Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Face-Lift 704


Guess the Plot

Sector C

1. In 2000 Ted blew his mind eating 'psychedelic' cookies and he has been drooling in Sector C of the hospital ever since. That's what his trust fund administrator says. But when terrorists release a photo of their captured 'spy' who looks and sounds just like Ted, his sister Sarah realizes he actually joined the CIA in 1999, like he said he would. So who is that guy in . . . Sector C???

2. Medical student Lou Nash takes the wrong elevator on his way to Histology and gets lost in Sector C: the cadaver room, where he runs into the beguiling Jane Doe. Not realizing she should be inertly dead, Lou takes Jane for coffee and thinks he's about to get lucky -- until she bites his earlobe off, and soon, yes, he's a zombie, too.

3. When rapper LaZBoi is found dead behind the stage of the Sector C club, Homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: LaZBoi wasn't scheduled to sing at a country bar, and his sister will kill him if he doesn't get Taylor Swift's autograph.

4. Wanna hunt some saber-toothed tigers or mammoths? Extremely wealthy? Head on over to Sector C, the highly lucrative animal cloning operation. Well, highly lucrative until an escaped animal starts a pandemic that wipes out millions of people. Can Sector C geneticists find a way to turn this disaster into profit?

5. The name, the shape, the obsession -- all that's missing is the pointy head in charge. Yes, again. "Trackless" Colonel Liamb has lost himself, sans-army, in enemy territory. His ID claims he's an itinerant entomologist. Too bad he's terrified of bug, insect, or sequin with legs glued on.

6. Forty years ago a space ship landed in Sector C and took away every cat on the planet. But now the cats are about to make a comeback, and there’s not enough Meow-Mix on earth to keep the naughty kitties from scratching their owners’s eyes out when they drop in for a little payback.


Original Version

Dear Mr. SparkEE:

Walt Thurman, Chairman of Triple E Enterprises, has always considered his business model and science sound: bring in the brightest offshore talent to clone rare and endangered animals, and let wealthy businessmen pay to shoot the excess in canned, stylized hunts. As special incentive, there’s the elite package in Sector C reserved for “Frequent Hunters” – exclusive specimens from the Pleistocene Ice Age. [Special! For every ten endangered animals killed, kill one extinct animal!]

The venture is a success, until animals and employees begin to show signs of neurologic dysfunction. Triple E has inadvertently uncovered proof that megabeasts like the mammoth and saber-tooth tiger succumbed not to overhunting as the popular theory goes, [My own theory is that it's impossible to get any food to your mouth when you have giant saber teeth and curvy tusks getting in the way.] but to a type of genetic prion disorder that causes a transmissible, incurable – always fatal – neural disease. And history is about to repeat itself. [The ultimate indignity: going extinct twice.]

One escapee from the North Dakota compound is all it takes to start a pandemic that infects the milk, muscle, and brains of every mammal that comes in contact with the mutant prion. [In layman's terms, transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.] As children and adults across the U.S. weaken and die, as millions of animals are slaughtered [by wealthy businessmen], and the global economy tanks, CDC investigator, Mike Shafer, teams with veterinarian, Donna Bailey, [Those last four commas are slowing the flow. I'd get by without them. Also, I'd change veterinarian Donna Bailey to a clone of extinct singer Pearl Bailey.] to untangle the clues that will lead them to patient zero in hopes of discovering the first cause and a possible cure.

What Mike and Donna don’t expect to find is Triple E holding a megahunt and charging clients to kill the last of the infected “Exotic, Endangered, and Extinct” stock. [Brilliant. Anyone willing to pay millions to kill an extinct animal would happily pay a surcharge to kill the last extinct animal.] Nor do they expect to be coerced into helping Triple E geneticists capitalize on the pandemic they unleashed by creating a stabilizing protein that might reverse the disease – research that will ultimately be sold to the highest [still-living] bidder. The treatment is risky and untried, tested only on themselves; it seems viable in the short term – but at what long-term cost? [Given the choice between dying tomorrow from a horrible nerve disease and possibly experiencing side effects from it's cure in twenty years, I'll risk the treatment.]

Drawing on tomorrow’s science headlines, SECTOR C is an 85,000-word technothriller. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.


Notes

It's got too much information. Using mostly the delete function, you can get the plot down to:

Triple E Enterprises has a unique business model: bring in the brightest offshore talent to clone endangered animals, and let wealthy businessmen pay to shoot them in canned, stylized hunts. As special incentive, there’s Sector C, reserved for “Frequent Hunters” – exclusive specimens from the Pleistocene Age.

The venture is a success, until animals and employees show signs of neurologic dysfunction. Triple E has inadvertently uncovered proof that megabeasts like the mammoth and saber-tooth tiger succumbed not to overhunting as the popular theory goes, but to a transmissible, incurable – always fatal – neural disease. And history is about to repeat itself.

As children and adults across the U.S. weaken and die, CDC investigator Mike Shafer teams with veterinarian Donna Bailey to find the clues that will lead them to patient zero. What Mike and Donna don’t expect to find is Triple E holding a megahunt and charging clients to kill the last of the infected “Exotic, Endangered, and Extinct” stock. Nor do they expect to be coerced into helping Triple E geneticists capitalize on the pandemic they unleashed by creating a protein that might reverse the disease – to be sold to the highest bidder.

23 comments:

Dave F. said...

It's a little hard to curl up with a nice glass of (coffee, tea, wine or brandy) and think about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, the only prionic disease I know about, as the END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.

I like the story. It's the type of sci-fi mystery stuff that I enjoy. If it's published let me know. I'll buy it and read it.
However, SECTOR C doesn't cut it.
"The Satan Bug" was a good title. "Andromeda Strain" was another one.

How about the "Paleo Prion" or "Modern Extinction" or "Dino Die-Off" or "Jurassic Germ" -- some title like that. Maybe "Hunt for Humanity: The Second Extinction"...

150 said...

My gosh. If this lives up to the idea you've really got something. Good job and good luck!

Kiolia said...

I'm a little concerned about the premise, here. The passing similarity to Jurassic Park is forgivable on its own, but prions figured strongly in the plot of the Lost World, too. Hopefully you have an original take on this stuff so it's not an issue, but you may want to work on the query such that an editor wouldn't immediately assume you cribbed off Mr Crichton. Maybe I'm horrendously off-base, here, but I don't think it's worth risking.

_*Rachel*_ said...

This query is good. Not in that it's finished, but in the sense that, when you chip away some of the dirt, there's something worth getting to. It just needs some cleaning and polishing, not a refocus.

If you end up with something like EE's revision, you've got it down.

I wouldn't worry about the title too much; it's decent. If it isn't perfect--well, I've heard plenty of stories of titles getting changed in the editing.

I like this, and wouldn't be at all surprised to see it in print.

blogless troll said...

I had the same reaction as Kiolia. You've got enough info so you don't need to mention the prions in the query.

Also, I would put the dying children and Donna and Mike's investigation up front in the query and the Triple E stuff last. It's like you're telling us who done it before anyone gets murdered. It doesn't matter how the story goes, if the query reads more like a mystery it'll be more compelling. Anyway, it sounds like a fun read as it is.

Anonymous said...

Okay this isn't even something I would read (I'm a lit fiction chick, sorry) BUT I actually read this entire query with interest. Okay, partly for EE's hilarity. But still. It is an interesting plot, and for people who dig this kind of thing, it seems to me that you have a winner on your hands.

Anonymous said...

Crichton was a working MD, so he had the science background to make that end of things plausible, especially in Andromeda Strain, and when he went off into imaginary science it all worked in terms of how realistically the businesses that went astray were organized and who was doing what and how secret it all was etc. Your plot has a lot of fun elements. If you have medical science background, I'd mention that. If not, you might want to do more research on the practices of epidemiology and the way outbreaks of unknown/rare diseases are handled. My impression is that an outbreak like this would be handled more like the Hantavirus outbreak in Northern Arizona in 1993, and/or like an outbreak of ebola, not like mad cow disease.

Suzan Harden said...

I rather liked the mad mammoth concept.

Now, if the story has a cool twist, you've got something here. As for the Crichton-phobes, there's this hilarious little move called Zombieland...

Phoenix said...

Hello. My name is Phoenix, and I'm a queryholic. It's been 6 months since I (re)wrote my last query -- and I'm clearly out of practice. Gah, info-dumping because I felt I had to prove the plausibility of the science. Mucho thanks for the reality edit, EE!

Hi everyone! I missed you guys! Life sort of intervened there for a few months, but I'll be visiting everyone's blogs again soon and stalking this site (OK, stalking EE) once more. (I've actually posted anonymously here a few times over the past couple of weeks as I feel my way back into the blogosphere.)

I just love all the different perspectives on my query, so thank you for the feedback, and please keep it coming. I want the first query letter out the door to be right.

What follows is a purely gratuitous info-dump about the story idea because I guess I still feel I need to prove something about it. (If I'm this insecure, I must be missing something, eh? Besides, better to info-dump here than in the actual book -- or query *facepalm*)

Coming up with viable, commercial ideas that are novel-worthy is something I usually suck at. Ideas that seem so totally cool in the beginning either wind up being really pretty lame or else can't coexist with the plots I stick them in.

I'm cautiously excited about this idea, though. I did my due diligence early on, looking for similar storylines because I thought surely someone had to have done it already since I'm always late to any party. But no, the closest comparable I found was, as Kiolia notes, The Lost World. Crichton's prions are the plain, garden-sheep variety that [SPOILER ALERT] infect the dinos with scrapie via ground-up mutton bits that are fed to them. It's how Crichton neatly does away with his captive dino population. Although, now that I think about it, he really missed a great opportunity to kill off his dinosaurs by opening the island up to wealthy hunters armed with bazookas. Who wouldn't pay to have a raptor head gracing their mantel? [END SPOILER]

Aside from causing mad cow disease and scrapie, mutant prions (we all carry non-mutant ones and diseases can be genetic or transmitted) cause a handful of neurologic disorders in people, with some research even linking them to Alzheimer's disease. I really think we're on the cusp of discovering a lot more about these perplexing little protein bits. And since prions seem to start acting more maliciously when exposed to higher temps, that plays well to there being an outbreak at the end of the ice age and for an ice-age-borne prion disease to thrive in the US today. That's the theory I'm proposing anyway ;o)

Plus, predictions are that we'll have a cloned mammoth by 2020 -- it's genome has already been sequenced and scientists have recently resolved the obstacles around cloning frozen tissue and have cloned mice that had been frozen for 16 years.

So, I'm confident the story is timely. Just hoping it's plotted, researched, and written well enough to pass muster. I'm finishing final edits and plan to start querying in earnest in January. And I'm glad to be back here again!

Anonymous said...

copy editing nit:

megabeasts like the mammoth and saber-tooth tiger
-->
megabeasts SUCH AS the mammoth and saber-tooth tiger

otherwise, it's a lively, non-confusing query; I bet you get response.

Portuguese cunt said...

I agree with Dave that the title sucks. But the story sounds interesting.

The "stylized hunts" is bugging me. Why not just make it "canned hunts"? What is stylized about them? Are the tigers wearing Prada?

And this story is going to need serious research to be taken seriously. Techno-geeks love to pick apart manuscripts for little bits that might be unscientifically implausible. I wouldn’t attempt a story like this.

That being said, it looks like it could be good; like lucky-ducky, maybe-get-a-movie-deal good.

Chris Eldin said...

YAY!! Phoenix is back!!! I really liked EE's rewrite. The plot drew me in completely. But I found even EE's version lacking anything compelling about the characters. Not sure if you need to even worry about that, but it did jump out that I didn't connect with or even know your characters.

However, this sounds like an AWESOME book!!! I hope you can sell it!!! I'll buy one too. Before Dave. hehehe
;-)

I saw a 60 minutes segment a few weeks ago ...had Jack Horner and he's doing research with chickens. Apparently they're related to dinosaurs, and he wants to turn off a gene or two to see what happens to them. (maybe bigger nuggets?)

YAY for Phoenix!!
:-)

Robin S. said...

Phoenix!!! YAY! About time, girl.
Love your confessional comment!

I've really got to start reading these as they're posted again - i miss my old habits, when I came here and hardly anywhere else, and I miss the good stuff in the queries and the blue lines. And I've missed you, Phoenix! So glad you're back!

Phoenix said...

OK -- about to go out into the world with this, so want to put the revision through the grinder before I do. Any last tweaks, Mighty Morphin' Minions??? (EE, I know you don't normally comment on revisions, but I would love to hear anything you might have to say - I really do listen. No, really. Well, sometimes.)

Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture -- until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 8,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.

Triple E Enterprises offers wealthy businessmen a chance to hunt endangered and exotic wildlife on the plains of North Dakota. For the really wealthy, there’s the elite package in Sector C: exclusive specimens from the Pleistocene Ice Age. The company is preparing to go public – until people and livestock in the area start dying at an alarming rate.

CDC investigator Mike Shafer teams with veterinarian Donna Bailey to find out why. Their search for Patient Zero leads to the Triple E compound where the company is holding a high-dollar megahunt to get rid of the last of its infected stock. Problem is, the hunt is also exposing clients to the fatal disease. Even more troubling, Triple E’s geneticists are about to capitalize on the pandemic they unleashed by selling a possible cure to a Sino-Pakistani company that doesn’t have U.S. interests at heart.

Three things stand in Mike and Donna’s way of getting the potentially life-saving research to the CDC: Triple E’s hostile attempts to stop them, a raging wildfire set by arsonists, and a group of panicked megabeasts inadvertently released from Sector C.

But even if they do succeed, it may already be too late.

Drawing on tomorrow’s science headlines, SECTOR C is an 85,000-word technothriller. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

Evil Editor said...

P.2. I don't like "wealthy" vs "really wealthy" as the distinction between who hunts extinct animals and who doesn't. I'm not sure why it's businessmen anyway, but if it is, you could just delete "wealthy" from the first sentence and use "their wealthiest customers" in the second. If their customers don't have to be businessmen, go with "hunters" in sentence 1.

Wikipedia thinks there were recurring ice ages in the Pleistocene age. They have a special name for the last Pleistocene ice age. I'd go with just the Pleistocene Age or the last ice age.

P.3: I'd change the last sentence. It is raising questions that aren't answered, and the threat is already big enough. How about something like, Even more troubling, Triple E’s geneticists are sitting on a possible cure in hopes of making a profit off the pandemic they unleashed.

P.5: Not sure "already" is needed.


Apparently Mike and Donna know there's a cure. Wouldn't going public with this knowledge force Triple E to hand it over?


All of which is nitpicky; it sounds good to me.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I really like this. Like the sound of the book, too. Since you've been so generous with your rewrites, I thought I'd try my hand at one for you.

That first paragraph is a great wrap up of the theme. My problem is (and it's with the query form in general) I lose the flow from paragraph one to paragraph two. Feels like I'm just settling in and then I'm starting over. Maybe that's just me though.


Triple E Enterprises offers canned hunts of endangered and exotic wildlife on the plains of North Dakota. For the wealthy, there’s the elite package in Sector C: wooly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers cloned from the Pleistocene Age. The company is preparing to go public – until people and livestock in the area start dying at an alarming rate. Seems this highly profitable venture has reintroduced the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 8,000 years ago.

The search for Patient Zero leads CDC investigator Mike Shafer and veterinarian Donna Bailey to the Triple E compound where the company is holding a high-dollar megahunt to get rid of the last of its infected stock. Problem is, the hunt is also exposing clients to the fatal disease. Even more troubling, Triple E’s geneticists are about to capitalize on the pandemic they unleashed by selling a possible cure to the highest bidder.

Three things stand in Mike and Donna’s way of getting the potentially life-saving research to the CDC: Triple E’s hostile attempts to stop them, a raging wildfire set by arsonists, and a group of panicked megabeasts inadvertently released from Sector C.

And even if they succeed, it may be too late.

Dave F. said...

When I first read the revised versions, I thought that possibly the first and second paragraph could be combined. As I take time to read it closer, I'm not sure that was a good idea on my part. Those paragraphs serve different masters and serve well.

It's this sentence that gives me heartburn.
For the really wealthy, there’s the elite package in Sector C: exclusive specimens from the Pleistocene Ice Age.
I think the advertising pitch is for the hardcore hunter, not businessmen. It's not just a rich businessman or a bored millionaire that they want, their prospective customers are hunters who must hunt ever more exotic beasts. I worked with hunters who went after everything possible. Deer with rifles, bow and arrow, muskets and in three states (Pa, WV and OH) and one year they traveled into the midwest to hunt those things that look like deer (pardon, I'm not the hunter). And bear hunts (!). They also hit small game season, turkey, squirrel, grouse, geese, pike, groundhog, trout, beaver, etc...
Those are the bored, rich thrill seekers that EEE will get as customers.

Wealth enables EEE customers but the challenge of the hunt is what drives them. What they desire. It's their precious -- the thrill of the hunt, the most dangerous beast.

That thrill is emotional and I think you need to capture that in your second paragraph. It's not big changes, EE has some of them. It's hunters and cloned beasts from the Pleistocene will always be exotic and exclusive. The last seven words of that sentence I have in italics could simply be rewritten as "Pleistocene beasts."

I think that might help. I haven't put the changes to paper and read them. But I think that works better.

I also think that this:
set by arsonists, and a group of panicked megabeasts inadvertently released from Sector C.
might just be rewritten as:
"set by arsonists that releases the diseased beasts spreading the Pleistocene plague."
I think ending on disease raises the level of jeopardy.

It's a good plot.

Phoenix said...

Thanks EE, Sarah and Dave for the wonderful generosity of time you've invested helping me to see the last niggles and to refine. Now if I could just get your meticulous help on the entire ms (without having to outbid everyone on Brenda Novak's auction) ... ;o)

Really, EE and Minions -- y'all are the best!

Matthew said...

I thought the mention of the Sino-Pakistani group was a bit much. Otherwise, I could see this getting positive results.

Out of sheer curiosity, what extinct animals will Mike and Donna be facing?

Phoenix said...

Thanks, Matthew! I'll reconsider the Sino-Pak thing.

On the hunt menu are a few specimens each of mammoths (Mammuthus columbi), saber tooths (Smilodon populator), short-faced bears, wooly rhinos and dire wolves. M&D meet mammoths and rhinos up close in the compound. M&D wind up on foot running from the compound after the fire is set. They see a couple of mammoths in the distance once the animals escape and run across a dead wooly rhino that's diseased and couldn't take the combined stresses of fire, panic and physical exertion. Mainly there's just tension around what might happen.

They cross paths with a saber tooth and there's a tense moment between them and the cat, but the cat's grown up around people and doesn't really consider them prey so M&D escape. However, the cat does associate people with handouts and it trails them while they're on foot looking for help.

They run into one of the semi-bad guys who's a keeper the cat recognizes. When the keeper threatens them with a tranq gun, the cat catches up with them and approaches the keeper in a feed-me-now demanding way the caught-by-surprise keeper takes for an attack. He shoots the cat, which angers it, so it attacks and kills the keeper before the sedative kicks in.

There is another keeper that tries to help a bunch of confined animals get out of their pens when the fire threatens that gets chomped by a panicked Bengal tiger.

But the aggression in the story is mainly from animals that are simply sick, frightened and confused. They're animals doing what animals would do -- just ratcheted up a tiny bit (with a side of coincidence) to serve story conventions.

TMI? ;o)

Matthew said...

TMI? No way. It sounds exciting.

It's fun to see three different groups--M&D (good), Trip E (bad), and animals (unpredictable)--struggle against each other, it can lead to innovative action sequences.

If the good guy Smilodon populator doesn't already have a name, may I suggest Smiley?

For fun and marketing, perhaps you could put up a Triple E blog. It could have a menu section, complete with pictures of the animals available for hunting; promotional packages, including the "big hunt" to wipe out the diseased animals; and a separate page entitled, "Sector C: For Premium Members Only."

I put up a (somewhat) similar blog about my book a short time ago. It was a little time consuming, but it didn't take long to finish and I had fun doing it. Check it out...

http://thelandofspirits.blogspot.com/

if the link doesn't work then just click on my profile. My imagination is going crazy picturing what Trip E's blog would look like. Happy hunting!

Phoenix said...

Oh Matthew, what a great idea! And I love what you did with your blog. Fabulous free promo!!!

Maybe you could submit this suggestion as an article the next time Nathan Bransford needs guest posts.

Matthew said...

That's something to think about. Anyway, I'm glad you liked it!

Be sure to let me know if and when you get a Sector C blog up, I can't wait to check it out.