Sunday, July 01, 2007

Face-Lift 368


Guess the Plot

Blood from a Stone

1. In a world where fear of pain and disease makes donating blood a scary prospect, high school nerd Milton Pill makes an amazing discovery in geology class. But will his frequent trips to the local quarry make him the quarry? Also, a vampire.

2. Graham Furguson infiltrates the back rooms at The Stone, a new casino in Las Vegas, looking for someone named Fareed. There he discovers . . . blood. In The Stone. Now his life is in danger in this thriller featuring dialogue like an ice-cold martini.

3. Leading medical researchers are convinced it's bio-terrorism when people around the world contract a disease that makes them urinate blood until they die. But a rogue homeopath from Detroit discovers what they’re really up against: Flesh-Eating Kidney Stones from Outer Space!

4. He wanted to be America's newest serial killer, but he needed an angle. It came to him one night in Santa Monica. Four hours later, Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone and "Stone" Phillips were chalk lines on the pavement.

5. Identical twins Lester and Leslie compete in the Iron Chef Cooking Challenge. In round 4 Lester finally has to admit defeat when his sister serves blood pudding made with the most precious ingredient in the world - the stones of a Komodo dragon.

6. When young vampire Damarco hears that many superstars are followed around by "bloodsuckers," he attends a Rolling Stones concert. Hilarity ensues when he slips backstage and bites Keith Richards . . . and experiences his first psychedelic trip.


Original Version

I am seeking representation for "Blood from a Stone," a 125,000 word medical thriller.

Somehow, even though it's his weekend away from the hospital, Graham Ferguson winds up with a scalpel in his hand. Sometimes he's just too curious for his own good.

Graham is a young surgeon visiting Las Vegas for a medical conference. When the lectures grow dull, he can't resist the pull of the blackjack tables at The Stone, the city's newest casino. While playing he shares an intriguing conversation with a man named Fareed whose wheezing and pinprick bruises suggest he belongs in a hospital bed rather than a card table. [I have a long-standing policy whose adoption I recommend to my minions: if you're in a casino and a wheezing guy named Fareed starts a conversation with you, move to a different table. If he follows, move to a different casino.] When Graham next sees Fareed, the man is collapsed on the floor, gulping for air. [Also, if you're in a casino, and you look down at the floor by your feet and see a wheezing guy named Fareed, slowly back away and then run for the exit.] Graham rushes to his aid but is rebuffed by the casino physician, Dr. Hampstead – who seems more concerned with the knot in his tie than the gasping casino guest at his feet [Be with you in a minute, Fareed; I'm having trouble deciding if I should be in a Windsor or a Four-in-hand when the CSI film crew gets here.] – and Mr. Darling, the meaty director of casino security. Fareed is whisked away with the speed and ceremony of sweeping up a broken cocktail glass, leaving Graham stunned, concerned, and more than a little curious about what happened to his new acquaintance.

With the help of Karen, a waitress with a penchant for making him blush, Graham slips behind the façade of the casino in search of Fareed. [If you slip into the back rooms at a casino, and you want to come out alive, you'd better have a damn good excuse. And "I'm looking for a guy named Fareed" is unlikely to cut it.] In the depths of the casino – a grimy city unto itself that supports the fantasy world of card tables and floor shows [Oz and Middle Earth are fantasy worlds; card tables and floor shows, incredible as it may seem, exist.] – they find a room of beds with shackles dangling from the frames and a bloody clue that Graham can't quite decipher. [It reads:
13-3-2-21-1-1-8-5,
O Draconian devil!
Oh, lame saint!
P.S. Find Fareed Langdon]

Karen drags Graham from the casino just ahead of the security guards, but when they go to the police, a skeptical detective story dismisses them [A skeptical detective story?] as troublesome tourists with overindulgent imaginations fueled by too many vodka tonics.

[Graham: There was this guy named Fareed. He was wheezing.
Detective: Go on.
Graham: Darling whisked him away.
Detective: What did Darling look like?
Graham: He was meaty.
Detective: Let me guess. You were drinking vodka tonics?]

Yet Graham's curiosity drives him to keep digging for clues, and the thugs in tailored suits from The Stone show their disapproval with their knuckles. But when a split lip isn't enough to deter Graham, [He will find Fareed if it kills him; I admire a man who's so loyal to complete strangers.] a fresh body turns up, and now he and Karen are wanted for murder. With lives hanging in the balance – Fareed's, Karen's, even his own – Graham's only way out is to confront the enigmatic Mr. Pallinstone, [If you're going to call him enigmatic, make his last name Palindrome. Seriously. And his first name, of course, is Bob.] the self-made millionaire behind the eponymous casino, and uncover the secret of The Stone [They drug their patrons, then shackle them to beds and drain their blood to feed Mr. Palindrome. So much more civilized than fangs in the neck, plus it allows him to add a twist of lime.] before it's too late. [Palindrome, for those who haven't guessed, is, in fact, Count Dracucard.]

With dialogue as crisp as an ice-cold martini and a plot that snaps like a new playing card against the felt, [Whoa! Are you the author, or are you an overzealous publicist writing copy for the book's ad campaign after downing one too many ice-cold martinis?] "Blood from a Stone" takes a rollicking trip through Las Vegas, from the boisterous energy of the high stakes craps tables, to the dingy neon carnality of a strip club, to the chilly realities of coroner's office, [Do we get to meet Gil Grissom and Dr. Robbins?] to the penthouse of a casino high above the Nevada desert.

I am a surgical resident, and while my current publications include multiple scientific articles and textbook chapters, this is my first foray into fiction. I have enclosed the first three chapters and a SASE. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regards,


Revised Version

Somehow, though it's his weekend away from the hospital, Graham Ferguson winds up with a scalpel in his hand. Sometimes he's just too curious for his own good.

Graham is a young surgeon visiting Las Vegas for a medical conference. When the lectures grow dull, he can't resist the pull of the blackjack tables at The Pleasure Dome, the city's newest casino. While gambling, he shares an intriguing conversation with a man named Fareed whose wheezing and pinprick bruises suggest he belongs in a hospital bed, not at a card table.

Before Graham can inquire about Fareed's condition, the man collapses to the floor and is whisked away by casino security with the speed and ceremony of sweeping up a broken cocktail glass. Graham is left stunned, concerned, and more than a little curious about what happened to his new acquaintance.

With the help of Karen, a cocktail waitress, Graham slips into the depths of the casino in search of Fareed. They find a room of beds with shackles dangling from their frames and a bloody clue that Graham can't quite decipher. With lives hanging in the balance – Fareed's, Karen's, and his own – Graham has no choice but to perform a truthectomy on the enigmatic Mr. Palindrome, the self-made millionaire behind the mysterious casino.

Blood from a Stone is a 125,000-word medical thriller that takes a rollicking trip through Las Vegas, from the high stakes craps tables, to the neon carnality of a strip club, to the chilly realities of a coroner's office. I am a surgical resident with multiple scientific articles and textbook chapters to my credit; this is my first novel. I have enclosed the first three chapters and a SASE. Thank you.

Regards,


Notes

What about the part where Graham ends up with a scalpel in his hand? Does he perform an operation? An autopsy? Or is that how he confronts Palindrome? Do surgeons take their scalpels to conferences, just in case they're needed on an emergency spleenectomy?

If your introduction is one measly sentence, stick it in the conclusion and open with your hook.

Blood from a stone is a common enough expression. If you named the casino The Stone just so the title Blood from a Stone would seem more clever, it wasn't worth it. Besides which, now that the casino owner's name is Bob Palindrome, you have to change the name of the casino to The Drome, and Blood from a Drome makes no sense.

The story sounds exciting, but the original version had too much trivial detail. The revised version gets rid of that, but what it lacks is an explanation of why this is a "medical" thriller. You might want to at least hint more strongly at what's going on from a medical standpoint in the casino's dungeons.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, a surgical resident is already writing textbook chapters? I hope none of my doctors used that textbook.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the "Also, a vampire" lines are still alive and well. Or should I say, "undead"?

Man, I feel like such an outsider.

-V95

pacatrue said...

People still in medical school, not even yet residents, can write high quality journal articles as well as textbook chapters. One doesn't need to have full skills as a practicing surgeon to be have strong knowledge of a certain specialty. Journal articles and chapters are then reviewed by other specialists and suggestions or revision or rejection are made. You and your doctors will be in fine shape.

pjd said...

No comments? I guess everyone else is also having a difficult time coming up with something to say.

I was certain this was going to be GTP #3.

Two things sort of threw this for me. First, I don't understand what besides curiosity drives Graham to delve into what happened to Fareed. The natural thing I think most people would do is go to a different casino. If both the casino physician and the head of security tell me to back off, I not only back off but take off. That's way more aggravation than I need, and after all there's a doctor there. Either something fishy is going on and I don't want any part of it since it's funded by an organization that gets multiple millions in revenue per day, or nothing fishy is going on and I might be in a place where I could end up gasping on the ground with a nonchalant physician looking over me. Either way, I'm gone.

Second, I had to wrinkle my nose at the line, "With the help of Karen, a waitress with a penchant for making him blush, Graham slips behind the façade of the casino in search of Fareed." First, the word facade seems out of place. I know what you're attempting, but a facade is a fake front, and it appears The Stone is a very real casino. Second, I see no motivation for Karen to put herself on the line in this situation. To help Graham to break through security in the casino, she would have to have an incredibly strong motivation. I'm thinking someone kidnapped her child, or she's essentially some sort of slave to the bosses.

I just don't get why these people do what they do. This seems to be a case of normal people doing abnormal things so the author can have this thrilling plot.

blogless_troll said...

I agree with pjd. Maybe the "intriguing conversation" the MC has with Fareed solves the motivation problem, but it's not working in the query.

Plus, through no fault of the author's, I always read the name Karen in the voice of Sheldon J. Plankton. So I got distracted for a while, inserting him into the story as Mr. Palindrome.

Maybe if you gave the MC a better reason for being there, rather than just being you in disguise, this would work better.

Dave said...

GTP #3 is so cruel. Nothing is more painful than passing kidney stones and flesh-eating kidney stones doubly so. . . As for GTP #6, my Brit friends tell me you only have to lick Keith Richards to get high. Personally, I won't let my lips or tongue even touch a prune. Wrinkly, wrinkly, wrinkly...

I lost myself to giggles when "Mr. Darling, the meaty director of casino security." It was lunch time and I was hungry and "meaty" souds like Dinty Moore in a polyester suit with canapes and party favors.

I think the author has too much backstory. I'd rename the book "Diced and Bloody" just to be vampirically lurid. There are lots of vampire novels out there. They all have lurid descriptions of the action.

When a stranger collapses next to Young Surgeon Graham Furgusen at Stone's Casino, he finds himself drawn behind the seedy, facade of the casino. There, he discovers a blood-curdling secret about the casino owner who only wants his blood.

Or something like that. Keep it short and sweet.

Bernita said...

I just cringe when a writer announces how wonnerful, wonnerful his novel is.
Excellent backcover copy. But.

Robin S. said...

This is a really, really good group of GTPs. Can't pick a favorite.

"Be with you in a minute, Fareed; I'm having trouble deciding if I should be in a Windsor or a Four-in-hand when the CSI film crew gets here", and others...(the meaty one especially).. but, no, wait, there's another one..." "Palindrome, for those who haven't guessed, is, in fact, Count Dracucard". Damn, these are good.

Author- Like this: "the speed and ceremony of sweeping up a broken cocktail glass, leaving Graham stunned, concerned, and more than a little curious about what happened to his new acquaintance"

This one, however -- "With dialogue as crisp as an ice-cold martini and a plot that snaps like a new playing card against the felt" belongs, in my opinion, to someone else to say. Color me in love with (at least the pretense of) humble, but I really feel this is over the top for a description of your own prose. It may well be amazing, it may well be hung like a war criminal, (and if it is, good for you and congrats, by the way), but I'd rather someone else tell me all about that part.

That said (I hate that phrase, but it works this time), I'd probably enjoy reading this, as long as the prose wasn't higher than a kite on hyperbole.

Anonymous said...

...it may well be hung like a war criminal...

I believe that should be "hanged like a war criminal..."





j/k -- don't hit me.







But it should be, really....

Pete said...

Now if this were about Gregory House, I'd be all over it like Evil Editor on bacon.

You could change the doctor's name to Stone, and then have him be diabetic. That works with your title.

*clears out his desk and leaves in disgrace*

Anonymous said...

The main characters seem too randomly chosen for this to work. Their fates are totally independent. What does it matter to the waitress what becomes of ol' Fareed? He's just another hapless guy she never even met and he wouldn't be the first to go Vegas just to crash on the carpet and die. People keel over and die on vacation all the time. You soon get gallows humor about it if you work around tourists, you don't get all excited about plots involving supernatural basement denizens. It would work much better if your chosen sleuths actually cared deeply about the Fareed before he ended up on the carpet. They need to anticipate suffering some dire concequence or tragic heartbreak if all goes wrong with him. Otherwise, why bother?

Plus, they're not isolated and on their own, it's a modern urban setting. I have this feeling that a quick solution to their troubles at virtually every point would be to call 911 and get the usual loud response from Police and Fire. If it was a lone casino lost in the desert some place, maybe. In the heart of Vegas, this is a difficult scheme to sell.

writtenwyrdd said...

"plus it allows him to add a twist of lime..." Oh, that's precious in the best sense of the word. ROFL!

Okay, starting with EE's revision, which made so much more sense and made me want to read the book: Something is missing in the plot as presented. I think it's a disconnect between the medical doctor aspect and the vampire aspect. Or, as EE asks, why is this a medical thriller? Not sure you need the doctor. If you just have the protag be Joe Citizen who isn't a doctor, it works just as well and doesn't give a red herring that dangles throughout the book.

I think this sounds interesting. However, I believe you need to clarify what's with the truthectomy on Palindrome. That seems to be the key issue and the earlier stuff is still part of the hook. Lots of stuff happen after they find the back room.

One thing though. If you really do have vampires or supernatural elements in here, you should know that I've read at least three series lately that have vampires or paranormal beings in Vegas. It's getting pretty crowded in that town...

Anonymous said...

'I believe that should be "hanged like a war criminal..."'

Actually, I believe 'hung' accurately tells us what she was trying to say... Don't make me spell it out...

eb said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. As you're likely more aware than I, the whole process of getting a M.S. out the door requires a whole different set of skills, so this forum's been a useful look into the sausage factory of query writing.

First and foremost, this book has zero to do with vampires or the paranormal, so my query obviously missed the mark.

As for the "back flap" gushing, it appalled even me, yet I was curious to see how it would be received. (I had one agent ask to include such material along with a synopsis.)

W/r/t the actual plot, I hate to sing the tired song of "but see, you just gotta read it." Which is to say, the query needs to flesh that out. But the MC's motivation is that he's seen a person go to ground, a very sick person at that, and he can't get a satisfactory answer for how/why/and how he's being cared for. As somebody's comment suggested, "what about 911?" Well, the MC's prevented from calling for outside help by the casino folks. Which leads him to dig into what's going on.

Thanks very much. Comments are hugely helpful.

phoenix said...

Well, the MC's prevented from calling for outside help by the casino folks.

OK, OK... I KNOW you've got this worked out in the ms, but my immediate reaction to that is, "huh?" The guy can SNEAK down into the bowels of the casino itself, but he's prevented from making a surreptitious call on his cell phone? Or someone else's cell phone if his is taken away?

Also, are you SURE the agent requested the gushing stuff? Or were they in their guidelines describing the type of hook/query they want to see? Many agents say they want to see inside cover or back flap copy style writing as part of the query. However, this generally means they want you to describe your characters and storyline in an exciting, grabby way since query copy is often used by the agent to hook the editor who uses it to hook the publisher who passes it on to the marketing department, ad infinitum. The gushy stuff about the writing or "thrill-a-minute" editorializing is not generally an expectation.

Now, zippy copy about where the plot takes the characters from and to and to is quite acceptable (and you'll note EE left that in his revise).

While we minions are extremely guilty about passing judgement on the STORY rather than the QUERY (hey, I'm raising my guilty hand on this one, too), you'll note that EE concentrated on the issues with the query. "Too many trivial details" in a query are what usually start the minions (and perhaps an agent) making assumptions about the story and perceived problems with it. Try leaving out anything (such as your skeptical detective) that could possibly raise a question. Which is a fine balancing act because you probably included the detective to try to staunch questions about why the doctor doesn't go to the cops with his concerns.

But really, if you keep the details a bit vague, include only the highlights, and write the query with a tone as crisp as ice-cold celery, you'll pass muster with the agents. EE's revise is a great start.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where the vampires got in...of course, they sneak in through the merest crack. Could the minions have vampires on the brain?

Even after reading your explanation of Graham's motivation, I don't get why he's compelled to investigate. It needs something. Maybe he's a Dr. Quincy-type medical investigator by training and nature, with a history of terrier-like tenacity. Maybe there's some personal reason. Maybe before dropping dead, Fareed dropped some hints. Maybe the fate of the world is at stake, or maybe Graham is outraged by the uncaring physician because this triggers something in Graham's psyche. Something.

pulp

pjd said...

As somebody's comment suggested, "what about 911?" Well, the MC's prevented from calling for outside help by the casino folks. Which leads him to dig into what's going on.

I'm with phoenix and pulp. I still don't buy it. Even though many casinos jam cell phone signals (or used to). Is he also prevented from leaving the casino? Do they throw him into a back room?

An ER doc I know was explaining the liability of being a good Samaritan with a medical license. If you help someone, you take on the liability of the person as your patient (might vary from state to state). While all the doctors I know do have people's health foremost in their minds, not a one would sneak into the back of a casino, actively walking into a dangerous situation, to try to help a stranger that is already under another doctor's care.

MUCH more believable would be for the MC to shrug his shoulders, walk out of the casino, and call a colleague he knows at the conference:

"Hey, Larry, strange thing happened here at The Stone. This guy was flopping around like a fish, and the casino doctor didn't seem too worried."

"The Stone? You dog, you're playing hookey."

"So sue me. Anyway, this guy looked really bad."

"Probably allergic to something. You think?"

"I don't think so... he had all these pinprick brui--"

"Yeah, yeah. Hey, I saw Danielle in one of the lectures. She was looking for you."

"... oh, yeah?"

"Remember that conference in Chicago?"

"... oh, yeah!"

"So the four of us are going out tonight."

"Cool."

"Unless you're planning on sneaking into the back of the casino to investigate that fish guy."

"Who?"

phoenix said...

You're rocking tonight, pjd! *giggle*