Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Face-Lift 896

Guess the Plot

Dismal Key

1. The members of a garage band dream of hitting the charts. But because they play all their songs in A minor, they don't stand a chance.

2. Peopled by blood-splattered retirees, Dismal Key is the only remaining zombie habitat in the southeastern United States. And a Florida real estate developer has her eye on it.

3. Eleven year old David Connor finds a mysterious key in the attic of his new home which gives him the power to unlock the spirit world. When he uses this power to defeat the bullies at his new school, David unlocks . . . a dark and menacing power he doesn't know how to control!

4. Mckluskey Harvey is enjoying his summer in the Florida Keys--until human traffickers swoop in, kidnap his girlfriend, and turn her over to a serial killer to satisfy his cravings. Mcklusky tracks the traffickers through a mangled maze of mangroves to Dismal Key. But is he too late to save his sweetie?

5. When Babi was a twenty-something pop star, famous for her bright & frankly annoying singing style, she sneered at her critics. Now a forty-something has-been, plagued by depression and addiction problems, Babi has one last chance to save her career--singing the blues.

6. Bud and Judy put their life savings into a retirement island off the Florida coast, not realizing they'll be thrashed by every hurricane to hit the Caribbean. Suddenly Minnesota doesn't look so bad. Still, their lives aren't totally ruined -- until Bud rents half the key to a gang of drug-smuggling pirates.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Sixteen-year-old Mcklusky Harvey is enjoying his summer in Florida until a group of human traffickers decides to store their next shipment of girls in The Ten Thousand Islands. [I know how he feels. I've had more than one vacation ruined by the sudden arrival of human traffickers.] [I think human traffickers would prefer to be called a ring or a gang rather than a group. Also, they'd probably come up with different words for "storing their shipment," which sounds more like what drug smugglers do. Perhaps you should temporarily infiltrate a ring of human traffickers until you pick up the lingo.] Ex-CIA agent John Becker follows the traffickers seeking retribution for his sister’s kidnapping and death. [This guy is involved professionally and personally with the human traffickers. Why did we open with some random teenager spending the summer in Florida?] Instead of cussing Yankees and working on his grandfather’s fishing boat, Mcklusky [We're back to Mcklusky? Maybe we should focus the first paragraph on Mcklusky, and bring in Becker in paragraph 2.] is tangled in a treacherous rescue mission. [Mcklusky may be a Red Sox fan, but do we really need to know, in the query, that he isn't cussing Yankees?]

When Mcklusky's girlfriend is kidnapped by the traffickers, his grandfather and Becker leave him behind to save her. [That could be interpreted to mean Gramps and Becker headed for the hills, leaving Mcklusky behind to save his girlfriend.] But Mcklusky isn't one to let others determine the fate of someone he loves. Intent on killing the traffickers, Mcklusky tracks them through the mangled maze of mangroves to Dismal Key, an inhospitable island. Once there he discovers that his girlfriend is not meant to be sold but to satisfy the cravings of a serial killer/rapist who works with the traffickers. [Whether you're a circle of knitters, a book club, a baseball team or even a human trafficking ring, it's pretty stupid to recruit a serial killer as part of your group.] [Where do these human traffickers get their shipments of girls? Why wouldn't the serial killer be satisfied with one of those girls, thus making it unnecessary to kidnap girlfriends and sisters of people with the means to seek revenge, like ex-CIA agents?

Human Trafficker 1: New shipment of Laotian girls is in.
Human Trafficker 2: Great. Now go kidnap an American girl.
Human Trafficker 1: What for?
Human Trafficker 2: To satisfy the cravings of Borgo the Disemboweler.
Human Trafficker 1: Tell me again why we keep this guy around.]

Armed with a KA-BAR knife, Mcklusky confronts the traffickers. [It's pretty stupid to confront a crew of human traffickers with a knife. Do I have to post this scene yet again:]

Once the traffickers know who Mcklusky is, his failure to kill them will cause the death of everyone he loves. [Because human traffickers have nothing better to do than research your life and travel throughout the country hunting down your loved ones.]

DISMAL KEY is a Young Adult Thriller complete at 80,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.



You have nine sentences of plot, and seven of them contain the word "traffickers." Which beats the old record on this blog by seven. Not that I'm suggesting calling them criminals once or twice. I'm suggesting always referring to them as "human traffickers" rather than just "traffickers." I figure if one use of the term "human traffickers" is amusing, seven uses would be hilarious.

A quick count reveals that I have mentioned human traffickers fifteen times in my notes and comments, thus shattering your record.

Who's in charge of hunting down kidnappers and human traffickers? Has Becker or Mcklusky informed the authorities of the kidnappings?

It seems like a sixteen-year-old kid who isn't even from Florida wouldn't have the skills to track someone to one specific island among ten thousand.

How did the maze of mangroves get mangled? And can you say "mangled mangrove maze" five times fast?

Mcklusky sounds like a last name. Are you sure his name isn't Harvey McKlusky? Not that I'm complaining. It's better than calling him Jenn.


Anonymous said...

Sigh. It was easy to guess which plot was the real one. It was the most improbable.

I don't know much about serial killers, but I know that they prefer to find their own victims.

I don't know much about human trafficking, but I know that it relies heavily on the trafficked humans feeling trapped by their lack of familiarity with the language and culture of the country they're trafficked to, and on their awareness that they're in the country illegally. And on any lies their captors care to feed them about what the authorities will do to them if they seek help*. IOW, an American teenager in the US wouldn't traffick very well.

*Nowadays trafficked humans are eligible for asylum.

I don't know much about my beloved homeland, but I know we enjoy The Rule of Law. This means that when a teenaged girl is kidnapped, one can always try calling the police and trusting them to show a modicum of concern.

To put this another way: nothing in the plot follows logically. It could, easily. Say, for example, the girlfriend actually is a Lao who's in the country illegally. And say none of her friends want to call the cops because she's also wanted for-- oh, I don't know, let's say manslaughter. And aggravated bunny-molestation. Then the plot makes marginal sense.

--AlaskaRavenclaw, posting anonymously because blogger isn't accepting my ID today

alaskaravenclaw said...

PS-- I suppose not calling the cop could also make sense if Gramps and the boyfriend are neck-deep in organized crime themselves. Serial mangrove manglers, say.

Dex said...

This seems a little dark for YA. It's not just the feeding kidnapped teenage girls to a serial killer, either. McKlusky (please just call him Mick) finds out that his girlfriend has been kidnapped by human traffickers and his first instinct is to get a knife, hunt them through a swamp and kill them all? That really doesn't sound like a well-adjusted teenager. That sounds like Rambo. Rambo, by the way, was not a well-adjusted human being.

If McKlusky is actually a brave and clever hero who has NO OTHER OPTION but to risk his life to save this girl, then you need to find a way convey that in the query. If this is a dark action story with lots of killing, then you might want to consider making this an adult novel and really fleshing out the character of this bloodthirsty young man.

Anonymous said...

Not seeing why you put the CIA dude in if he doesn't do anything helpful. This scores low on the believability scale and not in a good way. As EE points out the setting and certain plot elements and cast choices seem to be getting in your way. Seems like your MC will need wizarding skill to achieve his goal but all you gave him is a knife. Everyone would be better off if he stayed home and did nothing. Not sure of audience for books with such badly matched protagonist & dilemma.

vkw said...

I realized it was the real plot when I saw the name Mckluskey. I didn't realize the novel is meant to be YA until the author told me so.

I prefer the name Jenn over Mckluskey. I am also partial to the name Sandie as a man's name. (I would, therefore, not take my advice on names.)

There is some serious plot problems the way this query is written. Alaskaraven is correct. Human trafficers do what they do best with women who can't run away for one reason or another. (I read an interesting article in TX newspaper that the police and FBI were gearing up to bust human traffickers during the Super Bowl. Apparently an influx of women come in during major events.)

Maybe the girlfriend is from Mexico and no one is calling the police because they threaten to kill her parents. And the reason she is illegally in the US is because she's a runaway that hates her parents.

I'm more concern with the CIA guy? CIA or FBI? FBI would work better. In the query the author should explain why the CIA guy is willing to get fired for not calling in the police or the FBI. If he just want to kill, kill, kill then he's a bad guy that no doubt would not want to leave witnesses between the age of 16-80.

L. said...

Indy FTW.

PS, my knitting circle is doing just fine with our serial killer. Thank you.

Odd how attendance has been dropping off, though.

EE said...

Becker is an ex-CIA guy, vkw. There' s no indication what his current occupation is, if he has one.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

C'mon, guys. If everyone called the cops when there was a crime, we'd be hard-pressed to hire enough detectives. Have you SEEN the number of murders solved by ordinary citizens in cozy and regular mysteries? Or the number of bad guys bad-ass guys and gals take on in thrillers? You can't walk down a back alley or on a college campus without running into murder and mayhem.

A thin veneer of a reason will help, of course. Maybe McK is pissed that he's in Florida and not back home tracking and whacking wildlife, which demonstrates that he has tracking and whacking skills. Maybe Gramps is a bit senile and mis-remembers information about the girl. Maybe Becker drinks too much and has health problems and he only thinks he's still as good as he was in his glory days with the CIA. And that's why McK can beat 'em to the scene.

Maybe the girlfriend is Cuban, it being Florida and all. And maybe it was really Becker's half-sister who was half-Cuban who got whacked.

As for the serial killer ... OK, I've got nothing for that.

The point is that just a few words in the query are all that's needed to divert some of the questions readers will have. As long as the story backs those words up.

150 said...

Since this is a thriller (Query Shark has written extensively about what makes that category: and since I'm not alone in having problems with suspension of disbelief, you might try to focus your query on answering two questions:

- Why is Mcklusky the only person who can save his girlfriend and take down the traffickers?
- Why is he the one who must?

Adele said...

The first sentence left me thinking that your MC is a stranger, just in Florida for his summer vacation. Took me a few reading to realize he's a local boy. You should make that clearer because it's hard to imagine a tourist being able to track anything through a swamp.

The KA-BAR knife - possibly a detail best left out. Even if I knew what a KA-BAR knife was, it sounds a little too "Boy's Own Adventure Stories" to be taken seriously. Plus, if KA-BAR is a brand name, there might be legalities involved.

Speaking of "Boy's Own Adventure", this plot does remind me more of the 1940s and 1950s than the 2010s. I think that's because the plot seems to turn on having no police force (or a corrupt one) and being physically isolated from any ouside help.

It reminds me of the movie "Key Largo" (similar setting, Bogie tangling with gansters all on his own) but even at the time the plot only worked because they were isolated by a tremendous storm. Nowadays with digital cameras and the Internet, you can so easily get your message out to everyone in the world, and it seems you'll get a lot more help than Gramps and the ex-CIA guy.

And what help are those two, anyway? They seem to turn on the teenager at some point and say "Well, we're going after the traffickers, why don't you tackle the serial killer and save your girlfriend." If that's not what happens, again, you need to clarify.

Anonymous said...

According to the query, he doesn't ever save the girl or anybody else. He just pisses the criminals off, and inspires them to massacre the rest of his significant others. Hard to sell a plot like that.

Maybe it's a lesson about why youth should call 911 or get an AK-47 instead of chasing thugs through a maze of mangled mangroves armed with a mere knife.

Maybe the query leaves big critical plot elements out.

BuffySquirrel said...

There's no reason not to use brand names in your fiction. Just remember to capitalise them.

There need to be reasons not to call in the cops. Even if they're flimsy, not very convincing reasons.

Also, Rambo was not a very believable human being, either.

alaskaravenclaw said...

A Cuban pretty much can't be in the US illegally, because of the Wet Foot Dry Foot policy.

In fact, if you ever find yourself in the US illegally, claiming to be Cuban would be a good gambit to try.

Anyway, the illegal alien thing isn't nearly enough to explain not calling the cops. Deported vs. raped and murdered is an easy call.

I think it works better if they're all wanted for smuggling illegal hatpins or something.

batgirl said...

"Once the traffickers know who Mcklusky is, his failure to kill them will cause the death of everyone he loves."
Okay, so my first reading of that was: Mcklusky fails to kill the traffickers, so they kill everyone he loves (presumably girlfriend and Gramps, possibly parents if they're local too).
Is it possible that I'm supposed to read it as: If Mcklusky fails to kill all the traffickers, they will go on to kill everyone he loves, presumably after killing him? So he has to kill every one of them. With a knife.
It may well be marketable, since Hunger Games has as brutal a premise, but I think the author needs to clarify what's actually happening and why.

Mitch said...

Hello All,

Being the author of this query, I thank you for your input. Before I try to fill in the plot holes, let me state that by me trying to fill in the plot holes I am admitting the query doesn’t work and therefore sucks.

First the human trafficking issues. American girls are kidnapped for sexual slavery, not on the scale that happens to girls in third world countries, but it happens. Think TAKEN but instead of Paris it happens in the US. In this story the girls are held on Dismal Key and moved to Cuba and then auctioned off.

Becker’s sister was one of them. He’s pissed off. He doesn’t want the law involved. He wants to kill the human traffickers himself. But no one goes into the Ten Thousand Islands alone. You wind up tearing the hull of your boat on oyster bars or sandbars or some other nasty ass stuff. You need a local like Mcklusky’s grandfather who is a fishing guide.

Mcklusky isn’t stable. He’s not meant to be. I am glad that part actually came through. Although once I start calling him George, he’s going to get more pissed off. He’s sixteen, horny, and his only piece of ass was just kidnapped. At sixteen I would have traversed a swamp, desert, and ocean for a piece of ass- It was harder to get girls to give it up back then. But really, he has issues. Too many to explain here that’s why I wrote a novel. After Becker and his grandpa leave him behind (Stupid Grandpa not taking his sixteen year-old grandson along to kill human traffickers) to find the human traffickers, Mcklusky decides he needs the help of his drug running cousin to find his girlfriend and the human traffickers (I’m going for the record again). His cousin doesn’t like the law either or human traffickers.

As far as the serial killer working with the human traffickers, the book does explain why he does what he does- mommy issues and all. But admittedly I am giving serious thought on how I can change this character now.
In all seriousness EE, minions, and anyone else, thank you for pointing out the flaws. I have blurred over this query a many times. My only regret is that I couldn’t break the record for using the term human trafficking or some variation of it. Keep the comments coming.

BuffySquirrel said...

'Mommy issues'? Seriously? You might want to read some more up to date thinking on serial killers. Also, good luck getting teen girls to care about your hero if he perceives his girlfriend's kidnapping as merely an interruption to his sex life.

Khazar-khum said...

Maybe the serial killer is McKlusky's estranged grandmother, whose issues drive her to kill girls whose sassy mannerisms annoy her. And the traffickers keep her around because she makes dinner. And one trafficker is her long-lost son, Fred. He got into trafficking to get a submissive wife. When Grandma offed his fiery Guatemalan girl, they were inextricably linked forever. Gramps suspects his ex is somehow involved after she shot the Haitian housekeeper for "stealing".

McKluskey takes after her, which is why he leaves skulls and candles in public restrooms.

Mitch said...

Buffy, I was joking about the going after her for sex and mommy issues.

Trisha said...

I want to read the book about the songs in A minor. LOL.

Xenith said...

Oi, no picking on my characters' names right at the end of someone else's face lift!

(Good thing I wasn't drinking something then.)

Sarah said...

Hi Mitch -

Thanks for taking the comments with such good grace. To my mind, even after your explanation, you still have two big plausibility hurdles:

First, okay, maybe Mcklusky is crazy enough to go after a human trafficking ring with just a knife and his drug running cousin. But you've gotta give us some idea why he has a chance in hell of actually winning and not getting immediately slaughtered.

(On a side note - please don't forget that even anti-heroes should be sympathetic if not actually likable. All we know about this kid is that he's borderline sociopathic and he thinks of his girlfriend as a piece of ass. Give us some reason to want to spend time with him.)

Second, while some Americans may be the victims of trafficking, by and large traffickers go after populations that are already at risk, which usually means drug addicts, runaways, and the displaced. There's a reason the events of Taken happened in Paris - the victims may have been upper middle class Americans but they were also two isolated women in a foreign city. And I have never, EVER heard of people being trafficked out of America into Cuba or any other developing country. That just doesn't make financial sense: why go to the trouble when your destination country already has a bigger at-risk population, less efficient law enforcement, and a smaller pool of buyers? That's not to say it could never happen, but it's one more plausibility hurdle to clear in your query.

Xenith said...

I found your explanation more interesting and easier to follow than the original query. That might be due to the lack of blue comments, but you use shorter sentences which have more impact and sound more natural/less like a back of book blurb. Also more specific details. Maybe forget you're writing a query letter and pretend you're telling a friend what the book is about?

Using "serial killer/rapist" makes it sound like its some "shadowy but obviously really, really bad" guy rather than a properly developed character.

arhooley said...

Book jacket copy:

WILL Mcklusky Harvey get his piece of ass?

Not exactly stakes I care about. And I can't believe it's easier for Mcklusky to get it by grabbing his KA-BAR and going after a ring of human traffickers who have a serial killer co-worker. Aren't there whores in Florida? Drug-addled runaways who'll do anything for the price of a fix? Plain old loose girls?

This sounds like you're shaping it up to be suitable for adaptation into a kickass movie -- like Rambo. Have you read (tons of) advice on constructing a screenplay? You might get some useful guidelines for shaping your story.

Good luck. I think it has potential.

Mitch said...

Hello All,

Again, thank you for your comments. I must point out two things though. First, I really was joking about Mcklusky (George, Jenn, Mick), or whoever you call him going after his girlfriend for just sex.

Second, many have said that human trafficking of American girls does not happen and so forth. I would truly have to disagree with this. For the sake of your daughters, sisters, wives and yourself I posted a link to the article below. Forget my novel; forget the plot holes. Just know that this is a serious issue that does affect our young women.

Take Care,

BuffySquirrel said...

Sorry, Mitch. You're not the first person to find out I need a big sign saying Humour Starts Here!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

The last time I was in Cuba I didn't see anyone with enough money to buy a new shirt. But that was a while ago.

I wish you good luck in this. You've got work ahead of you. Believable characters are the key imho. Hard for me accept the girls are sent to Cuba unless the Mafia from (pick any European country but Italy) have decided to get cosy in Havana with the new gvt. and so on. That's a different story, granted.

Look forward to your next version.

150 said...

But no one goes into the Ten Thousand Islands alone.

Which is why we're all so hellbent on him calling the cops! TRUST ME, a girl will be no less grateful if a guy arranges her rescue by the authorities than if he swoops in himself with a Boy Scout knife between his teeth.

Mitch said...

@ Wilikins, you hit the nail on the head, sort of. No mafia. But that is why I use Cuba- corrupt government and easy to pay people off. In my story Cuba is the meeting place for Rich foreign men to buy American girls. I am playing off the premise of what happens to these young, beautiful girls who disappear every year from middle class American families and are never seen again. For example Jennifer Keese from Orlando, Fl. Next, I am throwing in a what if this actually happened to them.

I know there is no evidence of girls being held in the Ten Thousand Islands and shipped to Cuba to be sold to wealthy foreign men, but it’s plausible.

@ 150- No cops. You’re dealing with an ex-CIA agent who wants to kill the Human Traffickers and a kid who recruits his drug running cousin to help him. There is one absolute truths about the Ten Thousand Islands (Well, besides the fact they are actually a intertwined system of mangrove trees). The drug smugglers and fishing guides know those islands a hell of a lot better than law enforcement. Besides a flurry of helicopters and boats searching the islands is a sure way to have human traffickers kill the girls and get the hell out of Dodge.

I understand my query stinks. The comments are very helpful. Like every author, I love my story. It may never make it to print. But your comments are making it better.

Some have mentioned that that what is the use of having an ex-CIA guy if I do not use him. While he is not prominent in the query, he is in the story. However, I am trying to focus on the MC in the query. Everything I have read tells me to do this. I am more than open to suggestions on how I might use him more in the query.

Below is a revision of my query. I think I am moving it in the right direction, but feel it is off a little, especially the beginning. I would love to hear more input.

Thanks Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Agent:

When sixteen-year-old Mcklusky Harvey leaves New Jersey for his annual visit to his grandparent’s house in Florida, he gets to help his grandfather run tourists through the Ten Thousand Islands. And Chloe, the half Seminole-half Irish goddess he’s always cherished as a friend, becomes his girlfriend. However, three human traffickers destroy the relaxing summer he just begins to enjoy.

The human traffickers hide two American girls in the Ten Thousand Islands until they can be shipped to Cuba for auction. But ex-CIA agent John Becker wants to save the girls and kill the traffickers who kidnapped and killed his sister, so he hires Mcklusky’s grandfather to take him into the maze of mangroves.

When Chloe goes missing, Becker suspects the traffickers, and Becker and Mcklusky’s grandfather go to save Chloe and leave Mcklusky behind for his own safety. However, Mcklusky isn't one to let others determine the fate of someone he loves. Intent on killing the traffickers, Mcklusky strong-arms his drug running cousin into helping him find Chloe. Once he locates the human traffickers on Dismal Key, he knows if he fails to kill them, it will cause the death of everyone he loves.

DISMAL KEY is a YA Thriller complete at 80,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Evil Editor said...

It's an incredible coincidence that a guy whose sister was kidnapped by human traffickers and who is hunting down those human traffickers hires a guide who turns out to be the grandfather of someone whose girlfriend was kidnapped by the same human traffickers.

It sounds like:

Becker: I want to hire a guide to help me find the human traffickers who kidnapped my sister.

Gramps: You're in luck. I was just leaving to help my grandson find the same human traffickers, because they kidnapped his girlfriend.

Possibly the new version explains the coincidence.

If Mac is from New Jersey, are you actually saying that if he fails to kill all the traffickers, they will go to New Jersey to kill his loved ones there? If they've got time for that, they need to get a life.

Mitch said...

Hey EE,
Not saying they will kill his family in NJ. That’s what I get for making a general statement. I will work on clearing that up.
As to the coincidence, this is the order. Becker hires Mcklusky’s grandfather. Chloe disappears (she is kidnapped off her dock). Becker finds evidence that points to the human traffickers and convinces Grandpa and Mcklusky not contact the law due to the fact the human traffickers are professionals and will kill the girls and flee at the first sign of a search party. Grandpa and Becker go into the islands to search. Mcklusky strikes out on his own.
Despite the shellacking I am taking on this story, I’m loving the questions. I see yet another huge revision in my future.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Why, why, why do people clinch when they go to write the actual query? *pounds head on desk*

Mitch, if you can channel the voice in your comments, your query would have a much more visceral impact. Xenith noted the shorter sentences and the punchier-- more thrillerish -- way you explained things. Use some of that smart-ass voice to advantage in the query. What you're giving us is milquetoast. It's safe. And that won't win you many requests.

With license regarding the ending:

Sixteen-year-old Mcklusky Harvey's parents shipped him off to Florida for the summer to work on those "behavioral issues" of his. He's actually enjoying himself on his grandfather's fishing boat -- until his new girlfriend goes missing.

Turns out the trio of human traffickers that took her have disappeared into the Ten Thousand Islands. There they're holding a slew of kidnapped girls who'll soon be shipped to Cuba for auction. Mcklusky understands two things: 1) The smugglers know the islands a hell of a lot better than any cop, and 2) a flurry of boats and choppers suddenly appearing in the area will just get the girls killed. Enlisting his drug-running cousin to help him navigate the treacherous waters, Mcklusky takes off after the bad guys with nothing more than a knife, his borderline sociopathic tendencies, and an optimism that far outbalances any good sense.

Lucky for McKlusky, an equally determined ex-CIA agent who lost his sister to the same traffickers is also closing in with revenge on his mind. But the ex-agent has hired Mcklusky's grandfather to boat him through, and that puts even more family at risk when the bad guys spring a fatal trap that not even the seasoned pro sees coming.

Dave Fragments said...

Mitch, This type of plot (the drug lords coming after the policeman's family)
If Mac is from New Jersey, are you actually saying that if he fails to kill all the traffickers, they will go to New Jersey to kill his loved ones there? If they've got time for that, they need to get a life.
has been done several times in movies (Keyser Söze) and on TV. In fact one show, did it from both sides of the blood feud. Look it up on NCIS and find the entire season with the drug lord's nasty children and Gena Rowlands as a guest star a few episodes before that.

It's like the Hatfield and McKoys for modern times.

Mitch said...

Phoenix I agree. I clinch up tighter than a virgin on prom night when I write a query. I am taking a break from it for awhile and then get back to it. Love your suggestions.



batgirl said...

This is so much better when you leave out the serial killer.