Friday, January 07, 2011
Guess the Plot
A Sweet Disorder
1. After years of testing various formulas, Milla and Luke finally perfect their Candy Bar NummyBites and are set to make millions . . . if they can just figure out how to keep the secret ingredient from causing cannibalistic tendencies.
2. You know how a small flaw in an article of clothing can make it seem more beautiful than if it were perfect? Jack's flaw is that he thinks he can solve crimes better than the Cretins on the police force. He stumbles on a murder, investigates, calls the principles together, announces whodunnit . . . and gets it all wrong, eliminating any chance of this detective novel becoming a series.
3. Amy almost abandons her dream of becoming a pastry chef when a rare disorder leaves her unable to taste sweetness. Her best friend volunteers his tongue for an experimental transplant, and she realizes she loves him. But really, is there an upside to marrying a man with no tongue?
4. After Professor Sager genetically engineers sugar so that it fights cavities, the Anerican Dental Association kidnaps the professor and destroys the formula. Sager decides to drop his project and work on a cancer-curing cigarette.
5. When he discovers that someone is lacing the Bon Ton Bonbon Company's chocolate truffles with salmonella, Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: that disgruntled rival chocolatier Fifi LaRue is behind the sabotage, and that he'd better pick up a Whitman sampler for his wife on the way home from work.
6. Rhonda has a medical condition. It's called a sweet tooth, and if she can't get rid of it, she fears she won't fit into her wedding gown. Little does she know, Paul has the same affliction, and already can't button the pants of his tux. Will they spend the next two months dieting, and blame each other for their misery? Or will they fess up and elope to a hotel next to a bakery?
Dear Evil Editor,
Jack and Zoe have a special relationship. He’s the young American doctor, so strait-laced he should have been a mummy. [This makes sense only to those who know that mummies are notoriously strait-laced, a group which may include only yourself.] [Now, it might be an amusing joke if mummies were wrapped in lace or if the strips of linen they were wrapped in were tied like shoe laces. As that isn't the case, I recommend one of the following jokes as a replacement: He’s the young American doctor, so strait-laced he should have been a shoe salesman; He’s the young American doctor, so strait-laced he moonlights as a doily.] She’s the wild, spontaneous one, who chucked her nursing post in London to trek round the world. [It seems that they would have met because of their doctor/nurse professions, but if she chucked her post to trek around the world, how did they become a couple?] Things happen around Zoe, and Jack had better get used to it.
Their honeymoon in Crete has hardly begun when they come across a handsome young corpse by the swimming pool. [If he's a zombie, call him a zombie. I'm not sure it's a good idea for a zombie to be by the pool. Sunlight and chlorine are bad enough for your skin when you're alive.] Zoe hardly blinks. Like the police inspector says, sometimes even healthy young men die unexpectedly. That’s good enough for Zoe.
What she can’t fathom is what gets into Jack. Suddenly her quiet, socially inept bumbler is sniffing about for clues and generally sticking his nose everywhere it doesn’t belong. Zoe can tell him exactly what he’ll find: a web of petty village jealousies, a coven of crooked British ex-pats, and a charming little fishing port where smuggling is the real catch of the day. It’s all a bit unsettling—what happened to the comfortably boring stick-in-the-mud she married?
The second body to turn up is so battered and bloody, even the police can’t look the other way. By now Jack’s way ahead of them. And way cleverer, too—if he got through med school, he smirks, then solving the odd murder or two will be easy. It’s one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent education. The solution he presents to the assembled local noteworthies is pure brilliance.
Too bad he gets it all wrong. And in front of all those people, too.
In A Sweet Disorder, a marriage divided by a common language gets a good dose of murder. Noir it’s not—a lot more ouzo’s spilled here than blood. Aimed at readers who look down their noses at whodunnits, [If you've written a whodunnit, your best bet is to aim it at people who don't look down their noses at whodunnits. I base this on the likelihood that the book will be shelved with the whodunnits, and the people who look down their noses at whodunnits won't even know where the whodunnit section is.] this cozy mystery has enough literary pretensions to appeal to fans of Guillermo Martinez, Donna Tart, Josef Sforecky or Arturo Pérez-Reverte, without turning off those whose tastes run more towards Marian Keyes. [I'm starting to think it's the query that has literary pretensions. Which is not a good thing, even if you spell Donna Tartt's and Josef Skvorecky's names right.]
Now the personal bits. After sixteen years in a transatlantic marriage, I know exactly what Mr Churchill was on about. [No idea what that means, but here are some amusing Churchill quotes: "From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put." "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."] For ten years I practiced medicine in the US, but [eventually they discovered I'd never been to med school, so] eight years ago I moved to the UK to write reports for a Major Pharmaceutical Company. The stuff I churn out is meant to convince government agencies our products are safe, effective and absolutely crucial for the public health. No author could ask for a better way to exercise his imagination and creativity. [I applaud the way you cleverly cloak in humor the claim that writing pharmaceutical reports is relevant to writing a mystery. However, as the query is already too long, I would limit the "personal bits" to your medical practice, assuming your doctor and nurse make use of medical training in solving the case.] [Also, it's probably not a good idea to refer to your one example of getting published as "the stuff I churn out."]
A Sweet Disorder, complete at 150,000 words, is my first novel. I’ve enclosed the first three chapters and would very much like to send you the rest of the manuscript.
[explanatory note for 'Guess the Plot' purposes: A Sweet Disorder is a Herrick poem about untied shoes.]
I like paragraphs 2, 3, and 4. Good voice, just enough plot to draw me in. That plus an opening and a closing would be a fine query. Get rid of the personal bits and the name-dropping, which will cut about a third of the query, and then do the same to the book, because it's a rare first novel that sells at 150,000 words.
We're pretty accustomed to our fictional detectives getting it right. A detective who gets it all wrong may seem like a refreshing change, but an agent may want to infer that Jack or Zoe eventually solves the case, so it wouldn't hurt to so imply.