Friday, July 15, 2011

Face-Lift 929

Guess the Plot

Gold Valley

1. On Ashley's eleventh birthday, Mum finally gives her her own key. The first time Ashley uses it, she lets herself in--not to their grotty flat, but to Gold Valley, where every day is a carnival and coins drop from Ashley's mouth every time she speaks. But a fairy steals the key and Ashley needs to get back--with some of the loot for Mum, of course.

2. When Casey gets a reception job at Gold Valley Chinese Takeaway she thinks she’s hit it lucky; she’s getting over £6 an hour. But when she hears rumours about the other receptionists, and finds bodies in the freezer, she can’t help but wonder if she should have applied at McDonald's.

3. The economy sucks. Greg is yet another victim of corporate downsizing. Desperate to fend off impending foreclosure, he heads to Gold Valley, hoping to eliminate his financial woes. Barely a day into the valley, Greg is lost and forced to endure violent storms, swarms of hungry mosquitoes, and the affections of a lonely sasquatch. Suddenly, bankruptcy doesn't seem like such a bad option.

4. Ava, Isaac and Adam, three survivors of a bus crash in the remote mountains, stumble upon Gold Valley, a small town that Ava thinks is Eden. But when the women in town start disappearing, Isaac and Adam suspect . . . the Hungry. Can they get Ava out of town before she, too, is eaten?

5. Author Buck McClain's life takes a turn toward terror when he discovers that Gold Valley, the serial killer bestseller he wrote plagiarized was actually written by a real serial killer--who’s not happy with Buck making bucks off his back!

6. When gold plummets from a record high to a more traditional $350 an ounce, Minuteman and survivalist Will Whitbread is convinced it's just a valley, and the price will climb again. But when he tries to buy up all the krugerrands in Arizona, investors from a rival militia take it personally. Hilarity and automatic weapons fire ensue.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Ava Gunner just assumed the McCormick brothers were dead. She hadn’t seen or heard from them since the Hunger Sickness struck the population ten years ago. Since they abandoned her, and civilization crumbled. Since the dream of Eden came alive.

Now, on a bus promising to take its passengers to Eden, [This was a Star Trek episode.] [How about "destined for Eden"?] Ava finds herself once again face to face with Adam and Isaac McCormick. She got along fine without them, even learned how to shoot a gun. And judging from their scars, they managed to take care of themselves too. But despite her grudge she’s relieved that they’re together again.

After the bus crashes on a remote mountain pass in the Colorado Rockies, the survivors are forced to find a place to hide from the now nocturnal Hungry before the sun goes down. [Having read ahead and seen that you call this literary fiction, I can appreciate your desire to use the term "now-nocturnal Hungry" instead of "mutant Cannibals" or "ravenous Zombies." But if cannibals or zombies are roaming the country, maybe you should call this a thriller or a horror novel.] Waiting out the night in an abandoned cabin, it begins to dawn ["Begins to" is implied by "dawns."] on the group that they’ll be together for a while. Which means Ava, Adam, and Isaac need to resolve their issues if they want to focus on survival. [Their "issues" being that the brothers abandoned her to be eaten by the Hungry ten years ago. That's gonna be a tough one to resolve, what with the Hungry now lurking outside the cabin.]

But the three of them are stubborn.

[What you've provided so far is about the amount of plot summary a query should have. But all you've done is introduce the characters and their situation. Condense all of that into one three-sentence paragraph.] With no food or water in the cabin, it's obvious that they have to keep traveling. They stumble almost too late into Gold Valley, a well preserved town that has managed to thrive despite its isolation. They have food, whiskey, and Joshua, a leader who cares deeply for the well being of his town and shows the survivors hospitality. [Joshua is Captain Kirk. The survivors keep calling him Herbert.] As the days wear on, Ava begins to believe that Gold Valley just may be Eden.

But when female survivors start disappearing [They disappear. Or are they gradually fading away?] and Joshua sits idly by, it becomes clear to Adam and Isaac that Gold Valley and its leader are far more sinister than they appear. However, [I don't like starting consecutive sentences with "but" and "however." You could put "however" after "easy." Or start the previous sentence: After three female survivors disappear...] convincing Ava isn’t so easy, [How many women have disappeared? Does Ava have a theory as to where they've gone?] and the brothers know the survivors are running out of time to escape before Gold Valley makes her disappear too.

I am actively seeking representation [I've never understood what "actively" means when I see that. I know you've sent the query letter. Does "actively" imply you're doing other things besides sending query letters?] for my 60,000 word literary fiction novel titled GOLD VALLEY, a story of survival, sacrifice, and lost love. [Lost love? Was Ava in love with the McCormick brothers when they abandoned her to be eaten by the Hungry?] Chapters or a synopsis are available upon request.



Isn't it possible the Hungry are slipping into town and taking the women, and that Gold Valley and Joshua aren't sinister?

In the Star Trek version, the people who make it to Eden get hungry and eat the fruit and die. So the difference is that in one version the people get hungry and in the other version the Hungry get the people. That probably wasn't worth the effort I put into it.

Hyphens often belong between words that, together, form what is really one word, as in well-preserved, now-nocturnal, well-being, 60,000-word.

Who or what are the Hungry? And if they're hungry, can't they find a way to seek food than hanging out in the remote Rocky Mountains hoping for a bus crash?


Eric said...

Adam and Ava in Eden? That sounds a bit familiar; I think it might have been done already....

Anonymous said...

I don't like it. Why is there a zombie story mixed up with some evil cult city story? I also don't like that they're looking for Eden, and two of the main character's names are Ava (sounds too much like Eve) and Adam.

Evil Editor said...

You're thinking of Adam and Abra, two characters in East of Eden.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I don't really understand Ava's relationship with the McCormick brothers. All I know is that they abandoned her and she assumed they were dead. She seems to care about them enough that she's glad rather than angry when she finds out that they survived, but I don't know why.

So what is Eden supposed to be? It's a familiar enough synonym for paradise, but I'd like more specifics on what the characters are hoping to find there. Presumably it's a place that's safe from the Hungry, but the more I know about it, the more I'll be able to determine whether this place might be real or is just a hopeful story that zombie-fearing survivors tell one another.

150 said...

Yes yes blah blah The Road blah, but I don't see anything in the query that would indicate this is a literary novel. Horror novels are very capable of using Biblical themes and talking about survival, sacrifice, and lost love. In fact, it's so short that if the characters are young enough, I'd try to pitch it as YA. Dystopias are still hot.

Take EE's advice about what to condense and what to expand on, but I think this query is a good start. Maybe just not in the genre you think.

Matthew MacNish said...

If you look past the character names, and the execution of getting the plot across in the query, there could be a decent story underneath.

I want to like it, but I HAVE to know what the Hungry are before I can decide if I care. They certainly sound like some kind of ravenous undead, but we just can't tell for sure.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Same problem as others in re Ava and Adam in Eden.

When you used the term "now nocturnal Hungry," I was unable to make the jump that the Hungry were people. I thought it was the disease.

Mm. Civilization has crumbled to the point that it's nobody's job to respond to a bus crash. But there's still a fuel distribution system? And how many female survivors have to disappear from the average bus crash before other female survivors get antsy?

Clearly the moral to this story is one should never believe promises made by buses.

Anonymous said...

Maybe "Adam" and "Ava" are part of what makes this literary? Symbolism (heavy-handed) and all that. It might be more interesting if they were Kane and Abby.

vkw said...

I liked it.

Except for this part,

Which means Ava, Adam, and Isaac need to resolve their issues if they want to focus on their survival.

Ava, Adam and Isacc are petty. Here's the drift - you haven't seen your friends for ten years. We don't know their ages but let's thing on this.

Let's say your twenty and you run into your friends that left you when you were a child. You're back together again and in a life a death situation. I think Ava has a choice here:

1. forgive and forget
2. Distance yourself from the undependable twits and depend on complete strangers. (This would be the smart move. The brothers have already proven themselves untrustworthy, best to go with the unknown.)

And how are they going to resolve their issues? Are they going to use family systems approach or are they more extentialist? (Now I being mean. My apologies.)

The last thing anyone would be concerned about is resolving their issues, what with the Hungry lurking outside and with no food, no water and no way to safety.

Maybe Ava must choose whether or not to give the brothers a second chance to disappoint her.

Or maybe they simply must put their torrid past aside in order to survive.

Or maybe they must choose whether they can trust one another again so they can survive.

What they should not do is sit down and resolve their issues. It takes too long.

I would suggest telling us why the women are disappearing so to distance this story from all the other horror, post-apocalyptic fiction begging to be published.


Dave said...

You used "since" three times in the first paragraph. That hurts the query "real bad."

I'd start with something like this.

Ava thought Adam and Isaac died in the Hunger Sickness that destroyed civilization a decade ago. Fate throws the trio together on a bus that's supposed to take them to the fabled Eden, a haven city protected from the Mutant Cannibals that roam the countryside.

But the bus crashes and strands them in Gold Valley, a town that seemingly survived the disaster. A town that claims to be free from the ravages of the Cannibal Mutants. When the women in town start disappearing, Adam and Isaac fear for Ava's life.

Will they escape to the real Eden?

That's only about 100 words. You have some space to add more plot about the character's emotional journey and their relationship (lovers, friends, schoolmates...) You need to add that because all of the stories mentioned in the comments deal with character development.

And I don't know if the HUNGRY are mutant cannibals. I'm just using that as a placeholder.

This is a horror story. You might like to call it Literary Fiction but don't try to avoid the fact that it's both genre. Actually, all you really have to say is something this brief:
"Gold Valley" is 60,000 words and is my original story. It has never been published.
You don't need to label the genre if you do your homework on the agents involved. Everything else you are trying to say in that paragraph the agent understands.

Good luck.

batgirl said...

Since you don't explain what the Hungry are, the information that they/it are/is now nocturnal is irrelevant.
And pace Dave, probably no need to mention that this is your original story or that it hasn't been published. Both are the default assumptions - as is that you are seeking representation and would happily send whatever the agent requested.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hunger Sickness = Zombie Virus

Ava + Adam + Eden

now-nocturnal Hunger = The Omega Man

It all, of course, depends on the execution (of the story, of the people, either/or).

You can certainly pitch something as literary horror. Only the "literary" part needs to stand up and, honestly, the writing in this query does not demonstrate literary. I don't have Dave's issue with repeating "since" as it's used as a linking device and for creating parallelism in that first 'graph. I do have the same problem EE does with the number of "buts" here (I have no issue with starting a couple of sentences with "But").

Precise word choices are even more imperative when you slap the "literary" label on. For your revision, be sure you're creating clear and literary sentences that make a reader fall in love with the words and syntax. You're shooting yourself in the proverbial foot if you don't.

Dave said...

Yes, that is correct.

I spent two hours looking for a blog posting I read in the last day or two about more than one agent and publisher finding sizable chunks of novels posted on the internet as they were getting ready to buy the novel. I can't find the news story or blog that I read it in. I looked hard for it but can't find it. Apparently the agent's intern or the publisher's intern queried the author and found the entire movel online.

I never thought you could put writing on the internet and consider it unpublished but apparently it happens.

Yes, you are right, no one should have to say that their work is original and unpublished.

Matthew MacNish said...

FWIW I looked it up, and there is a town called Eden, in Wyoming, which is in the Rockies.

The state, not the town.

Hannah Fergesen said...

Okay so what I'm seeing are (for the most part) these quibbles:

*The names. Okay. The names can be changed if they're that much of an eye-roller. Not really meant to be all biblical and heavy handed, they're really just names.

*The Hungry aren't explained very well - that can be fixed.

*It's being queried apparently for the wrong genre. My only issue with this is that the Hungry are not the story, they're the backdrop. They're the "why" in the story, not the "what". Gold Valley and the relationship between Ava and the brothers is the what. So I guess I need to concentrate less on the Hungry and more on the goings-on in Gold Valley to convey that? As well as focusing more on literary word usage/sentences. Duly noted.

Anything else?

Evil Editor said...

I think a lot of readers find the why much more interesting than the what when they read a novel, especially litfic.

If you really want the Hungry to fade into the background, you might come up with a less mysterious threat that forces the brothers and Ava together, like gunslingers or rabid wolves. Or at least stop capitalizing Hungry.

no-bull-steve said...

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen...
"Author, I've read literary fiction...I know literary fiction. Literary fiction is a friend of mine..."

Well yanno.

Sell it for what it is. Explain it as it is.

Looks like most of the other stuff is out here. Not sure how 60k words is going to sell as any kind of novel. More a novella in my mind.

BuffySquirrel said...

When i read now nocturnal Hungry, I assumed there'd been a time when they weren't nocturnal. Heck, a nocturnal threat is less of a problem than a daytime threat. People naturally tend not to be out farming at night.

So female survivors are disappearing and this feels like a threat to the male survivors, not to someone who's a, uh, female survivor? Right. Riiight.

150 said...

Gold Valley and the relationship between Ava and the brothers is the what.

Again, you don't need to be literary to do that. Horror does that too. It's just that in horror, there's usually a pressing external conflict that complements the internal conflict. I see zombies and kidnappings that should probably be dealt with before they hash out their love triangle, so horror it is.

arhooley said...


Clearly the moral to this story is one should never believe promises made by buses.

Haha! I was going for that one, too, but you did it much better than I would have.

Hannah, it's slips like that that a litfic author can't afford.

So, your real story is how the threesome "resolves their issues," while the Hungry and Joshua are just something for them to do. I think you should -- in your query and in your own perception of the book -- put the plot first and let the psychological issues be the theme. Then rewrite your query revealing both, but without using the word "theme."

batgirl said...

So the Hungry are sort of symbolic cannibal zombies? A couple of thoughts - 1)horror can have beautiful evocative writing too; 2)litfic readers may have more patience with character who ignore immediate survival in order to bicker about relationships

Author, have you read The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan? Her query letter may be helpful to you, and she generously posted it on Fangs Fur & Fey (note! it is only 10k longer than yours):

"I read on Publisher's Marketplace about your recent sale of Mark Henry's zombie novel, Happy Hour of the Damned, and thought you might be interested in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, my 70,000-word literary post-apocalyptic novel targeted to the young adult market.

"Generations after the zombie apocalypse known as The Return, Mary's life is as circumscribed by her community's strict religion as it is by the fences that form her village's only defense against the hordes of the undead -- the Unconsecrated -- who dwell in the surrounding forest.

"Her faith is shattered the day her mother becomes infected by the Unconsecrated, and her belief in her community is destroyed when she secretly witnesses the Church leadership imprison, then condemn, a miraculously non-infected outsider who somehow finds a safe path to the village. The only other person who questions their Puritanical lifestyle is her betrothed's crippled brother, Travis, who has been assigned to wed Mary's best friend. Mary is torn between her duty to friends and society and her growing love for Travis.

"When the Unconsecrated breach the fences and overrun the village, Mary, Travis, and their intendeds are among the few survivors. Now, their only chance is to brave the outsider's path through the deadly Forest in an attempt to discover the only thing that Mary still believes in -- that there is a world beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

"I am an active member in Romance Writers of America and several of its subchapters. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is my third completed manuscript and will appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman, Libba Bray, and Meg Rosoff.

"Per the submissions guidelines on your agency's website, I have pasted below the first chapter and synopsis. I would be delighted to send the full manuscript at your request. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you."

Hannah Fergesen said...

Hmm, thanks to all, you've given me a lot to think about. I'd always thought a novella was more in the realm of 40,000 words? But I guess I was mistaken. Also, never considered horror before. Not that I am opposed to it, if that's what it seems like it should be queried for I'm not against that.

Evil Editor said...

The science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Romance Writers of America give annual awards for best novel and novella (nebula and Rita).The cutoff between the two in both cases is 40,000 words.

Evil Editor said...

Further research reveals that the Bram Stoker Award for best horror novel also has a 40,000-word minimum. The Edgar Award for best mystery appears to have no novella award. The cutoff between short story and novel is 22,000 words.

Evil Editor said...

None of this is meant to suggest you'll have no trouble selling a 40,000-word novel, but the fact that few publishers have been buying short novels doesn't mean they are novellas.

no-bull-steve said...

My bad on the novella word count. That's actually good to know. Thanks!

batgirl said...

I hadn't really noticed until I quoted it, but Carrie Ryan described her novel (her 70k novel) as 'literary', so maybe that isn't an issue. Just my opinion, but you might be okay describing it as a 60k novel and skip the genre specification.

Fantasy and historical fiction tend to be longer, like 100k - 120k, because of the worldbuilding. Litfic and mainstream can skimp on worldbuilding - the plausibility issues are different.

Anonymous said...

Eden is an idyllic coastal town in Southern New South Wales, surrounded by National parks, and well known for whale-watching. I'd evacuate there quick smart if threatened by brain-eating zombies. Hell, I wanna retire there now!

So - about the query.

Author, I don’t really mind not knowing what the Hunger is/are (my theory was alien possession) but I would like to know if the protags had any intelligence about what they were dealing with, and the means by which the Hunger attacks (eg, the Hunger can steal into sealed rooms and nobody ever sees the victim again... ).

Just think of the second in the HP series, "Chamber of Secrets". The kids knew that "a monster" was attacking people in Hogwarts - petrifying them - and they knew that only the Heir to Slytherin could control it. Trouble is, nobody knew what the monster was and who was controlling it. Good, suspenseful set-up, and I was able to describe it in less than 40 words. If you could describe the threat in such terms, you can go on to what you see as the crux of your story - the relationship between A, her ex-friends and the Valley of Gold townspeople (who probably know more than they let-on).

A query needs to have the stakes spelt out, and it needs to have the agent salivating to read your MS. Do the relationship issues pack enough of a punch when you've set up a life/death situation?

I'm reminded of a story (forgot title) set in occupied France about a young woman who was in the Resistance, and her relationship with a man who may have been an informant. Perhaps the Hungry, like the Nazi, are a malevolent presence with eyes and ears everywhere, and nobody knows who they could or couldn’t trust. The relationship stakes in that novel were high, because if the protag chose the wrong man, she’d be rewarded with a bullet. Are the relationship stakes in your novel as high as that?

That’s just food for thought, author. Hope it works out.