Monday, May 17, 2010

Face-Lift 770

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.

Original Version

Dear agent,

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).


Anonymous said...

Love it. Good job.

Adam Heine said...

This is pretty cool. I was hung up just a little bit when you mentioned Eric's "world-traveler savvy" right after telling us he can't ask for directions or even read a street sign.

Then again at the end when you mention the series. Personally, a series of Eric skillfully navigating various cultures is less interesting to me than a series of Eric learning how to be a spy (though admittedly the former is more unique).

But those are just my opinion. Others will differ. Good luck with this!

Angie said...

This is one of the better first entry queries. I would agree with Adam's nit pick on savvy but he can't find his way around. This is a cute premise. I would read this story. I also have to agree with EE about the title. Although it was very clever how you arrived at it, most boys that age would go for something less profound and more obvious.

Dave F. said...

There's so much in this that is specific to your style and voice hat I hesitate to add or subtract. However, I think you need a few less words to give yourself some breathing room add what EE asks.

I would suggest this:
Remove this chunk:
while she’s at work. Exotic cultures and freaky cuisines don’t faze Eric.
I don't think you need it. Plus, I think it is repeating that his mother works. She takes him along on business. that gets the idea across.

I also think this is extra:
For the last twelve years it seems Mom neglected to mention that her boring ol’ consultant job is all a fake.
I think you can say Mom's a spy and in his excitement over finding out, he exposes her secret.

Then in the third paragraph, I'd take out this:
He can’t so much as ask directions or read a street sign,
and that will give you some room to add how Eric helps defeat the enemy.

I also don't think you need all of those words in the last paragraph but that's a personal choice and opinion.

John said...

Thanks to EE and minions for the encouraging words and all the good advice. I especially see the point about the title, and I could live with changing it, but I haven't come up with a better one yet. How about: "Eric Saves His Mom But She Still Throws Out His Mangaporn"?

writtenwyrdd said...

I think you lose some of the impact by telling us too much about Eric's thought processes and how he can't speak Japanese, but I also like this quite a bit and would have wanted to read the story.

But the working title basically (and not to put too fine a point on it) sucks. Badly. I rather like EE's suggestions for alternatives, but you could also just come up with a variation of Spy Kid (seeing as that one's used already).

_*rachel*_ said...

This is a good one, definitely, and I'd read it.

I'm debating with myself over how plausible I think this is--a result of a class with a former CIA officer. I assume she's with the CIA, spying on companies with shady connections and/or government contracts? If so, fine. If not, I'm iffy on the concept. But either way, I'm sure I could suspend disbelief long enough to read and enjoy it. It's not like the other spy novels I've enjoyed were much more plausible.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Very nice! Cool concept and I love the "turn" in the query. I was not expecting it.

I tend to agree with EE about the title. It's like it's a good title for an adult book and even for a younger kids book but your age group? Not sure. Thing I'd be aware of though if you give it a "Spy Title" you'll lose that twist in the query that I liked. You should get the attention of agents with this and then maybe you can work with him/her on options.

And when we're nitpicking on something like've done something very right!

Tom said...

It's plausible that Eric can't read the signs or find anyone who speaks English. I lived there. The signs are cryptic, and even though everyone studies English, few speak it, even in Tokyo.

As for the query, do trim it but try not to sacrifice too much of the personal style. Lots of cute lines there, and if you cut them all out it would spoil the tone.

enewmeyer said...

I think you've got a great story and really good query letter. As far as plausibility goes, kids don't care. Adults get hung up on it. Kids want to be entertained and love the idea that a normal kid can be the hero even if the action is far fetched.

Joe G said...

Where in the World/Japan is Eric McCoy?

Where in the World is Eric McCoy's Mom?

I think... a combination espionage/every one is set in a different country series is a great idea, and if you could come up with a hook title that you could reuse over and over, you have a pretty solid selling point on your hands. This is actually probably the sort of thing that's pretty hot right now.

Probably want to think about elements that carry over from book to book (gadgets, a secret agency that works against the McCoy family, etc...)

Probably leave the mom out of the title though...

Good query.

sylvia said...

I'm with Tom on this one. I went to Tokyo after 2 years studying Japanese and was shocked and depressed at how disorienting it was and how hard it was to find my way. It was scary and I was twice Eric's age! :)

Having said that, it sounds like it needs rephrasing/gentling for the query since it's causing eyebrow raises.