Monday, April 22, 2013

Face-Lift 1120

Guess the plot

The Unravelling

1. This homespun yarn follows four generations of the MacAilis family as they ship out from Glasgow and stitch together a new life in America.

2. Trapped in Hell, succubus Diavante develops a conscience and decides feeding off human passion is wrong. Will she keep her vow, or risk immortal torment as a wraith following her unravelling?

3. The lack of dreams leads to insanity. When a coalition of evil gods take the Dreamweaver hostage, the sanity of the universe begins to unravel. Can a plucky band consisting of a god, two shapeshifters, a porn star and an art appraiser rescue her before everything collapses into pure chaos?

4. Misanthropic genius Tolgania takes gene research a century ahead of his contemporaries. Using advanced neural networks, he designs a new species, a nearly indestructible predator that preys on people. Newly minted PhD microbiologist, Silvia Stennis must reverse engineer Tolgania’s discoveries and create a virus to destroy the predator species before humanity becomes extinct.

5. The fabric of the world is unravelling! Gargoyles are terrorizing cities! Only one woman with extrasensory powers can prevent disaster, but first she must deal with her own emotional problems or she'll be the one unravelling.

6. In Van Buren Arkansas, they roll up the sidewalks at 7 PM. One morning a crushed corpse falls out when the sidewalk is unraveled. Two mornings later another pancake-flat corpse falls out. Could little Van Buren have the world’s first sidewalk-crush serial killer?

7. The world's biggest ball of yarn rolls out of the world's biggest knitting basket to find himself. The world's biggest grandma is sad, but it's time to let him go. The world's biggest cat wants the yarn to himself. Can the yarn roll around the world before the cat unravels him?

8. It started small, a whisper of conflict between the owners of Lucky's Lady Emporium--Madison's elite gentleman's establishment. But, once that thread got pulled, it wasn't only the girls who were bared in ... The Unravelling.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Two young women leave a Paris nightclub after a bit too much to drink. One of them won’t make it home. [Will be be the American expatriate artist whose family was cursed by a Romani witch? Or will it be the enigmatic alchemist's partner, with the severe phobia of being touched?] The survivor will escape with the knowledge that monsters are real - and they look like the stone gargoyles from Notre Dame cathedral come to life. [Has anyone checked to see if the stone gargoyles are still up there?]

Callie Kincaid thought her life couldn’t get any less normal. [That feels like the wrong way to put it. It could be interpreted to mean her life is normal, and she'll never let anything make it less normal. Even if you don't buy that, there's always something that could make it less normal. She could move to Mongolia or sprout wings.] [Also, we've had sentences in present, future and past already.] She suffers from a severe phobia of being touched, and [an addiction to deep-tissue massages.] spiralling into a panic attack at the slightest brush of someone's skin against her own sucks. ["Severe phobia" is enough, no need to specify her precise symptoms.] She’s also penning strange notes in her sleep in someone else's handwriting. [Is "penning" still used? Also, does it bother anyone when I start keyboarding blue notes all over queries?] Now people keep getting killed in her neighbourhood. [They keep getting killed?] The murders are moving ever closer to her home, finally leading to the death of her best friend. Callie winds up partnering partners with enigmatic alchemist Remy Dane, the man who saved her from sharing her friend's fate, to find out why she's a target. Problem is, it's bad chemistry between her and Dane. [Alchemists are notorious for their bad chemistry.] Not only does his touch provoke a very different reaction from her usual panic, [That's bad?] they get along about as well as oil does with water.

The creatures terrorizing Paris seem to think Callie has something they're looking for, but as far as she's concerned she's just a normal girl who happens to be able to sense the emotions of others when she touches them. [The part before the "but" doesn't seem connected to the part after. Perhaps if you were more specific about what the gargoyles think Callie has. For instance: The creatures terrorizing Paris seem to think Callie has super powers that will help them destroy all of humanity, but . . .]  [Does touching someone who's feeling love and joy give her a panic attack?] Under the tutelage of Dane, Callie attempts to harness the extrasensory abilities that have hidden behind her phobia. As the fabric of the world begins to come undone, she needs to discover the root of her fears and the powers behind them before she's the one being taken apart. [Finding the root of her fear of being touched, which she has lived with most of her life, seems like small potatoes when the fabric of the world is coming undone. Shouldn't she and Dane save the world first? Is the world unraveling because of Callie? Is saying the fabric of the world is coming undone an exaggeration? All we know is that some gargoyles are terrorizing Paris. Is this happening everywhere? Are the The Concrete Cows in Milton Keynes, England, and the duck statues in Boston Public Garden coming to life and terrorizing people?]

THE UNRAVELLING is a 91,000 word urban fantasy and the first of a planned three-book series. [Is it a standalone novel with a satisfying ending, and the second book involves the lions at Buckingham Palace tormenting Callie? Or do I have to publish all three books to complete one story?] I'm a freelance journalist whose work has been published in (various newspapers and magazines) and many others. I've also worked as a scriptwriter and researcher for the nationally-televised non-fiction series (several shows).

Thank you for your consideration,


If Callie has what the gargoyles need, why are they terrorizing Paris? If they all surround her, they can easily get what they want from her and then terrorize Paris. 

In paragraph 2 Callie thinks her life couldn’t get any less normal. In paragraph 3, as far as she's concerned she's just a normal girl yadda yadda.

I can't tell if this takes place in modern times or in the days when people were proud to admit they were alchemists.


Tk said...

Ha ha alchemy puns - always fun!

Hi author,

Callie's weird abilities are common in urban fantasy, but if you can make them tie to the plot I think you can show how your version of emotion-sensing stands out. There's a key moment when knowing someone's emotion saves the world, right? I'm also not clear how alchemy is going to solve anything - either for Callie or the monsters. Unless Remy can change stone into something benign? (Though, you'd usually think stone wasn't particularly *actively* evil.)

Echo the confusion over the time period.

Any reason why Callie isn't French?

Veronica Rundell said...

Cut the first paragraph. Focus on Callie and describe her ESP upfront so she doesn't sound like a germaphobe.

From the title and the 'first in a three-part series' I feel like Callie is unsuccessful in preventing total gargoyle domination in this book--that books two and three are necessary to complete the story. It can be a hard sell for a first-time novelist. If the first book can stand alone, say so.

Please highlight why Remy can train Callie. The word 'alchemist' is like Mage, it wreaks of high fantasy, IMO. try to isolate Callie's stakes better. The end of everything is kind of amorphous, and hyperbolic. It feels insurmountable and depressing.

I think the premise is interesting, but in my head it's the Fever series by Moning, with gargoyles. If it's like that, cool, but Moning was a best selling author before she got to write such a long series.

The sentences are long and unwieldy, which detracts from tension. It makes me feel like the manuscript will be wishy-washy, too.

I can't believe that a person who senses the emotions of anyone she touches considers herself to be "Normal" nor can I believe she'd be out late clubbing, as this is the surest way to be groped incessantly--so make is make sense.

Try to focus on Callie, her powers, and how she attempts to save the world from gargoyles.

What, BTW, do the gargoyles want? Disney had a whole cartoon series about them in the 90's--they were mankind's saviors. Do-holders helping crime victims and such, so I'm a little sad to learn they've gone rogue in gay Paris.

BuffySquirrel said...

Mostly when people refer me to Notre Dame's gargoyles, they're not gargoyles at all. Are your gargoyles actually gargoyles?

If Callie's phobia is that strong, how does Remy get to touch her at all? Basically it comes across as if he touches her against her will yet she likes it. And that comes across as a tad...well.

And what's the significance of them having had a few drinks in the nightclub? How is that connected with the attack on them? If they'd stayed stone cold sober and gone to pray in ND instead, they wouldn't have been attacked? Eh.

You have a lot of superfluous detail in the query. Callie and her friend are attacked by strange creatures and Callie is rescued by alchemist Remy Dane. Despite her severe phobia of being touched, Callie finds herself attracted to Remy and begins to discover the extrasensory powers her phobia has hidden from her. Etc.

Dave Fragments said...

When I read that she could spiral into a panic attack aa the slightest touch by some stranger -- you lost me.

I'm mildly claustrophobic and I do avoid crowded situations. If I touched people and "felt" or "experienced" their emotions that way, I'd never leave the house let alone go clubbing.

Clubbing is an orgy of flesh that I would never let myself experience. A crowded elevator is enough to rattle my nerves into screaming if I let it.

I can't get past that description in your query.

Mister Furkles said...

Knowing what somebody is thinking when touched is not that unusual. I once knew a girl like that. She was a pole dancer and every time a guy touched her she knew exactly what he was thinking. Here is the weird part: they were all thinking the same thing. Can you imagine?

Veronica Rundell said...

Mr. F you are sooo naughty.

CavalierdeNuit said...

This sounds like a cool read. Gargoyles, Paris, a hot alchemy guy.

But I do agree with the comments about being touched. And why would someone who doesn't like to be touched go to a club? I went to a Vegas club Sat and danced in a circle of crazies and we were all touching each other. Someone had a portable hookah and was passing it around (ick).

Remy could perhaps open her up a bit? If you're going for a gothic angle the heroine usually "discovers" her sexuality with a brooding hottie at one point in the story. The chemistry she has with Remy is at first intimidating, but he eases her into a magical experience, and helps her defeat the enemy.

Perhaps there are good and bad gargoyles?

CavalierdeNuit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AA said...

I really had a hard time getting through even half this query. It's so word dense.

I agree with everyone else (especially Dave) who said that someone with a severe phobia of being touched going out clubbing does not ring true. I myself have had panic attacks in the past. One of the attacks was so bad I had to avoid going in my bedroom for three days afterward because the bedroom was where I had the attack. I couldn't see the spot where it happened without panicking again. I finally trained myself to go back in using sunglasses! So, yeah, huge logic problem there.

"Callie winds up partnering partners...." LOL

"they get along about as well as oil does with water." Since you're talking about an alchemist, you need a better metaphor than this trite old saying. Preferably something having to do with chemistry.

"The creatures terrorizing Paris seem to think Callie has something they're looking for, but as far as she's concerned she's just a normal girl who happens to be able to sense the emotions of others when she touches them." This makes Callie seem unusually stupid. It's like saying, "All the single women around him seem to want something from him, but as far as Dave is concerned he's just an ordinary eligible bachelor who happens to be rich."

"As the fabric of the world begins to come undone, she needs to discover the root of her fears and the powers behind them before she's the one being taken apart." "Fabric" and "root" and "taken apart" make this a 3x mixed metaphor. Choose a category for your imagery: Sewing, Nature or Mechanics. Then stick with it for the length of the metaphor.

Please say that this is a standalone novel with a complete storyline. Trying to pitch 91,000 words with series potential is certainly doable. Trying to pitch 270,000 is not technically impossible, but it isn't recommended.

nicolebross said...

Hi, I'm the query's author. I want to thank Evil Edittor and all the commentors for their insight. Having fresh eyes on the letter has been invaluable in showing me where the problems lie.

Having re-written the manuscipt a handful of times by now, I knew for example that when Callie goes to the club she sits in a private section and doesn't go near the dance floor... but anyone reading only the letter wouldn't. I need to look at it from the perspective of someone who's never seen the book before.

There actually isn't a moment where knowing someone's emotion saves the world - the phobia is purely an obstacle, an extra thing to deal with while everything else is going on. It has a definite role in the plot but it's never going to make things easier for Callie.

Many thanks again. I'm going to let the comments stew in my head for a bit and then re-write the letter.

AA said...

"I knew for example that when Callie goes to the club she sits in a private section and doesn't go near the dance floor."

This explains a lot. Still...A phobia IS a phobia. It seems odd to me she'd go INTO a club. Like a person with a phobia of snakes wouldn't sit just outside the reptile house at the zoo. What if one escapes?!!! And, anyway, you're not going to tell me it's so private she's the only person there. I really get the feeling you just don't know what the word phobia means.

"the phobia is purely an obstacle, an extra thing to deal with while everything else is going on. It has a definite role in the plot but..."

If this phobia doesn't keep Callie from doing what she needs to do, and it doesn't end up helping her either, what's it doing clogging up the query? I suspect it's also not needed in the story, but I don't know that for certain. Just make sure you aren't just throwing in obstacles for the sake of having-to-be-overcome.

nicolebross said...

I'm definitely going to scrap the mention of the club in the letter altogether.

When you suffer from a phobia, you really have two choices about it - you can let it control the way you live your life, or you can do what's called challenge therapy, where you deliberately put yourself in situations that make you phobic in an effort to desensitize yourself to the fear. I definitely understand what the word means, having suffered from one most of my life. Not the same one as my character, but as severe. It's true that a lot of people take the attitude that they'll just avoid any situations that will make them panic (which is totally fine), but if the person with the fear of snakes wants to overcome it, he or she SHOULD sit outside the reptile house - inside it even! Stare them right in the eyes! - because you can't desensitize to a phobia by avoiding it. And the MC's goal is to overcome her fear, so she does things like go to a nightclub even though it scares the crap out of her. It definitely does keep her from doing what she needs to do or affects the way she approaches situations, but I need to get that across more clearly in the query. There really wouldn't be a story without it.

Kelsey said...

"There actually isn't a moment where knowing someone's emotion saves the world - the phobia is purely an obstacle, an extra thing to deal with while everything else is going on."

Hey author,
If I read a novel where the MC's main hook was that she could sense other people's emotions by touching their skin--and then that fact DOESN'T MATTER to the final resolution of the main plot line--I'd feel cheated. (And I'm a sucker for gargoyles!)

I get the feeling you're trying to avoid having this turn into some catch-all superpower, (if this is true, good) but come on! If the emotion-sensing doesn't reveal information crucial to the main plot, or isn't the main obstacle blocking or misdirecting C. from resolving the plot, what the heck is it doing in your story?

Your MC could have any number of obstacles. She could be blind. She could be 12. She could be dying of cancer or accidentally channel demons. If she senses people's emotions through touch, it better matter. If you ask your plot, "Why does she have to have this power, and this phobia?" and the only answer you get back is "cause it seems cool," you're in trouble.

(Also--you mentioned C. goes to crowded places to actively challenge her phobia. Well, why didn't cha say so? That makes her sound much more interesting!)

I'm sure you can work it out, so hopefully that will come through in revision. Good luck!