Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Guess the Plot
Given the Shaft
1. At the Feast of Thibault, worthy squires are presented with swords to mark their ascension to knighthood. Those who fail to measure up are instead drafted as spearmen. Can Horatio, who has dreamed of knighthood his whole life, cope with the humiliation of being . . . Given the Shaft?
2. When Annie Templeton's fiancé leaves her at the altar in 1860s Colorado, he at least leaves her with a consolation prize -- the deed to his gold mine. But is there something hidden in the depths of the mine that he didn't want to deal with?
3. Inch-high aliens land on Miss Shaft's lawn right after she fertilized it. When half the crew dies they declare interstellar war - not realizing she's known locally as 'the crazy cat-lady'.
4. When a woman is killed in an elevator shaft, and the police won't investigate, it's up to student Jordan Bale to solve the case. But it won't be easy when she also must deal with a stalker, a murderer, her rapist, her abusive boyfriend, and that fact that she's flunking math.
5. Marlene was livid when all her no-good husband Bert left her in his will was a played-out silver mine in Nevada. She's even more livid when she sells it to Bert's first wife, Lily, for a song, and learns two months later that a vein of platinum has been discovered in it. When the devil offers to arrange for an irregularity in the sales agreement to come to light, she's mighty tempted.
6. After making the classic mistake of shagging her boss before collecting adequate blackmail material to keep her job afterward, unemployed Nora starts digging. The dirt involves three national governments, the fate of her boss's ex-wife, a LOT of dairy products and . . . running for her life.
Dear Evil Editor,
Jordan Bale is an alienated college student who stumbles into the world of detecting by way of an administrative conspiracy, the murder of her favorite professor, and a serial rapist targeting campus. And one of these criminals is stalking her. With her personal life in shambles, Jordan must solve these crimes before she becomes the next victim.
It all started when a student was killed in an elevator shaft in her dorm and campus police appear to avoid investigating. [That sentence starts in past tense and switches to present. No reason to use past tense at all when the rest of the query is in present.] Jordan takes the story to the school’s newspaper, embarrassing a university that will do anything to protect its reputation. [Did you notice how I didn't say anything at the end of the previous sentence about the phrasing "campus police appear to avoid investigating"? That was me appearing to avoid criticizing. What you want to say is the police refuse to investigate or the police are too quick to call it an accident or the police are too busy busting kids for smoking weed to care about murder. Even if it's not exactly what happens in the book, it's better to state it simply than correctly.] [Also, when there's a dead person, I'm not sure the real police can be kept out of the mix.] When her favorite professor – the only person who saw Jordan as more than just one of Ohio State’s fifty thousand students – is murdered less than a week later, Jordan is determined to find justice. Even if it entails breaking into her professor’s office and stealing her research to look for clues. Then the Columbus Police Department starts turning away rape victims.
[Rape victim: I was raped.
Police desk sergeant: Take a hike, lady.]
[You need to show a connection between the Columbus Police turning away rape victims and the murders. Or leave the rape victims out of the query, which is probably best. You already have two murders, and you don't want the query to be just a list of crimes. Presumably the Columbus police are investigating the professor's murder, so focus on what Jordan can do that they can't.] Throw in an emotionally abusive boyfriend, her first academic failure, and the inability to solve one single case – could Jordan’s life get any worse? Yes. Now she must solve her own rape, as well.
[Jordan: I was raped.
Police desk sergeant: Come back when you've solved the case and we'll talk.]
Given the Shaft is an 80,000-word mystery that could be expanded into a series [in which Jordan once again is unable to solve one single case and the police do nothing]. I was named an up-and-coming star of flash fiction by the 6S Review, and my short stories have appeared in 6S2, MicroHorror, Blink Ink, FlashShot, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, and Long Story Short.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
It's not clear whether the student was found dead in an elevator shaft, having died after plummeting to the bottom, in which case she may or may not have been pushed, or whether she was found in the shaft with a bullet in her head.
Maybe you should come up with a fictional university. Ohio State may not want you publicizing the fact that they'll do anything to protect their reputation. Or the enormous number of murders and rapes that take place on their campus.
It's not clear why Jordan takes a major interest in the elevator shaft death. I would think her major focus/goal (at least until she becomes a victim) would be on solving her professor's murder case. I'd focus the query on that, and just mention the serial rapist as one of the complications (instead of her inability to solve a single case, which isn't a big selling point for a mystery).
I would start the query: When her favorite professor is murdered, Jordan Bale is determined to do what the police apparently can't: solve the case. Then tell us what she does and what obstacles make her task difficult and how she plans to deal with these obstacles.