Thursday, February 28, 2008

Face-Lift 496


Guess the Plot

The Kings of Box River

1. Card shark, William "Box" River, is going for an unprecedented three-peat as national Texas Hold-Em champion. His bombshell competition, Scarlet Vickens, offers a bribe: if he lets her win, he'll get lucky at love and she'll show him a new meaning to the term "all in." But is he willing to fold his hand and give up fame and fortune when he's dealt three kings?

2. The King family have lived and prospered in Box River, Wyoming for eight generations. But now the Russian Mafia has moved in, and they want a piece of the action. A big piece. Can the King family deal will this threat, or will the Otkupshchikovs become the new . . . Kings of Box River?

3. Jules would give his left eye for a drink. Artemis has been his best friend and drinking buddy since they settled in under the Box Creek bridge three years ago. As Artemis degrades into a cancer-induced dementia and ultimately death, will Jules fall deeper into his self-destructive pit, or will a spiritual epiphany set him on a different course?

4. Outside a small snack bar, near where the Alonguin River ducks between the paper mills and becomes "Box River", two old men play chess, as they have for the past seven years. Each day, chancers, crooks and business men stop by and mumble their requests for advice or money. Then, one morning with a cool frost and long shadows, Solomon doesn't show up to finish a game. That's when the violence starts.

5. The McAllisters have dominated the fishing guide trade of Box River for so long even the local Indians can't recall a time when there weren't any McAllisters on the river. But change is coming in the form of the Bassmasters series. Can the McAllisters survive, or is their reign as the Kings of Box River over? Also, an autistic Sioux boy.

6. Box, Oregon, once a bustling community, is a dying town. The mill is closed, and the mine is empty. When a drifter named King comes along, he and Liam Satler struggle to keep their world together in the face of adversity: dried up farmland, Liam's pregnant cousin and delusional father . . . and of course Jeremy, the prehistoric sea monster living in the river.


Original Version

Dear Agent,

I hope you will consider representing my 85,000-word novel, The Kings of Box River.

Box, Oregon, isn't on the way to anywhere else. Its mill has long since closed, its mine shafts grow weeds, and all that remains of its once-bustling frontier community is a handful of ranchers and the persistent legend of a prehistoric sea monster named Jeremy who is rumored to live beneath the surface of the local river.

Only seven-year-old Liam Satler, son of the town's innkeepers, [Apparently, all that's left of the bustling community is a handful of ranchers and some innkeepers. Do the ranchers stay at the inn, or is that just for tourists?] knows that the legend is true. Since the day he accidentally spotted Jeremy from his backyard, he's been determined to protect the creature from the dangerous world around it. Watching out for Jeremy is a welcome distraction from the things in his life that he can't control: his teacher's inability to understand why he's bored and distracted in school, [Could it be because no one will believe him when he says there' a prehistoric sea monster named Jeremy in the river?] his father's determination to grow apple trees in the dry soil of their yard, [Has dad given any consideration to, like, watering the apple trees?] [The well's done dried up, you say? Where can pop get water now? Wait, how about . . . Box River?] the alarming fragility of his pregnant cousin Holly. [In what way is she fragile? Is Liam the one alarmed by it?]

When a young drifter who calls himself King arrives at the inn [Is it Elvis? Look, there are two ways to put Box back on the map: discover a prehistoric sea monster, which will then be captured and taken to an aquarium, at which point Box drops off the map again, or have Elvis move in, in which case Box becomes the center of the paparazzi universe until he dies for real this time. Wait, maybe the sea monster should be Elvis, grown to such gargantuan proportions he's mistaken for a sea monster by anyone who sees him. Imagine an elephant seal with Elvis's head.] and inadvertently comes to share Liam's secret, Liam isn't sure if he can trust him. However, with his parents thinking about sending him away to school, and Jeremy becoming increasingly difficult to watch over, Liam needs all the help he can get. As the young boy and adult runaway struggle to keep their world in order, they are pushed into actions that jeopardize themselves, the people they care about, and the vulnerable creature they protect.

I would be happy to send along the full manuscript at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Notes

What's the threat to Jeremy and why are Liam and King and those they care about in jeopardy? There's no one left in town but a handful of ranchers, who are presumably on their ranches most of the time, so what does Jeremy need protection from? Who's the bad guy? We will care more about this if we know what the danger is.

What I meant was, there's no one left in town but a handful of ranchers, the innkeepers, Jeremy and his cousin, Jeremy's parents and teacher, any other students and teachers at the school, Floyd the barber, and Spongebob.

How can Box not be on the way to anywhere else when it's on a river? Don't they have boats?

Is this a book for adults? When does it take place?

Why am I thinking, "Puff the Magic Dragon"?

You're probably thinking it would make your book ridiculous to have Elvis in it, but I guarantee most people thought it was ridiculous anyway, the minute you mentioned the prehistoric sea monster named Jeremy.

29 comments:

pacatrue said...

Tough query. The entire first paragraph I was thinking "The Water Horse set in Oregon, Water Horse set in Oregon." (Yes, I just saw the movie this weekend, well, the one set on Loch Ness.) You need to convince the agent you haven't written the same book set in a different place. The relationship with the King is what sets the novel apart, so I could suggest focusing more on that. But then you might end up with a story of the King and toss in at the end, "oh, by the way, there's a sea monster named Jeremy in the river," which is worse. I suppose following EE's suggestions of developing the exact risks to our MC and the King would resolve my worries.

By the way, how big is the Box River? I think of most rivers as about, oh, 10 feet deep, which makes the sea monster who can hide in it for years about the size of a seal at best. But it could be a huge river; I'm now thinking of the Columbia River gorge. And yet the Columbia provides irrigation for farming all across eastern Washington, where they grow tons of... apple trees.

Ulysses said...

Personally, I'd prefer to see the manuscript for GTP #4.

You've provided plenty of detail on the situation, but not much on the actual plot. I'd need some information about the antagonist before I could have a handle on the story. What is threatening to disorder their world? How are they doing it, and how does it threaten Box River / Jeremy / King / Liam / Elvis?

Wes said...

Minor, picky comment: It doesn't seem feasible for weeds to grow in mine shafts. The plants would need a source of light.

A little more important, in my opinion, is salesmanship. A query is really a sales tool. I believe one has to walk a delicate line where one has to appear confident, but not arrogant. Your opening sentence appears a bit weak, as though you are approaching the agent with hat in hand, hoping for a break.

On the other hand, some of the queries I've read here have used a "presumptive close" in the last paragraph. This is where the seller, in effect, says "Of course you'll want to see the manuscript/partial". This is a dangerous tactic when selling to sophisticated buyers.

Striking the right tone is difficult, but remember, if the author doesn't believe in the product, who will?

Anonymous said...

Off subject:

EE, I think I'm in love with you. I'm single, cute, 27, and own a bakery... interested?

Yours ;)

Evil Editor said...

Can you post a couple photographs? I'd like to see a cheese danish and a butter croissant.

Anonymous said...

Is it really Literary Fiction? I don't get that vibe from the query.

Getting past the sea monster being called Jeremy, and being vulnerable, if he's living in a river in the middle of nowhere and not the sea -- well he's not the brightest plesiosaur in the pod.

Anonymous said...

Why am I thinking, "Puff the Magic Dragon"?

It's that time of night, you're kind of chillin' and feel the need for some, ah, recreation?

Evil Editor said...

Is it really Literary Fiction?

I don't know what it is. Usually the author says. The monster apparently exists, so it's not fantasy. Kind of long for a book for kids who would dig a 7-year-old protagonist.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 5:17:

Why must women like you exist? Cute and own a bakery?? How can the pretty, 26 year old lawyers like me compete? Contract negotiation versus cookies? It's just not fair. Sigh.

And EE, just so you know, I think I'm in love with you, too :)

And now I think I need a cookie...

Evil Editor said...

The single ones are always anonymous. Does that make sense to anyone?

talpianna said...

The story doesn't seem to have a center--is it Liam's problems, the unspecified danger to Jeremy, the dysfunctional family (including cousin Holly and the baby's father, if it isn't Jeremy), the plight of the town?

And what about Naomi?

talpianna said...

Anonymous 7:02: I suppose it's a kind of magic realism, which I guess would qualify it as Literary Fiction.

Anonymous said...

The monster apparently exists, so it's not fantasy.

Do you mean the monster really exists within the world of the story (isn't that true of Fantasy, also?), or there actually is a (lengend of a) mid-west sea monster? Called Jeremy. Jez. Call him Jez -- that's a way cooler name for a sea monster.

I can see how the elements could work as Literary, but the query feels like it has a more YA vibe -- to me, anyway. Not that I know how to solve that. Interesting.

Sarah said...

I like the title.

Yeah - Water Horse does a little sightseeing, off the beaten path.

This:
As the young boy and adult runaway struggle to keep their world in order
confused me as King was a drifter and this made him a runaway. So I kept trying to read runaway as a verb.

What age is this aimed at? Seems like with the kid being the MC, it might be middle grade. Except he's really young for that. And 85,000 words is really long for a young reader.

A sea monster named Jeremy? Was it someone's pet that they released into the river? Is there a lake part to this river that's nearby? Does Jeremy interact with Liam?

Here's my suggestion - which doesn't fix some of the issues raised here, just rearranges the information you gave us.


Box, Oregon, would be the most boring place on earth to seven-year-old Liam Satler, if it weren’t for Jeremy. Liam knows the legend of a prehistoric sea monster who is rumored to live beneath the surface of the local river is true. He accidentally spotted Jeremy from his backyard. Since that day, he's been determined to protect the creature from the dangerous world around it. Watching out for Jeremy is a welcome distraction from the things in his life that he can't control: his teacher's inability to understand why he's bored and distracted in school, his father's determination to grow apple trees in the dry soil of their yard, the alarming fragility of his pregnant cousin Holly.

His innkeeper parents are thinking about sending him away to school, and Jeremy’s becoming increasingly difficult to watch over, Liam needs all the help he can get. A young drifter who calls himself King arrives at the inn and inadvertently comes to share Liam's secret, but Liam isn't sure he can trust him. As Liam and King struggle to keep their world in order, they are pushed into actions that jeopardize themselves, the people they care about, and the vulnerable creature they protect.

Anonymous said...

Okay, EE... I'm envious that you have chics, anonymous or not, hitting on you. Girls don't seem to dig the struggling writer trying to make it in the world... maybe it's the toilet paper as coffee filters thing... or the dates to McDonald's? Hmmm...

Phoenix said...

well he's not the brightest plesiosaur in the pod.

Anon, I think I'm in love with you.

Author, a couple of phrase choices threw me a bit:

rumored to live beneath the surface of the river - why not just in the river?

he accidentally spotted Jeremy - how do you accidentally spot something?

inadvertently comes to share Liam's secret - accidentally, inadvertently: seems things just happen to these characters, um, accidentally and inadvertently.

Wes pointed out the weeds in the mine shaft, and EE riffed on the dry soil when it seems the family lives beside the river. Perhaps there is some significance to these seemingly "wrong" things, but if you don't clue us in, they seem just wrong - and not wrong in the way that literary fiction makes wrongs right.

Is Liam protecting Jeremy from imagined dangers? Real dangers? Imagined dangers that become real?

We need just a little more detail to become truly vested in this story.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone-- aside from the declarations of love, they're all pretty helpful.

Part of my problem in writing this query is that I'm having a hard time getting the tone right. It is lit fic, not YA or fantasy, but I know I'm not communicating that clearly. I'd appreciate any suggestions about this (or tone in general, things like what wes mentioned about the opening).

From the comments, I'm starting to think that getting rid of the term "sea monster" (it's actually more like a smallish prehistoric crocodile), not mentioning its name, and focusing more on the relationships between characters might help.

And Elvis, of course.

iago said...

You could try calling it a creature instead of a sea monster; and perhaps be more ambiguous about whether the legend is true or the creature is in Liam's imagination.

Anonymous said...

Author:

I have to confess; I found the declarations of love to be humourous, and therefor, helpful. One can always use a laugh, and imagining the pie-girl/attorney-at-law girl-on-girl fight over EE's attention certainly brought a smile to my face (perhaps even a wistful smile...). I think perhaps you're a bit jealous they weren't directed toward you :)

It does help to know that Jeremy isn't a giant monster; I was having trouble fitting him into a standard river, even the rather large rivers. Now I realise he is a smallish reptile... a nice and cuddly pet for a child to have...

I still have some other issues with Jeremy, though. Has he always lived in Box River? If so, how did he avoid being seen when the city had a greater population? And what is his impact on the environment? Do the local cats seem to go missing? Maybe that's why the seven year old needs a pet dinosaur... because his cats all "run away"...

Interesting premise... good luck with querying.

Regina said...

In order to differentiate what could be, on the basis of plot alone, a children's fantasy story from a work of literary fiction, we need to understand how the narrative works.

Phrases like "the alarming fragility of his pregnant cousin Holly" go some way to conveying a more adult tilt, but, beyond stating clearly that your book is a work of literary fiction, you may need to be more specific about the narrative style because your protagonist is so young. Are you working from Liam's point of view? Intimate third person? Do you oscillate between Liam and King? Is the story being told from some time in the future (an adult's recollection as opposed to a child's summation?)

Your query should feature the level of vocabulary and tone you employ in the novel. At the moment, we're getting mixed messages with regard to perspective. Liam is a "young boy", yet you also describe King as "young" before amending his age to that of "adult runaway". Since Liam would unequivocally view King as an adult, we're left unsure as to whose point of view the story is being told from. The apple tree perceptiveness and the observation of "alarming fragility" make it possible for us to assume we are dealing with a hyper-aware and introverted child perspective (a staple of literary fiction), but then you confuse your high tone with words like "bored" and middle-grade stock phrases like "needs all the help he can get."

Consistency, in this case, breeds clarity.

BuffySquirrel said...

Lit fic is in the writing. I don't think this query demonstrates writing of that kind.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if anyone will come back to this comment thread but, just in case...

I've written a revised draft that, hopefully, answers everyone's concerns. I'll post it here, so feel free to comment. Thanks so much for all your help!


Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my 85,000-word literary fiction novel, The Kings of Box River.

Local legend in Box, Oregon, claims that the town’s river is home to a prehistoric crocodile. If the creature exists, it may be the most interesting thing about Box, a former frontier town in the dry shrub steppe, little-noticed by the rest of the world since its silver mine closed in the early 1900s.

Nevertheless, life in Box is far from boring for seven-year-old Liam, whose parents own the local inn. His cousin Holly has recently moved in with his family, and he can’t figure out why. His father, against all horticultural logic, has decided to plant apple orchard in their yard. Worst of all, Liam can’t seem to make anyone understand why he’s so miserable in school—indeed, he can hardly understand it himself. Things are simpler down by the river, where Liam spends most of his time watching for a glimpse of the legendary creature.

Then King arrives at the inn, dwarfed by an enormous backpack and peering out from behind glasses he doesn't actually need. He’s not planning to stay long: Box, for him, is just another stop in a long string of temporary destinations. However, as he finds himself drawn to the unlikely apple orchard, and to Holly, he’s finding it harder and harder to move on. Liam’s initial mistrust gradually gives way to acceptance and, when the two of them discover the mythical crocodile, they enter into an alliance to protect it from whatever harm the world might do to creatures it doesn’t understand.

Their plan, however, becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. Holly announces that she is pregnant, adding a new and possibly disastrous wrinkle to the family’s financial struggles. Meanwhile, Liam’s teacher is pushing his parents to send him away to school, far from his family and from the river creature. King begins carrying out a plan that he believes will solve everyone’s problems—and that fundamentally goes against his agreement with Liam. What he can’t predict, however, is the dramatic consequences his actions will have for both of them.

I would be happy to send a full or partial manuscript at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Sarah said...

It has more information. It's also ho-hum boring. You've lost your voice and the excitement. The descriptions are a little dry. It definitely needs tightening.

It's a good next step, but it needs a bit more work.

Anonymous said...

Author:

It's way too long; you need to shorten and tighten it. The agent doesn't need to know everything... just enough to catch their attention and make them want to read more.

And I don't like the "prehistoric crocodile" description. Crocodiles themselves seem pretty prehistoric-like, so the description isn't clear enough. Sounds like a regular ol' crocodile, and while a crocodile sighting in Oregon is odd, I don't find that to be particularly interesting enough to make me want to know more about it.

Kalynne Pudner said...

I agree with Anonymous 7:13 that it would be improved tightened up. I'd suggest focusing on the inn, and the people who come to it, from Liam's perspective. The King would be even more interesting, I think; here, when you introduce him it seems like an abrupt change of viewpoint.

I may be betraying a dearth of horticultural logic, but I don't see what the apple orchard adds to the query (even if it does add significantly to the story).

Ali said...

I think this is a vast improvement. It sounded much more like a book I would want to read than the original query did. I do think you might want to omit some of the details in the third paragraph--start your summary with the inciting incident, which it sounds like is King's arrival and discovery of the crocodile creature.

Sarah said...

Here's my suggestion for some tightening. It loses 87 words. Still needs your voice.

Box, Oregon is a former frontier town in the dry shrub steppe, little-noticed by the rest of the world since its silver mine closed in the early 1900s. It’s also home to seven-year-old Liam and the local legend that Liam spends most of his time watching for - a crocodile that should be extinct.

His parents own the inn where his cousin Holly has recently moved in for reasons unknown to Liam. His father is wasting precious money planting an apple orchard in the dry sand of their yard. Worst of all, Liam can’t seem to make anyone understand why he’s so miserable in school — indeed, he can hardly understand it himself.

Then a drifter named King arrives at the inn, dwarfed by an enormous backpack. For King, Box is just another stop in a long string of temporary destinations. King finds himself drawn to the unlikely apple orchard, and to Holly. Liam’s initial mistrust gradually gives way to acceptance and, when the two of them discover the mythical crocodile, they enter into an alliance to protect it from whatever harm the world might do to creatures it doesn’t understand.

Their plan becomes increasingly difficult to maintain as Holly announces that she is pregnant, and Liam’s teacher is pushing his parents to send him away to school. King begins carrying out a plan that he believes will solve everyone’s problems — but it fundamentally goes against his agreement with Liam. King’s actions will have dramatic consequences for both of them.

AR said...

You know, Author...while initial or expert criticisms can be helpful, if you let them people will criticize your work to death. Not maliciously, but because the authorly impulses that inform their opinions can ultimately only create work that is THEIRS. Not yours.

I think you've fixed most or all of the problems. The query summary now sounds a lot more like the story you've been describing to us. The tone is more even, more literary. The characters sound like people I could get involved with.

And I like it.

Still, "prehistoric crocodile" may need a bit more tweaking. Merely IMO.

Anonymous said...

No why's answered here, and it is indeed boring and dry. Why is the kid 'bored' in school? Why is his cousin there? (Or does she need to be introduced at all?) Who and Why is King there? You are too coy with the info, yet make what you reveal very dry.

The thing that would put me off entirely is that a crocodile in Oregon is patently ridiculous. It makes me lose faith in your ability to write a believable story. If you called it a monster, fine. But being so specific as to call it a croc-- even a prehistoric one-- makes me say no.