Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Face-Lift 344

Guess the Plot

One Promise Too Many

1. Overachiever Kevin Gallagher is grounded for digging up his mother’s prize-winning roses and selling them on E-bay. He really wants to see the Sex Pistols Revival at the Dome and will do anything. “Mom, pleeeeaaase, I promise! I’ll make my bed, take out the trash, do my homework, wash the cars, clean the garage, stop masturbating . . . ”

2. The kidnappers promised the CEO they wouldn't harm his daughter. The CEO promised his daughter he'd get her back. The detective promised to catch the kidnappers. And the schizophrenic promised to take his medication. Will one broken promise lead to four?

3. Playboy Winston Merkle is a ladies' man, but his promises are wearing thin. When he tells Big Janey Moorcock he'll respect her in the morning, she makes sure of it by twisting his neck and eating his dead flesh. How was he supposed to know she was really Athena, daughter of Zeus?

4. Lana swore that she would hate her mother forever if she didn't get to go to the Senior Prom. She vowed to quit eating if her mom said no. And she promised to hold her breath until she turned blue. As she lapses into unconsciousness, Lana realizes that she may have made... One Promise Too Many.

5. First it was a puppy. Then a Wii. Then a trip to Disneyland. All nine-year-old Nicky wants to do is play catch with his dad, but when Dad is off on another business trip promising to "make it up to him next time," Nicky steals his sister's witchcraft book and learns a spell that will make Dad live up to every promise he's ever made. But Nicky forgot about Dad's promises to "give him something to really cry about."

6. He promised to love her. He promised to cherish her. He promised to care for her and provide for her and respect her in the morning and never cheat on her. But the day he ate the last slice of pie after promising not to, Laurie realized: she couldn't trust any of his promises.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Recent failures haunt Roger Stark as he begins a new job as Marshfield, Pennsylvania's newest detective. [Usually they promote cops to detective after recent successes, not failures. What kind of failures are we talking about?] When someone kidnaps the five-year-old daughter of a volatile CEO, Roger must cope with an enigmatic new partner, a pregnant wife, and an elusive suspect by an odd 42 hour ransom deadline. [Odd?

Kidnappers: We want the money by noon Thursday.
CEO: Noon? That only gives me . . . 42 hours. Not only is it not enough time, it's rather odd.]

ONE PROMISE TOO MANY is a completed 87,000 word mystery told from Roger's and Phil Cartier's POV. Phil is a medicated schizophrenic at the center of the mystery. When Roger busts Phil's alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the kidnapping, he flees fearing the police. [Why does he need an alibi? Why is he at the center of the mystery? What is the mystery? The identity of the kidnapper?] With his sanity faltering and Roger's partner obsessively pursing Phil, [I'm not up on my cop lingo; does that mean he's obsessively hitting Phil over the head with his purse?] an estranged girlfriend with her own agenda seems like Phil's only lifeline. [No, no, he still has "50/50" and "Ask the Audience."] Phil's movements are erratic. Do they lead the cops to the girl? Or, is Phil trapped in his own imaginary world? [You have to connect Phil to one of the crimes, or these sentences are irrelevant. Even if they were relevant, they're kind of vague.]

As the hours to the ransom delivery tick down, Roger discovers the kidnapping is a ruse to divert attention from a $100M embezzlement scheme at the CEO's company set to occur during the ransom delivery. [Divert whose attention? The CEO's? A CEO has more important things to do than check to see if the books are being cooked. The authorities? The people who investigate kidnapping aren't the same ones who handle embezzlement. If the idea is to steal money at a time when the CEO is preoccupied, why not steal it when he's asleep or on vacation, instead of committing another crime, one that's going to have the FBI (instead of the company accountants) chasing you.] The embezzler keeps unwitting co-conspirators in line through deceit [If you're a co-conspirator, can you be unwitting? Don't you have to be fairly . . . witting?] while manipulating a murderous henchman, a childhood friend of Roger's, to eliminate loose-ends. [Loose ends like the unwitting co-conspirators.] As Roger's wife goes into labor, an armed Phil holds the key to an embezzler's success and Roger's redemption for his recent failures.

[groveling and begging paragraph] [No groveling or begging. Take your lumps and move forward.]


Kidnapping is investigated by the FBI, whether there's been interstate travel or not. If the police are aware of the kidnapping, the FBI would be as well. Is the FBI in the book?

According to Wikipedia: Convicted kidnappers can expect to face life imprisonment or death penalty if convicted. In many states kidnapping is the only capital crime other than murder. Granted, no one has actually received the death penalty for kidnapping since 1960, and many states have no capital punishment; nonetheless, committing a capital crime as a ruse to distract authorities from a lesser crime (embezzlement) is like committing treason to cover up your shoplifting. Then again, no one ever said criminals were smart.

I was under the impression embezzlement took place gradually over a period of time. $100M in one fell swoop sounds more like grand theft.

If you're going to kidnap a child for ransom anyway, why not just demand $100M in ransom instead of committing embezzlement and kidnapping someone as a ruse for the same take?

It's not clear what Phil has to do with anything. How does he hold the key? You know that Phil needs to be in the query, but you haven't shown why he's a suspect in either crime.

Roger's pregnant wife can be left out.


Anonymous said...

I suggest you retitle this "The Retarded Detective", and give Phil more lines. It'll be on Oprah before the next sunrise.

Anonymous said...

Or a better title might be:

"Slammed by Gucci: Retarded Detectives Pursing Dopy Criminals"

Kanani said...

In general, this needs to be smoothened.

If Phil is a major player in this book, then you need to say something about him in your leading paragraph.

As it is, I read the second paragraph and had to refer back to the first to see if I'd missed something.

Anonymous said...

If the idea is to steal money at a time when the CEO is preoccupied, why not steal it when he's asleep or on vacation, instead of committing another crime, one that's going to have the FBI (instead of the company accountants) chasing you.]

Unless the company accountants are named Rocco and Salvatore...

Anonymous said...

Hey Evil,

I know you didn't publish my comment because I used a politically incorrect word. I'm just curious. Does this happen a lot or am I the only jerk out here who thinks nonPC can be funny?

p.s. I'll clean it up in the future.

Evil Editor said...

I don't recall not publishing anything recently. Are you sure I got it?

Anonymous said...

Heck. I can't figure that out. Maybe I accidentally sent my comment to the wrong editor. It was a suggestion that was sure to get the book onto 'Oprah'.

Evil Editor said...

Didn't get it.

phoenix said...

Not only does the embezzler commit a greater felony crime to cover up their lesser crime of embezzlement, it appears that it's because of the kidnapping that Roger discovers the embezzlement plot at all. How can that be? Someone kidnaps the daughter of a volatile CEO and the police begin to scrutinize his company? Who would have thought?

"So who would have a motive for the kidnapping?"

"Well, the CEO was pretty volatile. Maybe someone inside his own company?"

"Thinking like that is why you'll never make Detective, Officer. Sheesh."

Like the pregnant wife, the enigmatic partner can probably go unless you flesh out this person and his/her (see, I don't know anything about this person) reason for the obsessive pursuit. Why obsessive if the guy's a suspect and they have less than 42 hours to catch him? Seems that would be called "doing their job."

And if Phil is medicated, why is his sanity faltering?

What's the ransom for the girl? $100M would be a nice round number.

Probably it's just the query not doing a good job of capturing what's going on in a way that connects the reader to the characters or plot.

writtenwyrdd said...

I bet you haven't received a lot of offerings, EE. I frequently post and it disappears.

Author, this is a bit vague, and the FBI vs local law enforcement problem was a bit of a clunker. But as you didn't give us much of the plot, just some elements to go on, I can't offer much advise as to how to go on. Except list the plot and give us a reason to care.

writer-in-training said...

from the author...thanks for the comments so far...and a clarification.

According to the FBI, they only enter an intra-state kidnapping upon request of the agency that has the original jurisdiction for the case. The FBI's lack of involvement in the kidnapping up until the $100M embezzlement (grand theft) prompting the need for their help is explained away in the story--politics and publicity.

Keep it coming. One of these decades I'll write a query that matches the quality of the story.

Evil Editor said...

According to the FBI, they only enter an intra-state kidnapping upon request of the agency that has the original jurisdiction for the case.

Possibly that's the policy, though the FAQ page on their website does not make any such qualification, declaring that they will initiate the investigation, if the child is 12 or younger:

If a child is missing and possibly kidnapped, but no interstate transportation is known, will the FBI begin an investigation?

Yes. The FBI will initiate a kidnapping investigation involving a missing child "of tender years" even though there is no known interstate aspect. "Tender years" is generally defined as a child twelve years or younger. The FBI will monitor other kidnapping situations when there is no evidence of interstate travel, and it offers assistance from various entities including the FBI Laboratory.

Once the father has brought in the cops, is there any reason the cops wouldn't bring in the FBI? Do kidnappers ever say, "Bring the ransom, and you can bring in the local cops, but no FBI."?

Anonymous said...

And of course, there's still that fatal flaw in the query letter (but maybe it's explained in the novel, given that the author has said that the quality of the novel exceeds the quality of the query:

Why kidnap somebody as a diversion so a one-time embezzlement can be pulled off? Why not just do the kidnapping with a higher ransom?

Does Phil do funny stuff like put empty flower pots on his head, or talk to the mailbox?

writer-in-training said...

My next novel features a writer who worked on a novel for six years and kills his FBI agent cousin for researching a point and providing possibly inaccurate information.
Political pressure to solve "our own problems" is a factor in not bringing in the FBI by the police.
It is a very complex plot. The father is just as happy not to have the FBI involved. He set up the grand theft (embezzlement) and fears a too deep investigation will uncover his involvement before the transfer of funds in 42 hours. As much as he wants his child found, he is conflicted on this point also because he recently found out that he is not the father. He is sure he knows who is behind the kidnapping, and the kidnapping is only to keep him in line until one of his co-conspirators rip him off. Dudes in a tough spot, and then finds out who's really behind all this. The one person he thought he could count on.
Why does this ask me to enter 3 or 4 word verifications sometimes?

Evil Editor said...

It sounds much better than the query. As for your word verifications, you keep spelling it wrong. Perhaps vv and w look the same, or r and v.

using firefox 2.0 said...

I frequently have to enter the word verification two or three times. I think there's a timeout of some sort. I am wondering if maybe people don't realize their post did not get posted because of this strange word verification thing.

(this time, for example, I have to type it twice)

blogless_troll said...

You wouldn't believe the brilliant insights you've missed because I thought a sideways W was a 3.

ello said...

Hey author, your last posting was much more interesting to me than your query letter, although it reminded me of the Denzel Washington movie where they are set in Mexico and the father, played by Marc Anthony, agrees to have his daughter kidnapped because he needs the money and then he is double crossed by the crooked police, etc. Really good movie - think it was called Man on Fire? It was really good.

Your plot sounds different enough and intriguing enough what with the father finding out he is not the child's real father. I think you want to take out 90% of what you had in your query letter and start instead with the kidnapping and then introduce your detective and why he is the key to your whole plot.

Good luck

phoenix said...

I always have to type the verification twice, no matter what. If I preview first, it usually times out (I guess my posts are too long!), and then I have to enter a third verification.

Author, your CEO sounds more interesting than your detective.

Now here's a secret. Your query only has to give a flavor of what your story is about. It doesn't have to tell your whole story. And the query doesn't even have to tell the whole truth. You can't play too loose with it, but some parts of it can be fudged just a little to make the query read well and to avoid the reader asking embarrassing questions.

Step away from the book. Get out of the weeds. Try something a little more direct and simple, with a pinch of tone and tension:

Last case, a woman died because Detective Roger Stark didn't find her stalker soon enough. Now he has only 42 hours to redeem himself.

ONE PROMISE TOO MANY, a completed 87,000-word thriller, ticks down the short hours to a kidnapper's deadline. Only one complication: The kidnapped child's volatile CEO father has just embezzled $100M from his company. As he waits for the funds to transfer, he discovers the one person he thought he could count on is behind the kidnapping in a desperate ploy to seize the embezzled funds.

It's up to Detective Stark to discover the truth and track down the man who emerges as the linchpin in both crimes: Phil Cartier. But Cartier, who's recently discovered he's the victim's biological father,is a schizophrenic with a skewed perception of the truth, and can't be trusted to point the police to the child.

Now it's hour 40 and Stark still hasn't found Cartier or the victim. With only two hours left, Stark tries a desperate gambit in order to save the child and prove himself: [insert one-sentence desperate gambit here].

Beth said...

fwiw, I have to enter the word ver at least twice each time. Sometimes three or four times. It may be that occasionally I type it wrong--sometimes the little buggers are danged hard to decipher--but other times I know for sure I typed it right and it still doesn't go through.

writer in training said...

Some additional interesting thoughts. And while I did give my other characters considerable depth, it still is Roger Stark's story of redemption. And Phil is an inadvertant hero, despite his affliction. (When he ran away, he didn't take his meds, which is causing his degrading condition.)

By the way, one of his recent (past) failures was a choice he makes in Chapter 1 to protect a little girl from an intruder that had just killed her mother. The girl, yup, the same one that was kidnapped. Yep, the CEO's wife. Yep, the CEO has no love for Stark.

Oh, well. Time to plot the death of my FBI agent cousin, though the FBI not being invovled can be fixed easy enough.

Writing can be an infectious, bitchy mistress.

Thanks again for all the help.

Let's see if I can get the verification right on the first try.

Anonymous said...

Author, let your cousin live. The FBI thing isn't going to kill the story. I get the impression that you have it finessed well enough in the novel. Just not in the query letter.

You should read what Phoenix wrote about the query letter very carefully. The query letter doesn't have to cover everything. Just hit the high points and make the agent say "could be a tight story" and "what happens next?". It's the synopsis where you have to come clean, but that's OK too because there you have the freedom to introduce and explain.

In the query letter -- keep it very simple and let some basic conflict hang out without beating it to death with explanation.

My query letter improved markedly after I read all of Miss Snark's recent HOOKS CRAPOMETER. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Miss Snark or the HC, but you really ought to check it out. You'll learn what goes in a query and what doesn't.

You have a good attitude. That's vital. Keep digging and it could happen...

BuffySquirrel said...

I was miffed the other day because I thought EE hadn't posted a comment critical of his beach offerings. Then I realised I'd posted it in the wrong thread, where it made even less sense than usual.

I plead Interference by Kitten.

writer in training said...

Looks like y'all are done with me. Thanks again.

I'll let my cousin live, the work-around is easy. (Besides, the landscape is littered with stories where the FBI wasn't involved with capturing the bad guy in a short-lived kidnapping.)

By the way, Stark's partner is an ex-NYPD cop who comes out of "a boring retirement" to work in quiet Marshfield. He retired after a psychopath killed his son in front of him, and he was restrained from killing the psychopath. He has unresolved issues that have a huge impact in the story for the impressionable Stark on his first case...and for Phil.

See ya on the NYTBSL in 2009.