Sunday, November 18, 2012

Evil Editor Classics


Guess the Plot

Divinity

1. Atheist Harold Parks enrolls in divinity school because "there's easy money in religion." But he gets the shock of his life when he shows up for his Introduction to Spirituality class and discovers it's being taught by God.

2. When Isis’s family moves to Cairo, Illinois, she just knows there is something strange about the popular kids at her new high school. When mysterious Osiris invites her to the prom, she decides to look past his green skin and amusingly long goatee. But what will she say when he asks her to rule the underworld with him?

3. When Divinity, the Kentucky Derby hopeful belonging to Hollywood bigwig Saul Cohen, is found eating the remains of his jockey Ramon Peralta, Homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: the horse didn't shoot the jock, and he's never going to give that animal a carrot.

4. Twelve-year-old twin boys are tasked with stealing the power of a goddess. One of them decides to torture her and the other decides to have sex with her. Which one will succeed, thus becoming heir to the throne?

5. Making sweets is never easy, especially now that sugar is outlawed. In a world overrun by diabetics, Stan Barker is one of the last candy bootleggers alive--though his recent order for a large shipment of Divinity may change that.

6. Unknown to the layman, the truly pious and benevolent popes receive the ultimate promotion: to godhood. Or so it's long been believed; so far no one's actually made it.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Princes Veylan and Starfa had long awaited their twelfth birthday, when they were finally entrusted with the secret behind their kingdom’s prosperity and their father’s power: the goddess Caera, who they have worshipped all their lives, is a human girl, and a prisoner of the royal family of Forsyia, and it is her power that their ancestors have wielded [Is this sentence ever going to end? I've read novellas that were shorter.] for Forsyia’s benefit, controlling the weather, the wealth, and even the . [Amazing. It didn't end. Apparently you realized you were trapped in a literary time warp and that the only way out was to abandon the sentence.] [I'm guessing the sentence was supposed to end with another "w" for its alliterative quality, probably: . . . controlling the weather, the wealth, and even the weasels.] [Actually, that's not half bad. We have Tarzan, who controls elephants, and Aquaman, who controls fish, why not a weasel-controlling superhero? We'll call her Weasel. And when she's in trouble she summons her sneak of weasels to save the day. Hey, it's got to be an improvement over the actual story.] [Seriously, there'd be fewer unsolved crimes if the cops used trained weasels.] The princes were also given a task. They had six years to learn the secrets of extracting her power though [through] sex and torture, [Didn't you say they were twelve years old? And they're supposed to use sex and torture?] and whichever of them acquires magic from her first will become the official heir to the throne [as well as the unofficial target of the other one].

A week before their scheduled trials with the goddess, [If the trials are scheduled in advance, how will they know who acquired the goddess's magic first if they've both acquired it?] Veylan liberates and runs away with her, hoping to convince the goddess to share her magic with him, but is thwarted by her hatred of his family. In the meantime, Starfa is commanded to take charge of the search for the fugitives. Life gets even more complicated when a servant poisons the king, and without Caerassa’s magic to keep things in order, Forsyia is thrown into chaos. [Is Caerassa the same character who was Caera in the preceding paragraph?] Rain starts pouring down, [Do we need to know it's raining?] the plants are showing signs of disease, and panic fills the air. Starfa must find a way to stop the slow death of the kingdom [If you want us to accept that the kingdom is dying, you need better evidence than a rainstorm and some wilting plants. It's raining here and my plants all died long ago, but I'm not panicking over the state of the union.] until he can capture the pair, and steal Caerassa’s magic to put everything right again.

My fantasy novel, DIVINITY, is complete at 90,000 words. I have included the prologue and first two chapters here for your perusal. My flash fiction has been published in Thaumatrope, an online Twitter magazine. [Twitter magazine? Meaning your published fiction was about twenty words long? This isn't a selling point when you're pushing a 90,000-word book.] [The first sentence of this query is long enough to be four Twitter submissions.] [What's the difference between getting published in Thaumatrope and having one of your tweets retweeted?]

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

Sincerely,


Notes

Forsyia needs a better name, one that's pronounceable. Like Forsythia.

Why is it that someone with magical powers can't escape on her own? And once Veylan gets her out of town, why doesn't she just kill him with a bolt of lightning or turn him into a weasel?

I don't get the six years part. If one prince figures out how to steal the goddess's power in two years, he has to wait for the trials that are scheduled four years later, by which time the other prince may have also figured it out? Your trial with the goddess should be arranged the moment you think you have the answer.

Is this book intended for adults?

It's not clear how sex and torture come in, or whether weasels are involved.

If the goddess is actually a human girl, does she have powers or not? Can she at least summon weasels?

This needs clarity. I have too many questions. Answer some of them or remove whatever is inspiring them. I'd focus on the princes and how each of them plans to get the goddess's power and how the "contest" affects their relationship. The chaos in the kingdom can be left out.

Research shows that "sneak" is not the only collective noun for weasels. A weasel sneak can also be called a nate, boogle, pack, confusion, or colony.


Selected Comments

josephrobertlewis said...There are many holes in this query, but I will focus on the characters:

1. Why are a couple of 12-year-olds given access to a god that sustains the world?

2. Why are a couple of 12-year-olds entrusted with analyzing a god?

3. Why are a couple of 12-year-olds having sex?

4. If these 12-year-olds aren't human, what are they?

5. Who is the target reader? As an adult, I don't want to read about 12-year-olds. As a parent, I don't want my kids reading about 12-year-olds having sex.


Evil Editor said...The 12-year-olds had six years to prepare for their "trial" with the goddess, so it's likely they are 18 when the actual torture/sex occurs (if it does occur--apparently the goddess is liberated before it occurs).

Of course, they supposedly spent those six years learning the secrets of extracting Caela's power through sex and torture, and 12 does seem a bit young to be learning such secrets, but perhaps the earlier years of their training were spent torturing and having sex with weasels.


josephrobertlewis said...Ah, so, you read it to mean that at age 12 they began training to abuse their goddess sexually for the purpose of stealing her magic?

Does the book chronicle these six years of S and M schooling? Or does it just jump into the actual abuse at age 18?

So Veylan is a "hero" because he chooses to not abuse her?

The query is too much backstory, not enough plot or character.


Phoenix said...Author: Imagine a beautiful, leggy blonde standing beside you, patting your arm, and saying very gently, "Honey, this query isn't very good."

What IS good is that you recognized your query might need some work and submitted it here for constructive criticism before you sent it out into the real world. Kudos to you! That takes smarts and courage!

EE has given you a strong start for your rewrite. I'll be back later with more constructive thoughts, but first I've got to see if I can find a beautiful, leggy blonde somewhere ...


pacatrue said...Thanks to Phoenix, I now have Flight of the Conchords' Leggy Blonde in my head.

For the query, if we've got teens learning the way to extract power through sex and torture, I assume the novel is intended to be delightfully dark and twisted, and we enjoy it all because it's clearly not real. That tone needs to be seen throughout the query.

Incidentally, I'd think there'd be a large market for learning the techniques of extracting power through sex, so can you turn this into a self-help book? Something like "Conquer the World Through Orgasm." Even if everyone else has the book so that no one becomes King or Queen, well, the battles will be the stuff of legend. And sell for quite a bit on the Internet. This has suddenly become my favorite query in months!


150 said...I metaphorically put this query down once it got all rapey.

I was in Thaumatrope too, but I wouldn't include it as a pub cred.

Whichever brother is your main character, focus the query on him.

If you post a revised version in the comments, we'll take another look. Good luck!


Angie said...This concept really creeped me out, and I am not the kind of girl who usually gets creeped out easily, you see because I am a little on the R rated or maybe even X rated side, I am not sure, but for all practical purposes, you see, I am just that, and so when something creeps me out, like implying that a couple of twelve year-old boys are having their ways with some goddess, who I am still not sure is human or not, or if she has powers or not, that just really gives me the willies.

I bet you didn't enjoy reading that long run on sentence did you?
Sorry. Couldn't resist. Keep your sentences shorter, more concise. Someone is going to get tired of reading on and on like that in your query. And then the sentence just stops with no conclusive thought. They'll be wondering if your entire book is like that, too.

Also, who is your audience? I'm not sure teens or adults are going to be thrilled over the 12yo boys having it on with the goddess. And adults certainly aren't going to want their teens reading that.

I agree with EE's points. Focus on them. I give you an A for having the guts to submit to EE and his minions.


no_bull_steve said...I hate to pile on here, but the odds of a literary agent getting beyond this query and reading pages is unlikely. Bravo/a to the author for submitting this here. My advice would be to NOT query for this novel, put it away for 3-6 months and work on something else. When you've completed the first draft of that manuscript, reopen this one, print it out and reread it with fresh eyes. I suspect you'll notice errors that you're currently not able to see.


Nicolette said...I was pretty creeped out by this query too. Mostly by the goddess being a girl and the boys' father somehow knowing that her magic is extracted by torture and sex. How did he find out? Did someone tell him? Or did he experiment until he came to that conclusion? Shudder.

Apart from that and all the other unwelcome images that this query projected into my mind, I think that there lies some interesting story in this, if you leave out the actual S and M-scenes. If you focus on how all this influences the boys and the goddess mentally, it might make an interesting yet still very disturbing read. Do they commence with the torture and sex without hesitation, just because they are told they should? Do they try to out-cruel each other in hopes of getting to the magic first? Do they ever feel sorry for the girl? I'm thinking in the direction of the Milgram-experiments but creepier.

Still, while reading a story like that, I really wouldn't be very interested in whether or not the plants die.

If you have taken an approach like that, you should make that clear in the query.


Steve Wright said...Well, you can sort out simple proofreading errors (like the very long unfinished sentence, or the inconsistent character name). The bigger problem, though, is that this story is coming across as really creepy, and I'm not sure how you can deal with that.

Are the sex and torture integral to the story, or can they reasonably be toned down in the query? (I'm not necessarily opposed to sex and torture - in books, that is. And some people have done quite well out of them: Jacqueline Carey springs to mind. But you've got to admit, when you've got teenagers going to S and M school, you're aiming at a niche market, at best.)


Dave F. said...I have this feeling that your story is not what you wrote about in the query.

I'm sure that when Nabokov shopped "Lolita" to publishers that he got a few reactions that bordered on profanity, if not shear disbelief: "She's jailbait!" or "He's lusting over a child!" And I use Nabokov to illustrate that controversial subjects can be dealt with. But the author has to pick better words than those presented in this query.

It would help to know the grand climax of the novel. Does one brother triumph? Or do both find a way to govern? That's going to be the emotional story you want to sell to an agent.

It might be better to start the query from the when the princes are older, like 18 and not tie your hands. "After six years of training, Princes Velan and Starfa must control the Goddess Cara to rule the kingdom. But only one can rule and the other must sink into obscurity.

That gets you into the poisoning of the King and the Goddess' flight with one of the brothers as complications.

I'm guessing that you set up the dichotomy between black and white, good and evil -- love and torture -- as a metaphor for the decisions reached in the story. Since the Princes are twins, then one must win and the other must lose. Perhaps you should focus on the winning side in the query.

Is it possible that this is the Goddess Cara's story? That she convinces the princes to let her free and run the kingdom without magic? That POV might help you. Love and torture become merely minor elements to the plot. The Goddess Cara has been held captive for centuries in order to keep the kingdom of Fresca prosperous. She must once again choose between two princes, one of whom will love her and the other who will torment her. But this time, thanks to the king being poisoned and etc...

Those are all possibilities for the author to consider.


Sina'i Enantia said...Ok, time for me to stop hiding behind the pillar, I guess.

I knew this query letter had some serious issues, and I'm glad I submitted it here first. So, thank you all for your comments. They're very helpful and give me a pretty good idea of what needs work. (For one thing, I am now deeply, deeply ashamed of that first sentence and the fact that it escaped me.) I'll definitely be spending some time revising. I'm also glad I got feedback on the Thaumatrope credit - it is a paid market, so I wasn't sure if that would make a difference to an editor.

A few things I would like to clarify: 1. The princes are NOT 12 years old throughout most of the book (which is probably one of my bigger issues in the query). They're 18.

2. Caera/Caerassa are the same person - she's a human that is thought to be a goddess. She does have magic, but has a spell on her so she can't use it.

3. An adult book. Definitely an adult book. There is no way I'd market this as anything but adult fantasy.

(And I'll have to work on making sure that's understandable within a query, as an editor's not going to give me a chance to answer questions later.)

Thanks again, EE and minions, for all the feedback!


josephrobertlewis said...If the princes are main characters, and this is an adult book, do they have to be 18? Because frankly, I remember senior year of high school and I don't want to read about a bunch of those people saving/destroying the world.

Can't they at least be young adults, or even pushing 30?


Sina'i Enantia said...I've thought about doing parts of the book from Caerassa's POV (there's a total of four viewpoint characters in the book), but always had major reservations about it (other than just adding another viewpoint character).

Caerassa, right now, is the x-factor in the story, and the one whose actions and moods everyone else depends on. If I had her POV, especially later in the story, it would take all of the mystery out of it. In a way, this is her story, but she's not the right person to tell it.


Judith Engracia said...You're not an evil editor--your notes are a godsend.


Adam Heine said...I think the problem is that the protagonists are 12 in sentence one. That first sentence sets the tone for the reader, and this one says Middle Grade, or maybe YA.

Then you throw in sex and torture and that's where everybody gets lost.

Start where the story starts. Something like: "Princes Veylan and Starfa have been trained their whole lives to subdue or seduce one woman, the source of the kingdom's power." Or something better/more accurate to the manuscript.

And just in case you were still on the fence about it: Thaumatrope is not a publishing credential, pay market or no. (Trust me, I wish it were too).


Polenth said...The thing that stuck me with the synopsis is you seem to be trying to justify what the princes are doing. Partly it's down to word choice (using the word sex, rather than rape... saying he wants to steal her magic, when we know that means rape and torture).

Then there's the way it ends, which sounds like the happy ending version would be finding the goddess, raping and torturing her, getting the power back and saving the kingdom.

It's that feeling of the justification of the rape, torture and imprisonment which makes it creepy in the wrong sort of way. The characters in the book may feel justified, but the synopsis isn't written by those characters.

To see what I'm saying, I could describe Lolita as: "This is a romance about a man who fell in love with a child... but will she ever look past his wrinkles and love him in return?" If the man in the book said that, it'd be fine. When I say it, it has a different feel (and might lead readers to believe it's a pro-paedophilia book).


batgirl said...The premise makes me think of a blend of two stories - Ursula Le Guin's 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas', where the blissful paradise of one kingdom is paid for by the emotional and physical abuse of a child, and the Neil Gaiman story (forgot the title, sorry) where a writer holds a Muse prisoner, and rapes her to receive inspiration, until she's freed and he's punished in an altogether appropriate way.

Just mentioning these and wondering if the morality of basing your kingdom's existence on the torment of a young girl (for how many generations?) is examined? Is that why the prince flees with her? I think considering the ethical choices might add some depth to the query.

3 comments:

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The middle-grade novel: Not as easy as people think!

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely hilarious, it just made my day.
Someone should seriously write a weasel superhero novel.

150 said...

I kind of miss Thaumatrope. It was a good daily read and I got a nice chunk of change from them before they closed their doors.