Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Face-Lift 581

Guess the Plot

All the Way to Amen

1. Katherine is having trouble forgiving the man who killed her only child in a grisly murder--until she realizes through prayer and a spiritual journey that she's made a few mistakes in her life, too.

2. Sunny Pristeen knew she was saved, until the day she let Beauregard Tauchss pull her drawers down in the choir loft. Actually, that would have been OK--Bo was like, really dreamy--except that slimy Luther Lupin saw them and made Sunny pay for his silence in the same coin. He kept his word though, and Sunny thought her prayers had been answered--until the next full moon rose above the horizon.

3. Little Lulu Landry has never managed to keep her eyes closed the entire prayer. Tonight she's determined to make it all the way to amen. But her pesky kitty cat, Lucifer, has other ideas...

4. Tommy and Gina have been dating for two years and they still haven't had sex because Gina was raised a good Catholic girl and she always says her prayers. Tommy doesn't mind Gina living on her prayers but he would like to get into her pants. Now that he's discovered an "Incantation de Concupiscere" can he persuade Gina to go . . . all the way to Amen?

5. Herman's head is bowed, and he's praying -- that he doesn't accidentally emit a snore. If he can just last until the service ends, then he can nap before the game. But it's toasty inside, and his eyelids feel like bowling balls. And now his wife Annie is giving him the Glare Of Hellfire...

6. Spike Thornby must stand in the grass under a full moon and pray aloud in a heartfelt and inspiring manner before his crush, Linda May, will consider his proposal, but -- woe! Interruptions galore! Fierce dogs, howling fathers, wayward robbers, and someone who may or may not be St. Jerome or the hobo from Toledo, disrupt Spike's recitations with such regularity May is doubtful he will make it . . . all the way to Amen.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

If someone murdered one of your loved ones—and not just any loved one, but the love of your life, your son—could you forgive the killer? [Yes, just as I feel certain he'll forgive me when I hire a hitman to take him out.] That is the predicament Katherine Wainwright faces in All the Way to Amen.

This story analyzes the concept of forgiveness. [You're losing me. I don't want to read about philosophy; I want to read about grisly murders.] Katherine Wainwright is an affluent woman who loses her son to a grisly murder and ultimately forgives his killer. [That sentence just rehashes the first paragraph.] Her spiritual journey forces Katherine into gut-wrenching self-examination, a process with which I believe many readers will identify. Katherine has done many things throughout her life that garner forgiveness [I don't see "garner" as the right word here. Possibly you're going for "merit" or "warrant" or "deserve," though it's not up to her whether she deserves forgiveness. I'd go with "beg."] including a one-time tryst with her brother-in-law that produced her son, a fact that doesn't surface until many years after the boy's death. This imperfect woman who once lived a life trying to exude perfection must learn how to forgive herself before she can forgive others—especially the man who took her son from her. [Who am I to cast stones at this man who committed a grisly murder when I once had fantastic sex with my sister's husband? (Or was it her husband's brother?)]

Many people gain satisfaction from watching the privileged endure hardship; however, I feel readers will cheer Katherine's return from despair as she becomes a more self-actualized and compassionate human being. The central theme of All the Way to Amen is pertinent in today's society of self-absorption, impulsive litigation and where vengeance, rather than forgiveness, is often considered the next reasonable step. I believe this book will appeal to women ages 30 to 55, especially mothers, and at 65,000 words it is paced for a quick and easy read. [You make it sound like you purposely cut it down to 65,000 words as a favor to the readers. I'd like to think it's 65,000 words because that's how long it was when you got to the end, not because you wanted it to be quick and easy for us.]

(I give my bio info and publishing history here)

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



I believe many readers will identify [with the process].
I feel readers will cheer Katherine's return from despair.
I believe this book will appeal to women ages 30 to 55.

Believe it or not, it doesn't matter to the editor what an author believes about her own book. This stuff isn't as bad as the claims that the book will sell millions of copies or make a great movie, but the editor can decide how the book will affect readers and to whom it will appeal. The best way to convince us to read your book is not with themes and societal importance; it's with a compelling plot. Thus:

Is the murder in the book? Does Katherine discover the body? Is there a confrontation between Katherine and the murderer? Does the murderer get away with it? Does she look for the murderer, hound the police, visit him in jail? Is there another key character? We want to know what happens. I'm not sure she doesn't sit around reflecting on her life for 65,000 words.


BuffySquirrel said...

Many people gain satisfaction from watching the privileged endure hardship....

Yep. Write about that!

(btw, we enjoy watching them endure hardship, but we don't like hearing them whine about it. So make them mute :).)

writtenwyrdd said...

As written this sounds like lifetime movie and those things give me hives. But they're also popular so that approach might work. But as it stands there's little about the actual story and what is there is rather repetitive or should be omitted as irrelevant (see EE's comments.)

Why not start with the point of the book--finding forgiveness for her son's killer and finding peace thereby. Then tell us something about the protagonist's growth process in the book.

I'd recommend you don't mention she's priviledged (a turn off) or the things you think about the book. Sell the story via telling us about it in a gripping manner.

I'd love to see the revised version of this.

Anonymous said...

Know thy genre. I'm in the target demographic you identified but would never buy this. I imagine your plot would appeal to church ladies, but middle-aged femaleness doesn't have any particular connection to being eager to read about forgiving murders. It might be better to describe your project as Christian lit, and sub to agents who are specifically looking for this kind of spiritually oriented story.

benwah said...

While some people may choose books on the basis of theme, I think many of us read for plot first. As EE says, let your query tell the story. Your theme will emerge. Otherwise it seems like you're lecturing by telling us what we'll get out of the book. If nothing else, you're committing the error of telling, not showing.

A woman struggling to come to grips with the murder of her son doesn't strike me as "a quick and easy read."

150 said...

Try writing this in terms of the action.

Katherine Wainwright's life came crashing down the day her son was murdered. She [broke all her china, holed up in her room, moved to Tibet]. Then she received a letter from her son's killer, begging for forgiveness. Never.

But life has other plans for her. When her son's real father unexpectedly surfaces, she has to face the fact that perhaps she needs to be forgiven, too.

All the Way to Amen is women's fiction, complete at 65,000 words.

Not what she learns or discovers or decides. What happens. I made up the plot I used, obviously, but I hope you have similar events to include in the query instead.

EE is right on all counts.

talpianna said...

I get awfully tired of people talking about forgiveness without bothering to deal with REPENTANCE. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, the two are part of one process--atonement--just as a lock and a key form one mechanism; each doesn't have much use without the other.

I think the book would benefit if it included the murderer--perhaps as another PoV character? Does he repent? If so, why? How does it change him? If not, why does Katherine forgive him?

Ellie said...

I would love to read #6. *sigh* This is the problem with these Face-Lifts; I keep getting captivated by stories that don't exist!

writtenwyrdd said...

Actually, 150's version really made the story interesting. I might even consider that story, and I flat do not read Christian lit. Ever.

Renee Collins said...

150's version is excellent. I would be interested in reading that book.

I agree with what others have said. The emphasis on theme in this query turned me off.

December/Stacia said...

I'm another in your target demographic--I'm 35, with two children--and sorry, but I'd rather read just about anything else as long as it doesn't deal with the grisly murder of children.

That sounds depressing and grim to me, not quick and easy. No matter if the mother in question eventually forgives the killer (which I don't want to read either.)

I agree this has or seems to have a strongly Christian theme, and you should think about pitching it as such.

Sorry, it's just not for me.

BuffySquirrel said...

Forgiveness is for your own sake, not for that of the person you forgive. It can and does exist without repentance.

Anonymous said...

On rereading this, I am reminded of Lovely Bones, which was written from the perspective of the murdered girl. The theme is letting go, forgiveness, and healing, and the book's theme is something you sort of think, "Oh, that's what it was about!" after you are done. Because it's the story that makes the book so haunting and wonderful.

You wouldn't talk about Lovely Bones based on theme, because it would sound an awful lot like the original query letter.

Beth said...

We know the theme -- what's the story?

wendy said...

I think December/Stacia and I are on the same page with this one. I can't imagine anything less fun than reading about the grisly death of someone's child.

I wouldn't touch it unless it promised a big emotional payoff that would possibly show me how to be a better person. Or, it caught my curiosity by leaving out an important piece of the puzzle.

Right now the query would make me run screaming from the room. I do think you've got a good story here, but the query isn't telling us what the good part is.

talpianna said...

BuffySquirrel said: Forgiveness is for your own sake, not for that of the person you forgive. It can and does exist without repentance.

Someone who encountered Josef Mengele when he was living more or less openly in Uruguay once asked him if he had any regrets about what he had done. He replied that he did: he regretted that they had failed to exterminate all the Jews in Europe.

I don't think forgiveness makes sense in the context of someone who is proud of the evil he's done. It would be like saying to Oprah, one the most prominent espousers of the PoV you expressed, "I forgive you for being black." She'd be offended, deeply, (and no wonder!) and you wouldn't feel better.

I agree that one has to get past tragedy and victimization, but I don't think forgiving the unrepentant is the right way to go about it. Remember, the process is called atonement: the sinner and the sinned-against become "at one" again. There's a lovely example in the first chapter of The Wind in the Willows, where the headstrong Mole, certain that he can row the boat as well as the Water Rat, seizes the oars and overturns it. Here's the repentance and atonement:

When all was ready for a start once more, the Mole, limp and dejected, took his seat in the stern of the boat; and as they set off, he said in a low voice, broken with emotion, `Ratty, my generous friend! I am very sorry indeed for my foolish and ungrateful conduct. My heart quite fails me when I think how I might have lost that beautiful luncheon-basket. Indeed, I have been a complete ass, and I know it. Will you overlook it this once and forgive me, and let things go on as before?'

`That's all right, bless you!' responded the Rat cheerily. `What's a little wet to a Water Rat? I'm more in the water than out of it most days. Don't you think any more about it; and, look here! I really think you had better come and stop with me for a little time. It's very plain and rough, you know--not like Toad's house at all--but you haven't seen that yet; still, I can make you comfortable. And I'll teach you to row, and to swim, and you'll soon be as handy on the water as any of us.'

The Mole was so touched by his kind manner of speaking that he could find no voice to answer him; and he had to brush away a tear or two with the back of his paw. But the Rat kindly looked in another direction, and presently the Mole's spirits revived again, and he was even able to give some straight back-talk to a couple of moorhens who were sniggering to each other about his bedraggled appearance.

When they got home, the Rat made a bright fire in the parlour, and planted the Mole in an arm-chair in front of it, having fetched down a dressing-gown and slippers for him, and told him river stories till supper-time.

Can you imagine that sort of reconciliation with an unrepentant offender?

You really should read The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal et al. I think you'd find it of great interest.

Author/All the Way to Amen said...

Wow. Thank you EE and everyone who commented. I'm embarrassed to say I had trouble finding my query and the responses to it. Everyone has offered valid points/suggestions that I will consider on the rewrite. Just FYI, for those who are turned off by the grisly murder of a child, I don't go into detail too much there--it's something I need to further Katherine's growth. Thanks, especially, to 150 and Talpianna. I will look for the book you've recommended.