Saturday, January 12, 2013

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Expedi- tion Between Two Worlds

1. Holly's goal for high school is singular: become one of the cool kids. Having made the cheer squad, she's well on her way. But as she looks back on what she's giving up--including the girl who's been her best friend since fourth grade--she begins to wonder if her new world is worth the sacrifice.

2. Dr. Edward Malone's team of archaeologists discover an ancient interdimensional portal and find themselves in a strange world of prehistoric creatures. Mistaken for members of a lost environmental assessment team, Edward and his people must find a way to keep the high-tech Kollons from consuming every natural resource on the planet.

3. A geographer and his nineteen-year-old daughter set out on a 500-mile horseback ride to explore backcountry of the American southwest. After dealing with peevish animals, saddle sores and unpredictable weather, they run out of water. Will they die of thirst before they find a working divining rod? Probably.

4. Carly always knew that she was a man trapped in a woman's body. But just as she decides to take the surgical plunge to become Carl, she discovers she's pregnant. She has nine months to decide--will she make a better mommy or daddy?

5. Megalomania and agoraphobia don't mix, and Hank 'The Swank' Closetsniffer treads the fine line between life as an exuberant belly dancer and intern #2396645r with aplomb. When Sally the Go-Go dancing manic depressive discovers him in a karaoke bar, his future hinges on a single synaptic knob.

6. A decade after the death of his wife in a tragic sculling incident, border patrolman Clint Fujimaki still believes she was murdered. The serial killer known as "The Drowner" hasn't sunk a victim in years, but when illegals begin bobbing up in the Rio Grande, Fujimaki has a sinking feeling that his wife's murderer has returned.

Original Version

Dear Ms. Agent:

EXPEDITION BETWEEN TWO WORLDS will be a narrative nonfiction book which will retrace the route of the first American military incursion into Navajo country in 1849, shortly after the U.S. occupied New Mexico. The book will examine the political and cultural positions of Navajos and Anglos, past and present, and give Navajos opportunities to express their perspectives. ["You subjugated my proud ancestors more than a century and a half, and now you want my perspective? Bite me, pal. How's that for perspective?"] Their views are often overlooked since, in general, history is written by the victors. [History written by the losers might be more accurate, but it would have a lot more f-bombs.]

The Simpson Expedition, named after its leader Lt. James Simpson, is significant for several reasons.

1. It was the first American exploration of the vast land of the Navajos,

2. The United States made a noble, but naïve, attempt to end raids between New Mexicans and Navajos,

3. Navajos assessed the "New Men" and exhibited remarkable forbearance in the face of provocations, [This list is dullsville already. Throw in specific examples of provocations, concentrating on massacres, torture, and hidden camera stunts.]

4. Americans stumbled upon the extensive ruins of Chaco Canyon (larger and better preserved that those at Mesa Verde) and the sublimely beautiful Canyon de Chelly, the Navajo heartland, and

5. The expedition yielded a clash of cultures where values, objectives, and political systems were totally different and incompatible.

I propose to ride on horseback with my nineteen year-old daughter, [Are you sure your horse can handle that much weight?] accompanied at times by Navajo leaders, scholars, and other tribal members, [My God, that poor horse!] along 500 miles of the route taken by Simpson. [500 miles? That's like riding a horse from Maine to Virginia. And then the horse dies like in Gone with the Wind and you have to walk all the way back. And your daughter's okay with this? How many ways has she tried to get out of it so far? When I was nineteen I would have found some way to get out of a two hour car ride with my parents. I suggest you leave immediately, before she comes to her senses.] The journey will explore Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, El Morro (also called Inscription Rock because of the carvings made on it over thousands of years), [I don't care how old they are, carvings in rock lose my interest after about three minutes.] and Blue Bead Mountain, renamed Mt. Taylor by Simpson. [He should have renamed it Bluebeard Mountain and turned it into a pirate theme park. He'd be as famous as Disney instead of an obscure footnote in history.] It is sacred to Navajos as the site of creation of the Diné, the Navajos' name for themselves. [They thought we'd be nicer to them if they had a French-sounding name.] [Didn't work. Turned out we hate the French even more than the Navajos.]

The book will:

1. Examine the attitudes of both nations in 1849 and the present,

[Attitude of the Navajo Nation, 1849: Friggin' Anglos.

Attitude of the Navajo Nation, 2008: Friggin' Anglos.]

2. Demonstrate the outlooks of young people in both cultures as my daughter makes acquaintances with Navajos her age, [So that's why you're dragging her along. Keep an eye on her or you might end up riding home with a papoose.]

3. Provide striking photographs and vivid descriptions of spectacular landscapes, ruins, and rock art few people see, and [When I think of rock art, I'm inclined to think of stuff like this.


4. Convey the adventure of traveling across roadless backcountry, dealing with fractious animals and unpredictable weather, hunting for water, and unusual encounters (from both perspectives) between Navajos and Anglos.

[5. Be given free to anyone who shows up at my place for weekly slide shows of the trip .]

My platform is that I was a professor of geography at the University of New Mexico where I became an ardent student of the Southwest. [Can I email you the next time I can't remember whether it's Arizona left of New Mexico or vice versa?] [I also get Alabama and Mississippi mixed up, but apparently that's not your area of expertise.] I am an accomplished photographer, and my daughter and I are veterans of long horse trips.

At your request I will provide a [more] detailed proposal. The book's length is expected to be 80,000 words.


The second list is okay, as there's not much connection among its items, but the first list could easily be converted into a meaty paragraph (or two) about the Simpson expedition. You may have to add some information to make it flow smoothly, but this is where you sell the proposal and where you show you can write. Make the expedition sound worthy of a book. That list didn't make me want to know more about the Simpson expedition.

You might consider opening with the expedition info.

Although nonfiction is often sold through a proposal, this sounds like something they'll want to see the goods on before making a commitment. It's not clear what you're going to come up with. If you can arrange to get attacked by a Navajo war party, it would help.

Selected Comments

Dave F. said...You are selling not a dry historical novel, but a passionate trip back into history by an expedition traveling the path of the Simpson Expedition. And you are covering the trip from the perspectives of (white european) Scholars, Navajo tribe members, and the youth of America as typified by your daughter. It is the expedition that gives this a new perspective rather than being just another history book. Hopefully, you will gain new insights into the meeting of two cultures. or possibly, make that meeting of cultures accessible to a wide audience.

So I guess I'm saying, you need a bit of emotion. You need a bit of wonder. A touch of showmanship. After all, New Mexico is breathtaking country and the Navajo had a magnificent culture.

Anonymous said...This is a test comment. If it appears, then I'll know that EE has been censoring my comments for stupidity, and I'll go away!

150 said...I'm no editor or agent, obviously, but this sounds like a thing where you should just do it and then see what's worth writing about, rather than expect someone to want to pay you upfront for your summer vacation. Your platform IMO doesn't warrant that.

writtenwyrdd said...I think this has 2 problems. First that the trip should be accomplished first. Second that you probably need some bona fides that are tied in with the book. Being a geography professor and accomplished photographe are indeed relevant; but they don't come across as bona fides in the letter.

Khazar-khum said...Want to know the Navajo perspective? Why not go to, say, Window Rock and talk to people?

Why does this have to be an elaborate endurance trail ride for you, your daughter, and some horses? Too often these 'adventure into history' trips become a disaster, with the horses suffering at the hands of well-meaning but clueless riders.

I'm with 150: I don't want to pay for your vacation.

Wes said...Don't confuse endurance riding with trail riding. Endurance riding covers 100 miles in ten hours, and I have no desire to do that. Trail riding is leisurely. I can't very well take pictures and talk to people doing endurance riding. Window Rock is on the way from Canyon de Chelly to El Morro. I would have appointments there, because that's the seat of the Tribal government.

And EE is right. It's 528 miles from Kennebunkport, ME to Alexandria, VA.

Yes, mishaps happen. While packing in to hunt elk, one of my group was pitched off his horse and broke his hand. He lived, and two surgeries later his hand is almost as good as it was. Avoiding problems or dealing with them will supply tension in the book. There will be problems; there always are with large animals.

Khazar-khum said...wes, I know the difference between trail rides and endurance rides.
But to cover 500+ miles in a reasonable amount of time, you will have to do a bit more than 5-8 miles/day. Especially since there may not be any horse-friendly spaces between destinations.

You might talk to the Navajo tribal leaders, and see if they might be able to recommend some trails/roads for you. That way you could perhaps offer a vista of a land remote from the typical destinations of Chaco or de Chelley.

Wes said...I don't want to take roads. There are none east to west, except where Simpson crossed the Chuska Mountains and named the pass after his commander, which still pisses off the Navajos because they had named the pass after their primary chief who was killed by Simpson's men 15 minutes after he signed a treaty with Simpson's commander.

Talpianna said...The thing is, this has pretty much already been done by Douglas
Preston, one of the founding members of the Long Riders Guild as well as a bestselling novelist--see CITIES OF GOLD and TALKING TO THE GROUND. He didn't cover the exact same ground, but he seems to have pretty well covered the subject.

Moth said...How do you KNOW there will be "unusual encounters (from both perspectives) between Navajos and Anglos" how do you KNOW }ou can "Demonstrate the outlooks of young people in both cultures as my daughter makes acquaintances with Navajos her age". You just seem to me to be putting the cart before the horse (if I were feeling clever I might write a pun about your trail horse and a cart but my brain's not working so I will refrain) and taking a lot on faith. This sounds more like a memoir-type book and as I understand it publishers will buy the book before you've written it, but why are they going to buy it before you've even done something worth writing about?

BuffySquirrel said...This sounds like it's something I should be interested in, and yet the query leaves me cold. Maybe because nothing's happened yet.

Phoenix said...Hi Wes! Isn't memoir and narrative nonfiction (NNF) like fiction in that the agent/editor expects the work to be complete before submitting? Since NNF relies on great voice and, well, narrative, I would think you need to demonstrate both before anyone would be willing to gamble on your work. Especially with your platform. Sorry. Professorship isn't really very strong.

As for the query, remember that the emphasis on NNF is on that first N. It's the story. And it's obviously difficult to talk about the story when you have just a vague idea of what that story will be.

My take (though I agree with Moth's cart-before-the-horse assessment):

When Lt. James Simpson swept through Navajo country in 1849, the U.S. Government's noble but naive attempt to end hostilities between New Mexicans and Navajos ended in [bloodshed]. The infamous Simpson Expedition served only to highlight the incompatibility between the values, objectives and political systems of the Anglos and Navajos.

EXPEDITION BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, a proposed 80,000-word narrative nonfiction book, will explore the repercussions of that culture clash in 1849 and the consequences that continue to linger today. The book will tie the rich history of the Navajo heartland to the present through the eyes of Navajo leaders, scholars and other tribal members I'll be interviewing as I ride the same 500 miles Simpson rode across the desert Southwest.

Fractious horses, unpredictable weather and spectacular landscapes will no doubt punctuate the route as well. An accomplished photographer, I will capture the mysteries of locations such as Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and Inscription Rock as seen today and describe their importance as Simpson would have known them 160 years ago.

The perspectives of my 19-year-old daughter, who will accompany me, along with the insights of modern Navajo youths [still living on the reservation], will provide a sense of where Navajos see themselves headed as a people: assimilated into the Anglo world or [continuing to cling to a culture nearly unrecognizable as the one Simpson's Expedition left behind.]

As a past professor of geography at the University of New Mexico and a veteran of long trail rides, I can tap a wide audience who loves history as well as ones interested in horseback adventures and all things Southwest.

The prologue and first chapter are attached. [I'll be making the trip this summer, and can have a complete manuscript on your desk by September.]

Wes said...Marvelous, Phoenix!!! That's wonderful writing. It's a huge improvement over mine. Can I steal it? Better yet, wanna ride along? I'll get you a great quarter horse.

Wes said...Talpianna, Thanks for the tip about the Long Riders Guild. I was not aware of it. It's website is impressive.

There is room for more books in this general area. I've read Preston's CITIES OF GOLD. In fact it was one of inspirations for this project. Preston focused on Coronado, who in my opinion should have one of the hottest corners in hell. Yet the uninformed in the Southwest still revere him. My project would have significant differences. The two expeditions are over 300 years apart (1849 vs. 1540), and because Simpson's was so recent (comparatively speaking)there will be much more oral history. Add different countries sponsoring the expeditions, different goals, different tribes, different, more beautiful country, extensive ruins, and there will be enough differentiation.

I've not read TALKING TO THE GROUND, but I ordered it. It's currently out of stock at Amazon.

Julie Weathers said...Wes, I lived on some Indian reservations when I was younger. Still love going to pow wows. This would be a marvelous experience if you do it.

As we discussed, my editor at the magazine packed into the mountains and followed a herd of wild horses, writing articles about them. She sold them to a wide variety of publications, including some eastern and European magazines and did quite well.

You might think about doing an abbreviated version of this and selling magazine articles. Then you have a platform to build on.

I think it would be fascinating, but I like Indians, horses and history, so it's right up my alley.

Wes said...Julie, Thanks for the encouragement. I agree that doing a short segment of this, even if it's by 4WD, will be beneficial as a demostration to publishers and to prepare for the main journey. I've done several trips of a hundred miles or so, but five hundred miles will add more challenges.
I'm sure your editor had fabulous experiences riding with wild horses. My daughters and I rode with a herd near Grand Junction. It was alternately beautiful, thrilling, and scary. Having a stud come roaring off the side of a mesa to face you off gives pause. One thought I had was if I do this, I'll need to take geldings in case we run into a herd of wild horses. I've been in the middle of fights between horses when I was a kid on the farm, and I don't want to do it again.

Wes said... Hampton Sides, in his bestseller of last year, BLOOD AND THUNDER, has a brief but poignant account of part of Simpson's expedition in pp. 198-241. Simpson's journal is still in print (NAVAJO EXPEDITION, edited by Frank McNitt, University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), but it's pretty dry.

I bought some new, more detailed, maps today to plot Simpson's route. I was surprised and pleased to see the new maps use Narbona Pass rather than Washington Pass, the name given by Simpson after the soldiers killed Chief Narbona at the peace conference. This is part of a movement by Indians to reclaim part of their heritage. Some of the pueblos in NM have changed their names from what the Spanish called them to their native ones. These are but two topics of scores that could be explored on the pack trip.

1 comment:

150 said...

Huh. Always nice to see when I still agree with myself.