Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Face-Lift 1052


Guess the Plot

Bloodstone Creek

1. Scarlet Rivers investigates an alleged haunting in which the stones of Bloodstone Creek run red with blood—but only during the Blood Moon.

2. A'Brn'Y and the rest of her Clan live under the waterfall of Bloodstone Creek, where they act as liaisons for the numerous teenagers whose coming-of-age is marked by discovery of their Faery heritage.

3. Bloodstone Creek was the brainchild of George Rusnak. George is dead now, but his daughter Lillian works at the haunted Halloween attraction. This is the story of Bloodstone Creek’s cast and staff during its first season. Boo!

4. For years the people of Bloodstone Creek, Montana, have assumed that bachelor ranchers Jeremy and Franklin were gay. Only Lakota Billy knows the truth: They're not gay, they're really aliens. But will anyone believe a 10-year-old autistic boy?

5. What happens after all the humans leave Earth? The pigs lord it over the less intelligent species. Then Paula Prickles leads the porcupines of Bloodstone Creek in rebellion. Their allies are the bobcats, the owls and the skunks; their enemies are the pigs, the snakes and the lizards.

6. Whoever said you can’t get blood from a stone was a fool. Ever since Josiah turned up that rock while plowing the back forty and threw it in the creek, the water’s been running red. The cows won’t drink it and the milk supply’s running short. If Meg has to summon the witch to get this fixed, she knows that this time it’s gonna cost more than her first-born child.



Original Version


Dear Evil Editor,

Opening for its first October in a secluded creekside warehouse, Bloodstone Creek, a Halloween attraction with its own haunted past, [If it has its own past, how is it opening for its first October? Was it somewhere else in previous years?] draws from the surrounding towns eager crowds of victims and monsters alike. Everyone craves a taste of blood-racing, finger-knotting, plexiglass-smacking mortal terror—or else like Lillian Rusnak, a mostly average high school junior with a theatrical flair, they just love to terrify.

But Lilly believes that no other volunteer lurker within the Creek's walls is so drawn to lurk there as she is, and that no one carries the legacy she does. [For she is, in actuality, Lilith, mother of all vampires.]

Because among all the joke epitaphs etched in the foam grave markers by the entrance is a real one for Lilly's father, who named Bloodstone Creek and wrote its back story. *George Rusnak*, the marker reads, *The Mind Behind the Madness*, and the date of his death three years ago.

And while Lilly's not the only girl at the Creek ready to eat the stage blood off the face of Blake Carver, whose crazed green eyed-glare [eyed-glare?] and rasping voice sends [send] patrons running from whatever room he's working, she doubts even his frustrated ex-girlfriend has a connection to him quite as strong as her own. [No other volunteer is so drawn to lurk there as she is, no one carries the legacy she does, no one is as connected to Blake Carver as she is . . . These aren't things people aspire to. Teens want to be known as the one with the coolest car and clothes, not the one who is most drawn to lurk at a Halloween attraction.]

Because Lilly's the one who first met Blake back when he was a loud, sad, drunk kid stumbling through the parking lot of a third-rate "Spookyhouse" in another state.  That happened late in the long cross-country road trip Lilly once took with her parents. That was the trip she missed half of seventh grade for. The trip her father enthusiastically planned and called their Haunt Tour, while her mother tried to quietly swallow her objections. [If mom didn't want to go on the Haunt Tour, and it meant Lilly missing half of 7th grade, why didn't dad go alone?] The trip that finally finished a little more than three years ago…

In 60,000 words and three alternating timelines, Lilly Rusnak narrates the story of her family during the last few years of her father’s life, the story of Bloodstone Creek’s cast and staff during its first season, and the story of herself and Blake during their final encounter with one another. [That's all pretty vague. Is there a story?] Part drama, part romance, and part dark backstage comedy, [It's not coming across as dramatic or comedic, and a romance would end with Lilly and Blake together, not having had a final encounter three years ago. It's not horror or mystery?] *Bloodstone Creek* is a literary Young Adult novel about the desire to create imaginary ghosts, so that we can bear to live among the real ones. [Is "literary" a word you want to use when trying to attract YA readers?]

My short story “Redacted” has appeared in Redacted Press’s *Redacted Anthology,* published in Recent Date.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

Is there a plot thread that holds everything together? For instance, did dad die under suspicious circumstances, and his killer is still at Bloodstone Creek? Is the haunted attraction really haunted? What do you mean by Lilly and Blake's "final encounter"?

This query is mostly back story and the setting. I'm reminded of The Night Circus, which is mostly about the circus and its cast and staff, but your haunted warehouse is going to have to be spectacular if it's the main character. If Lillian is the main character, what is her goal? Who or what is keeping her from achieving it? What is she planning to do about it? What happens in your book? You want teenagers to read this, so focus on the good stuff. Sex, violence, ghosts. Don't tell us it's a story about X. Tell us the story. In ten sentences.

You can condense this whole thing into one sentence: Ever since Lilly Rusnak's father died three years ago at Bloodstone Creek, the Halloween attraction he created, Lilly has been (choose one) [quietly looking for clues to what killed him/ keeping his legacy alive by recruiting her friends to work there/ turning tricks in the "Zombie Bride's Bedroom."] That leaves plenty of room to provide specific details about what happens.

29 comments:

khazar-khum said...

Of all the GTP, this was the one I thought the least likely.

Putting together a commercial haunt is a serious business. Does Lilly handle that, learning about the varieties of make-up effects? Does she learn the fine art of animatronic repair? All about lighting and sound? And if she doesn't handle that, who does? Her disinterested mom, or her dad, the ghost?

That story--Lilly (Munster) putting together the dream she shared with her dad while his ghost & his new ghost friends advise her--would be something I'd read.

Author said...

Thank you for the comments (and for those to come): clearly some gutting and rewiring needs to get done, and these are very helpful as a guide. I'd just like to address feasibility before shutting up for a while.

Of everything I did a poor job of expressing, the least clear seems to be Lilly's inflated sense of her own significance to the whole haunt process (which gets deflated as part of her arc).

The place is actually owned by a friend of Lilly's dad's, who's assisted by folks who know what they're doing, but of course there's no way query readers will know that, so I'll have to consider it in the rewrite.

Also, the (metaphorical) ghosts clearly need attention/excising. Not that I wouldn't be all over Khazar-Khum's story like blood one stones...

150 said...

I'm afraid I'd give this a form rejection based on the writing: knotty sentences, jerky progression of ideas, stuff like starting lines with "Because", "but", or "and" four times in ten lines. That's the kind of thing I expect to find in the pages too, and it looks like cleaning it up would be hella work.

I might read it for the story--I love horror--but I think you're presenting it too wordily and in the wrong order. Take EE's advice. It's solid.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I'm kind of with khazar-khum except that I found it the least likely GTP and therefore the most likely.

The story sounds interesting. Unfortunately the writing in the query is awkward and that's going to lead an agent or editor to expect the same of the manuscript, and just say no.

What's the center of your story? Try to sum it up in a single sentence. Build your query from that sentence. Build it out of simple sentences. Don't try to impress and don't try to get in all the backstory and subplot.

Btw, this doesn't sound literary to me. I have a friend who is in the precarious "literary" YA market. The main thing I have learned from her is to be extremely grateful for the size of un-literary advances. What I'm tryna say here is literary YA

1. exists
2. sells like roadkill
3. pays a pittance, if not less

Tk said...

Literary queries seem the hardest – to write, and to understand. And on top of that you have three timelines. So you've done a good job making the concept intriguing, at least.

I think injecting more plot will make it a lot clearer – it might help you decide to focus on one timeline (the one in the present day?). Plus, you're allowed to say what happens in a query; it's supposed to be a good idea. If Blake is a zombie or ghost, you should probably say so.

EE's suggestion of opening on Lily rather than on place is a good idea. More focus on Lily will show why it's YA. This is how I understood the nuts and bolts of it:

Lily Rusnak loves to terrify – her mom, her friends, and the patrons at Bloodstone Creek. As a volunteer Lurker at the new Halloween attraction, 15-year-old Lily provides the eager crowds of victims with their fix of blood-racing, finger-knotting, plexiglass-smacking mortal terror.

And while Lilly's not the only girl at the Creek ready to eat the stage blood off the face of Blake Carver, whose crazed green-eyed glare and rasping voice send patrons running, she is the only one – besides Blake – who knows how haunted the place really is. Among the joke epitaphs etched in the foam grave markers by the entrance is a real one for Lilly's father, nicknamed *The Mind Behind the Madness*,who died three years ago.

In 60,000 words and three alternating timelines, Lilly narrates the story of the cross-country "Haunt Tour" her father dragged her on in the last year of his life, the story of [what goes down at] Bloodstone Creek, and the story of her final encounter with Blake [one year in the future]. *Bloodstone Creek* is a literary Young Adult novel about the desire to create imaginary ghosts, so that we can bear to live among the real ones.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Tk's approach looks good. I'd actually leave out the three alternating timelines, though. That's a structural detail, and there's no need to go into structural details in a query.

Jo Antareau said...

Actually, of all the GTPs, I thought #6 the least likely... because it's never the final one!

I'd read TK's version in a flash - sounds terrific!

Evil Editor said...

Not true! It's the last one in 1040, 1038, 1026, 1021, 1011...

I'm too lazy to keep going, but if someone wants to check all of the Face-Lifts, I think you'll find that the last GTP is correct as often as any of them.

Kelsey said...

I had a problem with how this sentence sets up Lilly's character:
"or else like Lillian Rusnak, a mostly average high school junior with a theatrical flair, they just love to terrify."

The way you then reveal her past, her father's death, etc. she's already gone through a helluva lot by the time she starts working at the Haunt--so she's NOT an average teen anymore.

She doesn't work at Bloodstone Creek "just because" she loves to spook people. She works there because her dead Dad founded it and she knows juicy secrets about the place.

I like the idea of working with different timelines (lots of opportunity for suspense), but you need to be vigilant with time consistency and other slips like these.

Komal said...

[No other volunteer is so drawn to lurk there as she is, no one carries the legacy she does, no one is as connected to Blake Carver as she is . . . These aren't things people aspire to. Teens want to be known as the one with the coolest car and clothes, not the one who is most drawn to lurk at a Halloween attraction.]

oh if only that were true - going on Twilight many a teen craves this nonsense!

Evil Editor said...

I disagree. Teens may be drawn to the vampire culture, but I doubt many of them care whether they are drawn to it more than their friends are. You can be obsessed with vampires without fighting over whether you're more obsessed than someone else.

150 said...

Teens may be drawn to the vampire culture, but I doubt many of them care whether they are drawn to it more than their friends are. You can be obsessed with vampires without fighting over whether you're more obsessed than someone else.

I disagree back at you! Teens are all fighting to be the most of everyone around them. Only a handful have a shot at the coolest clothes/hottest car slot. The rest aim for smartest nerd, darkest goth, highest stoner, or whatever else might distinguish them. If there's a clique at her school obsessed with horror, it'll be a constant scrabble to prove who's in it the deepest. If she's the top authority on the local haunted house, you can bet she'll see that as a source of pride.

150 said...

Make that the most *something* of everyone around them. I didn't know bracketed words got deleted in comments....

Evil Editor said...

The question of who is the biggest authority on something, or who has the best car can be answered definitively, assuming there are reasonable criteria. The question of who is more driven to lurk in a Halloween attraction is totally subjective. You can buy a better car, become a greater authority. But the level of your drive to lurk in Bloodstone Creek is what it is. Would a kid really think, Lilly is more driven to lurk in Bloodstone Creek than I am, I must increase my drive to lurk there until it's greater than hers, so that I am proclaimed the person with the greatest drive to lurk there? Even if you spend more time there and wear cooler costumes etc. it doesn't prove you have greater drive, so why bother?

BuffySquirrel said...

Blogger probably thought the bits in brackets were html, tried to execute them, failed, then deleted them with a mutter about how nobody can code properly these days.

I'm pretty sure anyone who cared about who was more driven to lurk would find a way to 'prove' it. "Yeah, but you didn't get up at two am every single day for a month just to go and lurk there, snoozy! Even though your family was on vacation two hundred miles away!" But it doesn't really matter who's more driven. What matters is that's what the character believes. The argument is therefore a bit of a derail, no?

Nothing in this query convinces me this is literary. That's a slightly bigger problem :).

Author said...

Everyone,

Thanks so much for the comments. You've let me know
A. That the query needs work.
B. What work it needs.
C. That the work is worth doing.

When I wrote that no one was more driven to lurk at Bloodstone Creek than Lilly, it was intended mostly as set-up for the set-up ("Lilly's so driven and here's why"), with the bonus of introducing her character ("Lilly thinks she's more driven than everyone else, including the people who actually run Bloodstone Creek.")

Clearly, this didn't work.

I'm happy to have TK's version to keep in mind as I go back, rewrite, and simply tell the story without over-thinking it or leaving out key plot elements.

What's still stumping me, though, is how to phrase the genre. The book's not really horror, it's not quite a romance, my workshop group is divided as to whether it's YA (my gut says that's the place for it)...is it acceptable to call it "YA with shades of horror and romance"? Or something like a "realistic YA romance with a horror backdrop"? Could I go back to saying it has "strong YA appeal"?

Not to bog you all down with further requests after you've been so helpful already, I'm just unclear as to what an agent finds most helpful as classification goes.

Thanks again!

150 said...

Just call it YA. Just YA. People will pick up on the "shades of" from the synopsis and pages.

Evil Editor said...

We used to have books with teens as main characters that were for adults, but now they're all YA because YA sells better. If there's any possible excuse to label a book YA, use it.

Author said...

Here's a revision, with all your comments in mind. This one could probably use paring down (I'm also not fond of the last few paragraphs). Thanks again for the help.



Since her father died from a brain tumor three years ago, Lillian Rusnak, seventeen, is more or less adjusted to the existence of an average small town high school student. Sustained so far by faith, a few close friends, and her hardworking, well-groomed mother, Lilly hasn’t felt inclined to do much in her life besides live through it. Until now.

When she hears that Bloodstone Creek, a new haunted attraction, needs actors for its first season, Lilly seizes the chance to volunteer. To make an audience’s screams ring through a haunt’s halls is a thrilling high in itself, but that high isn’t all she wants.

George Rusnak—a haunt enthusiast, sometime aspiring writer, and Lilly’s cheerful stay at home dad—named Bloodstone Creek before he died. His notes on scenes and scares are in the care of his longtime friend, the Creek’s current owner.

Lilly wants badly to help her father’s ideas come to life. As a Creeker, she’ll be part of his living legacy. When she joins the Creek’s cast, that legacy looks like everything she could wish it to be.

As the Creek opens in October to an eager flood of patrons, Lilly revels in the energy on set and the details lifted straight from George’s designs. She loves playing a pitchfork wielding farm girl one night and a flesh eating housewife the next. She’s becoming a part of the warm and dysfunctional community backstage. One cast mate in particular, Lilly’s sure, understands everything that she feels.

Blake Carver believes his life was changed when he was seventeen and met George Rusnak. Now twenty-one, he’s also drawn to bring Bloodstone Creek to life. He knows how to send victims running from his long strides, rasped threats, and narrowed green-eyed glare. But Lilly is one victim who won’t run.

At her father’s funeral, Blake kissed Lilly on the cheek, and for a second she forgot where she was. Whenever he kisses her now, she can forget everything but the sweet taste of his stage blood. It’s the perfect happy ending to a sad era in Lilly’s life.

Unfortunately, Lilly’s life isn’t over yet. Her nights at the Creek are slipping away too quickly. Blake’s ex-girlfriend, also a Creeker and always nearby, may not be so willing to give him up as she once let on. Lilly’s mother, who indulged her husband’s interests at the end of his life, is ready to stamp out the haunt enthusiasm she sees blazing in her daughter. And Lilly, frightened by the intensity of her desire for Blake, is gnawed by new misgivings and the old grief that won’t go away.

If Lilly avoids Blake and stays away from the Creek, she might barely keep peace with herself and others. If she goes back, falling deeper in love, she won’t care at first how many explosions she sets off. Lilly’s thinking she can’t resist. The Creek could be in for one shattering closing weekend. By Halloween, Lilly might have changed every dream, belief, and relationship that once kept her going…

As narrated by its teen protagonist, who tells the story of her recent romance alongside that of the events leading up to her father’s death, Bloodstone Creek is a YA novel complete at 60,000 words.

I have an MA in Creative Writing from Respectable University. My short story “Redacted” appears in the Redacted Anthology, published by Redacted Press in the spring of 2012.

Thank you for your consideration.

Rachel6 said...

You set up the stakes nicely, but I don't have a grasp on the conflict. Or what, she'll tick off his ex-girlfriend? If her mom keeps her away from the attraction (though I don't get why she would), why don't she and Blake meet up elsewhere?

Evil Editor said...

Although you say you wrote this with our comments in mind, my "note" saying tell us the story in ten sentences was ignored, as this is more than three times that. This is a synopsis. Fortunately it's not wasted effort, as a synopsis is often requested by agents who don't want to read your book.

It's not clear in the first sentence that the average high school student is Lilly, rather than the new kid in town. Change "the existence of" to "life as."

I don't get: "Unfortunately, Lilly’s life isn’t over yet." Is she suicidal?

When Lilly Rusnak signs on as a performer at Bloodstone Creek, the haunted attraction her late father helped create, her goal is to keep her father's legacy alive. Not to fall for Blake Carver a fellow performer. But fall she has, so it's kind of a drag that her mom wants her to quit Bloodstone Creek and get on with her own life.

Is that your story? If so, expand on it by telling us what Lilly plans to do, what gets in the way of her doing it.


I can't decide whether setting your book in a haunted attraction that isn't really haunted, and where no one is trying to convince anyone else that it's really haunted, and where no one gets murdered, is refreshing or a wasted opportunity. Would this work just as well in a Shakespearean theater or a disco?

Isn't a 21-year-old guy + a 17-year-old girl ewwwww-worthy?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Author, your first sentence was a personal trigger that I had trouble reading past. A similarly-triggered agent averaging 60 seconds per query wouldn't bother. You can't predict that kind of thing, but in this case your whole first paragraph is unnecessary anyway.

Similarly, I don't get the bio of George Rusnak in graf 3. He's already dead too; why so much font for guys who can't possibly be characters AFAICT?

Sorry, just reread that paragraph and saw GR is the protag's dad. Renaming and reintroducing characters in a query is confusing. Paragraphs 3 and 4 seem unnecessary too.

Grafs 2 and 5 are appealing. We're hearing about Lilly and she has what sounds like an interesting part-time job and she's into it and there's a suggestion of an interesting community of coworkers.

Paragraph 6-- sudden POV shift. You should only have one POV in a query.

Paragraph 7-- how did we get to Lilly's dad's funeral? I thought he died a while back.

"Unfortunately, Lilly’s life isn’t over yet." Okay, with the best of intentions, I'm too confused to keep going here.

Rewrite, keep the focus on Lilly, tell us about Lilly and what Lilly wants and what stands in her way. Eschew catchy phrasing in favor of clarity. And cut all backstory. At least half of what you've got here is backstory.

I'm visiting the end of your query now-- your bio seems harmless. But don't give a structural description of your novel. They won't request or not request pages based on structure.

Focus on the story. Not the backstory. Not the structure of the story.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Don't feel bad, EE; she didn't take my advice either.

Author, there's one more thing. I got a BA in creative writing, and I have several friends who have done MFAs. Here's what I've learned: If you want to sell to major publishers, take the advice of the following people over the rules set down by your professors at ol' RU:

1. industry professionals such as editors and agents

2. commercially published authors

3. authors published by small presses

4. bookstore managers

5. avid readers

6. small children

7. lovable household pets

If your goals are more along the lines of continuing to contribute to Redacted Anthology (which is fine) and perhaps teaching creative writing yourself, the advice of your RU profs will steer you right.

I'm not placing a value on either route. Just want you to think about which route you're choosing and what tasks that choice will entail.

Anonymous said...

Good: a better idea of what the story is about.
Bad: it's not as exciting as the earlier versions posted.
Ew: 21 and 17.
Advice: listen to AlaskaRavenclaw. listen to AlaskaRavenclaw. listen to AlaskaRavenclaw.

Trim:

When 17-year-old Lilly Rusnak hears that haunted attraction Bloodstone Creek needs volunteer actors for its first season, she's so there. To make an audience scream is a thrilling high, but that isn’t all Lilly wants. Her dad named Bloodstone Creek before he died. His notes on scenes and scares are in the care of the Creek’s current owner and Lilly longs to help her father’s ideas come to life.

As a Creeker, Lilly revels in playing a pitchfork wielding farmer one night and a flesh eating zombie the next. And as for castmate Blake Carver – well, whenever she kisses him, she can forget everything but the sweet taste of his stage blood.

Unfortunately, Blake’s ex-girlfriend Name is as clingy as a fake cobweb, Lilly’s mom is ready to stamp out the haunt enthusiasm she sees blazing in her daughter, and Lilly is finding the intensity of her desire for Blake the scariest thing at Bloodstone Creek.

When [inciting incident involving the dad's death] begins to haunt Lilly, she decides to leave the Creek. But first there's Halloween weekend to get through – and [Name's specific nefarious plan to foil] and [one other specific emotional obstacle related to dad thread].

Bloodstone Creek is a 60,000-word YA novel. I have an MA in Creative Writing from Respectable University. My short story “Redacted” appears in Redacted Anthology (Redacted Press, 2012). Thank you for your consideration.

PLaF said...

I had a lot of trouble understanding Lily's motivation and goals. I'm sure there in there somewhere, but they're lost in all the events.

also, when you say "unfortunately, Lily's life isn't over yet," are you trying not to tell us that Blake is a vampire?

Author said...

AlaskaR, I'm sorry for failing to label the trigger: with this in mind, all your comments are even more appreciated.

And everyone else' are, too. Especially for cuts and clarifications.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Anonymous, I see you are a man or woman of remarkable discernment.

Author, there's no reason to label queries as triggers. In this query, however, the death-by-brain-tumor seems gratuitous. I assume in the actual manuscript it's integral and, of course, thoroughly researched. If not, revise.

sarahhawthorne said...

I thought this was pretty good. I trimmed it down for you. It's still on the lengthy side, but I think it hits the important points:

Since her father died three years ago, seventeen-year-old Lillian Rusnak has more or less adjusted. Sustained by faith, a few close friends, and her hardworking mother, Lilly hasn’t felt inclined to do much in her life besides live through it. Until now.

When she hears that Bloodstone Creek, a new haunted attraction, needs actors for its first season, Lilly seizes the chance to volunteer. Bloodstone Creek was Lilly's father's final project. As a Creeker, she’ll be part of his living legacy. As the Creek opens, Lilly revels in the energy on set and a new relationship with one particular cast mate. Whenever Blake Carver kisses her, she can forget everything but the sweet taste of his stage blood.

But Blake’s ex-girlfriend may not be so willing to give him up. Lilly’s mother is ready to stamp out the haunt enthusiasm she sees blazing in her daughter. And Lilly, frightened by the intensity of her desire for Blake, is gnawed by new misgivings and the old grief that won’t go away.

By Halloween, Lilly might have changed every dream, belief, and relationship that once kept her going…

Bloodstone Creek is a YA novel complete at 60,000 words. I have an MA in Creative Writing from Respectable University. My short story “Redacted” appears in the Redacted Anthology, published by Redacted Press in the spring of 2012.


I do feel like we're still missing part of the story. You set up that Lilly's coming back to life, making new friends, and falling in love, but not how that will change her dreams and beliefs. And why does Mom object to Lilly's interest in Bloodstone Creek?

Kelsey said...

Also, small point: referring to Lilly's father as "George" is a POV slip.

If some chapters are told from her dad's POV, 'George' is fine. But if it's told entirely in Lilly's voice (especially 1st person), she almost certainly doesn't think of her dad by his first name, so the narrative shouldn't either.