Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Beginning 905

Falcon blocked Dionisio’s lunge, and converted the motion into a parry. He jumped back. She lunged. Her footing slipped in the dry sand. She’d wanted to practice closer to the high tide line where the ground didn’t shift so much. Of course, that’s why Dio wanted her to work here. Too far away to lunge, he closed and cut from above. She sidestepped the blow. His momentum carried him forward. She thumped his back with the practice blade. Air exploded out of his lungs,. He staggered forward.

“Time,” Dio wheezed. Strands of his ginger-colored hair had escaped his braid and clung to his cheeks. He brushed them away.

“Sorry.” She winced. She hadn’t meant to swing that hard.

Dio rubbed the weal on his back as he straightened. “Don’t be. Keep this up and I might make you a member of the guard yet.”

She laughed. “I like my current assignment better. You work too hard.”

“I’ll bet you do.”

Slow clapping came from further up the beach. They turned to see Prince Rompf picking his way toward them. A lone member of the guard shadowed him. Dio waved at the man, and he dropped further back.

"Who's that?" Falcon asked.

"Rompf," Dio replied.

"Pardon?"

"Rompf!"

"Common courtesy," Falcon said, wiping her brow, "demands, Dio, that you turn your head to the side when hacking up phlegm."


Opening: Nancy D. Greene.....Continuation: Evil Editor

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Synopsis 29


Guess the Plot

Paintings on the Wall

1. Pope Julius II hits the ceiling, so to speak. "I said EYE level, not SKY level, you nincompoop! I'll get whiplash looking at that thing!" Can Michelangelo repaint the Sistine Chapel in time for his holiness's birthday bash?

2. When Caitlin was dragged by naughty sister Midge to the male strip club, she could never have guessed she would be lured to a room where tattooed zombies had disguised themselves as . . . paintings on the wall.

3. As a couple in their late 40s walk through an art museum, they recount to each other a series of vignettes from their marriage, each called to mind by a painting on the wall. You kind of have to be there.

4. Jared gets pulled into a painting on the wall where he befriends a boy dressed as a skunk. Together they attempt to rescue people dressed as animals from slavers who want to turn them into mules.

5. A child elfin prodigy leaves messages in graffiti across the city. He is severely dyslexic; he can't manage handwriting on the wall.

6. It's a regular night shift at the art museum. Barry the security guard digs into his customary bowl of pudding when the paintings on the wall start talking to him about everything from bananas to philosophical revelations. Has Barry stumbled upon evil magic at work, or did his rival spike his pudding?


Original Version

Paintings on the Wall tells the story of a boy finding his way in a world that is not his own. Upset when his uncle doesn’t show up on his ninth birthday, Jared hides in the study where his mother’s painting collection hangs. His uncle appears and Jared is pulled into one of the paintings. [Did his uncle finally appear at the birthday party or did he appear in a painting?] Once inside, Jared is introduced to a group, hiding from the slavers, [What slavers? Is it a painting of slavers?] who dress as animals. [The slavers dress as animals?] He becomes friends with NEMO, the skunk. [A real skunk or someone dressed like a skunk?] [What's the point of dressing like animals? No one's gonna be fooled by a person in a skunk costume.]

The boys, though not allowed, slip away for a day of adventure. [All the boys? Just Jared and Nemo?] When they return to the forest, they find it burning and the animals taken as slaves. [The real animals or those dressed as animals?] [If I'm in the study looking at the painting, do I see the forest burning?] Their fate is to be mules, bringing goods in from the outside world. [The world outside the painting?] For each day anyone over the age of ten spends outside the [picture] frame, they age a year, dying quickly. Nemo is also captured and with Uncle Remy nowhere to be found, Jared is left alone.

Unsure when or how he will return home or what will happen to Nemo, Jared is scared. The dryad, DREE, offers him solace inside her tree. The trunk opens and Jared is tempted, [period or semicolon.] however, as he is about to accept, his uncle returns. Relieved, Jared tells his uncle everything. He hopes Uncle Remy will enact a miraculous rescue but his uncle declares it a lost cause. Feeling betrayed, Jared approaches the dryad. She promises to help him, in memory of another stolen child, Jared’s mother who went missing when she was eight. [This makes it sound like she's been missing since she was eight. Apparently she showed up long enough to give birth to Jared.] Jared climbs inside.

Remy wakes to see his nephew disappearing into the tree. [He was sleeping?] Unbeknownst to Jared, Remy is a slaver, having traded a life of servitude for his sister’s freedom. He captures slaves and it was his information that led the slavers to the animals. It is only when Jared rescues the animals that he learns of his uncle’s betrayal. He pushes aside the anger and hurt to complete his self-appointed task. [He just rescued the animals. What's this task that isn't yet completed?] His uncle helps in the end, getting injured in the process.

Jared learns about forgiveness, as he rescues his uncle from his role as a slaver. While Remy recovers, Jared charges him with taking the slaves to safety. His uncle agrees under the condition that Jared return home. While Jared is initially reluctant, Dree agrees, saying that it is time for Jared to be a child once more. But how can he return home when he learns that he has been replaced? [The end?]


Notes

We spend an awful lot of time on Jared getting into a tree. Do we really need to know he gets into a tree? Does anything crucial happen inside the tree?

Did Remy pull Jared into the painting? If so, why?

The characters you keep referring to as animals: are they all people dressed as animals?

When the boys slip away for an adventure are they going outside the frame? If so, why do they go back in? If not, then it seems there's more to the world of the painting than just what's visible, in which case, why can't they go somewhere in that world to get goods instead of going outside the frame?

What gives this nine-year-old kid the ability to rescue anyone from slavers?

I find this lacks clarity and focus. Focus on Jared and his main goal. I'm not sure the dryad and the skunk are vital to the synopsis. I'd rather hear about the rescue.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Beginning 904

"At the end of the day you have to sit back and admit to yourself... she meant nothing."

Linc abruptly looked up from the shot on the bar counter, searching for the owner of the words that dared to interfere with his self-inflicted misery. The only person in the bar, besides the biker wannabe bartender, was a bombshell blond. Her legs looked like they could go for miles, and her face reminded him of Marilyn Monroe. "Who asked you?"

"No one. But you're hunched shoulders and 2-day growth scream woman issues," she said easing herself up onto the bar stool next to him. He couldn't help but look down to see if her heels matched the tight, banana colored dress that hugged all the right places, they did.

"And if she meant something you wouldn't be here drowning your sorrows in-" she paused leaning close to sniff him, "cheap whiskey. You'd be buying roses and throwing yourself at her feet to take you back."

Her words were like honey pouring out of a bottle onto his sour dough biscuit demeanor. Linc wasn't in the mood to let'em soften him. "Shows what you know."

The bombshell straightened. Her lips curved in a sly smile. "Well," she said breathily, "I do know the difference between 'your' and 'you're', and 'blond' and 'blonde'. And to hyphenate multiple-word adjectives. And when to use a semicolon instead of a comma."

From a nearly invisible pocket in her tight yellow dress, she somehow produced a business card, which she slid face down across the bar. He picked it up and looked at it.

Melinda Trawes
Freelance Copy Editor

He slipped the card into his back pocket. Apparently this night wouldn't be a total waste after all.


Opening: Linda Graf.....Continuation: Zachary Gole

Sunday, November 27, 2011

EVIL EDITOR CLASSICS


Guess the Plot

Rise of the Vorare

1. Building an orphanage on an island in the middle of the Vorare River seemed like a good idea--until the rains came. Now the bridge is out, the water's rising, and 400 kids will drown if Captain Stu Marshall can't navigate his nuclear submarine upriver.

2. The last dragon, sets off on a quest to learn why the other dragons disappeared. Along the way, she is besieged by armies of unnatural creatures and sentenced to death by the Vorare. Can one dragon prevent the Vorare from enslaving and eradicating the human race?

3. In 79 AD a wizard defeated the Vorare, a breed of unkillable vampires, by causing Mount Vesuvius to erupt and bury them alive. When volcanologist Duncan Fisk accidentally frees them, can he stop them before they subjugate all humanity?

4. When the creature emerged from the spaceship in his backyard, Dan Grossman knew he probably shouldn't grill and eat it. But it was delicious. Now, unfortunately, all the anti-nausea medicine in the world won't prevent the . . . Rise of the Vorare.

5. The tribes of Gorbrafor have suffered under the yoke of their conquerors for three generations. But an ancient prophecy is being fulfilled, promising the rise of the Vorare, an ancient apocalyptic clan of priestess-warriors.

6. As Mary Witherspoon putters around her garden in Puddleton on Anglesea, she’s not even remotely prepared for the forces of evil soon to be unleashed from their ancient hilltop barrow (the one she’s squatting on top of, in her new flower beds). Will Mary survive the . . . Rise of the Vorare?



Original Version

Attn. Evil Editor:

Already formidable at barely a day old, the dragon Caerulea is the only hope for the world of Coelithia. Malus, the most powerful sorcerer ever to live, is ruthlessly enslaving or eradicating all who oppose his rule. [And pretty much everyone opposes his rule--especially the ruthlessly enslaving and eradicating part.] Caerulea sets off with only her innate magic, teamwork, and determination to discover why the dragons have vanished and ultimately find a way to defeat the sadistic Vorare Malus. My 95,000-word science-fiction/fantasy novel entitled Rise of the Vorare will appeal to fans of JK Rowling and Christopher Paolini.

Caerulea’s hatching sends out a vast magical disturbance, alerting both friend and foe to her existence. She is pursued by the enormous insect-like Steraspis within minutes of her lonely, confused birth, teaches herself to fly, and comes face-to-face with a mysterious woman more comfortable beneath deep, unfathomable waters than above. [Aquagirl.] [Is there an Aquagirl? I know there's a Supergirl and Batgirl. Aquagirl could be the daughter of Aquaman and a sea bass.] [Ah, Wikipedia reveals that Aquagirl did exist: "When she was fifteen years old, she met up with Aqualad, who immediately calls her “Aquachick.” Aquagirl was a regular supporting cast member in the Aquaman strip for several years, though generally doing little more than babysitting Aquaman's son."] [And you thought girls didn't have any superhero role models.] Soon she learns that all dragons disappeared many years ago, but whether by annihilation or flight is still widely disputed. [Scholars will argue about anything.] Her journey begins in the company of people from three diverse races: Durand of the Acui, a magical forest people; Dulce, of a magical amphibious race called the Gencalida, and Waring, [a blender.] an Aliquantu, the inventive, clever people who rely upon mechanical ingenuity rather than magic.

[Caerulea: We need to get across these raging rapids. I could fly us across.

Dulce: I can instantaneously get us across with magic.

Durand: So can I.

Waring: With 80 yards of rope, a pulley system, a catapult, a hammer, a bellows, and a winch I can rig up a contraption in three days that'll get us across.

Dulce: Tell me again why we brought MacGyver along?]

Caerulea finds herself immediately set upon by henchmen of the Vorare Malus, constantly forced to battle or flee as she and her companions strive toward the promised haven of safety [Who promised them a haven of safety?] [In two paragraphs you've hit us with Vorare, Caerulea, Steraspis, Acui, Gencalida, Aliquantu, and Coelithia. Not to mention Paolini. Think I'll peek at the next query; maybe it's about Bob.]

Before she can face the sorcerer responsible for so much death and destruction, she must survive long enough to learn to use her innate magic without the assistance of her own kind, as well as deal with prejudice [It's so unfair to be prejudiced against dragons just because they occasionally swoop down and burn people alive.] and political factions immersed in their own intrigues. [That huge sentence could be cut to: Before she can defeat Malus, she must learn to use her innate magic.] No sooner does she arrive in the protected city of Interius [from the unprotected city of Exterius] than she and the allied nations are called to the aid of the doomed Acui nation, sentenced to death by the Vorare and besieged by armies of unnatural creatures in their very last refuge. Though the battle goes against him, Malus has no intention of ceding defeat. He sets off to where the dragons still exist, secretly imprisoned, their magic systematically stolen; but this time he intends not to take a small portion, but every bit of their elemental magic, killing the dragons in the process. [That plan will never succeed; but then, no one ever accused Malus of forethought.]

May I send you the first 25,000 words [25,000? That's a hundred pages. If I had to read a hundred pages of everything to decide if I was interested, the slush pile would reach from here to Coelithia.] of the manuscript? I have been writing fiction since grade school, and have won awards for poetry and short fiction in high school where I excelled in literature and creative writing. I am impressed with your accomplishments in editing, [in fact, I'm certain some of my favorite books were crap before you salvaged them,] and believe I would be a valuable addition to your client list. [Evil Editor was considering switching from query letters to synopses, but then who would be around to beg authors to delete their credits?]

Thank you for your valuable time and consideration.

Best regards,


Notes

Please, oh please, I beg you, get rid of the credits paragraph.

Too much information. The last dragon hatches and sets out to learn why she's the last dragon. She discovers that the evil Vorare wizard Malus has captured the dragons and is using their magic to ruin everything for everyone. Can she save the dragons and defeat Malus? That's your plot. Expand on it with specificity, enough to get it up to ten sentences, max.

Caerulea disappears from the query as the focus shifts to Malus. Keep the focus on your MC.


Selected Comments

Anonymous said...I keep hearing, "Vo-ra-re...oh,oh; Cantare, oh-oh-oh-oh..."


Nancy said...This could be a good story, but there are too many details and way too many names to remember. What EE said is right about the plot.

Describe your plot in one sentence, and then go from there; don't add any subplots, and don't go into added layers of detail.

And, please, oh please, delete your credits paragraph. Editors and agents aren't going to care about awards you've won in high school competitions; the credits being looked for are for magazines that aren't produced by someone at your high school (like Realms of Fantasy, for example).

I hope that didn't sound too harsh. Good luck with it!


writtenwyrdd said...Can't help but think of the song Volare.

Despite the plot that reminds me of the hated book by Mr. Paolini (itself highly derivative), yours sounds potentially workable. Not much to add after the other comments except it bugged me that you say this is the last dragon up top then inform the reader further down that your protag dragon isn't the last dragon. Sounds inconsistent of you the author even if that's what your protag thinks at the time.


Dave said...I feel like I'm drowning in the names of a new world. It's like taking a drink from a firehose. That being said...

The last dragon is born with knowledge, the ability to talk (communicate), and a certain amount of magical ability. Obviously it grows so fast, it can defend itself with claw and fire within hours. (OK with me, but you see most things have a learning period)

It wants to find the other dragons and it doesn't know where they are? That's a question mark in my mind. A creature born with so many smarts is ignorant of the evil magician who imprisoned the rest of its species. Granted that self-defense might be built into the psyche. However, communication with the forest magicians, the water magicians, and the mechanic (not so magical human, I guess), requires a bit of explanation. I hope that's in the book.

My idea of the plot:
Caerulea, the last dragon on Coelithia, is on a quest with the to find her forbears, the lost race of dragons. Accompanying her are magical craetures from forest, the water and the human race. Unknown to Caerulea, the magician, Malus Vorare, is stealing the dragon's magic to serve his own designs of world domination and enslavement.

I'm going to resist using the rhetorical Can Caerulea. Instead I'll add this

Caerulea's quest becomes more than a search for her dragon kin, she must defeat the magician and free the dragons from Malus's deathgrip.

And in the process how does she grow as a person? What does she achieve when she defeats Malus Vorare? Does she become "empress" of the dragons? Or does she go off to live a quiet life on a mountain as a hermit contemplating dragonic navel? What is her motivation?

Now this probably a little lifeless for a query. But it's a start.


blogless_troll said...My idea of the plot: Caerulea, the last dragon on Coelithia, is on a quest with the to find her forbears

You've got her confused with Goldilocks, Dave.

However, author, Dave makes a good point about the dragon's learning curve. And it might work better toward her character development if you show her gradually learning, even the basic dragon stuff, rather than being so powerful right out of the egg. For instance, while learning how to breathe fire, she could accidentally scorch her three companions, and then the MacGyver guy could laugh at the others because they're naked and he's not, having recently invented flame retardant clothing. Maybe it's just the query that makes it sound like she's born with all this knowledge. I dunno.

Can't remember the other point I was going to make, because I've got that friggin song stuck in my head.


Robin S. said...I had the Volare song in my little GTP - but I think my biggest GTP fault is that I write almost a story rather than a "tagline" kind of thing - hence the necessary excision.


Precie said...Add me to the list of "Vo-Ra-Re" singers. As for the query, I agree that it would benefit from a tighter, clearer hook and description. And I agree that those credits are best left out.


greencat said...Please, oh, please, don't mention Paolini in your query. If I were an editor I would have stopped there.


Phoenix said...You've gotten good advice here already about tightening, including fewer names, and never mentioning Paolini. I wondered about the word "Vorare." Is Vorare a title rather than a first name?

She and her companions strive toward the promised haven of safety What promised haven is that? The only mention before this is that the group is headed to find the mystery behind the disappearance of the dragons.

I would rather know WHY Durand, Dulce and Aliquantu are accompanying Caerulea on her quest than be told WHAT these people's races are.

The query says Caerulea learns how to fly and communicate on her own pretty quickly, but makes it seem like a big deal that she must learn how to use her innate magic on her own. It doesn't bother me so much that she doesn't know where her folk were taken since that all happened outside of "innate" experience, but the innate stuff should at least be consistent.

I have no idea what "protected city of Interius" means, who or what's protecting it, and why the characters or I should care. Is this the "promised haven of safety" I was confused about before? The answer scarcely matters because it really doesn't serve any purpose in this query and appears to be a story element that can be readily deleted to help shorten the letter.

Interesting that you say the Acui nation is doomed when the battle goes against Malus and he's forced to seek greater magic to win. This seems to be another instance where the authorial voice appears uncertain about what happens in the story.

I also wouldn't call this science fiction in any guise of the word. Even if your mechanic invents an atomic bomb, there's no mistaking this story for fantasy and, forgive me for being blunt, derivative fantasy at that. (Perhaps some day I'll trot out my first closet novel that features a group of diverse races battling a powerful, evil sorcerer and we can share a giggle...).

If there's something truly unique in your story, let's see it up front. Try crafting your query around that idea, and let us have another peek when you're done.


Anonymous said...To Author: Query letters are supposed to be one page typed. I don't think there is any way this whole thing fits on a single page. Get out your writing machete and cut this down! It's reading more like a synopsis than a query. With queries think more like the back of the book or a movie trailer, less a summary of the whole plot as hitting the high points and grabbing interest.

I also must say you should cut your credits at the end. If there is nothing stellar to put there best leave it off altogether.


Author said...Revised query:

Attn: Evil Editor

In a land that has endured four decades of suffering during the dragons' inexplicable absence, a tiny glimmer of hope emerges. Caerulea is unaware that in fighting her way free of her egg, she is broadcasting news of her presence throughout all of Coelithia. Sent to find her are emissaries of good as well as the remorseless giant robots of the evil sorcerer, Vorare Malus.

She is forced to master her use of magic in a very short time, guided and protected by members of three allied races who must work together in spite of their differences if they are to survive the Vorare's terrifying reign. He has subjugated one country, captured or forced the occupants of another into hiding, and now his legions of death are gathering to utterly annihilate the third.

Relentlessly pursued by the murderous robots, Caerulea is drawn into the allies' cause, knowing that if Vorare Malus succeeds in conquering all of Coelithia, no one will remain to help her discover what has become of her race. She joins their preparation to stand up to the sorcerer despite the seeming futility, unintentionally becoming the rallying point for the resistance.

Together, they make their stand in the Sacred City of the Acui, deep within the concealing Garagna Forest, amid secrets and treachery that none could have foreseen.
The Sorcerer and The Dragon is my complete 102,000-word science-fiction/fantasy novel. I am now working on a sequel to this book as well as conceptualization for third and fourth installments.

May I send you the first few chapters of my manuscript? I am impressed with your record of representation, and believe I would be a valuable addition to your client list.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


150 said...Hmm, okay. This left me very confused. My eyes seemed to bounce right over the words and absorb no meaning at all. I think that's due to a lot of general, slightly clich├ęd phrases. I rewrote it so that I could understand the barebones plot.

Caerula just hatched yesterday, and already her life is in danger.

As the first dragon seen in Coelithia in forty years, she attracts plenty of attention: from the evil sorcerer Malus, and from the members of the rebellion determined to end Malus's reign. Fortunately, the rebellion finds her first. The three allied races rally around their newfound dragon, and Caerula joins their cause--if only because she needs their help to learn what happened to the rest of her species.

Before the rebellion can finish training, Malus moves to end the rebellion and seize the dragon by attacking the Sacred City. Can Caerula come into her magical prowess in time to save herself and the world?

I had to guess on the last bit, obviously. Looking at the rewrite, this doesn't sound like it should nearly take 102,000 words to cover. It feels like you could include more conflicts in the middle there. Others might disagree.

On looking back, this is a lot better than your first try.


Author said...Hi 150:

Thanks for your feedback; you've got a pretty good understanding of my story, but the dragon is not just in it for herself. I don't know how to make that point clearer, and I am not completely happy with the way

Caerulea is drawn into the allies' cause, knowing that if Vorare Malus succeeds in conquering all of Coelithia, no one will remain to help her discover what has become of her race.

sounds. Her life is repeatedly saved by her guardians, and she forms deep bonds of friendship with them. They are also enthusiastic about helping her find out what happened to the dragons.


Sarah said...I agree with 150. I kept saying 'who?' 'what?' and then looking back and realizing you had mentioned them or it previously.

I get a better sense of what's going on from 150's rewrite. Perhaps that can help you shape the information you want to include in the query.


150 said...Maybe:

Caerula joins their cause--not only because she needs their help to learn what happened to the rest of her species, but because of the deep bonds she has formed with her protectors.


writtenwyrdd said...150's revision deals with all the problems brilliantly. I'd use that. In order to deal with the dragon not just being in the fight for her own reasons, you just need to say something like, "Now in order to save herself and her friends," and forget the mention of seeking the rest of her people, because it sounds like she can't actively seek them while in the midst of being hunted and during a civil war.

Your rewirte didn't provide an emotional focus. It's my observation (which may be wrong) that a query needs to provide the emotional hook, the whys of the action, along with the details that make the story interesting. If you look at 150's version, that emotion is immediately apparent.


Author said...Thanks 150, Sarah, writtenwyrdd... Here goes again...

Attn: Evil Editor:

The moment Caerulea hatches, her life is in danger.

As the first dragon seen in Coelithia in thirty years, she attracts plenty of attention: from the evil sorcerer Vorare Malus, and from members of the three races determined to end Malus's reign. Fortunately, the good guys find her first. The three allied races rally around their newfound dragon, guiding and protecting her as she grows and learns to use her magic.

In order to save herself and her friends, Caerulea joins their cause to prevent Malus from seizing an enormous source of power and murdering an entire race in the process. Along the way, she collects tantalizing clues and hints regarding the whereabouts of the missing dragons.

As Malus moves to crush the resistance and gain control of the entire land of Coelithia, the allies gather to protect the powerful magic amid secrets and treachery that none could have foreseen.

The Sorcerer and The Dragon is my complete 102,000-word science-fiction/fantasy novel. I am now working on a sequel to this book as well as conceptualization for third and fourth installments.

May I send you the first few chapters of my manuscript? I am impressed with your record of representation, and believe I would be a valuable addition to your client list.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Saturday, November 26, 2011

EVIL EDITOR CLASSICS


Guess the Plot

A Perilous Reunion

1. Marion's been separated from her husband George for three months. When he walks in the door, she flies into his arms. Too late, she remembers that he's been away undergoing experimental cosmetic surgery, and now has thousands of porcupine spines.

2. Separation was difficult for Siamese twins Ted and Tad. But now that Ted's liver is kaput, there's only one way both boys can survive to adulthood: reunification. But as Dr. Wackner begins this very difficult surgery, her cell phone rings. It's Bob! He can't wait to hear about her new shoes!

3. When Ellen Strunk gets an invitation to the tenth reunion of her class at stuntperson school, she has no clue just how frickin' hard it's going to be to park her car safely, much less get to the bar for a drink in one piece.

4. When Seth Loki is imprisoned for attempted murder, his wife divorces him and moves to Ohio with their son, Joey. He'll never find us here, she thinks. And she's right--until Loki receives a letter from Joey, postmarked Cleveland, Ohio.

5. After dating for a year, Sara finally agrees to attend a family reunion with Tom. But when she discovers a corpse in the bathtub, she begins to realize that while some of Tom's wacky relatives are harmless eccentrics, at least one is deadly. . . and that one may be coming after her next!

6. He's a gay prostitute to the rich and powerful. She's a genius ex munitions expert with a passion for social justice. Together, they're fraternal twins who were separated as kids in Houston's foster care system. An accident involving a broken heel, a spilled drink, and a craps table brings them together again. Now no one in Washington is safe.


Original Version

Dear Agent:

Susan Shepherd gained strength from divorcing her abusive husband, Seth Loki, while he was serving time for beating a man nearly to death. Before Seth was released from prison, Susan and her teenaged son, Joey, moved from Florida to Ohio to escape his inevitable rage and begin a new life. Led by the "goodbye" letter Joey sent from Ohio, Seth discovers their location and plots to destroy Susan’s happiness and reclaim his son. [Joey's goodbye letter:

The novel opens with Seth watching his family’s new house from the seclusion of a tree-covered park, gaining valuable information as he constructs a plan of revenge. [He's already there? Apparently all that stuff in the first paragraph happened in the prequel, Seth Loki: Birth of a Brute.] Unaware of Seth’s presence, Susan lands a job teaching fifth grade and hopes that her new home is a safe haven, but feels more unsettled with each passing moment as she encounters several reminders of her ex-husband. [She should never have brought their wedding album or his collection of human fingers when they moved. But the clincher is when she finds the message,

Prepare to Die,

Love,

Seth

written on her bedroom wall with blood.] Joey, a friendless fourteen-year-old struggling with the reality of what his father is capable of, has no idea that he’ll soon be faced with the predicament of protecting himself and his mother by using the last gift his father gave him, a gun. Meanwhile, Susan and Joey’s German Shepherd, Duke, who has exceptional depth and intuition, [Certainly more than Joey, anyway] is the only one who knows this "sour man" has arrived. [Sour man? That's what Duke calls him?] Bo, an astute sixteen-year-old girl dealing with the threatening presence of her new stepfather, [Seth Loki,] befriends Joey and is unwittingly pulled into his family’s strife.

Through media coverage of a young woman’s disappearance in Florida, Susan, Joey, and Bo separately piece together bits of information and realize too late that Seth has arrived. Only in the final pages does this family come together for A Perilous Reunion, causing each individual to discover how much their strength of spirit has evolved.

A Perilous Reunion is a contemporary suspense novel, complete at 75,000 words. A third person narrator offers the perspectives of each of the five main characters [Five? Joey, Susan, Bo, Seth and . . . Duke?] in short, alternating sections. [Duke's section:

Duke came running into the living room. "Hey, Susan," he said. "That sour man you used to be married to is camped out in the park across the street. I think you better call the cops."

"Joey," Susan yelled, "Duke wants something. Call him, will you?"

"Duke!" Joey called.

"Listen to me, you ignorant broad," Duke continued. "It's Seth Loki. With his gun and his knives and his ridiculous last name. He's gonna kill us all!"

"Joey," Susan called out. "Get Duke one of his bacon treats. Maybe that'll shut him up."

"For Christ's sake, lady, how can you be so stupi-- Did you say bacon?!!"]

I have been a teacher of secondary English in Ohio for eight years and recently completed my Master’s Degree in education. I would be happy to send you A Perilous Reunion. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Notes

You can safely leave Bo out of the query. For that matter, Duke isn't necessary, though we don't want to shorten it too much.

A woman disappears in Florida, and three different people separately realize this means Seth is in Ohio? You might want to leave that out as well, unless you can explain it.

If you beat someone to death in Florida, you could get life in prison. Unless it's a homeless guy, in which case you still get ten years. Seems like beating someone nearly to death would be a fairly long sentence, but I didn't get the impression Loki was locked up very long.


Selected Comments

Maggie Stiefvater said...Oh man - I was laughing my head off, EE. Duke was too. Yeah, he's with me now. He IS a smart dog.


Anonymous said...Okay so I'm a cynical veteran of 10 years employment in the legal system and I'm pretty sure if a kid whose mother used to get beaten by dad is savvy enough to be wielding a gun, he is surely not stupid enough to blow the family's cover like that unless he's hoping / planning to shoot the old man on sight. Those kids hate hate hate and fear their fathers and are usually very protective of their mothers. The mom is normally the lame brain who writes a zillion love letters to the prison and invites the guy to come on over and murder her as soon as he gets out. The kids are smarter.


blogless_troll said...If the mom was smart and really loved her son, instead of leaving Florida, she would've left him in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. Then nobody would find him. Ever.


Dave said...I had trouble with the time sequence of events . Mostly, I had trouble with the length of his imprisonment for nearly beating a man to death. It sounds like he only serves enough time for his wife and child to relocate and as we all know, that can't be the case.

However, since the backstory consists of those events in Florida, Why do we hear about them in the query? The story is about a man just out of prison hunting down his wife and child.

I don't know the law concerning hand guns in Ohio. If his father was in jail for five years, he was given a hand gun at 11 y/o. That's not believable.

And Bo? Bo makes me shudder. You say: "Bo, an astute sixteen-year-old girl dealing with the threatening presence of her new stepfather" That implies she is being adopted or she is marrying Joey. Having dealt with marriages at that age, I'll tell you that they are not happy events. And if Seth Loki introduced himself as the convicted felon father of her underage husband-to-be. . . well, there's going to be trouble with the inlaws at that wedding. Normally, those wedding are not happy affairs because of an unwanted, early pregnancy. Be that as it may, In-law trouble raisies its ugly head, once again.

But this assumes that they know Seth Loki (a villain with the last name of a mythical villain, wowie-zowie-gadzooks!) is in town. Sometimes, you make like he's announced his presence in Ohio and other times, he's remaining hidden.


December Quinn said...Oooh, blogless troll, ouch! I think the problem with this one (aside from "Seth Loki", unless you plan to write that Birth of a Brute book EE came up with because that's an awesome title) is that the bad-abusive-ex-stalking-wife-and-kid isn't a new or even particularly interesting story anymore. It wasn't even new when Sleeping With the Enemy was published, or when the movie was made (or The Burning Bed, or that one with Nancy McKeon where she sues the police dept., or really any movie Lifetime has ever made except for the child molestation ones.)

What looks different about yours is the attack-on-the-girl thing, where everyone realizes as they watch that investigation unfold that Seth Loki is in town. That sounds like an interesting twist. I'd focus on that bit.


Shannon said...As a Corrections professional, it would not surprise me to see this guy out in 3-5 years, with time served credit and good time (a lousy human can still be an ideal prisoner). Attempted murder can be pled down to aggravated assault, armed with intent, or willful injury (or a combination). In my state, these all fall around the D-felony range --3-5 years with up to $7500 fine per count. Multiple counts can be served at the same time.

He may be skipping out on his parole officer or work release center, but once they leave the state, it’s pretty hard to track someone down until they re-offend.


Robin S. said...Hi Author, I agree with December Quinn that "What looks different about yours is the attack-on-the-girl thing, where everyone realizes as they watch that investigation unfold that Seth Loki is in town" and this might be interesting to spend some time on.

I like the guy's last name. It sounds different, and will porbably be remembered by the reader - just look at how many people enjoyed playing with the name here on this blog.

I don't think it matters that your subject has been done before - because I'm pretty sure just about every subject has been done before. A lot. And that what would matter is how well the story, retold by you, is done.

EE, I loved your letters to and from Seth.


Anonymous said...Well - after wiping the evil slime off my face, I'm ready to thank all of you for your constructive criticism. Unfortunately, you seem to think the problems aren't with the query - but the story itself. I'll work on bringing out what is original in the story as I revise.

Anonymous - good point about it not being realistic for the kid to blow their cover.

Dave - he doesn't "treasure" the hand gun. He doesn't register the thing, either, lots of 16 year olds have things in their possession not deemed legally appropriate. I wasn't clear enough about Bo's step-dad - not connected to Seth or Joey.

Shannon - He was in 4 years. I thought that could be realistic considering that our justice system is nowhere near perfect.

December Quinn & Robin S - Thanks - more of the book is focused on that "twist" than the query alludes to. Maybe I should take the backstory out of the query and add more of the connection between Seth and the kidnapping - how they realize he's in town now.

Robin S - Thank you. "I don't think it matters that your subject has been done before . . ." I know it's been done - I tried to make it new.


EE - Should I not include the back-story in the first paragraph?


Evil Editor said...It feels odd to get this information, and then say The novel opens...
You could work the back-story (Five years ago, Susan Shepherd and her son Joey moved from Florida to Ohio to start a new life after Joey's father, Seth Loki, was imprisoned for attempted murder.) into one sentence.

By the way, Joey is 14, not 16. If his father's been in prison 4 years, he gave Joey the gun when Joey was no older than ten.


Kings Falcon said...Unfortunately, I can see Seth getting out in 4-5 years but I think Joey might be a bit young to save the day. You might want to be a bit more explict as to how Seth tracks them down from the goodbye letter. Was Joey really naive enough to tell Seth where he was going or was it the postmark? Loki is the Norse God of mischief. Seth, however, is not. You might want to change the last name.


Anonymous said...EE - Thanks again. And I know the timeline - I was responding to Dave who stated the age of 16 - didn't feel the need to correct.

Kings Falcon - Joey wasn't naive enough to state where they are - Seth saw the postmark. Believable? How many kids use the mail these days? Most communicate through computer and text message. Something I need to think about.


Carolina Wren said...I actually liked the concept of many POVs- some of my favorite books have been written that way. Donald Harrington's novel WITH is a great example. It uses over a dozen POVs, including that of a dog. It can be done, and it can be done well.

I agree that four years in prison is believable. People get out all the time due to a technicality, so that didn't strike me as odd.

A thought about Joey's letter: He was only ten when he wrote it. What if he never planned on mailing it? Maybe he wrote it at someone's suggestion to deal with his loss and hid it, but during the move it got lost and someone else finds it and mails it, thinking they are doing a good deed?

I like books that take an "old plot" and try to update it or make it new. I think this could work if the author includes inventive twists.Best of luck!


Dave said...Author, my remarks were not about your novel. I don't know anything about your novel except what I read in the query letter. Neither would an agent.

That's the problem of being close to the writing. I am always amazed when EE posts my stuff and people read other things into it than I intended.

This happens all the time. When you read our impressions and they don't mesh with the novel, take note. Sometimes the minions get it all right, sometimes all wrong, and sometimes they wander into the vast wilderness ...


Robin S. said...Hi again, Author--carolina wren wrote - "Maybe he wrote it at someone's suggestion to deal with his loss and hid it, but during the move it got lost and someone else finds it and mails it, thinking they are doing a good deed?"

This, or something like this, sounds like a good idea to me. Lots of people have been totally screwed, if you'll forgive the tacky word choice, by the good-deed gods. It makes sense, as well, from the perspective of what children do today to communicate, as you mentioned. I'm not sure my daughters would know how to mail a letter- write it, yes, mail it, not sure. They've never had to. They text, Skype, IM - or whatever that's called - and email.

Dave,
Thanks for saying " When you read our impressions and they don't mesh with the novel, take note." Makes sense, and better to find out here than when your work is in front of a pair of decision-making eyes that are giving a sweeping glance over your letter, and don't have the time to ask clarification questions.


Author said...You people are truly wonderful.

Dave's comment: "I don't know anything about your novel except what I read in the query letter. Neither would an agent." Excellent point. Yes, Robin S, it is better to find out here than in the form of rejection after rejection.

I am "taking note" of all of your comments and have started to revise the query to add in things of importance - twists that make my story unique. We all know that it's tough to include all the important information in the one page query. Your comments are helping me see what needs to be omitted and added.

Love Carolina Wren's suggestion to have it mailed without his knowledge.

Keep the comments coming - they're very helpful!


Anonymous said...Your credibility will be greatly improved if you say what he did and what he was actually convicted of and how much time he got. Not just that he "beat a man almost to death." You don't give enough info about the disappearing person incident for us to have any clue what the connection is between her and these other folks, so I agree with EE, best to not mention that subplot here or explain it a little more. Plus a character entranced by TV or newspapers is action twice removed, so a-guy-watching-TV scenes don't usually score very high on the gripping scale. The query doesn't indicate you handled that in a remarkable way so I hope the news scenes don't add up to a major portion of your pages.

As for whether agents think there's a market for gritty domestic violence stalking stories these days, I have no idea -- but if nobody grabs this as it is, you might want to try turning the dad to a werewolf or vampire or some other fantastic thing as there is definitely a huge demand for escapist fiction right now.


writtenwyrdd said...I would just mention the entire backstory in a sentence, something along the lines of "having fled (wherever) to hide from a violently abusive husband, wife and son are in (Town). When they hear dad is out of prison and looking for them, they do Y." Then mention the action from there. We can all figure out the events of the past with that much info.

At any rate, this needs to be tightened up, but does sound like a workable story with some clarification.


Anonymous said...Another suggestion: Dad doesn't give him the gun; the kid finds it, takes it, and keeps it handy just for Daddy... Because, like anon 10:40 says, the kids are smarter than the parents about these situations a lot of the time...


Evil Editor said...They moved to Ohio before the dad was released--presumably not long before. Thus the goodbye letter would have been written when Joey was 14, not 10.

Taking his dad's gun makes more sense than receiving one as a 10-year old. Giving a gun to a 4th or 5th grader is stupid enough; giving it to one whose mother you abuse is asking for it.


author said...Anon 12:10 - Since it's backstory - I'll save the info about Seth's conviction for the novel and take it out of the query.

The TV scenes are very brief and far apart - just used to give bits of info. I understand that's not so gripping and used them sparingly.

anon 12:30 - I like the idea of him finding the gun. Thanks!

I think I'll post my revision in the comments later for more of your thoughts - this has been helpful!


Anonymous said...Am I the only person who thinks "Set(h) Loki" is overkill for a villain's name? Are his best friends called "Satan Cain" and "Adolf Jenghiz"?


writtenwyrdd said...Author, you might benefit from reading "Such A Pretty Girl" for a powerful child about the right age as your character. She's dealing with a father getting out of prison for molesting her, and her mother is completely clueless and unavailable.


author said...Okay - here are the revisions - have fun!

After being released from prison for a violent crime, Seth Johnson discovers the location of his ex-wife, Susan Shepherd, and son, Joey. Seth watches his family’s new house from the seclusion of a nearby park, gaining valuable information as he plots to destroy Susan's happiness and reclaim his son. Unaware of Seth’s presence, Susan lands a job teaching fifth grade and hopes that her new home is a safe haven, but feels more unsettled with each passing moment as her mind plays tricks on her, making her see her ex-husband in places that she knows he can’t possibly be.

Joey, a friendless fourteen-year-old struggling with life in a new town, has no idea that he’ll soon be faced with the predicament of protecting himself and his mother by using his father’s old gun. Meanwhile, Susan and Joey’s German Shepherd, Duke, who has exceptional depth and intuition, is the only one who knows this "sour man" has arrived. Bo, a witty and astute sixteen-year-old girl dealing with the threatening presence of her mother’s new husband, befriends Joey and finds herself pulled into the family’s strife when an encounter with Joey’s estranged father lands her in the hospital.

Through media coverage of a young woman’s disappearance in Florida, a crime with which Seth is directly involved, Susan, Joey, and Bo separately piece together bits of information (a tattoo, a few nicknames, some grainy surveillance footage) and realize too late that Seth has arrived. Only in the final pages does this family come together for A Perilous Reunion, causing each individual to discover how much their strength of spirit has evolved.


Dave said...That sounds much, much better.

I'd drop this completely: "Meanwhile, Susan and Joey’s German Shepherd, Duke, who has exceptional depth and intuition, is the only one who knows this "sour man" has arrived."

Just because the dog creates lots of questions that don't seem to fit in the story.

Also, build the suspense just a little bit by moving this phrase to the end of the paragraph. "has no idea that he’ll soon be faced with the predicament of protecting himself and his mother by using his father’s old gun."

That's all just my opinion. And I wouldn't be me if I didn't say: Too many words, cut about 1/3 of them. Your choice.


writtenwyrdd said...Author, this is much better, but the ending is still a problem, because (to me) the wording "Only in the final pages does this family come together for A Perilous Reunion, causing each individual to discover how much their strength of spirit has evolved" gives the impression that Seth (who sounds like an unmitigated bastard) is also coming together with the family in a good way. Coming together has a connotation of improving conditions.

Overall, this was vastly easier to read and follow. And it really does sound like it could be a good read.


Anonymous said...You lose me with the dog being the only one who's smart enough figure out what's really happening. I realize there are books/movies with pets as heroes and detectives [Underdog, Lassie, etc] and I loved them as a kid but I can't quite take them seriously now. So for me that pretty much takes your story out of the realistic adult genre and puts it into the young adult or middle grade category. Whether others will agree, I can't say. Maybe that's your intended audience. I don't know. It just seems a little incongruous with the basically hard-boiled sensibilities of the rest of it.


writtenwyrdd said...Duke can be cut without harming your query. The point of the query is to illicit interest, not foster confusion. So if you can say what the book's about without adding the dog, you have done what you need to do.


pacatrue said...OK, I admit I haven't read every comment, but I did see your revision, which I agree is an improvement.

A different thought I had was about our 5 protagonists - or is it 4 and Seth? Right now, even with the revision, we largely get the idea that these people all sit around waiting for evil Seth who they don't even know is around. We know that the mother is teaching again, so that's something, but after that, there seem to be no goals for anyone. I'm just thinking of the classic plot frame where the heroine wants something and the antagonist, who I assume to be Seth, gets in the way. But right now it isn't clear what the heroine wants. What does the presence of Seth stop her from doing? Even if what she wants is a healthy life, try to find a way to make that a specific need for her. How does she represent a healthy life - a job, a house, peace in the evenings when there used to be screaming, etc. Once we know this, the more we feel for her when these little Seth cues threaten to take this specific need of hers away.

The basic idea is that the more you can do to make our heroine (and other good guys) special so that we really care for them, the more your book will stand out in the crowded field. The less we know about them, the more generic the agent assumes your book to be.


Wonderwood said...Author, I think you've got some compelling elements in your story that don't come through in the query. The sequence of events as presented in the query can be re-arranged to have more impact. I'm not a query expert, trust me, but I took the liberty of doing some cut and paste with yours to see if I could present these events more dramatically. I'm sure it could be fleshed out more, but here's what I did with it:

Seth Johnson, a violent convict recently released from prison, is making plans for a surprise reunion with his family. When he discovers the location of his ex-wife, Susan Shepherd, and son, Joey, Seth plots to destroy Susan's happiness and reclaim his son.

Joey is a lonely fourteen-year-old struggling with life in a new town when he is befriended by Bo, a witty and astute sixteen-year-old girl with family issues of her own. Susan lands a job teaching fifth grade and hopes that her new home is a safe haven, but feels more unsettled with each passing moment as her mind plays tricks on her, making her see her ex-husband in places that she knows he can’t possibly be.

Through media coverage of a young woman’s disappearance in Florida, a crime with which Seth is directly involved, Susan, Joey, and Bo separately piece together bits of information (a tattoo, a few nicknames, some grainy surveillance footage) and realize too late that Seth has arrived. Joey will soon be faced with the predicament of protecting himself and his mother by using his father’s old gun in A Perilous Reunion.

I don't know how much help that will be, or if it would even be considered better by EE or any editor/agent, just trying to lend a hand. Good luck!

Friday, November 25, 2011

EVIL EDITOR CLASSICS


Guess the Plot

Common Ground

1. Allison accepts a job teaching high school English in Atlanta, the lesbian Mecca of the Southeast. When she falls for fellow teacher Brett, Allison understands why they also call the city "Hotlanta."

2. Velma runs the front office of the Madland News & Blues. When Forrester joins the staff as an investigative journalist, he asks her to get him coffee and the war starts. But then Velma's son is kidnapped and Forrester's assigned the story. Will they find a common ground?

3. It's 1944 and Millicent Penney has found a secret cache of frozen beef. During an air raid, she uses a hand grinder behind her blackout shades to turn it all into hamburger, the better to share.

4. Sick and tired of the lowfat-half soy-mocha-caramel-crappiatto nonsense that has replaced the morning cup of joe, Richard and Luna decide to open their own shop, selling plain coffee with a side of attitude.

5. A former cheerleader and Miss Texas is appointed Undersecretary of State and is given the unenviable task of securing peace between Israel and Palestine. Will her "Extreme Makeover" approach to the process succeed?

6. Ellen and Jake are accidentally transported to a parallel universe. Seattle is much as they remember it, except that, to their horror, coffee is outlawed as a toxic substance. Unable to get back to their own universe, Ellen and Jake open The Common Ground, a coffee speakeasy disguised as a used book store.


Original Version

"I think I found the perfect job for you. Just listen before you say no." [No.]

Allison Monroe had no way of knowing how those simple words would change her life, or that hers would not be the only heart affected. Complete at 75,000 words, Common Ground is a love story between two women [That's enough for me; send me the full manuscript, along with your research materials.] who seek the same goals, but follow very different paths.

An unexpected loss on Capitol Hill [What does that mean?] leaves Allison scrambling to find a new career path, and in a departure from her usual thoughtful behavior, she impulsively accepts a position teaching high school English. [No, no, a departure from thoughtful behavior would be taking a job as a prison guard or a stripper. Teaching English is a fine and noble endeavor.] [True, your chances of being murdered on the job are about the same with all three, but at least teachers get the summer off.] She is not sure how her shy persona will translate to the classroom -- or how her mature, reserved nature will adjust to Atlanta, the lesbian Mecca of the Southeast. [I checked my list of nicknames for Atlanta. It includes The Athens of the South, The City Too Busy to Hate, Dogwood City, Gate City of the South, Hotlanta, The Phoenix City, The Big Peach, and The New York of the South. To which I must now, apparently, add The Lesbian Mecca of the Southeast.] [Google informs me that every region has a lesbian Mecca. Iowa City: lesbian Mecca of the Midwest. Little Rock: lesbian Mecca of the Ozarks. Ketchikan: lesbian Mecca of Alaska.]

Brett Gallagher is young, brash and idealistic. Just out of a two-year stint working with Teach for America, she dreams of making the world (or at least the public school system) a more welcoming place for gay teens. She is charming and magnetic but seemingly incapable of an actual relationship, preferring instead one night stands and casual flings.

When the two women meet at an orientation for new teachers, sparks fly immediately, and the two women spend the summer getting to know each other better and falling in love. [According to the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms, "Sparks fly" means they argue angrily. ] It is a difficult road because along with their political and personality differences, the constant parade of Brett's ex-lovers [Define "constant."] makes Allison jealous and insecure. [Even a sporadic parade of ex-lovers would probably be a bit of a bother. Why are her one-night-stand ex-lovers constantly parading through? Evil Editor's one-night-stand ex-lovers never seem to parade through. ] She fears that even if Brett is genuine about her feelings, it won't take long for her to lose interest.

By early fall, the two women are enjoying the bliss of a new relationship. But all of that changes when there is an incident of homophobia at the high school where they teach. [It's a sad day when you can't even escape homophobia in a lesbian Mecca.] [Though I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that homophobia in a lesbian Mecca is as unlikely as Muslim bashing in Mecca.]

The event brings to a head their contrasting views on life and politics, including how out they need to be at work. While Brett risks her job to lead an unpopular crusade to have sexual orientation and gender identity listed as a protected group in the school's student handbook, [I assume you're not saying that each student's sexual orientation is currently printed in the student handbook?] Allison would prefer to avoid what she sees as a losing battle and instead work more subtly to teach students about tolerance and diversity. This dichotomy places a great deal of strain on their fledgling relationship, [Now sparks fly.] and both have to decide which compromises are worth making and how far they will go to reach common ground.

I hope you will be interested to read more about Brett and Allison. A full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Revised Version

When Allison Monroe unexpectedly loses her Senatorial election, she impulsively accepts a position teaching high school English. She is not sure how her shy persona will translate to the classroom--or to life in "Hotlanta."

Brett Gallagher is young, brash and idealistic. Just out of a two-year stint working with Teach for America, she dreams of making the world (or at least the public school system) a more welcoming place for gay teens. She is charming and outgoing, but seemingly incapable of an actual relationship, preferring instead one night stands and casual flings.

When Brett and Allison meet at an orientation for new teachers, they bond immediately; they spend the summer getting to know each other, and by early fall the two women are enjoying the bliss of a new relationship. But an incident of homophobia at the high school where they teach brings to a head their contrasting views on life and politics.

While Brett risks her job to lead an unpopular protest, Allison would prefer to work more subtly to teach students about tolerance and diversity. This dichotomy strains their fledgling relationship, and each must decide how much she will compromise to reach common ground.

Complete at 75,000 words, Common Ground is a love story between two women who seek the same goals, but via different paths. If you'd like to read more about Brett and Allison, a full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Notes

Not bad. I merely did some shortening and polishing.

I decided to use only three coffee-related Guess the Plots. Overwhelmingly, that's what the minions felt was suggested by the title.


Selected Comments

Anonymous said...How could anyone be a shy politician? Or is she an assistant who gets canned when her boss loses? BTW, what fun is it to have a love story between two women and then give one a predominently boy's name like Brett? I'd ask more, but I've got to pack my bags and get on the first plane to the Lesbian Mecca of the South.


Macuquinas d' Oro said...Try to find a better title. "Common Ground" isn't wrong, but it has no hook. The rewrite is excellent. I would ask to see more. I hope to be surprised, as I learn more of their backstories, to discover that Allison and Brett aren't just ordinary young women trying to sort their personal lives. You alluded to Allison's former job as a aide (?) to a Congressman, maybe a corrupt but very powerful woman in the Senate? I would like see this kind of past intrude and threaten Allison's new life.


Anonymous said...It's not that easy to just "pick up" a job teaching high-school English. Is Allison's new job at a private school? If not, does she have teacher certification? Is she entering a midcareer switch-to-teaching program (which requires a drawn-out application process and a summer of training)? The Web site for the Atlanta Public Schools boasts that its teachers have an average of 15 years' classroom experience. Why would they hire Allison?

I hope you at least touch on these issues in the novel. Otherwise, the book has no credibility with anyone who's ever taught high school (dodging spitballs and bullets for ten months of the year and recuperating for the other two).


Annie said...EE -- Your comments made me laugh and I'm thrilled that my query only needed "shortening and polishing" -- and amazed at the difference that made.

anonymous -- Allison is actually the press secretary for a congressman who loses his bid for reelection.

As for Brett's name, she's named after Hemingway's Lady Brett Ashley. Her family actually calls her Brett Ashley all the time, but she just uses Brett as an adult. All of this is explained in the novel, but wasn't important enough to make it into the query.


born_liar said...I didn't understand how someone could reluctantly become a teacher, either. Isn't that a job that's fairly difficult to get? I could see if it was in a very small town where there weren't many applicants, but Atlanta?


Malia said...Ummm, I wouldn't consider Atlanta the Lesbian Mecca of the Southeast. Actually, there's only one small section of the city we refer to as "Midtown" that would be considered gay orientated. Also, we've not been called Hotlanta for a long long time. We are now known as the ATL. ;) And I'll counter what anonymous said with -- Atlanta is in desperate need of teachers and the process is not as drawn-out as you might expect. However a little research to lend credibility to this would definitely be helpful.

This is just an FYI and not a critique. I thought the rewrite was excellent and your story idea rather fresh.


HawkOwl said...I'm with Anonymous 2, how does she get a job as a teacher on an impulse? Most people I know who are qualified to be teachers are unemployed, so how does this one manage to just jump into it on a whim? Unless she was already an English teacher, took a sabbatical to do the campaign aide thing because the candidate supports gay rights, and the "impulse" part of the job isn't that it's a teaching job, it's moving to Atlanta. But if that were the case, she wouldn't be wondering if her shy persona can handle it. Actually, given that teaching certificates generally require doing at least one practicum, no teacher would really go into a job asking herself that. Not in Canada, anyway. Oh, and why is she scrambling for a new career? Surely being a campaign assistant isn't the only thing she's ever conceived of?

I'd skip the whole backstory, or come up with something more solid. Just say she was a teacher in the Conservative Mecca of the whatever, and she moves to Atlanta on a whim after... her house burns down, or something.

Oh, and yeah, that was way too long of a synopsis. It wouldn't fit on the back of a coffee-table book, let alone a paperback. :)


Annie said...Thanks for the comments, everyone.

anonymous -- the path she takes to the teaching job is explained in detail over the course of the first half of the book even though it's only glossed over in the query. I did extensive research on this subject because I agree whole-heartedly that without handling this issue correctly, the entire premise would not make sense and would turn off a large segment of my readers (ie anyone who knows anything about the public school system).

macuquinas d' oro -- Common Ground is just a working title. I agree that is has no hook, but I got sick of calling it "my novel" and actually pulled the working title from the last line of my query.

There is a lot more to these women than is covered by the query, obviously, but this is general fiction/romance not a mystery/thriller/adventure/etc, so there won't be any political intrigue or life-threatening skeletons in the closet.


Daisy said...As far as the names thing goes, unless it's really important to the story, I'd strongly suggest changing Brett's name to something more traditionally feminine, if only to simplify the cover copy. Think of it this way: you want people to know that the book is about a lesbian romance. As it stands, you need two sentences to get that across (one with the names, one to explain that Brett is a woman), whereas if she was named Laura or something, you would only need one. It just makes it easier for the browsing shopper to figure out what's going on.

And I know titles don't matter much at this point, but I agree that a new one should eventually be in order. Aside from the coffee thing, this one gives me a sense of preachiness, which I'm sure is not what you want. Not that I have any better ideas. I'd suggest "Learning Curves", mainly because it might make people think it's erotica, and your sales would go through the roof.


pacatrue said...I just wanted to go on record that I think Brett is a fine name - but maybe that's only because I knew a woman named Brett. The main thing is that the author stated in the Comments that she is targeting lesbian publishers. I assume houses like Alison and Bella. Therefore, the readers will be very likely picking this book up in the lesbian/gay section of their bookstore and seeing the imprint of a publisher that does almost exclusively LGBT stuff; i.e., the gender of the participants won't be a mystery. All that said, I do find it a bit sad that this novel is slated exclusively for the lesbian fiction market. I've read one of Karin Kallmaker's books, a big name in lesbian romance, and thought her book was excellent and deserved a readership beyond the gay and lesbian community. It was too bad the marketing makes that more difficult.


Anonymous said...No one ever leaves their two year stint in Teach for America "Young and Idealistic". People leave Teach for America, bitter, cynical, and old before thier time.


Annie said...Daisy -- thanks for the title suggestion. I like Learning Curves and I'll put it on my list of possibilities to ponder. (And while I certainly wouldn't classify this as erotica, it is a romance with love scenes that don't fade to black.)

As for Brett's name, it's pretty integral to parts of the backstory. I think you make a really good point though, and if I were planning to try to publish this with a mainstream publisher, I'd consider changing it. But since I'm only shopping this to lesbian publishers, I think that the vast majority of people who pick it up will already know that it's a lesbian romance. As much as I love to dream, I don't see this having big crossover success.


Annie said...Pacatrue -- yes, Bella and Alyson are at the top of my list, along with Bold Strokes, a new up-and-coming lesbian publisher. I agree that it would be nice to target a more mainstream audience and there are certainly some lesbian authors (including Kallmaker) who are very talented. I would love to reach a wider audience and I'm sure other authors in the genre feel the same.

My dream is to someday crossover and write novels with strong lesbian characters who appeal to a mainstream publisher. But as this is my first novel (or at least the first novel I'm attempting to publish), I'm just focused on finding an lgbt publisher.


kis said...Anyone pick up on the fact that Brett and Ashley are both traditionally male names?

And if you get published, please let the publisher know that the gay aspect of the story must be clear in the back cover blurb. I once picked up a fantasy novel described on the cover as a charming fairy tale for grown-ups. Seventy pages in, the two male protagonists are suddenly making love. It was a surprise, one that didn't make me stop reading(and the book is still one of my all-time favorites), but other readers may have been put off.

That said, there's a scene in my WIP involving two women, but it isn't central to the story, and if an editor asked me to cut it or tone it down, I'd be willing to do so. Of course, it didn't even offend my mom, so it's probably pretty tame.


Annie said...kis -- yes, I'm aware that both Brett and Ashley are traditionally male names. You'll have to take that up with Ernest Hemingway, though, since it was his idea. Having read The Sun Also Rises, I would bet money he did that on purpose. (Though it should be noted that in his novel, Ashley was a surname.) Since my character was not born until 1981, I think it's safe to say her parents thought of it as a girl's name despite it's history.

As for the blurb -- since the romance is central to the storyline, I cannot fathom a back cover that did not make that clear. Between that and the fact that it would be stocked in the gay/lesbian fiction section of the bookstore, I would be hardpressed to find sympathy for anyone who didn't figure it out before opening the book. (I'm also hardpressed to find sympathy for people who are offended by love between people of the same sex, but that's a whole other issue.)


xiqay said...I love EE's re-write. It makes the story sing. I've never picked up a book from a gay/lesbian publisher, and now I know I'm missing out on some good fiction. I'll have to read more widely. I also look forward to you crossing over to mainstream publishers, for those readers, like me, who read voraciously, but in little circles.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

EVIL EDITOR CLASSICS

This being a holiday weekend (four days spent consuming 1 turkey and 50 football games) in the US, you wouldn't get many comments if I posted your query or opening. So we go with old stuff. That doesn't mean I don't want you to submit fake plots and continuations.

Guess the Plot

Kharon

1. The ferryman of the river Lethe, smitten by a waifish Goth girl, breaks all the rules by returning with her to the world of the living, only to find that she's happier in the gloomy underworld.

2. A beautiful woman with a red evening dress and a broken-down car, a barking dog, twin midgets, a "magic wand," and a sullen cook with a limp -- these are all out of place at Willows Manor -- but were they part of the jewel heist of the century or the murder of aged billionaire Pasha Parma? It's Mike Kharon's job to find out -- if he can stay ahead of the masked bandit long enough to discover the truth!!

3. Kharon believes his demise is imminent. Sure, he's innocent, but that doesn't appear likely to halt his execution . . . until a group of vigilantes rescue him from jail. Now, with the help of a monk, a circus contortionist, and a dwarf, he must prove his innocence without being re-arrested.

4. Kharon hated his Mom and hid Dad and his little brother, but could he have murdered them? The GPS unit in the computer chip located in his brain says he was at the skate park at the time, but does it tell the whole story?

5. When one of her classmates disappears from campus, Camden suspects Kharon of kidnapping her. Kharon suspects that Camden suspects him, and Camden suspects that Kharon suspects that she suspects him. The big question is whether Kharon suspects that Camden suspects that Kharon suspects that Camden suspects.

6. All her life, Kharon Jones has grown up with that lousy name. When her family moves to a new town, she gets a chance to become popular and admired. However, her arch rival Britny Broadships has other plans. And the battle of the blonds is engaged.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Going away to boarding school is like getting a new life. I mean, you practically show up wet, cold, and with a freshly snipped umbilical cord or something. It's a pretty big change when you're fourteen.

Sometimes things suck. Like roommates. Especially when your roommate hates you. Or when she says messed up stuff like, "your parents don't want you anymore. That's why they sent you here." [The voice is good, but you can maintain the voice without the vagueness of terms like "or something" and "things."]

You know that's total crap. Except somehow it gets in your head. So when that butt-munch roommate leaves herself open to the best prank ever, you'd totally take it, right? [What would you take? The prank? I'd say "You'd totally go for it, right?"] Yeah you would. I did. [You did? Is this a memoir?]

But I probably shouldn't have. Because instead of getting even with my roommate, I ended up [sitting in this jail cell writing this stupid memoir.] scaring the crap out of this girl named Jamie, who was pretty fragile to start with. Now she's gone. Official word is she went home voluntarily. In the middle of the night. And left all her stuff. Including her wallet. [I would put a question mark after each of those last three sentences. Possibly there are too many consecutive short sentences.] Rumor mill says she killed herself, and that prank I pulled was what sent her over the edge. Everyone hates me. If the rumors were true, I'd hate myself too.

But the thing is, I'm pretty sure all those people have the story wrong. There are a lot of secrets here on this campus when you shut your mouth and open your eyes. The big one is that Jamie was stolen. [Kidnapped?] I just don't know how to prove it. And last night, I'm pretty sure the guy who stole her figured out that I know something.

Kharon is a literary novel, complete at 70,000 words. It could be described as The Secret Life of Bees meets Five People You Meet in Heaven,
[If you were gambling that I've read those, you lost. I assume what you're saying is that your book is like going to heaven and getting attacked by a swarm of bees.] with thematic focuses on the search for identity and redemption.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


[Title Explanation (not part of query): Kharon is the name of the man our heroine (Camden) believes is involved with the disappearance of students from campus.] [Why is he the title character? If he's a major player, I'd work him in sooner. You wouldn't pitch a TV show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and not mention Buffy until the last sentence. I'm thinking you need a title that focuses on Camden, like Everyone at this Freaking School Hates Me]



Notes

Okay, first a brief discussion of whether it's a good idea to write a business letter to an editor in the persona of a fictional character. It could work, but if it paid off with any frequency, everyone would be doing it. There'd be query letters starting off like these:
My leg? It got bitten off by a whale. The name's Ahab. Most guys would retire from whaling once they were down to one leg, but I'm not most guys. I'm gonna find that whale and put a harpoon in his side, preferably before he eats my other leg.

Call me Silas. Yes, I'm a hulking albino. What about it? It so happens I got involved in a tale of intrigue that will shock the Christian world. That I'm a hulking albino is beside the point. Stop staring at me!
Possibly there are agents who would find this clever, though I suspect if they took you on they wouldn't send the query letter to editors. I'm guessing your book is in first person, Camden's POV, and you want to work her voice into the query. But the voice is there, even if you change "I did" in paragraph 3 to "Camden did," and use 3rd person the rest of the way.

Here's something in 3rd person that's not much different from your version:

Going away to boarding school is like getting a new life. Which, depending on what your old life was like, can be great or it can suck. It definitely sucks if you get a roommate who hates you and says messed up stuff like, "Your parents don't want you anymore; that's why they sent you here."

Sure, you know that's total crap, except when you're 14, somehow it gets in your head. So when that butt-munch roommate leaves herself open to the best prank ever, you totally go for it, right? Of course you do. Camden did.

But instead of getting even with her roommate, she ended up scaring the crap out of this girl named Jamie, who was pretty fragile to start with. Now she's gone. Official word is she went home voluntarily, in the middle of the night. Yeah, right. And left all her stuff? Including her wallet? Rumor mill says she killed herself, and that prank Camden pulled was what sent her over the edge.

But the thing is, all those people have the story wrong. There are a lot of secrets on the Oberon campus. Camden can't prove it, but she's sure Jamie was kidnapped by this guy named Kharon. And she's pretty sure Kharon knows she knows.

Kharon is a YA novel, complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time.


The way the query reads in 1st person (with a few changes) might be a good way to start the book, an intro to the plot. Here's how The Catcher in the Rye begins:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all - I’m not saying that - but they’re also touchy as hell. Besides, I’m not going to tell you my whole goodam autobiography or anything. I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out and take it easy.
In other words, we immediately encounter the main character's voice as he announces that he's about to tell the story. (Not having seen how your story does open, I'm not suggesting you switch to this, just saying your query reads like an opening might.)

If most of the characters are about 14 years old, is there a reason you call it a literary novel as opposed to YA? Most adults, having been 14 at one time, are aware that there's not much going on in a 14-year-old's head that they care about. It also sounds like a mystery or a suspense novel.

Kharon doesn't have much query space, considering the book is named after him. Should we know a little more about him?



Selected Comments

AC said...I wholeheartedly agree with all of EE's comments. That said, I also really like this query. I'd definitely pick up a book like this in the bookstore. The voice is very YA-friendly. What if you called the book literary YA? And I've seen several agents mention they're looking for a "high-concept" YA suspense/mystery at the higher commercial end.

I haven't read "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" yet but this query reminded me of the premise a little bit. That book is YA and was a National Book Award nominee...possibly your novel could go along similar lines.


pulp said...The query doesn't sound like literary fiction. It's good, but I was startled by "literary novel" because I'd been reading about a YA suspense story.

EE's improvement does tone down the voice a little, but I agree it has to be done. Another publishing world blogger (not that I am unfaithful to Evil. I'm loyal, not dead. I'm allowed to look. ;-) ) says query letters should reflect the tone of the novel but need not mimic the voice. ( I paraphrase.) Looks like a good story.


Jennifer said...I really like the voice and the story. Agree that the query should be in third person. For what it's worth, I don't care for the name Kharon, but I assume this is not so subtle symbolism? If so, that would seem a lot more YA-ish than lit fiction-y.


Sarah from Hawthorne said...By an odd coincidence, I was just reading through queryshark last week and Janet Reid posted a similar query written in character, with a RAVE review. I quote from her:

I don't even care that it's written in the voice of the protagonist, something that is mostly viewed as a gimmick.

I don't care there's nothing else here, no pub creds, no bio, no nothing. I will read this with alacrity because it has the one essential thing: voice.

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2008/12/86.html

So, for every rule there's an exception if it's done well enough. You will take heat and there'll be a lot of people who will reject out of hand because it's not the correct format, but who knows? It might be worth the risk.

But I do agree with what everyone else has said about this being "literary" versus YA. Also, I've heard on other blogs that some agents don't appreciate the "soon" tag (they feel the author is trying to rush them) and that the "blank meets blank" pitch has fallen out of favor in a formal query letter.


writtenwyrdd said...This sounds like YA not literary. If you are insistent that it's literary, I'd leave your opinion out of it and let the agent decide for him or herself.

This sounds like it could be a decent read, but the letter doesn't sell me on the story completely. I think that the letter has a little too much set up with the two paragraphs about going to boarding school. If you start with the crux of the matter--a girl is kidnapped and your pov character's lame prank is rumored to be the cause--it might have a bit more punch.


Author said...I really appreciate all this good feedback. Thank you! I have been struggling with the YA thing. The book includes drug use, strong language, death, and a student-teacher affair. For those reasons, I thought a YA agent might reject it.

I am intrigued by AC's comment on 'high-concept' YA, or any other specifier that would work for categorization.

And yeah, EE - I think you are right that maybe the title has got to change. I was surprised how many people caught the reference right away.

Thanks again! Looking forward to reading the comments as they come in.


fairyhedgehog said...I love the voice and I'm intrigued by the story but I think that third person would work better in the query. Really do love that voice.


BuffySquirrel said...Great voice in this. If you want an opinion on your first page, EA (http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/ then click on the Anonymati crest) is running a first pages workshop.


chelsea said...Author, As long as the student-teacher affair isn't explicit, I think you can still market this as YA. There are always going to be agents who only want the happy-go-lucky YA stuff, but there seem to be quite a lot of YA novels being published that are darker and more honest.

My only problem with the query was that, to me, it read like an adult who was trying to sound like a teenager. Granted, I am (technically) an adult, but in my experience kids can spot an impostor a mile away.

Mixing phrases like "wet, cold, and with a freshly snipped umbilical cord" with "suck," "crap," and "butt-munch" made me feel like the narrator was fluctuating between different ages (or different levels of maturity). Personally, (currently and when I was a teen) I'd have preferred the mature 14 year old to the typical one, but that may just be me. As for the premise, it sounds really interesting.


Adam Heine said...The query reads very, very YA. Fun and lighthearted, with a touch of dark suspense. If the novel is as dark as you suggest, author, that needs to come out in the query.

And how is this like the two novels you are comparing it to? I don't see it at all. If I were you, I'd drop the comparison entirely (I'd recommend that even if your novel is like those books - comparing to bestsellers rarely goes over well).

All of that said, I really like the story as presented in the query. It sounds fun and interesting.


December/Stacia said...Ditto the comments about changing the query to third person, and ditto loving the voice. I would totally read this; I love suspense stories like this anyway and this just sounds fun and awesome. As it stands if I were an agent I would probably still request from this, but I'm not an agent and so don't see all the queries they do. So why take chances, when it's such a small change, right?

I'd also take out the roommate quote, though. Maybe something like "So when her butt-munch roommate leaves herself open to the Best Prank Ever, MC doesn't hesitate. Trouble is, the girl disappears..." etc etc.

As far as some things being too dark for YA...no, not really. It depends on how it's handled, as others have pointed out. You can get just about anything in there if you do it right. Carrie Ryan's THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH has, if I'm not mistaken, incest and cannibalism, and it's YA (and apparently fantastic too; I can't wait to get a copy myself.) Good luck! :-)


writtenwyrdd said...I would also recommend changing the title to something that refers to the pov character. Meant to say that yesterday. Partly it's because Kharon is close to Charon and the Greek pantheon doesn't appear to have anything to do with the book.

Nothing wrong with literary/high concept YA either. Maybe still don't label the book literary but target your queries for those agents looking for that sort of YA novel.

And if you think that your topics aren't YA, try reading Such A Pretty Girl (about child molestation) or a number of other books out there. Great book, definitely YA, but not an easy topic. It all depends on you and how you deal with the subjects, I'd say.


Sarah Laurenson said...YA is a very broad field these days. And sex, murder, violence, rape, drugs, etc. are all included. So are more toned down stories.

The protaganist in a Middle Grade novel tends to be about 13 or 14. Whether or not an older teen would be willing to read about a 14 yr old might be an issue. In general, kids like to read up - the protagonist being a few years older than the reader.

There are a lot of articles on the web these days that go into the difference between YA and MG. One of the recent ones can be found here.


Author said...Buffy Squirrel - Thank you for the link. That looks like a good resource. I was daunted out of submitting by the 70+ pages in queue, but I look forward to learning from other people's pages.

I was also looking at the 'high-concept' sub-genre that was suggested by AC. The term did not mean what I thought it meant, unless I read inaccurately: Being able to sum the plot up in a sentence or two.

Any other suggestions for key words to specify a darker or more mature YA?

I am glad to hear it looks like a better fit to YA and the content does not necessarily make it a bad match. Thank you for all the input.


Phoenix said...Any other suggestions for key words to specify a darker or more mature YA? The problem, I think, is that the query voice doesn't reflect that darker tone. You can certainly lead off with the breezy voice, but then take out some of your qualifiers like "probably" and "pretty sure" and kick it into darker gear by the 4th paragraph. Putting it into 3rd person will give you a better opportunity to add that darker, more mature layer.

You don't need keywords when the writing itself demonstrates the tone of the book.

And EE, I would so read Moby Dick if it came with that hook! But then, I suppose I'd be disappointed because the book would turn out to be all literary and Ahab wouldn't really talk like that. But I guess that's why query voice and tone should match story voice and tone. You are such a genius...