Monday, December 10, 2007

Face-Lift 462


Guess the Plot

Finders Keepers

1. Haley McGill thinks a $100 bill she found is hers, but when her friends disagree with her assessment and beat the crap out of her for the bill, she remembers that there's a second part to the old saying.

2. The drummer for the band Finders Keepers is perfectly happy with his life--until his biology teacher's invasive blood probing experiment threatens to ruin everything.

3. In a world ruled by vampires, the few remaining humans are a precious food resource. Our heroine is on the run, trying to escape a lifetime of imprisonment as a blood supply. One hunky vampire offers to help her. But can she trust him? In the new world, when a vampire finds a human, it's . . . Finders Keepers.

4. Arnie Bolsover is a serial burglar -- houses, shops, cars, pockets; he can't resist the urge to acquire what is not his. Eventually the full force of the law catches up with him and he is set to acquire a long vacation in a small cell. But thanks to a sharp lawyer, and a little known statute, it's discovered that "finders keepers, losers weepers" is a point of law, and when news gets out, anarchy takes over.

5. Grandpa Finders taught grandson Seth to throw back the fish that were under the limit. When they reel in a suitcase filled with gold bars, however, it's a keeper. Problem is, drug kingpin Hiram "Meth-man" Dunderkindel wants his gold back. Can Seth outwit the drug dealing gang, or will he soon be sleeping with the fishes?

6. A restaurant nearly goes out of business until the chef finds the perfect recipe--tasty men. It's winner-take-all in the culinary world as Chef Paulino scours the streets of New York searching for sweaty biceps, tender thighs and succulent livers. When other chefs demand to know his secret, will Paulino tell them . . . "Finders Keepers"?


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

In Finders Keepers, a young adult novel complete at just over 59,000 words, a teenage boy struggles to merge his two worlds when the father he’s never met gains custody of him.

Street-smart and independent thanks to his two adult half-brothers, Tyson Mendel doesn’t usually mind that his mom kind of sucks at being a mom, or that he has to play the parent when she’s drunk or high, but he often feels guilty about the sacrifices his brothers have made for him. The summer that he turns fifteen, Ty’s life takes a sharp turn when the father he’s never met reappears and is awarded custody of him. [How does a guy get custody of a kid he's had no involvement with, when the kid doesn't mind that his mom sucks at being a mom? Who complained? Has he been trying to get custody for fifteen years, or is this a spur-of-the-moment idea?

Father: Yeah, I'd like to sue for custody of my son.
Lawyer: You're divorced from the mother?
Father: We were never married.
Lawyer: How old's your son?
Father: Fifteen.
Lawyer: How often do you see him?
Father: I've never seen him.
Lawyer: Why should you have custody?
Father: His mother drinks.
Lawyer: How do you know?
Father: She was drunk out of her mind the night I knocked her up.
Lawyer: Yes . . . she must have been.]

Initially convinced that he should despise his father as much as his brothers do, Ty eventually has to admit that Daniel isn’t such a bad guy, especially after Daniel stands up for Ty when he is accused of credit-card theft.

By the end of the year, Ty has embraced his new life, his brothers have moved forward with theirs, and his mom is living with her boyfriend. A few months later, though, a blood-type experiment in biology class threatens to ruin everything – the father Ty has begun to love isn’t his dad after all.

[Biology teacher: Okay students, tomorrow I want you to bring in some blood from both your parents so we can determine how many of you are bastard children.

Ty: How are we supposed to get their blood?

Biology teacher: I'm getting to that. Jenny, would you pass out the ice picks and turkey basters?]

Now, Ty is faced with a decision – betray his family by keeping his mouth shut, or tell the truth and once again become his brothers’ burden? [They've all moved on; why would they feel betrayed, even if they knew? And how would they find out?] When he chooses to remain with Daniel, Ty’s life becomes a deceptive game riddled with guilt; [I don't get the guilt.] so when his secret is revealed after his mother’s sudden death, Ty runs off to take refuge in the anonymity of the city streets, believing that it was his decision that led to her death. [What was the cause of death? If his living mother can stand that he wants to stay with Daniel, his dead mother ought to be able to handle it.] Longing for his family, but too ashamed to face them, [Ashamed of what?] Ty pairs up with a homeless man obsessed with scavenging discarded food. [What I hate about the homeless is their obsession with eating.] There, he confronts the thing he doubts the most – his own self worth.

Finders Keepers is my first novel. Thank you for taking the time to read my query.

Sincerely,

[Origin of the title – Finders Keepers is the name of Ty’s oldest brother’s band, in which Ty is the drummer, and his brothers and cousin are the other band members. Their name for the band came about as a joke derived from the fact that all of them had fathers who were not involved in their lives, and therefore they were all up for grabs to any available dad. This ultimately becomes a reality for Ty, who finds out that even the kids who have been cast aside by a biological parent can mean the world to somebody they don’t even belong to.]


Notes

If he's gonna pair up with someone other than his family, why not the guy he's already paired up with (Daniel)? Why a homeless guy?

Does Daniel know he's not Ty's father? Who reveals the secret?

Who is Daniel to the half-brothers? Why do they hate him?

He chooses to stay with Daniel rather than his mother. Presumably a tough decision. But when mother dies, it seems that would make the decision easier. I'm not convinced that taking to the streets and pairing up with a homeless guy would appeal more than Daniel's place. He feels if he'd stayed with mom he could have prevented her death? We need details on her death.

Wouldn't a fifteen-year-old kid be given any input into whether his complete stranger father gets custody? Is the mother present at the custody hearing?

Of course I'm looking at the situation as a rational adult, not a fifteen-year-old, but the kid is street-smart, which might indicate he has enough common sense to talk things over with Daniel or his brothers before running off.

I like the situation, but that assumes the legal part is reasonable, and that the kid isn't acting like an idiot just so you can have him learn a valuable lesson.

14 comments:

talpianna said...

I should think that most courts would allow a fifteen-year-old to choose which parent to live with. And by the time he finds out Daniel isn't his real father, he must be sixteen and eligible for legal emancipation, if not automatically emancipated (depends on state law at what age).

In the Quinn Brothers trilogy by Nora Roberts, there is a similar situation, in which three brothers with independent lives of their own come home to their Chesapeake Bay home to run their father's shipyard and raise his ward (who turns out to be their half-brother). It's actually a quartet, because she also wrote the tale of the kid once he grew up. If three brothers can mostly sacrifice their careers and take up a totally different one just to take care of a kid they don't even know, why do Ty's half-brothers, who have presumably known him all his life, consider it a "sacrifice" to take care of him--especially once he's a teenager and doesn't need much in the way of child care?

Dave F. said...

Talpiana states Tyson's legal situation very well. I know for a fact that in New York State and Pennsylvania, children of 14 y/o have certain rights to make decisions about their finances and other matters.

I'm not sure what country the author is writing from. I know it's a British legal system thanks to finders keepers. But that's a big chunk of world.

I would make sure of the legal situation. If the actual legal situation doesn't match the story, the author can set the story in some mythical place with a consistent set of rules.

I imagine that the "medical mystery" is nothing more than Tyson is type AB, his Mother is A and Daniel turns out to be O.
Tyson is a bit old for the runaway from home because Daddy is not THIS man and you've been lied to. There must be some other "dread family secret" involved to force a kid that old out of the house. Especially if Daniel still cares for Tyson. The "still caring" also works for Tyson's brothers. Wouldn't Tyson run to his brothers? He's awfully insecure if he's afraid they'll reject him.

BuffySquirrel said...

The query doesn't say the brothers feel they're making a sacrifice; it's Ty who views things that way.

I think there's a lot of potential here, but the query doesn't do it justice. Clearing up the points EE raises would help. It doesn't work for me that Ty is street-smart and independent, yet, apparently, a very sensitive soul :).

lizr said...

Okay (I’m sorry if this is lengthy!) –

First, it’s important to know that the story is told in first-person POV, so Ty’s reactions are based on what he thinks he knows, and his POV is the only one the reader gets.

Daniel never knew about Ty until Ty’s mom’s boyfriend got greedy and pressed her to go after Daniel for child support. Knowing how lax she was about her other two sons (Daniel lived with them for almost 2 years), he turned around and sued for custody of Ty. All kinds of things were revealed then about the situation Ty was in, tacked on to the fact that Mom had her other two kids taken away from her once (Daniel was the anonymous person who called CPS on her when he left to straighten out his own life). Even if Ty wanted to stay with his mom, the judge wouldn’t allow it. It was a matter of Daniel showing that she wasn't competent, rather than that he was more capable. Also, Ty just turned 15; the story takes place over the course of a year. Since Daniel was not aware that Ty existed and is now willing and able to care for him, he is awarded custody.

Ty’s brothers have never forgiven Daniel for disappearing without explanation after being like a father to them; they were 6 and 8 when he left.

When Ty finally does figure out that Daniel isn’t his father (I love the ice pick thing, heheheh, but early in the story Daniel explains in passing to Ty that he is giving blood yet again because he’s O-negative and likes to give as often as he can), these are the choices Ty sees for himself:
1. Tell Daniel that he isn’t really his son. Ty believes that Daniel will then send him back to live with one of his brothers, neither of whom is in a position to take him back without rearranging their life yet again. Ty doesn’t want to screw things up for his brothers, even though he knows they would drop everything for him (I won't go into their exact situations).
2. Not say anything, just keep pretending that he’s Daniel’s son and hope nobody figures out that he isn’t. He feels guilty because, first, he is choosing the guy his brothers don’t like over them, and second, because he’s now lying to and mooching off of this guy he really likes.

Ty’s mom is killed in an auto accident with one of her substance-abusing friends during a weekend that she asked Ty to come home and spend time with her, but he was too busy to (Daniel and Ty live a couple of hours from Ty’s mom and brothers). Ty, who is now admitting to himself that part of why he stayed with Daniel was because he liked having a normal home life, feels that if he had just moved back with one of his brothers to begin with instead of being selfish, he would have been there to keep an eye on his mom (going back to Ty-as-parent). At the hospital after her death, he walks in on a heated discussion between his brothers and Daniel, misinterprets the situation, and ends up blurting out his secret. So now, in Ty’s mind, Daniel is horrified that this teenage kid who isn’t even his has been living in his house with his two young children; and his brothers will never forgive him for bailing on them and their mom.

What it comes down to is that Ty can’t find his place in the world because he feels like he’s ultimately a burden to everyone he loves. This comes through in small ways throughout the story; insecurity about his close relationships is actually a dead-on description :).

Gah. I have no idea how to fit all of this information into a query letter!

Talpianna – I haven’t read the Quinn Brothers trilogy, but I’m very interested now.

Thanks again, EE, and thanks to everyone for the input! :) It's a big help to know how it looks to somebody else.

Polenth said...

I find doing blood type tests in biology difficult to accept. AIDS concerns mean that kids can't be exposed to the blood of someone else, plus the risk of infection when removing the blood. I can't imagine many schools would risk it. All it takes is for one kid to get an infection, or for it to turn out one of the class had AIDS, and the school would be in hot water.

Of course, if the story is set in the past you can disregard that... my parents used to be given liquid mercury to handle in science classes. Science was more fun (and dangerous) back then.

talpianna said...

Is there any happy ending to this story? Having read your summary, I'm afraid I wouldn't want to read the book, no matter how well written, because I get enough misery and depression just reading the daily news (not to mention real life). When I read fiction, I want to be taken out of myself in some exhilarating fashion. And if you condemn me for escapism, remember Tolkien's remark that the people who object the most to escape are gaolers.

Could you not mix it up a bit with stretches of depicting Ty being happy--making music, bonding with Daniel, perhaps getting a puppy or learning about his new home town?

December/Stacia said...

lizr, that answers a lot of questions, and I think this could be a good story (although what kind of a jerk is Daniel, who is horrified that this kid who isn't his son has been living with him?) but those answers should be in the query, or at least the questions should be left out. If "a chance blood test" leads to the non-paternity discovery, for example. I figured the part about Ty's mom being declared incompetent, so I wasn't worried about that, but the thing with the brothers is a bit confusing too (in the query). JMO.

BuffySquirrel said...

Perhaps it would be better to concentrate on Ty's reactions to events rather than describing the events themselves. It's less important how he discovers Daniel isn't his father than how he reacts to the discovery, for example.

lizr said...

Thanks so much for all of the insights; they are really getting me thinking about better ways to get the tone of the story across in the query.

polenth – The students are using home blood typing test kits. The kits utilize a simple finger prick, such as would be used by diabetic patients, and include a small collection tube, sterile lancet, alcohol wipe, blood-type card, and laminating sheet. These kits are actually promoted for classroom use; one of the companies I looked into is Craig Medical Distribution, who offers the EldonCard. I had the students in this story take the kits home and do them there, for the reasons you noted. Once they are done, though, nobody is exposed to anyone else’s blood.

talpianna – Most of the story itself actually runs along on a happy note, with Ty settling into his new life and bonding with Daniel. After that, the underlying tension comes, first, when Ty starts feeling torn between the way he now feels about Daniel versus his brothers’ continued dislike for Daniel; and second, once that is resolved, when Ty realizes that Daniel isn’t his father. Overall, Ty is a resilient and happy kid, but the situation he ends up in draws out some issues that he has never fully dealt with, and never told his brothers about (see the explanation in my reply to december/stacia). If there is a depressing part of the story, it would be the second-to-last chapter, but Ty does get things figured out enough in his head to realize he needs to go back home. It actually does have a happy (but not perfect) ending.

december/stacia – Thanks for the comments. Daniel isn’t horrified at all that Ty has been living with him, but that is the reaction Ty is expecting from Daniel. There are a lot of things hinted at during the story that you don’t necessarily see as part of the whole until the end, but a large part of Ty’s belief that he isn’t worth much to somebody he doesn’t belong to stems from manipulative comments made to him at a young age by one of his mother’s former live-in boyfriends. The guy doesn’t appear in the story, but some of the things he said to Ty have had an impact on the way he sees himself, and on the way he believes others feel about him.

buffysquirrel – I think you’re on to something there, thanks :).

Robin S. said...

Hi Liz,

I just read through this - it sounds like a really good story, and I wish you really good luck with it.

Having a 15 year old,I know their perceptions are often skewed from the adult perception of events - so I can see why Ty would take all of this and come up to a bad conclusion about and for himself.

Ali said...

Hi Lizr, It sounds like something I'd enjoy reading.

Based on your follow-up comments, I'm going to make an assumption that the part of the story where he runs away and hangs out with the homeless guy takes up less space than the query makes it appear. I think maybe the query needs to give more focus at the end on Ty's mother dying (it's almost just mentioned in passing) and less to the homeless guy. In other words, this: Ty feels that if he had just moved back with one of his brothers to begin with instead of being selfish, he would have been there to keep an eye on his mom needs to be in your query. (It almost is, but "his decision" is too vague, IMO). This: Ty pairs up with a homeless man obsessed with scavenging discarded food could be omitted (from the query).

Good luck with this!

Sarah said...

Have you tried writing the query in first person? You never know what Ty might say about his journey if given the chance to put it in a nutshell.

December/Stacia said...

Aaah. *Nods*. I didn't think from the rest of the query Daniel sounded like the type of man who would be horrified, which is why that struck me so hard.

Maybe you want to focus more on the struggles of those two to form a family, both before and after the "discovery"? It seems to me like Ty's search for belonging is at the heart of the story.

lizr said...

I just want to thank everyone again for your comments and suggestions. They are helping me so much in narrowing down the most important points of the story, so hopefully I will be able to do a better better job of conveying them in the query.

Thank you!