Monday, May 17, 2010
Guess the Plot
The Crane's Beak
1. Tired of all the picky eaters, Aunt Vessa tells her family the first one to guess the secret ingredient in her stew will inherit her fortune.
2. Celia loves and cares for all the delicate wetland creatures, and she'll do whatever it takes to protect them--including committing assault, arson, and eventually a triple homicide.
3. The old Japanese mystic down the street tells Anna that she can save her mother’s life if she folds one thousand paper cranes, but Anna’s trembling hands make it almost impossible to make even the simplest of folds: the crane’s beak.
4. Industrial forensic engineer Kelly McIntire is called in when a freak crane accident kills several workers. McIntire confirms that it was a freak accident--it was caused by a sideshow freak whose nose looks like the beak of a crane.
5. You know how when a shrimp gets plucked from the bottom of a marsh and sees sunlight, he thinks he's in paradise even though he's actually in a crane's beak, about to be eaten alive? That's how Eric feels when he gets to battle enemy agents and save his mommy.
6. People are always wanting elephants' tusks for the ivory, but does anyone care at all about a crane's beak? One doctor discovers that the beak of a crane has cancer-curing properties. But before he can tell the world, he gets trampled by elephants.
While his friends learn the ropes of middle school, Eric McCoy is seeing the world. His mother jets from country to country on business, and he tags along, home schooling in hotel rooms and exploring foreign cities while she’s at work. Exotic cultures and freaky cuisines don’t faze Eric. In Japan his only worry is sneaking a naughty manga past Mom. Well, that and covering up the mini-bar sake bottle he broke, because of course she’d think he chugged it. Which he, like, totally didn’t, okay?
But a chance discovery scrambles Eric’s adolescent universe. For the last twelve years it seems Mom neglected to mention that her boring ol’ consultant job is all a fake. She’s a spy. Eric thrills at sharing her secret life – and unwittingly blows her cover. He may not have his mother’s spy training – or her dirty fighting skills – but Eric sleuths out one little fact she missed: that she’s being lured to her death, thanks to him.
He’s alone. In Japan. He can’t so much as ask directions or read a street sign, Based on a few images I saw after Googling "Tokyo street signs," Eric should be able to read some street signs, as some have English words accompanying those strange pictograms that no one could possibly understand. Also, I'll bet there are plenty of English-speaking people in Tokyo of whom he could ask directions. Contestants on The Amazing Race manage to find English speakers even when they're out in the middle of nowhere.] and even if he spoke perfect Japanese, who would believe his story? His only hope lies in his own brains, guts, and world-traveler savvy as he tracks down his mother through the urban vastness of Tokyo. Then comes the hard part: scrawny twelve-year-old versus desperate enemy agents in a running battle for his mother’s life, and his own.
The Crane’s Beak is 68,000 words and could stand as a single title or could anchor a series in which Eric’s survival hangs on his ability to navigate various cultures. I lived in Japan nine years and learned the language, and I had a blast painting an American kid’s-eye view of that fascinating country. I have included the opening pages below. Thanks for your consideration.
[Title explanation (not part of query): While reading up on Japan before his trip, Eric comes across a Buddhist parable about a shrimp who gets plucked up from the slimy bottom of a marsh and sees flowers and sunlight. The shrimp thinks he's in paradise, but actually is in a crane's beak about to be eaten. This of course parallels Eric's excitement on entering the world of espionage and then his terror when he and his mother face death. Also, Eric uses a crane, the mechanical kind, to sneak aboard a container ship where his mother is trapped.] [Reading up on Japan is a good idea, but if your guidebook gets into Buddhist parables, you might want a thinner one, especially if you're 12.]
This is well-written and ought to get some positive responses as is. It's mostly setup, but that doesn't bother me as much in a kids book. Still, if you want to work in something about what happens when Eric takes on the enemy agents (your actual plot), you could reduce the first paragraph to: Eric McCoy is seeing the world. While his mother jets from country to country on business, he tags along, home schooling in hotel rooms and exploring foreign cities when she’s at work. Telling us his friends are learning the ropes of middle school serves no purpose, as you later give us his exact age, and the rest of that paragraph is there for voice, but I think the voice comes across fine without the trivial manga/sake details.
The title seems like what you'd cleverly use if it were literary fiction for adults. Kids are more likely to be drawn to Eric McCoy and the League of Secret Agents or How Eric McCoy saved his Mom (and Tokyo).