Sunday, May 27, 2007

Face-Lift 342

Guess the Plot

Of Myths Reborn

1. Lowly dishwasher Kavin daydreams endlessly about mythological characters while scrubbing grime off of pots and pans. But he'll wish it were only a dream, when a creature from the darkest myths comes after him.

2. When a phoenix fed up with the endless cycle of death and rebirth meets a born-again TV evangelist, sparks fly and hilarious karmic hijinks ensue.

3. The 5th graders in Miss Guthrie's class never appreciated her until she needed 2 weeks to recoup from augmentation surgery. Then they tortured the substitutes--until Principal Jones hired a psychic and summoned Ivan the Terrible.

4. If you think springing full-blown out of your father's head is bad, try getting killed by one of your own lightning bolts. Poor Zeus--a god should have enough karma to avoid being reborn as a talking rat. How will Zeus cope with the loss of his god-like powers and his new life in the alleys of Chicago?

5. Nick Jeffries is thrilled at the reception his painting of nude warriors at Thermopolae is getting from the critics. But will it also attract Josh, the young sculptor he admires from afar?

6. Of Myths Reborn, and Love Forlorn, this novel tells the tale;
Of toxic stew, Los Angeles too, and one sick humpback whale.
When love arrives, and men collide, things may become perverse.
Who will prevail, in this sweet tale, that's told in rhyming verse?

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil,

I read your blog every day and get a huge kick out of it (and maybe learn a bit too). Your website says you represent fantasy and I thought you might be interested in my fantasy novel, Of Myths Reborn.

Though but a scullion in the kitchens of the sprawling Jade Palace [Google lists 1,190,000 Jade Palaces. Amazingly, all but sixteen are Chinese restaurants.] where the Emperor dwells, Kavin daydreams of more. [He dreams of the day he will supervise the scullions.] While scrubbing the soot and grime off the insides of giant pots and cauldrons, he imagines a hundred different lives from legend, tale, and myth, but most often daydreams of Nadae, the daughter of one of the most powerful nobles in the Empire. It is just a daydream [Are you going to use the word "daydream" in every sentence?] until in a chance encounter they meet, he discovers that she likes him as well, and she has him appointed as her personal manservant. [Manservant? Is that what they called it in days of yore?] [I was going to scoff that this was about as likely as Paris Hilton falling for a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant. Then I realized the odds of Paris Hilton falling for a dishwasher are actually pretty good.]

His wildest dreams seem to be coming to fruition when, on the night of the greatest feast of the year, the Emperor is assassinated, the Palace becomes a battleground, and Nadae dies in his arms – poisoned. [Those are his wildest dreams? Maybe you should change "when" to "--until" or "but".] As the Empire dissolves into civil war about him, he discovers that he has a Traitor’s Coin, a cursed trinket that many blame for the worst betrayals in the Empire’s history. [Benedict Arnold on the witness stand: I know how it looks, but I'm innocent, I tell you. My mind was being controlled by this trinket.] The horrible realization that he might have poisoned the girl he loves under its power has just begun to sink in when the Fade Raven – a creature from the darkest, whispered myths – comes for him. [Why?]

.........................................Art by George Perez

Kavin’s story is but one from the host of characters in Of Myths Reborn. [Others include the stories of Kanneth the outhouse cleaner, David, the horse-stall scrubber, and Eleanor, laundress to Ivan the Incontinent.] It is my first novel and is complete at 125,000 words. I’d be happy to submit a synopsis, sample chapters, or the full manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time.



What do you mean, Kavin’s story is but one from the host of characters? Is this book the story of Kavin, of the war, or of a period of time in this land?

Kavin daydreams about Nadae, miraculously gets her, and then you kill her off? I'm guessing this happens fairly early, as you still have a war to deal with. Do we need Nadae in the query? Could you begin with the assassination? After emotionally involving your readers in Kavin's romantic quest, are you confident they'll stick with you through this?

What does the Fade Raven want with Kaven? Perhaps that's where your story truly lies.

Can't you come up with a better name than "Fade Raven"?

What makes Kavin think he poisoned Nadae? The coin causes the worst betrayals in history--something like the the assassination of the emperor, perhaps, but not the murder of some noble's daughter.

He discovers that he has a Traitor’s Coin? Where'd he get it? Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.


phoenix said...

Then Kavin woke up to find Nadae in the shower and he realized he had dreamed the whole thing. Like the butterfly dreaming it's a philosopher dreaming he's a butterfly conundrum. Or the whole Pam/Bobby jumping the shark dream in Dallas.

EE hit all my concerns about this query. And he gave us art by Perez! Sweet.

GTP #2 holds a special appeal for me... More stories featuring phoenixes, please!

Anonymous said...

I can't tell if this is a novel or a short story collection. I'm not sure how many scenes you wrote about a guy scrubbing dishes while imaging hot babes, etc. Hopefully no more than a brief one. I don't mind if he starts out in a scullery, if you move on quickly. For more re: the fates and dreams of scullery men, check out this old Jerry Lewis show, "Cinderfella"...

That's something you definitely want to distinguish your project from, which the decidedly uncomical poisoning of that girlfriend will certainly do.

I'm a bit anxious that you seem to be including numerous dream/sleepwalking/semi-unconscious sequences. I've heard rumors that editors more or less automatically reject anything heavy with such scenes because they believe readers prefer heros who are running around doing "actual" stuff. Google "turkey city lexicon" for more info on that.

If it is short stories and not one long one, agents will want to see that a few have already graced the pages of some lit mags, so you should start subbing widely to those, if you haven't already.

GutterBall said...

GPT 6 is outstanding. My hat's off to whoever blurped it.

As to the Fade Raven, it's not that it's a bad name, per se. It just doesn't sound scary. Sad, maybe, but not "a creature from darkest, whispered myth".

BuffySquirrel said...

In my experience with cauldrons, the soot is usually on the outside.

Dave said...

A Mmnservant for a man carries the connotations as handmaiden for women. Except, typically, male servants for aprincesses are "snipped" and we call them Eunuchs or Geldings and make silly jokes about them. It's a matter of not wanting royal bastards of less-than-highborn lineage. So you might not want to describe him as manservant.

[Others include the stories of Kanneth the outhouse cleaner, David, the horse-stall scrubber, and Eleanor, laundress to Ivan the Incontinent.] It's a dirty Job, but someone's got to do it.

Does the fact that Fade Raven and Kavin share three of five letters and sound the same mean something?

Does Kaven beat the bad guys, restore order to the realm, bring Nadea back to life, marry her and live happily ever after in the Jade Palace?
If that's the plot - then your query is getting lost in details. If the story is about a rag-tag group of survivors who search for earth {{{(ooops, sorry about that)}}} who survive their king being deposed and defeat the bad guys all while mouring the death of Nadea - then your query got equally as lost.

Is the bad luck coin the proverbial bad penny? That would be just one of the myths reborn. OR is Kavin really the mythic hero reborn? Help us out here.

Personally, I think Kavin is an unsavory rathskallion to cook the food he did. (I borrowed that phrase, BTW).

pipsqueak said...

There's definitely room to dream if you're a scullion. Such lowly beginnings for dreamers are well represented throughout the finest literature, particularly in kung fu movies (probably taking place in restaurants named Jade Palace), and Americanized in such classics as Repo Man. Ironically, it's a character named Kevin (not Kavin as in this query) who says this: "There's fuckin' room to move as a fry cook. I could be manager in two years. King. God."

Today, a scullion. Tomorrow, supervising scullions. Next year, Zeus. The year after that, a talking rat in the sewers of Chigago.

-the other rick said...

The story might be fine, but I don't get a real sense of it from the current query.

For what particular reason would the princess like a "lowly dishwasher"? Is he dashing? Does he dazzle her with tales of yore? Is she just rebellious?

Her death seems more like the inciting incident for Kavin's story than washing dishes or even meeting her.


After rising from a dishwasher to the princesses personal servent, Kavin's world is shattered when the King is assassinated and his daughter, the princess, dies in Kavin's arms after being poisoned.

With the kingdom now in civil war and a creature from the darkest myths pursuing him, Kavin must [must what?]...
The rest of the story which I can not determine from this query should follow including what his quest is?

Best of luck with the rewrite.

Anonymous said...

Ok, here's your brutally honest review. What I'm seeing here is all basically stock fantasy genre plot turns and characters. With one exception.

You threw in a surprise twist with the good guy killing his girlfriend.

There are two problems with this. 1] it's unmotivated: he's not even sure if he poisoned her or not, if he did, an evil coin made him do it. That's just not quite brilliant plotting. 2] having the good guy start murdering the other main characters virtually always kills reader interest. That's why you never see this plot twist. It's not so much original as it is long since proven to be box office poison, as EE insinuates. Editors won't go there because they already know very very few readers want to spend 5$ on a book wherein Joe Scullery yearns for Princess Beautiful and then kills her for no reason. "evil coin made me do it" is a lame excuse which does not redeem.

If you want this story to get out of the slush you're going to have to make the characters more interesting [try adding wit, not afflictions] and you're going to have to make that plot twist motivated and palatable, or totally cut it and revise. Considering that you've already been shopping this book for a year, maybe it's time to just start calling it a trunk novel and move on to a fresh new project.

writtenwyrdd said...

I was hoping for either 2 or 4.

Author, in addition to the previous commenters input, I think the sentence that really threw me was when you said, "Kavin’s story is but one from the host of characters in Of Myths Reborn." That made it seem like I'd misunderstood that this was a novel and might be a collection of stories.

Anonymous said...

First, thanks for taking the time to comment everyone.

I guess I give up on this book for good. When there's a host of characters (like A Song of Ice and Fire - structure wise, I make no claims quality wise) AND it's book 1 of 3, summarizing plot is difficult (especially since each character has his/her own plot). To paraphrase an agent's blog, if you can't write a query for your book after a year of trying, your book probably isn't good enough to query.

Though, it passed the Fantasy Novel Test (or at least thought it did), but I can't figure out how summarize the plot.

For other commenter points: There are actually no dream sequences or even anything like them. The "evil coin" made forced him to do it, the people that wanted the noble's daughter dead gave him the coin... maybe I should include that? Also, noble's daughter isn't quite a main character (though it looks like she might become one when she's killed.)

This book has been shopped for a year? I submitted 6 (absolute trash) queries a year and a half ago and have spent the time since writing and revising 20 different query letters for it, reading Agent Snark, Agent Nelson, and Evil Editor, and working on other writing periodically when I despair of this book.

Anyway, thanks again for the comments everyone. Time to toss this junk.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, not being able to describe the thing succinctly in a way that does not seem to give people erroneous impressions is usually a sign of serious structure trouble. Many of us eventually find ourselves fondly describing to our first few efforts as "that plotless mess" or equivalent. Maybe you can still extract some publishable short stories from this. That can be a great learning experience.

Sometimes it helps to take a break from writing and do a few months of reading and watching movies before embarking on a major new project. Screenwriters have made a science of structure, so you might benefit from reading about story structure in screenwriting books. STORY, by Robert McKee is the classic but there are many other good ones.

phoenix said...

Author, it's true that sometimes the best route is retreat. However, your blog research should also have turned up another very important point: Sell Book I on its own virtue. And be sure Book I is complete on its own. If it doesn't have a satisfying end on its own, then, yeah, relegate it to the closet. From your post here, it sounds like you're trying to sell a SERIES called "Of Myths Reborn," like Martin's series, "A Song of Fire and Ice."

Focus on Kavin and the civil war ensuing. Give some insight into the manipulative desires of the makers of the Traitor's Coin and how even though they might have chosen the right mark to kill Nadae, they didn't count on the boy allying with the Fade Raven and calling forth a host of legends to save the Empire. Or whatever the kernel of THIS story is. And, most importantly, include how this story is different from all the others where a fantasy empire is embroiled in civil war. Specifically, since you brought it up, how is it different from "A Game of Thrones" or any of the "A Song of Fire and Ice" titles?

Have you read all the gazillion reviews of the individual ASOFAI titles? That would be a good place to see how reviewers manage to boil down the essence of a sprawling plot into a short review. What plot points do they pick out and concentrate on? Which characters?

And end simply with the assurance this work is a standalone novel, but that it could be the first in a 3-book or limited series. DON'T try to give the series arc in the query. Sell the book at hand.

Maybe one last try after reading ASOFAI reviews and focusing just on this book and forgetting the rest of the series even exists. If it still doesn't gel, then it probably is time to move on to another project that is NOT a part of this series.

Good luck!

December/Stacia said...

EE, I almost peed myself.

Author, I think if you focus more on Kaven's guilt and horror at the idea that he might have killed the girl he loved, you've got a much more interesting story.

(PS Lol at the shower thing, Phoenix!)

Dave said...

I think you gave up too fast. If the novel is written and all you have to do is write a query, the settle down and write the letter. That bugged me all night.

I borrowed this from EREADER. It's a little dry but it serves the purpose of how to describe a sprawling story of epic proportions.

In The Source, in his signature style of grand storytelling, James Michener sweeps us back through time to the Holy Land, thousands of years ago. By exploring the lives and discoveries of modern archaeologists excavating the site of Tell Makor, Michener vividly re-creates life in and around an ancient city during critical periods of its existence, and traces the profound history of the Jews, including that of the early Hebrews and their persecution, the impact of Christianity on the Jewish world, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition.

He weaves his epic tale of love, strength, and faith until at last he arrives at the founding of Israel and the modern conflict in the Middle East. The Source is not only a compelling history of the Holy Land and its people, but a richly written saga that encompasses the development of Western civilization and the great religious and cultural ideas that have shaped our world.

Rei said...

Fade Raven?
Just, wow. That's like having a MC named "Hero Dragonheart" ;) Way cliche.

Anonymous said...

#5 tickled my fancy.

I was pronouncing his name "Kahvin" until I got to Raven, and then I switched to "Kayven" to rhyme with raven...or maybe it's Rahven. Those darned fantasy names!

That's one of many reasons this isn't my genre.

Re: cauldron soot: I've scrubbed a few (as few as possible) cast iron pots used in cooking over an open fire, and yes, it's the outside that's sooty. The insides are merely disgustingly greasy.

I agree that tossing this novel might be premature. Maybe it's time to focus and tighten, but the only thing it's clear you should scrap and start anew is the query.


Khazar-khum said...

Thanks Gutterball!