Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Face-Lift 1030

Guess the Plot

Headless at the House of Tiki

1. Three days before the annual Elks Banquet at the House of Tiki, the head waiter disappears. Can the remaining crew serve the Elks adequately without embarrassing their employer?

2. Private eye Malachi Woombat investigates a series of beheadings at the House of Tiki, a voodoo-themed coffee shop in the French Quarter of Depression-era New Orleans.

3. Tiki Bob just wants to chill out and carve his tikis, but when his ex-girlfriend's headless body turns up in his locked backyard he becomes prime suspect numero uno. Do they even let you have chisels in prison?

4. Homicide detective Lars Sekkin gets called into an abandoned Trader Vic's restaurant to investigate a headless corpse surrounded by tiki statues.

5. Lowly clerk John Bash decides to transform his place of employment, the House of Tiki, from a crap furniture store to a major chain with his new invention, a methane-sucking Energy Chair that burns farts to power a lamp.

6. Yasmin sees Barry for the first time while she's a waitress at a theme restaurant; the second time, as a theme stripper. They hit it off. But how will Barry take it when she tells him that the big tiki mask she wears is her actual head?


Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for HEADLESS AT THE HOUSE OF TIKI, an 86,000 word whodunit mystery novel.

Bob MacMillan - dubbed Tiki Bob by his friends, clients, and admirers - has a problem. The body of his ex-girlfriend has turned up under a massive pile of sawdust in his locked backyard, and the local police have given him a new nickname - Prime Suspect Number One. [We don't need to know the backyard was locked. It only leads us to wonder how you can lock a yard. Yes, I'm familiar with fences and walls, but if orcs were smart enough to bring ladders to Helm's Deep . . . ]

Cat O'Donnell, total surfer chick and possessor of a third degree black belt in kung-fu, investigates insurance fraud, not murder. When Bob's teen-age daughter pleads for Cat's help in protecting her father from what the girl believes may be a lengthy prison sentence unless the real killer is unmasked, Cat can't resist the plea. She's been in a bit of a rut lately and welcomes the chance for a change. [I know nothing gets me out of a rut like inserting myself into a murder investigation.] So, the fraud investigator delves into the Pacific Groves' tiki culture where she encounters the tattooed, cocktail-sipping, burlesque-loving crowd of her Southern California beach town.

But Cat's not sure if she's up to the task. She's quite adept at exposing supposed car accident victims attempting to bilk insurance companies of large money payouts for fake injuries. It's quite another matter to find a murderer who's doing his or her best not to be found. [This paragraph can go; I already inferred everything in it.]

Tha [The] main suspects are colorful: a contestant for the local Tiki Queen title who owns a mobile dog grooming service; a perpetually stoned surfer with a history of anger issues; a fantasy/erotica author posing as a textbook writer; his drunken ex-softball-champion wife; and the victim's sommelier boyfriend who denies any romantic relationship with the now headless girl. [I'm more interested in why these people are suspects than in these tidbits you're providing about them. For instance I'd prefer: A contestant for the local Tiki Queen title who may have wanted to eliminate her top competition; a married erotica author with whom the victim was having a torrid affair; the author's wife, of course; and the victim's sommelier boyfriend, whom she'd threatened to expose as a Thunderbird junkie.] Not to mention Bob himself, who doesn't seem to understand his own precarious position. He just want to be left alone to carve some bitchin' tikis.

Cat also contends with an old friend who wants to be more, a good detective with a bad attitude, and a district attorney who's determined to add another conviction to his record, with or without all the facts on his side.

What's a girl have to do to keep a good man out of prison? In this case, it may come down to an old-fashioned ass-kicking, and, if Cat has anything to say about it, she'll be on the foot end of the spanking. [Not clear whose ass Cat plans to kick or spank or why she thinks it'll come down to an ass-kicking or a spanking. Usually these things come down to figuring out whodunnit, not spanking a confession out of someone.]

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Notes

If this is a one and done project, okay, but if Cat is going to appear in future books, assuming this one sells, you might want to open the query with Cat rather than Bob. Something like:  

Surfer chick Cat O'Donnell investigates insurance fraud in Pacific Groves, a Southern California beach town. But when a teenage girl pleads for Cat's help solving a murder in which the girl's father, Robert "Tiki Bob" MacMillan, is the chief suspect, Cat can't resist. She's been in a bit of a rut lately and could use a change. 

If Cat knows Tiki Bob or the daughter, their relationship could be mentioned there as well. If she doesn't know either of them, why is the daughter going to Cat for help?

I know "headless" is in the title, but maybe the victim's "headless body" should turn up under the sawdust. Otherwise we don't know if anyone is literally headless until the query is almost over and you say, Oh, did I mention the victim had no head?

If you use something like the above opening, you could continue:

The murder victim, who was Tiki Bob's ex-girlfriend, turned up under a massive pile of sawdust in Bob's backyard. Missing her head. Now Cat's on the prowl for anyone else who had a motive for the murder. And there's no shortage.

That pretty much eliminates the need for your opening paragraph about Bob, and leads into your suspect list. Possibly that's enough condensing and deleting so that this is now standard query length.

The drunken ex-softball-champion wife did it, but don't worry, most agents won't have my deductive skills.

23 comments:

Rachel6 said...

Haha, I'd read this! The fact that it's set in SoCal just adds to the appeal; I've lived there, and it's a crazy place.

I can't help wondering how the police will react to an insurance investigator playing detective, or why this girl thinks it's a good idea to chase a *murderer*, but those little nits, for me, are part of amateur sleuth mysteries...

150 said...

The teenage daughter did it.

I'd read pages, even before you apply EE's edits: it has flair, which is all that really separates one whodunnit from another. Don't kill the voice in the rewrite.

Anonymous said...

Author here.

Wow, EE! This was fabulous help! I'm re-writing right away. I hope some minions can also give me some feedback.

I love this site!

Anonymous said...

Subplots galore. Maybe you weren't so much interested in the murder mystery as you were in everybody's love life. That might work, but why end the query with a sentence that seems to indicate the investigator's interest in the murder is eventually eclipsed by sexy distractions? It sounds like maybe your mystery kinda fizzles out. Clarity on the relative importance of various plots becomes very difficult when you've got numerous subplots to manage. Not sure your narrative focus didn't get a bit lost. Focusing on the main plot in the query might help. No need to mention every character and distraction in the book.

arhooley said...

Author, you can tighten it up with edits like this:

BEFORE: When Bob's teen-age daughter pleads for Cat's help in protecting her father from what the girl believes may be a lengthy prison sentence unless the real killer is unmasked, Cat can't resist the plea.

AFTER: When Bob's teen-age daughter pleads for Cat's help on her father's behalf, Cat can't resist.

BuffySquirrel said...

a one and done project?

did you mean done and done?

:)

Tk said...

Voice and sense of fun - well done, author here.

I'm glad the opening on Bob didn't bother EE. It threw me to then discover someone else was the main character, but I am not an agent.

Another tightening example:

Bob MacMillan - dubbed Tiki Bob by his friends, clients, and admirers - has a problem. The body of his ex-girlfriend has turned up under a massive pile of sawdust in his locked backyard, and the local police have given him a new nickname - Prime Suspect Number One.
-->
Tiki Bob has a problem. The headless body of his ex has turned up under a massive pile of sawdust in his backyard, and the police have given him a new nickname - Suspect Number One.

sarahhawthorne said...

I like it a lot. Love the title.

I definitely agree that you should open with Cat. One way to do it:

Cat O'Donnell, total surfer chick and possessor of a third degree black belt in kung-fu, investigates insurance fraud, not murder. But that's before a body turns up in the backyard of local fixture Robert "Tiki Bob" MacMillan. When Bob's teen-age daughter pleads for Cat's help, Cat can't resist the chance to delve into the tattoo-sporting, cocktail-sipping, burlesque-loving tiki culture of her Southern California beach town.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'm with arhooley.

This query seemed unnecessarily wordy to me, and the opening led me to believe Bob was the main character.

Another example of how you could cut--

Before: The body of his ex-girlfriend has turned up under a massive pile of sawdust in his locked backyard, and the local police have given him a new nickname - Prime Suspect Number One

After: His ex-girlfriend's body turns up in his backyard, and the local police consider him the prime suspect.

(Or Suspect One. Prime Suspect Number One is symptomatic of a need for verbal Immodium.)

Also, was I the only one who had to wiki tiki? I had no idea what a tiki was.

Anonymous said...

Author here.

Thanks for everyone's help. You all had some valid points. Here's a new version of the query. Please let me know if it's better.

I am seeking representation for HEADLESS AT THE HOUSE OF TIKI, an 86,000 word whodunit mystery novel.

Total surfer chick Cat O'Donnell investigates insurance fraud, not murder. But when Robert "Tiki Bob" MacMillan becomes a chief suspect after his ex-girlfriend is discovered under a massive pile of sawdust in his backyard - minus her head - and his teen-age daughter pleads for Cat's help on her father's behalf, she can't resist. After all, Bob's not just a friend, but a damned good guy. Go ahead. Just ask anyone in Pacific Groves.

The police detective assigned to the case isn't thrilled to have an amateur meddling in his investigation, but he's new in town and the locals haven't exactly warmed up to him. In fact, the second he takes out his notebook, everyone clams up. Cat's a known quantity to whom they're willing to talk, and the detective reluctantly accepts her help. But he's seriously not happy about it.

So Cat goes on the prowl for anyone who has a motive for the murder. She delves into Tiki Bob's world where she encounters the tattooed, cocktail-sipping, burlesque-loving crowd of her Southern California beach town.

There's certainly no shortage of possible suspects. From the Tiki Queen contestant who was upset that her twice-crowned best friend was re-entering the competition, to the textbook writer who was rumored to be carrying on an affair with the now headless girl. Not to mention the writer's drunken wife who believes the gossip, the victim's sommelier boyfriend who's strangely denying any romantic relationship with the poor girl, and the perpetually stoned surfer dude who was fed up with the young woman's practical jokes and tattle-telling.

Then there's Bob himself, who doesn't seem to understand his own precarious position. Although he claims he's never stopped loving his ex, he clearly just wants to be left alone to carve some bitchin' tikis.

What's a girl gotta do to keep a good man out of prison?

The full novel, or a partial, is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Tk said...

Yes, it sounds good!

You might look for ways to shorten that police detective explanation - it seems a lot of info for a character that doesn't get named. And the teenage daughter is making her sentence hard to parse - she could come out. But the flow is nice, there are more specifics, the end is punchier and you kept all your voice. Luck!



...- minus her head - Cat can't resist helping out. After all...

...he's new in town and the second he takes out his notebook, everyone clams up...

...On the prowl for anyone who has a motive for the murder, she/Cat delves into Tiki Bob's tattooed, cocktail-sipping, burlesque-loving Southern California beach world....

Author said...

Thanks, TK. The two parts you mentioned were the ones I struggled with most. I think you're right about dropping the mention of the daughter - the sentence gets way too long and hard to follow.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yeah, this is better, but you're still switching POVs. This time you've thrown in the police detective. Stick to Cat.

A. M. Perkins said...

"The police detective assigned.... But he's seriously not happy about it."

There seems to be quite a bit of redundancy in this paragraph.

"The police detective...isn't thrilled," "the detective reluctantly accepts," "he's seriously not happy" - you told us three different ways that he doesn't like it.

To be clear, I enjoyed the flow and voice of this paragraph. I just think it might get "flagged" as repetitious.

Perhaps something like, "The police detective assigned to the case is having problems of his own. Being new in town, the locals haven't exactly warmed up to him. In fact, the second he takes out his notebook, everyone clams up. Since Cat's a known quantity (meaning they'll actually talk to her), the detective accepts her help. But he's seriously not happy about it."

The only other suggestion I might offer is in "...with the now headless girl. Not to mention the writer's..." Perhaps change the "." to a "-"?

"...with the now headless girl - not to mention the writer's..."

Of course, this is all just MHO.

Sounds like a fun read - thanks for sharing! :-)

Author said...

Does the 2nd paragraph sound better like this? It's 48 words as opposed to 68 in the original.

She teams up with the police detective assigned to the case. He's new in town, and the second he opens his notebook, everyone clams up. Cat's a known quantity to whom they're willing to talk. The detective reluctantly accepts her help, but he's seriously not happy about it.

Evil Editor said...

You could end the last sentence after "help." The rest is implied by "reluctantly."

You could start the paragraph: The Police detective assigned to the case is new...

Then Connect the last two sentences with "so." That way you don't have both she teams with him and he agrees to work with her.

Now we're under 40 words.

Author said...

Thanks EE. Would that give me the POV problem that AlaskaRavenclaw had with switching from Cat to the detective?

Evil Editor said...

You don't need to be in Cat' S POV in the query; you just need to focus our attention on Cat. This paragraph explains how Cat's partnership with the police comes about, so it's not problematic.

Author said...

Awesome! Thanks!

Down to 39 words -

The police detective assigned to the case is new in town, and the second he opens his notebook, the locals clam up. Cat's a known quantity to whom they're willing to talk, so the detective reluctantly accepts her help.

Now Cat's on the prowl . . . blah, blah, blah.

Anonymous said...

First two paragraphs now read:

Total surfer chick Cat O'Donnell investigates insurance fraud, not murder. But when Robert "Tiki Bob" MacMillan becomes the chief suspect after his ex-girlfriend is discovered under a massive pile of sawdust in his backyard - minus her head - Bob's daughter pleads for Cat's help on her father's behalf. She can't resist. After all, Bob's not just a friend, he's a good guy. Go ahead. Ask anyone in Pacific Groves.

The police detective assigned to the case in new in town; the second he opens his notebood, the locals clam up. Cat's a known quantity to whom they're willing to talk, so the detective reluctantly accepts her help.

Now Cat's on the prowl . . .

Author said...

I don't know if anyone's still interested but here's the newest version.

I am seeking representation for HEADLESS AT THE HOUSE OF TIKI, an 86,000 word whodunit mystery novel.

Total surfer chick Cat O'Donnell investigates insurance fraud, not murder. That's until Robert "Tiki Bob" MacMillan becomes the chief suspect after his ex-girlfriend is discovered - minus her head - under a massive pile of sawdust in his backyard. When his teenage daughter pleads for Cat's help on her father's behalf, Cat can't resist. After all, Bob's not just a friend, but a damned good guy. Go ahead. Ask anyone in Pacific Groves.

The police detective assigned to the case is new in town. It seems the second he opens his notebook, the locals clam up. Cat's a known quantity to whom they're willing to talk, so the detective reluctantly accepts her assistance.

Now Cat's on the prowl for anyone who has a motive for the murder. She delves into Tiki Bob's world where she encounters the tattooed, cocktail-sipping, burlesque-loving crowd of her Southern California beach town.

There's certainly no shortage of possible suspects. From the Tiki Queen contestant who was upset that her twice-crowned best friend was re-entering the pageant, to the textbook writer who was rumored to be carrying on an affair with the now headless girl. Not to mention the writer's drunken ex-athlete wife who believes the gossip, the victim's sommelier boyfriend who's strangely denying any romantic relationship despite evidence to the contrary, and the perpetually stoned surfer dude who was fed up with the woman's practical jokes and tattle-telling.

Then there's Bob himself, who doesn't seem to understand his own precarious position. Although he claims he's never stopped loving his ex, he clearly just wants to be left alone to carve some bitchin' tikis.

What's a girl gotta do to keep a good man out of prison?

The full novel, or a partial, is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Evil Editor said...

This is just like the previous version except with the change we already knew about. If you want me to nitpick, I don't see the need for the sentence that mentions tattoos, cocktails and burlesque. Those features aren't exclusive to the tiki culture. You'll find that stuff in hundreds of "cultures."

"Anyone with a motive" and "possible suspects" are the same thing, so you need only one of those sentences to lead into the suspect list.

The suspect list doesn't have to include every suspect. Nor does it have to include the killer. I'd go with four at the most, possibly just the three most colorful sounding.

Author said...

The cocktail-sipping line is one of my favorites, which probably indicates that it has to go.

I'll give your suggestions some thought and see what I come up with.

Thanks so much EE. You've been wonderful!