Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Face-Lift 375


Guess the Plot

Lessons

1. The Garlia Elves call warlock Jarak Blackfist a vengeful tyrant. Indignant and outraged at their slander, he destroys their race, razes their cities to the ground, and salts their lands, figuring that'll teach 'em.

2. Never drive a kid who gets carsick on the Big Sur right after a spaghetti lunch. If the grass really is greener, it's covered in toxic fertilizers. Lots of tequila does not necessarily help you forget him, or the STD he gave you. Someone is keeping track of the porn sites you visit. Bombing Baghdad is not necessarily the best way to establish stability in the Middle East.

3. Medieval woodcutter Eldrid Svenson learned everything the hard way. If he didn't accidentally offend some belligerent tyrant, he was trying to appease a dragon or an elf. And when his parents insist he choose a bride and settle down, he sails toward Greenland in pursuit of the beautiful mermaid Marina Nox.

4. After perusing a catalog from The Pleasure Chest, high school hygiene teacher Myra Boodle comes up with a daring plan to tutor the football team in the only subject they seem interested in. Will they all graduate? Or will they deliberately fail so they can come back for more of Myra's . . . Lessons?

5. Thirteen-year-old Aurora is dragged from her bed and taken to a government re-education center where she is force-fed propaganda and ordered to denounce her parents and commit murder. It's convert or die in the America of the (not so distant?) future.

6. The last thing Gregory Bickens wants to do is take piano lessons with old Miss Chamberlain down the street. Her methods of correction of rhythmic mistakes are legendary. But he soon learns they're nothing compared to what happens when he forgets his lesson book.



Original Version

Dear Agent:

It's hard to remember, but Aurora is sure she used to be a normal teenage girl. She knew her parents weren't happy with the way the country is being run, but what thirteen-year old cares about things like that? Not Aurora - not until government agents drag her from her bed in the middle of the night. [If her parents weren't happy with the government before . . . ]

They bring her to a reeducation center, where she is thrown into a room with five other teenagers. [I don't know about Aurora, but that would be it for me. I'll tell you anything, I'll do anything; just let me out of here!] None of them seem quite sane - and they all warn Aurora about their counselor, Aubrey, and her mind games.

Aurora and the others are force-fed propaganda, and made to admit terrible things about themselves and their former lives... whether they're true or not. On some days, it's easy; she only has to denounce her parents for Aubrey to be happy with her.

[Aubrey: How much do you like your parents?
Aurora: It's a terrible thing to hate your mother. But I didn't always hate her. When I was a child, I only kind of disliked her.
Aubrey: Here, have a cookie.]

Some days are much harder - like when Aubrey wants her to kill one of her companions.

[Aubrey: How much do you like Chelsea over there?
Aurora: She's my best friend in the world.
Aubrey: Let me put it this way: how much do you want this cookie?]

And as soon as she figures out what Aubrey wants from her, it changes again. She watches as the others are killed or converted, and can't help but wonder whether she's next.

At first she searches for a way to escape, but every day freedom seems more unlikely. Soon it's all she can do just to survive. And eventually she must face the hardest choice she's ever had to make: the choice between physical survival and the survival of her identity.

LESSONS is a 150,000-word dark literary novel. Set in a near-future totalitarian America, it explores the psychological effects of brainwashing while chronicling Aurora's struggles to stay sane and stay alive. [Any chance you could explore and chronicle in half as many words? I'm not sure I could remain sane through 150,000 words about the brainwashing of a thirteen-year-old.] I have enclosed the first five pages for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Notes

Better title: The Manchurian Teenybopper.

I'm sure this is fascinating, especially if you've made yourself an expert on brainwashing, but does anything happen? An escape attempt? A raid by the good guys? A friendship Aurora relies on to keep her sane? If it's all:

Day 247. They threw a new kid in with us today. Hopefully he'll get with the program, but most likely they'll make me kill him. Oh well, whatever's best for the country. Tell you one thing, I'm not killing anyone for less than a whole package of Pepperidge Farm Brussels cookies. Last kid I kiilled I got one oatmeal. One! Guess I'll play some solitaire.

Day 248. Today Aubrey put me in front of a TV and made me wear 3-D glasses and watch a movie. I couldn't follow the plot, it was like it was in super-fast motion, and they didn't even have any popcorn. Oh well, whatever's best for the country. This place would be more fun if there was a Gap. Guess I'll play some solitaire.

. . . then it's going to be a tough sell. You haven't done enough to convince me it isn't all like that.

23 comments:

kris said...

The government is the antagonist but we have insufficient information about its motives. What is the ultimate goal is behind the re-education program. An army of trained killers? For what purpose? Killing people isn't specific enough. Killing what kind of people and to what end?

"Propaganda" also strikes me as too vague here. What kind of agenda is Aurora being fed besides violence, denial of family and self-hatred. Sorry author, but without more specifity, I wouldn't read this book. But I suspect you know these answers and just withheld them from your query, in which case, your plot might be great!

Anonymous said...

You've named two characters in this query, and their names start with the same letter. That's unnecessarily confusing.

Also, are there any teenagers who believe that they are or were normal?

I think my biggest issue with this is that I keep wondering why the hell they bothered to kidnap her. Is this all an experiment, where when they discover the most effective method, they'll use it on everyone? Are her parents being controlled by having her captive? I mean, we're told she doesn't care about the government, yet the government abducts her for reprogramming purposes. Why? Are they just that incompetent? Are they doing this to all children, one small group at a time? Just...why??

jjdebenedictis said...

[W]ithout more specifity, I wouldn't read this book.

Ditto, because I'd be really worried it would be 150 000 words of thinly-veiled political ranting, rather than something like The Handmaid's Tale.

There has to be a story there, not just your own block of propaganda. Prove to the query's reader that there is.

~Whitemouse

pacatrue said...

Years ago I was on a ship and we passed this tiny little island with a lighthouse on it in the middle of the Baltic Sea. It appeared that it was human operated, which meant some unfortunate soul or two lived on this island isolated from everyone else. I've always thought that this claustrophobic world would be a great setting for a thriller, but for it to be anything other than claustrophobic for the reader, I'd have to come up with a dynamic plot that kept the characters forever moving forward.

It seems so far in the query that you've got an amazingly tight and troubling scenario for Aurora. Now, what exactly happens to her? Does she try to escape and obstacles are thrown in her way? Does she simply try to survive with obstacles in the way? We need a greater sense of motion within this confined space.

Bonnie said...

I'd find this more interesting if I knew what the kids were being converted *to* and why she's so resistant to that. Apparently it's possible to become something else and get out of the retraining center, so why doesn't she go along with it? According to the information we have here, she didn't care about her parents' politics anyway. Is she just resisting for the sake of being stubborn? What do they want her to do that she thinks is so awful?

In an action story, I might not care so much about the why, but if I'm going to stick it out for 150K not very pleasant words, I need to know I'm getting some payback.

150 said...

I generally steer clear of stories like this, because "WE'RE GOING TO BE AN AUTOCRACY ANY DAY NOW" panic has as much credibility to me as a faked moon landing. I find it much easier to swallow a specific evil government branch or program than to believe that a country containing both the ACLU and the NRA is going to self-destruct into totalitarianism.

Buck a trend. Set it in Canada.

Spartezda said...

Aw, happy memories. My piano teacher was named Mrs. Chamberlain. Sweetest lady I've ever met; if you forgot a lesson book, she'd probably react by looking very sad at you, which would cause such an intense rush of guilt and shame that you'd never do it again.

For a more relevant comment, I found the query pretty vague on quite why they took Aurora and were so bent on brainwashing her. Are her parents dissidents and the gov is planning to send Aurora back to them as a mole? Do they do this to everyone? Because, y'know, government's already involved in education and we've all seen how efficiently that works. Also, the might-be-preachy concerns of other commenters.

Robin S. said...

"I find it much easier to swallow a specific evil government branch or program than to believe that a country containing both the ACLU and the NRA is going to self-destruct into totalitarianism.

Buck a trend. Set it in Canada."

Gotta love it, 150.

Hi Author,
I'd really like to know more about the book, as requested by others here. This sounds a little like the Nazi school kids brainwashed and teling tales on their parents -and I have to agree with others -- as disparate a "group" as Americans are, I can't see this working. But you may have that all mapped out - I'd be interested in how it was done.

Robin S. said...

"Tell you one thing, I'm not killing anyone for less than a whole package of Pepperidge Farm Brussels cookies. Last kid I killed I got one oatmeal. One! "

Forgot to say, EE, you were in fine form on this one.

Anonymous said...

I was imagining something like The Trial. Kafka's book is (very) approximately 70,000 words long. I realize your book is an entirely different thing, but this illustrates how the territory can be covered tightly. If you have lots of action as well as mysterious gubmit conspiracies, then maybe you do need the wordage.

Got action?

pulp

pjd said...

The first sentence makes it sound like the story starts long after she's abducted. Then you describe the abduction. If your book starts at the abduction, two thoughts: (1) what happened to the parents? (2) you could probably knock off about 50,000 words of back story by starting it much later. Maybe when Aurora is actually making her first kill. Then weave any necessary/illustrative back story in throughout (someone mentioned The Handmaid's Tale, which does this very well).

Anonymous said...

Funny, I was also reminded of The Handmaid's Tale when I read this query. I have to say that the query makes the story sound static. Basically, ditto everybody else's comments.

writtenwyrdd

phoenix said...

Now, you will have done all the necessary research on the following comment, I'm sure, author, so you may only need to think about how to make it sound right in your query. Aurora seems to have a lot of choice in this story. She seems very conscious of each act of the brainwashing, which is pretty astute for a 13-year-old. The story, as presented here, doesn't seem to address the psychological effects of brainwashing, but whether or not Aurora will stay true to herself or consciously become what "they" want her to become. And if she becomes what "they" want her to, she will actually know intimately that it is wrong.

My notion of brainwashing is that the victim loses that intimate knowledge of good and bad, and of choice. I think it's a very important distinction; one perhaps that should be addressed in the query -- why she is seemingly immune to the brainwashing attempt.

I'm also very unclear as to what And as soon as she figures out what Aubrey wants from her, it changes again means. What changes again? Her idea of why she's there? Since you haven't given a context yet for "it," this phrase doesn't make sense to me.

Unfortunately, your hook seems to be that your story explores the psychological effects of brainwashing while chronicling Aurora's struggles to stay sane and stay alive. Unfortunate, because that tale is told much more compellingly through memoir and other accounts of true-life brainwashing. What unique twist does your fictionalized account have to make an agent sit up and say, "Wow! Haven't thought of it in that way before"?

Zoe said...

Thanks for the comments, EE and minions! They've been a lot of help. Apparently I took some parts of the story for granted so much that I forgot to include them in the query... *blush* And yes, I do have plot, I promise. :)

And don't worry, it's not a thinly-disguised political rant... That kind of book bugs me :)

Hmm, Canadian dystopia... Curse it, you've gotten my brain coming up with plots. Somebody stop me.

Here's my revised version; hopefully it will help answer your questions (the last paragraph is the same, at least so far, so I'm not pasting it here):

Aurora knows how dangerous it is to question the government. Like everyone, she's had friends disappear; she's watched the executions. But she doesn't think anyone will find out about her family's dissident views – not until government agents drag her from her bed in the middle of the night.

They bring her to a reeducation center, where she is thrown into a room with five other teenagers. The others confirm what she already suspected: her parents are dead, and she won't be leaving until she can convince their counselor, Aubrey, that she isn't a dissident anymore. Aubrey force-feeds her and the others propaganda, and makes them admit terrible things about themselves and their former lives… whether they're true or not. On some days, it's easy; Aurora only has to denounce her parents for Aubrey to be happy with her. Some days are much harder – like when Aubrey wants her to kill one of her companions. No matter what she does, Aubrey refuses to accept that she's reformed. Aurora watches as the others are killed or converted, and can't help but wonder whether she's next.

Her friendship with the ruthless Lija, and her budding romance with a senator's son, Declan, help keep her sane, but those relationships become ammunition for Aubrey to use against her. Every day freedom seems more unlikely; after her escape attempt fails, it's all she can do just to survive. As she concocts a desperate plan to save her group, she must face the hardest choice she's ever had to make: the choice between physical survival and the survival of her identity.

khazar-khum said...

OK, but where is this supposed to be?

I vote Canada.

Zoe said...

khazar-khum: Still near-future totalitarian America (though totalitarian Canada is, I admit, an intriguing concept). That part is in the last paragraph; I may as well add it, to avoid confusion (though I didn't revise it like I did the rest of the letter):

LESSONS is a 150,000-word dark literary novel. Set in a near-future totalitarian America, it explores the psychological effects of brainwashing while chronicling Aurora's struggles to stay sane and stay alive. I have enclosed the first five pages for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Eika said...

I was hooked from the first sentence-the revised query grabbed me more.

This isn't just something I'd read, I'd buy it and reread. Done well, novels of staying upright in an upside-down world chill my soul and have me begging for more.

Cut the wordcount a bit- maybe 100-120,000- and polish it. This is my cup of tea.

Awwww said...

"You've named two characters in this query, and their names start with the same letter."

Worse: Zoe's named the two key characters with names starting with the same two letters. Let's pray there aren't more: Auden, Augustine, and even... gasp! the Author!

Pete said...

Totalitarian Canada motto: "You will cooperate with the state for the good of the state and your own survival. Please. If you want to. Or not if you're, you know, busy, or whatever."

I didn't get a real sense of the storyline. Just an event (some brainwashing) and a possible bad guy. What are they being brainwashed for? Are they criminals, admitting things they haven't done? Or are they being turned into weapons?

Propaganda is usually intended to be a little more subtle than abduction and force-feeding. That sounds like reeducation. (I don't know if leaflet bombs were subtle propaganda, but...)

Anonymous said...

Bingo. The revised query needs some tinkering, but this time, it hooked me.

Kris

Bonnie said...

Revised query is MUCH better.

D. said...

I recommend reading a book called 'House of Stairs' by Wililam Sleator. I read it when I was a YA reader and it deals with the same themes and very well.

batgirl said...

Totalitarian Canada sounds workable to me. We do after all put 'peace, order and good government' over any of that poncey liberty stuff.
-Barbara