Friday, August 15, 2008

Face-Lift 556


Guess the Plot

Plaguewind

1. When Josh Boink forgets to issue a product-safety recall on a million pounds of hot dogs, he really forgets: in the five days since he shoved the memo beneath a stack of invoices, thousands of Americans have become ill. When Josh realizes his error, he races against time to confiscate as many of the bad dogs as he can, because half of North America is suffering from a deadly form of gastrointestinal discomfort: Plaguewind.

2. In the 1920's, Plaguewind, racehorse of the decade, has put a small eastern-European nation on the map. But when this communist country discovers that the horse has royalist antecedents, a political crisis seems imminent. Only one man has the secret that can preserve peace for another year: Plaguewind's great-grand-dam was an over-worked cart horse.

3. When archaeologists uncover a mass grave in Tibet they unwittingly let loose a virus that has been dormant for centuries. The airborne disease kills in hours and makes AIDS, Legionnaire's Disease and SARS look like a mild case of chickenpox. Half of Europe has already gone dark. Can scientist Greg Hart find a cure before it's too late?

4. Being one of three brothers with magical powers might sound like fun, but little Plaguewind would prefer to wield a sword to smite the enemy. Ashamed of his rather pathetic talent, he leaves home and sets off on a quest to uncover some other way to help his siblings destroy the evil Gothcarrions. It will take an encounter with the wise Marmerlard to show Plaguewind that any magical power is better than none--even if it's only lethal flatulence.

5. A wind-borne plague threatens to wipe out the entire population, unless the crew of the Phyrno can sail north and find the lost city of plague survivors. But with no water available, they must sail on land, and they find that their ship isn't nearly as fast that way.

6. The Lommalians have long built their cities from the most plentiful wood available on the planet: balsa. But when global warming leads to Lommalia's first-ever breezes, it's up to meteorologist Chanh Braakpho to figure out a way to rebuild a planet. Also, a gold anemometer.


Original Version

Dear [Agent],

[Brief specific reasons for choosing to submit].

When Patrick Union, staunchly independent trader and captain of the land-sailing plainship Phyrno, is hired to stop a wind-borne plague that is weeks from wiping out the whole country, he quickly realizes he's in for the worst winter of his life. [If the whole country's gonna be wiped out in weeks, I wouldn't worry too much about the entire winter being lousy.]

Union must sail into the teeth of the brutal northern snowstorms to try to locate a centuries-lost city, which is purported to be infested by demons. [Lemme get this straight. He's got a few weeks to find a city that's been lost for centuries, and his means of transportation is a ship that sails on land?

First Mate: Cap'n, not to belabor the obvious, but we haven't moved in six weeks.

Captain Union: Check the almanac. See when hurricane season starts.]




If he can find it, he must find out, with the help of an otherwise-useless historian, how a fraction of its population managed to be the only survivors the last time the plague came through nearly a thousand years ago. [Lemme get this straight. He not only has to find the place, he has to do it in a snowstorm, and then he has to conduct a research study on something that happened a thousand years ago while fighting off demons, and then he has to return. And his means of transportation is a ship that sails on land?] [Can you add something to make it a little more difficult?] Complicating matters is the malevolent Traders' Guild, which develops an avid interest in stopping the Phyrno and killing all aboard her, both in the pursuit of its doomed quarantine efforts and as part of its campaign to cinch its control of trading into complete monopoly. [I'm not clear on why Union preventing a plague from wiping out the entire population is bad for the Traders' Guild.]

Betrayed by his crew, struggling against the ravages of weather and sabotage to keep his ship in working order, and harried at every turn by agents of the Guild, all Union wants is to finish his task and get back to trading. [These agents he's being harried by, are they chasing him down in their own ship that sails on land, or do they have something faster, like a land barge being towed by a giant tortoise?] The plague, however, is spreading and killing even as he races northwards, and by the time he finds the city, even he is infected. [It suddenly occurs to him that maybe he should have been racing southward.] Can he find a cure and get back to civilization with it in time to save himself—or anyone else? [No.]

Set in an alternate world of swords and sails, my windpunk science fiction novel Plaguewind [I refuse to create another label category on this blog for windpunk novels.] is complete at 132,000 words. The stage is left set for a pair of sequels that follow Patrick Union's quest to redeem himself in the wake of the catastrophic events set in motion by the advent of the plague and the forces he inadvertently unleashes by disturbing the lost city. [He finds the city and prevents the plague from wiping out everyone, and this proves to be a catastrophe?]

I am midway through an MFA in fiction writing at Western Michigan University, and also hold a BS in engineering [Lemme guess: Your engineering degree led to developing ships that sail on land, and when you applied to grad school they rolled their eyes and suggested you switch from engineering to fantastical fiction]. I have included [specific things as specified]. Thank you for your time and consideration!

Sincerely,


Notes

You make the task sound impossible. It might be better to make it sound almost impossible. For instance, if you don't mention that the plague is already spreading and killing, we might think there's hope. You might also consider leaving out the part about the demons and only having a few weeks and the crew sabotaging him and the Guild trying to kill him and the snowstorm and the thousand years, and having to find a cure after he finds the lost city. Now the only obstacle is that he's in a ship that sails on land . . . Hmm, better leave that out too.

What I'm saying is, what seem like a reasonable number of problems over 132,000 words seem insurmountable when compressed into three paragraphs. Maybe the Guild is your main villain and you should focus on them, rather than list everything working against Union.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't believe there was only 1 GTP that involved flatulence. But it was a good one!

Anonymous said...

"Complicating matters is the malevolent Traders' Guild, which develops an avid interest in stopping the Phyrno and killing all aboard her, both in the pursuit of its doomed quarantine efforts and as part of its campaign to cinch its control of trading into complete monopoly."

"Betrayed by his crew, struggling against the ravages of weather and sabotage to keep his ship in working order, and harried at every turn by agents of the Guild, all Union wants is to finish his task and get back to trading."

These two sentences are bad. First, they're too long and full of distracting tangents, and they lead to questions and confusion. Second, they just have too much detail for query letter. But if all this information MUST be in the letter, there has to be a little clarification (like why some trade guild has developed an avid interest in the plague).

Evil Editor said...

Actually, #s 1 and 4 involve intestinal wind.

Anonymous said...

The long, comma-filled sentence splices are grammatically correct but way too much work to read. Agents are going to hate that.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, your right, EE, sorry. That's much more representative of us pottymouth minions.

I'm trying to remember that Facelift from the past that inspired so many flatulent-based GTPs. WindWeaver?

Evil Editor said...

Wind Weaver was one, and Forced Air was another.

150 said...

Honestly, my best recommendation is to just call it steampunk and include that information right at the beginning; until then I didn't really grasp the aesthetics you're apparently going for. Genre can be a very useful shorthand. Actually, windpunk might work too.

I'm also kind of intrigued by this land-sailing concept. What are we talking here? Wheels? A plasmic lubricant, like a slug has? What kind of roads have been created for something that size, how do you keep them from tearing through the countryside willy-nilly, and doesn't that dramatically alter settlement patterns?

(Also have a BSME.)

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hey, this is good practice for me to boil these down to 4 sentences. I might actually get better at writing my own queries - eventually.


Patrick Union, staunchly independent trader and captain of the Phyrno, is hired to stop a wind-borne plague that is weeks from wiping out the whole country. He must sail into the teeth of brutal northern snowstorms and locate a centuries-lost city where a fraction of the population survived the last time the plague came through. All Union wants is to finish his task and get back to trading. Instead, he gets betrayed by his crew, harried by the malevolent Traders' Guild, and an infestation of demons blocking his path to finding the cure.

BuffySquirrel said...

Hmm, well, I think it's great that there are writers out there who realise a book needs conflict. Temeraire comes to mind.

Maybe you could file windpunk under clockpunk, EE?

*ducks*

JJ said...

The land-sailing plainship didn't trip me up so much - the pilgrims in Dan Simmons' Hyperion use something similar. I don't remember how it worked, could have been a hovercraft.

Simplified, the query seems to be: Everyone is dying of the plague. Last time this plague happened, some people survived, but their city is now lost in a frozen northern wasteland and nobody knows how they survived. The protagonist is hired to go find the city and get hold of whatever protected the last guys.

I would:
* Simplify the query.
* Drop the Traders' Guild subplot. It's making things more complicated.
* Shorten and simplify sentences. Like the previous posters said, the clauses multiply like bacteria on a deadline.

Anonymous said...

I was absolutely charmed by Evil's use of "Lemme . . ." and experienced LOL and later a satisfied chuckle at the change in tone in Notes. A fine face-lift this Friday!!

In fairness (if that's required)to the author, I had to copy and past this into Word, delete EE's comments and then try to make sense of the elaborately fantastic sentence construction, which, along with the fantastic nature of the details so delivered soon forced my eyes askance as I muttered softly "Oh, come on!". Also might want to re-consider that title!

ME

benwah said...

I must say, EE's graphic additions to the face-lift critiques adds a hilarious new element.

Windpunk. Soon to be followed by water-punk (that Kevin Costner movie did sooo well), steam-ska-punk (computers powered by bong resin), and alchemist punk, wherein all engines are powered by the coversion of lead to gold.

I agree with the previous comments.

The title is either interesting or off-putting, not sure which. But, yes, it puts me in the mind of some form of pestilence spread by methanated clouds of bowel gas.

Then again, perhaps that's a new genre: fart-punk

Anonymous said...

I've noticed an increasing tendency here on E.E. to write a synopsis, and paste it between a 'hello' and 'goodbye', and call it a query letter.

Why is that?

Anonymous said...

Change Union's name to Onion, add a wolfman and a brutal eunuch on the land-ship and it's a bestseller.

150 said...

Fart-punk: finally a plentiful, natural source of fuel for my jetpack.

Anonymous said...

Facelift # 22, mostly because of the angry author in the comment thread, is still my alltime favorite.

He even set up a blog to track his 'journey to publication'.

http://wayfarewithme.blogspot.com

I found this gem when perusing the archives looking for other gaseous titles.

Evil Editor said...

#22 is amusing, but it's #122 you were referencing.

Whirlochre said...

I struggle with 'Plaguewind'.

That's as far as I've got with this.

BuffySquirrel said...

Hmm, the ole journey to publication doesn't seem to have been very long. Or to have ended in publication.

blogless troll said...

Facelift # 22, mostly because of the angry author in the comment thread, is still my alltime favorite.

He even set up a blog to track his 'journey to publication'.


Ha! That's the guy who coined the term blogopanions.

freddie said...

This is why it's best not to get defensive with the minions. They talk about you looooong after you've gone.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that facelift was a classic. Forgot about that but it was painful to read the comments. If you're not humble here on EE, you're going to get eaten alive...

...dc

pacatrue said...

I loved the land ho cartoon. I'm sure that never gets old on a voyage.

On the other hand, walking the plank doesn't seem like such a big deal anymore. I wonder how keel hauling would work.

stick and move said...

Oh, man, I'd forgotten about The Wayfarer. I wonder what that dude's doing now, it's two years later. His blogging journey lasted all of six days. You don't think his wife...?

Someone should check the archives of the Denver Post for white male homicides of a literay nature in Colorado around July 24 or 25 2006.

Dave F. said...

Gosh, I go away from the computer for a day and look what happens...

#1 - Am I the only one who remembers that Howard Stern once appeared on an awards show as FARTMAN? His spectacle was so tasteless that no one laughed. Not even his personal midget or his stooge, Stuttering John.

#2 - Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles has wind-wagons and wind-ships on Mars that appear towards the end of the story. They hand off Mars to the new Martians.

As for PLAGUE...
The most virulent virus has to stop and mutate sometime in order to survive. It's like an evolutionary thing. If a virus is 100% effective, then as all the hosts die, the virus dies. Now that is contrary to nature as all "living" things want to live on and not die.

A plague virus can't be 100% deadly and still survive. Nor does it have to move with the speed of Ebola that kills in a day or two. influenza lasts longer - several weeks before it kills. A truly long incubation period like HIV has is much more devastating and the pandemic it creates is just as effective in killing while preserving itself alive.

The bubonic plague (the Black Death) ravaged Europe with over 100 separate epidemics over a time period of two to three centuries. It would disappear for years or decades and then return to kill without warning. It lived in rats and fleas, by the way.

The modern plague scare - H5N1 influenza - has yet to make an appearance as a epidemic. Several mutations of it are extremely deadly but most infections result in a bad case of flu. This variable virulence gives the virus a long life. In one form, it's benign to humans and birds of all sorts, not infectious at all. In the other mutation, it kills 60% of its victims.

So the virus maintains itself in benign form until a mutation creates the virulent form and then it's epidemic time.

Also, something we don't know from the author and possibly shouldn't be revealed or discussed in the query is the MODE or VECTOR of TRANSMISSION. - - - - H5N1 can be airborne, so it's breathe and get sick... HIV is transmitted by bodily fluids, needles and sex, so it is easier to avoid an infection.

Anonymous said...

LOL, Stick! Could the wife still be settling for pasta and riding the bus two years later?

Funny thing is, I think most of us knew he was setting himself up for a crash. He just didn't seem to understand that we ALL think our novel is going to be bestseller...

talpianna said...

I've seen variations of landships or windwagons in more than one SF/F novel; the setup usually involves vast prairies and/or deserts and steady tradewinds-type winds that can be relied on. Sometimes they have wheels, sometimes they have runners: depends on the land surface.

I do think there's waaaay too much going on here, as others have said. Enough for a whole series of chronicles.

I am reminded of something my grad school roommate, now a well-known fantasy author with a couple of dozen novels under her belt, said the last time she visited here: A new editor, looking at her manuscript, informed her that it had "too much plot."

"But my readers LIKE plot," said Diana plaintively.

Dave F. said...

OOOPS big mistake:
This:
In one form, it's benign to humans and birds of all sorts, not infectious at all. In the other mutation, it kills 60% of its victims.

should read as this:

In one form, it's benign to humans and birds of all sorts, not pathogenic at all. In the other mutation, it kills 60% of its victims.

Sorry about that. It is infectious but not deadly (pathogenic).

December/Stacia said...

1. Cartoon? Hilarious.

2. Facelift? Hilarious.

3. Sarah Laurenson's shortened query made a lot more sense for me, and yeah, made the story sound like one that could work instead of a really confusing pile of obstacles.

4. Groan, the Wayfare With Me guy. Do you know, for whatever totally creepy reason, some addresses stick in my browser history and never go away? And that's one of them? That thing is STILL there when I click the drop-down arrow, no matter how many times I erase or delete the history. It's like it's his revenge against me for thinking he was rather precipitous to pack up his poor wife and move her to another city so she could support him while he wrote a book that wouldn't sell.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. I've missed you guys...

Love the graphics you're adding these days, EE. :)

A.

Adam Heine said...

I didn't have a problem with the land-sailing ship (though EE's graphic was hilarious). Plenty of SF/F has pulled that sort of thing before.

But don't call it windpunk. "Windpunk" isn't a genre. It doesn't sound like it's steampunk either. I would just call it sci-fi and leave it. If your novel is strong enough to create a whole new genre, then let it create it by itself. Nobody likes an author who claims he can reinvent the market.

I didn't mind the title (though the gastric GTP possibilities were obvious), but a title is such a small thing to change that, if so many people don't like it, you might as well change it.

stick and move said...

Stacia, your comments and advice were priceless. Perhaps he didn't take your advice and buy the flowers.

writtenwyrdd said...

OH, THAT guy! I recall him now.

As far as the query letter goes, Author, it's too long, the plot isn't clear enough, and it's really a synopsis. Basically, ditto what everyone else observes.

I like wind wagons of whatever flavor. A number of stories I've read have wind powered land (or ice) transportation. One I read in the 70s had a bicycle-hang glider contraption, too. Unusual transportation modes are cool!

After you prune this down to a single plot, why not post the revision here? I think this sounds like an interesting story, but it isn't displayed to best effect yet.

Kiolia said...

Thanks to all for the feedback - I might repost, sure.

Answers: the ships are on wheels, based on the design of cargo ice yachts that sailed East-coast canals around the turn of the century (not the most recent one) - I almost want to ditch the whole landsailing issue from the query (except that it's nearly as important to the story as the ocean was to O'Brian's work). Can I make it clearer or should it just go?

The plague is intended to be a fungus that colonizes human mucus membranes, with airborne spores that stay viable for a long time if the weather's cold - not clarified in the draft, however.

EE's cartoon was priceless, by the way.

Steve Stubbs said...

I think the flatulence plot is the right one. Give the hero a hero-sized supply of Beano and he will save the day.

Moth said...

"I've noticed an increasing tendency here on E.E. to write a synopsis, and paste it between a 'hello' and 'goodbye', and call it a query letter." anon 3:10 took the words out of my mouth! First thing I thought as I read through was "Is this a synopsis or a query?" I even scrolled back up to check. Too long, too much detail we don't need.

I'm in the change the title camp. Plaguewind just seems to me to court bad imagery/associations.

Also, I'm with the lose the windpunk genre group too. It sounds like you made up a genre for your book, and whether that's the case or not I think you can get away with science fiction as the genre. If I had to guess I don't think too many agents have "windpunk" listed as a genre they accept.

Oh, and 132,000 words is 12,000 words past the outer edge of what's exceptable for a first-time SF novelist. You're not as bad off as someone with 200,000 words but I would recommend some trimming to get below the 120,000 mark for safety. Why give an agent extra opportunities to reject you?

I hope you post a revised version for us soon.

Best of luck!
Moth

December/Stacia said...

Stacia, your comments and advice were priceless. Perhaps he didn't take your advice and buy the flowers.



*curtsies*


Somehow I suspect he didn't. But hey, at least all three entries (or whatever) of his blog are instantly accessible by me, thanks to BT Yahoo and their refusal to clear certain sites from my history! (My own blog I have to periodically re-enter, but that one clings like a barnacle.)

150 said...

Oh my GOSH, the Wayfarer. The guy who gave up half his salary and moved cross-country because he thought his book would be better if he lived near its setting. What a painful display of wrong-headed ambition.

Anonymous said...

author, I read your remark about ditching the land-ship from the query. You thought it was too important to the query to ditch. But didn't you really mean that it was important to the plot, rather than the query?

Cuz I can tell you that it couldn't be less important to the query. It has nothing to do with anything in the query letter and serves only as a distraction. There is way too much detail in this query letter and the land ship is an example of this. All the agent needs to know is that the protagonist is looking for the city in the snow, not his mode of transportation.

Anonymous said...

Oops -- sorry author. You didn't say it was important to the query. I'm a dope. But I'd leave it out -- I'm sure it's cool in the book but not the query.