Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Face-Lift 599

Guess the Plot

Mercury Falls

1. Dewey Dalton loves working at the hydroelectric plant in Venus Springs almost as much as he loves his fiancée, Mary Doubleday. When Mary goes missing, Dewey sets out to find her, never suspecting that she's been transported to an alternate dimension from a portal that lies behind . . . Mercury Falls.

2. A rogue angel named Mercury has been shirking his duties because he'd rather play ping pong and make Rice Krispy treats. Can reporter Christine snap him out of it in time to help her prevent film school dropout Karl Grissom from setting the apocalypse in motion?

3. The day when gravity finally overcomes the forward motion of the planets revolving around the sun, each will obey the laws of the universe in its own time. Looking through his telescope in his second story bedroom, Jason Peterman can't help but wonder if his calculations on the anti-gravity machine were correct . . . or if he even wants them to be.

4. Workaholic thermometer salesman Jarvis Frankle's job is on the line with the new fancy digital thermometers. He embarks on a cross-country road trip to sell the last of his inventory, but when he accidentally drops his remaining thermometers into the Grand Canyon he must decide whether to go after them, or after his hiking guide, a beautiful Native American girl who makes his temperature rise.

5. As the temperature plummets bodies pile up at Research Station Alpha, but are all the casualties due to the cold? John Trent is sent undercover to find out what's going on but he dares trust no one, not even the gorgeous red-headed scientist who offers him the warmest reception.

6. A passing asteroid shower has knocked Mercury out of its orbit and it is on a collision course with Earth. NASA scientists work round the clock but they have no solutions to the impending disaster until Jeff Little comes up with an idea. But what are the chances the scientists will listen to a six-year-old?

Original Version

It's the end of the world - and Christine Temetri [Anagram: termite.] is worried about her linoleum. [Anagram: lion mule. I get it, whenever we encounter a word we don't think belongs, it's an animal anagram. Clever.]

After years of covering the antics of End Times cults for a religious news magazine, [A religious news magazine publishing years of regular reports on cults is like Time magazine publishing weekly reports on what's happening in Liechtenstein.] Christine has become rather jaded about the prospect of an imminent Apocalypse. [I can't tell if that means she expects one or doesn't expect one.] [Also: Calypso ape.]In fact, she's beginning to have some serious doubts about her faith - not to mention her career choice.

But when she is given a mysterious briefcase by a dying Israel [Israeli] general while on assignment in the Middle East, Christine begins to suspect that she is being manipulated by supernatural forces beyond her understanding. [I don't recall ever being handed a briefcase, mysterious or not, but I don't see how this would lead me to conclude I was being manipulated by supernatural forces beyond my understanding. Are you sure you didn't leave out a step?] Embarking on a journey to find the answers to her questions, [The only question I have is What's in the briefcase? Which shouldn't require a journey to answer.] she encounters a rogue angel named Mercury who informs her that the Apocalypse is near. Mercury is supposed to be helping out with the Apocalypse, but he feels that he has better things to do - like making Rice Krispy treats and playing ping-pong. [This has morphed from thriller to fantasy to farce and it's not even half over.] Fleeing divine retribution in the wake of a card trick gone horribly wrong, [I'd leave the card trick out unless you want to explain what you're talking about.] she [Christine] and Mercury happen upon an attempt to assassinate Karl Grissom, a thirty-seven year old film school dropout who has had the ill fortune to be designated as the Antichrist.

Christine and Mercury foil the assassination attempt, thereby becoming embroiled in the inscrutable politics of Armageddon. Both angels and demons, it seems, have plans for the End of the World, but neither group is much concerned with the people who actually live there. Nor is "Apocalyptic" Harold Giddings, a fundamentalist leader [Is that what he goes by? Apocalyptic? Like "Buffalo" Bill Cody or "Blackjack" John Pershing? "Apocalyptic" Harold Giddings? It just doesn't have that ring, that panache.] who is convinced that it is his destiny to publicly denounce Karl, thereby setting the Apocalypse in motion. To save the world, Christine must outsmart Harold, ["Apocalyptic" Harold] negotiate the byzantine bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell and convince the apathetic Mercury to take a stand, all the while putting up with the fantastically irritating Antichrist. [I don't mind having the Antichrist around, but I wish he'd quit chewing his ice and laughing like a braying donkey. Christ, he's annoying.] Can she do it? Just as importantly, should she? And why can't she stop thinking about her linoleum? [I'm wondering why you seem so obsessed with her linoleum.]

Mercury Falls is my first novel. It is a light-hearted, fast-paced story peppered with references to everything from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Occam's Razor. It will appeal primarily to college-educated readers in their 30s and 40s who will appreciate the pop culture references [Creedence Clearwater Revival disbanded before anyone now in their 30's and 40's had reached high school. True, their music is still popular, but why single out those in their 30's and 40's when it's those in their 50's and 60's who lived through the CCR heyday?] as well as semi-serious discussions on topics like free will, fundamentalism and global politics. [Anyone who's considering reading this manuscript at this point does not want to know there are serious aspects. What I'm saying is, if they start putting broccoli puree in ice cream, they aren't gonna proclaim it on the front of the carton.] If sufficiently pressured, I would describe it as a cross between Douglas Adams and C.S. Lewis. [Hey, you'll get no pressure from me.]

I am ______________, AKA ______________. [Assuming you're planning to sign your letter, no need to identify yourself in the body.] Most of my writing lives on my website, _______________. _____________gets over 15,000 page views per month and was a finalist for Best Humor Blog in the 2008 Weblog Awards (I was crushed in the final voting by some guy who makes fun of comic strips). [I love that guy!] [But if it wasn't Evil Editor who crushed you, the awards are bogus.] I have a sizeable following of die-hard fans who are patiently waiting for this damn novel to get published so they can buy it already. [Take my word, 95% of them will patiently wait for the book to be made into a movie and will then patiently wait for it to be on network TV. The other 5% are your immediate family and a couple guys who sit in their parents' basement playing World of Warcraft all day.] I also run ______________, the most popular directory of humor blogs on the web. In my free time I am a web developer for _____________, currently working on a long-term project at Google.


Blogs are good to have if you're an author, but not good places to send editors. The one day they visit your blog will be the one day you're ranting about how crappy your server is and how you're moving to another one, so you'll be down a few days. Or it'll be the day you posted an offensive photo or spelled a lot of words wrong. And then there's the fact that if the ability to maintain a blog is evidence you can write a novel, there are about a half-billion novelists in the world.

What's in the briefcase?

Mercury Falling is a better title.

Why would an angel want to foil an attempt to assassinate the Antichrist?

Even without the blue words it's too long. Maybe you should start with Christine encountering Mercury. Everything up to then was pretty vague.


BuffySquirrel said...

If they want to save the world, surely they should facilitate the assassination, not foil it. At that point I really really wanted to know WHY? Why why why????

150 said...

I'd keep the blog stuff, actually; it does more to convince me of the book's quality than anything in the description. Just don't overdo it. A simple line, "I write ___, which gets over 15,000 page views per month and was a finalist for Best Humor Blog in the 2008 Weblog Awards" should establish some humor writing cred. The rest of your bio doesn't add to that.

(I voted for the comics guy. Sorry!)

Anonymous said...

Never heard of this blog award and was not impressed. Sounds too much like winning the geek club's beauty contest.

BuffySquirrel said...

Or sniping anonymously on other people's blogs, perhaps?

Megoblocks said...

This query was all over the place and left way too many questions open to make me think the book as a whole is funny.

Some nits:

- Why is a Judeo-Christian angel named after a Roman god?
- Why are the "good guys" trying to stop the apocalypse? Why are they even apathetic? It's not a "bad" thing, unless you are one of the "bad guys" as it marks the second coming of Christ in Christian lit. and is exactly what all the "good guys" are looking forward to.
- In line with the previous, if Christine really wanted to save the world, she wouldn't be trying to outsmart some random guy, she'd just be ecstatic that God is finally coming back to mop up and get rid of Evil(TM)

The broccoli in ice cream was great though :)

Moth said...

I just kept thinking: "Pratchett and Gaiman already did this, and they did it better."

Then I thought: "For someone so obsessed with humor blogs this query isn't very funny."

And maybe I missed it, but did we get a genre and word count somewhere in here? Because agents will care more about those things than that you believe: "It will appeal primarily to college-educated readers in their 30s and 40s", which is making a rather offensive assumption that people who don't have a diploma won't get your jokes and don't care about "semi-serious discussions on topics like free will, fundamentalism and global politics."

I agree with 150 about the blog ref. I think it's good to have in there but you shouldn't go into so much detail.

Anonymous said...

Judeo-Christian angel named after a Roman god.

I find this funny- not the query, just this.

Dave F. said...

Eschatology and End Times, two subjects I discuss daily (eye roll, please)...
Meteor strike! It's going to happen in 2012. I read about it in Motor Trend Magazine. It's got a great blog on religious matters ;)

But to be serious, this reads more like a short synopsis than a query letter. That isn't good if you intended to write a query letter. I like humor and comedy. I'd definitely read this as a book.

When Christine, a reporter doing research on end times, meets Mercury, a fallen angel, and when they accidentally save the Antichrist, they set out to stop the upcoming apocalypse. Together they begin to manipulate the Divine and Infernal bureaucrats to stop the end of the world. Can Christine save the world? Can a Fallen Angel redeem himself? Will heaven and hell be satisfied with the status quo? Or are we all doomed/damned?

I would only mention those two characters and their situations. Those are my thoughts this morning.

... and I didn't even rant...

December/Stacia said...

Yes, being a 35-year-old woman who only has a GED and did not go on to college, I am obviously not smart enough to understand pop culture references. Seeing as how pop culture is apparently only taught in college now and is not by definition accessible to anyone of any age. And seeing as how people who read books never, um, know or learn things regardless of their level of formal education. I know what Occam's Razor is, frex; perhaps some of that college learning stuff slipped in without my noticing? Oh, dear, I'd hate to overstep myself.

Sorry, but that really rubbed me the wrong way. College educated does not automatically mean smart or knowledgeable any more than "high school dropout" or "GED" or "community college" automatically means stupid, and has absolutely nothing to do with pop culture.

It's a moot point anyway. The entire paragraph about who your novel would appeal to and what sorts of pop-culture references it contains or your college-level genius in referencing Occam's Razor doesn't belong in your query. The agent knows what the market is better than you do, I promise.

Snark aside (and forgive me for it, but you sounded like someone who would enjoy it or I wouldn't have worded it the way I did), I think this sounds like fun.

I enjoy funny end-of-the-world stories (loved Good Omens). I get a kick out of the idea of an angel who is so busy sampling the world's pleasures that he forgets he's supposed to be saving it (or ending it, whichever is the case; the fact that I'm not sure is a weakness in the query). I LOVE the Antichrist as an irritating film school dropout and think that sounds like a major hoot.

But none of that is really coming through in the query, not the way it should. The query gives the impression that the whole novel will be nothing but self-referential gags strung together.

The query letter formula has been posted here often. It's really best to absorb it and follow it. I think if you did you'd have a winner.

Good luck!

Evil Editor said...

The problem with proclaiming 15,000page views on your blog in a month is that if the average visitor goes to five pages and visits twice a day, that's only 50 visitors a day, and probably the same 50 every day.

As for the award, you're basically saying, "Publish my novel because my blog was crushed in the humor blog category of a web award by some guy who makes fun of comic strips." I'd rather hear more about the book you're peddling.

I react to a blog as a credit the way I react to finding someone's plot is based on his role-playing game experiences.

Jennifer said...

EE, then maybe you can help me out here..I am about to submit a literary short story with a protagonist who is South Asian. The short story includes cultural references. I know about these because for almost a decade I have been married to a man of South Asian descent. I blog about related issues. With a name like Jennifer I feel the need to show that I actually do know this culture. Is it better to say I am married to a South Asian American, to reference the blog, or to say nothing and let the story stand on its own merit?


Evil Editor said...

In a query for a novel it wouldn't hurt to mention your husband, but a short story doesn't need more than a brief cover letter saying Please consider the enclosed etc.

Also, change your name to Leelavathi.

Hebe said...

Identity change note -- RW Glover will now be posting as HEBE, just cause it's easier.

The notes were hilarious! The pacing of the anagram comments was perfect and the broccoli reference a queasy visceral slap. I am learning a lot from reading the notes.

Other wise, ditto all the other comments, especially Buffy's: "Why, why, why".

I'm guessing the author will think that the linoleum question and briefcase mystery will cause the editor to long for a taste of the first few pages of the novel. Without the notes to keep my interest I would have gotten bored quickly, waiting for the punch-line.

The concept is great. I'd like to try the book but I suspect if the writing is similar to the query's style it might be all a big semi-funny tease.

Heck, Maybe I'd buy the book just for the linoleum comment, I think about my linoleum a lot, (carpet linoleum from the 30's), if something happened to it I'll be on E-bay for months looking for a replacement. But then I am not normal. Too really peak someone's interest a mystery has to start with something more mainstream like -- lost socks turn up as the Pope's hand warmers, or outrageous like, Popes lost toenail clippings heal the bunions of the world.

BTW It's out there -- broccoli desert

Dave F. said...

When I submit a short story by email, I keep the magazine's submission page open to make sure I fulfill their requirements and I keep checking it. It's a short business letter. They all want some variation of the following information.

Dear Editor at {magazine name}, {their email}
Attached for your consideration is my short story {TITLE} about {a one sentence summary of the story}.
My bio is: {insert one/two sentences}.
I have published in {journal or magazine names and URLS}
{Anything else - one sentence}
{My real name} writing as {pseudonym, if you use one}
My Address
My Email

Word Count:

{Either the Text of Story with centered titled in whatever format they want,
Or the Title with the attached file name in whatever format they want}


Jennifer said...

Thanks EE. (New to do list: draft petition to change name. You know, right after I make the chana masala.)

Thanks, Dave. Just wondering how to get my culture cred in there, but it sounds like with short fiction I may not need to.

Dave F. said...

Most short stories have to speak for themselves. It doesn't take an editor much time to read 500 words of a 500 to 5000 word story, or even 10,000 words. That's a big chunk of the story and the editors know real fast if they can use the story.

Don't get discouraged if you get a rejection.

chelsea said...

And now! A few notes in random order:

If I don't get more info on the linoleum, I'm going to keep wondering why it's in the query at all.

I think it might be more effective to leave the briefcase thing out, because Christine seems to stumble upon Mercury by accident. Thus, if the query can't show the big link between the briefcase and finding Mercury, I think you can jump right from Christine doubting her faith to Christine finding Mercury.

I felt like Harold showed up way too late, almost as an afterthought, which complicated things more than cleared them up.

Am I the only one unclear as to how someone can be designated the Antichrist? I thought Lucifer designated himself when he waged a war on heaven.

I know it's been mentioned but I've got to get in one more stab. What in the word does listening to Credence have to do with going to college? I mean, seriously! All your "this will appeal to Credence-listening graduates" line did was narrow down your readership to a ridiculously small margin. Here's an experiment. Find out what percentage of 30-40 year old Americans DIDN'T graduate college. According to your own assessment, those are millions of people who won't buy your book. Now do the same thing with the number of people who haven't bought a Credence album in their lives. Add those millions to the number of people who won't by the book. See what I'm getting at? Your assessment tells an agent much more about who won't buy your book than who will.

The "I didn't win this blog award" line has a similar effect.

But here is where I really blow your mind. I did go to college. I'm not in my 30s or 40s. I don't really listen to Credence, though I don't cringe when it comes on. And I do think the book sounds like it could be good. Ha!

Khazar said...

Frankly, to me this sounded like the kind of thing the bore at the dinner party tells you about regardless of your obvious disinterest. To make you listen he throws more and more nonsense into it, hoping some of it will stick.

And then the whole "This will appeal to" list finished me. Why not just say, "I like it and my friends do too and we're all so sophisticated that we know what's good"?

Megoblocks said...

"Am I the only one unclear as to how someone can be designated the Antichrist? I thought Lucifer designated himself when he waged a war on heaven."

Technically, the antichrist is just one that denies Christ. The only places where that exact term (antichristos) is found is in 1&2 John (4 times).

1 John 2:18,22 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come...Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-- he denies the Father and the Son."

1 John 4:3 and 2 J. 1:7 say about the same thing.

People often erroneously equate "the antichrist" with Satan, the beast, or the dragon (the latter two being in Revelation).

Just some FYI :)

Phoenix said...

A Fantasy label, EE? Are ya sure? I would just have called this Mainstream or Commercial. It's got Paranormal elements, maybe, but not in the strict sense. I would bet an agent who doesn't handle Fantasy would handle this type of work, so I would very much hesitate to label it Fantasy.

Comedy -- or Humor -- is s-o-o-o very tricky, Author. I'll assume you know that. So when I see a cp to Doug Adams (who I love, love, love), I'm gonna expect the same level of sharp yet understated humor that is his trademark. I'm afraid, however, that this query for me reads pretty tepid humor-wise. The story seems to have good bones, but the way you're pitching it doesn't convince me that you know how to handle the subtle word crafting needed to make this a fun-filled read.

Try abbreviating and coming up with a few more specifics (rather than vague phrases like "fantastically irritating"). And, you know, be funny. Not that this is funny, but you can make it that way:

It's the end of the world -- again -- and this time Christine Temetri is paying attention.

Dire predictions? Yawn. Imminent Apocalypse? Please. And, hey, back away from the sandwich signs. Years of covering the antics of End Times cults for "The Cross Word," a religious news magazine, has left Christine not only jaded but seriously questioning her career choice.

That is until she meets Mercury, an anti-establishment angel who's frittering his time whipping up batches of Rice Krispy Treats and challenging Middle Eastern dignitaries to ping-pong matches instead of doing his job: helping to orchestrate Armageddon. With the end near and angels and demons debating the finer political points of the Apocalypse, Christine and Mercury accidentally foil an attempt to assassinate one Karl Grissom, a thirty-seven-year-old film school dropout about to make his big break as the Antichrist.

Harold Giddings, fundamentalist leader and avid supporter of predestination, has heard The Call: Denounce Karl to the world and unleash the Apocalypse. But was it God or the devil who dialed his number? Christine's betting her soul that Harold got his phone wires crossed. Now, to save the world, she's got to outsmart Harold, negotiate the byzantine bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell, and convince the apathetic Mercury to take a stand, all while putting up with the philosophical bemoanings of a movie-cliché-spouting Antichrist.

MERCURY FALLING is an 80K-word reverently irreverent romp through politics, religion, and pop culture. Think Douglas Adams colliding head on with C.S. Lewis while Neil Gaiman zooms up in the ambulance to sort it all out.

My blog ___, gets over 15,000 page views per month, and was a finalist for Best Humor Blog in the 2008 Weblog Awards.

I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

BuffySquirrel said...

That John really was off in a world all his own.

Chris Eldin said...

Phoenix is back!!!
I better put my query in the queue.

Anonymous said...

OMG - Phoenix. That's excellent!

Diesel said...

Well, I might as well weigh in here.

That was my query. And I think most of your comments are dead-on. That said, I've sent a slightly abbreviated version of this query to 10 agents and have gotten 2 requests for sample chapters so far, so who knows?

BTW, if you want to get a sense for how hard it is to write a brief synopsis of a humorous fantasy/sci-fi novel, try summarizing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in a page. I guarantee it will sound retarded. Well, except for Phoenix's summary. That will sound awesome.

Generalizing, which is hard to avoid in a synopsis, is the enemy of humor. I can see that I need to do a better job of sorting out which details to include to convey the humor of the book. That, or just steal Phoenix's query. :)

Thanks for your critiques.

Megoblocks said...

"if you want to get a sense for how hard it is to write a brief synopsis of a humorous fantasy/sci-fi novel"

I can sympathize. I agonized for what felt like eternity trying to come up with a query & synop that was even remotely as funny as the mss :)

Xiexie said...

Good on you Phoenix

Robert said...

Hi, it's the author again, checking in 2 years later. I ended up self-publishing MERCURY FALLS and selling enough copies to interest AmazonEncore, which re-published it. They'll also be releasing the sequel, MERCURY RISES, this fall. Thanks to this book, I'm writing full-time these days.

Anyway, I wanted to say thanks to EE for providing this forum, and to Phoenix especially for helping me craft a great summary - even though I didn't end up needing a query letter, since the publisher came to me. :)