Monday, March 02, 2009

Face-Lift 609


Guess the Plot

Surviving Eden

1. Life isn't easy when you're a snake in the grass. It gets worse when you piss God off by spoiling His creation, and you realize that you only have Hell to look forward to after . . . Surviving Eden.

2. On an alternate Earth, where the apple went untouched and mankind continued naked and unashamed, would-be fashionista Carlotta Jones yearns to design the perfect apron of fig-leaves.

3. In an unspoiled part of America, Sarah moves into the home of a mysterious spinster. But can her ambition to become a spinster herself survive when she meets hunky Tyler wandering in the forest?

4. They called it Eden: a mythical planet of beauty and fruitfulness, hidden in the far reaches of the galaxy. Jonah Starfarer found it at last--but no one had mentioned the sword-wielding angel who guarded it.

5. Everyone knows about Adam & Eve. But what about the poor animals? Lion Aslan must lead the animals from their world to the dangerous one of humans. But is there a snake in his path, too?

6. Eden seemed so fragile and delicate that Walter dedicated himself to protecting her. But after five years of her mood shifts and erratic behaviour, he was forced to acknowledge that he was barely . . . Surviving Eden.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Night falls when seventeen-year-old Sarah packs up her few possessions and flees her pioneer home and an arranged marriage. Fortune lands her a place in the home of a weaver and his mother-in-law [He lives with his mother-in-law? It must be annoying to a woman when she throws her husband out and he immediately moves in with her mother.] spinster willing to teach her their trades.

[Sarah: Is there much money in being a spinster?

Weaver's mother-in-law: "Spinsterhood ain't a lucrative trade, honey, but it beats living
for the rest of your life with some a-hole."]

[Okay, you probably meant the less common definition of "spinster," a woman who spins. I found it in the dictionary, and the only example of its use they could find was taken from Piers Plowman, written in the late 1300's. I suggest going with "spinning wheel tech" or "filament artisan."]
Soon she adapts to their quirky personalities, but several mysteries lurk at the edges of the pair's droll banter. In the midst of all this, [All what? All she's done so far is move into a weaver's house.] Sarah runs headfirst into Tyler, a secretive young man, one day while alone in the forest. [Or, more accurately, while not alone in the forest.]

Her journey eventually leads her back home [Has it been an eventful journey? We still don't know anything she's done except move into a weaver's house.] to confront the painful reality of her mother's death—and her negligent and abusive father. As she looks toward a new life with Tyler, [The secretive guy she ran into once? They're now a thing? Is she still seventeen? How old's Tyler? Does he live with his parents?] she must find the strength to forgive her father and, more importantly, herself.

Surviving Eden is an 80,000 word young adult novel that examines teen-parent relationships [The query starts as Sarah leaves home, and her mother dies while she's gone. You might want to add something about what was going on before the run-away if it's truly an examination of teen/parent relationships.] and one young woman's desire to become more than her circumstances dictate. [What does she want to become?] It is refreshingly divergent in a young adult market saturated with vampires and zombies. [You may assume your correspondent knows whether your plot is refreshingly divergent.]

I am an associate editor with Gibbs Smith, a national nonfiction publisher based in Utah. I previously worked as a copy editor and reporter for the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City.

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

Sincerely,


Notes

Why must she forgive her father for being negligent and abusive?

The most intriguing parts to me were the mysteries lurking within the weaver and spinster and Tyler's secretiveness, but nothing is made of either.

Perhaps it would be better to describe Tyler as hunky rather than secretive so we have a hint that he's a romantic interest. As it is, Sarah's looking ahead to a future with Tyler seems out of the blue. I assumed he was a vampire or zombie. Have you considered making him a vampire or zombie? It would be refreshingly divergent for a YA vampire story to be set in pioneer times.

Examining teen/parent relationships in pioneer days, when they were radically different from today, doesn't seem like a big selling point in a query. It's interesting, but unless you can convince us it's relevant to today's teens, I'd use that space to provide more of the story. What percentage of this book involves Sarah's parents?

Does Sarah go from home to weaver and then from weaver to home? If there's more to her journey, let's hear about some of it. How long is she away from home?

24 comments:

150 said...

Hah! I'll just take more zombies, thanks.

Possibly I'm alone on this, but I find it hard to get riled up over arranged marriages in a cultural context where they're appropriate. It would help to tell us just what kind of gross or stupid or evil person she's running away from. Unless it turns out to be Tyler, as I suspect, in which case she just sounds reactionary. I mean, she flees into the wilderness at night? How much worse could her future husband be?

I also need to point out that "Tyler" wasn't much of a first name back then. http://www.babynameshub.com/baby-names-boys/Tyler.html Obviously it could happen if he was given his mother's maiden name or something, but it's enough to make me question the historicity of the whole thing. (Maybe try "Taylor", which at least has Barnum as a historical anchor?) If Tyler is his last name, you might want to say so.

Details will help. Right now I can't get invested in, say, the weavers' mysteries, because there isn't any indication of what they are.

Your creds are pretty sweet. I hope you have a sample in the pipeline for a New Beginning.

Good luck!

Joanna said...

I think an examination of teen-parent relationships in a very different time could help provide some perspective on teen-parent relationships in this culture. I like the focus on Sarah's growing up rather than on a series of drastic events. I suspect that this is a book I'd like to read. More specific information about Tyler and about the mysteries of the spinsters' house would make that clearer.
The first sentence sounds odd as it's currently phrased. Perhaps "At nightfall.." would work better? And what does Sarah want that's 'more than her circumstances dictate", besides not to be abused?

V. Dunn said...

Personally, I think almost all stories would be improved by the addition of zombies.

But since this seems to be more of a "Sarah Plain and Tall" type story than "Night of the Undead Pioneers", I don't see the purpose to bringing up vampires/zombies at all.

It's a bad idea to try to build your genre up by putting other genres down.

blogless troll said...

I suggest going with "spinning wheel tech" or "filament artisan."]

I've always wanted to be Vice President of Twine.

chelsea said...

I think there is an interesting story in here, but I can't quite find it. Consider hinting at things less and spelling them out more. I would love to hear more about the weaver and mother-in-law, and Tyler's secrets.

I think there are a lot of times when the wilderness would be preferable to an arranged marriage. Even if the husband isn't beating or raping his arranged wife, she'll still be a seventeen-year-old married to and sleeping with a stranger who is likely twice her age. And whether or not society thinks that's cool, it probably still sucks.

I'll take my chances with the bears. And, depending on the forest, vampires. ;)

talpianna said...

The -ster(e) is the feminine version of -er in the dialect in which Piers Ploughman is written; cf. bakestere (Baxter)/baker, webster/ webber (weaver), huckster/hawker.

I do have a couple of really good books set on an alternate American frontier in the early 1800s, with magic and no American revolution. There is a lot of interesting stuff about crafts and herblore, and the hunt for a werewolf. Wish I could find them. The heroine, who has a lot of magic, is studying with her white witch/midwife aunt. Eventually she winds up taking lessons in magic from Death himself.

BuffySquirrel said...

Quite right, 150. Save your sympathy for women forced into marriages by people who know it's wrong.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I assumed he was a vampire or zombie. Have you considered making him a vampire or zombie? It would be refreshingly divergent for a YA vampire story to be set in pioneer times.

I nearly spit coffee all over my keyboard. Brilliant.

Michelle said...

Thanks for all your excellent suggestions. If you have a second, I've revised and added more details. Does this make you want to read more in comparison to the first?

At nightfall, seventeen-year-old Sarah packs up her few possessions and flees her pioneer home and an arranged marriage to a cruel farmer. After stowing away in the back of a wagon to escape her abusive father, Sarah convinces a weaver and his mother-in-law spinster to teach her their trades.

Soon she adapts to their quirky personalities, but several mysteries lurk at the edges of the pair’s droll banter: what happened to the weaver’s wife and child, and what does he hide in the cottage on the property?

Sarah, dispirited after a long winter surrounded by secrecy, decides to find the one thing the weaver doesn’t have and which could buy her way into his confidence: a rare blue dye. Her search takes her alone to the forest one day where she runs headfirst into the handsome Tyler, a man with secrets of his own. His quest for a lost colt draws them together while adding to the deepening mystery.

A year after leaving her childhood home, Sarah decides she must return to confront the painful reality of her mother’s death—and her negligent father. As she looks toward a new life with Tyler, she finds the strength to forgive her father and, more importantly, herself.

Surviving Eden is an 80,000 word historical young adult novel.

Dave F. said...

Regarding the rewrite:
In the first paragraph, "flees her pioneer home and an arranged marriage to a cruel farmer."
and "escape her abusive father,"
says almost the same thing.
How about starting with "Fleeing an arranged marriage and an abusive and neglectful father, Sarah packs up her few possessions and flees her pioneer home."

In the second paragraph, you first say "several mysteries" and then name them: the missing wife and child and the cabin. Drop the ambiguous "several mysteries" for the more specific details. I'm not sure what to say about "droll banter." That their conversations are characterized by droll banter is a good detail but the words don't match quirky. Perhaps that's just me. "The couple's acceptance of Sarah is countered {clouded?, betrayed?} by their droll and witty conversations that only serve to hide the family's secrets..."

I'm not sure what to say about the third paragraph. Is Tyler's secret that he is searching for a lost pony? I don't know. Also, what role does he play in Sarah's return to her father after her mother's death? Or are they merely a chance meeting and few words?

No meeting in the story should be without consequence. And the best way I know to illustrate that is to say go read or see Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe" which is sort of about chance meetings, social chit chat, party games and getting-to-know-the-new-couple interactions. It's about party guests who wander into the host's lives never suspecting the truth but when all is said and done, leave transformed and sadly enlightened.

Finally, what does Sarah learn from her stay at the weavers and why does it enable her to return to forgive her father?

Phoenix said...

Hi Michelle:

Your revise is better, but it's really kind of all lead up and no punch.

In the first two sentences, Sarah is fleeing an arranged marriage AND escaping her abusive father. Sort of a bait-and-switch. Perhaps find another way to show that she's growing up with the threat (or reality) of abuse shadowing her every move. Is the farmer cruel to her or to others? Does her father beat her or is he verbally abusive to her mother? You're giving us stereotypes rather than characters, I think.

The paragraph with the hint of mysteries is good.

The paragraph where she runs into Tyler? Not so good. The trick is choosing the right details, not just any details. The rare blue dye? Not a detail we need. Nor do we need to know that she's spent a long -- and presumably boring -- winter. And how long does Tyler's quest for a lost colt take? A day, a week, a month? And how do HIS secrets tie into the weaver's secrets since you allude to only one mystery?

Then you have her dead mother. Did she just die? Has she been dead awhile? Does Sarah suspect Daddy killed her mother or Mom suicided because Daddy abused Mom and Mom's only daughter and confidant ran away? How does Sarah FEEL about all this? How has she felt for the past year? And how is her abusive father "negligent"? Did his negligence kill his wife? What gives her the strength to forgive Daddy? Why does she even need to forgive herself? And why set us up with all that mystery business with no pay off?

Of course, you don't have to give it all away in a query. But there really should be a logical progression throughout the letter, and everything should tie together. Just as it should in the story. If you aren't going to tie it up somehow -- in this case, the query makes it seem Sarah never discovers what any of the mysteries are -- then better not to even bring it up.

And EE, Sarah from Hawthorne took the words right out of my keyboard. Brilliant, indeed!

Masha said...

The revised version is better.

I'm not sure the fourth paragraph is necessary. The previous two paragraphs go on about mysteries, and suddenly you're mentioning forgiveness? It may work well in the book, but in the query it feels like the book suddenly takes a U-turn. It makes me wonder if the mysteries will be solved, or if you're going to ignore them and leave the reader wondering what exactly happened to the missing wife and child.

The other thing that you might want to consider looking into (and I would guess in your book as well) is word choice. Spinster might be how the m-i-l would be referred to at that time, but for the query, spinner probably works better. Also, there is a very big difference between abuse and negligence.

V. Dunn said...

I think the rewrite is better, but I still have a few quibbles...

"...Sarah convinces a weaver and his mother-in-law spinster to teach her their trades."

I would drop the word "spinster" out of this sentence. It's confusing on a quick read (which is all you get at first). Spinster works within the story itself, but to the modern eye it reads as a logical impossibility (ie. how can a spinster - a perpetually unmarried woman - have a son in law?). Besides, the fact that she spins doesn't come up in the summary later anyway.

"Sarah, dispirited after a long winter surrounded by secrecy, decides to find the one thing the weaver doesn’t have..."

He's missing MANY things - most notably a wife and a child - not just one. The blue dye will simply secure his confidence, not make his life complete. You can shorten this sentence to something like "Sarah, eager to win her way into the close-mouthed weaver's confidence, decides track down a rare blue dye.

You might also want to tell us what the connection is between the weaver's secrets and the blue dye, and Tyler and her father. Otherwise it almost sounds like she wanders off into the woods, meets Tyler and forgets all about the weaver and his mother-in-law.

You're getting there!

Rachel said...

From Wikipedia: A spinster (or old maid) is a woman or girl of marriageable age who has been unwilling or unable to marry and, therefore, has no children.

The other definition might be what you were going for, but it's rare, while this one is more well-known and what people will think of when they see the word. (I know I did.) So I suggest you change the name of the woman's occupation. Perhaps spinner? Or maybe she's a weaver too.

And also, about the name Tyler. It could work that it's his mother's maiden name--it's very plausible as there was a time in U.S. history where it was the custom to give the firstborn son the mother's maiden name as his first name. That's where a lot of the first names that used to be last names came from.

Anonymous said...

Can I suggest changing the weaver to a beaver?

freddie said...

Possibly I'm alone on this, but I find it hard to get riled up over arranged marriages in a cultural context where they're appropriate.

I'm wondering what cultural context could ever be appropriate for an arranged marriage. ???!!! WTF, 150?

150 said...

Buffy - Heh. Point taken.

Michelle - Yeah, I like the rewrite better. I think I'd say that she was looking for a dye ingredient rather than the dye itself. I'm not sure how the lost colt is supposed to play into the weaver mystery.

what happened to the weaver’s wife and child, and what does he hide in the cottage on the property?

Maybe I read too much Tales from the Crypt, but these sort of seem to answer each other.

Agree with others on "spinster."

Good luck!

150 said...

Freddie - Matchmaking. Since the new query makes this situation more clearly a forced marriage, I agree that escaping probably worth the risk of being eaten by bears.

V. Dunn said...

"I'm wondering what cultural context could ever be appropriate for an arranged marriage. ???!!! WTF, 150?"

Oh! *sticks hand up in the air* I know the answer to this one.

When you have a scattered population with families/tribes living in isolation from each other, you need some way to ensure your daughters and sons don't end up marrying each other.

Arranged marriages are a practical solution to the problem. Mom and/or dad thoughtfully head out and procure a husband and/or wife for their offspring. Given the scarcity of suitable matches out there, said offspring is pretty much stuck with whatever mom and dad bring home.

Anyway, true love and happiness isn't the point. Procreation and survival is what it's all about. And, of course, any reasonably loving parent will make an effort to pick a decent spouse (or at least someone who won't bring the drama).

*wanders off humming the opening theme to Fiddler on the Roof*

pulp said...

What causes Sarah to leave the forest and go home? What does this have to do with the rest of the plot and character arc? It looks abrupt in the query, almost as jarring as the old "and then she woke up and it was all a dream." Maybe your lit fic skills are so great that you bring this off in your book, but the query lacks a logical connection.

freddie said...

You'll pardon me if I don't exactly stand corrected after these explanations.

BuffySquirrel said...

Yes, we need to make a distinction between arranged and forced marriages. What we have here is clearly a forced marriage; arranged marriage can be acceptable if both parties have the right of refusal.

And, erm, a woman doesn't need to be married to have children. Just sayin'.

batgirl said...

I do kind of see what 150 is pointing out (sorry if this just annoys everyone again!). It's the possible importation of modern attitudes into past times. The 'spunky princess' who insists on wearing trousers, learning to swordfight, and marrying for love - even though everyone she's ever met or heard about wears dresses and marries for the good of the kingdom or the advancement of the family. Because modern readers couldn't possibly sympathise with someone who didn't share all their attitudes and assumptions, right?

That Sarah might dread marriage to an elderly, ugly, abusive, drunken or spendthrift spouse is perfectly reasonable for her and for the times. But if she flees an arranged marriage just because it's arranged, that pings on the historicity radar.

freddie said...

I'd go ahead and save time and space by saying in the first sentence she's fleeing both her abusive father and an arranged marriage:

At nightfall, seventeen-year-old Sarah packs up her few possessions and flees her pioneer home and an arranged marriage to a cruel farmer — not to mention her abusive father. After stowing away in the back of a wagon, Sarah convinces a weaver and his mother-in-law spinster to teach her their trades.