Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Face-Lift 942


Guess the Plot

Sea Urchin

1. When an oil drilling operation threatens the reef, plucky little Sammy Sea Urchin organizes a flotilla of sharks, jelly fish and sting rays to send the invaders packing.

2. A convict is released from prison so that he can work in the garden of a young widow. It's part of a new enlightened corrections policy. But will he risk losing this soft gig when he meets a girl who can change into a seal?

3. When her mother is drowned by a drift net, Alyissya the dolphin is left an orphan. Alone, scared, she must swim her way through the reef of sharks and hostile pods to her aunt Shaaya and safety.

4. At age seven, merkid Oliver Nemo's shark-brained merparents swam off into the sunset, never to return. A lucky break on “Mariana Trench's Got Talent” kept him off the streets. Now, puberty--and poverty, if his voice breaks--loom. What to do? Fagan-Fish has an idea, but Oliver doesn't like it at all.

5. Despite her adoption by a loving family of bee keepers, young Queenie has always dreamed of transformation and an enchanted life beneath the sea. She regrets this wish when she wakes on her 16th birthday covered in poisonous spines.

6. Lily, A young homeless child, lives by the sea and is referred to as "sea urchin" because she has no family and doesn't bathe. One day a mermaid jumps out of the sea and informs Lily that her father owns a prosperous water treatment facility. Lily finds her dad and ends up inheriting the business.



Original Version

Dear Mr Editor,

"Sea Urchin" is a YA historical fantasy, complete at 57,000 words.

Sixteen-year-old Davie is transported to Australia as punishment for pickpocketing, [Suddenly I'm thinking of becoming a pickpocket.] but in the remote boys' prison he finds opportunities he never thought he'd have. [Like interacting with a kangaroo.]



He works hard in school and leaning [learning] a trade in the workshops, convinced this is the key to becoming a respectable citizen. But when he befriends fellow-prisoner Jimmy, Davie loses his focus. He skips school, [When you're in a prison you can skip school? Suddenly I'm thinking of applying for the position of truant officer in an Australian boys' prison.] and makes mistakes in the workshop. Yet he also saves himself from drowning despite being unable to swim. [You add this as if it's evidence that he hasn't gone totally bad, when even a punk hoodlum would try hard to save himself from drowning.] [Don't they have lifeguards at the prison swimming pool?] Jimmy's a bad influence, but he [Davie] can't help being drawn to him. For, unknown to Davie, Jimmy is a selkie, a seal boy trapped on land far from his skin, and his magic is causing all Davie's woes. [His magic can't get him out of the prison? What can it do?] [What woes are we talking about?]

When Jimmy kills another boy to protect Davie, the seal boy goes into hiding. [What kind of prison is this? Prisoners can hide and not be found?] Davie sneaks him food, but Jimmy has been away from the sea for too long, and fades while Davie looks on, helpless. Then Davie is sent away, to work as a gardener for a young widow who wants to mother him. [A prison that sends a prisoner away to work for a young widow? If that happened in America, the woman would get butchered, the story would lead every news program for a week, and everyone from the warden to Barack Obama would lose his job.] Convinced there is nothing more he can do for Jimmy, he applies himself to his new work. But then a chance meeting with a seal girl forces Davie to make a choice: stay with the widow who'll give him the new start he desires [Gardening for a woman who wants to mother him is the new start he desires? I thought he was learning a trade in a prison workshop.] [Then again, perhaps he enjoys plowing her furrows.] or throw away his new life for a slight chance he might yet save Jimmy's life? [That was a question?]

(Cool stuff about me [, which I'm hoping will happen so I don't have to make it up.])

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,


Notes

It wouldn't hurt to mention when the story is set.

Not clear how Davie's chance meeting with a seal girl helps Jimmy. And what are the odds that one kid meets a seal boy and then a few weeks later meets a seal girl? Unless there are millions of these wereseals. Also, I thought wereseals were native to the North Atlantic. Yet Davie meets two of them in Australia?

If they're called selkies, why are you calling them seal boys and seal girls and wereseals?

Jimmy faded away weeks ago. How's Davie gonna find him?

If I had an arrangement to send criminals to Australia as punishment, I think I'd want assurances that they'd receive some punishment, not spend three weeks in Club Med and then get gardening positions. I'd save the transportation costs and have them tend my garden.

If selkies fade away when they're away from the sea, you wouldn't think they'd risk getting thrown into a prison they can't get out of.

If I had the option of being in human form or seal form, I'd be a seal all the time. All you have to do is swim, eat and balance balls on your nose.

26 comments:

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I don't wish to offend, but there has been a lot coming out lately about a certain nation's habit of sending children off to Australia where they were punished severely for, basically, being born poor.

This went on for aeons, so yeah, a date would be nice. Was this during the 19th century, when Australia was a penal colony, or during the 20th century, when the importation of British waifs was a form of demographic warfare?

That aside, this is another of those queries that goes all over the place, and it's hard to tell if the issue is with the novel or the query. The events listed in the query don't seem to follow logically from one another.

The same ol' advice: Sum your novel up in a single sentence, less than 20 words long. Build your query upward from there.

EE, the lot of a seal in Alaska is not a happy one. There are (despite what you hear about Alaskan Men) few balls, and lots of bullets.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Xenith, to paraphrase Buffy Squirrel, don't blame America. When writing historical fiction, you state the year in which your novel is set.

We know that Australia became the go-to penal colony after we opted out of the job.

Evil Editor said...

Alaska? I would be a seal in Sea World.

Anonymous said...

Hehehe.. balls on your nose.

I think this story could be good if the query just explained some of the things EE mentioned. How is the seal girl connected with Jimmy? Why does Jimmy's magic draw Davie? Is Jimmy doing it, or is it just that everyone is drawn to seal boys. What time frame is this or is it like an alternate reality Earth?

Just clear some of those up, and I think it could be a cute story.

Anonymous said...

All you have to do is swim, eat and balance balls on your nose.

Much like Pamela Anderson in her Baywatch days, then?

Dave said...

When I read this:
Sixteen-year-old Davie is transported to Australia as punishment for pickpocketing
I knew that the story was set in the past when Australia was a prison colony.

I've known a few Australians in my time, a couple with two kids, a guy and his girlfriend, and Bruce the anarchist. They all were descendants of "POME" which is so say, they all had DREAD FAMILY SECRET...
Aw poo!

My problem with the query is that I get no sense of the character of Davie, Jimmy or Mrs Widow. That Davie goes from would-be thief to productive member of society is a tried and true story. The selkies add a bit of uniqueness but not beyond other stories out there.

I presume this is a coming of age novel about Jimmie. That should be the focus of your story. How Jimmie's interactions with Australia, selkies and Mrs Widow help him grow up.

Anonymous said...

You don't get to the fantasy "seal boy" parts until the bottom of the second paragraph--that's a pretty important piece of information. Surprises and slow build-ups are for the novel itself; I wouldn't rely on delayed big reveals in a query. If the agent/editor isn't interested in the setup of boys being shipped to Australian prisons to apprentice in workshops, they might not even get to the central conflict.

R.T. said...

I like the feel of the query. It sounds like an enjoyable tale.

There's a few loose ends in the query, which may be answered in the book. 0. How old is Davy? 1. Why does it matter that Davy almost drowns. Is this an example of one of his mishaps, or relevant to the plot? 2. Jimmy sounded dead, then may not be: it's confusing. 3. EE's point about Davy learning a trade, then dumping it to be a gardener: it doesn't make sense, unless he is really young and needs to have a family life.

Stuff like that. Hope this helps.

Evil Editor said...

0. 16

Xenith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlaskaRavenclaw said...

What the... a lot of advice tells you not to write the year?

Okay.

Then if you dance around backward widdershins before hitting "SEND", your book will sell?

I've sold three historical novels despite recklessly revealing the year they were set in.

Why make the query reader feel stupid? Assume that 1. we know Australia was a penal colony because 2. Americans aren't as dumb as Wolf Blitzer makes us look and 3. since it was a penal colony for a bloody long time, and a dump for foster children, some of whom may well have been pickpockets, for even longer than that, you might as well tell us which year among those nigh-on two centuries you've set your story in.

But, you know. Whatever.

Xenith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evil Editor said...

Even if we don't know what Van Diemen's Land is, does it matter whether we think it's a fictional place you made up or a real place? I don't know all the counties of England or the regions of France, so if I write a book set in Idaho, I don't assume everyone in France and England knows exactly where Idaho is.

I think "remote prison" in Australia is fine as the place. If you describe a novel as historical (or futuristic) I think we should also know what period of history you're talking about.

Showing rather than telling is a good policy in a book. I don't see telling as a problem in a query letter, which is supposed to tell what happens in your book.

As for whether we should be able to figure out the time from the facts in the query, the British sent criminals to Australia in the 1800s, but there's no mention in the query that Davie was sent to Australia from Britain. For all we know he was sent from New Zealand. In which case the year is up in the air.

Jo-Ann said...

Hmmm, late to the conversation as usual. It's fun trying to figure out the conversation when somebody (author, I presume?) deleted his/her comments. But no matter.

Just a few points, in case the author failed to make them-
1. Many convicts were not sentenced for the term of their natural lives - but as the British crown failed to provide for their return passage once they'd served out the sentence, (or gained a pardon), then they had to find a job somewhere (although the cost of the return fare was so huge that they might as well have been trying to fly to the moon). Perhaps D had been released by the time he became a gardener?
2. Alternately, many convicts worked in servitude in the wealthy settlers' home and lands. D might have been assigned the gardening post on the understanding that it involved ploughing a field by hand or something, and our sympathetic widow let him tend her roses instead.

Overall, I think it's an intersting premise. In my youth in Aust, kids had a wide choice of worthy novels set during the convict era (and goldrush days, too), and the genre became terribly passe by the 80's. It might well be time for a resurgence! One with a fantasy theme sounds fresh, to me.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Aside from the other reasons mentioned, I think stating the year when your story takes place signals to your potential agent that you've done your research about the setting and she or he won't have to worry too much about the historical accuracy of the parts of your book that don't involve selkies.

I don't see the connection between Davie becoming less focused on his quest to become an upstanding citizen and Jimmy and his magic. If Jimmy is a bad influence on Davie, say so. The only thing you mention that happens to Davie that could be attributed to Jimmy's magic is Davie being able to save himself from drowning, which strikes me as a good thing.

A little more background on the threat posed by the kid Jimmy kills would help me decide if I still sympathize with Jimmy and want Davie to save his life.

Why does Davie have to choose between his new life with the widow and getting the selkie girl to help Jimmy? Can't he just bring the selkie girl to Jimmy, have her do whatever she has to in order to save him, and then go back to the widow? Usually these end of query "either/or" scenarios present two mutually exclusive options: the hero can join the resistance or side with her tyrant father, the soldier can go home to his old life and his dependable sweetheart or try to make a life for himself in a war zone with the woman he's madly in love with, the weredingo can roam free and accept all the risks of life in the wild or stay with EE and give up freedom for regular meals and plenty of furniture to destroy. What you have now sounds more like "Davie can either eat pancakes or drink orange juice."

Focus more on the friendship between Davie and Jimmy, so we can see why they care about each other enough to kill and potentially give up a lucrative gardening career.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Tut tut; no fair removing comments before I've read them, author!

Anonymous said...

Maybe complying with the usual critique group rule that you aren't allowed to argue with the critiques.

BuffySquirrel said...

Yes, what were we thinking of, transporting people and giving them a chance of a new start? We should have kept on executing them instead.

As for sending the orphans out there, that was in line with contemporary thinking. It was mistakes like that that informed our current thinking on children and how adopters should really regard themselves as merely unpaid childminders.

It's sealions that do the whole ball-balancing thing, btw.

Anonymous said...

It's sealions that do the whole ball-balancing thing, btw.

No, I'm pretty sure it is Pamela Anderson. I've seen the video on Youtube.

BuffySquirrel said...

Lol, Anon. I hope you enjoyed!

D Jason Cooper said...

You have to put a year. An orphaned child who pick pocketed (which, btw, is a skilled crime, not for an amateur)would be put in a home and from there sent to Australia. Thus, this story could be anywhere from the 19th century up to the 1960's. If it is the earlier period, then he would not be sent to a 'young widow,' to work. She would have a marriage semi-arranged for her by her church, probably Anglican/C of E which was most closely associated with such bureaucratic largess at least until the great Irish Catholic influx into the Public Service (bureaucracy) and all the accusations of Catholic infiltration that that involved.
The selkie is a North Atlantic mythical figure whose stories are normally romantic tragedies. Are these boys gay and you forgot to mention it? Seriously.
And why does a selkie wind up in Australia and Aboriginal mythical figures don't show up or even ask WTF? Certainly there was segregation in Australia, but did it apply to mythical figures as well?
If Thor goes to Greece, he will meet Hercules. If he goes to Egypt, he will meet an Egyptian god. Why doesn't the selkie meet Aboriginal mythical figures?
For that matter, when you've got Jimmie (why are their names all diminutive?) as the only selkie, you might have something. When you add a second one I think that degrades the idea. Suddenly, how many are there? Do they know each other? How do the selkies feel about their own number being sent off like this? Suddenly Davie becomes peripheral to his own story, at least in the query.
Speaking of which, is this a YA novel? I just get the impression you are aiming at an audience who is Davie's (16yo?) age rather than older audience thinking back to when they were that age.

Evil Editor said...

Speaking of which, is this a YA novel?

See the first sentence. Or the label at the end.

D Jason Cooper said...

1) The fact the character is 16 does not mean it is YA. Taxi has a very young protagonist, I wouldn't let my YA child read or watch that story. 2) Evil Editor said it was YA as categorization, I don't see where it was said in the query.

Evil Editor said...

As I said, it's in the first sentence: "Sea Urchin" is a YA historical fantasy . . .

Anonymous said...

I think that the first thing that you need to do is do a bit more research into Australian history. Even if your story is set in relatively modern times, describing something as a "remote boys' prison" and then telling me that there is a selkie there makes me stop and go, what? Remote in Australia means REMOTE. It means, generally, no where at all near the sea. How did he get there? (And where did he find enough water to nearly drown in?)

Secondly, if this is historical, then I find it very difficult to believe that he would have been treated as well as he seems to be in this synopsis. Prisoners were used in work gangs and hired out as domestic servants, but learning a trade..? I'm not entirely convinced that that would be normal. Also, if this is particularly early in the period, there just aren't going to be that many widows wandering around, because there weren't that many women in Australia at that point. If her husband died when she was there, if she was rich she would probably have packed up and gone back to Enland; if she wasn't, well, she'd be having some problems, because there was no such thing as gender equality back then.

Someone else already mentioned this, but it might be nice to see at least some reference to aboriginals.

BuffySquirrel said...

I assumed the selkie got there by transportation, same as Davie. As for the sea, I believe there's quite a lot round Tasmania.