Thursday, September 27, 2007

Face-Lift 427

Guess the Plot

The Hound in the Mine

1. From the heart of the moor came a lament of such otherworldly moans that it seared the mind and disheartened the soul, a howl of iniquity so evil that all but the brave lost faith as reason fled. Yo Quiero Taco Bell, Viva gorditas! A mi corazon!

2. When the last coal mine canary dies, the miners assume it was old age and send Bobby Joe to replace it. But the pet store has only beagles. Returning to the mine, Bobby Joe unleashes the hound, who sniffs out Bobby's co-workers, all dead.

3. Rudy's dog has a tendency to wander off, and he always turns up at the Coaldust place down in the holler. Rudy sets off in search of Ole Blue, only to come upon his mom and Mr. Coaldust in the barn. Will Rudy ever overcome the trauma of finding his saintly mother playing The Hound In The Mine with the local moonshiner?

4. Two years after the hound dog went missing, he turns up doing manual labor in the mine beneath the old mill. Rescue seems impossible, as the hound is addicted to drugs, and his only remaining friend has no arms. Can the evil miller be stopped? Also, slave trees.

5. Gwyfydd, a remote mining outpost on the very south western tip of Wales, was famous for its haunted woods and eerie standing stones. But Peter Hester was there to investigate the legend of a canine abomination. Scientist and skeptic Peter is shocked by his findings, but when he begins to receive cryptic, threatening messages from a shadowy cult, he finds the Hound is only one piece in a puzzle that links all of the town hauntings and a much, much bloodier legend.

6. Johan Kratt is "The Hound"--elite soldier, spy, member of Himmler's ultra-secret Thule Society . . . and Allied double-agent. Ordered to weaken German efforts in Russia, he must delay the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad long enough for the Soviet counter-offensive to arrive. But first he must escape Russia's most infamous gulag: The Mine.

Original Version

Please consider my YA novel "The Hound in the Mine." It is complete at 75,000 words.

The old hound went missing years ago. [I miss old Huck. Yogi and Quick Draw and Snagglepuss get all the nostalgia press, but it was Huckleberry Hound who paved the way.] By then Corvery, a young cornfield raven, was his only friend. [You're thinking of Heckle. Or Jeckle.] The hound had gotten too ornery for everyone else. He would growl and rave, and howl in the cornfields. He would snarl and froth in the ditches and bark at his reflection in the swimming hole. Everyone figured him for rabid, and Corvery thought he must have gone some place to die.

Or maybe he hadn’t been rabid after all. Just the other day there came a familiar howl from the hills. Now, Corvery is certain he can find the old hound, so he searches the hills with his friend Preston, a boy on summer vacation from school. [If you're a bird searching the hills, a boy is just going to be dead weight. Better to go it alone.] [So far this is sounding like the text of a picture book for five-year-olds. Except for the 75,000 words part.] The two of them discover a poisoned river, where any animal that drinks from it is driven vicious and insane. [How do they know this?]

The poison is seeping into the water from an old mill, but the wheel there is no longer turning saw blades. The miller is using it to dredge a mine, and the creatures of the woods, even the trees, are slaves to the tunnels below. [What does that mean? Slaves in the tunnels?] When Corvery and Preston try to rally them to destroy the mill and bury the tunnels, they find that no one is willing. The water has poisoned their minds, and they crave its taste more than freedom. [I get it. It's a 75,000-word retelling of Aesop's anti-drug fable, "The Hound and the Raven." Moral: A man who drinks from the river of madness will not listen to a talking crow.] Even the old hound is on the miller’s side.

The complete manuscript is available should you wish to see part or all of it. I look forward to hearing from you.


I see this as Animal Farm meets LOTR. Young adults aren't going to care about Corny Crow. Make the boy a hobbit, make the slaves his farmyard friends, make the miller an evil pig wizard, and make the river the ring of power.

It ends with no one wanting help. If you're addicted to joy juice, don't you have to want to be saved? There should be some indication that Corny Crow comes up with a plan.

We don't need the backstory about the hound. Open with the poison river and the miller and the slaves: When the inhabitants of a small town go missing, they are discovered working as drug-addicted slaves in the tunnels beneath the old mill. Is there no hero willing to risk everything to stop the evil miller from carrying out his sinister plot for world domination? Yes! It's Corny the Talking Crow! . . . Now that I think about it, let's leave the crow out of the query entirely.


Anonymous said...

Um, I think this novel should be re-tailored for a younger crowd...middle grade, probably.

150 said...

Don't think we don't recognize this! I checked out Facelift 309 to try to get a better handle on your story. The best I can come up with is:

An evil miller is poisoning a river in order to enslave water spirits and boost productivity, at any cost.

A couple of questions:

Who's the POV character, Corvery or Preston?
What year is this?
Where does this take place?
Do all crows and hounds talk, and can everyone see spirits, or is there something special about Preston and the miller?
So what if they can't stop the miller? Doesn't Preston just go home in the fall?

Lightsmith said...

My first thought was that this should be a picture book, as EE jokingly suggested. You say this is YA, which I believe includes roughly ages 13-18. I don't imagine many 17-year-olds would want to read a 75k word book about an anthropomorphic crow. But then we get to the plot about how all the animals have become drug-addicted zombie slaves, and that doesn't seem appropriate for a picture book.

I think you need to pick an age range and tailor the book to it. I agree with anon 3:46 that this would probably work better as a middle grade novel (ages 9-12).

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, stuff. Talking animals have a rich heritage in Fantasy.

There's an interesting discussion here.

As with many things writerly, it's all in how you do it.

Robin S. said...

This may have been mentioned before,in a past Face-Lift, but this seems sort of like a river (rather than a tree/forest) version of Ferngully.

Ferngully did pretty well. My girls and their friends loved it- they were approx. 5 and 9 at the time they watched the movie (over and over and then, oh yeah, over again. Good Lord.)

I have decided I have nothing to say about queries - when I can write one well enough not to be embarrassed -I'll be happy to say more.

But I do think this could be a good idea- if you get the age range down, as has been mentioned.

It all comes down to good guys vs. bad guys, magic, empowerment, and overcoming obstacles. Kids love that if it's done to their taste. (Hell, adults love that if it's done to their taste.) All I know is, my girls, when younger, would've loved a cool talking crow.

Good luck on your query rewrite.

Pumkin828 said...

GTP #5 is a tale I'd like to read.

Dave F. said...

The query has to center on Corvery the Crow or Preston the human that Corvery discovers/enlists/dragoons.
I like the story idea.

Lightsmith said...

BS, the discussion you linked to was "interesting," but not in the way you probably meant. ;-)

The article makes a rather naive suggestion that because computer-animated movies with talking animals have been popular recently, this somehow suggests that talking animals will be popular in literature as well. This is a case, however, where the medium makes all the difference. To take an even more extreme example than talking animals, Pixar's Cars was one of the top-grossing movies of 2006. But how far do you think you'd get trying to pitch a novel about talking race cars whose windshields consist of giant cartoon eyeballs? Every rejection letter you got back would be sprayed with coffee from all the agents doing spit takes while reading your query.

Besides, this article doesn't even suggest that writers would be wise to pitch novels featuring talking-animal MCs to teenagers.

I still think this writer would have a vastly better chance of success with a human protagonist. Talking-animal sidekicks are fine, if it's a fantasy setting.

Sarah said...

Um, drug addicted animals and trees being saved by "recovery" crow?

While I can appreciate the idea of showing the dangers of alcoholism / drug addiction and how to find recovery, I'm not sure the premise in your query is the message you really want to get across.

It sounds more like the crow and the boy are going to force everyone to get sober against their will. While I'm sure some people in this world would heartily agree with that method, it rarely works.

The slow downward slide of the hound's behavior is probably key to showing the slide into alcoholism.

But this is a YA book you are querying and they mostly have very short attention spans. The trick is to grab their attention and never let it go. And that is what I think editors are looking for in a query.

I hope you can find the right mix of fantasy and reality here. I'm sure this can be done in such a way as to get your point across without a sledgehammer.

Phoenix said...

I think the original query from Preston's POV is better. For its flaws, it at least showed a purpose to the story. This one not so much.

Would a mine owner really want vicious and insane slaves?

Phoenix said...

Garwaf Author:

Is your story the one Jennifer Jackson is referring to in regard to a request: YA fantasy in the tradition of Robin McKinley?

Pete said...

Talking crows can be utterly cool. Neil Gaiman's "Matthew" in the Sandman series, for example.

Buuut...this one just sounds weird. EE's definitely right, you need to skip the backstory and give a little more information on the meat of it.

It reminds me less of either Lord of the Rings or Animal Farm and more of the Redwall series, honestly.

freddie said...

I'm with buffysquirrel on this. Who would have thought a novel about a bunch of bunny rabbits trying to find a new home would sell like it did? To adults, no less? Watership Down, anyone?

I agree with EE in leaving the backstory of the hound out. It opens too many questions and I'd rather hear more about the miller and the poisoned water.

writtenwyrdd said...

The query makes the plot sound like they are wandering around in the dark with a candle, just stumbling over things. I would recommend you write this with a bit more drama and give it a hook; as it stands now, it's a grocery list of a synopsis. You start with an irritating hound and a masochistic talking crow and go downhill from there. If this is a tale of rescue and redemption (my assumption; you don't mention redemption) then we need to care a bit more about the character you are trying to rescue.

In terms of the story you describe, it sounds dreadful, to be honest. I wouldn't even finish reading the back matter. Sounds like a first through third sort of book, with pictures, as others have said.

Andrew said...

EE's nailed it. Your query starts about halfway through your submission. Even if your hook is good most agents/publishers seem to have pretty short attention spans so if you get them excited about a raven befriending a dog and a boy and them slap them with 2 paragraphs of pretty inconsequential stuff they'll be off onto something else before you get to demon Miller's and deranged squirrels

It's a decent idea. Raven as the main protagonist (beef up the Corvey's personality if you are going that way - if you want to sell a crow you've got to make him better than just "a talking bird") and an eco-war type could be exciting and different (though I'd agree to aim for the younger audience unless your raven has tourette's or an attitude problem)

December/Stacia said...

I agree, GTP #5 sounds awesome.

This one? Not really my thing. If done right I guess it could be very spooky, which I like, but it doesn't seem from the query that it's spooky.

BuffySquirrel said...

The interesting part, for me, was in suggesting that YA requires the talking animal be an animal that talks, not a person in fur (or feathers in this case). Yeah, talking cars, not so much!

Lightsmith said...

I just used the talking cars example because I thought it was funnier, but I could have just as easily used Madagascar or Happy Feet. The point remains the same: there is zero correlation between the success of talking animals in movies and the success of talking animals in novels. I know this was not the main point of the article, but for the writer to make such an ill-informed statement, it makes me question her level of expertise.

I should note, by the way, that my day job is making computer-animated movies featuring talking animals. So there. :P

Off topic plug: Everybody go see "Horton Hears a Who!" in March 2008. If the movie makes enough money I'll get a big fat bonus check. :-)

Regarding Watership Down, I knew somebody was going to bring that up. (We need a version of Godwin's Law for discussions of talking animal MCs and the inevitable invocation of Watership Down.) Well, this book ain't Watership Down, not by a long shot.

Look, I understand that it's possible to get a YA novel published with a talking animal MC, I just think a writer is severely limiting his or her chances by making that choice. But if a writer's heart is set on it, then by all means, go for it.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

Posting author here. Thanks for the comments. This has been a difficult query for me.

I agree, maybe it should be middle-grade. It's a bit dark, but that shouldn't put it into the YA category.

Preston, the human boy, is indeed the main character, and the POV character. Plus he has a parallel story-line that connects up later. Thus, I've been struggling with whose story-line to approach in a query, and here is the "sister" version of the one EE posted. Maybe it's the way I should go?


Preston has spent most of his time outside this summer, but not because he wants to. He has to, because his step-father is so irritable, and his mother seems to have forgotten about him entirely. She just stares at her hands all day. Preston passes his time in the cornfields, or in the wooded hills, or watching cars slide past along the other side of the valley. He doesn’t have any friends yet, but that’s about to change.

Hiding in a shed one morning, Preston meets a terrified young raven named Corvery. The bird tells him about an old friend of his, a hound that went crazy and is causing trouble in the hills. Corvery wants to find the hound and see if he can set him straight. Preston doesn’t want anything to do with it, but the bird is too scared to do it alone, and he finally guilts Preston into going with him. At least it will keep him out of the house a bit longer.

It seems the hound isn’t the only one in trouble, though. In the hills there is a poisoned river, and any animal that drinks from it is turned vicious and insane. Corvery has already had a run in with a deranged hawk, and even the trees seem menacing. But the bird is convinced he can cure this strange madness, even if doing so puts him in great danger. After all, the poison is coming from an old mill upstream, and the miller is not friendly.

Preston helps Corvery, from a sense of pity at first. But odd clues soon lead him to believe that the miller has something to do with his own situation as well. Preston’s stepfather has become more than irritable, and his mother more than vacant. Why they would be affected, so far from the river, he can’t guess. But the more he learns about his real father’s death, the more he sees the connection.

Dave F. said...

You still need to cut a few words out of that. It's well written. It's just too many words:


Forced to spend his summer outside in the cornfields and woods by an angry step-father and a vacant Mother, Preston discovers a raven named Corvery who tells him about a hound that went crazy and is causing trouble. Corvery wants to find the hound and convinces Preston to help him.

The hound isn’t the only one in trouble. There is a poisoned river that turns anmals vicious and insane. The poison comes from an old mill, and the miller is not friendly. Corvery is convinced he and Preston can cure this madness and doing so puts them in danger.

Preston discovers that the miller is using the poison to enslave the animals. Worse, Preston suspects that the poison is also responsible for his stepfather's anger and mother's malaise. Why they would be affected so far from the river? But the more he learns about his real father’s death, the more he sees the connection.

But my version has a bad hook in the first paragraph. I'm intrigued that his biological father might be a victim of the poisoned water. If that's the case, then that should be part of the hook.

It's really the loss of his father and remarriage by his mother that sets the story into motion, isn't it? I can't say that with certainty right now. That's the backstory we all seem to be grasping for.

Also the word "vacant" isn't serving you well. Try debilatated, stupor, torpor, passiveness, catatonic states, loss of will -
- something like that

150 said...

Hi, author! Can you answer a few more? I'm trying to get a good feel for your story and there are still gaps.

-I asked above whether all the birds and hounds were sentient. This important because it tells me whether Preston's reaction to meeting Corvery is, "Hmm, maybe I better help this guy find his dog" or "Holy crap, a talking raven!"
-Likewise, is all this magic stuff normal to humans, or is it weird? Would telling someone that the water spirits are enslaved provoke worry, or get him chucked in the street?
-How old is Preston? That can help ground you in an age range.

I liked your 309 version better, and definitely believe that the query should focus on Preston. The hound is honestly just a catalyst and doesn't deserve more than half a sentence in your query.

freddie said...

oyI was just going to ask the same questions as 150. Are talking animals an accepted part of the world in this story, or would people question Preston's sanity if they see him talking to a crow?

Anonymous said...

More from the posting author:


To answer 150's questions:

Preston is the only one who encounters the magical elements of the story.

They certainly aren't ordinary parts of the world (it's set in the here and now), but Preston isn't shocked by any of them. He reacts, at the most, very quietly to the things he sees.

He doesn't tell anyone else about it because he doesn't really have anyone else to talk to, and the narrative doesn't really get too far into his inner thoughts.

Anyway, I hope that helps. And thanks again, everyone, for the continued comments.

Anonymous said...

Garwaf Author Here (in reply to Phoenix):

Is your story the one Jennifer Jackson is referring to in regard to a request: YA fantasy in the tradition of Robin McKinley?

Yes, it was! She asked for pages. Sent them two days ago. Keep your fingers crossed she asks to see more! :D


Phoenix said...

Woo-hoo! Great news, Moth! *keeping fingers X'd*

Interesting for two reasons:

1) We are getting to know each others' works way too well :o)

2) The thing that apparently drew the agent's attention here was the "in the tradition of" comment. Something to keep in mind as we try to decide what to put in/leave out of our queries...

Phoenix said...

Posting author: Your revised query can be tightened by consolidating some of the redundancy, especially in the backstory. I think the emphasis on Preston works much better. Maybe one more rewrite where you marry up the elements between the 309 version and this last revision will be just the ticket. If you decide to go with this last version, maybe give us a hint at the end of what and how Preston will solve the mystery.