Monday, June 08, 2009

Face-Lift 641

Guess the Plot


1. To hear them tell it, the drinkers at Cara's Tavern were all big shots in their day, running banks and shady spying operations. But Cara knows they are what they always were: lushes. When these men and women organize to protest the city's new beer tax, hilarity ensues.

2. Four frat boys wander into a strange bar and challenge four other men to a drinking contest. After a while, it becomes clear that these men are satyrs. The frat boys win, but it turns out satyrs are sore losers. Can one semi-civilized small college survive the wrath of four drunken goat-men?

3. A group of eccentric alcoholics who meet at AA in an old church basement decide to form a rock & roll band called, ironically, The Drinkers . . . and to produce a rock opera that will raise enough money to replace the church roof.

4. In a world where vampires no longer drink human blood, there are exceptions: Drinkers! When Cyril learns that some Drinkers may be living in town, it's up to him to investigate, and to report his findings to the World Vampire Association.

5. Despite her years of apprenticeship, Natalie is denied entry to the all-powerful Tasters Guild for daring to point out that all red wine pretty much tastes the same. Natalie responds by organizing the town breweries and secretly replanting the vineyards with hops.

6. Pat O'Malley's bar has attracted its share of regulars over the centuries. The same regulars. Pat's bar is built over the Fountain of Youth, and when Pat decides to close up shop and retire, his immortal clientele take offense.

Original Version

Please find enclosed a synopsis and the first chapter of DRINKERS.

As far as Ethan and Forrest know, they are the only two vampires in the city, or maybe the world, if, indeed, they are actually vampires. [That could be said of anyone. For example: As far as Evil Editor knows, he is the only vampire in the city, or maybe the world, if, indeed, he is actually a vampire. What makes Ethan and Forrest think they might be vampires?] When they find a body with bite marks on the neck, it opens the door to discovering people like themselves—if [, indeed, they are actually vampires.] that’s what they choose.

Ethan and Forrest aren’t the only ones interested in the body. Cyril is the Director of the local group of vampires, who are part of the world vampire organization. [If that's the name of the organization, capitalize it. If it's not the name, use the name. Surely Cyril would know the name.] All vampires today hide their true natures, never become intimate with humans, and never drink human blood—all except Drinkers. [If the Drinkers ever want any decent PR, they can start by coming up with a better name than Drinkers. It sounds a bit silly. I mean, you don't see zombies calling themselves Eaters, do you? They go with Devourers. Much scarier.] [Maybe your Drinkers should be called Downers. Get it? It's a double meaning.] The body is evidence of Drinkers in the area, and as Director it falls to Cyril to report it and lead an investigation. Cyril has had his eye on Ethan for a while—Ethan might help him find the Drinkers, unless they both come under suspicion themselves.

DRINKERS is a vampire novel that reaches beyond vampires to [werewolves.] questions of morality, identity and belonging. It is literary and thought-provoking as well as tense and action-packed. [There's no evidence in the query that the book is any of these things. I'm not taking your word.] It is gritty, violent at times, and feels more like Chuck Palahniuk than Anne Rice. Though I had not read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns before writing Drinkers, I feel some similarities with how Miller twists a fantasy story into something deeper, maybe more cynical, and certainly more literary. [I think what you're trying to say is, My novel is literary fiction, like Batman.] I hope you enjoy it.



That final paragraph has to go. If you describe a plot that's thought-provoking, tense, action-packed, gritty, violent at times, Palahniukish, and that twists a fantasy story into something deeper, maybe more cynical, and certainly more literary, then you won't need to declare it in so many words. Also, I don't think the average person looking for a novel about the World Vampire Association is going to be swayed by knowing it's "literary."

Are people aware vampires exist? If so, why do Ethan and Forrest think they're possibly the only vampires in the world? If not, how do people explain bodies with their blood drained through bite marks on their necks?

Are the Drinkers a danger to Cyril and Ethan and Forrest? Investigating and reporting isn't as interesting as kill or be killed. What's at stake?


Anonymous said...

he's the director of an "organization" with only 2 members? or is it a vampire costume party club but these 2 guys are secretly real ones?

Steve said...

I must admit, I've got a few questions arising from this ...

How are Ethan and Forrest unsure whether or not they're really vampires? I'd have thought it'd be a fairly easy thing to check. (One look in the mirror should do it; if you can see your reflection, you're not a vampire.)

How is it that Ethan and Forrest don't know about other vampires, when there are so many of them about, they've got a world-wide vampire organization? (Does Cyril make, as it were, a living as a local Director of the organization? What's the salary like?)

(I'm not entirely taken with the idea of a vampire called Cyril, either, but maybe that's just me.)

If these vampires don't feed on human blood, what do they feed on? That's, traditionally, one of the defining characteristics of a vampire ...

I'm not saying the query needs to be cluttered with background detail - but these points made me go "Huh? What?", so maybe you could present the situation a bit more clearly ...

Joseph Lewis said...

I'm with EE in the comments, where is the action? Where is the literary moralizing? Is this supernatural fighting or gunbattles? Is this a treatise on the meaning of death and murder? And what happens when they find the evil Drinkers? Vampire war or moral debate?

writtenwyrdd said...

I had a lot of the same questions Steve had. I think that you need to clarify the conflict a little more as well. And your first paragraph isn't straightforward, saying one thing and then implying they might not want that thing. I think you'd do better to reduce it to this:

"As far as Ethan and Forrest know, they are the only two vampires in the city, or maybe the world. {But} When they find a body {drained of blood} [delete: with bite marks on the neck], [wordy, delete: it opens the door to discovering people like themselves.] they realize they are not alone."

When we get to the second paragraph, you focus on Cyril and tell us about Cyril's job to discover who are the dangerous Drinkers. This makes it seem like Cyril is the book's protagonist. If Cyril is the protag, you need to change the first paragraph to reflect that. If Ethan or Forrest is the protagonist, you need to change the second paragraph. And if you revise this to mention Ethan or Forrest at all, you should specifically tell us what the conflict is for them beyond getting Drinkers off their turf.

Do Ethan and Forrest want to remain off the vampire radar? Do they thus strike a deal to keep Cyril from reporting them? Or does Cyril suspect they are the Drinkers? (That would be the expected conflict for me. In real life, it frequently IS the obvious suspect that commits the crime, after all.)

This needs work as a query, but the book sounds interesting. Hope my thoughts are helpful!

And, as a side note, I think I wrote a guess the plot very similar to this.

Eric P. said...

Is this going to be a sequel to "Tinkers"? Please say it's so.

I'll write the third installment: "Stinkers." (When experiments with skunk DNA go awry, the city is overrun by undead mutants with smelly powers.)

Matthew said...

Maybe they drink pigs blood like on that Angel show. Or maybe the WVA has a deal worked out with a hospital and they buy donated blood.

Matthew said...

...and there's no word count.

batgirl said...

Maybe if you said more about the action of the story, the world-building questions wouldn't be so distracting?
Are you going for the modern bureaucracy and self-help culture cope with ancient evil schtick, like Scott Browne's "Breathers"? Might want to make that more evident in the query, if so.

By the way, Breathers is dark, funny, and very good - I recommend it.

Wes said...

It's a picky comment, I know, but standard business usage does not capitalize titles such as director.

Charlotte said...

Following up on Steve's comment--do Ethan and Forrest ever figure out if they are vampires or not??? Or does Cyril keep them in suspense? "Well, boys, you could be eligible to join the club, but..."

Anonymous said...

There's a glut of vampire novels out there and I think this query would be tossed by word #13 of the 2nd P. Why not make them shape-shifting automobiles caught bringing on the high-octane fuel at the Jackson-Barrett auction?

_*Rachel*_ said...

The first plot paragraph would be so much simpler as: When Ethan and Forrest find a body with bite marks on its neck, they realize they aren't the only vampires in existence.

A literary vampire novel? Sorry to burst your bubble, but that's funnier than the GTPs.

I'm not sure you need that last paragraph at all. Delete it and some of the more useless sentences and describe a little more plot.

Eric: I'll write the fourth book, Thinkers. A deadly plague is ravaging the world, and everbody who thinks, dies. Soon the only people left are a few celebrities and some high school freshmen.

Dominique said...

I think, as a general rule, one should resist the temptation to compare one's own writing to that of anyone famous. There's just too large a potential that the agent will disagree with your interpretation of the writer or decide that you don't measure up, neither of which helps your cause.

Robin S. said...

[Maybe your Drinkers should be called Downers. Get it? It's a double meaning.] What a scream. Ive been feeling guilty about commenting only on the funny stuff, remembering so well how it feels to be query-skewered alive.
But this one made me laugh out loud, so props, Sparky.

Also (and author, I do read literary fiction and I don't read vampire suff, unless you count Bram Stoker, and the fact that i had to read whatchacall - that endless foreplay come on, just screw and bite her already novel -, Twilight. That was it.

Anyway - that said, I like calling the guys The Drinkers, and I think I see where you're going with this - but do drop the last paragraph, please. I see what you're going for - at least I think I do. It's that the freaking query doesn't give anyone, oh, I don't know, let me think....oh yeah - any idea whether you can actually write a freaking novel. So I get the frustation, and I'm right there with you, BUT - I'm not a big fan of comparison to an established author.

Anyway, good luck with your novel.

Anonymous said...

A literary vampire novel? Sorry to burst your bubble, but that's funnier than the GTPs.


Robin S. said...

I agree. I don't see the funny there.

_*Rachel*_ said...

Dear Anon 8:10,

Ok, I admit that vampire stories can occasionally have literary merit. I'm thinking mostly of "The Finnegan" by Ray Bradbury, maybe Dracula by Bram Stoker (haven't read it), and just maybe a story I once read by Charles de Lint. On the other end is the, um, series I don't like to name. The connotation of a book about vampires tends to be entertaining fluff, not anything of serious literary merit.

Of course, you don't have to trust me on this; I tend to shy away from books with zombies, werewolves, and/or vampires. Though I have to admit that I loved Ursula le Guin's "The Wife's Story" and was quite tempted by Zombies and Pride and Prejudice.

Anyway, my point is that a "literary vampire novel" strikes me as an oxymoron, an oxymoron that could have been a GTP.

Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective.

BuffySquirrel said...

Uhh, Rachel, it's not a good idea to come onto a genre editor's blog, especially one that's avidly followed by genre writers and readers, and condescend to accept that *some* genre writing may have literary merit. Especially when it's writing you haven't actually read.

Now I pretty much doubt that you intended any offence, but please bear in mind that many people here do not accept that genre automatically equals fluff. Okay? :)

(after all, if genre is so devoid of literary merit, why do many 'literary' writers borrow its tropes and ideas?)

Chris Eldin said...

I was a bit bored with the blue text until I came to this part:
DRINKERS is a vampire novel that reaches beyond vampires to [werewolves.]
AHAHAHH! That was pretty funny.

Author, I agree with all of EE's comments (which should matter to you because his insights don't matter unless I'm around to validate them). I can't get past the name "Drinkers."

Robin S. said...

Hold on, buff.

Am I just about the only one who doesn't know/didn't know/used not to know that I was on a genre editor's blog?

OK, I get that mainly genre folk inhabit this space, and Sparky knows a lot about improving fantasy/spec/etc (I don't know exactly what the categories are, just go with it, dammit) queries, but still. I always thought a good editor was a good editor - and living in a genre-free zone.

ril said...

Heh, I bet they all put Literary Editor on their business cards...

BuffySquirrel said...


Umm, well, I think if you're a book editor you tend to specialise in certain areas, bit like agents do.

Guess we need Sparky to weigh in on this :D.

Evil Editor said...

Bookstores could shelve all books according to the authors' names, but since readers specialize in what they like to read, books are shelved to make it easier to find romances, westerns, mysteries, etc.
If a Nobel Prize-worthy author writes vampire novels, they may well be shelved with other vampire novels so that fans of vampires will see them and buy them.

Nobel laureates who are known for fantastical fiction:

Gabriel García Márquez
Jose Saramago (who we'll be reading in our book chat later this year).

The genre fiction article at wikipedia has some interesting information.

BuffySquirrel said...

My local library (before it disappeared to places not yet travelled) had all the fiction shelved alphabetically.

Have no idea how this impacted reading habits, tho!

Evil Editor said...

It's different when you're dealing with a library that has only twelve books.

Robin S. said...

You skirted that one well, Sparky.

Like I always say, you're damn good.

I remember reading the beginnings of your blog, back in the day when I was a newbie,going back to see the beginning and how this whole deal developed, and being happy to see your discussion of many classic novels in all genres- discussing beginnings.

I saw that genre writers inhabited the first comments, queries, etc.
But hey, there are a few genres I can't imagine being without - good mysteries, absolutely and always.

And I loved The Mists of Avalon - read it in the 80's; read old Bradbury, and J K Rowling now - even though these genres are not well represented on my shelves - they're damn good. And damn good is damn good. Like you. So that's why I didn't know you were a genre editor. I thought I was visiting simply an editor - who didn't mind messing with writers that, as a group, were trying to learn how to navigate around.

But I gotta tell ya, it sounds to me like I need to bribe Buffy.

BuffySquirrel said...

Bribe me? To do what? with what? What?!?!?!?

Evil Editor said...

Buffy probably made an assumption based on the story I wrote that appeared in GUD. You are correct that a good editor should be able to spot problems with any kind of writing. The advantage of specialization is that if you concentrate on one genre you're more likely to recognize ideas that have been done to death. If you've never read a mystery and find yourself editing one, you can make it sound more professional, but if the butler did it, and you think, "Wow, that's original," (and you mean it) maybe you weren't the best choice.

ril said...

Did the butler ever actually do it?

Evil Editor said...


Robin S. said...

I'm laughing at Buff! You cutie.
I was teasing (sorta kinda), Buff, that it was worth some more-than-decent money to be able to stop Googling. (But not really. I figure when and if Sparky decides to divulge, he'll do it.)

So, OK, sounds like you're an editor who specializes in something I don't write - but I've seen your editing, and like I said, you're damn good. So there you go.

Although I am feeling a little stupid for not thinking this through before it hit me in the face, via Buffy.

BuffySquirrel said...

Hmm, that and something (I thought you) said round about the time of the Old Beginnings.

Eh, I can eat crow if I hafta! :D

Robin S. said...

From someone's comment on 9/1/06 Old Beginnings Poll post:

Mocking the minions is, as everyone in Hollywood knows, one of the principal activities of evil overlords.

Also, I think it might be more interesting to see only first published works. The rules for those seem different than for authors with a record of success.

This sounds fun. And I agree - first-time authors seem to live by different rules.

BuffySquirrel said...

Definitely, Robin--first time authors have to prove themselves, and publishers will take less of a chance on them. Although there are always exceptions.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Is this supposed to be a synopsis (like it says in the first line)? I'm assuming you meant query. Or did you mean you were including the synopsis and the pages along with the query? Geez. I'm confused at the outset. Not hard for me in the morning.

Your query seems to rely more on tell than show since you spend a paragraph telling what your book is like instead of showing it in the body of the query. I'd be afraid that your book does the same thing.

The body of the query has some intriguing information. And it has some contradictions. If they're the only two vampires, why is there a world vampire association? And then there are Drinkers who they seem to know about, so why do they think they're the only two?

Confusing and more tell than show - not putting your best foot forward here. But I am intrigued and hope you post a revision.

freddie said...

Really have a hard time getting past the "Drinkers" title. It sounds like it should be a memoir of a lush's travels as s/he moves through the 12 steps in AA.

As an aside, plenty of genre books have the same underlying themes as their literary counterparts. Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes is as much about a father and son bridging their generational divide as it is about an evil carnival with a magic carousel.

A lot of genre writing is crap, but so is a lot of so-called literary fiction. I think a lot of this boils down to taste. But I'm with Robin: good is good.

freddie said...

Oh yeah - forgot to mention.

I'm totally open to bribery.

BuffySquirrel said...

I dunno; what's a problem in one genre might be the way it's done in another.

_*Rachel*_ said...

Hey, I LIKE genre fiction. I write mostly genre fiction, too--SFF. And of course genre fiction can have literary merit in writing quality and themes! All the better when it does. But it's still marketed as genre.

Most people wanting a vampire book aren't looking for class struggles, intergenerational relationships, etc. Most people looking for deep thought aren't looking for vampire books. The twain may meet, but I'm 99% sure this book will be shelved with and advertised as SFF, not literary fiction. I browse the shelves to find entertaining books, not to find life-changing books.

I consider this novel genre fiction, not literary; that's why I thought the phrase an oxymoron.

BuffySquirrel said...

Where a book is shelved has everything to do with marketing and nothing to do with literary merit.

Further, there's a difference between "literary fiction" as a category and "literary merit" as a quality. A very large difference.

_*Rachel*_ said...

"Literary" as a description of genre, not quality. This could go either way in quality, but I'd classify this as fantasy, not literary, in genre.

And if I'm being a nutcase, I'll shut up, listen, and learn.

BuffySquirrel said...

Nah, sqrls have "nutcase" reserved already :D.

Vampire novels can be litfic; it all depends where the publisher decides to categorise them. Frex, "The Time Traveller's Wife", while clearly borrowing SF tropes, was marketed as litfic.

Robin S. said...

freddie....are you saying you can be bribed?

_*Rachel*_ said...

Most vampire stuff I've seen around and on the blog, is basically fantasy. So when I read this author describing Drinkers as literary, it struck me as funny; I wouldn't describe this as literary fiction.

By the way, I'm thinking of literary fiction as stuff about personal and societal issues, a cross of what I've read in English class and the NaNoWriMo litfic forum description. On the whole, I don't think it usually has much supernatural (not talking about Christian litfic here), besides the odd ghost (ie, Hamlet's dad). The Joy Luck Club is litfic, I'd say, along with stuff by authors like Sherman Alexie or Harper Lee. Am I about right?

Good save on the nutcase bit. Thanks! Blessed are the peacemakers and all that.

Matthew said...

Litfic = tragedy
Genre = happy ending*

*If a genre novel becomes extremely famous it is deemed literary by later generations (for example: Pride and Prejudice)

freddie said...

freddie....are you saying you can be bribed?

Yes. I'd prefer it involve a hot, sexy actor and a large sum of money. Please see if you can arrange that. : )

Miss Mabel said...

Heh heh heh, I like Matthew's description. Pretty bang on the money. Dickens was *trash* in his day.

Rachel: I do think you're a tad off the mark here. I've read plenty of sci fi that was heavy-deep and beautifully written (Eg Left Hand of Darkness), and the only reason it's not shelved in the regular fiction section of the bookstore is because of how the publisher chose to market it, or sometimes how the bookstore chose to classify it. (I work in a bookstore.) Elizabeth George & PD James are 2 of the most successful mystery writers, and are also considered *literary.*

There are books in the regular fiction section that have supernatural or fantasy elements to them (Frankenstein is a perfect example); or mystery stories (Steig Larsson), or romances (Pride and Prejudice), etc. The whole classification thing is very arbitrary.

HOWEVER I agree that the query in question doesn't sound literary. First and foremost because I find the writing itself to be pretty weak.

(And I wouldn't recommend Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies... it's written at the level of a Young Adult Adapted Classics sort of book.)

BuffySquirrel said...

It's much more about marketing than it is about the writing or even what's written about.

Plenty of mainstream novels have fantastical elements; you can identify them by how vociferously their authors deny they're writing genre. viz Margaret Atwood

Robin S. said...

Well, what about that Sean Stewart guy? I'm thinking most about the first Book Chat novel we read -
Perfect Circle.

Since that's real world with fantastical elements (that are never fully explained as being true, or only in the protagonist's head, or both - and I like that ambiguity) - does he write fantasy, or a sub-genre - maybe magical realism?

Robin S. said...

Buff - I see what you mean about the importance of marketing - I really do - but I think writing well comes first, if a piece of fiction is gonna stand the test of time (and with our accelerated world clock - I mean by that, not be out of print in a New York minute).

BuffySquirrel said...

Robin, I really hate to say this, but writing well =/= literary merit.

Evil Editor said...

I'd call Perfect Circle literary fiction. Stewart has written science fiction, and I suspect they would shelve all his books together for easier findability rather than in different sections.

Most Kurt Vonnegut is science fiction, but usually all his books are together, in this case in the literature section.

BuffySquirrel said...

Robin, I really hate to say this, but writing well =/= literary merit.

Nor does literary merit = still in print in twenty years time.

Litfic sales are pitiful compared to genre. The books people read and remember are the ones with good stories, not elegant writing.

Robin S. said...

Buff - I think they need good stories AND elegant writing. What passes for literary fiction now, isn't what literary fiction was before. It used not to be all frou-frou and navel gazing - and to be honest, I don't really think of that stuff as literary. Crap is crap, in my opinion, no matter the posing and packaging. I believe there's a widespread misconception about what elements consitute a 'literary' novel now.

I thought of Stewart's novel as literary with magical elements, EE - but I figured you'd disagree and say it was fantasy. Seems like a unique blend to me - and part of what made it truly unique was the excellent prose. Is Perfect Circle, something you'd have taken on?

Vonnegut is in a class by himself. I like those guys. Like Heller is in a class by himself.
Heller would be turned dpwn flat now - for Catch 22. No one would read his 'query' - because his word count would be too long.

BuffySquirrel said...

Ah, I see my internet problems caused comment duplication(ish). Sorry about that!

PKD's mainstream novels are shelved in SFF in Waterstones, so, yeah.

(and, of course, now I'm having problems posting THIS comment)

Steve said...

My own experience - for whatever that's worth - suggests that "literary merit" and "popular appeal" are pretty much independent variables.

Shakespeare and Dickens both wrote stuff of undeniable high quality, and wrote it for an appreciative mass market audience.

It's easy enough to think of books which have acknowledged literary merit, but haven't been big sellers. (A personal favourite of mine is David Lindsay's "A Voyage to Arcturus", which sold all of 597 copies of its first edition ... but keeps coming back into print, because of its cult following.)

And it's easy enough to think of stuff which has popular appeal but no literary merit. I'll leave the filling in of names here as an exercise for the alert reader ...

And, per Sturgeon's Law, the vast bulk of writing out there has neither merit nor appeal. (If it's genre writing, it will eventually wash up in one of the charity shops near me, where I will find it, buy it in a fit of optimism, and take it home and read it. So I know what I'm talking about, here.)

There are people who will tell you that genre writing (any genre) can't, by definition, have literary merit, and any genre stuff that's actually any good has to be "promoted" to literary fiction. I happen to disagree, myself.

_*Rachel*_ said...

I need to go read Kurt Vonnegut's books now. If they're as good as "Harrison Bergeron," I'm hooked.

BuffySquirrel said...

Vonnegut is definitely worth reading.