Friday, September 28, 2012

Face-Lift 1072

Guess the Plot

The Miranda Contract

1. Carmen has ditched the hat and the song-and-dance routine, but Fosse's not ready to let her go yet. Can she get out of her contract to marry John Jakes, the hobo of her dreams, or will she be forced to pretend to be a vivacious Latina till the day she dies?

2. When Arda Arnhem is arrested for a murder she didn't commit, she is offered the right to remain silent. But this contract has a catch-- if she chooses to waive the right to remain silent, anything she says can and will be used against her in a court of law! Fortunately, she has the right to an attorney, public defender and amateur sleuth Wilma Wilkins.

3. When the dead gigolos start piling up at the city morgue, ace detective Zack Martinez knows two things: Guns don't kill people, bullets do; and some gal named Miranda sure had a lot of boy friends.

4. Miranda the Hooker was always getting cheated, beat up, and abused. Taking control of her life, she goes back to school and earns a law degree and an MBA. Now she gets the respect she deserves, because all her johns have to sign...The Miranda Contract.
5. Dan Galkin's grandfather, an evil psychopath known as the Mad Russian, wants Dan to kill pop sensation Miranda. It'll be good publicity for the "family" business. But Dan feels a certain electricity between himself and Miranda, which he thinks may be true love, rather than his electricity-manipulation super power.

6. An exploration of the very different viewpoints in the two original versions of the "Miranda" rights contract, which were eventually merged into the warnings we all know and love. Includes point-counterpoint between 'You have the right to speak, but only in a polite and respectful tone' and 'You have the right -- nay, the responsibility -- to shut the fuck up.'

7. Miranda is a fairy with only 24 hours to live, and though fairies aren't supposed to live as long as mortals, she really is attached to the life she has. She makes a deal with an amateur warlock to extend her life but at the cost of transforming into an imp. After losing her beauty, Miranda realises how shallow the fairy world is and becomes hell-bent on usurping the Fairy Queen to bring in a new regime.

8. Miranda has spent too much time on the Internet, reading about the goofy things people do to make money. When she convinces a local rich family that paying her to pretend to be their cat will be quirky and entertaining to guests, she'll get free housing and food for a year. But can she get out of the contract when she finds out they've also rented her ex-boyfriend as the family dog?

9. Jet-setting businessman Howard Levant usually fathers by phone, but he can't help promising his tearful daughter Miranda he'll be home all day on her birthday. He doesn't plan on having to negotiate the biggest deal of his career while juggling two feuding mistresses and a pissed-off politico demanding Howard's hide.

10. It's 1940. “Lucky” Luciano sends Lenny “Wolf” Lupo to kill Gina Miranda – a jewel thief who burgled the wrong mansion. He watches her and falls in love. When they meet, she tries to kill him while he tries not to kill her. They wed, leave the life, and hide in a sleepy southwestern town. But after the war, change comes to Las Vegas.

11. When the body of crime author extraordinaire Jim Trisham is found dangling from the mast of his yacht "Miranda Contract", Homicide Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, Trisham didn't hang himself by the testicles and two, since keeping a 100 foot yacht at Marina del Rey means you have more money than God he probably shouldn't have contributed to the boat by buying Trisham's books.

12. Actress Miranda Gabriel, fresh from her Iowa community college drama department, is discovered and slated to lead in the edgiest new drama of the season. Her agent tells her she first must sign a contract -- in blood. Welcome to the West Coast, he says, it's all part of the biz.

Original Version

Dan Galkin is seventeen and desperately trying to keep his life unremarkable, but when you were a teenage super-villain for two weeks at the start of high school and your grandfather is an evil psychopath hell-bent on making you his successor at any cost, it’s not going to be easy. [No need to say "at any cost," as it was implied by "hell-bent."]

Dan is an uberhuman, born with the ability to sense and manipulate electricity, [For instance, when he gets out of the shower and wants to dry his hair, he senses that there is electricity on the other side of the bathroom electrical outlet. He manages to access this electricity through the use of the metal prongs dangling off of his hair dryer. He then manipulates the electricity into a steady rush of warm air through the use of the on-off switch. Other controls allow him to regulate the air flow and temperature from low to medium to high. He feels it's only a matter of time before he's starring in his own comic book.] [An appendix in the back of the book details how Dan is able to manipulate electricity to create a grilled cheese sandwich.] and when he accidentally rescues pop sensation Miranda Brody from a mob of fans, he is strongarmed into becoming her bodyguard. [When you're desperately trying to keep your life unremarkable, and you become Britney Spears's bodyguard, you weren't trying desperately enough.] Unfortunately, his grandfather, The Mad Russian, has orchestrated the whole thing and wants Dan to kill Miranda and use the resulting publicity to take over the family business. [The business gets taken over by the family member who kills the most famous person?] Dan has no interest in becoming a killer so he and Miranda end up running for their lives, dodging a string of Dan’s childhood team-mates and developing a love-hate relationship along the way. [He loves her; she hates him.]

As the villains close in, Dan’s powers are acting wildly, but he manages to turn the tables on the Russian and he and Miranda escape the city in a stolen car. They end up at Dan's deranged mother's house where he realises he has gone as far as he can. He stops running - from his grandfather and from his past. Using clues from the previous attacks, [There've been attacks?] his grandfather's contacts, and his ability to tap into the mobile phone network, he tracks the Mad Russian's location to a shopping centre. [Überhumans don't go to shopping centers. They have minions, flunkies and underlings for that.]

It’s here at the endgame that Dan is pushed to his limits keeping the people safe and taking down his grandfather, eventually scrambling the electrical impulses of the Mad Russian's brain, although it nearly kills them both. In the aftermath Dan is labelled a hero. But it’s bittersweet for Dan, as Miranda walks away from their growing attraction, leaving him to find a way to live his own life instead of in the shadow of his past crimes and family. [What?! He saves the world but doesn't get the girl? What was the point?]

The Miranda Contract is a 70,000 word Young Adult superhuman [Überhuman] fiction novel, exploring issues of family pressure, overcoming negative reputation and labels, as well as a healthy dose of redemption, adventure and heroism. [If "fiction" is describing "novel," it's redundant. Or is "superhuman fiction" a single term, like "science fiction"? If so, is "superhuman fiction" a genre, or your opinion of your book?] [I'd go with "superhero novel."]

I have had several short stories published in print and online publications, as well as editing the superhuman fiction ‘zine This Mutant Life for two years. One of my stories, The Scoundrel’s Wife, was short listed for the Chronos Awards in 2011 (Australian science fiction awards).

The Miranda Contract was long-listed for the 2012 Hachette Manuscript Program. [A shrewd but transparent way of saying The Miranda Contract couldn't even get short-listed for the 2012 Hachette Manuscript Program.]

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

Best wishes,


I would drop the paragraph with the deranged mother, as it sounds too synopsisish and move directly to: In the endgame...

It's better to let the issues explored in your book be obvious from the plot description, rather than to point them out.

Pop sensation Miranda Brody would just go by Miranda.

Not sure the term "Miranda rights" is familiar in Australia, but in the US that title will probably give readers expectations of a police procedural.

Usually in a family business the heir to the throne is the most powerful or the most qualified or the first-born, and whether you've killed a pop star doesn't figure into the equation. What kind of business is the psychopathic Mad Russian's family in?

"Überhuman should have an umlaut, shouldn't it? Wait, should "umlaut" have an umlaut? Even if it shouldn't, it should. And we should spell apostrophe apostr'phe. And hyphen hy-phen. Etc.

From Wikipedia: Über (German pronunciation: [ˈyːbɐ]Thanks, that's helpful.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I was definitely with you through the first paragraph. After that, I'm afraid my relationship with your query deteriorated.

Question: who strongarms Dan into becoming Miranda's bodyguard, and do they do it with or without the knowledge that Dan's grandpa wants him to kill her? I found this very confusing and it felt contrived.

What i mean by "contrived" is that it seems like something dropped on the characters by their Author rather than something that evolves naturally from events and personalities. That may not be the case in the ms; it may just be the query.

With regard to the fourth paragraph, I don't think queries generally include the novel's ending.

This reminded me of two YAs I'd read:

1. Markus Zusak's also-Australian _I Am The Messenger_, which is a terrific book until the last chapter, when I'm sorry to say I had to throw it across the room. Talk about contrived.

2. Louis Sachar's _Small Steps_, in which a teenage boy who's done time in juvie hooks up with (wait for it) a teen pop star. This couple, too, are the objects of a devious scheme: the singer's stepdad/manager tries to kill her and frame the boy. This doesn't feel contrived because the boy's been set up throughout the book as the perfect patsy.

Anyway, on the rewrite here I'd try not to tell the whole plot, just enough to get us interested. Try to keep the focus on Dan... if he doesn't know something, don't tell us.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Good heavens I can't believe I got that captcha right. I couldn't decide if the first one was a 3, a 7 or a semicolon.

It was the semicolon. Who knew they even used semicolons?

Kelsey said...

Hi author,

At the beginning of the query you mention that Dan was a villain for two weeks, but then it isn't mentioned again. If it's not relevant to the central conflict, cut it.

While I think it's a good idea that the grandfather has manipulated Dan into his close contact with Miranda (the fewer coincidences, the better) I hit a snag with the bodyguard issue. I'm unclear about whether, in your novel's world, uberhumans are known or hidden. From your intro about Dan trying to keep his life normal, I assumed no one knew about his powers (generally the default in superhero fiction). But then, how does he save Miranda? If he saves her without powers, he's just a 17-yr-old kid, unremarkable, who maybe was in the right place to Miranda out of the way of a gunshot (or something), which makes me extremely skeptical that this kid would then be 'requested' as a bodyguard; on the other hand, if he uses his powers to save her and that's why they want him as a bodyguard, then these powers must be societally normal because otherwise there would be all sorts of awkward questions raised. You don't have to give the play-by-play of this scene in the query, but do work in if uberhumans live openly so it's more believable.

I'd think about changing the Grandfather's villainy to something other than Mad Russian--the Russians get picked on as villains a lot. Your story may play on cliches purposefully to be campy, but if that's not what you mean to do, look for a fresh villainy.

I do, though, think it's cool that the Dan doesn't get the girl. (Apparently every guy plus girl that are thrown together fall in love forever.) But in the actual novel I'd suggest working in small clues that this romance isn't going to be rosy early on, just so readers don't feel their break-up comes completely out of left field.

Good luck!

khazar-khum said...

I felt more like I was reading a synopsis instead of a query.

Why is Grampa the Mad Russian? Frankly, that is a contrived name that also sounds like a dive-bar cocktail.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

No, no, Khazar-Khum, the drink is named AFTER the grandpa.


Author, I quite enjoyed this. I do think it's a bit synopsis-y toward the end, and I think you could delve more into the Dan-as-a-two-week-villain stuff, but you're off to a very good start. Would you consider writing a version with more lead-up and less ending? Just so we could kind of compare and point out what we think should stay in the final query?

Again, I think this is good stuff. But I'd love some more set-up (and trust me, you don't hear that a lot around here) so I can know what the bones of the story are.

Evil Editor said...

I assumed he'd been part of a team of uberhumans a good while, but only for two weeks while in high school.

St0n3henge said...

Where have I seen this before? I'm sure I have. Was it Query Shark or Phoenix's blog?

This is more of a synopsis than a query letter. That is, it's a list of things that happen in the story. The main thing that seems to be wrong with it is that I don't care. I don't care about some kid with a vague superpower that is difficult to visualize working. I don't care about some pampered pop star who isn't even described. I think the grandfather is pretty interesting, but that may be because I'm curious about him. Anyway, I'm not supposed to feel like siding with the villain.

I think part of the problem is that by trying to cram too much info into the query, you may be diluting the main thrust of the story.

"Dan is an uberhuman, born with the ability to sense and manipulate electricity."
I'm not feeling this. As EE showed in his blue text, this could mean almost anything. Try being as specific as possible here.

Also, I'm confused as to why Dan should be required to kill Miranda. Seems to me this will only get him prison time. What good does it do the "family business?" I think the best killers would be quiet, stay in the background, and be difficult to pick out in a crowd. Certainly publicity is the last thing they want. Maybe I'm missing something obvious here.

"Dan has no interest in becoming a killer so he and Miranda end up running for their lives, dodging a string of Dan’s childhood team-mates and developing a love-hate relationship along the way. " Okay, but if one of the team-mates (What does that mean? Teamsters?) kills Miranda, does Dan still get the family business? What if one of them kills Dan? Then who gets it? It's confusing.

"As the villains close in, Dan’s powers are acting wildly..." Just wanted to point out- "teen superhero protag who doesn't quite know how to use powers properly yet" may be THE most common cliche' on this blog so far. With the possible exception of "teen turns out to be half-magical race and also royalty."

I'm skeptical of the whole premise, actually, but if you can re-write this so that the pressures in the story seem more immediate and the characters are more like real people, I might be persuaded to believe that a hardened, crafty boss is going to hand over the "family business" to some wet-behind-the ears teenage kid.

Mister Furkles said...

You need to rework this. Aside from what EE and the other minions said, your typical sentence is too long. Your first sentence is 50 words. One agent wrote that when she see this, she assumes the manuscript is loaded with run-on sentences.

You need to make the top one or two percent of query letters an agent sees. It's really difficult. Review the good query letters here and at Query Shark for examples.

I don't get any feel for Miranda. She would seem crucial to the story because her name is in the title. We need to know something about the family business. Is it Celebrity Murder Inc.? Can you make Dan a more appealing person?