Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Face-Lift 1097

Guess the Plot

Bread in the Bone

1. A mixup of hospital and bakery deliveries leads to John Dough receiving a baking powder transplant. Dough subsequently develops bread in the bone, but learns to overcome his disability despite the constant threat of yeast infections.

2. Charlie gets his chance to compete on the popular reality show Cooking With Bone Marrow. Trouble is, Charlie recently took a vow to go vegetarian. Can he win the episode using only . . . bread in the bone?

3. Maura has cared for her mother for years. Now mum is dead, but DNA tests prove Maura wasn't really mum's daughter, so Maura doesn't inherit, so her husband Trevor's bakery won't get the cash infusion it needs to compete with the new Dunkin Donuts.

4. The day Janet opens her bakery bistro is the happiest day of her life. The next morning she finds the back door jimmied, a threatening note and two corpses in the freezer. Janet and her chef, Phyllis, a former trick-shot artist, are caught in an international smuggling war – one they know nothing about.

5. Reporter Ross McDowell's hot tip lands him in deep. Doo, that is. If the multinational corporate pirates who shanghai'd American Rawhide have gone vegan, why are they buying all those cows? Animal rights activist Alexis Garrity agrees; something doesn't smell right.

6. A geneticist takes up baking as a hobby, and one night combines it with his research into bone marrow, leading to the discovery of a way to bake bread inside bones. He must now use this knowledge to create a race of Pillsbury Doughboys in time for the upcoming Genetics Fair.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I’m seeking representation for BREAD IN THE BONE, a 95,000-word work of women’s interest commercial fiction. [You can just say women's fiction. It's considered commercial, at least among women, who are the only people who buy books.] It’s the story of a woman who’s lost her mum to dementia, then loses her again—and again.

Maura Purkins looked after her confused, cantankerous mother round the clock for eight years. Now, on the day of her funeral, no less, she finds out they weren’t even related. Bit of a shock, that. But DNA doesn’t lie. Did mum? [We are gathered today to pay our respects to the departed. But first, here are the results of the DNA tests.] [You can do without "round the clock" and "no less."]

Husband Trevor goes apoplectic: seems he’s been counting on their half of the estate to salvage his flagging bakery. [If mum is dead and Maura's in the will, what's the problem?] [Money can help a business get off the ground, but if Trevor stubbornly insists on putting raisins in the cheese danish, his customers aren't coming back.] But nothing can stop our brave heroine. Brushing aside his panicked objections, Maura presses on to solve the mystery of her origins. Through pure pluck and a smidgen of luck, she uncovers the dodgy deeds that transpired when she was just a baby. She even tracks down her birth family—though it’s something of a letdown when she perishes in an icy motorway pileup on the way home. (Remember, it was just a smidgen of luck.) Do you really think women want to invest themselves in a main character only to have you kill her off in chapter five? Maura's ghost had better appear in the next paragraph.]

But all’s not lost. Poor, grieving Trevor promptly marries Maura’s younger sister—thus acquiring both shares of the inheritance—and lives happily ever after.

What? Did you think life was supposed to be fair?[No, but that's why we watch movies and read novels: to escape into a fantasy world where good things actually do occasionally happen to good (though fictional) people.]

Some personal background: my career’s been in life sciences and for the past ten years I’ve been a technical writer. What I produce in my day job isn’t exactly great literature, but it has taught me a writer’s discipline: working to deadlines, revising, accepting editorial direction. BREAD IN THE BONE is my first complete novel.

I’ve enjoyed reading authors you’ve worked with, particularly Author A and Author B; I hope I can interest you in [declaring me Author H and publishing] my book as well. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours, etc.


You seem to suggest that mum left half her estate to Maura, on condition that Maura prove with DNA that she is mum's blood relation. Is there some law against leaving something to the person you want to have it?

Why do you consider a book in which the heroine dies and a man ends up the big winner to be "women's interest" fiction?

The tone of the query is somewhat light for a book in which the MC spends eight years caring for a dementia-stricken parent and then dies in a car wreck. Is that the tone of the book itself? If the book isn't funny, you're giving the wrong impression. If the plot is amusing, you might toss in a couple examples, rather than just getting this across through tone.


Veronica Rundell said...

As a fan of women's fic, I'd be furious if the heroine died a third of the way in and the husband married the (non)sister to claim part of an inheritance of his (twice) mom-in-law's estate.

Also, I'm with EE--Leona Helmsley left millions to a dog. Whatever the will says, is what happens.

There may be a good story here, but the light tone and heavy subject don't seem to mesh.

A Perkins said...

What...the heck?

This query feels like I got punked, and not necessarily in a good way.

Watch our plucky heroine sacrifice her own life to care for another! Then find her mom's not her biological mom! Then overcome that obstacle (and a selfish hubby) and discover her own inner courage - just in time to die! Bwahaha! The end.

Seriously, it just feels cruel and cynical. While that may be exactly what you're aiming for, it's not my personal taste. Whatever cynicism I sometimes feel about the world, I don't often enjoy it in my entertainment.

I think your writing style is interesting and would initially draw me in, but I would be turned off the content.

And, can I just say:
"It’s the story of a woman who’s lost her mum to dementia, then loses her again—and again"

Worst. Groundhog Day. Ever.

150 said...

Is that the entire synopsis? At what part of the book does Trevor marry the sister? (Halfway? Last page?)

BuffySquirrel said...

The grounds on which a will can be challenged are pretty narrow. I was looking into this only last week for something I was writing.

And...yeah. No way is this women's fiction.

khazar-khum said...

I--I just don't get this. Maybe it would be better if we saw some of the writing itself. As it stands it seems to be impossibly contrived. Maybe Maura should possess her sister so she can get back at Trevor, the useless bastard. Or maybe it should be from Trevor's POV. Maura had time for everyone but him, so he began to flour and butter her sister, if you will.

Anonymous said...

Author here. Thanks to all (and especially to EE) for comments; I can’t thank you enough. And I can’t help responding either. So here goes:
‘Women…are the only people who buy books.’
Don’t I know it, and I want a piece of that pie. You won’t catch me wasting time churning out gritty police procedurals, I can tell you that.
‘But first, here are the results of the DNA tests.’
For the purposes of this letter, I think it’s enough to say that Maura finds out she wasn’t really her late mum’s biological daughter. Trouble is, I do like the way this sounds: ‘DNA doesn’t lie—did mum?’ OTOH, if it gives you pause, maybe I should just leave it out. What do people think?
(By the way, the 3-page synopsis makes it clear how a DNA test happened, but I’m not going to go into that here. If I did, you wouldn’t have to buy the book and I couldn’t quit my day job, which is Part One of my Master Plan. Nice try, Khazar-khum.)
‘You can do without "round the clock" and "no less."’
Agree, done, thanks.
‘If mum is dead and Maura's in the will, what's the problem?’
Now you’ve got me worried. Who said anything about a will? Most people never get around to making one . And once dementia strikes, it’s kind of late. Yet 3 out of 4 people so far assume there is one.
‘Do you really think women want to invest themselves in a main character only to have you kill her off in chapter five? Maura's ghost had better appear in the next paragraph.’
You know what I want those women to invest in? The cover price. After they buy the thing, I’m not going to worry (or know) if they ever finish it.
But I’m concerned about the perception of timing here. Maura doesn’t actually box it till quite near the end, so nobody should be flinging the book across the room till at least chapter twenty-two. Look, even in this letter, she hung on till the end of the third paragraph. So tell me the truth: does this query make you think she dies early in the story? If so, maybe I need to fix that. (Arnie Perkins got it right, I notice. Nice one, Arnie.)
Ghost, you ask? You might call it that, since Maura tells the entire story (including the ending) in the first person. (And that will be apparent if the agent decides to look at the submitted chapters. You see, here in the UK, the practice is to attach a synopsis and the first 2 or 3 chapters to the cover letter. No waiting for requests for ‘partials’ here.)

Anonymous said...

Author again, wittering on.

‘that's why we watch movies and read novels: to escape into a fantasy world where good things actually do occasionally happen to good (though fictional) people.’
Here’s the thing. After I found out it’s women buying all these books, I asked myself, ‘What exactly are they reading?’ Down to the local bookshop, and guess what I found? Shelf after shelf of pure tripe. Cor, I thought I’d gag. Maybe you know the kind of book I mean—pink covers with stilettos and champagne glasses all over the front and double-entendrey titles. Honestly, you’ve never read such stuff in your life. Moaning about bosses, moaning about boyfriends, moaning about husbands. And then some ridiculously implausible ending where the silly old cow gets a promotion or wins the lottery or marries the boss she’d been whinging about for a hundred and fifty pages because really he wasn’t such a bad sod after all once she bought him new trousers and made him get new glasses—bleh!

And that’s when it hit me—Part Two of my Master Plan, that is. What all these lady readers need is a story with a moral. You know, a cautionary tale. After all, isn’t the purpose of literature to entertain and instruct? So I instruct ’em, too. Lesson one: life isn’t fair. Lesson two: listen to your husband, and don’t go gallivanting off on journeys of self-discovery and self-fulfilment. Otherwise how’s he supposed to get his dinner? You see, if Maura had only listened to Trevor, she’d still be with us today. See? Cause, effect. A universe with some justice. Which I think is what EE was getting at.

Now I hear you, it’d be pretty depressing story if it just ended with Maura splattered all over the M20, like Hamlet or Tess of the d’Urbevilles or some dreary slop like that. There’s a recession on; people want a bit of levity. That’s why I tacked a happy ending on: Trevor marries Maura’s younger, prettier, more outgoing, and suddenly much wealthier little sister. Warms the cockles. But to keep it in perspective, that’s only the last page. Postscript, epilogue, coda, postlude. All the major characters (not mentioned in the query) are very much female; Trev is only a supporting player (well, sort of).
‘The tone of the query is somewhat light … If the plot is amusing, you might toss in a couple examples, rather than just getting this across through tone.’
It’s not amusing. It’s hilarious. Unlike Maura, I don’t suffer from a weak bladder, but whenever I read my manuscript—you get the picture. I really struggled through the revision because I break down in hysterics, every time.
But I’m intrigued by your suggestion to add details of funny situations. I already gave you one (the motorway crash); how many do you want? One worry: I’m afraid the letter’s already too long, especially by UK standards. (People tend not to witter on as much here.) Surely I’d have to cut something out if I squeeze in some more gags?

Anyhow, thanks for all your comments, which are all brilliant. Lurkers, please add yours; you know you want to. Where’s that bloke Dave F got to?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

What everyone else said, plus this:

Sounds like either Mom left a will dividing her worldly goods between the sisters-- no DNA test would affect that-- or she left no will, making her daughters her heirs by the law of intestacy.

If she died intestate, but believing, lifelong, that Maura was her daughter, and Maura cared for her for eight years while sharing the belief that she was mom's daughter, I highly doubt that any court is going to disinherit her, DNA test or no.

Also, why did she have a DNA test?

But those details are minor compared to the death of your protagonist. Readers don't read to be, as Perkins put it, punked.

Okay. We all have to break the conventions of storytelling now and then to see if we have something new to say. What we usually learn is why those conventions exist in the first place.

AA said...

I really do think you need to consider who your audience is here.

A women's story would end with the MC arriving back unharmed, having learned a lot about life, love and family. She gets home and finds out about hubby's unfaithfulness. This and his selfishness makes her decide to divorce him and start a new life on her own as a stronger, wiser person, possibly with a new love interest she met on her trip.

A paranormal story would have her haunting hubby from the grave, ruining his life.

A revenge fantasy would have the MC come back, find out about her cheating husband, kill him and her sister, and change her identity using the information she discovered on her trip.

A psychological thriller would have the scheming husband pulling the strings the whole time, with the MC only gradually coming to realize how truly evil he is over the course of the book. He would also be behind the car "accident."

What you've written- I have no idea what that is. Who wants to see this jerk win? Other greedy jackasses?

Mr Baskerville said...

I agree with the previous posters who found the death of Maura jarring. I think I would feel cheated, as a reader, if the story is in Maura's POV and she has no satisfying arc.

I liked the light tone of the query though.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I could read this, if the query really is an indication of plot and tone, because having the MC die and her cheating husband getting the great life he wants would just leave me bitter and depressed. It's a little too close to real life, if you get me.

In fact, I'm not much inclined to read any book where the MC dies and there's no resolution, except where such begets great insight into life, love, loyalty, and yadda yadda. But this query gives me no confidence that the story does any of that.

Jo Antareau said...

I get the feeling the query is fake. But I'll respond on the chance it's real.

Author ... Yeah, bad stuff happens to good people in real life, but this is fiction. You cant dump the MC mid way and have the other characters dance on her grave. Your readers will feel cheated for the time they invested in the character.

The only time I can think of a similar in plot-twist in fiction was when poor Tess Durbeyfield was hung for murder and her sister and boyfriend consoled one another. But this was on the last page or so, and the novel was dark throughout and the readers knew that Tess was doomed...

AA - I loved your genre breakdown.

Mister Furkles said...

I wasn't 'gunna say nothin' 'cause I don't know women's fiction. But here goes:

If this were literary fiction, it might work. Some novels have an ensemble – if that’s what it’s called – of main characters. An example is “As I Lay Dying” – Bill Faulkner. In such a case, Maura, her sister and Trevor would be equally important. With flashbacks, demented Mom can also be of equal importance. And toss in some sex too because that always helps literary fiction.

Of my friends and family, I’m the only one who reads literary fiction. There's never any problem getting the latest literary novel at the library either – really, no waiting list. I wonder why.

Two problems with writing literary fiction: (1) the prose must be stellar – ‘cause there’s no plot, and (2) it’s a very hard sell because only libraries buy it.

So, Author, try reading “As I Lay Dying” – yeah, just try – and see what you think. Also ask yourself if you write as well as Faulkner, Updike – the John H. version, Bellow, Harper Lee or Jong.

Better still, add zombies, ghosts, or werewolves.

Anonymous said...

I’ve sporadically dropped in on Evil Editor for some years now, though I’ve rarely left a comment. In terms of prose, this query is better than 90% of the queries I’ve seen here. You can read it start to finish and come away with the gist of the conflict and there’s a definite tone. From what I hear, most agent queries don’t begin to do that.
What people seem to be objecting to here is there’s no happy ending. You’ve violated their sensibilities on that count. But I remember way back in high school we studied something called tragedy. Who knows, maybe that’ll be the Next Big Thing. I wouldn’t go the zombie/werewolf route, as somebody suggested, that’s been done to death.
So the question is, do you want to play it cautious, and follow the advice here—which seems not only to be “trash your query” but “rewrite your book”—or do you want to take your chances on piquing an agent’s interest with what you’ve got. AA’s taxonomy of “women’s fiction” is probably right on the money, but it’s also a sad caricature of the genre today. Something that shakes it up would be a breath of fresh air. In fact, that’s already happening—anyone read Rosamund Lupton’s “Sister”? The protag dies at the end and the killer gets away. And it’s been a best-seller.
However, you should know your not only breaking the genre rules, you’re breaking the query rules too. From what I understand, the formula is: describe the steady state, mention the inciting or disrupting incident that creates conflict, and explain what’s at stake. You’ve done that, but added more (death of protag). That could kill your query, or it could be the rule-breaker that gets the attention. (Followers of Query Shark will know what I mean.) But don’t ask me, or anyone else here for that matter. If we were successful writers we probably wouldn’t be here.
Good luck, even if it is a fake.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Anonymous, it's my impression that several of the regulars here are successful writers.

I've found this to be true of other query sites as well. The regulars tend to be comprised of serious unpublished writers trying to make it, and published writers trying to give others a leg up.

If I were an unpublished writer trying to break in, I'd take the advice at this site very seriously indeed.

Just my .02.

Evil Editor said...

There's nothing wrong with an unhappy ending (unless the book is a romance, in which case it won't get published, so there's no need to work on improving the query).

However, this character's death has nothing to do with the story. If we're supposed to learn that seeking out your birth parents is a bad thing, I'd rather she die discovering that her birth parents are serial killers than in a car wreck on the way home.

Has there been conflict with the sister throughout the book? Has the sister been flirting with Trevor? Does the sister say, This isn't fair, you should get half the inheritance, and I'm giving it to you? Does she inform the lawyers that sis isn't a blood relation and try to steal Trevor even before Maura dies?

Would you want to follow Frodo all the way to Mount Doom only to have him die in an avalanche? Would you want Dorothy to make it back to Kansas and die in a freak tractor accident two hours later?

Evil Editor said...

Your earlier comment: You know what I want those women to invest in? The cover price. After they buy the thing, I’m not going to worry (or know) if they ever finish it."

...misses the point that before readers invest in your book you'll want an agent to invest in your career. And if the agent thinks the readers who invest in your book will never invest in another one of your books, she probably won't consider you a worthwhile investment.

Kelsey said...

"I asked myself, ‘What exactly are they reading?’ Down to the local bookshop, and guess what I found? Shelf after shelf of pure tripe. Cor, I thought I’d gag. Maybe you know the kind of book I mean—pink covers with stilettos and champagne glasses all over the front and double-entendrey titles."

I honestly don't know if this is serious or not. I'm not a huge reader of Chick Lit or women's fiction, but I am a woman, and I know enough not to slur an entire genre (and their readership!) just because it's not your cup of tea. Do you plan to have fans, a career? Then you NEED to care about how they'll respond to the ending--because if they throw Book 1 across the room in frustration, what do you think the odds are they'll pay good money for Book 2?

Maybe this simply should be commercial fiction with a female protagonist rather than women's fiction. You can break or twist some conventions of a genre, but the tone, I'd say more than anything else, still needs to have a passing resemblance to the genre's expectations. Good luck figuring it out.

Anonymous said...

‘Women…are the only people who buy books.’
Don’t I know it, and I want a piece of that pie. You won’t catch me wasting time churning out gritty police procedurals, I can tell you that.

I don't quite get your point here. Are you saying that those books don't sell to women? Because they do. And many are written by women, too. If you don't know jack about what women read, I suggest you don't pretend to write for them. Also, you should worry how much of your first book they read, presuming you want them ever to buy your second one. If not, fail away.

Veronica Rundell said...

I have read (and purchased) complete sets from many authors--Gabaldon, Moning,(Suzanne) Collins, VC Andrews, Blume--to name a few. Here's why: they are thrilling, funny, heart-breaking, thought-provoking, inspiring and they leave me looking for the NEXT book.

I don't buy women's fic for a moral or a lesson. I buy it to escape my life. I certainly don't want an author moralizing to me how I should listen to my husband. Millions of women out there are husbandless-by choice or chance. I can't imagine even a smidgeon of them finding the widower-marrying-the-sister end to be satisfying in the least. As that is your 'end' it would put an extremely sour aftertaste in your readers mouth--not get them to rush our for your next work.

And, frankly, THAT is how you achieve Goal #2--selling one novel won't pay your bills most likely. It is through continued sales that you develop a readership who CAN'T WAIT for your next book. (Diana Gabladon, I'm talking to you here!)

I'm rather certain no one aspires to be an unsuccessful author BTW. I think all my work is fantastic, too. (Makes you weep from its sheer poesy! EE take note you're missing out on the latest blockbuster!)

And then I step back and recognize there is an order to the publishing world. And if my book doesn't fit within that order it will never grace the stacks at Barnes & Noble because they don't build new shelves for the "Can't quite fit this into a category" books.

AA said...

Maybe we're all being too hard on this author. After all, genres have to change sometime. This could be marketed as a women's book for men. Sort of a transgendered book. In that case, I'm not sure England is quite open to that kind of thing yet. The book should be published in America.

It is odd that Dave hasn't weighed in yet.

Anonymous said...

Author here, I’m afraid I’m still recovering from Burns night or I’d have come back sooner to say thanks to everyone for all the comments.

AA: I was hoping to hear from Dave too. Don’t worry about being too hard. I’ve got a thick skin and thrive on honest criticism. In fact, I crave abuse.
Veronica Rundell (a fake name if I’ve ever hear one, BTW): I’m not too worried about shelf space at Barnes & Nobles, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be needing a couple tables up at the front of the shop! Let’s hope they can keep them stocked.
Kelsey: You’re right about book 2, but don’t confuse a query or a pitch with the blurb on the back of the book. The former’s designed to snag an agent, the latter to snag a reader. You can describe the same story in any number of ways.

But EE got me thinking…a lot of agents are dames, after all, and there’s no point getting them all confused. I reckon I should have one pitch for women agents and another for men (real men, that is). Right now I’ve got to go nurse my head but I’ll return soon as I can to show you the touchy-feely version.

Veronica Rundell said...

I think Jo Antareau had the right of it. I'd wager this whole thread is a fake. Kudos, Author.
Best wishes...