asks Chad Perkins how he managed to crawl up from below the themocline, he knows their first date isn't going well. Can this romance be saved? Only his assistant, the winged pixie Amanda Trueheart, knows for sure.

5. For Fred's birthday, Janie bought him the new Thermocline recliner from La-Z-Boy. When Fred disappears, though, can homicide detective Zack Martinez identify the sticky, gooey pool of slime bubbling up from the carpet below the new chair?

6. When decades of relentless tourism threaten the fish stocks of Loch Ness, environmentalist Jock MacTavish strikes a deal with Nessie: he'll ferry the tourists to the middle of the lake, and Nessie can eat them instead.

Original Version

Below the Thermocline (mainstream mystery-67,000 words)

How can young author Annie Logan prove she didn’t steal another writer’s work? Annie is promoting her third novel when she is accused of plagiarism. What she doesn’t know is that the work in question is actually her own—from a previous life. [That gives me an idea. I think I'll publish The Da Vinci Code, and put my own name on it. Then I'll claim I wrote it in a previous life and sue Dan Brown for plagiarizing it. Hell, in my previous lives I wrote Valley of the Dolls, Catch 22, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Bible. And I'm ready to start collecting my royalties.] Arthur Brensen, a once promising writer, drowned thirty years earlier, his work safeguarded by his younger brother, Jeremy. [Too many commas in that sentence. Put a period after "earlier."] [Also, you might put this information, in another form, after the first sentence of the next paragraph.]

Jeremy Brensen is Annie’s accuser. He sees an opportunity to establish a literary award in Arthur’s name using the money from a settlement against Annie’s publisher. But his strong feeling of responsibility to preserve Arthur’s work goes deeper than sibling love—Jeremy caused his brother’s death, a secret that has corroded his spirit, leaving him troubled, angry, and ashamed.

Annie suspects that Jeremy is delusional from his drinking, or [is] trying to scam her publisher, while Jeremy, in jeopardy of losing his professorship at SIU because of his drug and alcohol abuse, holds a strange fascination for Annie, his feelings caught between loathing and desire, made more confusing by the fact that he’s married. [Too many commas. Break into two sentences (eliminate "while".] [Not sure, but I think "Jeremy holds a fascination for Annie" means the opposite of what you're trying to say. Maybe "develops" a fascination, or "finds himself fascinated by . . . "]

Annie and Jeremy are both convinced the other is guilty of some deception, when a diary arrives in the mail from a woman who has read Annie’s latest novel. [Break that into two sentences.] The diary’s entries, while disturbing, shed new light on Arthur’s death, and new insight into Annie’s life.

My novella Turnback Creek won the 2006 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and will be published by Texas Review Press in the summer of 2007. Short stories of mine have appeared or are forthcoming in such publications as Southwest Review, The Minnesota Review, The Baltimore Review, Roanoke Review, The Southeast Review, Flint Hills Review, Talking River, The Iconoclast, Pisgah Review, MoonShine Review and others. Thank you for your time and consideration. [Three or four titles would be plenty.]


In a large body of water the thermocline is the moment of sudden change. Above the thermocline life flourishes. Below, decay and frigid temperatures prevail—a harsh environment where only the most tenacious life survive. [Good of you to provide the definition, though for GTP purposes, I'd have been more interested in why it's the title.]


There's nothing wrong with combining ideas into one sentence, but only if the ideas belong together. In the cases I point out, better transition is needed if you want the ideas in one sentence. For instance, Arthur Brensen, a once promising writer, drowned thirty years earlier, and ever since, his work has been safeguarded by his younger brother, Jeremy works fine. As does Annie and Jeremy are each convinced the other is guilty of some deception--until a diary arrives in the mail from a woman who has read Annie’s latest novel.

In these cases, the meaning becomes more clear.

The story sounds interesting, and you've done a good job of condensing a complicated plot so that it's clear--once those minor problems are fixed.


Justin Case said...

Thanks so much for your feedback, EE! Very helpful and much appreciated. And I loved the GTPs! I was curious what folks would come up with. Fun stuff! I think #5 & #6 will be my follow-up novels, if they'll give permission.

pjd said...

Go ahead and pursue #5, though I stole the name Zack Martinez from a previous GTP.

I find your premise interesting and would be interested to see the full synopsis and the first chapters. I do find the "desire" Jeremy feels for Annie a little creepy given the fact that Annie used to be his brother, but that creepiness seems appropriate. I love the fact that Jeremy caused Arthur's death and that the circle is being completed in this story.

I want to know more about this mystery woman who sends the diary, though. Is she a character or just a convenient way of introducing vital information?

Also, I'm unsure about the ages of the characters. Clearly, Annie can be no more than 30 if Arthur died 30 years earlier. Similarly, if Arthur was writing a book at the time of his death, then one would guess that Jeremy is likely to be at least 45ish, probably older. I don't, however, think this ambiguity needs to be clarified in the query.

All in all, I'd be interested in knowing more and seeing the synopsis at least.

Justin Case said...

Dear pjd, thanks for letting me have the recliner storyline. When I thought about what kind of GTPs people would come up with, the Thermocline from La-Z-Boy never crossed my mind. Very funny!

I appreciate your interest in my novel and you are correct in the ages…Annie is 29 and Jeremy is 45. How the diary comes to Annie is organically connected to the story and not a deus ex machina. I know I am being a bit vague, but I would be glad to supply you as much information as you need. Your interest in this sounds professional and you can contact me at

Anonymous said...

New title, please.

Try to think of one that conveys the impression you're selling a literary ghost story.

The current title just toooo obscurely metaphoric and Latin. The riddle quality is not helpful. Most potential readers will have no clue what a thermocline is and keep searching. The other 15 will pause briefly thinking this is something like the aquatic monster story of GTP #1, then move on.

Dave said...

Alberich grew up below the thermocline.

I'm not thrilled with the title. It's not bad for a working title, but it sounds like Sci Fi or cheesy horror. It came from beneath the sea. The monster from 10000 fathoms. The squid that ate Passaic. Godzilla lives down there, Rodan slithered in from there and Reptilicus hacked up a {ooops}.

Below the Thermocline is a good working title but it gives so much away, I'l bet that it gets changed.

I do like the idea of a reincarnated author channeling their previous life and getting accused of plagiarism. And the brother falling in love with the reincarnated author is delightfully creepy.

Anonymous said...

I've never understood why authors add a blurb to explain inane, incomprehensible titles that have nothing to do with the story. It usually isn't that clever even though the author is in love with it. Is there going to be a footnote on the cover of the book?

Evil Editor said...

Authors are requested to explain titles that aren't explained in the query so that EE can come up with a plot description that one of his "Guess the Plotters" might reasonably have written, given only the title. (In this case, the author explained the word, but not the title.) The explanation of "thermocline" is not part of the query.

Justin Case said...

Sounds like the title must die! Does anyone find it compelling? or is it just too obscure for everyone, more off-putting than intriguing? I would love your thoughts on this as well, EE, if you have a moment. I don't think you really commented on the title. Thanks everyone, all feedback is appreciated.

Bernita said...

Not compelling, no.
I'm of the opinion a title is your first "hook" - and I'll refrain from extending the metaphor.

Evil Editor said...

It's intrigue lies in the word "thermocline." Those looking at books in the Mystery section would probably be hooked more by Where Few Survive than by an oceanographic analogy.

Anonymous said...

I think the authorial question "does anyone find it compelling?" mistakes the whole purpose of book titles. Maybe 1 person among all who read this blog will say they find it "compelling", but so what? You need something that's generally coherent and serves your marketing purposes. In case you haven't noticed, virtually every query here gets at least one gushy endorsement but that doesn't mean these books are all ready for publication.

Plus, it's a bad sign when half the posts re your query were written by you. Try reading comments reflectively and respond after they have accumulated en mass instead of always popping up to steer the discussion in new directions.

As for the query and story, I'm the author of GTP #1 and #4. Literary melodrama is very much not my genre, so I have no idea if this will appeal to your intended audience or not.

Robin S. said...

Hi author,

I agree with pjd and Dave that your premise is interesting. And, you received a pretty good grade from EE -"The story sounds interesting, and you've done a good job of condensing a complicated plot so that it's clear--once those minor problems are fixed." Congrats.

I also think the title could use a change. It's not that I think the word thermocline is osbcure, as much as I don't think it sounds much like the genre it is - so no invitation to open the book.

I'm not all that worried that you've posted comments here - feels like an active rather than passive,one-sided 'conversation', and that works for me.

Good luck with your novel.

Anonymous said...

Finally--an interesting premise.

It's as if thermoclines had adapted keyboard tentacles to suck the imagination from writers' brains. (No, you can't use this premise--it's mine!)

Great job, Author. Good luck with it.

that 1 person said...

I like the title quite a bit, but maybe not for this story.

Also, I think people who post comments here should try to be a little less condescending, and a little more helpful. It seems that posting anonymous comments on the Internet brings out the worst in people... and everyone thinks they're an expert.

Robin S. said...

Hi 'that 1 person' - I absolutely agree with what you said- condescension is a pain in the ass to put up with, here or anywhere.
And pointless - except of course, for self-gratification purposes.

I really enjoy thinking about the various points of view presented here - but I enjoy it much more when the opinion is written as just that - an opinion, rather than 'knowledge manna' cast down from on high.

Except from EE, of course. As he IS on high, he can lay on the lessons anytime he wants. I like to learn.

pacatrue said...

I too like the premise quite a bit. I will, however, admit to being a little squicked by the idea that Jeremy is attracted to the person who is his brother in the last life. It would have to be handled pretty well to not squick me in the novel. But then a lot of people like squick.

blogless_troll said...

Also, I think people who post comments here should try to be a little less condescending, and a little more helpful. It seems that posting anonymous comments on the Internet brings out the worst in people... and everyone thinks they're an expert.

Riiiiight. And your preachy nicety-nice crap isn't condescending at all.

comma watch said...

EE: "better transition is needed if you want the ideas in one sentence. For instance, Arthur Brensen, a once promising writer, drowned thirty years earlier, and ever since, his work has been safeguarded by his younger brother, Jeremy works fine."

Not really. Since he's been dead 30 years, "once promising" is a little... redundant. And paired commas mark fragments that can be omitted without disrupting sense. Strictly, it should be:

Arthur Brensen, a promising writer, drowned thirty years earlier and, ever since, his work has been safeguarded by his younger brother.

Granted, that looks odd (if grammatically correct), so splitting the sentence would be more elegant.

that 1 person said...

Riiiiight. And your preachy nicety-nice crap isn't condescending at all.

I like to think we're all here to be supportive of one another, and to offer the honest criticism we all need to hear about our work. I do, however, feel this can be done without being snide. I suppose I'm just tired of seeing it.

BTW. Sorry to go off topic, EE.

Anonymous said...

Blogless, I had the same reaction that you did.

And by the way, brutal criticism is the name of the game here. The criticism in this comment thread is absolutely tame compared to many, many others. Some of the criticism was brought on, in my opinion, by the author's cockiness. If an author gives out his email address to what he or she thinks is an agent about to make an offer, or asks the self-gratifying question "How many of you find my title compelling?", he or she should expect some condescension.

I myself had a new a-hole ripped by commenters and EE himself seveal times. It was way more personal and caustic than what we're seeing here. I knew it was coming and I learned a lot from it, and there was no whining about it.

phoenix said...

That1person: If anyone has read through the archives, then they know what to expect when they post their work here. I don't think anyone is cruel just to be cruel. We're just strong in our opinions. And that's what they are -- opinions, however couched in didacticism they may be. IMHO.

Author: I, too, quite like the title, just not for this story. I would also note there is really no reason for you to be paranoid about revealing stuff about the story, unless it's so mind-blowingly different from anything on the market that one small leak will blow the whole deal. You've presumably completed your ms and will be revising your query and sending it out to every agent with a contact address over the next month or so. Even if someone wanted to steal your idea, there's no way anyone will complete a novel and start querying ahead of you.

Vagueness that adds to the mystery and is a compelling hook in itself can be a good conceit. Not wanting to spill the beans in public even if it makes your query weaker -- not so good. In this case, maybe playing up some mystery around the diary would work best. Or somehow tie what's in the novel to the diary so that there's a logical connection and reason for the diary appearing.

Justin Case said...

I suppose it is okay to post now. I would only like to say thanks to everyone. What some took as cockiness was my unbridled excitement over feeling like I had finally gotten this query almost right, or at least serviceable. I have written numerous queries (obviously bad) since all the agents I’ve sent to over the past three years have not been interested, with the exception of two, which obviously withered as well. And I realize that new agents I send to may still may not be interested. All of us work hard on our manuscripts, hours upon hours, years upon years, revising, polishing, hoping someone will be as excited about our work as we are.

It is only over the past month since I’ve found EE’s blog, as well as Miss Snark’s and the Hook contest at Rachel Vater’s blog, that I’ve had access to hundreds of queries, other people’s hard work, successes and failures, that I have been able to construct something that wasn’t total crap. I thank everyone who had the courage to post on these sites.

I experienced more excitement during this post when I thought that an agent was interested in my novel. Who wouldn’t? What a dream come true. But that was not the case. Instead, it was a writer like you and me who was kind of enough to offer assistance in reading and commenting on my synopsis and manuscript. What a wonderful and gracious offer and I thank that person again. The writing community by and large is a very supportive one.

In regards to another post about my vagueness when responding to who I thought was an agent, my answer was not meant to be vague because I was afraid someone would steal my work. After all, I haven’t been able to sell the damn thing in three years, why would anyone want to steal it. My vagueness arose from the fact that the post would have become ungainly in trying to explain everything. I have read many writers’ queries on these blogs and while I think some of the ideas are outstanding, I would have no idea where to start or how to write their story. We all have our own stories to write and tell. The voice speaks from within your head and it’s your voice, or my voice. As one poster said, his thing wasn’t literary melodrama. So I don’t think s/he would give a rattling shit what I posted in the way of my story, as is the case I believe with everyone at this blog in regards to theft. Everyone has the same goal—to be published. And even if someone were to visit these blogs because they were so pitiful and creatively bankrupt, how good do you think their writing would be anyway? Anyone who needs to steal another’s ideas would probably not be inclined to spend the much needed hard work and time with the craft of writing.
Once again, I appreciate all comments and am currently working on a new title. I have been working on this story for over five years and the title became something I didn’t even notice anymore, something I had ceased to consider. And a very big thank you to EE for making this possible.

phoenix said...

justin case: That was a very gracious rebuttal. I applaud you.

When I wrote my first query letters, I didn't understand the art to them. I thought they were supposed to be traditional business letters. The concept of a hook was never explained, and I would have been horrified to put such a thing into a business letter. This at a time when I was writing and editing catalog and other promotional-type copy (some even for books!). The light didn't go on until I saw what were considered good query letters on this site, as well as Miss Snark's and the others.

I've seen the same queries pop up on several sites. In some instances, the query isn't very good, but the author keeps submitting the same, unrevised one to these various sites. They get shot down over and over. In other instances, you can see a maturation as the author revisions and revises, each query attempt SO much better than the last.

Some advice you get will be terrific, dead-on stuff that really needs to be addressed. Some advice means diddly squat. And in the end, it's all so subjective.

In a recent contest, the winner out of 250 entries submitted the exact same beginning that had been submitted to Miss Snark, who poo-poo'd it, saying it didn't hold her interest.

All to say: You've done your homework, you know what a good query should look like, you've got the motivation to make it better, now just practice. Revise, compare, revise again. Then post it here again. Realize that no matter how good it is, people will nit at it. No one query will ring perfect with everyone. But trust me, when you find your stride and get the right tone and voice for your query, you'll know it. Then send that puppy out -- to everyone who didn't specifically tell you they'd put out a restraining order if you dared approach them again -- and see if you don't get some bites.

Three years is a long time, though. I hope you've been doing more writing in the meantime!