Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Face-Lift 716


Guess the Plot

A Storm Hits Valparaiso

1. It wasn't a meteorological storm, it was Aunt Agatha, who was driven there by James in the Bentley, on a mission to save the chicken franchise management career of Cousin Nigel, who was ready to toss it all to get lucky with Roxanne -- not realizing that Roxanne was a secret agent named Charles Johnson, or that the lowly driver, James, was his true father and the genius behind the family fortune, or that the chicken franchise was a front for an industrial spy syndicate run by former members of the KGB.

2. 1822. Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín have liberated South America, from Venezuela to Chile. They decide to meet over coffee in a sleepy town to share war stories and to argue over which one of them will get a country named after him. Bolívar wins after what may have been history's most significant game of rock, paper, scissors.

3. There's something odd about the Valpo basketball team, but transfer student Jack West doesn't ask questions. He just wants to play point guard and date his study partner, Annabel. Sure the team's opponents have met with a string of bizarre accidents. Yes he saw the assistant coach with a van full of live chickens. No Jack doesn't know why there is a mysterious symbol sewn into the back of his uniform. When Annabel starts investigating, Jack must decide whether to keep his eyes closed, or help the woman he loves.

4. Juan, a Chilean boy, earns a scholarship to study meteorology at a college in the US. Radioactive lightning from a freak storm during his Christmas holiday makes him grow seven feet tall. Back at school, he faces a moral dilemma: Figure out what's causing the devastating storms back home, or take Valpo to its first Final Four ever. He lets his cheerleader girlfriend decide for him.

5. Just as vampires overrun Valparaiso, a massive storm cuts it off from the outside world. Wolfsbane Joe, stuck in town after his werecheetah wife ran off with a waiter, is Valparaiso's only hope. But can one drunken ex-prizefighter werewolf take on a vampire army?

6. During one eventful week, college student Jessica has come to Chile for spring break. Swiss engineer Hans has come to study the unique funicular elevators while his brother Father Peter has come for more private studies. Ralph and Milly have returned to repair their ruined marriage, even as General Mosquite ignites plans of his own. Their stories all intersect when.... A Storm Hits Valparaiso.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I would like to send you my novel A STORM HITS VALPARAISO for your consideration. It’s approximately 99,000 words in length and is set in the early 1800s during South America’s struggle for independence from Spain.

In 1822, after twelve years of a dirty war, Spain was on the verge of losing her Empire. José de San Martín had liberated Argentina, Chile and Peru, while Simón Bolívar had freed Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. The two greatest figures in South American history met for the first and last time in Guayaquil to discuss the conclusion of the war, as neither man had sufficient troops to finish the Spaniards off. They met alone, and no historical record was made of their meeting.

At the end of their talks, San Martín resigned as Protector of Peru and handed over control of the combined armies of Argentina and Chile to Bolívar. [I feel like I'm back in World History, sixth period, with Mr. Green droning on while I read the Batman comic I've concealed in my book.] San Martín retired to become an anonymous farmer, while Bolívar went on to immortalise himself in the final victory. San Martín’s reasons for stepping aside have always remained a mystery. [This is a history lesson, not the plot of a novel. Does your novel solve the mystery?]

The novel is aimed at the same market as Louis de Bernières, [Who? Ah, thank you, Wikipedia. Louis de Bernières, author of The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. And three-time winner of the Philip K. Dick Wackiest Title of a Serious Novel Award.] (but should also be popular amongst fans of historical fiction, anyone with an interest in Napoleonic era history, or South America in general. The 200th anniversary of the beginning of the war is next May, and I believe there are huge opportunities for marketing tie-ins for the respective anniversaries of notable points in the conflict over the next few years, especially Chile’s 200th birthday in 2011. [Considering the speed with which the publishing industry works I suggest you forget Chile's birthday and aim for a marketing push that coincides with the 200th anniversary of the 1821 Battle of Carabobo.]

This is my first novel, which I completed this summer. It was written over a three year period while travelling around the world. I have begun work on a second novel. I have posted the first five pages of the manuscript below. If you would like to read the entire manuscript, or if you would like me to send on a synopsis and some sample chapters, please let me know the submission guidelines.

Yours sincerely,


Notes

Usually it's the end of a war we commemorate, rather than the beginning. Your novel seems to center around the 1822 meeting between San Martín and Bolívar, so it seems the book might make the Guayaquil, Equador El Telegrafo bestseller list in 2022, but I wouldn't expect big sales every time an anniversary of a conflict in the decade-long+ war comes up. In other words, if the book will appeal to fans of historical fiction, that's enough; no need to bring in Napoleon and marketing tie-ins with 200-year-old battles.

Is the whole novel set around the meeting in Guayaquil? If so, tell us what you envision happening at that meeting. Focus on your main characters. Does your novel present a fascinating theory on what led San Martín to fade out of the limelight? I don't have a clear picture of what's in your book.

Dump the marketing plan and the bio. Shorten the background to something like:

In 1822, after twelve years of war with Spain, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, the two greatest figures in South American history, met for the first and last time to discuss the conclusion of the war. They met alone, and no historical record was made of their meeting.

Then summarize the plot of your novel. Or, just use the first sentence, changing "met" to "meet," and launch into your plot. What happens?

The title seems to indicate the focus is on something that happens in Valparaiso. Is what happens there worth mentioning in the query?

33 comments:

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I would pay good money to see the movie of plot #5. I would pay DOUBLE if it was starring Hugh Jackman.

Joanna said...

Yeah, I would like a lot more specifics about the plot, but this sounds like a story I'd like to read. The first two paragraphs struck me as clear and interesting.

David said...

Hi,

This is the author. Great comments from EE, I will take them all on board and revise. Do I get a shot at a resubmit when I have worked on it? Should I post it here? Sorry - new to the site.

Dave

jrmosher said...

First off, I have to say that historical fiction (actually, history in general) is not my cuppa, so take the rest of this with that in mind. Also, a query of mine is coming up for slaughter shortly so if you wish to return fire you'll have your chance soon.

My first impression (or second, since my first was similar to EE's joking history=snooze comments) was that this is quite well written. I like, for example, the prhase "dirty war" (not that all wars aren't dirty, to some extent.)

The big question, as EE pointed out, is where the focus of the book lies. Where does it start, and where does it end? I get two pictures in my head from your query -- a "satellite picture" of an entire continent at war over long years, and a more intimate photo of two men in a pub covertly arranging to crush a common enemy. Needless to say, the close-up is the more intriguing picture.

If your book focuses tightly on the two leaders, does it favor one more heavily than the other? Not being a history buff, I have to say I'm not much intrigued by Bolivar's tale as it's the kind of thing textbooks would cover. Not to say you're writing a textbook, just that it has that feel from the description in the query.

On the other hand, if you focus in on San Martin and his decision to step out of the flow of history to become a simple farmer, then I am curious. If that's what the book is about, then you likely have a winner, but you need to focus the query in on that smaller scope.

Evil Editor said...

Revisions may be submitted as comments. If much time has passed, I'll alert the minions that it's there.

David said...

Hi - author here again.

Joanna: point taken.

jrmosher: thanks for the v detailed comment. I agree, it needs work to focus on what the story is actually about and less history.

An earlier version of this query focussed more on the plot, but wasn't well written. As I polished it I seemed to lose the focus.

The story (not that you can tell from the query - my fault) actually focuses on seven main characters one of which is San Martin who all get affected by the war in different ways. Bolivar only makes an appearance at the end of the booking: the meeting.

I need to rework this to try and get as many of those elements in as possible, probably starting with a version of the condensed history in EE's suggestion and moving quickly on to the plot and other characters.

I will try and get a revision up here soon.

Dave

David Gaughran said...

Oh I meant to say, if anyone is interested they can read the first chapter on my website.

David Gaughran said...

Author again. Revised Query below, thanks for the helpful suggestions.

*** REVISED QUERY ***

Dear [AGENT],

I would like to send you my novel A STORM HITS VALPARAISO for consideration. It’s 100,000 words and is set in the early 1800s during South America’s struggle for independence from Spain.

After twelve years of war of a dirty war, Spain was on the verge of losing her empire. The two greatest figures in South American history, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, met for the first and last time to discuss the conclusion of the war. They spoke alone, and no historical record was made of their meeting.

This novel follows San Martín and his rag-tag army of Indians, freed slaves and ex-convicts in their fight for freedom as war rages across a continent.

San Martín, Argentine but raised in Spain, deserts from the Spanish army and is smuggled into his homeland by the British Secret Service to raise the flag of rebellion against his former masters. Zé, an African slave in the sugar plantations in northern Brazil, escapes, stowing away aboard a ship bound for Buenos Aires. Catalina Flores de la Peña flees the death of her parents in Valparaiso and contributes to the war effort in Argentina in her own unique way. Diego and Jorge Ramirez, two young boys from a hamlet in the foothills of the Andes, run away from home after a tragic accident and get caught up in the independence struggle. Lord Thomas Cochrane, a brilliant Royal Navy officer, is disgraced in the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814 and leaves Europe to build the rebel forces’ navy for the fight against Spain.

Their individual quests for personal freedom become tied to the liberation of a continent as revolutionary fervour sweeps across South America. As the fight against the Spanish reaches its denouement, San Martín and Bolívar meet in Guayaquil. To the consternation of his supporters, San Martín, the liberator of half a continent, steps aside and leaving the final glory to Bolívar. For two hundred years, his motives have remained a mystery. Until now.

If you would like to read my manuscript, please let me know the submission guidelines.

Yours sincerely,

[ME]

Steve Wright said...

Revised version is better, I think, in that it tells us something about the plot - though, possibly, not enough. You've got a long list of characters there; while I'm sure they're all essential to the book, do all of them need to appear in the query?

It might work better if you lead off with the historical mystery about San Martin's motivations - pose the question (why did he step aside?) and then show how your book answers it. Just a suggestion.

Dave F. said...

Now you are lost down in the details.

You need to focus on the big climax of the book. I guessing it's it the confrontation or meeting between San Martin and Bolivar? Or perhaps the journey to the meeting?

When I read a book, I look for a satisfying climax. I would guess most readers do the same.

You want to tell us something more like this:
In 1822 San Martin and Bolivar met and ended a war. This is the story of that meeting and how the future of two nations -- Spain and Argentina. The story of San Martin's sacrifice and Bolivar's ascent to herodom. The personal struggle of both men to bring freedom to the nations of South America culminated in a single meeting.

I hope that helps.

Eric said...

Briefly:

I live in the Midwest, so to me the title indelibly conjures pictures of tornadoes striking cornfields in small-town Indiana. This may be more of a problem with my cultural exposure than with your title, but I can't be the only one.

The revised query is clearer, less academic, and has more plot in it, which is good. However, it dies in paragraph 4, which is a list of seemingly unconnected people and events ((X, from Y, goes to Z!)^4). If your main story "follows San Martin," you should stick with him in the plot summary. Resist the temptation to list your subplots; there's room enough for them in the book!

Or, put them in one sentence if you must: "The story also follows the adventures of a runaway slave, a navy officer [etc.] as their individual quests for personal freedom become tied [etc.]"

You should also find out the submission guidelines before you query, but maybe you knew that.

Good writing though. If only I had time for historical fiction I'd give it a look.

Robin S. said...

I'd read this.

When you get a contract, please send EE a note so he can let us know when it will be published.

Evil Editor said...

Yes, it's better, but instead of listing the characters, just refer to them as San Martin and his ragtag army. Less space devoted to who they are means more space for what they do.

_*Rachel*_ said...

Better, but needs a little work. Forthwith:

Dear [AGENT],

I would like to send you my novel A STORM HITS VALPARAISO for consideration. It’s 100,000 words and is set in the early 1800s during South America’s struggle for independence from Spain.

After twelve years [of war][delete this] of a dirty war, Spain was on the verge of losing her empire. The two greatest figures in South American history, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, met for the first and last time to discuss the conclusion of the war. They spoke alone, and no historical record was made of their meeting.

This novel follows San Martín and his rag-tag army of Indians, freed slaves and ex-convicts in their fight for freedom as war rages across a continent.

San Martín, Argentine but raised in Spain[an Argentine raised in Spain?], deserts from[do you need from?] the Spanish army and is smuggled into his homeland by the British Secret Service to raise the flag of rebellion against his former masters. [Zé, an African slave in the sugar plantations in northern Brazil, escapes, stowing away aboard a ship bound for Buenos Aires. Catalina Flores de la Peña flees the death of her parents in Valparaiso and contributes to the war effort in Argentina in her own unique way. Diego and Jorge Ramirez, two young boys from a hamlet in the foothills of the Andes, run away from home after a tragic accident and get caught up in the independence struggle. Lord Thomas Cochrane, a brilliant Royal Navy officer, is disgraced in the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814 and leaves Europe to build the rebel forces’ navy for the fight against Spain.][delete all this and say that he meets a variety of people and () is what they do.]

[Their individual quests for personal freedom become tied to the liberation of a continent as revolutionary fervour sweeps across South America.][delete] As the fight against the Spanish reaches its denouement, San Martín and Bolívar meet in Guayaquil. To the consternation of his supporters, San Martín, the liberator of half a continent, steps aside[comma] [and][delete] leaving the final glory to Bolívar. For two hundred years, his motives have remained a mystery. Until now.

If you would like to read my manuscript, please let me know the submission guidelines. [You probably don't need this paragraph; it's implied that they'll tell you how they want more if they do, indeed, want more.]

Yours sincerely,

[ME]


Ditto what Eric says. I live in the Midwest, and Valparaiso is the little Indiana town my roommate's from. A Storm in Valparaiso means tornadoes in the trailer park.

Phoenix said...

Hmm. I read the character list as being what they do not just who they are. Normally, I don't like seeing lists, but as this seems to be a character-driven story and it's about an historical war where the outcome isn't in doubt, I'm not sure how you would distinguish the fighting except by the characters involved -- as long as they're interesting and diverse, which these seem to be.

No wonder some queries resonate well with some agents and not with others ;o)

I would just tighten what you've got. And space out that list so that each character feels important on their own.


Dear [AGENT],

In the early 1800s, José de San Martín and his rag-tag army of Indians, freed slaves and ex-convicts fight to free South America from Spain's domination in my historical novel, A STORM HITS VALPARAISO.

San Martín, Argentine but raised in Spain, deserts from the Spanish army and is smuggled into his homeland by the British Secret Service to raise the flag of rebellion against his former leaders.

Zé, an African slave on the sugar plantations in northern Brazil, escapes, stowing away aboard a ship bound for Buenos Aires.

Catalina Flores de la Peña flees Valparaiso after the death of her parents to spy for the war effort.

Diego and Jorge Ramirez, two young boys from a hamlet in the Andean foothills, run away from home after a tragic accident, only to get caught up in the struggle for independence.

Lord Thomas Cochrane, a brilliant Royal Navy officer, is disgraced in the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814 and leaves Europe to build the rebel forces’ navy.

Their individual quests for freedom converge as revolutionary fervour sweeps across South America.

For 12 years the dirty war rages, until Spain is on the verge of losing her empire -- all that’s needed to tip the balance is to consolidate the main rebel forces under one leader. Having liberated half a continent between them, San Martin and legendary general Simón Bolívar meet to discuss who will lead the last battles. To the consternation of his supporters, San Martín steps aside and leaves the final glory to Bolívar. For two hundred years, his motives have remained a mystery. Until now.

A STORM HITS VALPARAISO is complete at 100,000 words. I look forward to sending you the manuscript.

Yours sincerely,

Evil Editor said...

I guess the question is, Are the things the characters do as described in the query a major part of the novel, or are they background, with the novel covering what they do after they've become San Martin's army? Does the reader accompany the characters as they run away from home, stow away, etc., or do we learn of these things in a prologue or as the characters tell each other about their pasts? I assumed the latter, but it's not clear. If the characters are an army in Argentina when the novel begins, I don't care (in the query) how they got there. But if getting there is much of the book, it's more relevant information.

David Gaughran said...

I'll respond to the last comment first.

Evil Editor:

Yes they are all main characters in the novel, and all the things mentioned in the query take place in the novel, not as prologue or back story.

I will get to the other comments later - snowed under now - thanks everyone, very useful stuff.

David Gaughran said...

To be clear - to paraphrase Evil Editor - "getting there" takes up quite a chunk of the book. How these people got involved with the war (running away, death of parents, escaping slavery etc) forms a good portion of their individual stories. Gradually their narratives intertwine, but the characters don't even start coming together until about a third of the way through, and they aren't all together until the second third or so.

pjd said...

What I want to know is, why was Batman eating chili in Bolivia?

Kind of like when Wonder Woman was burned at the stake in France, and when Flash Gordon signed the Magna Carta.

Evil Editor said...

they aren't all together until the second third or so.

What you're saying is Guess the Plot #6 pretty much nailed it.

Dave F. said...

I think someone should write GTP #1. It's really rather inventive and so conspiratorial.

jrmosher said...

The revised version is a great deal better because it's character-focused. Perhaps too many characters, but kudos on making each of them sound interesting in only a sentence each.

I might suggest killing the third parapgraph ("This novel follows ...") and changing is the beginning of the fifth paragraph in the revised version, to make it more clear what the book covers. For example:

Starting with each person's quest for personal freedom and bringing them together to fight for the freedom of a continent, A Storm Hits Valpairiso follows San Martin's ragtag army to the brink of victory as revolutionary fervor sweeps across South America.

Also, as Eric mentioned, you need to research your target agent and tailor your query to their submission guidelines (from their individual website, in most cases), rather than asking for their submission guidelines in the query letter.

Anonymous said...

It's no doubt a terrible lapse in my education, but I'd never heard of Valparaiso, Indiana.

To be honest, I suspect the one in Chile - the "Jewel of the Pacific" - is probably better known outside the American Midwest than the Indiana one.

David Gaughran said...

Hi all,

This is the author.

Thanks for the great feedback. I've thought long and hard about this, and have decided to try a pared-back version sticking to the three paragraph rule (the book, the hook and the cook).

Is it an improvement?

Revised query (v3) below.

Dave

*** VERSION 3 ***

Dear [AGENT],

I am writing to you because you represented [TITLE] by [AUTHOR], and I feel A STORM HITS VALPARAISO, at 100,000 words, may suit your list.

In 1822, after twelve years of a brutal war, Spain was on the verge of losing her empire. The two greatest figures in South American history, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, met for the first and last time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict. They spoke alone, and no historical record was made of their meeting, where San Martín resigned to become an anonymous farmer in France. This tale of life, love and loss follows San Martín and his rag-tag army of Indians, freed slaves and ex-convicts until the dramatic meeting with Bolivar. For two hundred years San Martín's motives have remained a mystery. Until now.

This is my first novel, written and researched over two years in Peru and Argentina. Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,


David Gaughran
davidgaughran.com

Dominique said...

I like it. Short, sweet, and to the point. Most of what you write, though, is about where it ends. You gloss over much of the beginning and middle.
You might want to mention where in San Martin's life you pick up, just to flesh out a bit more exactly what happens in the book.

Joanna said...

Yes! Concise and interesting...I wish could write queries that tightly. --I like 'tale of life, love and loss (I always like alliteration), but would it set off an agent's cliché alert?

Evil Editor said...

This could give the impression the book is a historical account of the war up until the meeting, at which point it becomes fiction. Which is okay if that's the book.

My impression is that the book is the story of x diverse characters and how the war brings them together in a common cause. How far into the book does the meeting take place?

David Gaughran said...

Hi,

This is the author.

EE: It is a novel, the story of 7 characters who are affected by the war (San Martin is one). The meeting with Bolivar is at the end of the book.

Should there be more emphasis on the bits before the meeting too?

Dave

David Gaughran said...

Hi,

Author again.

Slight tweaking based on feedback above to try and give the impression that most of the novel takes place before the meeting.

Dave

*** REVISED QUERY BELOW ***

Dear [AGENT],

I am writing to you because you represented [TITLE] by [AUTHOR], and I feel A STORM HITS VALPARAISO, at 100,000 words, may

suit your list.

In 1822, Spain was on the verge of losing her empire. The two greatest figures in South American history, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, met for the first and last time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict. They spoke alone, and no historical record was made of their meeting, where San Martín resigned to become an anonymous farmer in France. This tale of life, love and loss follows San Martín and his rag-tag army of Indians, freed slaves and ex-convicts over the twelve years of a brutal war, until San Martín' dramatic meeting with Bolivar. For two hundred years San Martín's motives for stepping aside have remained a mystery. Until now.

This is my first novel, written and researched over two years in Peru and Argentina. Thank you for your consideration, I

look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,


David Gaughran
davidgaughran.com

Evil Editor said...

One could argue that an inordinate amount of space is being given to what happens at the very end of the book. I'm not sure Bolivar's even in the book till the ending, yet the query makes him a main character.

Obviously these seven people aren't San Martin's whole army. Are they connected in any way, or does the book jump from one to another telling how the war affects them? What ties everything together besides the fact that it all takes place during one decade, mostly on one continent? Were these seven people chosen because they all meet at some point?

David Gaughran said...

The author.

EE: Ok, its complicated. Seven main characters whose stories interweave at various points. They are all linked in various ways.

#1 San Martin. Leader of the independence forces.

#2 Lord Cochrane. Disgraced British captain who heads the rebels' navy.

#3 Catalina: flees the death of her parents in Valparaiso, becomes an army prostitute.

#4 Pacha: indian freed from the slave mines of Potosi by Argentine Army, enlists.

#5 Zé: escaped Brazilian slave stows away aboard a boat bound for Buenos Aires, enlists.

#6 & #7 Diego & Jorge: young brothers run away from home after a tragic accident, eventually enlist.

What might look like "backstory" is in fact the story. Many of these guys don't join the army or meet in any way until at a third/half-way through the book.

I wanted to write a story with six or seven narrative strands that gradually come together, using these strands to tell the story of the war from a variety of perspectives: real figures from history (first two characters) and the ordinary people left out of the history books (the other five).

It's complicated, but I think I pulled it off in the book. Condensing it into a query however, is proving tricky!

Evil Editor said...

If you can find a thread connecting all your characters it would help. Otherwise it may sound like you have a collection of short stories all set during this war. Is there one character who knows all the others?

Kathleen said...

I like the revised summary.

personally, I don't know why you can't just follow your second paragraph with some version of "a story with six or seven narrative strands that gradually come together, using these strands to tell the story of the war from a variety of perspectives: real figures from history (first two characters) and the ordinary people left out of the history books (the other five)."

best of luck