Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Face-Lift 552


Guess the Plot

The Amnesia Door

1.Dr. Barnes' Psychology grad students call the door to his lab the Amnesia Door after his research into the disorder. But when students begin to die during experiments, panic sets in. Also, a blind Chinese exchange student.

2. Follow me through the amazing Amnesia Door and you'll remember noth-- What was I talking about? Who are you? Who am I?

3. There's something sinister going on behind door 212 at Willowbrook Convalescent Hospital. No one who goes in is ever the same. When Gracie goes in but never returns, her roommate Molly Parker knows what she has to do: rally the knitting club and their scooters to find the truth. Also, a pair of clever therapy Poodles.

4. Belle's new English teacher teaches more than English; she teaches witchcraft. But the door to Ms. Wendt's room erases the students' memories when they leave, so there's no danger . . . except from Belle's new science teacher, who has his own designs on Ms. Wendt's powers. Also, alchemy.

5. When George trades his newly-won washer-dryer for a chance at what's behind Door #3, he immediately forgets why he did it. He also forgets his name and address, his wife, his career as a physics professor, and how to put on his pants. Hilarity ensues.

6. Jane Doe wishes she knew where she lost her mind, but all she can remember is a door. A plain old door with hinges and a knob. Dr. Shelby treats this like every other case of middle-aged-reality-avoidance--skeptically--until he finds himself standing next to a plain old door, wondering where he was going and what his name is.



Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Fifteen-year-old Belle is perfectly normal and perfectly bored with her normal life—until she meets her new English teacher. Ms. Wendt is a witch. Even stranger than the fact that Ms. Wendt supplements her lessons with magic

[Ms. Wendt: Today, students, to assist with our discussion of Othello, I've brought the author, William Shakespeare, to life. But before we open the floor to your questions, watch as I saw Mr. Shakespeare in half.

Shakespeare: WTF?! Hey lady, there's been a mistake. I think you want Francis Bacon.]

is the fact that her classroom is located behind a blue door that erases her students' memories of magic when they leave. As Belle and her friends Robert and Esperanza try to find ways to thwart the door and remember their magical teacher outside of class, [Surely they at least remember their teacher?

Who you got for English this year?

I . . . doesn't remember. Who you've gotten?

I ain't gots not idea.]

they discover that Ms. Wendt is a prisoner of her own classroom, trapped behind the blue door that ensures no one will remember her or help her escape. [Lucky for Ms. Wendt her classroom has a restaurant and a bathroom with a shower.] Belle's new science teacher hints that there may be a way save Ms. Wendt, [If they don't remember Ms. Wendt outside of the classroom, how can they discuss her with their science teacher?] but as Belle and her friends learn about alchemy, [Are they learning about alchemy in science class or in Ms. Wendt's class?] they begin to question whether their new teacher wants to save Ms. Wendt or use her magic for his own purposes. Either way, the first step for Belle to save her teacher is to remember her.

THE AMNESIA DOOR is a 64k word YA contemporary fantasy aimed at teens. [That sounded redundant, until I remembered that most YA nowadays is aimed at adults.] I think you might like it because (personalized info about an agent/editor here).

I am currently a working writer and a high school English teacher. I am a member of SCBWI and a SCBWI critique group. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

I'm not sure how they figured out that the door was the key, but if they did, it seems obvious they should try the window. They could try writing themselves notes while in class, but I suppose if a kid found a note in his pocket saying Ms. Wendt is a witch, he wouldn't catch on.

I'm thinking this sounds more like middle grade. Older kids tend to forget everything that happens in the classroom even without a magical blue door.

This seems like a good story, but tricky. It seems there can be discussions of magic or Ms. Wendt only when the students are in English class. When they're in English class, are they aware that they weren't aware of Ms. Wendt's existence before they walked in? When they come into English Tuesday, do they remember Monday's magic, and if so, are they aware that they didn't remember Monday's magic until they walked in? Make sure that you follow all the rules you set up. Even middle grade kids will spot contradictions.

34 comments:

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

I love this title.

I also love GTP number 1, and number 2 is good for a giggle.

Nitpicks:

- I know Stephanie Meyer doesn't have a lock on the name Bella, but given the timing, you may look as though you're influenced by it. (Said by someone who once named a character Isabelle because I saw that movie where Michelle Pfeiffer turns into a bird. Ladyhawke? Anyway, her character's name was Isabeau and I was not very original.)

- I don't want Belle to be perfectly normal. I want her to have previously unknown - okay, not super powers, but if she's capable of getting to the bottom of all this, she's surely better than average? Does she have a natural aptitude for alchemy? You don't want to Marysue her but give her something more than mousy hair and combination skin.

- I'm really torn about your announcement that you're a high school English teacher. Clearly you have the life experience for writing about a high school English class [but don't most of us?], but so many hsets are wannabe/failed novelists that I'm worried you'll sound desperate. PLEASE, PLEASE REPRESENT ME AND GET THIS PUBLISHED! I CAN'T TAKE ANOTHER SEMESTER OF LENNY AND THE PUPPY! or whatever.

But it sounds interesting and I would definitely read it, even though I have not been a teen for some time. :)

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Crumbs, I misspelled Stephenie Meyer's name.

Whirlochre said...

This sounds interesting and has a lot of potential, but everything will depend on how you reason through and present to your readers exactly what is remembered and by whom. In this regard, you're going to have to be water-tight with detail (the specifics of how the AD functions) or the whole thing will unravel.

You hint at skullduggery afoot on one side of the door, and I'd like to think this was because of further foul deeds taking place on the side where Ms. Wendt is trapped.

Kiersten said...

It sounds more middle-gradish to me, too. How old is Belle?

And once again, I'll just say, listen to EE. You've already got a pretty good query; follow his advice and it will be great.

Kiersten said...

Yes, duh, it would say fifteen-year-old in the very first sentence. Clearly you shouldn't listen to anything I say.

Deborah K. White said...

Even stranger than the fact that Ms. Wendt supplements her lessons with magic is the fact that her classroom is located behind a blue door that erases her students' memories of magic when they leave.

If her students forget the magic when they leave, wouldn't using magic hinder their learning instead of help it? Say that magic is used to illustrate a point: won't they will forget that point the moment they forget the magic because the memories are intertwined?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, a serious logic problem, even for YA. Nobody remembers anything about the magic once they leave, but everybody's having discussions about the teacher and the magic throughout the school? To the point that the kids think the other teacher is trying to harness the magic for herself?

Either answer the question in the query letter or better yet, don't make the question apparent. As Bill said yesterday, maybe some weaselwording is in order if you think the plot can sustain this possible logic issue.

benwah said...

One of the many things I have learned from EE's blog is that every school is populated by magicians or werewolves or vampires.

If I ever have kids, they'll definitely be homeschooled.

Beth said...

Interesting idea, but there are too many puzzling contradictions. Also, it sounds more like middle grade than YA.

beth said...

Thank you to everyone for commenting on my entry!!! This has all be really helpful. In answer to some of the comments/nitpicks:

1. The name Bella Ravenna is my play on the name Bellerophon, the Greek mythological hero on whom the story is loosely based.
2. In the book, Belle does have a natural aptitude for alchemy.
3. I think I've got the details in the book pretty water tight...but I'm having a hard time proving that in the query, obviously!
4. Everyone is commenting on how middle grade-ish this is...I may lower Belle's high school age to middle school to fit the tone.
5. Deborah: the kids remember the facts, but not the magic or method in which they learned them. Example: in the first lesson, they visit the pyramids. Outside of class, Belle describes the lesson, but thinks that she saw pictures...not that she was there.

I think my biggest problem is getting the details across in the story!

Does this sound better? Any and all comments are really really helpful to me. Thank you all SO MUCH, especially you, EE!

***

Belle may have wanted something more exciting than her regular, boring life, but she certainly didn't expect her English teacher to be a witch. The Amnesia Door, a 60k word YA contemporary fantasy, tells how Belle discovers magic in her ordinary world and then fights to keep that magic in her life.

Although Belle and her classmates love it when their teacher, Ms. Wendt, turns the classroom into the Pyramids or an Ancient Greek amphitheater, they hate the fact that whenever they leave Ms. Wendt's room, they forget all about her magic. The memories come back when they re-enter the class, but for Belle, that's not enough. Her science teacher introduces her to alchemy, and Belle uses it to get around the door's magic. But then she learns that it was alchemy that made the door in the first place...and that an alchemist made her English teacher a prisoner of her own classroom. When Belle learns the real reason Ms. Wendt has been imprisoned, she must decide whether it is worth saving her teacher if it means she will never have magic of her own.

The Amnesia Door is aimed at the same teens who love Diana Wynne Jones or Justine Larbalestier. The story is loosely based on the Greek myth of Bellerophon and the chimera.

Kiersten said...

So much better! Good job, Beth. But I would leave off the last paragraph.

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, uh, the Pyramids? in English class?

Moth said...

Second go is much better. Although a little long. And I'm not crazy about the title. What about "Beyond the Blue Door"? :D

Also:

"The Amnesia Door, a 60k word YA contemporary fantasy "

I would move that to the bottom of the letter because it interrupted the flow for me. Maybe combine it with "The Amnesia Door is aimed at..." sentence into something like:

"The Amnesia Door, complete at 60K, is a YA contemporary fantasy loosely based on the Greek myth of Bellerophon and the chimera. It will appeal to fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Justine Larbalestier."

Second draft much better, tho. Oh, and I agree that this sounds more Middle Grade than YA.

Best of luck,
Moth

beth said...

Kiersten--Thank you! Quick question--why leave off the last paragraph? Is it the mention of the myth, or the comparing to other works? I thought the myth might show the reasoning behind the name and add some interest, and I thought the comparison might show more along the lines of what audience I was looking for--something along the lines of less hard core fantasy.

Buffysquirrel--You're not the first to mention that! *sigh* I think I must teach an unusual world literature class...I'm the only teacher at my school to have her kids read The Book of the Dead.

Whirlochre said...

Yes — lose the refs at the end, but otherwise, this is much better.

Kiersten said...

The query itself makes it pretty obvious this isn't typical fantasy. Comparisons always sound slightly arrogant to me, and from what I've read, most agents don't like them, either.

As far as what it's based on, I really don't think agents are going to have a hard time with her name, and adding that it's based on a myth doesn't contribute anything to the query. It takes away from the momentum you've established.

Once again, just my opinion. But if Whirl seconds me, then I must be right. He's British, after all.

talpianna said...

If they forget everything the moment they leave the room, how do they remember that they even HAVE an English class to show up at?

beth said...

When in doubt, I do tend to trust the British. All that Doctor Who influence, you know :)

beth said...

...thought I'd left a comment earlier, but now it's not showing up.

Anyway, thanks for the advice, Moth, Keirstin, and Whirlochre. I do make it a habit to listen to British people. It's the Doctor Who influence. I'll take out that last paragraph...although I think I might change the beginning to be closer to Moth's suggestion--incorporate the myth into the info about the book.

Thanks again, all. Any further comments are really, really appreciated!

writtenwyrdd said...

Despite the fact that this letter doesn't do the plot justice, something about it makes me want to read the story.

For fixing the letter, clarify the story, explain the apparent plot holes, etc. Basically, ditto EE and everyone else.

Xiexie said...

The second version of the query is much better and gets everything across, and I was wondering the same thing about the English class. I do love unconventional teaching methods and materials; however, they're travels in learning through this magic seem more like a History class to me.

I don't find a huge problem with the final paragraph. I think such can show that the author knows his or her projected market. That's not bad, is it? (Anyone else care to chime in?)

beth said...

I am a bit worried about so many people thinking it sounds like MG...once the kids discover the teacher is a prisoner (within the first 50 pages, btw), the story is a bit dark...it's not "pretty" magic, but fairly serious magic with some dark implications and results.

Does anyone have any ideas of how to show why I think my novel should be classified as YA?

Evil Editor said...

Young adult is generally considered ages 12 to 18. Obviously a 12-year-old is more likely to have similar tastes to an 11-year-old than to an 18-year-old, so there's sure to be crossover between middle grade and YA. Certainly middle graders can handle dark magic without being traumatized.

Bookspot says: "Books written with young adults in mind confront issues that are of great importance to teens and their families. Coming of age, dating, fitting in, friendships, sex, drugs, self esteem, school, and relationships with parents and siblings are frequently addressed in young adult fiction. More than entertainment, these books can be a powerful learning and coping tool when a young reader connects with characters and what they are going through."

While this doesn't necessarily apply to all YA, it does suggest that mature issues are expected to come up in YA. So perhaps by leading with the fact that the new English teacher is a witch, you give the impression your book is for fifth to seventh graders rather than ninth to eleventh graders. If you're sure this book is YA, you could lead with something darker, but consider the possibility that younger people can stand dark books. Harry Potter is popular with middle grade kids, and often dark.

pacatrue said...

If you want to add the snarky teenage attitude to the book, re-title it: Forget That!

fairyhedgehog said...

This sounds like fun and the second version works better for me too.

(I was sure it would be GTP #1 and I'd love to see someone write #3.)

beth said...

Thanks, EE! I just signed up for my state's SCBWI conference, and one of the workshops is a comparison between MG and YA...think I'll be heading to that one first!

Evil Editor said...

Forget That!

Or Fuggedaboudit!
Or Why I Never Remember to do my English Homework Or...


Forget it.

Stacy said...

Buffysquirrel--You're not the first to mention that! *sigh* I think I must teach an unusual world literature class...I'm the only teacher at my school to have her kids read The Book of the Dead.

I would have so loved to be in your class.

Stacy said...

The second letter is much better than the first. And I agree that you should lose the comparisons and the myth explanation at the end. It deflates the momentum you've built.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I'm in a similar situation. I'm querying something that I've been calling middle grade. Agents have been telling me that it's really YA (a little too dark for middle grade). But that isn't stopping them from reading it. I wouldn't sweat it. They know the fine line between the genres better than we do and if they like it, they'll work with you.

By the way, I have to be honest. I still don't understand how anybody can discuss the teacher and her magic outside the classroom fiven the blue door rule. I'm sure it's tight in the plot but for me it still isn't clear even in the newer query. But maybe it's just me.

...dave conifer

Anonymous said...

Okay, now I get it. Alchemy allows the student, and also that other teacher, to get around the blue door rule.

If I 'forget' the first query letter than the logic of the second works for me now.

...dc

beth said...

Thank you Stacy and Dave!

And Dave, I am having a lot of trouble condensing a very complex plot into a query...there's actually an explanation for everything, even why she's a teacher and why she's been imprisoned in a school, but to try to pack it all into a query....argh. Writing the book was simpler.

150 said...

Beth-

Well that's your problem, then. You're not supposed to condense all that into the query letter. It should focus on the protagonist, what throws her life out of whack, and what she does about it. All that witchy backstory, when it comes to the query, is just noise.

Time to break out the Snark Formula again.

X is the main guy; he wants to do:
Y is the bad guy; he wants to do:
they meet at Z and all L breaks loose.
If they don't resolve Q, then R starts and if they do it's L squared.

Anonymous said...

This certainly sounds interesting, and you've gotten some excellent feedback. I can't resist mentioning, though, that if the students are being introduced to the Book of the Dead, the pyramids at Giza would not be Choice #1 for a field trip. Either Saqqara (for the Pyramid Texts, ancestral to the BD), if you want pyramids; or Luxor, for the Valley of the Kings, the Tombs of the Nobles, etc.--New Kingdom tombs--would be much better spots. Regarding dark middle grade novels: see, for example, Charlie Fletcher's _Stoneheart_, which is plenty dark. (And a great read, too.)