Thursday, May 24, 2007

Face-Lift 340

Guess the Plot

A Gift of Myrrh

1. Arnie was hoping for a new baseball mitt, but Aunt Fran gives him the lamest birthday present ever. Now Arnie faces the biggest challenge of his young life -- writing a sincere-sounding thank-you note.

2. Diapers would have been nice. Or food or livestock or a freakin' cradle. But when Balthazar shows up with a dopey grin and a bottle of tree resin, what's Mary supposed to do?

3. Four teenage boys turn up naked and dead, their faces coated in oil of Myrrh. The boys are the first clues in a case that will lead Italian Police Detective Abele Porfirio into the heart of one of the most powerful trade unions in Europe.

4. The Fountain of Youth exists, and it falls upon Nando to eliminate all who know about it, including a hippie family in Hawaii, a 12th-century emperor, and a bearded man who's been around since the birth of Jesus.

5. Genevieve has planned her wedding down to the last detail, so when Rodney's ex-girlfriend arrives uninvited, carrying a big lump of hardened tree sap, it's up to the maid-of-honor and a renegade ex-cop-turned-wedding-singer to keep A Gift of Myrrh from becoming A Gift of Murder.

6. Naomi should have been more suspicious when her new boyfriend Balthazar brought a gift of bath oil. When she slips beneath the silky hot water a queer tingle rises up her legs. The embalming process has started, and Naomi, if she gets out of this alive, is done with

Original Version

Dear Agent/Editor:

The greatest gift is not immortality, but the ability to die—especially for someone else.

[Not quite, but close. The top ten greatest gifts:

10. The ability to die for yourself.
9. Laughter.
8. A housebroken puppy.
7. Roller blades.
6. Immortality.
5. Two dozen long-stemmed roses.
4. Myrrh.
3. A wide-screen plasma TV.
2. The ability to die for someone else.
1. The Novel Deviations twin-pack.]

Nando knows this. His brother died more than 500 years ago, sacrificed to the gods of an enemy people that soon became Nando's adopted family. Although this same family has long since died out, Nando still owes his love, loyalty, and allegiance to their memory. For their sake, his mission for nearly 200 years has been to eliminate those who know the truth: The Fountain of Youth exists and is buried under layers of concrete on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. [Nando's adopted family have died out. Apparently they didn't drink from the Fountain of Youth. So what is their connection to the Fountain, the connection that leads Nando to believe eliminating those who know about the Fountain will somehow protect his family's memory?] And he has fulfilled his duty, save for two people: his former commanding officer and himself. That officer also happens to be his son-in-law and oldest friend in the world, Johnny—Juan Ponce de Leon, who had other ideas about how to protect their family's memory. Now that a series of paintings has pointed the way back to Johnny, Nando can no longer hide from his responsibilities. [Not clear what that means.]

What Nando does not know is that Johnny hasn't been keeping the secret to himself. Others—ranging from a man Jesus healed in 28 A.D. to a legendary 12-th century emperor to a hippie family running a vegetarian cafe on Kauai—know now and their lives are at risk as well as they stand between Nando and Johnny in a centuries-old feud. [If I were going to get involved in a centuries-old feud, it wouldn't be with someone with a lame name like Nando.] As 2000 years' worth of stories unfold, secrets bigger than the Fountain come to light. [Secrets like Atlantis, the Loch Ness monster, and Canada.] Mortal and immortal alike must decide what is worth living for . . . and what is worth dying for.

"A Gift of Myrrh" is literary fiction and is complete at 99,000 words. Although the novel can stand alone, it is the first book of a planned trilogy. [The others will involve Pizarro and gold, and Cortez and frankincense.] Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.


People from the 12th century and from 28 A.D. are still alive . . . because they drank from the Fountain of Youth? Even though Florida was unknown to them at the time? Clear this up in the query.

Nando has eliminated everyone else who knows about the Fountain, except his former commanding officer. How did Nando know who knew about it?

This takes place on Earth? Who are these people who were sacrificing other people to their gods 500 years ago?

I note you don't include Nando's daughter among those who know the secret. Neither her father nor her husband told her?

I can see keeping the Fountain secret to prevent hordes of people from descending on it, but I don't quite grasp Nando's reason.


RT said...

What I get from this is that Nando and Johnny have a feud over who should know about the fountain of youth. Johnny is telling people and Nando is killing them. I'm assuming Johnny and Nando are the same age (500 yrs). Wouldn't the person Jesus healed and the emperor need to know about the fountain in THEIR lifetime? And echoing EE, I don't think many people from 28 AD traveled to Florida.

I'm guessing all these problems are query problems rather than story problems (or at least I hope so!) I think you need to present this story in a simpler way. Focus on the main character, Nando. What does he want? (at this point, to kill people to protect the FoY) Why does he want it? (not clear) What does he do to get it? What does it gain him to do so? (also very, very unclear to me.)

Anonymous said...

Ha! Thanks, EE! I obviously stripped my query down to way beyond the bare bones. Time to plump it up again with answers to your questions when I rewrite. I'm properly humbled... and amused.

phoenix said...

Ooh, ooh, EE: Question for you.

Over at Jessica Faust's BookEnds blog, there's a raging debate about whether or not to thank the agent/editor for their time and consideration when submitting a query. Well, maybe not so raging -- it seems like Jessica is about the only one who says not to do so; commentors mostly disagree with her. Do you prefer to be thanked when agents (or writers, if you accept unsolicited slush) submit work? Or do you consider that unwarranted groveling? 2007/05/query-critique-1.html 2007/05/query-critique-4.html

150 said...

This would be way funnier if the Fountain of Youth was buried under a McDonald's in Tampa, Florida.

phoenix said...

This plot is very confusing. Are we supposed to be rooting for Nando, who has apparently been going around murdering people because -- well, I'm not sure why he's snuffing people, except he seems to think that's the only way to preserve his family's memory??

I think I would instead root for Juan, "who had other ideas about how to protect their family's memory." Would these other ways be a little less murderous? After all, we poor mortals have been preserving memories for tens of thousands of years: through oral history, song, ballads, written words or paintings. Oh, did the son-in-law PAINT the family instead of commit murder in their memory? Is that why Nando's on the outs with him?

"Others...know now..." So, it takes the healed man nearly 2000 years to realize that a Fountain of Youth exists? He's just NOW realized that people don't usually live long enough to match all the "begats" in the Bible? I'd say he and that 12th-century dude are a bit slow on the uptake. Most of the other people Jesus healed died regular deaths, didn't they?

I'm guessing Nando's adopted family was Aztec or Mayan and Nando traveled to North America with Ponce de Leon, where they found the Fountain, and stuff evolved from there. No clue how murder and the other immortals fit into all this, though.

I think the intrigue is with the finding of the Fountain and the secrets that surround it and those who come into contact with it. Focus on those qualities, and leave the synopsis for later. And please, if Nando's the protag, help me understand why.

As for the top 10 gifts: Roller blades tend to fall off the list once you hit a certain age. Otherwise, yeah, I'd have to agree with the order.

Anonymous said...

This particular combo of reality & fantasy doesn't seem to be working. I could entertain the idea of a fountain of youth semiseriously, but not if its buried under pavement at some air force base in Tampa Florida. I might find it amusing for someone to kill off Ponce de Leon, but not for the reason given. We don't know much about your assassin, but he sounds impossible for the world of air force bases in Tampa Florida and I don't believe in his mission. After all -- you, me, and everyone else has obviously already heard the P. de L. legend re that fountain, so if I believe your premise I already know how the story ends [the killer guy totally botched it, eh?], or else I don't believe in your premise. Either way, I don't need to read your book.

Plus the title is a tired old familiar phrase which seems totally unrelated to the book. Everyone will think you're selling some kind of Christmas story for kids.

Anonymous said...

"After all -- you, me, and everyone else has obviously already heard the P. de L. legend re that fountain, so if I believe your premise I already know how the story ends [the killer guy totally botched it, eh?]"

So you hate my idea. Okay, I can handle that opinion. I don't take it personally. If you end up back over on this post, however, can you explain what you mean by the above? How does knowing the legend preclude the reader from believing Nando won't botch the job (which he doesn't really, by the way)? The legend of the Fountain stopped people from aging, gave them perfect health, but it didn't make them impervious to death.

The assassin, by the way, is based on and named for a true-life historical figure who was held captive by Calusa Indians for 17 years during the era of Ponce de Leon, and he is the only "first-hand" source of PdL supposedly looking for the Fountain of Youth. Were it not for him, PdL would never have been linked to the legend. For whatever faults my story and premise may have, I promise (am I allowed to say that?) I really do make Nando a believable and sympathetic assassin.

And the title was meant to allude to immortality, which is what myrrh symbolizes. And since this is a novel about immortality, I thought it was fitting. Also, one of the "mortal" characters in the book refers to the others as the magi. Finally, Prester John, the 12-th century emperor I mention (who literature says had a fountain of youth within his kingdom in the Middle East), was rumored to be a descendant of the magi.

Anyway, this is all neither here nor there since you wouldn't read my book anyway. Just thought I'd throw that information out there.
I'm aiming for more reality than fantasy despite the fantastical element of people living on and on and on.

Oh... and we don't really know what happened to the people Jesus healed. Saying, "Jesus healed him... but he died 10 years later anyway" wouldn't make the Bible quite so "fun."

Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

Evil Editor said...

Do we know that Jesus healed people in 28 A.D.? A search reveals that most sources claim his "ministry" began at the age of 30, and lasted about 4 years. Whether he was healing people earlier than that I have no idea.

pjd said...

Not quite, but close. The top ten greatest gifts:

In walking through DC two weeks ago, I walked past a church that advertised their Sunday sermon was about "the gift of debt." I can't say whether I'm surprised or not that it didn't make the top ten.

Dave said...

The date of the birth of Jesus is off by 4 years. The priest who did the first calculation missed something. I'd have to look up and find the details of the mistake but it was a mistake. So the birth took place in 4 BC and not "0"...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you put in too much reality. That's what I meant. It's highlighting the logical flaws and impossibilities. The paradoxes. The problem of making your hero be a serial killer with no good excuse for what he's doing. He's actually not very sympathetic and I would not pay to read about his efforts, no. If you were doing market research I would say sure, yeah, I'm interested in stories where they find fountains of youth but have no use for stories with the big goal is to kill everybody because the author thinks death is the greatest gift there is.

Dave said...

Author, you are writing about Nando, defender of the Fountain of Youth, and his struggles to keep the secrets he las learned over the past {500 years ?}. That he finds people who are from 28 and 1100 AD are only details. Tell us about Nando's efforts and don't get lost in the details.

Dave said...

EE - (last night I had bad dreams about yardsticks, rulers and Catholic School Nuns)

I looked up a little bit about the life of Jesus. Dating Jesus's birth to 4 BC is because Herod died in 4-3 BC and Matthew or Luke specify Herod as ruler of Israel at the time.
Dating Jesus's birth to 6 AD is from the Census of Quirinius statement. i.e. the census is the reason for the trip to Bethlehem. That's the time he was in office.
The two facts conflict and history is unclear. There isn't a resolution.

As for Jesus's life between his being found in the Temple at 12 or 14 and his meeting John the Baptist at about 30 y/o - the gospels and history are silent. He could have performed miracles and there is no record.

Evil Editor said...

And keep in mind that because the Romans couldn't think of a letter to represent the number 0 (Hello? How about the letter O?), the year 6 A.D. is really nine years after 4 B.C., not ten years after. So the time line should go something like this:
4 B.C.: Birth of Jesus
3 B.C.: Birth of Jesus
1 A.D.: Birth of Jesus
6 A.D.: Birth of Jesus
7 A.D.: Birth of Jesus

Dave said...

When the Arab invented the zero, he looked up and muttered "I think I just discovered zero!" and his sleepy buddy said "What" to which he answered, "Oh nothing, nothing."


Anonymous said...

Thanks for clearing up the timeline, EE.

Regarding this comment:

"but have no use for stories with the big goal is to kill everybody because the author thinks death is the greatest gift there is"

I can see where a few misspoken (miswritten) words have turned Nando into an unsympathetic character. And I don't actually think death is the greatest gift, but redemption (at the risk of sounding too preachy) is. And that's what the story is about, moreso than even the Fountain of Youth. But I'm (obviously) having trouble coming up with a hook that conveys that sentiment without coming off sounding like I'm writing Christian fantasy. So I tried another angle and it failed miserably. I think when I rewrite this I'll focus on Johnny/Juan since he's the one searching for forgiveness and the other characters--including Nando--are the ones that help facilitate it.

Just goes to show that brutal honesty can be helpful.

lkqquqrn said...

I don't quite follow Nando's train of thought. If the Fountain of Youth is buried under all that concrete, how could anybody ever get to it? It doesn't sound like any of the immortals are trying to uncover it, so...why not just let sleeping miracles lie?

If his answer is, "Because my father told me to," then, you're 500 years old, Nando, grow up already.

blogless_troll said...

I was really into this until you called it literary fiction. I hope it's not just a 500 year-old immortal killing people and lamenting about how great it would be to die himself. That could get tiresome.

You didn't mention it, but I'm assuming the military knows they built MacDill over the fountain. If so, Nando's gonna be taking on the entire military-industrial complex. Which is fine, but again, it's not the sort of plot that pops up in literary fiction. If they don't know they built MacDill over the fountain, then it screams contrivance, because like 150 said, it would be funnier and more likely to be under a McDonald's. Or Mons Venus.

Also, the paintings revealing secrets subplot makes this sound like the De Leon Code. I don't know how important the paintings are to the story, but I want to like this, so please, use something besides paintings. It doesn't matter how original your ideas are, if you use paintings to reveal long kept secrets, you're doomed.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of posting too much on my own query...

BloglessTroll, thanks for your comments. I've struggled all along to know what to call this. It's (small) part fantasy, large part historical fiction (a good portion of the story takes place in the past, following 3 different characters and 3 different story lines), and part plain-old fiction. (I know, I know... If I can't figure out what to call this, how will an editor or agent?)And don't worry, the paintings are a very minor part of the story and they hint at nothing like the DaVinci Code. In fact, I'll delete that portion when I rewrite the query.

blogless_troll said...

You could call it alternate history. Or just say it's a 99,000 word novel and let someone else decide.

Dave said...

In some places this type of story is called Speculative Fiction. It reminds me of the Opera Tannhauser - a man lives in the garden of fleshy delights and through the power of love and the prayers of an angel is redeemed.

BTW - I kinda like the fact that the Fountain of Youth is buried under the asphalt of McDill. I can just see come Four Star general saying "lick my asphalt" to some poor soldier.

~Nancy said...

As 2000 years' worth of stories unfold, secrets bigger than the Fountain come to light. [Secrets like Atlantis, the Loch Ness monster, and Canada.]

Hee hee hee. ;-)

For one thing, literary fiction? Huh? This sounded like fantasy to me. Is there something connecting the Fountain of Youth to something in contemporary society? Or to make a statement about society?

Where that's concerned, it's probably just me, but I thought I'd bring it up anyway.

There's some vagueness that I think needs to be cleared up, like why does Nando feel he has to eliminate everybody who knows about the Fountain of Youth? To me, protecting the memory of his family doesn't wash. (Sorry for the pun. :-))

Also, what the heck does myrrh have to do with the Fountain of Youth? Myrrh and frankincense, besides being mentioned in the Bible (the Magi), were used in mummifying bodies in ancient Egypt. I guess I just don't see what the title has to do with your story.

This sounds like it could be a good fantasy story, but I think EE hit it on the head when he said you'll have to clear up a few things first.

Good luck with it.

~Jersey Girl

Anonymous said...

This is literary fiction?


No way.

An aside: I hate "Guess the Plot". I always want to read one of the novels that it doesn't turn out to be.

bobbieanne said...

Okay, months later, here's the rewrite of just the hook. I took
all of your criticisms into account not just in writing this version, but in making adjustments in the text as well. So thanks to everyone, even those who mocked me. Humility works wonders. I'm now calling this fantasy (secret history) and the word count is down to 96,000.

Her life in shambles, Anna Watrous returns to a Kauai cafe to revisit fonder memories than her recent past can offer. Although eager for the sense of belonging she felt there five years earlier, she finds none of her friends are who they said they were.

When Johnny the dishwasher tells her a 500-year-old assassin is hunting him down, the truth comes out. Johnny is really Ponce de Leon, whose discovery of the Fountain of Youth has been kept hidden all these years. And the man looking to kill him is his oldest friend in the world. Although at one time united to save the Native Americans of the Southeast, Nando and Johnny parted centuries ago after the brutal massacre of their Calusa families—a massacre for which Nando blames him. Haunted by his own brother's ghost, Nando is driven to protect the secret of the Fountain at all costs, even his own life. As other historical figures begin to emerge, Anna realizes that either everyone she cares about is crazy or she is. Because the only other option is that they have all discovered the secrets of immortality.

Anna learns, however, that belonging will mean letting go of her understanding of the laws of nature—and of life, death, and forgiveness. Believing their stories is then the easy part. Finding a meaningful future for herself—and sticking around long enough to live it—will be the hard part.

pacatrue said...

First, let me say that I find the idea of the story very intriguing and, if I was purchasing books, I'd want to read a few pages to see what you've done with it.

My main question is about who the MC is. From the first query, it was Nando; in the comments, you mentioned perhaps re-writing it with Johnny as the focus, since it is his redemption that is at stake; and in the new query, I get the impression that Anna is the MC and she is being redeemed. I have no problem with multiple rich characters, but the best plots seem to have a single person who undergoes a change. Is that person in your novel Anna?

Dave said...

The second paragraph is a problem for me. Try this:
When Johnny Calusa {?} the dishwasher tells Anna Whltrius {?} that he is really Ponce de Leon, the discoverer of the Fountain of Youth, a secret he has kept for all his life, and that a 500-year-old assassin is hunting him down after all these years. Anna is rightly suspicious. Five hundred years ago, Nando Calusa the assassin, was Johnny's best friend and worked with him to save the Native Americans of the Southeast. They parted centuries ago after the brutal massacre of the Calusa family -- a massacre for which Nando blames Johnny. Haunted by his brother's ghost and driven to revenge, Nando has become the protector of the Fountain of Youth. He vows to destroy anyone with knowledge of the secret or die trying. As other historical figures begin to emerge, Anna realizes that either everyone she cares about is crazy or that they have discovered the secret of immortality.

The big, enticing plot point and open to your query (IMO) is this paragraph. I don't care too much for your first paragraph.

And in the third paragraph, "belonging" doesn't cut it. Make that a life and death decision. Like Becoming immortal or living out her life inless than 100 years, type life and death.
You see, I can belong to any old group but a love that is immortal is a big deal.

bobbieanne said...

Thanks, Picatrue.

No, Anna isn't really the one who undergoes redemption, she just comes to understand it better. Forgiveness has been a difficult thing for her based on things that have happened to her, so her involvement with these characters is revelatory. Johnny--and to some degree Nando--is the one that actually finds redemption thanks to Anna and another character I didn't bother naming b/c he would only add to the confusion. The story begins and ends with Anna (after the prologue), so I thought I needed to put her out there first and work from there. I just have to hope I did the right thing.

BobbieAnne said...

Oops. Pacatrue, not picatrue. Sorry about that.

And, Dave, you're not the first to tell me I need to drop the first paragraph. I suppose I need to learn to let go. By the way, the Calusa were Native Americans and lived in the part of Florida where the Fountain of Youth was rumored to have been. I always assume that if I know something then surely so does everyone else. The last to know and all that... I'll keep working at this keeping your suggestions in mind. Thanks!

sylvia said...

I like the new version a lot better -- there's a feeling of a sequence of events now rather than a bunch of facts.

Haunted by his own brother's ghost, Nando is driven to protect the secret of the Fountain at all costs, even his own life.

I still don't like this, though. Why does the brother care if it's protected and why does being haunted drive Nando? I'm sure there's actually a better reason, from everything else you've said.