Thursday, March 19, 2009

Face-Lift 614


Guess the Plot

Stephy's Watch

1. Stephy built her babysitting empire with ruthless efficiency. Now she faces a challenge from a new transfer student who honed her skills on her ten younger siblings. When night terrors trouble Stephy's charges, she fears Marcy has called in otherworldly allies, but still she's determined that nothing will go wrong on . . . Stephy's Watch.

2. It looked like an ordinary wristwatch, except for the cracked glass and the hands stopped forever at 6:15, the hour Stephy's beloved grandfather had been murdered. But metaphorically it was the timepiece strapped to the dynamite that symbolized Stephy's explosive VENGEANCE!!

3. When Gramma gave Jillian her late Aunt Stephy's broken watch, Jillian wasn't thrilled. When she opened the watch, though, she accidentally freed the mischievous spirit trapped inside. At least summer vacation won't be boring! Also, a leprechaun.

4. Stephy finds a pocket watch in a secret compartment of her wardrobe, along with a note signed "Stephy." It's a sure sign there's going to be some time traveling going on--but will Stephy realize it in time to prevent the unraveling of the universe?

5. Stolen by shoplifters, and pitched out the window of a speeding car to evade arrest by pursuing officers, the Strangelove experimental atomic timepiece is chewed and swallowed by a horse named Stephy who begins to glow in the dark, thus attracting the attention of a saucerful of passing space aliens who mistake her for one of the long lost masters of the universe and attempt to negotiate a truce.

6. She saw her watch do the Salvador Dali liquify trick and pour itself off the table, but why? Was it a sign that Josh was spiking the drinks again? A message from her mother, the enchantress of Pinedale, to get her ass home, pronto? Either way, it was a mistake for Stephy to stay for another round of nachos and tequila. And now she's grounded for life.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my children's book. “Stephy's Watch” is complete at 33,000 words, and is aimed at 9-11 year-olds. [I'd make that one sentence, and no need to tell us it's a children's book if you're telling us the age range.]

After Stephy's dad walks out, her mum sends her to her Great Aunt's dilapidated country house.[Permanently or to visit?] At first, all Stephy wants is to go back home, but then strange things start to happen. She finds a pocket watch hidden in a secret compartment of her wardrobe with a note addressed from “Stephy”. Her bedroom is filled with old-fashioned toys that she's never seen before. Then she meets the strange boy in a sailor suit... [I'm more interested in what the note says than in this other stuff.]

She discovers that the watch is taking her back to the 1920's and that the boy is one of the children who used to live in the house in its glory days. She gets to know the family who live there, [When a being suddenly appears in your house, out of thin air, you have two choices: worship her or kill her.] and when she discovers that the boy's mother has also recently been left by her husband, she begins to question what it means to be a family, and whether her own mother had ever truly been family to her. [I would think she'd wonder these things when her father walked out and her mother dumped her off at the haunted house and told her to have a good life. What is it about the 1920s family that acts as a catalyst for her uncertainty?]

I have included the first three chapters of the manuscript, along with a synopsis and a stamped envelope for your reply. If you wish to email me, my address is _________. Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Sincerely,


Notes

What was the mother's explanation for sending Stephy away? There's a big difference between "I need a few weeks to pull myself together, and you don't want to be around me when I'm sobbing uncontrollably," and "You're responsible for my husband leaving; I can't stand the sight of you."

When someone discovers you in their house, and you claim to be from eighty years in the future, they have two choices: send you to a mental institution or kill you.

16 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

I like the idea of the protagonist wondering what family means. Lots of kids have to do that with the high divorce rates, although they wouldn't use those terms for it.

I think there are a lot of interesting elements, but this 'time travel to learn lessons' trope has been done a lot, so you need to show how this one is different.

EE's suggestion to give us what the mother's rationale works for me, too. I wanted to hear that the mom abandoned her daughter, not dropped her off. If that isn't so, we need to know why the protagonist is questioning family.

One other thing that you might want to tell is is what is at stake during this novel? Presumably something to do with the 1920s family, perhaps a hint that she'll decided to pick her family by staying in the past; or she recognizes her own situation in the 1920s family and can help them when she cannot help her own situation? Whatever it is, I think we need to know the motivation for the character.

batgirl said...

I would probably read this. It sounds like a grittier version of Edward Ormondroyd's classic Time at the Top. But as writtenwyrd points out, the key is the emotions.

bobbie wickham said...

Ok, she's only supposed to be at her great aunt's house for 2 weeks, but her mother keeps extending the visits as she meets new boyfriends, goes out clubbing etc.

So the abandonment only creeps in slowly - she's never been that close to her step-dad (it's a step-dad by the way, I wrote that wrong) and it's only when she sees how the mother at the house treats her children that she realises that her mum isn't really a mother to her at all, and thinks of Stephy as more of an inconvenience than a daughter.

As for the whole claiming to be from the future thing, the only people who know to start with are the watchmaker, the uncle of the shildren at the house, who recognised the watch immediately, and one of the children who has quite a cavalier attitude to anything not relating to food, so has no trouble believing her.

And what's at stake is complicated. There's no murders or collapses of the universe or anything like that. And I didn't want her to "fix everything" by preventing the dad from leaving because that implies that you need the typical family to be happy. It's just Stephy's place in the family. I guess its quite a gentle little story, but it's the sort of thing I'd have liked as a kid, and as that was only seven years ago, I can't imagine things have changed that much.

That's not to say there's not threat, there's a maid who threatens to unmask Stephy's identity, so eventually Stephy is forced to come clean (backed up by the watchmaker), and then the mother gets very ill and Stephy is able to help by getting hold of antibiotics from the future, but these things are episodes in the story, rather than the main plot.

Thanks EE and writtenwyrrd.

150 said...

Unmask Stephy's identity? You mean, tell her employers their new friend is from the 21st century? Hmm.

I think I'd have certainly picked this up in elementary school, but the query makes me leery that it might be all concept and no plot.

Not a fan of the name Stephy. :) IMHO, YMMV, etc.

Did you submit a new beginning for this?

Good luck!

wendy said...

You've got an interesting story going here. And I'm dying to know what's in the note (as said Evil with less exuberance).

In the query I think you need to focus more on the story and not so much the lesson you're trying to get across. I had that "kill me now feeling" when you began to explain yourself.

bobbie wickham said...

"Unmask Stephy's identity? You mean, tell her employers their new friend is from the 21st century?" No, sorry, I didn't explain that properly. Tell her employers about the way Stephy disappears and reappears, so Stephy is forced to explain what's going on.

"kill me now feeling" - ooerr, that's not good. Which part gave you that?

talpianna said...

I was reminded more of E. Nesbit's House of Arden/Harding's Luck (complete with Moldiwarp!!!), Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time, and of the Green Knowe series by L. M Boston. At least your plot is somewhat different, as the others mostly involve finding a lost treasure in order to save the house and family.

writtenwyrdd said...

It does sound like a sweet little coming of age story, actually. The things you tell us in the comment are great; now you just have to write the query letter to give an agent the urge to read this. I think you might start with the abandonment (in the query, that it's a slow development is insignificant) and say something about how she feels (abandoned? confused? lonely?) until she happens upon the mystery of hte watch and the ghost boy, then ends up going back in time. There, she finds a family that needs her, that gives her a purpose--whatever is appropriate. I think that angle might work for you. Play around with the stuff you gave us in the comment and use that, though. It makes the story sound really, really good, one I'd want to read.

bobbie wickham said...

Thank you, everyone. Your comments have been really useful. I'm writing another version of the cover letter, so I'll post that in (is it allowed to offer the Gloriously Munificent Editor more than one version of a query? or do i just post it here in the comments?)

Evil Editor said...

In the comments. If it's not there soon I'll alert the minions when it goes up.

Jamie Hall said...

You might mention that the supposed two weeks is becoming longer and longer - that not only clears up the biggest uncertainty in your query letter, it also adds an excellent source of tension.

bobbie wickham said...

Here's the revised version of the query letter. Thanks for taking a look at it, everyone.



I am seeking representation for my book, “Stephy's Watch”, complete at 30,000 words and aimed at 9-11 year-olds.

It is the coming of age story of a girl who's step-father has just left. Stephy's mother sends her to her great aunt's country house for two weeks while she gets her head together, but as those two weeks grow longer as her mother meets new boyfriends and goes clubbing, she feels more and more abandoned. However, she still continues to make excuses for her mother.

Then she discovers a silver pocket-watch, engraved to “Stephy”, which she discovers can take her back in time to the 1920's. She pretends to be from the 1920's, with the help of the watchmaker. The only person she tells is the little boy who lived there. As time goes on, she grows closer to the family of the little boy, and becomes torn between her affection for them and her loyalty to her disinterested mother. She begins to question what it means to be a family, and whether her mother was ever really family to her.

I have included the first three chapters of the manuscript, along with a synopsis and a stamped envelope for your reply. If you wish to email me, my address is _________. Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Dominique said...

I was with you up until the part where she questions the meaning of family and whether or not her mother has ever really been family to her. In my experience, most kids aren't doing that until at least their teens. And wouldn't a more common mental process after her dad taking off be some sense of guilt and self-doubt.

I might include some of the "episodes" in the query, even if they aren't the main plot, because that would give some more individual character to the query and fill it out a bit more.

batgirl said...

Here's some thoughts from another unpublished writer...

I am seeking representation for my book, “Stephy's Watch”, complete at 30,000 words and aimed at 9-11 year-olds.
It might be simpler to go the adjectival route and say 'I am seeking representation for my 30,000 word middle-grade novel, "Stephy's Watch".
It is the coming of age story of a girl who's whose step-father has just left. Stephy's mother sends her to her great aunt's country house for two weeks while she gets her head together, but as those two weeks grow longer as her mother meets new boyfriends and goes clubbing, she feels more and more abandoned. However, she still continues to make excuses for her mother.
you could tighten this and bring the emotion out a bit more by something like: 'When Stephy's (adjective? distant? beloved?) stepfather leaves (maybe something more striking, like abandons them?) her mother drops her off with her great-aunt. Just for two weeks, while she "gets her head together" (the quotes show this is Mom's idea, not Stephy's). But Mom's head won't stay in one piece, and with clubbing and new boyfriends, two weeks stretch to two months (or whatever span) and Stephy finds it harder and harder to make excuses for her, and to believe that she's ever coming back.'

Then she discovers a silver pocket-watch, engraved to “Stephy”, which she discovers can take her back in time to the 1920's. She pretends to be from the 1920's, with the help of the watchmaker. The only person she tells is the little boy who lived there. As time goes on, she grows closer to the family of the little boy, and becomes torn between her affection for them and her loyalty to her disinterested uninterested mother. She begins to question what it means to be a family, and whether her mother was ever really family to her. You have a nice irony set up here, which you could bring out: Stephy loses her trust in the future, and turns to the past, via a watch, the marker of passing time. Hmm. Maybe something like 'Lonely and bored, Stephy finds an old silver pocket-watch, with her own name engraved on it, and discovers that it can take her back in time to the 1920s, when a lively, loving family (maybe give them a name, here) inhabited the house. She is drawn into their lives and struggles, even sharing the secret of her watch with one of the children. Learning that they too have been abandoned by their father, she can't help but compare their mother's love and steadfastness with her own mother's immaturity (or other appropriate term). When Mrs (name) falls ill, Stephy must choose to fetch the present-day medicine that would save her, even if it means giving up all she's found in the past. (you say it's not that dramatic in the novel, but all synopsis is falsification to some extent)

Anyway, there's my take, for whatever amount of help it is - bearing in mind that I'm not much good with my own queries!

bobbie wickham said...

Thank you Batgirl!! That's amazing, thanks so much! I don't know why, but whenever I try to write queries they always sound so dead. But yours is just perfect. I hope you won't mind if I use parts (all?) of your suggestions?

I feel bad - I should be able to write my own queries, it really doesn't reflect well on my skill as a writer. I think it's something to do with having it in a business letter format. It makes you feel more distant from the story.

Thanks again, it's so great of you to help.

batgirl said...

It seems to be a law that it's much easier to write someone else's query or synopsis - I think it was talpianna who suggested on another thread that we should pool together and write each other's.
This is pay-it-forward, maybe, for the awesome job Phoenix did with mine. Feel free to use whatever is useful.