Friday, March 12, 2010

Face-Lift 740


Guess the Plot

The Milky Way, China Poison

1. Gillian wants to start a new life, so she takes a job with a Chinese dairy, only to discover that her company's milk contains poison. She could speak up, but in China, whistleblowers tend to die young. Maybe Gillian should have started her new life in North Korea.

2. Ten years ago, Jade fled her abusive marriage. Now she's China Poison, semiprofessional wrestler, desperate to win the big cash prize at the Milky Way rumble. But she'll have to wrestle with more than her opponents when she's reunited with the daughter she was forced to leave behind.

3. In 2065, “undesirables” have two choices: life in a brutal institution, or euthanasia, known as “China Poison.” Autistic Anne Miller and her best friend, paraplegic Jake Wilhelm, are determined to find a third option. And they do—at the end of an astonishing, history-making trip to the stars.

4. Journalist Krissa knows something is wrong with the candy bars she's been getting at the dollar store. When she uncovers the Chinese plot to dump plastics and toxins in the flavoring, she knows she's got the story of a lifetime. But will she live to tell it?

5. The broad they called China Poison was bumped off behind the Milky Way Drive-in. I figured the husband for it. Big brute with a face like a wet ham. Then somebody shoots him and the coppers find the gat—with my prints on it. I'm Nick Lugman. And I'm in a whole lotta trouble.

6. With a dead soup-kitchen chef and a trail of candy bars leading to an independent bookstore, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: astrology should be shelved after alchemy, and the mutton-chopped homeless man hiding in the stacks isn't interested in memoirs.


Original Version

Dear:

Re: The Milky Way, China Poison - 38,000 word novella

The rear ender launched the large coffee over Gillian Heath and now she’s going to be late for her job interview. A position in Asia, Shenzhen, PRC. She’s trying for a new life. She couldn’t look at her son’s bedroom door, shut on the empty room anymore. Gillian received the proceeds from the sale of her house an hour ago.

The guy who smacked into her jumps out of his car to see if she’s hurt. She’s not but her silk dress and shoes are covered with coffee drops and streaks.

The man responsible for the wreck blurts out she smells wonderful. His small talk is not going well. He learned he has cancer an hour ago.

“Quit smelling me!” she spits at the moron. Gillian drives to her interview after the terse exchange of information.

Parked, she changes into her wrinkled gym clothes in the car and schlumps to Reception where she convinces the receptionist she has an appointment and isn’t delivering sandwiches.

“Nice to see you again,” Tom Wells, GM, extends his hand and grins at her. She fights off the urge to swing at him but takes the hand. It’s the moron. He’s interviewing her. [You're telling us the entire book. We don't need so much detail. Basically, Gillian is having a bad day. Tom is having a worse day.]

Gillian is running mach five into a new life trying the geographical cure. That never works for anyone and this one won’t work for her. She doesn’t know that. She jumped at the job wondering if rear end remorse had anything to do with Tom’s offer. It didn’t but she doesn’t know that either.

Gillian is running from her son’s death. Accident, call it whatever, she should have kept him safe. Her new job and China don’t work out too well as a cure.

She’s detached, dead inside until she finds out her “I don’t give a frig, Newton” veneer has the depth of cling wrap when samples from her company’s milk show high levels of melamine. Melamine poisons kids with amazing efficiency. Rage, white hot, rips her alive. First time she’s felt anything in a long time. [Finally we've reached what I assume is the main plot.]

Maybe she can honor her son’s short life somehow if she plugs the dam. If she can stop one child from dying of renal failure, she might be able to look at herself in a mirror again. She hates her life. She hates her choices more.

People disappear over internet articles in China. She can ignore the poison milk or try to stop it. Publishing photos of the Party member who poisons for profit is not a good idea. She snaps him out whoring and she’s the whore. [It's not easy to snap photos of yourself while you're whoring. Or so I hear.]

She does stuff she didn’t know she had the stomach for. She frames the major player, she ruins her company and finishes Tom’s career in one hit of the send button. Time to run. The consequences of getting her hands dirty turning off poison milk flowing down little baby throats are severe.

Tom wages a silent and secret battle. He won’t know if his cancer is gone for five lonely years. He married his career a long time ago. Boy, did he get it wrong. He can’t think about that now. He’s got to find Gillian and get her out. She’s in trouble. 1.5 billion people, he better get started

Gillian wanted to change her life not the world. The woman lost in grief and the man who has put his struggles aside to help her, find new meaning in their world, themselves and each other clawing their way out of the mess Gillian made. The Party doesn’t like foreigners causing trouble on the eve of the Olympic Games.

[Gillian: The company I work for is selling poison and calling it milk.

Party member: You're not even Chinese. Check with me after the closing ceremonies.]

Gillian succeeds in stopping the contaminated milk. Tom knew his career and company were wrecked the day he learned about the melamine. He doesn’t care, cancer has a way of straightening out priorities. He wants to live out his life – long or short with this woman but can’t ask her to share her life with him. He may not be able to make a long term commitment. He says goodbye.

Gillian doesn’t care what Tom wants. She needs him to live a complete life. [Spoiler alert.] They work it out.

I’ve been published in China (short stories for an English newspaper and an English school internet site used my stories for language learning) where I worked teaching English. In Canada I worked copywriting for radio, tv and print. I worked as the Promotion Director then Manager of two shopping centers. I wrote at an ad agency. I was hired as a writer for an American trading company in China, hence my move to the PRC. I was a member of the Alberta Romance Writers Assoc. and I now teach in Thailand.

Thank you for the time you spent reading my query, I appreciate it.

Sincerely,


Notes

Your query should fit on one page. This is more like three pages worth of material. It might pass as a synopsis of sorts, but what it feels like is a complete story. A piece of flash fiction. Actually, as a piece of flash fiction, it's not bad. For a query letter, however, try reducing the plot portion to ten or fewer sentences.

You might open with an intro that includes your title, word count etc., and states that the book is set in China on the eve of the Beijing Olympics. We don't need six or seven paragraphs about going to her job interview. The main plot seems to be:

Gillian Heath is running from her son’s death. She’s detached, dead inside--until she finds out her new employer, Shenzhen Baby Products, is poisoning kids with contaminated milk. Rage, white hot, rips her alive.

Tom Wells hired Gillian and sent her to China. When she blows the whistle on Shenzhen, he knows he has to get her out. Whistleblowers have a bad habit of disappearing in China.

One woman lost in grief and one man who has put his own struggle with cancer aside to help her, now seek new meaning in their world and each other.

Throw in a couple sentences that cover vital plot points I left out, and you have enough.


The query doesn't need flowery writing (...until she finds out her “I don’t give a frig, Newton” veneer has the depth of cling wrap...). Save that for the book. Keep the query simple and clear.

The title feels like two titles.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Novellas are tough to sell. You'll do better if you up the word count to at least 60k.

I liked the voice, though.

Matthew said...

Maybe it would look better with a colon instead of a comma

The Milky Way: China Poison

When the dialogue popped up, I got confused for a moment and thought I was reading a New Beginning.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Matthew. I was confused when I started reading this because I thought it was the begining of a book, and I was wondering what the heck was going on. Just work on making it shorter and less descriptive like EE said, and I think you'll have a much better query letter.

no_bull_steve said...

I've heard it's considered tacky to quote your novel in the query letter. I'd leave the final determination for that to EE, but as a query letter, this doesn't work. Rather than the dialogue, maybe focus in on telling us the big picture of this story. Use some hooks that make us want to know the details rather than just provide them in such volume.

It might help for you to read through a number of the completed/refined queries on this site to get a better example of the format used. Hope that helps.

_*rachel*_ said...

You've been around here a while; you know traditional query format. I think that'll work a lot better for you, as will checking and rechecking the punctuation.

This is a really good voice and bodes well for the novel. EE's got a good idea about the flash fiction, too--what you have here wouldn't do too badly.

I'm not so hot on the title, but titles are likely enough to change before publishing.

Are you trying to get permanently kicked out of China, or have you already been?

Good voice, wrong place to display it. Here's to hoping the next draft works!

Angie said...

Drop the dialogue in the query. Also shorten this baby up. This is more like reading a synopsis. It's a good premise, however, and I do like the cynical voice. Beef up the wordcount, I'd rather see a novel. Query-wise: pare and tighten and come back.

Dave F. said...

I've just started reading BROTHERS By Yu Hua and I sense the same sort of language differences with this query. There's a delightful story in this "query" and I put that in quotes because this isn't a query.

It's a story about love and whistleblowers. Start someplace like this:

After the death her of her young son, Gillian takes a job in China to bury her grief and quite by accident discovers a man, she thinks is a fool, but who loves her passionately. Unfortunately, his company also sells poisoned milk to the masses. When Gillian exposes the truth, it is up to her new lover to get her out of China alive.

That's not entirely correct but it's exciting and too short. Expand it in your own words. Don't get carried away with the details of the story. I like your style as in your face and startling as it is.

Anonymous said...

How many different ways can I say thanks? Evil - as always, great guidance and help. Awesome continuations. Comment people: thank you for your input. I have been haunting EE's site for a while now, I didn't know it was bad form to include dialogue. Thanks for telling me. I have read the archives. Slow learner? I'll take another run at it. I seemed to give you guys a case of dry mouth. I am encouraged - no one said my query turned synopsis made them barf. You guys are important to me. Bibi

Matthew said...

Ah, Bibi. I was wondering when you would show yourself.

I heard a story about baby milk causing infant death in China. Is your novel based on this? I would link the story but I have to run out at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Matthew, yes the fiction is based on the poisoning of kids and adults from milk powder made in the PRC cut with melamine. The milk powder was used in baby formula, cookies, candy, instant powdered milk (sent to war torn and countries in catastrophic situations), chocolate milk, anything that has milk products in it. Melamine fixes the nitrogen level in the milk which at that time was the protein indicator. Higher the nitrogen level, higher the protein. By adding water to the melamine contaminated milk more volume was achieved and sold. At monstrous profits. Formaldehyde (sp?) was likely used to mix the melamine with initially to assist solubility. The first execution one of the major players happened about a month or two ago. I was poisoned by drinking one tiny box a day with coffee. Red welts, itchy, burning, Dr. said I was allergic to something. Milk I guessed later My room mate was poisoned more severely than I was. She had open sores that could only be closed by laser treatment. She drank less milk than I did. Terrible, hundreds of thousands of kids have kidney damage and no one knows how many in the world have been affected. The milk powder was bought by many food producers on at least three continents to be used in thousands of products that are shipped worldwide. Grim story. That is what I wove my story around. Bibi

Matthew said...

Bibi, I'm sorry to hear what happened to you and your roommate, I'm glad you guys are okay.

Be sure to post your revision in the comments. We'll be happy to help you out.

Anonymous said...

Hey, we got off very lightly. There is no safe level of mel. with infants. Small body masses make the effects so devastating. That is what drives my m.c. nuts. This was deliberate. Greed drives the plot. The love of money - that's the root. Greed is acting on that evil. Very interesting how it all unfolded. I left the PRC Aug. 7th, the day before the youth of all nations gathered. I felt relief. B.

Dave F. said...

Your passion came through in the writing. Keep that passion in the revised query. This is a plot (as Law and Order says,) ripped from the headlines.

Anonymous said...

Here's the next run at the Milky Way - my computer has had another malady, a new motherboard had to be installed which has taken me a while to get fixed. Here we go:

Dear:

RE: The Milky Way: China's Tainted Milk 38,000 word novella

The story is set in Shenzhen, China where Gillian Heath takes a job she can throw herself into and bury her grief from the death of her young son.

Gillian is dead inside--until she finds out her employer is poisoning kids with contaminated milk. Rage, white hot, rips her alive.

Gillian throws the food supply chain into chaos by committing the only two sins that exist in China. She made the Party lose face and disrupted profit margins.

Tom Wells hired Gillian and has struggles of his own that are about to get worse. When she exposes the industry, he has to get her out for a very good reason. Whistleblowers disappear in China and he's in love with this one.

One woman lost in grief and one man whose world changed wth his diagnosis, find new meaning in their lives as they try to negotiate their way out of the wreck Gillian and his company created.

In previous lives, as the Promotion Director of a regional shopping center in Toronto I wrote the commercials and ads promoting the mall. I went on to manage two shopping centers in Eastern Canada. I wrote copy for an ad agency in Calgary and belonged to the Alberta Romance Writers Association. I was hired as a writer for a US trading firm in China. I went on to teach English for four years there. I was published in a Quanzhou, Fujian Province, newspaper and the language school where I worked as Senior Teacher published stories I wrote on their website. I became their R & D Team Leader with a staff of six producing new material for their thirteen schools and left China the day before the Olympics opened in 2008. I teach in Thailand now and I am working on a manuscript about the earthquake that broke China apart.
Thank you for the time you took to read my query. I appreciate it.

Sincerely,
Bibi
mobile phone:
email:

Dear Evil:
I wanted to add Gillian felt great sucking air deep into her lungs as she came out of her coma. She was livid, enraged, purple veins stood out on her temple! I held myself back.

Thanks,
Bibi

josephrobertlewis said...

Some issues with your rewrite:

First, your writing. Your sentence structures are needlessly awkward. For example, "Rage, white hot, rips her alive." could easily be "Her depression turns to outrage and she..." does something about it.

Second, at least half of your query is about YOU instead of your book, and since this is fiction, it really doesn't matter how "qualified" you are.

It's far more important to tell a good story, and to tell it well, than to prove it is factually accurate or realistic.

Kayeleen said...

It seems like this rewrite has taken you more in the direction of a non-fiction pitch than a novel query.

The RE: doesn't need to be there. And the extremely long paragraph about your qualifications tells us nothing about your writing ability or the story.

Who are the characters? What happens to them? What are the stakes?

Heather M said...

This is a lot better on conciseness than the original query.

Like the others said, you really want to take your employment history out of here. Absolutely none of that's relevant in a fiction query. *Maybe* one sentence saying you've lived in China and that you have experienced a similar true story. Otherwise they don't want to know anything except whether you've published a novel before.

In spite of the great work you've done tightening up this query, there's something about it that doesn't come off right to me. The way you sum up the story feels flat. (Yes, I know, it didn't feel flat when you didn't have to jam it into ten lines. It's a tough job.) Your first two sentences should be compressed into one, without any passive voice: "Dead inside after the death of her young son, Gillian moves to Shenzhen, China and throws herself into her new job there--until she finds out her employer is poisoning kids with contaminated milk." I'm actually partial to the white-hot rage but I think you should put the white-hot before the rage, it's the commas that make the sentence awkward.

Then you need to tell us *what happens*. You're not really telling us. She disrupts the food chain? Makes the Party lose face? OK, these are the effects of what she did--what did she actually DO? (OK, I see you told us in your longer query, and here you need to go for less detail but just enough: she publishes compromising photos of the Party member responsible.)

Then (this is "the stakes"), give us a little more hint of what will happen to her if Tom doesn't get her out. Does Tom know what happens when someone "disappears"? Is she going to get shot, languish in a Chinese prison, end up chained to a machine in a slave-labor factory? Pick one, tell us that's what he's afraid of, so he's got to get her out. (You can cut the "for a very good reason." Your potential editor should know a good reason when he/she sees one.) And tell us he has cancer, you're too vague about it. You can do it briefly. "Tom, whose priorities have been rearranged by his cancer diagnosis."

Please understand I'm not asking you to expand this again. The number of sentences you have here is the right number.

You're improving. Keep it up.

word ver: ducke. Ye olde ducke.

Joe G said...

"Rage, white hot, rips her to life" is throwing me. I don't understand how you can rip someone to life (I feel like there is a bit missing in the sentence, i.e. out of her ennui and to life). The details you give us speak for themselves. Her son died and she went to China only to find out they're poisoning kids. I immediately get how she feels. If she's feeling something unusual (such as intense sexual arousal at this turn of events), well, tell us... and I'd be interested ._.

Maybe consolidate. Stop telling us how dead Gillian is inside, it makes her sound like a drip. Make her sound proactive.

A new job takes Gillian Heath from Anytown, America all the way to Shenzhen, China, where she hopes to get as far from her grief over the premature death of her son as she possibly can. At first, things go great and Chinese isn't even that difficult to learn, but when Gillian discovers that her employers* are secretly poisoning children** with contaminated milk, and she is the only one who (knows?cares?has the awesome cosmic power to stop it?)***, she is ripped from her ennui into action when she (What? Goes to the press? Chinese or American?)****.

But what (Naive? She sounds terribly naive) Gillian doesn't know is that she has committed both of the only two sins that exist in China (seriously? China happens to have a pretty rigid social structure. Also, Gillian is American). She's disrupted Consolidated Arsenic Milk Co.'s profit margins, and she made the People's Republic of China lose face.

Now the only one who can save her from the Chinese government besides the American government (by taking her on the run? hiring her the best damn Chinese lawyers he can find?) is the man who hired her for the job in the first place; Tom Wells, a man who knows all about the conspiracy behind the poisoned milk--BECAUSE HE WAS IN ON IT.

It would be an inadvisable thing to defy his employers and the PRC, but, even at the cost of (what? His life? His fortune?), Tom has a very good reason to do so. Whistle blowers tend to disappear in China--and he's (fallen? Always been, since they first discovered their magical powers as children together in Spinner's End?) in love with this one.

THE END. You don't need the last bit I think because it's just thematic. We don't need to know Tom is dying or whatever, he's most interesting in how he relates to Gillian, which is that he is in love with her and is the only person who can help her.

*For whom does she work? A big corporation, I should imagine? One that has such great bearing on the food market it could throw the whole shebang into chaos?
**American kids? Chinese kids? Give us some context.
***Why is Gillian the only one who can do anything? This sounds like a massive deal.
****Again, context. You need to give us some idea of who she tells, what she does to blow the whistle, why the reader should care, why she's stuck in China, etc.

I don't really understand why this company is poisoning specifically children. Do they make milk for schools? I could see a company covering up a one time thing but the plot does not currently sound plausible to me. Also, I don't really have a good sense of where the plot goes from there. Do they go on the run? Does she fight a legal battle with Tom at her side? Is there a culture clash? Why the hell does she get hired for a job in China in the first place?

I know you've previously addressed many of these questions before and I'm honestly only asking rhetorically. I was just responding to how specifically this query made me feel. That said, I'm actually interested in the story, assuming it all goes together in a sensible manner in the book itself. I'm curious as to what happens, it's the sort of thing I would pick up and page through.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all-yes FLAT ran through over and over when I wrote this. I'll dump the personal resume. Got carried away. Joe G - superior questions - in fact everyone was poisoned, it just showed up in kids sooner with more severe consequences. Tom was innocent - the crux is no one knew they should be testing for contaminents because they didn't know they had to. I thank all of you for the thoughtful and provocative comments. I'll stand down and regroup. Be back at you in a few days. Appreciate you hanging in there with me, Bibi

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's the new one.

Dear:

The story is set in China, where Gillain Heath finds something bigger than the grief she carries over her son's death. She discovers her company's milk suppliers have been boosting profits by adding a construction compound and a lot of water to the milk, efficiently poisoning people inside and outside of the PRC. Kids are at high risk of melamine poisoning due to their smaller body mass.

Gillian frames the kingpin (a Party member) with photos unbecoming to a man of his standing and publishes them internationally. She's taken in to unofficial detention when she tries to exit China along with her photographer, the company strategist she bullied into helping her.

The man who hired Gillian is terrified. He thought he had a mole removed. Basal cell carcinoma is the diagnosis. Tom Wells' skin cancer was caught at an early stage but there are no guarantees. Life takes on different meaning for him as he puts his struggle with cancer aside and goes after Gillian. His job and company are finished but he's not. Gillian could be beaten, starved or worse. The company strategist is in detention with her. That could be good or bad depending on which side the strategist is really on. Tom heard rumors about the ABC working for a government agency on the side and chalked it up to gossip. Tom isn't sure about anything anymore except that he loves Gillian and he may be dying.

Tom can't believe it when he's taken into custody entering China. He was naive to think he wouldn't be on the detention list as the GM of the company that blew the whistle on the poison milk.


On the other side of the world, an unofficial prisoner exchange may get the detainees out, if one of Gillian's friends can convince his friend in high places to get involved. That could be political suicide for the man.

I've had a few short stories published in China where I lived. I was poisoned by drinking a little box of milk with my morning coffee. My story is fiction, the poisoning of the milk supply is fact. The first execution of the major player in the scandal was carried out recently in China.

Thank you for your time in reading my query.

Bibi

Kings Falcon said...

It's getting there Bibi. Tell me the genre so I know if you're pitching fiction or non-fiction. Also, as has been pointed out, 38K is going to be a tough sell.


Try starting with something like:

Gillian Heath thinks Shenzhen, China and her new job as a (fill in the blank) is far enough away from the pain of her son's death until she learns her new employer's profit scheme - cutting milk powder with melamine - is killing thousands of infants.

With that overlong sentance, I know who my MC is, that we are in an "exotic" location and what her primary issue is going to be. Dave's suggested start is good as well.

For the rest of the query you don't give me the right details:

You say: Gillian frames the kingpin (a Party member) with photos unbecoming to a man of his standing and publishes them internationally.

Details would be: To stop the practice,Gillian blackmails Gen. XY, the head of XY, with photographs of him and a hooker. When he doesn't stop the practice, she publishes them online and the scandal forces Gen. XY to resign.


You say: She's taken in to unofficial detention when she tries to exit China along with her photographer, the company strategist she bullied into helping her.

Details would be: The police arrest her for sedition.

The photographer doesn't seem to matter. Drop him from the query.

You say: The man who hired Gillian is terrified.He thought he had a mole removed. Basal cell carcinoma is the diagnosis. Tom Wells' skin cancer was caught at an early stage but there are no guarantees. Life takes on different meaning for him as he puts his struggle with cancer aside and goes after Gillian. His job and company are finished but he's not.

Reaction: This came out of left field. Also, early stage skin cancer has him changing his life? From the earlier versions I thought it was much more serious. This doesn't seem to be the life and death cancer struggle you are trying for. But back to details.

Details: Tom Wells receives the news of Gillian's detention at the same time he learns he has cancer. He postpones his cancer treatment in favor of a rescue attempt only to be arrested as well.



You say:

Gillian could be beaten, starved or worse. The company strategist is in detention with her. That could be good or bad depending on which side the strategist is really on. Tom heard rumors about the ABC working for a government agency on the side and chalked it up to gossip. Tom isn't sure about anything anymore except that he loves Gillian and he may be dying.

Tom can't believe it when he's taken into custody entering China. He was naive to think he wouldn't be on the detention list as the GM of the company that blew the whistle on the poison milk.

Reaction - Most of this can be deleted. This is synopsis level detail and not a query level.


You say: On the other side of the world, an unofficial prisoner exchange may get the detainees out, if one of Gillian's friends can convince his friend in high places to get involved. That could be political suicide for the man.

Reaction: Hu?

Details: John Smith, Gillian's former boss, might just be able to rescue them both. But is he willing to commit policial suicide to do the right thing?


After Gillian blows the whistle, she vanishes from the query. Focus on her story.
Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

King F, Thank you. I'll leave out the specific diagnosis - skin cancer is not life threatening when caught early but Tom ignored it and is in a serious situation. He won't get the all clear for five years. If it has spread he's got 6 - 9 months maybe. Too soon to tell.
Appreciate your help, your opening line - brill. Back to the keyboard. Bibi