Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Face-Lift 580

Guess the Plot

The Pebble

1. Plucked from the rock shore by the then four year old Olza Crwzstyn, a small pebble the size and color of a dove's egg becomes the one constant in the lives of three generations of an East European immigrant family in post-war Greenland.

2. The landslide that destroyed Littleville was started by a pebble -- a pebble thrown by bad boy Jimmy Bean, who is now #1 on Sheriff Tyrone's list of Most Wanted Bastards. This is the worst day of Betty Anne's life. Six hours ago all was well, now her beauty parlor is in ruins, her son Jimmy is on the lam, her lawman boyfriend has sworn to put him behind bars for life, and there's no whiskey left in her bottle. Got a cigarette?

3. Unaware that King Uthpindar the Reprehensible is strolling below, juvenile delinquents high on the Ledge of Vastness toss rocks over the edge, causing the sudden demise of said monarch, followed by national jubilation and anarchy--until Todd Lawless and his shipload 'o hearty pirates sail in to make their conquest.

4. Jane Cummings hates her stepmother, Roxanne, an evil 23 year old slut who used burlesque moves to lure Jane's ailing ancient father to an undignified death and now lives large as a merry billionaire widow while Jane makes do in a tiny apartment on a diet of soda crackers and the pittance she gets from her library job. But now that Jane has lost 85 pounds, started looking good in a skimpy leopard-print romper, and is secretly doing target practice with a slingshot, a mere pebble could change everything.

5. Locked away in a miserable cell, Ronan escapes through a pebble, landing 1000 years in the future, where he falls in love with Teagan after materializing in her sitting room. It's a dream come true, until a very powerful witch shows up wanting something Ronan has. Could it be . . . The Pebble?

6. When oppressed teenager Gemma Jones tossed a pebble at the bedroom window of her love interest Henry Patterson, she had no intention of killing a wicked witch and being rewarded with a pair of magical red shoes. Now that she can become invisible, walk on water, and fly, it's time to get started on her list of revenges.

Original Version

Dear Editor.

Great things sometimes come in dull packages.

Teagan would never have guessed she holds a gate to eternity in her hands. It’s nothing but a dull black pebble, after all. [It's hard to see how you can hold a pebble in more than one hand.] There are all sorts of ways to explain away the friendly presence she becomes aware of from the day she brings it home from the beach. That is, until an all too real five foot nine presence with a mischievous grin and burnt-umber eyes materialises in her sitting room, and no amount of reasoning can explain him away. [LSD in the tea explains it.] [Why are we calling it a "presence" now that it has materialized? She should be able to come up with a more specific term if she tries really hard.]

Not that Teagan tries very hard.

Ronan is all too keen to stay in the twenty-first century. He came to Teagan from more than a thousand years ago, escaping through the pebble from a miserable cell. He'd spent thirteen years studying magic, and he's dying to show Teagan everything he's learned. The only thing standing between him and bliss with the woman he loves [He loves her? Already?] is a witch. A very powerful witch. [Teagan's mother.] Ronan has something she wants, and she’ll do anything to get it from him. Now all he and Teagan have to do is figure out what it is. [Could it be . . . The Pebble?]

The Pebble is a 95 000-word paranormal romance set in both modern and ancient Ireland, as well as in Tir Na nOg, the mystical land beyond time from Celtic mythology.

I am a fulltime, prolific author of romantic fiction. I grew up in South Africa, but moved to Ireland in 2005, where I now live with my husband, our three children and six cats. [Those two sentences aren't needed. You could work your Irish connection into the previous paragraph: . . . set in Ireland, where I currently reside, and in Tir Na nOg, the land . . .] I cut my author’s teeth writing fantasy, with my second story ever sold making it into [publication]'s ‘best of’ anthology for 2006. I turned my attention to romance in December 2007 after sales of short stories with romantic elements to publications such as [list of four romance fiction publishers].

This is not an exclusive query. [What?! Who else has it? It's that Query Shark chick isn't it? Man, that ticks me off.]

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.


If a very powerful witch wants something you have, it shouldn't be that hard for her to get it, even if you dabbled in magic a thousand years ago.

Has the powerful witch followed Ronan from 1000 years ago, or is she a 21st-century witch?

Was Ronan inside the pebble for 1000 years waiting for someone to pick it up? Or was he transported instantly to the 21st century?

Possibly the second paragraph should be something like:
It's easy enough to explain away the friendly presence Teagan senses after she brings the dull black pebble home from the beach. Not so easily explained is the all-too-real five-foot-nine hunk with a mischievous grin and burnt-umber eyes who materialises in her sitting room.
This gets rid of the "gate to eternity" phrase, which is never explained.

A pebble seems like a boring item to be a gate to eternity. It doesn't have the cachet of "ring of power" or Excalibur or Holy Grail. If the book's title is going to be the item that's the gate to eternity, that item needs to be something that grabs. The Eternity Stone. Rock of Ages. The Time Cobble.


Beth said...

I like the idea of the gate being a little black pebble. But I assume its pebbleness is only a disguise, to make it appear mundane.

Author, do specify what materializes in her room. "Presence" could be anything. Beyond that, I had the same questions EE had. But still--I like the premise. All misunderstood prisoners should be so lucky as to have magic gateways hiding in their cells, disguised as black pebbles. I think I'd read this as much to discover how that came about as for any other reason. :)

Anonymous said...

If I was pitching a paranormal romance I would definitely not describe Mr. Love Object as if he were a sexless fog with elfish eyes, like you did here. Check out the covers on those books. The guy must have actual flesh, at least, and bulges of bare muscularity seem to be especially popular.

Crimogenic said...

I'm new about these parts.... howdy all.

Author, I agree with EE's questions and suggestions. Also the "pebble" needs to sound interesting like the "Mighty Stone". Think of it this way, the reader knows (by the name) the power it possesses and yet, it's just a pebble.

Kiersten said...

I'm fine with the pebble being a pebble, but think "The Pebble" is a really, really boring title for what sounds like a fun book.

Other than that, I have nothing to add beyond EE's comments, which is why I don't usually help out.

December/Stacia said...

Five foot nine is awfully short for a romance hero also. You don't necessarily have to change it in the book (although I would) but I'd leave it out of the query.

Ditto the other comments.

BuffySquirrel said...

I dunno about "misunderstood"--we don't even know what he was in prison for. I think I'd want to know.

benwah said...

You lost me at Burnt-umber eyes. Made me wonder if Prose Purple is in the your crayola box of 64.

How one might escape prison through a pebble is confusing. I'll grant you some paranormal conceit here, but it seems a bit...odd. And why does the escape also result in time travel?

"Now he and Teagan need to figure out what it is." Vague. Give us some real stakes.

Is it really love? Or is it merely the fact that he's been trapped in a cell (and a pebble) for a thousand years and Teagan is the first woman he's seen. Not to mention the first one who probably showers regularly.

Dave F. said...

If an all too real five foot nine presence with a mischievous grin and burnt-umber eyes materializes suddenly appears in my living room, I'm thinking leprechaun or genii. I am not thinking romantic thoughts. You need to make the query reflect the romance (this is a romantic hero gets heroine story, isn't it?). Give hims more than just a mischievous grin, give him some muscles and fair hair and stuff..

Now if he is from 1000 years in the past, then he gets to play the fish out of water routine and marvel at the new inventions. 1000 years ago, people still believed the earth-centric model of the heavens and quite possibly that baths and soap were causes of plague. Not to mention dental hygiene and (as Douglas Adams so aptly describes the small, blue, fifty-armed Jatravartids of Viltvodle VI who invent aerosal deodorant before the wheel).

Does Ronan adjust in mere minutes?

When Teagen and Ronan get close, does the Witch appear and tell them they won't consummate their love unless she gets something first?

If the bulk of the novel is the romance between Teagen and Ronan, then it should be the main subject of the query.

Beth said...

Buffysquirrel said: I dunno about "misunderstood"--we don't even know what he was in prison for.

Well, I was sort of assuming that since he's shaping up to be the hero of a romance, he's probably not a child rapist or serial killer.

Whom I'd hope would not be finding black pebbles in their cells. Hence the qualification. :)

chelsea said...

Why's it always gotta be the witch?

I mean, honestly, did Wicked teach us nothing???

But seriously. I am confused. Your reference to Tir Na nOg makes me think you are in tune with the fact that the witches (in the days when Tir Na nOg was best known) were in actuality earth-worshipping priestesses, not gnarly nosed green ladies who turned people into frogs.

And maybe your witch is neither of these things. I don't know. I can't know, because the only reference to her is "a witch." Which makes my mind envision all kinds of possibilities. So is she a good witch? A bad witch? Or a real witch? And if she is the latter, why is she the villain?

Let's face it. Witches have a bad rap. We don't need Elphaba to tell us that. What of Morgan, ala Mists of Avalon? The reason I take issue with this is because, for a paranormal romance (which I don't usually buy) your book interests me, because it sounds different. But the "witch thing" (as far as I can tell from the query, anyway) doesn't. So maybe a hint of information as to why your witch villian is different than every other witch villain will calm my fluttering little heart. ;)

As for the presence-would-be-hunk, I absolutely disagree with anonymous (what's new?) I don't think you should swap your boy-toy with a steroid-injected hunk. So beef-cake sells. So what? If ALL women wanted the beefcake, Twilight would have never left the ground, and I don't need to tell you how that went. I know, I know, that's YA, but as far as I can tell, it's still paranormal romance. And lots of girls dig a Different kind of guy, whose entire body doesn't look like it's suffering from the stings of gigantic bees. Just sayin.

I do think the word "presence" is iffy. But as for the boy himself, I'm sure he's fine.

A nitpicky note: you don't have to say your query is a multiple submission unless the agent's/editor's submission guidelines tell you to. Back me up here, EE: thinking a pitch *might be* going exclusively to you makes you feel pretty.

Prolific is a cool word. But I kind of feel like it's the kind of word you want other people to use about you, like in a blurb or when you go on Oprah.

And I like the pebble thing. I just do, ok?

Anonymous said...

The five foot nine threw me, too. Why so specific? It actually made me read this as YA without even realizing it. Even Chelsea, after defending the description, refers to him as a boy in her post. But in the query you call your mc a woman, so I assume he is an adult as well. Otherwise, it's an entirely different story...

BuffySquirrel said...

Or he might be completely understood, which is why he's in prison in the first place :D.

batgirl said...

Not a big paranormal reader, so take my opinions with caution, but I'd much rather read about a 5'9" hero with a sense of humour than about one of those tree-trunk-legged Alpha-alpha guys that show up everywhere.
My guess is that the villain put him in the cell - am I right?

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

A couple things:

I love fantasy, especially urban fantasy, but I didn't get a clear idea what kind of world you're building. You just say that Ronan was "studying magic." Is this an academic spells-and-potions kind of magic? A New Agey/ spiritual thing? Is Ronan a Druid? A wizard? A mage? Just a couple more specific words would go a long way.

Also, you should be leading your last paragraph with your sales record and accolades. Right now the all-about-me paragraph reads more like an author bio (where you sell the personal story) rather than an overview of your qualifications (where you sell your professional experience).

That said, I liked the burnt umber eyes. :-)

Anonymous said...

Parts of this intrigue me, even though I'm not much on paranormal or romance. Agreement with those who ask for more description of Ronan(BTW, not crazy about that name at all, but I really like Teagan)flows through me with resplendent amplitude. Also thought that Chelsea made some good points and might I add that I would like to know which name has foisted itself upon said witch.

#4 sounds good


Dave F. said...

Actually at 5 ft 9 in, he could be one of those college gymnast types with the blond hair, the big muscles and the high, squeaky voice. That's kinda different than the "alpha-alpha" 6 ft 8 football player or sweaty pro-wrestler types.

Daniel Radcliff (Harry Potter) is 5'8"

Elijah Wood (Frodo) is 5'6"
Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee) is also 5'6"
Fred Astaire was 5'9"

Daniel Craig (Bond, James Bond) is 5'10"

I'm 5'11" and taller than all those guys. But I can't dance. I'm not sauve and muscular. And I don't do magic or go on epic quests.

I'll bet you guys want a Pauly Shore type or Gilbert Gottfried type...

Robin S. said...

My ex was 6'4. Let me repeat that. My EX was 6'4.

Height as a positive is vastly over-rated. Give me high intelligence, wicked wry humor and a non-fucked up personality any day.

Jeb said...

Height, or its lack, is no guarantee of either humour or intelligence. My ex was 5-10. My current is 6'4. I wouldn't swap back unless the ex's funeral package was included, with a one-week expiration date on it.

And the name Ronan, to me, is very similar to Conan, as well as conjuring up that sexy hunk of nice-but-brain-challenged muscle from Stargate Atlantis... who is DEFINITELY not 5'9.

writtenwyrdd said...

I believe a romance query should focus primarily on the romance, which this one does more than any other point. But it's really confusing, and you don't start with the romance or the apparent pov character in this letter.

Start with the main character and the romance. Then give us the plot complications that make the romance and possibly their lives be at stake if they don't fix the problem.

Sounds like a workable story and one Imight pick up in the grocery store. However, the letter being confusing makes you seem like you don't know what your story actually is. So work on that and I'm sure you'll get some interest in the book!

writtenwyrdd said...

BTW, the name Ronin bugged me too, but because it's the Japanese term for a samurai who has no master. I'd change it, too.

BuffySquirrel said...

Not really, Dave. I want George Clooney, and I don't care how tall he is!

Evil Editor said...

Though this author's character is spelled Ronan.

The Samurai spelling, Ronin, was appropriately used as the title of an excellent and highly recommended thriller starring Robert DeNiro.

Jeb said...

"Ronin". The movie of masterless men. Quite powerful.

As for the query, I'm still not sure what the main plot line is, and I've read it several times. I hope this is merely a query-letter problem and not a sign that the whole story is neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red (read?) meat.

Robin S. said...

Hey, jeb, true about height not being an indicator eitehr way - but my point was, WTF about the romantic leads always having to be tall?

I know the 'historical' reasons. I don't read this genre, but there was mention that his height wasn't 'big enough' - I thought perhaps we'd gotten past that height-sexual appeal-masculinity thing.

Apparently not.

Robin S. said...

P.S. Ronan is an Irish/Gaelic man's name. An old one. I like it.

I've only heard it pronounced one way: Roe'-nun.

Jeb said...

Robin, my sweet, I would be delighted to agree with you, and will add, in generic support of your chaste hope, that an assistant editor at Harlequin Canada told me a few years back that they were looking for heroes who were less alpha. That's not specific to height, however I think a defined not-tall hero may be a harder sell. He will need more personality and charm on the first page if he is being overtly saddled with a height handicap.

This author may want to err on the side of vagueness in the query, and let the agent or editor intially picture the hero as whatever their personal of heroic may be.

Anonymous said...

of course size matters, but in this case giving height to the half inch seems like unnecessary and perhaps unwanted precision. why not describe it in qualitative terms: short, tall, medium height, whatever? And yes, it does seem like something for the Harry Potter set until one reads the part about paranormal romance, which indicates you've got a voice/genre mismatch.

talpianna said...

My name is Talpianna and I DO read paranormal romance.

[Chorus: Welcome, Talpianna!]

I'm fairly selective about it, though; and I prefer the kind that is more SF/fantasy oriented than pure romance-oriented (or impure-romance oriented, for that matter). That's because there's usually more attention paid to the world-building and how things actually work. Examples of good writers: Jayne Castle (Jayne Ann Krentz), Patricia Briggs, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Linnea Sinclair.

I don't care for the "thews of iron and a head to match" type of hero, either. The authors I've mentioned usually have heroes who may or may not be gorgeous specimens--for that matter, they may or may not be human; at least a couple of them are cyborgs--but are able to outwit everyone else. My favorite heroes tend to be lanky types with brains. (And note that the not-overdeveloped Hugh Jackman was just named Sexiest Man Alive by PEOPLE magazine.)

What you need, I think, is a cause for the two protagonists to bond over. Presumably the witch wants to do something with the pebble that needs to be prevented at all costs. It makes more sense to me that they first ally to prevent this from happening, and fall in love in the process of foiling her schemes. (Incidentally, in one of Sinclair's books, which was originally published as volume one of a planned duology but later extensively revised for a single-volume publication, the villainous sorceress was the hero's mother in the first version and his sister in the second, which makes for a much more interesting dynamic than just some bitch passing by on a broomstick. Also, when the villain is female, it makes sense to elevate the female MC into her main antagonist, which would make it possible, indeed necessary, for Teagan to possess magic, too.)

The important things here are the battle for the pebble and the development of the relationship between the MCs, not the description of what they look like.

Robin S. said...

Hi jeb,

I do agree that the height being mentioned - well, it begs the question 'why'.

Min Yin said...

I have no problem with a pebble as a space/time portal element used by a witch, because exactly the same thing appears in the medieval-set Choose Your Own Adventure story I read in middle school. (Author, might you subconsciously be remembering that same book?)

Also, there is at least one Ronan in my son's preschool so I read that as an everyday name rather than an exotic one.

Good luck!