Saturday, January 21, 2012


Guess the Plot

Stolen Pieces

1. When Allison is released from Rivercrest Mental Institution, she decides to piece the puzzle that is her life back together one memory at a time. But when she remembers that her husband left her for her sister, Allison decides it’s her turn to steal a few pieces.

2. Two friends die and go to heaven. St. Peter gives Chris a pass to come in, but tells Mike he must go to hell. Mike grabs Chris's pass and uses it to demonstrate his skill with scissors. St. Peter is unimpressed.

3. They don't call him Casanova Krebs for nothing! In this tale of high adventure, follow our hero as he impersonates the paying customers at an expensive brothel.

4. Suspicion naturally falls on a community of tree-dwellers when there is a break-in at the Reeses factory.

5. It had taken Diana a year and a half to finish the 5000-piece puzzle of one of Jackson Pollack's paintings. Finished, that is, except for the three pieces her obnoxious neighbor walked off with yesterday, and Diana is determined to get them back, no matter what the cost.

6. In the fast-paced world of extreme chess, almost anything goes. Lucas Boesky claws his way to Grand Masterhood, but is it through his skill or his telekinetic powers?

Original Version

Dear Agent’s First and Last name,

Do you ever wonder why people act like your friend to your face when in fact they are your worst enemy? [I can think of worse things for my worst enemy to do than treat me like I'm his best friend. Torture and murder come to mind.] Mike and Chris are what appears to be the best of friends throughout their lives. Mike and Chris pass away and meet St. Peter at the pearly gates to see where they will spend all of eternity. St. Peter informs Chris that he was a good person throughout his entire life, then is granted a pass into heaven. On the other hand, St. Peter tells Mike that he was a mean person who abused his friendship with Chris. Mike is then banished to hell for all eternity. [This is sounding like a standard Pearly Gates joke. Example:

A couple are killed in a car crash on the way to their wedding. At the Pearly Gates they ask St. Peter if they can get married in Heaven. St. Peter says, "I don't know. I'll find out," and leaves. Months pass. While waiting, they wonder, What if it doesn't work out? Eventually, St. Peter returns.
St. Peter: Yes, you can get married in Heaven.
Man: Great! But if things don't work out, can we also get a divorce?
(St. Peter slams his clipboard down.)
Woman: What's wrong?
St. Peter: It took me three months to find a priest up here! Do you have any idea how long it'll take to find a lawyer?]

Feeling bad for Mike, Chris gives him a piece of the pass to heaven. [It's a little souvenir Mike can take with him to hell, to remind him, as he's burning in the fire lake, how easy Chris has it.] While Chris isn’t looking, Mike steals another piece by cutting the pass. [With the scissors he happens to have with him.] Now, Mike has more of the pass than Chris. [Uh oh. I wonder if St. Peter is gonna fall for this. Are Chris and Mike twins?] St. Peter asks to see the pieces [, having already forgotten which guy he gave the pass to]. First, St. Peter opens Chris’s pass. Chris’s piece opens into a cross. St. Peter tells Chris that he still gets to go to heaven. [Whereas, if the pass had opened into a triangle, Chris would have been sent to hell. I had no idea the criteria for entrance to Heaven were so arbitrary. Gotta work on my origami skills before it's too late.] Next, St. Peter opens Mike’s pieces. Mike’s pieces are slowly opened and spell out the word “hell”. Mike’s evil, deceitful behavior lead to his own demise. [Technically, he was already destined for hell, so what did he have to lose? You're not saying all he had to do to get into heaven was not try to trick St. Peter, are you?]

This isn’t your classical “good” verus [virus] “evil” picture book story. [Hey that would make a good kid's book. There's a virus and a picture book and it turns out the virus is good and the picture book is evil, teaching that you can't judge a book by its cover.] Stolen Pieces is an interactive [evil] picture book for children [Unless you're sending this to an agent who handles nothing but children's picture books, you might mention this up front. Otherwise it might be rejected before they get to the part about it being for kids.] and is appropriate for ages three to eight. [Three? Who would tell a three-year-old that there's a chance she'll spend eternity in a pit of fire? She'll have nightmares for a decade and then spend her adult life in therapy.] Children enjoy stories that invite them to participate. By carefully folding a piece of paper, children can actually cut the pieces of the pass as the story unravels. [Does this mean we have to trust a three-year-old with scissors?] Chris’s piece of the pass opens into a cross. Mike’s pieces of the pass spells out the word “hell”. [We know, we know.] [Can't you make the paper unfold into a pitchfork or something? Do you want to be reading to your three-year-old, and you unfold the pass and magically it says "HELL!" and bursts into flames? Sure, it's not as bad as unfolding the paper to find the "F" word, but do you want your three-year-old running around yelling the "H" word and telling her friends they're going to burn for eternity if they abuse her friendship?] [If Mike had made one more cut, his pieces would have spelled "hello," Chris's would have read 666, and the outcome would have been vastly different.] A sequel is in the making. [In the sequel, an army private gets orders to spend two years in Germany, but in a drunken celebratory stupor he folds his orders in quarters and makes three cuts with a pair of scissors. When the paper is opened up, it spells "Afghanistan."]

I am a fan of the work you have represented. I hope to work with you in the future. I have enclosed the manuscript of STOLEN PIECES for which I am seeking representation, a demonstrational cut out of the pass that accompanies the story, [which is legitimate and redeemable for entrance to Heaven at the actual Pearly Gates,] and several summaries of picture book texts that are available upon request. [Several summaries of picture book texts? What picture books?] I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. [Four of the five sentences in this paragraph are blah spacewasters. Get rid of at least two of them.]


Revised Version

Stolen Pieces is an interactive Christian picture book. Mike and Chris have been friends throughout their lives. They pass away and meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates to learn where they will spend eternity. St. Peter praises Chris for being a good person, and gives him a pass into Heaven. St. Peter tells Mike that he was a mean person who secretly abused his friendship with Chris. Mike is banished to hell for all eternity.

Feeling bad for Mike, Chris gives him a piece of the pass to Heaven. While Chris isn’t looking, Mike steals another piece by cutting the pass. Now, Mike has more of the pass than Chris. St. Peter asks to see the pieces. First, St. Peter opens Chris’s pass. It opens into a cross. Next, St. Peter opens Mike’s pieces. Mike’s pieces spell out the word “hell." Mike’s deceitful behavior has foretold his own demise.

I have enclosed the manuscript of Stolen Pieces, and a demonstrational cut-out of the pass that accompanies the story. Children can cut the pieces of the pass as the story unravels, obtaining the same results Chris and Mike do in the story.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.



How old are Mike and Chris? 10? 90? I can see kids being less interested in old men, but I can also see kids not wanting to read about kids who died.

The cutout is, no doubt, ingenious, but I worry about attempts to scare people into being good. Then again, I suppose it could be argued that that's the whole idea behind most religions.

Selected Comments

whitemouse said...I'm not familiar with what's acceptable in the Christian market, but this sure seems like a grim book to give kids. I agree with EE that I think this would scare children, rather than encourage them to embrace their religion.

Is it explained at all what Mike did to be judged a bad person? If Mike isn't clearly a jerk (and why would Chris be his lifelong friend if he is? Is Chris an idiot? Spineless?), then you might leave kids really frightened about what sorts of behaviour could dump them in hell. If Mike's background isn't discussed, judgement might seem arbitrary.

To echo EE again, do you want to encourage kids to love God, or fear Him? By the sound of things, the book is leaning toward the latter.

Anonymous said...There's enough scary stuff in the real world without freaking them out with a bedtime story.

GutterBall said...How about the engineer that Lucifer cunningly seduces into Hell to brighten up the place? The fellow turns the sulfurous rock into sturdy highrise apartments and creates a heat conduction system to the Lake of Fire for air conditioning -- which also doubles as a water purifying system, the brine from which they use to salt the lovely array of foods they can now grow.

So Lu calls God on the phone to gloat his great good fortune, and God gets mad.

"You can't have engineers down there! That's against the Covenant! I'll sue!"

Lu snorts. "Yeah, right. Where are You gonna get a lawyer?"

December Quinn said..."Gather 'round, my little ones. Mommy's going to read you a wonderful story about two children, just like you, who die before they even get out of grade school and one of them gets a pass that sends him straight to the pit of eternal hellfire and agony. Let's see what your pass says, darling! "Oh...looks like you're going to hell, too...Sweet dreams."

Anonymous said...I am sure the cutouts are clever, but maybe you could work the idea into a murder mystery or something else.

judy said...A kid that age cannot grasp the concepts you're talking about here and they are sure to misinterpret and end up with some crazy ideas about heaven and hell. Now, as an adult comedy, maybe.

marie-anne said...When I was about 7 I got sent to Sunday School. They told me all about hell and crucifiction. I had nightmares for weeks. I never had to go again. This is right up there with that. I guess the author believes that children should be submissive and afraid, the better to control them.

HawkOwl said...I would never consider it appropriate for any child of mine to read such a simplistic take on Good and Evil. There doesn't seem to be any kind of depth or moral to it. Mike is good, Chris is bad, they die, Mike is still good, Chris is still bad, then it turns out in a surprising twist that... Mike is good and Chris is bad. How is a kid to learn anything from this?

acd said...Oh, wow. Shady theology aside, this concept blows. And I'm a fundamental Christian with a lot of little nieces--your target audience. Test this with a kids' pastor (not the one at your own church, someone who doesn't have to see you every week after dissing your book) and offer to try it out in a Sunday school class. Responses may be different than you expect.

Jimbo said...ok, the theology and the appropriateness aside, what I really want to know is what Chris hoped to accomplish by giving Mike part of his pass? And what's with the passes? Does St. Peter not just let you in directly? Do you have to go somewhere else and give them your pass and THEN you get in? Do you get your hand stamped so that you can go outside to smoke? Was David Byrne right? Is heaven a bar? I'm actually really sort of intrigued by the whole paper pass to heaven thing.

Anonymous said...I think an adult comedy based on this concept would be great, especially with jimbo's idea thrown in...Heaven's a bar! St. Peter as the bouncer, only Mike doesn't get in because he doesn't have a collared he steals pieces of Chris' pass to fashion a collar.

Anonymous said...Although it looks original at first glance, I remember a similar device from my Sunday School classes 30 years ago. Sister Augustine would give each of us a colored square of paper and a pair of round-nosed scissors and demonstrate how to cut. You had to pay attention. When we opened out the paper, some of us got the message "You're Going to Hell." Others got the message "You're Going Straight to Hell." Eventually they had to let Sister Augustine go.

writtenwyrdd said...I like the pop up/cut out idea, but it's got a big drawback: It's a one-time deal. You can't put the paper back together. So, unless you want this for ephemera like a church handout, I'm not sure the clever idea will be a selling point.

Pete Tzinski said...My kids will have enough problems being influenced by all those evil things such as rock and roll, video games, know, long hair, stuff like that. That's enough without having to protect them against picture books.

Gerri said...When I read "guess the plot" I snorked over number two, thinking that EE had outdone himself on that one. Welcome, kidlet, to the "Fear of God!" (tm, all rights reserved by someone out there, I'm sure.) Gotta get them started early, right?

Anonymous said...I was reared in a fundamentalist church where I WAS exposed to that idea at such a tender young age... and at 45 still have nightmares now and again.
The notion of hell is silly. To put it forth to children in a pop-up picture book is sinful.
Although I do kinda like the idea of the set up as an adult comedy... the "good guy" could go to hell, the "bad guy" could go to heaven, hilarity and life lessons ensue, and in the end, it all dissolves as the metaphor that heaven & hell really are and they get reincarnated.

jimbo said...I dunno, the whole "Jesus is love" thing gets a lot of PR, but the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount is only one side. Jesus gets quite a few lines about damnation, too. He's not just a happy hippie, he's also a pretty bad-ass fulfillment of scary Hebrew prophecies. As recorded in both Matthew and Luke, he condemns a whole city--women, children, everyone--to hell: And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Mazement said...This story sounds vaguely familiar. I think I heard it from my uncle, or maybe one of the kids at school. I think I was in middle school; so somewhere in the 8-12 demographic. It went over pretty well; it's a clever trick, and I saw Hell as more of a comic-book thing than something I should be seriously worried about.

But like everybody says, it would be wasted on the 3-8 demographic. You'd at least need to be able to read the word "Hell" to appreciate the joke. And it would make an awfully thin book for the 8-12 crowd; you'd need to find a lot more material to pad it out.

Oh, I just found the story on-line. (PDF file, see figure 6.) That's a one-cut version of the trick, but if you omit the last fold, you can do it as the two-cut trick the author describes.

Dan Lewis said...I've seen the cutout done with a piece of notebook paper. It was cool for about ten minutes when I was eight. It turns out there are at least two algorithms to produce many interesting shapes by folding a paper as many times as you like, then making only one straight cut. They call it computational origami.

shelby said...Actually the thing that bothers me is the idea of the sequel. What exactly is the sequel going to be about? Does Mike get redeemed in the end? Because if he does, that should go into book #1. With children's picture book series, each book is a self-contained story that can be read without having read the previous or following books--basically a "further adventures of Mike and Chris" kind of thing. Any sequel that relies on previous knowledge is problematic for picture-book reading kids. Of course, this is assuming that that's what you want your sequel to be about. Who knows.

Anonymous said..."Christian" theology does vary, but most versions teach that you get to heaven by having faith that Jesus died for your sins, NOT because you were a good person. You go to hell because you didn't believe, NOT because you were a bad person. So this story strikes me as simply bizarre. (As an atheist I might point out that we'll all be going... nowhere.) It also strikes me as morally bankrupt to tell children they should be good in order to get a reward, instead of being good for its own sake.

Yahzi said...I knew a woman who was a very rational, reasonable person. She had also been raised in one of those hard-core sects, that taught that all children who die before the age of six automatically go to heaven.

She told me that she remembers being 5 years and nine months old, standing on a street corner, and thinking about stepping in front of a speeding truck. Yes: she was rational enough at that age to understand the value of a guaranteed ticket to heaven, and childish enough to actually believe what adults said.

This is why Sam Harris argues that even soft, liberal religions are bad for society. Because not all adults are capable of recognizing the difference between nudge-nudge-wink-wink truth and real truth. And the notion of confusing a child with this grown-up play-acting is as sick as the notion of introducing children to S&M role-playing sex games.

Mazement said..."Broken Pieces" isn't really all that instructive in terms of theology. It's more a story about cosmic irony: Chris and Mike are conspiring to beat the system, but they wind up back where they started.

Yahzi said...Since the only value of this thread is Heaven jokes, here's my favorite: An avid golfer dies, goes to Heaven, and is delighted to discover that Paradise is a 9 million hole golf course.

He's out doing a round with St. Peter, when he sees a figure in the distance, attempting to hit an impossible 900 yard shot over a deep canyon onto a green the size of a dinner plate.

"Who the heck does that guy think he is?" exclaims the golfer. "Jesus Christ?"

"It is Jesus," answers St. Peter. "He thinks he's Jack Nicklaus."

Daisy said...Moving ever so slightly back towards the topic here, I thought I'd offer some suggestions to the author about the book:

Part of the problem seems to be the severity of Mike's punishment, and the idea of giving kids a book about death. So, how about if instead of having Mike and Chris die, instead they meet a stranger/child/talking sheep, who Chris helps but Mike doesn't, and who then gives Chris the paper that will get him into Heaven? The story can proceed as before, but instead of it ending with Mike facing eternal damnation, he's instead humbled by Chris's forgiveness and learns that you can't cheat your way into heaven, and decides to be a better person. Not exactly a brilliant story , I know, but I think that something along those lines might have more in the way of themes (forgiveness, learning) that Sunday-school teachers want to get at.

writtenwyrdd said...Daisy's idea is along the lines of what I was thinking the author could do to move this piece to a more child-friendly tone. And since these seem to be really short, I also think you might want to have more than one parable-like story in the volume, unless you really want the entire audience to be pre-K or no older than 7.

Anonymous said...I read this story on line. It is cute. I would read it to my child. All Dogs go to Heaven deals with death and heaven and hell. My child loves that movie.

I think that the comments some of you made were based on ignorance and they were immature - grow-up! You missed the whole point of the story.

Tribal Elder said...What point?

HawkOwl said...Ahhhh... Always such a breath of fresh air when someone posts anonymously about the rest of us being immature.

jimbo said...What is the whole point? I'm not trying to be captious here--I think that the comments reflect the fact that we weren't sure what point was being made. I think it seemed to a lot of us as though the story suggested a God whose chief characteristic is a rather whimsical punitive streak. Combine that with a character whose "motiveless malignity" doesn't make him into a grand villain, but more a pitiable narrative necessity and a good guy whose final good deed is utterly inexplicable (what does he hope to achieve by ripping up his ticket?) and we are left with a great deal of confusion about what, precisely, the point is meant to be, either from a literary or a theological perspective.

I, for one, welcome enlightenment.

MaryAnnTheRest said...One day St. Peter goes to God and says, "There are 20 New Yorkers at the Pearly Gates."

"Twenty New Yorkers in Heaven?" God says. "That's unlikely. Well, go back and send them along to me."

Soon St. Peter is back to God, crying, "They're gone!"

"What?" God said, "the New Yorkers are gone?"

"No, the Pearly Gates!"


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I think the writer buried the lead.

St. Peter informs Chris that he was a good person throughout his entire life, then is granted a pass into heaven.

St. Peter, after two thousand years standing at the Pearly Gates, finally gets a pass and gets into heaven because Mike and Chris show up.

I assume the story was written by Chris.

batgirl said...

There's another version of the trick here:
where it is described as a 'Gospel Tear' and for $8 you get enough supplies to perform it 6 times.

"The Ticket to Heaven! The performer folds an unspread normal sheet of newspaper and tells the story of two friends who want a pass to heaven, as he tears the paper. When the paper is opened it is a large cross and the balance of the paper spells the word Hell. With this you receive a finished routine in rhyme as presented over a thousand times by magician Phillip Morris."

Oh, and a much nicer version called Ticket to Heaven, which skips the hell part entirely.

I'm thinking the market was already well-served without another book.