Thursday, December 23, 2010

Face-Lift 853

Guess the Plot

The River Lethe

1. They call it that because people would like to forget about all the innocents who were dropped into it from airplanes with no parachutes and never seen again. But Victoria will never forget the atrocities that led her to flee the country, leaving her friends to the concentration camps or maybe even to be dropped from airplanes into . . . the River Lethe. With no parachutes.

2. When young Chiro and her parents accidentally wander into the spirit world, she meets the friendly water-dragon of the river Lethe. Together they defeat a witch and save her parents from being served as food.

3. Lisa Rowles has an old German map left to her by her grandfather, who told her that it led to Nazi gold. But it doesn't match modern maps. Dr. Rob Sanchez recognizes that the map's twin resides in the Vatican. Can they beat the Jesuits to . . . the River Lethe?

4. John meets a group of hippie lotus-eaters while canoeing down the river Lethe and adopts their easy living lifestyle. Which would be fine if he hadn't killed three people the week before and wasn't currently the subject of a nationwide manhunt. Amnesia can be a bitch.

5. Finneus Bigsby is a swindler, selling people his usual "health tonic" by the roadside, traveling town to town. One day he stumbles on a formula that makes people forget, and realizes that's just the medicine some people need. For starters, one sip, and you won't remember how much you just paid.

6. Planning to elope, Henry agrees to meet his sweetheart at the River Lethe. Tragically, Henry doesn't take Gertrude's lisp into account; the rendezvous is the River Lesse, and Henry loses Gertrude forever. On the brink of despair, he pioneers the practice of speech pathology.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When the Armed Forces take control of Argentina in 1976, Victoria must choose to remain apathetic and silent or speak out against the violence that has claimed the lives of her three best friends.

Julia dies before the dictatorship can begin, fighting as a guerrilla in the northwestern provinces. Victoria and her remaining friends, Irene and Liliana, believe they are insulated from the political violence, because unlike Julia, they neither engage in nor believe in the armed struggle.

But the military makes no distinction between those with guns and those with ideas. [I, on the other hand, would much prefer to be stranded on an island with a philosopher than with a hitman.] Irene, due to her outspoken and politically active older brother, is the first of the friends to join the ranks of ‘los desaparecidos,’ those who are arrested and vanish into the military’s sinister network of secret prisons. Months later, inspired by the first anniversary of the coup, Liliana pens a scathing editorial against the junta in her underground newspaper. This editorial is equivalent to signing a death warrant and soon after its publication Liliana disappears.

With Victoria alone in the outside world, Liliana and Irene are reunited in the Navy Mechanics School, one of the dictatorship’s most notorious concentration camps. Victoria eventually accompanies her older brother into exile in Spain, unsure if she’ll ever see her friends again. Decades later, Victoria returns to a democratic Argentina still struggling with the brutal legacy of the Dirty War and the disappeared.

THE RIVER LETHE is a 91,000 word work of literary fiction. I am currently majoring in Latin American Studies at [redacted] and have spent extensive time in Argentina. This is my first novel.


[Author's note, not part of query: The title refers to the Rio de la Plata, the eventual resting place of many of the disappeared, who were drugged and dumped alive from airplanes over its waters. The 'Lethe' aspect refers to how many people find it better to just forget about the things that happened during the dictatorship.]


It's a well-written query. however . . . Given a choice among four potential characters to base a story around, most authors would choose the woman who took up arms to fight with revolutionaries, or the one who risked her life by fighting oppression through an underground press or even the one who was thrown into a concentration camp for something her brother did. But you have boldly chosen the character who fled to another continent and returned only when it was safe. Does Victoria do anything noteworthy, or is she simply carried along by the tide of events like so many others? In short, why does Victoria get a book written about her, and can you work that into the query? (If there are several main characters, the first paragraph is misleading us into thinking the book is focused on Victoria.)

When you say violence "claimed the lives of" Victoria's three friends, I assume they're dead. But you say their lives had been claimed when the military took control in 1976. Later you suggest that Irene and Liliana are alive beyond that event; in fact, it's not clear from the query that they aren't alive even when Victoria returns decades later.


Anonymous said...

Interesting material, but it's not clear what you're doing with it. Does the book follow the same structure as your query? Or no? Are their narratives all separate, or intertwined, somehow? Maybe you can step back a bit more and give us a slightly more abstract description.

Anonymous said...

Ooo, breaking the rules, four protagonists--in your first novel no less. A technique not for the faint of heart.

You need four complete arcs for that to work. Sounds like the story could conflate some of these protags together and demote the others to mere support-cast.

Since the query seems to focus on the least exciting character-plot, we're left wondering where your priorities lay in telling this story.

arhooley said...

Wow, I disagree with EE about this query. It seems like it might be an interesting novel, but --

It's 1976, and Victoria must make a decision: whether to act or not. Her friends are already dead. So she accompanies her brother into exile, and 20 years later she returns to the scene of the crime, where most people have decided to forget the whole thing, and she . . . does what? I had the impression from your first sentence that this is about Victoria's decision, or about her break from her own inaction, but the rest of the query leaves me confused as to what this story is really about.

Now for the writing:

I'm not sure how one "chooses" to "remain apathetic." If you truly don't care, then you're not aware enough to choose either way. Maybe Victoria must choose to remain uninvolved and silent, or passive and silent, or something such.

"Join the ranks" seemed like deadpan humor -- it seemed off in any case. I'd use a different metaphor. "Join" is something one does voluntarily.

Victoria isn't alone in the outside world as long as she has her brother, is she?

All that said, I like the subject matter and I'd probably read this. I admire and enjoy characters with active intellects and active consciences. But I think you need to better describe exactly what it is you've written.

Anonymous said...

One quick question: is there any tango dancing in the book? I love tango dancing.

Joe G said...

This is the sort of book I'd be interested in. I think it's a well written query. I agree with EE that it just kind of ends without a suggestion of what the main character's ultimate destination is, but what you have included is already intriguing.