Friday, January 22, 2010

Face-Lift 722

Guess the Plot

Little Emergencies

1. When you simply have to have chocolate. When you spill lemonade on the front of your pants right before the debate with the other nominee. When you wake up in your sleeping bag and discover a boa constrictor wrapped around you.

2. When the condom breaks. When you find yourself pregnant with triplets. When your no-good louse of a husband leaves you in your eighth month. When you can't get a sitter on the day of your big presentation so you bring the kids to work knowing the only way to keep them quiet is to breast feed them.

3. When it's your first day at your new high school and your new classmates find out your name is Charmin. When your mother comes to your school and starts yelling at your math teacher . . . during your math class. When you're surfing the web and discover your kid brother secretly photographed you in your underwear and put the pic on

4. When the timer goes off signaling that your souffle needs to come out of the oven at the same time the dog is on the new carpet making pre-puking gag noises. When an alien nursery ship crash lands in North Dakota and lets loose forty species-worth of extraterrestrial infants.

5. When the most popular boy in high school falls in love with you . . . and you're a guy. When your own brother falls in love with you . . . and you're a guy. When your best friend Patrick is so jealous of the guys who are in love with you that he storms your school with a gun . . . and you're a guy.

6. When you see the most darling pair of sandals on sale, and your credit card is already maxed out. When your waitress turns out to be your ex and she's better looking than your date. When your hair is on fire.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am currently seeking representation for my YA novel, Little Emergencies. It clocks in at 69,000 words and, from your list of interests on your website, could be a good fit for you.

Zach Mulholland has drama on his plate like any other teen: [Actually, most teens have pizza on their plates.] pressure to settle down and conform, parents who just won’t get off his back, and Patrick, his best friend who doesn’t understand that they aren’t a couple. Then suddenly Zach meets Jonathan, the most beautiful and most popular boy in school, who somehow loves him back. Then there’s a hasty engagement to marry said popular boy, [Already? They just met. Wait, which one is pregnant?] [Now that we know his name, no need to refer to Jonathan as "said popular boy."] an engagement that has everyone raising their eyebrows – even Zach himself. [Even Evil Editor.] Then Zach has to deal with Patrick’s insane jealousy, becoming one half of the school’s ‘it’ couple when he’s used to blending into the scenery, and figuring out what he really wants out of all this. Oh yeah, and then his estranged brother just has to fall in love with him, [Seems like there should be a step or two between being estranged and being in love.] and Patrick just has to storm the school with a handgun...

Little Emergencies is a story about impetuousness and practicality, “wanting different things”, [Putting quotation marks around it doesn't make it less vague.] and how much high school sucks. But mostly, it’s a story about three kinds of love: unrequited love, fairytale love, and the kind you call the cops on [i.e. the kind where you need to borrow a set of handcuffs]. Its intended audience could be similar to the audience of such authors as Julie Anne Peters, David Levithan and Rachel Cohn.

I am a first-year university student majoring in Creative Writing. I have a few publishing credits with the local newspaper and high school newsletters. [That isn't gonna sway any decisions. Better to use the space telling us something that happens.]

I can be reached at [phone number] or [email]. I look forward to your response.



Why is everyone so crazy about this guy who tries to blend in with the scenery? Are there any girls in this school? Used to be girls complained that all the best boys were taken by the cheerleaders. Now they're all taken by the other boys.

There's a lot here about relationships--who loves, is engaged to, is jealous of whom--but not much plot. Is the storming of the school with a handgun the big climactic event everything's been moving toward? Does someone get shot? Is there a vampire? What are the driving forces that lead Zach to the conflict resolution? Hey, that gives me an idea for a better title: Mulholland Drive.


Ellie said...

There are two main reasons this query doesn't work for me:

First, by the end, all I know about Zach is that he's a teenage guy. I don't know if he's shy or rebellious, if he's mortified by becoming popular or revels in it, if he's a hopeless romantic or wary of love. I don't know if he adores Jonathan or admires him or is just using him as a distraction from his bog-standard-crummy teenage life. I don't know what conflict he has to resolve, mystery he has to solve, need he has to fill, or what. He seems very, very passive.

Second, the way you have the query written, the tone of the book takes a serious turn partway through. Teenage love, high school, etc, etc, and then suddenly there's potential incest and a possible school shooting. The latter, especially, needs to be handled with care. Your book doesn't have to be a Very Special Post-Columbine Episode, but this is still very much a sensitive issue, and if you're going to mention it, you may need to make it more clear that you're aware of that and have fit it smoothly into the rest of the story.

I think you'll be more successful if you refocus on Zach: who he is (why we would want to read about him) and what he does (the actions he takes, not a list of what happens to him).

Barbara's Spot on the Blog said...

I would suggest reading back through the archives of this blog. I think if you read some of the really well written queries it'll give you a better idea what is expected.

Dave F. said...

I had to look up those three authors to find out what their books were like. I'm not a follower of Young Adult or Middle Grade books.

Obviously this is a HS with none of the usual prejudices against same sex relationships. I think that would be something you need to point out in the query. That sets the scene.

The other thing I would suggest is to ban the word "yeah" and the word "then" from your query.

I'm having a problem with Zach who is so clueless that he doesn't realize Patrick is in love with him and is so impetuous that he suddenly gets engaged to Jonathan. Not many States let men marry and I know of none who let minor children marry.

And his estranged brother.

My family has a cookie recipe from the old country, written in Italian by my Great-grandmother that says at the very bottom "nuts if you have them." Deja Vu.

I think you have a good story but you were too close to it when you wrote the query.

Anonymous said...

"Nuts if you have them" would be a great title for this book.

Falen said...

Dave highlighted most of the main points I wanted to hit on. I was taken completely out of the narrative as soon as you said they were engaged - their kids, and they're boys. That's a lot of red tape in most places...

I need to know what the MC's conflict and motivation are. Otherwise Ellie said it best - focus on Zach and the actions he takes, not a list of what happens to him.

150 said...

I'd probably read this just because the query shows some verve, but I agree with Ellie about the swerve into darkness at the end, and I can't think of a reason two teenage boys would need or want to have a shotgun wedding. Rewrite with plot, as EE suggests. Good luck!

stacy said...

EE, did you write all the GTPs, or were people totally in sync on this one?

Evil Editor said...

I confess, though I did use snippets from a couple that were submitted.

Author said...

Hey, I'm the author. I agree very much with what Dave said - "I think you have a good story but you were too close to it when you wrote the query." That's very true. I don't want to sound like I'm trying to justify myself in this comment, but it feels like (from all your comments) that my story is hard to write a concise query about. I'd be the first to admit that it isn't a conventional story.

It does involve a lot of strange events (and yes, this novel takes place in a somewhat idealized version of high school - plus I'm Canadian and it's probably different here)... so would anyone have any ideas as to how I could go about summarizing details of the story without any glaring weirdness?

Also... sorry if the run-on-sentence style of the query was bad, but I was trying to evoke the slangy teenage language of the first-person narrator.

150 said...

so would anyone have any ideas as to how I could go about summarizing details of the story without any glaring weirdness?

Cause and effect, man. Cause and effect.

Evil Editor said...

Read a lot of the Face-Lifts on this blog. There are over 700. It will come to you through osmosis.

batgirl said...

Hi from another Canadian!
I rather liked this, and felt that the run-on and-then-suddenly voice did evoke the ZOMG!!DRAMA of adolescence.
Author, are you a manga fan? Because I could see this version of high school fitting into manga quite well, including the shift in tone from little hearts a'flying to bullets whizzing.
Not having any brilliant ideas of how to convey that in a query letter, though, other than um, giving your town/school an obviously manga-derived or fantastical name?

The incest still throws me a bit - maybe either skip that plot-point or explain? Are they actually brothers, or half-brothers or step-brothers or adoptive brothers?

Author said...

No, I'm not a manga fan, not really. It's interesting that you said it is like manga though, and I kind of have to agree. It's actually set in Vancouver, in a kind of idealized/exaggerated high school.

Yeah, maybe I should skip in the incest bit, maybe just mention the estranged brother showing up and causing trouble. They are full-blood brothers, but with ten years between them so they didn't grow up very close at all.