Friday, June 05, 2009

Face-Lift 640


Guess the Plot

Tinkers

1. Someone has been urinating in the chili served at the school cafeteria. It's a mystery, until ace detective Jake Bolshoi turns up a gang of kindergarten punks who call themselves . . . the Tinkers.

2. Bobby Simmons always wondered what crazy gadgets old man Tinkers invented in his basement. When a dare compels Bobby to break into the curmudgeon's house, he discovers . . . a meth lab!

3. The rant-radio hosts were right about a certain Teletubby warping the minds of preschoolers; they were just wrong about how. Tinky-Winky wasn't luring tots down the path to gaydom, he was hypnotizing a generation to serve as his army of global conquest. Can 15-year-old Connor break the mind-meld, swear off his handbag and save the world?

4. Despite his years of apprenticeship, young Marco is denied entry to the all powerful Steam Engineers Guild for daring to make changes on existing machines. Naturally, Marco responds by starting his own union. Steampunk hilarity ensues.

5. When Benjamin Hawthorne discovers people who call themselves Tinkers living in RVs behind his house, he investigates. But can he and his twin sister discover what the Tinkers' relationship is to Peter Pan before it's too late?

6. There's nothing the citizens of Spretzen can't take apart, reverse engineer and rebuild. When wealthy Hamilton Stone sets the town a challenge, providing them with CERN blueprints, an ICBM and twelve pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, they have to decide whether to suppress their natural inclinations or to create a machine that will destroy the planet.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Ben and his twin sister Emma move to the country and what they find in the woods will question everything they've ever known about their dead mother. ["Question" isn't the word you want. "Lead them to question" works, but it's wordy. Try "refute" or "nullify" or, for something stronger, "nuke."]

In my 55k word urban fantasy YA novel TINKERS, Thirteen-year-old Benjamin Hawthorne hears rumors at his new school about a group of people called Tinkers who live in RV’s in the woods behind his house. They’re thieves, drunks, uneducated, and haven’t taken a shower in weeks. [But they have hearts of gold.] When Ben actually meets a Tinker and he doesn’t fit this stereotype, [He's a smelly drunk thief, but he has a PhD from Harvard.] Ben sets out on a course to uncover the truth about the people in the woods: that they protect a secret race of faeries [Maybe it's the colon, but it sounds like he suspects this fairy tale, and just wants to gather evidence. He meets a guy who isn't a drunken thief, and starts an investigation? Why?] that may have been the inspiration for JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and that the Tinkers themselves may be closer to Ben than just a people living in the woods nearby.

I have recently completed an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. I have had a short story published in Lit by New Writing North in conjunction with Newcastle University. I have also had several works published in Blackberry Winter, an annual chapbook of Rochester College where I earned my BA in English and Professional Writing. This is my first novel.

I have been reading your blog for quite some time now, and thank you for all the advice and laughs you've given your readers so far. Please never stop giving us glimpses into your world. [Why, you ass-kissing, bootlicking, apple-polishing suck-up. If you think you can sweet talk me into publishing you . . . you're right! How's half a million sound? With any luck I'll find a book doctor who can do something with this crap, maybe turn it into a historical romance.]

Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. [Not necessary. I just spoke to a book doctor, and all we need is your title. We're gonna go with Guess the Plot #2.] Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work.

Regards,


Notes

What truth was Ben hoping to uncover when he started looking into the Tinkers? It seems like the fact that the Tinkers don't fit the stereotype is the truth, and he already uncovered it. Is he trying to uncover why smart upstanding clean citizens live in RVs in the woods behind his house? Tell us that so his investigating makes sense.

Less about you and more about the plot would be nice. For instance, you start by telling us there's a twin sister and a dead mum. Maybe you could mention them again. Does Emma do anything? What's the most important thing Ben believed about his mother that has been disproved? How was it disproved? Is the main story Ben finding out about his mother?

If I'm in a secret race of faeries in the woods and I want to keep it secret, the last thing I want is a bunch of RVs parked around my camp, drawing attention to me.

31 comments:

Whirlochre said...

It's a little thin on detail about the Tinkers (and, maybe, the plot), but what you have is intriguing and will stand fleshing out. Bio is fine, but you may wish to chop some of this.

My main concern is your mention of J.M. Barrie. Either the Tinkers are the inspiration for Peter Pan, and Barrie gets weaved into the plot somehow, or they aren't, in which case I'd drop all mention of Barrie.

Anonymous said...

I'm not understanding why the RVs instead of something more permanent, like the usual forest cottage. Did the faeries just move in? Are they nomadic?

Eric P. said...

Speaking of Barrie and Peter Pan, have you investigated the copyright issues surrounding the characters? Depending where the book is to be published, you may find yourself in a very sticky legal discussion if you don't get approval from the right people (such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital). There have been some knotty issues raised over other Peter Pan-derivative works, especially in the USA (you may be all right in the EU).

I guess I can get away with a Wikipedia link for more details: Link

Steve said...

Yes ... the premise seems intriguing enough, but there's not a lot of detail about what actually happens. Was the dead mum secretly a Tinker? Or even one of the faeries? Why is she dead? Is she dead? And why does it matter, and what happens because of it? And where does the twin sister fit in? And will my "?" key hold out to the end of this comment?

Matthew said...

Did Ben start investigating the fairies because the non-stereotypical Tinker told him about them? Is Ben eager to believe the Tinker's story because he is a fan of Peter Pan?

Anonymous said...

Yes, copyright issues will be problematic. I believe Peter Pan was granted an exceptional copyright in perpetuity. It all benefits that hospital.

_*Rachel*_ said...

EE, you were very funny today. Maybe this stuff is just funnier when I read it during my lunch break?

The structure of the first sentence (even if you change "question") feels weird, as does the long colon sentence. Rephrase them to sound better?

Tie the end in with the beginning; what happens when he finds the faeries?

I figured out why the bio bothers me: you begin the first three sentences with "I have."

batgirl said...

Fortunately the Irish Tinkers aren't as organised as the Roma (Gypsies), and not as well known, so you probably won't face a cultural appropriation flamewar.

Barrie's extensive stage directions specify that Tinker Bell is so named because she mends the pots and kettles, just like a Tinker. So her connection with Irish Tinkers is canon. Whether that would make the permissions easier is anyone's guess.

150 said...

Whoa! I didn't realize you meant the Irish travellers. The query gives the impression they're just some family or cult you made up.

If the existence of the Tinkers can be easily confirmed, wouldn't the "rumors" be "gossip"?

In this sentence:

They’re thieves, drunks, uneducated, and haven’t taken a shower in weeks.

there's something weird going on with the construction. Easiest fixes would probably be to make it two sentences or change the whole last bit to "filthy" or something.

kmari03 said...

The copyright in perpetuity is only in the United Kingdom. Peter Pan is already out of copyright in several parts of the EU. Also, the copyright only applies to the play (there is also a short story and two novels written by Barrie with the same characters.) The sticky issue is whether you could prove that your characters draw on one of the public domain works rather than the play. The play is copyrighted in the U.S. through 2020.

Steve said...

I think it might be premature to start worrying about copyright issues - for all we know, there's nothing in the story beyond "wow! These real live fairies may have been the inspiration for J. M. Barrie!", which isn't going to bring the wrath of lawyers down on anyone.

... well, as far as we know. But I still think we don't know nearly enough about the actual story. If it does feature recognizable Barrie characters, well, that's when we can start worrying about fair use versus derivative works, or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a deep legal quagmire! Too bad all those writing programs didn't teach you much about copyright law and the need to make sure you own the rights to your characters etc before you spend years writing. This is the kind of "fanfic" copyright violation teachers generally overlook in youth writing because nobody seriously thinks publication will ensue, but it doesn't work so well for grown-ups. It sounds like if this gets published using the Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, Barrie, Captain Hook names etc, you might have to keep it out of certain markets [the main ones] or else pay heavily for permissions or end up spending a fortune on attorney time to defend the royalties.

Maybe you can make some adjustments to clearly differentiate your characters etc from the whole Barrie thing and forget you ever heard of P. Pan or T. Bell?

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't agree that it's too early to look into copyright issues. It'll probably be something agents/publishers will want to know about, and if it's not addressed, they'll be inclined to reject.

Ruth said...

"question everything they've ever known"

This phrase always makes me wince. It's just so cliched....

Are any of your actual characters out of Peter Pan? You don't mention any PP characters in your query, so I assumed there weren't any. The above comments, however, seem to show I'm alone in that assumption. If you have actual characters from Peter Pan, though, it does sound like fanfic to me - and that's not gonna be easy to publish.

If you don't have any Peter Pan characters, maybe clarify that in your query (or take out all reference to Barrie/Peter Pan in both query and novel, if possible), so that a potential agent/editor won't automatically respond with "Eek! Copyright violation!" and reject.

Steve said...

I just think we're over-elaborating unnecessarily, based on the information we have. There's a passing mention of Barrie in the query, and we don't know there's anything more than a passing mention of him in the book.

Now, if the author comes back to us and tells us the dead mum's name is Wendy, or something like that, then, yes, Houston, we have a problem ...

BuffySquirrel said...

Maybe Anon should adopt the username Schadenfreude.

Cassandra said...

I feel rather ashamed to say that copyright issues never entered my mind. I do not use any of Barrie's characters specifically, but there is a faery character that is named Belle Tinker who, faeries living 150 years or more in my novel, met Barrie in London and he based Tinkerbell after her. This meeting is only told as a story, and the character of Tinkerbell nor Barrie are ever given any lines of their own. Belle Tinker, however, is a main character towards the end of the novel as she is the leader of the band of faeries protected by the Travellers/Tinkers.

I wasn't intending to use any of Barrie's characters so I did not think there would be an issue with copyrights. I can understand how my query may imply that these characters are included in my novel as some sort of fanfiction and I assure you it is not fanfiction at all. The connection between Barrie and the Tinkers is only a passing reference and not at all a big deal, I just thought that revealing this might make the book a bit more enticing to read, but I see now that I am mistaken and leaving the query intact would be a grave error on my part.

If anyone has interest, I have included a reworked query following this comment. Thank you all for your very helpful opinions! I've looked this query up and down and never caught the three 'I have's' in the bio paragraph!

Dear Agent,

In my urban fantasy YA novel TINKERS, complete at 55,000 words, thirteen-year-old Benjamin Hawthorne hears gossip at his new school about a group of people called Tinkers who live in RV’s in the woods behind his house. They’re Irish Travellers-- thieves, drunks, uneducated, generally very dirty. When Ben actually meets a Tinker and he doesn’t fit this stereotype, Ben and Emma set out on a course to uncover the truth behind the gossip: that they are not what people say they are but instead perpetuate these rumors themselves to protect a secret race of faeries. Ben and Emma discover that they are the lost descendants of the Tinkers as their recently deceased mother ran away to the city with their father at a young age. With the food supplies of the faeries quickly dwindling, Ben, Emma, and their new family must hurry to find enough food to save them from dying.

TINKERS is the story of two young siblings coming to terms with the death of their mother while discovering their family history. With hints from great aunt Annie, they will uncover a hidden race of faeries in great need. Fantasy fans will enjoy uncovering the secret world of the faeries and discovering the hidden people that they travel with. Authentic details about the Traveller people, their private languages, and way of life, give TINKERS a starkly real context, drawing the reader into Ben and Emma’s world and not letting go until the very end. While I am not of Traveller heritage myself, I have been researching their culture for several years.

I have recently completed an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England and have a short story that has been published in Lit by New Writing North in conjunction with Newcastle University. Also, several works have been published in Blackberry Winter, an annual chapbook of Rochester College where I earned my BA in English and Professional Writing. This is my first novel.

Upon your request, I am prepared to send the completed manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work.

Regards,

Evil Editor said...

This sentence:

Ben and Emma discover that they are the lost descendants of the Tinkers as their recently deceased mother ran away to the city with their father at a young age.

Isn't clearly stating what you mean, which I assume is:

Ben and Emma discover that their recently deceased mother was herself a Tinker, but ran away to the city with their father at a young age.

Based on what you've said, I see no problem with theorizing in your book that the race of faeries inspired Barrie to write Peter Pan. On the other hand, you might want to just call your character Belle instead of Belle Tinker, which sounds kind of silly anyway.

What do these faeries eat that is so scarce suddenly?

Ruth said...

In your revised query, you don't introduce who Emma is - you just bring her straight in.

If the main problem is finding food for these faeries, I'd take that out. It doesn't sound particularly interesting or exciting (to me), unless the food is so strange and unusual that just finding it will be an adventure - in which case you want to focus on that adventure. If it's just a "Damn, those faeries are low on bread, let's head down to the supermarket and get some more" then leave out the food part!

This query reads a little dryer to me than the original. More of a synopsis, less "voice".

I like the extra info about research into Traveller heritage, though - definitely adds an extra facet of interest. :)

Hope I was somewhat helpful here. Good luck!

Cassandra said...

EE, yes, that's exactly what I meant to say! Thank you! And yes, she is called Belle most often. In the novel, the faeries adopt Tinker as their last name, so only when they are called by their first and last names is the full name used (only two or three times).

Irish Travellers are a nomad society, never staying put in one place for too long. They have special "camps" throughout the US that serve as a sort of home base for special occasions (one of them being in the woods behind Ben's house). Because the Travellers are unable to roam the country for the time being, they are unable to follow thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are important because the "seed" of the lightning is supposed to be this rock-like material close to diamonds. Because it hasn't thundered and lightninged recently, these lightning stones have become scarce.

Gosh I hope that makes sense.

Matthew said...

Hi Cassandra, I thought the revision was better.

I would like a better sense of what the denouement will be. What do they have to do to save the starving faeries? Find them a new home where food is plentiful or something like that?

Your story is interesting so keep at it.

Phoenix said...

Hi Cassandra:

Looks like you revised a bit quickly. For instance, in the revision, you bring in Emma a little later but neglect to introduce her. And I'm still not sure what the plot is. Are there any antagonists or obstacles?

As EE asks, what's the deal with the food supply? That appears to come out of nowhere. And how often do faeries eat? I can give a starving person a plate of food and she may be good for another 3 days. But what happens after that? Are Ben and Emma obligated to continue finding food to feed them? From this query, it appears the climax is finding and delivering that metaphorical plate of food. Not overly interesting.

Your 2nd 'graph is all telling and suggesting how we'll feel about the story. I'm afraid that whole paragraph needs to be ditched. In its place, consider adding something about why the faeries are in such great need, how Ben and Emma deal with learning about their history and mom, and why they're involved with finding food for a race already being protected by a lot of adults.

And, from your 11:45 comment about the Tinkers not being able to follow thunderstorms -- it sounds like the reason WHY they aren't able to follow may be a very important plot point. Something to include in the query maybe? Otherwise, I'm not really getting a sense of "story" here. Are the Tinkers and faeries being hunted and persecuted? Afraid they'd be captured for experimentation? Enslaved? Overworked and underpaid if they were assimilated into human society?

You also have a lot of repetitive phrasing between Ps 1 and 2, and within P2 -- especially lots of uncovering and discovering as well as hidden races and hidden people.

Lastly, to be quite truthful, the mechanics in both queries are pretty weak. Since you take pains to point out your education in writing, the query really should -- how to put this delicately -- reflect that education. Otherwise, you might not want to flaunt that bit of information. It really draws more attention to the query's flaws.

Anonymous said...

I think a 13-year old MC is a bit young for YA.

Author said...

Dear AGENT,

I am seeking representation for my 50,000 word urban fantasy MG novel,
THE INSIDE OF TREES, wherein two kids happen upon a group of
Travellers living in the woods and guarding a secret: a Lilliputian
race of faeries that are dying and only the kids can help.

Thirteen-year-old Ben Hawthorne and his twin sister Emma grew up
listening to their mothers’ bedtime stories about faeries. After her
untimely death, their father inexplicably moves the family to a tiny house in the country in the shadow of a forest. There, they encounter the young and mysterious Jacob Rhodes who knows the stories Ben’s mom used to tell. Jacob and his family have another secret, too: they have guarded a small band of faeries for centuries, but since Jacob’s father has been imprisoned, the Travellers have trouble finding enough food (lightning stones) to sustain the faeries.

After Jacob’s father escapes from prison with the help of a rouge
faerie, Ben and Emma must cram a lifetime of Traveller instinct into
just a few short weeks if they are to gather enough lightning stones
and keep Jacob’s father from harming the Traveller family.
THE INSIDE OF TREES is a richly layered tale of traditions, betrayal, and adventure. Authentic details about the Traveller people, their private languages, and way of life, give THE INSIDE OF TREES a starkly real context.

I have recently completed an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle
University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England and have a short story that
has been published in Lit by New Writing North in conjunction with
Newcastle University. Also, several works have been published in
Blackberry Winter, an annual chapbook of Rochester College where I earned my BA in English and Professional Writing. This is my first novel.

I hope to hear from you at your convenience.

Regards,

Ruth said...

This is much better, methinks. A few thoughts:

- "wherein" sounds like you're trying to impress with big words. It's like using some stupid word like "methinks" in a comment. ;)

- "a Lilliputian race of faeries that are dying and only the kids can help." OK, the grammar's off here. Maybe change "and" to "who" (or "whom"? I never remember when to use who and when to use whom)

- "mothers'" should be "mother's", unless they have several mothers telling them stories.

- If the father's move is inexplicable, I hope there's some reason for it in the story. Maybe take out the "inexplicable" and say instead something like, "Their father, wanting only to be alone with his grief, moves the family..."

- I'd change "the young and mysterious Jacob Rhodes who knows the stories..." to "the young Jacob Rhodes, a Traveller who knows..." (I get sick of mysterious guys in every book, but that could just be me. I'd also introduce the fact that he's a Traveller earlier. You might want to outline what a Traveller is, or you might not.)

- a rouge faerie: Ooh, cool! I'd love to meet a rouge faerie. Do they do eye makeup and hair too, or... oh wait, you mean ROGUE. Do not rely on MS Word for your spell-check (or grammar-check, for that matter).

Other than that, I do think this is HEAPS better than your earlier queries. Just make sure your grammar and spelling's good, too.

And I for one much prefer the new title. :)

_*Rachel*_ said...

Dear AGENT,

I am seeking representation for my 50,000 word urban fantasy MG novel,
THE INSIDE OF TREES, wherein two kids happen upon a group of
Travellers [real or Fae? just wondering, though I'm betting on real] living in the woods and guarding a secret: a Lilliputian
race of faeries that are dying and only the kids can help[guarding a secret: an endangered species of faeries. That's all you need to say here].

Thirteen-year-old Ben Hawthorne and his twin sister Emma grew up
listening to their mothers’ bedtime stories about faeries. After her
untimely death, their father inexplicably moves the family to a tiny house in the country in the shadow of a forest. There, they encounter the young and mysterious Jacob Rhodes who knows the stories Ben’s mom used to tell. Jacob and his family have another secret, too: they have guarded a small band of faeries for centuries, but since Jacob’s father has been imprisoned, the Travellers have trouble finding enough food (lightning stones) to sustain the faeries. [This is confusing and you just said it all in the last paragraph. You only need one of them.]

After Jacob’s father escapes from prison with the help of a rouge [Is there a mascara faerie, too? Why was he in prison?]
faerie, Ben and Emma must cram a lifetime of Traveller instinct into
just a few short weeks if they are to gather enough lightning stones
and keep Jacob’s father from harming the Traveller family. [How can you cram on instinct? And gathering lightning stones sounds like a video game. So, he needs lightning stones to eat? Why is he going crazy?]
THE INSIDE OF TREES is a richly layered tale of traditions, betrayal, and adventure. Authentic details about the Traveller people, their private languages, and way of life, give THE INSIDE OF TREES a starkly real context. [You don't need this paragraph, unless you want to say you know all about the Travellers because you are one, or something similar. Don't bother saying what you've researched.]

I have recently completed an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle
University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England and have a short story that
has been published in Lit by New Writing North in conjunction with
Newcastle University. Also, several works have been published in
Blackberry Winter, an annual chapbook of Rochester College where I earned my BA in English and Professional Writing. This is my first novel. [I'm not sure how impressive college writing credits are. I'd like to know, though. Anyway, this paragraph could be more concise. Mostly I'd just change the 2nd to last sentence into active voice instead of passive and delete the first novel bit.]

I hope to hear from you at your convenience.

Regards,

Better, but it still leaves me with questions. I'll check back about the credits.

chelsea said...

Hi Author,

This version is much better. It gives a clear view of the plot and the stakes and doesn't leave me with too many unanswered questions.

However, I'm not sure you need to use the name "Travellers" in the query unless you have space (and cause) to explain what it means. I would also consider removing "Lilliputian".

This is a definite improvement.

Ruth said...

Oops, can I take back my comment about introducing the Travellers earlier? Apparently you did, and I just missed it. *blushes* Sorry!

I agree with most of Rachel's comments. I don't think the first two paragraphs repeat each other entirely, although maybe Paragraph Two could be a little more concise - but I interpreted the first paragraph as an overview of the story; and then the second paragraph onwards goes into more detail about the plot, which I think is fine. But try not to repeat too much of this information in the second paragraph, still.

@Rachel: The lightning stones are the faeries' food, not Jacob's dad's.

Re: "instinct" - maybe use "knowledge" or "experience" rather than instinct, perhaps.

Also, on first reading the revised query, I thought it was Ben's dad who'd been thrown in jail, not Jacob's - probably just because Jacob's dad hadn't been mentioned previous to that. My impression is that most agents read queries pretty quickly and may not go back to re-read and find that it's a different character's dad, so you might want to try to fix this. Or not. :)

_*Rachel*_ said...

The AP US History study book had a section on Teddy Roosevelt and the Rouge Riders. Quite hilarious, but rather distracting when the test is the next morning.

Cassandra said...

Rouge/Rogue, what a stupid mistake! I've poured over the query for hours and hours and never caught that. That's why you guys are a godsend!

Thank you for all the great comments! back to work for me to fix these last small issues.

I like the new title, too :) but of course, sometimes agents/publishers want to change the titles, too, so who knows what it will eventually be if I can get this published.

enya said...

Hmmmm. What did you pour over the query? Applesauce? Maple syrup? A bottle of gin?