Thursday, August 21, 2008

Face-Lift 558

Guess the Plot

Crummy Bread

1. Jeff and Jared have started a retro pop band, Crummy Bread. Jackie wears a 60's minidress and go-go boots when she sings. Joel lovingly restored his drum kit. Now all they have to do is find some way to escape Oaklawn Retirement Home, and they're set.

2. Britny is going to fail Home Ec again unless she can finally learn to bake. But who wants to do this dumb stuff when she could be cheerleading for the football team...and Jake Robertson?

3. A guy who pees on her boots. A porn-obsessed crybaby. A cheese thief. Sofia always seems to end up with losers. Her latest boyfriend has just given her her Christmas present: a crummy loaf of bread! Is this the final straw? Or is this what she gets for moving to LA?

4. Gene Wilkins was going to kill the Senator. Every day that man walked by, pockets turned out, a broad fake smile on his face, and an innocent shrug that said, "I have no change." But Gene knew he did. He just kept it in his coat pockets. And today, to add insult to injury, he'd only given Gene a crust of . . . Crummy Bread.

5. In Soviet Russia, standing in line for bread isn't unusual - but Ivan knows that when he gets that bread, it's going to taste like concrete. In six hours - the time it will take him to reach the front of the line - he has to plot a revolution that will make 1918 look like a tea dance.

6. Working in her parents' bakery has never been Ellen's idea of fun, and she can't wait to finally graduate and get out of this nowhere burg. But then Charlie starts coming in every morning for a bagel or a doughnut, and Ellen begins to wonder if it's really so bad spending her mornings making . . . crummy bread.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I read that you're looking for commercial fiction and quirky voices. You may be interested in my 73,000-word novel, CRUMMY BREAD.

When her boyfriend of a year gifts her a loaf of bread for Christmas, Sofia Cera vows to go on thirty-nine blind dates chosen by others until she finds the right man. Since none of the women on her family tree have had successful relationships, she's convinced the inability to choose good boyfriend material runs in her blood (She should have realized this when her previous man was caught shoplifting cheese). Her hope soon fizzles at the realization that the stimulating new dating lifestyle she'd imagined includes a porn-obsessed crybaby and a belligerent jock who pees on her boots. On top of that, Sofia is new to Los Angeles [As she's had the same boyfriend for a year, I wouldn't call her new in town. Or is this a long-distance relationship?] and shows up for dates with heels in her purse and out of breath from the ride there on her ten-speed. [This isn't really "on top of that," it's a completely different subject. If you must tell us where she lives, you can just say, Sofia is beginning to wish she'd never moved to Los Angeles.]

After so many nights of donning tight jeans and a fake smile, it becomes clear that nobody is who they say they are. [Obviously when you're on your first date with a guy, he's not going to reveal every minor foible:

You can be annoyed when you find out your boyfriend stole cheese, but you can hardly get mad because he failed to reveal up front that he was a cheese burgler.] Just when she's about to give up, Andres sweeps Sofia off her feet and convinces her to immediately enter the unchartered [uncharted] world of cohabitation. In a rush to don the girlfriend title, she fails to notice that Andres may also being lying about who he is. Admittedly confused about her own mixed ethnicity and position in life, [What is her position in life?] she realizes that maybe she is too. With self-deprecating charm, CRUMMY BREAD exposes the perplexing things we humans do and say in the name of self-promotion.

When I'm not tucked in a corner of a café writing novels, I pen award-winning TV commercials. You can see my advertising work at _____________________ or my sketches on stage at _____________________.

I would be happy to send you the entire manuscript for review. Thank you for your time.



It seems unlikely that someone who recognizes that she has been making bad decisions man-wise would agree to immediately move in with a guy. Especially a guy named Andres.

I think if you're trying to make a point about the perplexing things we say and do in the name of self-promotion, you need to provide an example or two. Not telling people your darkest secrets isn't self-promotion; it's common sense. Possibly your point is something else, that men are all liars or that some women are bad at detecting liars or that a woman can (or can't) overcome genetic deficiencies. Or perhaps it's an entertaining story that isn't trying to make a point. What you claim is the point isn't coming across in the book's description.

Possibly get to Andres faster and tell us what he lies about to self-promote, and how Sofia realizes she's done the same thing.


December/Stacia said...

I really like the setup, and the boot-peeing and cheese-stealing is charming (as examples in the query, I mean, not in real life) but it lost its spark once Andres entered the picture. I'd just say something like, "And then she met Andres, who convinced her to move in with him. It seemed like true love, but [forgot heroine's name, sorry] has a lot to learn about men, relationships, and the lies we all tell in the name of self-promotion..."

Something slong those lines.

The problem I have is, either the book is about her cute dating advantures, or it's about what she learns through living with Andres. The beginning sounds all cute dating, but the end makes t sound like the majority of the story is about Andres. Which is it? :-)

Robin S. said...

1. I'd buy a book of these charts. No kidding. They are the freaking (or non-freaking) best.
My face hurts from the smiling I'm doing while trying not to laugh out loud here in Decorum Central.

2. I'm with Chris. I absolutely love it when you start your sentences with "Possibly". I really do.

Sorry, author, I'm the last person you'd ever want to have critique your query. So I won't.

But best of luck to you!

ChrisEldin said...

Possibly the author writes commercials? heh heh

Are they bread commercials?
I really wanna know!!!!!!

Okay, I thoroughly enjoyed this, but ditto December that I lost interest at the point where she moves in with Andres. I was hoping for a humorous look at all 39 dates. You gave us a peek at two...

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

CRUMMY BREAD exposes the perplexing things we humans do and say in the name of self-promotion.

As EE so concisely noted, the main point (some say resolution)is somewhat less than compelling;I think the above quoted line needs to be replaced.

I did like the sound of this, though -- I think I dated of few of these guys -- although the intro called to mind 50 First Dates. but maybe that's just me. I'll add My Two Strangest: the guy who paid for lunch with rolls of pennies; and the one who had everything (nice house, boat, career)except a wife, and proposed on the 3rd date -- there was no 4th date.

LOL'd the lovely chart!!


Anonymous said...


The bottom part of your lovely chart appears on my screen as prematurely cropped!!!


Anonymous said...

I agree with December, mostly because she just signed a three-booker:-)

Seriously, though, she's right that the search for cool guys to date is far more unique and interesting then settling down with Andres. I'd highlight that part in the query letter...

...dave conifer

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, forgot to ask this. Maybe it's obvious to everyone else, but is Sofia bummed out and angry because her boyfriend gave her the loaf of bread? Is that why she started dating again?

I gave my wife a bundt cake for our twentieth and she seemed perfectly happy...


Anonymous said...

I'm betting that Andres is actually the original breadgiving boyfriend. But he's got a wig, a new mustache and spend six months in the gym so she doesn't recognize him. Until he starts doing the Pee Wee Herman routine which gives him away.

WouldBe said...

Well...if he had baked a nice chunky ring into the bread.... I too thought the summary statement of the story was a turn-off (and I'm not sure that "self-deprecating charm" makes sense).

I think the ideas suggested about what the story could have been (and might actually be) were good, but I don't have a clear feel for what sort of story the queried story is. Maybe add to the concluding statement about how she's changed (or not) as a result of her realization. I can see it two ways: she gets it and kicks Andre (or herself out), or she gets it for a while, but can't seem to break the cycle. (She goes for the first guy again, when shows up with bread, butter and jam, this time.)

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid the last paragraph made me think of this:

Whirlochre said...

I'd like to think the quirky tone of this query mirrors what lurks within the 73,000 words.

However, I'm with most people on the query itself in thinking it's top-heavy — an interesting set-up which fizzles out when you present us with the main event.

So — would it be fair to say you've overegged the pudding stylewise and skimped on some of the necessary detail? If so, it's far from mortal.

writtenwyrdd said...

The dating angle is what would make me want to read this, too. I find the title a bit off putting for some reason (no idea why) but would be interested in reading about the dating woes. Sounds like it could be a Bridget Jones' Diary type of funny, and I'd like to read that.

pacatrue said...

I think you should take December's advice, corroborated by others, more than mine, not simply because she's got the three book deal, but because she's more your target audience. As a guy who didn't date much because I met my wife at 17, I was rather put off by the heroine of the query (who is likely not the heroine of the book). I assume Boyfriend 1 had other problems such that bread was the final straw, but dumping a guy because a gift wasn't sufficiently expensive seemed terribly shallow.

Now, if what our character realizes through the book is that her boyfriend problems are due, in part, to her obsession with superficial things, or that we are to laugh with her as we all have silly traits, then I'm okay. But I just didn't have enough sympathy with the protag as displayed in the query to want to read the book.

Sarah, Hawthorne said...

I really like your voice and the novel sounds like fun, but I concur with the above statements about getting to Andres sooner.

You've got a talent for the wacky or telling details (cheese stealing, Sofia's 10 speed) but once you get to Andres you don't give us anything unique or juicy on him or the relationship. After setting up how guarded Sofia is, there needs to be some kind of explanation how Andres sweeps past her defenses. I mean, his name is Andres. Clearly he has a story.

Also, your query switches themes half way through. The first part is about Sofia trying to break a family curse, but once she meets Andres the book becomes about people in the dating scene masking who they really are. These aren't incompatible themes, but it would help the flow of the story if you illustrate the link, i.e.:

"Admittedly confused about her own mixed ethnicity, Sofia realizes her boyfriend bad luck may have less to do with genetics and more to do with her own search for identity."

Hope this helps!

Moth said...

"self-deprecating charm"

It may be self-deprecating but don't I get to decide if it's charming? This read to me like people who TELL me their thriller is "fast-paced and gripping" instead of showing me it is with their writing.

I also think the query feels fractured. Andres was an abrupt shift from the lsoer dates. Also, the heroine came off as kind of witchy over the bread thing. I think we need some context for that, otherwise to me she comes off as shallow to break off a year-long relationship over what might have been a simple misunderstanding.

anabelita said...

Hello all,
I am the author, and I am so grateful for your comments. This is my first query, and I'm finding it quite challenging.

I just threw Andres in there because another critique suggested the ending needed to seem more dramatic (before, I kept him out because the book is more about the dating escapades than him). Andres is actually a good name for him because the heroine is obsessed with hot Latin lovers (perhaps I need to cover that ground.)

More importantly, I would like to know what you all think about this dating idea being fiction or memoir. It is a true story, and I did go out with many duds in order to write it (and yes, I am obsessed with hot Latin lovers).
Is that more interesting?
Thank you so much.

wendy said...

I have to admit I didn't get the bread thing at first. Bread usually takes a lot of effort to make, so I thought it sounded sweet.

Now if it were a cheap loaf of store brand "wheat" that'd be a different story.

December/Stacia said...

Personally, if my boyfriend of a year gave me a loaf of friggin' bread for Christmas you bet I'd be pissed. I'm not a materialistic girl (honest I'm not) but that's really a lazy, crappy, no-thought-last-minute-gift (assuming it was a store-bought loaf as Wendy said. I pictured Wonderbread). Even if he were dirt poor he could come up with something better than that. Even a chocolate bar would be better than that if he has no money. Or he could have run her a bath or written her a poem or something. But a loaf of bread? For Christmas? That's bad.

Anyway. I think the dating thing is really cute, but I'd leave out the nonfic bit. Given the memoirs-that-weren't lately, I think you want to make it clear this is just fiction and nothing but.


talpianna said...

It doesn't seem to me to be going anywhere--not any real plot, and no personal growth on the part of the heroine.

And the title doesn't seem to be very representative of the book. As for the gift of bread, it depends on the loaf. (And is it "crummy" or "crumby" bread, anyway?) Bread is highly symbolic: the staff of life, the Body of Christ in the sacrament, the root word of "lord." Giving someone bread can represent an offer to cherish for life. I think there are some wedding rituals (forget which country) that include sharing a loaf as part of the ceremony. And of course, it's the classic symbol of hospitality--if someone offers you bread and salt when you enter their home, they can't kill you even if it turns out that you've slaughtered their entire family.

And this doesn't even get into the question of whether there's a ten-carat diamond ring baked into the loaf...


pacatrue said...

Mental Note 1: Don't send December the loaf of bread this year.

Mental Note 2: Wait, I'm not her boyfriend, so I'm clear.

Mental Note 3: Better make it two loaves anyway.

writtenwyrdd said...

I need to chime in because I think the "plot sounds like it's going nowhere" criticisms may be a trifle offbase.

My understanding of literary novels is not the greatest, mind, but I believe that an aimless plot for a character-driven story about dating could work very well in that genre. The book would be about the internal changes of the pov character. You just need to show that the story elements are interesting and that the character and events can carry the reader's interest. Some change/conclusion (like in Bridget Jones' Diary, where she decides the boss she's been lusting after isn't worth the effort) must occur, however. So show us that or how the story is headed that direction, to a choice of some kind.

This is all presuming the story actually does these things, which I can't tell from the query. It does sound rather aimless and pointless as the letter describes it now.

freddie said...

I wouldn't mind bread as a present—as long as it's good bread.

But then . . . I haven't dated in a while.

talpianna said...

Freddie, have I got a guy for you!

ChrisEldin said...

Hey, as long as we're talking about boyfriend presents. One guy gave me a jar of honey-roasted peanuts for Christmas. Which were half-eaten.
Wish I were joking. And he was the richest guy I ever dated. We went flying in *his* plane and landed in *his* field where the plane was kept next to his other planes in his hangar. Oh well.

Um, You were asking---I'd prefer fiction and not memoir, but that's me. I very seldom buy a memoir.

Evil Editor said...

Hey, as long as we're talking about boyfriend presents. One guy gave me a jar of honey-roasted peanuts for Christmas. Which were half-eaten.

Some women look at a jar of half-eaten honey-roasted peanuts and see it as half full. You, apparently, see it as half-empty.

Anonymous said...

My ex-hubs gave me a gun for our first anniversary. In a presentation box. (That apparently made it a cool gift.) Then he got mad when I sold it.

freddie said...

Perfect, tal. Perfect. He's even my height, I think.

talpianna said...

I think the worst present ever was mentioned in M. Scott Peck's PEOPLE OF THE LIE. A teenaged boy wanted a tennis racket for his birthday. His parents gave him the rifle his older brother had committed suicide with.

December/Stacia said...

See, now I would love a gun as a gift. I've been begging for a knife for years and my husband still insists he thinks I'm kidding, even when I tell him I'm not.

Lol EE!

Author said...

Dear agent,

I read that you're looking for commercial fiction and quirky voices. Please consider representing my 80,000-word novel, Tall, Dark, and Unemployed.

When Sofia Cera's boyfriend gifts her a loaf of bread for Christmas, she vows to go on blind dates with the 39 men furthest from her "type" that she can find. Dating unemployed Latinos for so long has gotten her nowhere, and she doesn't want to be next in a long line of Cera family women plagued with tragic relationships.

Although somewhat annoyed at her biological clock for interrupting her budding advertising career, she forges into LA's dating pool. Sofia's hope soon fizzles at the realization that the stimulating new dating lifestyle she'd imagined includes a porn-obsessed stuntman and a belligerent jock who pees on her boots. Plus, glamour is lost when Sofia is forced to show up to dates with her heels in her purse and out of breath from the ride there on her Target ten-speed. After 34 nights of donning her tight jeans and fake smile, Sofia realizes that even if her prospects were wonderful, she wouldn't be interested. Her foray into the world of blondes and accountants has her convinced that we're all born with an inherent attraction to a certain type, and hers just happens to come in a spicy Latino package with a side of unemployment.

Just as Sofia convinces herself that the life of single, career-hungry feminist could actually be fun, she meets Andrés, a sexy Latino who owns his own business. Score! But now that Sofia's found the relationship she's always wanted, she realizes she doesn't need it. All this time chasing relationships has taught her that she shouldn't be looking for someone else until she finds herself. With humor and candor, this novel follows a woman's search, both for identity and a man, in a city where everyone seems lost.

From a small yet impeccably decorated cubicle, I write award-winning TV commercials for a living. You can see my advertising work at ________ or my sketch comedy at Improv Olympic West. I also read my work on stage at ChiChi's Word Parlor in Los Angeles.

I am enclosing the first 5 pages in case you want a peek, but I'd be happy to send you a complete manuscript. Thank you for your time.


writtenwyrdd said...

This reads so much better! I would want to read this book, honestly. But lines like Although somewhat annoyed at her biological clock for interrupting her budding advertising career are derailing the focus from your pov character. And the mention of a biological clock seems totally beside the point.

I'd pick one or two things that go wrong and trim the wording so that you have fewer fancy sentence structures that derail the focus (you do it a few times). It just needs a bit more work, IMO.

I really liked the story you present in this version.

Dave F. said...

This bothers me:

Sofia's hope soon fizzles at the realization that the stimulating new dating lifestyle she'd imagined includes a...
This might just be me.
I would say:
Sofia's hope soon fizzles when the reality of the stimulating new dating lifestyle she's adopted includes a...

The revision reads well and I presume it represents the writing style in the novel. It's fun and breezy.

mb said...

Whoa, I missed this the first time around, but your revision is MILES better. I think it's basically there -- it's snappy and interesting.
...though personally, I wouldn't mind a loaf of bread for Christmas, depending on the type of bread.

laurenne said...

Author here.
Thanks everyone. The query is better thanks to all of your comments. I forgot to change one thing. It should read "store-bought bread." That way, the reader should know that it wasn't a sweet present and there was no ring baked into it. It was a last-ditch effort to grab something at Walgreens before the present exchange.

mb said...

Ah, so not a lovely, crusty, warm French baguette. Got it.

Wonderwood said...

Wow, the rewrite is really strong. I think with a little more tightening, as Wyrdd and Dave suggested, this query sings. Good luck with it!

150 said...

Loads better, well done.