Sunday, September 09, 2007

Face-Lift 417

Guess the Plot

Stealing Ellum

1. Brother Gastric of the Monastery of St. Squibb has difficulties in finding a cheaper substitute for the precious vellum of the illuminated manuscripts - until he meets an entrepreneur with no smarts and a speech defect.

2. Elena wants her rock band, Ellum, to make it big, but Ryan sabotages the band, believing that if Elena becomes famous he'll never be able to convince her to travel from Earth to his home world where she is destined to usher in a new era of peace.

3. When 15-year-old Shondra got pregnant, her mother pressured her to give the baby up. Now she's 19, and nothing will stop her from retaking her baby . . . no matter who she has to kill.

4. Eight-year-ld Billy Mills thiks readig will be easier if he ca get rid f sme f thse esky letters. He's already stle enohpee, but this time he's bud t get caught.

5. Lisa knows that if you go into someone's house and steal all their money, they notice. But if you take a dollar here or a few cents there, they never catch on. She launches her own small crime wave--stealing ellum, or the most diminutive amounts she can. It was going great--until she entered the home of pennypincher Bert the Accountant.

6. When a group of terrorists discover an ancient cache of Ellum, the long-lost source of eternal life, it is up to archaeology student and athiest Paul Neidermeyer to restore the proper order of the universe--by stealing back the Ellum.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

I am seeking representation for my young adult novel, Stealing Ellum, in which a wannabe rock star discovers that her unearthly heritage, her best friend, and the guitarist she won’t allow herself to fall in love with stand between her and her dream.

Elena Carsen has set a record: she’s been kicked out of six foster homes in the last four years and she’s working on the seventh. She’s struggled to make her band what it is, and she’ll do whatever it takes to be discovered. [The connection between those sentences isn't clear. Has she been kicked out of foster homes because she struggled to make her band what it is? What is it? A Captain and Tennille cover band?] [Now that I've read the rest of the query, whether there's a connection or not you can do without the foster homes sentence.] But there’s one problem: Elena’s old guitarist has gone AWOL and Ryan, her new one…well, he isn’t exactly from around here.

Ryan is [was] sent to Earth to protect Elena. He knows her true identity: she is the sole descendant of a murdered monarch. Sixteen years ago, she was hidden away on Earth so that the Vae – the people responsible for her parents’ deaths – couldn’t find her. Ryan’s assignment should be easy so long as Elena doesn’t draw too much attention to herself. Unfortunately, attention is exactly what Elena wants. [If the Vae are investigating every teenaged Earth girl who draws attention to herself, they'll never get anything else done.]

While Elena works to achieve her dream, Ryan does everything he can to sabotage her efforts. [For instance, he inserts a six-minute Hendrix guitar riff into "Love Will Keep Us Together."] He has to keep her alive and unnoticed until it is time for her to return to his worlds. Elena is heralded as the solution to the violence that has plagued the Dominion since the monarchy’s destruction. [But the plague of violence must continue a few more years before Elena returns and ends it?] Elena is someone to be respected. She’s someone to be admired. And she’s someone who should never, ever be touched – no matter how badly Ryan wants to.

Stealing Ellum is the first book of a trilogy and is complete at 65,000 words. As per the guidelines on your website, I have enclosed the first ten pages of my novel and a SASE. Thank you for taking the time to consider my material.


[Ellum is the name of Elena’s band.]


I'd drop the last three sentences of the plot (admired, respected, never, ever touched). They're general, and somehow icky. A better ending would be to combine the two previous sentences:

He must keep her alive and unnoticed until it's time for her to return to his worlds--for only Elena can end the violence that has plagued the Dominion since the monarchy’s destruction.

Shouldn't they have headed for the Dominion by now? Surely it takes more than a few weeks to get to another solar system. How old is Elena supposed to be when she gets back?

Convincing someone to go with me to another solar system is going to be a hard sell. I'd want to stay on her good side. I don't think I'd be sabotaging her hopes and dreams.


Lightsmith said...

Sounds like it would appeal to its intended audience. It taps into (what I imagine are the) wish-fulfillment fantasies of many young girls, i.e. secretly being a princess, becoming a rock star, having a hunky guardian angel who's secretly in love with you.

For the title, consider something that hints at either the princess or rock star angles.

Good luck.

~Nancy said...

The first thing I thought when I saw "Ellum" I thought of vellum (the word, not the novel).

Anyway, I agree with EE that you should drop the sentence about Elena and the foster homes; as you don't refer to it again in the query, I don't think it's necessary. I'd concentrate on the band and her struggle to...what? You're a little vague as to what Elena has done with the band. Is it starting to get good gigs, or something else?

Then you can transition right into Ryan showing up. I agree with EE that if Elena is truly The One to Usher in Peace on some other world, Ryan would be silly to sabotage her efforts with the band. Isn't there a more subtle, less destructive way for him to convince Elena to come back to his world (and her old world)?

And EE's other questions are just as important, IMHO: If the Dominion's being rent apart by violence, wouldn't Ryan try to get her to go sooner rather than later. And the whole time/distance thing, too...I take it Ryan's world isn't just a hop, skip, and a jump away (light years being what they are ;-)).

Sounds intriguing. If you can tighten this and answer EE's questions, I'd like to read it.


Dave said...

A very nice story. I like the characters.

I think EE's covered the comments. The only thing I wonder about is if this novel covers any action at all on the "other planet" at all. It doesn't have to take her there. It could be just her struggle to accept what she is... I remember Miss Snark saying write the first novel to stand alone with a satisfying climax. Then worry once the first novel sells about the second and third novels.

I'm not fond of the name "Ellum." I think it distracts. Vae sounds like "fey" to me and that makes me see unwanted images. It seems like you took the "V" out of Vellum and created a music group Ellum. Considering the lunatic names of pop musicians, you could do better.
Also "Dominion" sounds like Star Trek Voyager (and we all know what I think of that show).
So I'm asking you to take another look at the names and reconsider them.

blogless_troll said...

It may be more important in the later books than this first one, but how does Elena bring peace? Is it just her showing up? Or does she have special powers she doesn't know about yet? This sounds like a good start, so I hope it's not that she shows up and claims her throne and 16 years of bloodshed are over. If it's special powers, I think a good one would be lasers shooting from the end of her guitar when she plays "Purple Haze."

Phoenix said...

I like your one-sentence hook! But it does bring up two things not covered in the rest of the query: the "best friend" (who is it and how does s/he stand in the way?) and the fact that she has feelings for Ryan.

I think the romance angle is integral to the targeted audience, so I would play it up just a bit somewhere in the middle of the query. Ditch the "someone to be respected and admired" phrases (as EE suggests) because they're not getting across the idea very well that basically Elena is above him in station, so off limits. Then we need the reason Elena won't allow herself to fall in love with him. Does she fear a relationship will just screw up her plans for the band? Maybe something like:

Further complicating things is the tension between Ryan and Elena as both try to deny their growing attraction to one another. Ryan must keep focused on duty, and that means respecting that Elena is off limits. Elena is focused on success, and that means prioritizing the band over any personal relationships.

I think the following sentence needs to be explained. As it is, it sounds trite. It also sounds like the lynchpin in this story that will make or break it as far as your plot goes.

Elena is heralded as the solution to the violence that has plagued the Dominion since the monarchy’s destruction.

Why is she heralded as the solution? Will simply trotting out the hidden heir and bringing back the monarchy stop the violence? Or does Elena possess some other quality that will put the violence to rest?

As for the name Ellum, Dallas has a very popular and well-known in-crowd spot -- kind of like the French Quarter in NO -- called Deep Ellum. Never heard any complaints; in this part of the world, everyone thinks the name's kinda cool.

A little more concrete focus, a tightening to get rid of the repetitive bits, and a bit more on the romance angle, and I think this query and its premise will get some nibbles!

Are you creating a one-paragraph version and sending to Nephele Tempest? I hope so! *hint, hint*

Anonymous said...

Ryan sabotaging the band leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth because I see a creepy underlying message: "hey, this guy is sabotaging my personal dream in order to manipulate me into doing what he wants but that's OK 'cause he's a real hunk and he says he's got my best interests at heart".
I'd rather any YA I know didn't get that message from her reading material.

And, you'd think Ryan'd encourage her to experience fame, because if she does go off to The Dominion, she'll be the long-lost queen who stopped the war and saved them all. Rock star fame will be nothing in comparison.

Sandy said...

Author here. Thanks for your comments. You guys are great.

Title: I'm not totally attached to this title, but phoenix is right on its origin: I took it from Deep Ellum in Dallas, which is where this story is set for the most part. We do end up in space for the last few chapters of the book (and in portions of books two or three), but for the most part, we're on Earth. I want the story to appeal to teens who might not normally read science fiction novels.

I'm taking the foster parent stuff out of the query since it's just taking up space and, after reading Evil Editor's comments on the last three sentences, I think I'm going to toss those as well. I've kept them in mainly because I want to establish that there's a forbidden romance growing between Ryan and Elena, but I'll have to find another way to do that.

There is a reason why Ryan doesn't immediately take Elena back to the Dominion (yeah, I don't much like that term either), but I haven't stuck that in because I think it'll take too long to explain. Basically, she's kept hidden on Earth because an Akalan general is trying to find out who has betrayed her. It was hard keeping the query at one page. (It was even harder to keep it to one paragraph for Nephele Tempest's query request on her blog!)

Elena doesn't have special powers, but she doesn't just show up and end the violence either. She has something she has to do, something which she won't want to do when she finds out about it.


Anonymous said...

EE didn't mention it, but since the band name is in the title, I don't think it should be added to the query as an afterthought. You should put that in right where you mention the band.

Shannon said...

I'm going to go against the grain and say I like the foster parents' sentences, I just think they need better linkage to the rest of the paragraph. It set up Elena to be an orphan who is slightly damaged (or just antisocial,) and someone who does not get tied down.

I kind of picture her saying, "Well, of course I'll go to your alien solar system. They have rock bands there, right? We'll have to take Tony, the drum kit's his."

Bernita said...

Think the story has promise and appeal.
Not sure whose story it is though - Elenas's or Ryan's?
Find the title obscure to the point of empty.