Friday, January 16, 2009

Face-Lift 592


Guess the Plot

The End of Normal

1. It's just another day in Des Moines for Shelly and her family. Snow, people in the skywalk, dogs driving the taxis...or has something subtly changed?

2. Trisha thinks she has the most boring life of anyone in her class until Nicole arrives from France and becomes her Best Friend Forever. Trisha helps Nicole with her English and Nicole introduces Trisha to pot and drink. When an all-night party at Nicole's house gets out of hand, Trisha's parents step in and ground her. Can she ever go back to the boring life she had before?

3. Theodora Mulldock had a normal home life in many ways--until she underwent a creepy doctor's revolutionary "procedure." Now she's having nightmares and dealing with the deadly . . . Beings of the Darkness. Is this the end for Theodora? Or just . . . the end of normal?

4. Julia was living in her parent's pool house and ordering take-out with her daddy's unlimited Visa until the bottom fell out of the stock market and Daddy tried to fly without a plane. Now Julia and her mother are living in a two bedroom apartment, eating Hamburger Helper and Julia is slowly realizing the end of normal might just be the beginning she's always dreamed of.

5. Sarah has tried hard to fit in her whole life. But when she finds out she's the daughter of two crime-fighting superheroes who are about to go on the Jerry Springer show, she knows it's the end of normal for her. Can she convince her parents to keep their identities secret, or will she die of shame?

6. Normal the mouse is on a quest to eat every scrap of cheese in the kitchen and he easily defeats all the traps put down by the housekeeper but when Mr. Gilmore gets a cat things start to turn nasty. As Normal flees for his life he falls in a bucket of paint and nearly drowns, lands in a humane trap and has to escape and runs into a dead end with no escape from the teeth and claws. Will Fangs be . . . the end of Normal?

7. Angela Schultz always thought she was perfectly normal. She must have been wrong. Ever since she turned 21, the strangest things have been happening. Things explode when she’s mad, and all of her wishes are coming true. Could this have anything to do with the father she never knew?

8. After another ho-hum day at the office Jane pauses in her driveway and reflects on her boring life, wishing for more. Turns out that moment is The End of Normal for Jane, because when she opens the front door snooblecorants glomp a miniature juju zulrp without even proselytizing the jelly bean carnation. Now the neighbors think mumified kronkoids are swimming up the celophane pipeline--in unison! Can Jane foink the marmalade soprano before the astroturf shoebox schlobodizes the tea cozy?

Eight GTPs? This is the end of normal.



Original Version

Dear _____________:

Sixth grader Theodora Mulldock's life is typical in many ways – school, loving mother and grandmother, a bad habit [Angel dust.] and a best friend. Her lifelong struggle to read, however, is anything but typical. For Theodora, the words literally move around on the page and re-form into strange shapes, yet no one seems to understand or believe her. Not until she meets creepy Doctor Rivale and undergoes his 'procedure' is she able to read for the first time, [She made it to 6th grade without ever reading? I got through my senior year of high school without reading anything, but . . . ] revealing more than she could ever have anticipated.

"I've been waiting for you for five hundred years," Doctor Rivale whispers in Theodora's ear.

The realization of what she really is, and where she's really from, throws her life into spellbinding chaos, taking her and her family to New York City, Portugal and Ireland. [What she really is and where she's really from are your hook. Whether she's a vampire from Transylvania, a mutant from Planet X or a witch from Normal, Illinois, the query is more interesting if you give us the specifics.] [Also, going to New York City, Portugal and Ireland doesn't sound like spellbinding chaos to me (though I must admit I'm not sure what spellbinding chaos is).] Normal, with its comfortable trappings is devoured in one sentence. [If that one sentence is the one the doctor whispered, this sentence should come right before or after that one. Also, this sentence would be more effective if you'd been calling Theodora's life "normal," rather than "typical."] Theodora's shocking heritage, unlocks both family secrets and terror on her search for the truth. One of the many twists and turns is her communication with her late father through her dreams and terrifying nightmares. These nightmares are where she – and the reader – meet The Beings of the Darkness, [She meets them in nightmares; the reader meets them in your book.] and discover how cold and deadly they are. Unfortunately, they are searching for the same, very important book that Theodora must find – a circumstance that is most unfortunate indeed. [If you're talking about Novel Deviations, volume 1, there are plenty of copies to go around.]

Welcome to The End of Normal, my complex suspense novel for young adults. [With a sixth-grade heroine, this may not appeal to the young adult market. Can you promote Theodora to tenth grade? Or call it middle grade?]

For the past eleven years I've been a public middle school language arts teacher. I've read hundreds of Young Adult novels and I know what it takes to get middle school readers to put down their cell phones and pick up a book – and read it. My book has the ingredients young adult readers crave in order to relate. The characters experience self-doubt, family struggles and the kinds of social struggles middle-schoolers experience every day. But more importantly, my book also has the ingredients young adults want [Again, I'd say kids rather than young adults. Possibly any age would enjoy the book, but what age group is your target audience?] in a book: demons, secret boxes, mysterious gadgets, nightmares, deception and suspense.

I am a proud member of SCBWI and a National Writing Project Fellow. My article, Are You Seizing The Everyday Moments?: The Power of Discussion, was published in The Keystone State Reading Association's professional journal, The Keystone Reader. I have also received honorable mention in the national Children's Writers Fiction Contest sponsored by Stepping Stones Magazine for my children's picture book manuscript, The Question.

I am currently in my last revisions of my completed Book Two of the planned three book series. I truly believe this could explode into something big. I need your agency's expertise to represent me. Based on my online research, I think my work would be a good fit for _________________________.

Upon your request, I will send you my 60,100 word, completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and for considering The End of Normal. I look forward to your reply.


Notes

I feel you're being too secretive. What is Theodora's shocking heritage? What is she, and where is she from? What is the book she must find, and how does she know she must find it? This is stuff you wouldn't reveal on the back cover, but revealing it in a query letter is a good thing.

There's too much about you.

"My book has the ingredients young adult readers crave in order to relate," and " I truly believe this could explode into something big," have to go. In fact, this would be plenty of info to add to the plot description:


In The End of Normal, a middle grade novel, Theodora experiences self-doubt, family problems and the kinds of social struggles middle-schoolers experience every day, but she also encounters demons, deception, secret boxes, mysterious gadgets, and suspense.

I am a member of SCBWI and a National Writing Project Fellow, and my children's picture book manuscript The Question received honorable mention in the national Children's Writers Fiction Contest sponsored by Stepping Stones magazine. Upon your request, I will submit the 60,100 word, completed manuscript. Thank you for considering The End of Normal.


You seem to be writing for middle school, as you say you know what it takes to get middle-schoolers to put down their cell phones, but you also call it young adult. Choose one.

27 comments:

150 said...

Until you started hinting at the supernatural, I assumed that Theodora was dyslexic and that Dr. Rivale was a lobotomist or electrotherapist.

benwah said...

I've figured out what I've been doing wrong in my own queries: I tend to close by saying "I truly feel my work is best suited to a limited print run, with placement in those little spinning wire racks in drug stores, followed by time buried on the remainder table before ultimately being returned, coverless, to a landfill." "Exploding into something big" has a nicer ring to it.

As for the query, far, far too vague. A creepy doctor performing an air-quoted "procedure" on a young girl makes me immediately wonder, doesn't this girl have parents?

fairyhedgehog said...

I'm intrigued by the fact that she can't read until she undergoes the procedure. I hope the book explains why.

I got very taken up with the GTPs. No. 8 surely has to be Whirlochres?

Anonymous said...

As EE pointed out, there's no way you'll get 12+ year old readers to read this if your MC is 11. This sounds like MG, not YA, to me. Why are you so keen on calling it YA?

AC said...

You could shorten the first paragraph, since what she is or where she's from is more important than what happens when she tries to read. I started reading this thinking it was about dyslexia, then about some weird operation, then it added on the international aspect, and then also her nightmare conversations with her father, and then the Beings of the Darkness and the search for an important book. It's quite a lot to pack into one query, and you could try simplifying a bit and/or leaving out some parts to make everything flow more easily and concisely.

It sounds exciting, though--I'd definitely want to find out more!

chelsea said...

I feel like the query says more about you than the story.

(Maybe that's true of any query. Think about it. Profound, right?)

But seriously. The beginning paragraph is interesting and unique sounding, but I agree with EE about adding in What It All Means. There's a different between inciting your readers' curiosity and keeping them in the dark. You can tell us what's special about Theodora without ruining all the surprises in the novel.

Here is my breakdown of suggestions, in two simple parts:

What I needed to know in the query:

1. What is special about Theodora.

2. The fact that Theodora is looking for a book (I mean, BEFORE the mention of the Beings of Darkness, way down in the query.)

3. Why it's important to get the book before the Beings of Darkness do, and what each party wants to do with the book.

That's it. Those seem like the pivotal plot points and the stakes, and without them, it'll be hard to have any idea what's going on.

That said, here are Things I Didn't Need to Know (in the query):

1. The fact that the Doctor is "creepy." This may be important to his character development, but it has no effect in the query.

2. The quote from the Doctor. I would rather have a summary of what Theodora learns from the doctor, but that may just be a personal preference.

3. Mention of Theodora's late father. Unless his connection to the plot is outlined in the query, I feel like the mention of him just complicates things.

4. "Normal, with its comfortable trappings is devoured in one sentence." (Especially if it's not next to the sentence it's referencing.)

5. Theodora's dreams. At this point in the query I feel like I should be told what's happening, not what's being dreamed about.

6. Theodora's bad habit. This felt like unnecessary information.

And that's about it.

This sounds like a really interesting concept. The beginning of the query, about the words moving around, really hooked me. If you can find a way to tell who Theodora is, and what the stakes are, I think you will have something really enticing here. :)

Wes said...

Specifics on who Theodora really is and where she's really from would make the query more compelling.

Beth said...

What EE said. Way too much information and most of it is the wrong sort. Be specific about the stakes. And if this is YA, your protagonist needs to be older.

Beth said...

Benwah said: I truly feel my work is best suited to a limited print run, with placement in those little spinning wire racks in drug stores

Actually, it's my understanding that the books we see in those wire racks at drugstores (and on the limited shelf space at airports) are the ones with huge print runs and expected top seller status.

Xenith said...

throws her life into spellbinding chaos, taking her and her family to New York City, Portugal and Ireland

She goes on one of those mutli-country European coach tours? Defintely spellbinding chaos, especially when you're trying to make sense of your photos afterwards.

Jennifer said...

Same question to Benwah and Chelsea:

When are you going to start a blog??

(Based, most recently, on this comment from Benwah and Chelsea's from Robin's gyno scene--the high tailing it part)

Want. To. Read. More.

Chris Eldin said...

It's way too long for MG, but your protag is too young for YA.
Not much help, but that's just a first impression. I think you should trim it to 45K if you can, and call it MG.
That's without having read your book, so perhaps that's useless advice.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Seems to me your qualifications are strong but those paragraphs need to be condensed down to the essentials. Perhaps just mention your teaching position and leave out the paragraph about knowing what young adults want. Those sentences could come across as lecturing a potential agent on how to do their job or - even worse - like the story has been assembled from a checklist of popular YA tropes.

And this may be my own insane little nit pick, but I wonder if describing the book as "complex" isn't redundant. Surely any decent suspense thriller is complex?

Anonymous said...

Comma errors:

"Normal, with its comfortable trappings is devoured in one sentence."

should be:

Normal, with its comfortable trappings, is devoured in one sentence.


"Theodora's shocking heritage, unlocks both family secrets and terror on her search for the truth."

should be:

Theodora's shocking heritage unlocks both family secrets and terror on her search for the truth.



You might also want to explain how nightmare creatures are a danger to her; are they actual beings who visit her nightmares, but also take physical form? Why don't they just kill her in her nightmares, or use her sleep to come through her into the physical world and kill her?


I would completely remove the line about how their search for the book is "a circumstance that is most unfortunate indeed." It very clearly brings to mind the Lemony Snicket books--which I assume is your intention--but it's heavy-handed and the comparison does not work in your favor (it also reminds us, again, that this is a middle-grade novel and not a YA).


I actually do think this could be an interesting story, although I think describing the life of a sixth-grader who cannot read as "typical" is a little far-fetched; being illiterate colors every aspect of someone's life, especially in school. But I like it. I like the idea of the doctor's "procedure" and I like the idea of an illiterate girl learning secrets in a special book, and of there being some mystical reason why she can't read. I think you have some very cool images and ideas in there. But they're not coming through in your query at all.

K. M. Walton said...

I'm the author...thanks EE and commentors - I appreciate your thoughts, no matter how snarky - and your insight.

Question, Harry Potter is YA? Or MG?
*note, I am NOT comparing my book to HP, simply the age of the MC.

Phoenix said...

Hi K.M.: HP is a little different since its MCs age as the series advances. I think the first 2 or 3 HP books are middle grade, the next couple are for 'tweens, and the last couple are YA.

It's mainly subject matter and MC age that determine where a book will fall. Most YA books deal with teen angst, first loves, drinking, and other things the under-12 crowd hasn't yet experienced. Remember that the first HP books were void of any romantic thoughts and the angst in them was from the situation, not from the age group of the MCs. There was age-appropriate behavior in them. Harry hadn't yet come into his hormones.

You can also categorize an MG as an "upper MG" work, which is where I think yours may fall because of subject matter. But kids read up, and they usually want an MC just a little older than themselves, so an 11-year-old MC still feels a little young for the subject matter. If she were 13, you could simply call it a 'tween novel and be safe.

Why does this matter? Because some agents handle YA but not MG, and vice versa. By calling it 'tween, you could likely get the attention of any agent who handles YA or MG. After you revise the query, of course, based on the excellent advice here.

Author said...

Dear ____________:

My 57,500 word Young Adult novel, The End of Normal: The Dream, The Boxes, The Courage and The Book, is a complex suspense novel with an unexpected sci-fi twist.

Theodora Mulldock’s lifelong struggle to read is anything but typical. For Theodora, the words literally move around on the page and re-form into strange shapes, yet no one seems to understand or believe her. A colossal family secret, known only by her late father and mysteriously absentee grandmother, holds the key. Not until she meets creepy Doctor Rivale and undergoes his ‘procedure’ is she able to read for the first time, revealing more than she could ever have anticipated.

“I’ve been waiting for you for five hundred years,” Doctor Rivale whispers in Theodora’s ear. Her normal life, with its comfortable trappings, is devoured in that one sentence.

Life is twisted further when Sebbie Veckler, the boy who has tortured her since third grade, delivers her an insane message in a voice clearly not his own. When Sebbie’s body is taken over he calls her Thaorode and tells her Miravale will perish. And then he falls flat on his freckled face. Guilt pushes her to visit him in the hospital and slowly, cautiously, an unlikely friendship develops.

So begins her quest for the truth, taking her and her family to New York City, Portugal and Ireland. Theodora’s shocking heritage unlocks both family secrets and terror. She communicates with her late father through her dreams and terrifying nightmares. These nightmares are where she meets The Beings of the Darkness and discovers how cold and deadly they are. Unfortunately, they are searching for the same, very important book that Theodora must find - she races against time to find The Book before it is too late.

For the past twelve years I’ve been a middle school language arts teacher. I’ve read hundreds of Young Adult novels and I know what it takes to get middle school readers to put down their cell phones and pick up a book – and read it. My book has the ingredients young adult readers crave in order to relate. The characters experience self-doubt, family struggles and the kinds of social struggles middle-schoolers experience every day. But more importantly, my book also has the ingredients many young adults want in a book: demons, secret boxes, mysterious gadgets, nightmares, deception and suspense.

I am a proud member of SCBWI. I have received honorable mention in the national Children’s Writers Fiction Contest sponsored by Stepping Stones Magazine for my children’s picture book manuscript, The Question.

According to my online research, I really think my work would be a good fit for ________________. Upon your request, I will send you my completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and for considering The End of Normal. I look forward to your reply.

Evil Editor said...

Not sure why The Dream, The Boxes, The Courage and The Book has suddenly popped into the title, but get rid of it. Even if it's just a subtitle. It sounds like a list of random words.

You still haven't decided who your audience is". Your paragraph beginning "For the past twelve years" includes the term "middle school" three times and "young adult" three times. Don't use both these terms in the query.

I still don't know what the procedure is, or what book she needs to find (or why).

The plot is still a mystery. Girl learns to read at a late age, develops a friendship with a bully, has nightmares, seeks book.

It's just a list of things that happen. I want a cohesive story with some cause and effect, and all the elements linked in the query.

Dominique said...

If the ending is really that unexpected, the agent will figure that out for themselves. The fact that you need to say it means that it isn't that unexpected.

The paragraph about Sebbie Veckler feels awkward and forced, as though you're trying to include a lot of information that the reader might not need.

There's rather a dirth of information of the actual plot. You might want to explain what the mysterious lineage actually is. I'm getting the feeling I'm expected to know more of this than I do.

The paragraph about you runs a little long. That's be a place to trim so that you've more space to write about the plot.

_*Rachel*_ said...

The title’s too complex. Make it simple and catchy. And please, just say something normal like science fiction or suspense.

It wouldn’t hurt to round to the nearest 1000 words.

The paragraphs feel disjointed, like they’re not on the same storyline. And why won’t you say what actually happens? It helps to put the plot in the query, or at least some of it. And if you’ve got a concise explanation, like demons, you might want to mention it. Demons would make me drop the book immediately, but many editors/agents will find it interesting, maybe a selling point.

Could you combine and shorten the descriptions in the bio? “I think youth will like this—I’ve got everything from zits to sorcery.” Something a bit less wordy, maybe.

When I was in middle school, I went with swords and chivalry, not much magic. Still do, mostly.

Phoenix said...

Hmm. This wasn't so much a revision of the query as it was add a few more words that don't really help to clarify the story. And now you've thrown in a "sci fi" twist but the ingredients you've given us don't sound sf at all. Paranormal, perhaps. Or urban fantasy. But I'm not seeing anything supporting a science fiction (sf) claim. (Also, the slangy "sci fi" is, in some circles, considered rude and derogatory; so if your twist really is sf, I wouldn't call it sci fi in a query.)

Please go back and consider some of the original comments. In addition:

1. How can her life be considered normal when she doesn't have a dad, her grandmother is missing, and words do weird things in her presence?

2. I didn't see any mention of mysterious boxes or secret gadgets in the story paragraphs. Remember, even in a query, you should be showing not telling. This goes for the self-doubt and family/social struggles stuff, too. Don't tell the reader what's in the book, show them. And really, do you think pointing out that your book has elements that kids can relate to makes your query stand out from other books written for whatever audience you intend it for? It's the same concept as saying you expect the book to do well -- of course you expect your audience to relate to the book just as every writer does. These types of statements set you apart only in that they will scream "newbie" to an agent, I'm afraid. And, yes, like everyone else, I learned these lessons the hard way, too ;o).

3. I get that there's suspense in that the MC has to retrieve a book for some reason before some beings find it because otherwise (well, I don't know what happens otherwise because the query doesn't say), but to call this book a suspense? That would mean terming every quest story a suspense. And I'm afraid the "racing against time - before it's too late" sentence is much too cliche, especially when the query reader has no idea what "too late" even refers to since the query doesn't mention what the consequences (stakes) are.

4. You do need to tell the age of the MC in the query if they are under 18. Dodging the audience question by leaving out this important info isn't really the way to handle it.

Please take a close look at EE's and previous commenters' suggestions and give us a truly new, re-envisioned query that shows us a compelling storyline and demonstrates why this is suspense with sf elements.

Anonymous said...

1. You need to tell us what she is. Holding this information back makes me wonder if you know the answer to that question. Keeping it a secrete also makes me think readers don't find out till the end of the book- that her identity is the really secrete. One word. Yawn.

2. Unless you intend to elaborate on the beings of darkness, don't mention them. Right now they sound hokey.

3. Oh my do we have a lot about you. Saying that by reading hundreds of novels you know how to write one is like me saying I know how to make fillet minion from watching a chef cook fillet minion. What I produce and what the chef produces won't be the same thing. This same principal applies to being a teacher- being a teacher doesn't mean that you're a better writer than someone who isn't.

"But more importantly, my book also has the ingredients many young adults want in a book: demons, secret boxes, mysterious gadgets, nightmares, deception and suspense."

Reading about nightmares is droit, deception can be interesting but I've yet to meat a kid who says I want to read about that. Secret boxes. Great, but what's inside will only get you so far. Right now your query is twirling the handle of the jack in the box- what is, what is she, what is she, what is she, what is she,what is, what is she, what is she, what is she, what is she- (Got old after the second time didn't it).

"I am a proud member of SCBWI." I'm a proud member of AAA but it doesn't mean I can write a book.

I googled Stepping Stones Magazine. Turns out its a blog. Adding this to your writing resume is like saying EE loves your writing. That well may be, but it's not a real publishing credit. If this is all you have it's best just not to say anything.

Focus on the story, not on your genius. If the writing holds up, that later becomes self evident.

Evil Editor said...

Adding this to your writing resume is like saying EE loves your writing. Whoa. Saying EE loves your writing pretty much guarantees publication.

150 said...

Maybe something like this?

Dear ____________:

Fourteen-year-old Theodora can't read. Sure, she's smart, and her vision is fine, but whenever she looks at a printed page the words change into strange symbols and move into weird shapes. And no one believes her.

When new-in-town Dr. Rivale suggests a procedure to correct her "reading problem", Theodora is all for it. (What does the procedure accomplish? How does that set up the next bit?) Before she knows what's happening, Theodora is swept into an international journey to (whatever she's trying to do). If she can't (whatever) before (whatever), (something awful will happen).

My 57,500 word Young Adult novel, The End of Normal, features suspense and science fiction. Upon your request, I will send you my completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your reply.

Sarah Laurenson said...

So that's all I have to do is say EE loves my writing? Does it have to be true, too?

talpianna said...

Who's been filleting minions around here? And where's Robin? Julie's been missing a while, too...

*looks around suspiciously*

K. M. Walton said...

Author here.

Okay, back to the drawing board. I have my work CLEARLY cut out for me.

Thank you everyone.