Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Face-Lift 1182

Guess the Plot

Things I Can't Unsee

1. Vampires crashing my mother's funeral.

2. My sister choking to death on the jerky I gave her.

3. My grandparents having sex on the floor.

4. Happy Gilmore

5. My gym teacher's penis.

6. Satan killing my family.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Enid Apcarne is a good girl who’s lived a sheltered life for eighteen years—[ When I hear the phrase "good girl" I assume we're talking about a four-year-old or a dog, not an eighteen-year-old.] [Also, the name "Enid Apcarne" sounds like a name that somewhere in the book is going to turn out to be an anagram of something, and the key to solving a mystery. For instance:

 Canine Padre


                                Darn Nice Ape

The darn nice ape, of course, is Magilla Gorilla. I haven't thought about Magilla Gorilla in decades, but fortunately his theme song is available at YouTube. Which I mention not because the theme song is good, but because what if you were one of the singers on the theme song, and it turned out that the most impressive thing you ever did in your life was to sing on this theme song? Would you put it on your resume? Could you even live with yourself? Anyway, do you really want your readers stopping on page 1 to try to solve an anagram?] until strangers crash her mother’s funeral and freak her father, Morcant, right the hell out. Though he tries hard, he can’t hide his closet-skeletons from her for long.

Morcant’s a law-abiding, church-going man now, but he wasn’t always. He’s a vampire who spent nearly 900 years killing, maiming, and wreaking general havoc before settling down. [Hey, we all go through our wild periods.] The strangers are fellow vampires from Morcant’s law-breaking, church-burning days who want to draw him back into his old life. They try to kill Enid and her younger brother, Geraint, [Anagram: ingrate.] and only barely fail. [If I were trying to convince one of my old army buddies to join me in painting the town red for old time's sake, murdering his children would not be high on my list of inducements. Maybe it's different with vampires.] Then they kidnap Geraint, intending to turn him into a vampire. While Morcant gets distracted by his former lover, [I gotta go rescue my son from . . . You look fantastic for 700 years old, babe.] Enid struggles to stop the vampires from ripping her family apart, preferably before [they rip her throat apart.] she becomes their next victim.

But then she learns that Morcant’s not really her father, [Did he adopt her? I ask because an adoption agency would have to be pretty lax to let a guy with 900 years of killing, maiming and church burning in his past pass a background check.] and she’s not quite human herself. She can see visions of people’s pasts—a dangerous gift around someone with that much blood on his hands. [She's been around him for eighteen years.] The more she learns about Morcant’s past, the less sure she is that she even wants to save him. [It's not Morcant who needs saving; it's Geraint. And ASAP.]

THINGS I CAN’T UNSEE is a 122,000-word YA urban fantasy novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The opening phrase isn't grabbing me. How about: The day of Enid Apcarne's mother's funeral was a downer even before the gang of vampires crashed the service and demanded that Enid's father join them on a church-burning/killing spree. And things only went downhill from there.

This "not quite human" aspect comes in kind of late. Are her visions the only thing making her not quite human? Because if she has no other powers, it's hard to buy a gang of vampires failing to kill her. Unless she's wearing a garlic necklace, holding a cross, and the sun is just coming up.

Is Morcant Geraint's father? Where's Enid's father?

Even though it's not all backstory and setup, it doesn't take us very far into the book. Basically, Enid finds out stuff about her father's past, and that he's not her father, and that she suddenly can see other people's pasts. So what does she do with this knowledge? What does she want? How does she plan to get it? What happens if she fails?


khazar-khum said...

Geraint & Enid? Somebody likes Arthurian romances, don't they?

Why is she just now seeing things about Morcant with her psychic vision? Did that magically turn on when she hit 18? Or was it always present?

SB said...

Hi, author here.

First, EE, your comments made me literally LOL, especially the "darn nice ape" part.

No, no one's name is an anagram. When you first meet Enid in the book, you don't see her full name all at once like that, so hopefully it comes off less strange. Like khazar-khum said, I got the names from the Arthurian romance (this is actually mentioned/explained in the book). Plus, Enid means 'soul', which I like in the context of a vampire story. Plus it's an old lady name, and it amuses me to give it to a teenager. But I decided on Geraint first, naming him after an actor who played a vampire on an old cult show, because that also amused me. Your anagram of his name, BTW, is actually pretty accurate.

I'm afraid the strange statement about Enid saving Morcant comes from not reading it carefully enough after I'd changed something farther up the query. So I'll definitely have to fix that.

I'll work on the opening phrase, too. I see what you mean that it's not very grabbing.

I'll try to find a way to bring in a bit of the 'not quite human' aspect earlier. It's a bit tricky because she doesn't find out about him not being her dad until the halfway point, and all the explanation about who is her dad, and lots of other stuff about their family, is quite complicated. This is the first book in a series, and some of the questions raised about that don't even get answered in this first book. You said it doesn't get us very far into the book, but this actually covers stuff a ways past the midpoint. I suppose I'm having trouble with some of this because it's one of those character- and relationship-centered books rather than a high concept story, and it always seems harder to sum those up in poppy ways.

It seems that I need to add something about how she suddenly starts getting these visions and wasn't having them all along.

Also, there's a love story aspect to this book, though I didn't include it because it's not the driving plot. Do you think I should make some mention of it in there?

Another question: Those questions that you put in your notes... do you mean that all of them need to be answered in the query? It seems like a certain amount of raising and not answering questions is expected of a query. But of course I don't want to just leave people confused.

Thanks for your comments. I'll consider them as I figure out how to revise, and hope that others will comment and give me some more feedback to consider as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert on ancient British mythology, but I aleays thought Enid and Geriant were a couple, not brother and sister. Doesn't that make it a bit creepy?
I agree with EE that the query needs more emphasis on Enid's powers and her not-quite human background. However, details are scant and the hints about Enid's abilities are not quite enough to be a strong hook. Plus there appears no good reason to save Morcant at all, now they're not related and he's a not-nice guy. Why should Enid care?

By the way, EE, if you want we minions to invent some really bitchin' GTPs, you really should leave the title in the queue for longer than 10 seconds. I missed this ome and I promise I WAS checking regularly.

Evil Editor said...

Sorry, I thought I posted the title when it came in and I was getting annoyed that no one had submitted anything. In retrospect, I think I was on my ipad when I first saw it and decided to put it off till I was on the desktop because it's easier to make things bold and green. By the time I realized the title wasn't in the queue I was out of other stuff to post. Plus the author had already waited three or four days, and waiting for five fake plots could have taken another week. Plus my fake plots weren't that bad.

Veronica Rundell said...

Hi author,

Some query notes:
I'd cut cursing out of the query. In the book, okay, but the query is a different beast. Be professional. Formal, to a degree.

How is it that Enid can stop a vampire from turning her? Is it only Morcant's influence that keeps her protected? Some of this must go toward motivation for her to keep Morcant alive and around.

Be specific about Enid's abilities and how this will help her rescue herself and her brother. We need to see that she can save her own world. No need to be coy--this is the biggest selling point of the book.

Some manuscript notes:
I get your reasons for naming, but I can't say that the name Enid will grab a teen reader. Sorry. It IS an old lady name, and that is going to be a stumbling point for a young audience. Consider (seriously) making it something more teen-friendly. If I was picking this one up, I'd put it right back down because Enid (yuck) is so old and hokey-sounding I'm imagining a grey-haired granny stabbing vamps with wooden knitting needles... And I READ this genre.

Also, I can tell you right now, that word count is a giant hurdle to overcome. Series, or not, a new author will not sell an urban fantasy/paranormal romance that exceeds 100.000 words. No way. No how. Also, vampires are absolutely murder to sell right now. Most publishers have a backlog of vamp series' in the can. Check any YA agent's website/twitter feed. If you can find ten that don't say NO VAMPIRES I'll buy you a beer.

Good luck!

SB said...

Thanks for the comments! Okay, so it sounds like I need to think about changing Enid's name. I'll ponder this.

And yeah, I know that my wordcount and the fact of vampires makes this pretty much unsellable, at least to agents and publishers. I've kind of resigned myself to keeping it in my pocket at this point and trying to pull it out again when the market's more favorable. But I thought getting feedback on the query would still be good, even if only for practice for future books.

CavalierdeNuit said...

Oh my, this was a good and funny one. EE, I thought you were making a point by not putting anything in the queue and blaming the minions for not submitting. Now it makes sense.

SB said...

Okay, here's a different version of the query. This may take several tries, but I'm hoping if I can get feedback on them, I might be able to work out a good one eventually...

What’s harder for a high school girl than single-handedly trying to save her brother from vampires? Doing it while going gradually insane.

When two strangers interrupt her mother’s funeral with a fit of giggles, Enid Apcarne is pissed. When a monster rampages through her house a few hours later, she’s terrified. When she finds out that her father, Morcant--the law-abiding, church-going public servant who raised her for eighteen years—-is a vampire, Enid . . . well, kinda saw that one coming.

The strangers are Morcant’s evil vampire buddies from his law-breaking, church-burning days. They want him back, and they’re willing to destroy Enid and her younger brother, Geraint, to get him. Soon, Geraint’s captured and Morcant’s succumbing to the lure of his old life. Her uncle wants her to skip town for her own safety, but Enid is determined to save her brother, even if she has to do it alone.

But vampires aren’t the biggest secret her family’s been keeping. Enid herself starts changing, her own mind and body betraying her as she becomes something even her centuries-old vampire father’s never heard of. All she wants is to keep her mind, her family, and her life . . . but a girl can’t have it all.

CHERRY CITY is a 122,000-word urban fantasy, the first in a planned series.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cil said...

I don't like the first paragraph. It's not catching my interest and it makes it seem very similar to a lot of other books. Plus my understanding is that her gradually going insane is what helps out.

At first I couldn't work out if this was serious or a comedy. From reading above it seems serious, so I would make the language more formal.

The kind of sees that one coming comment threw me. Anyone who is hasn't seen a vampire before would be surprised. Unless her fathee drank her blood as he tucked her in at night (which would be too creepy).

I would elaborate on her insanity, powers and what she is becoming. I am guessing that is the point of difference for this story.

I would also cut the last sentence before the credits.

Good luck

Evil Editor said...

I agree with Cil:

Dump the 1st paragraph.
Change "pissed" to "angry."

Explain why she already suspected her father was a vampire or get rid of she saw it coming.

You say vampires aren't the only secret her family's been keeping, suggesting that whatever Enid is becoming is a family secret. But you also say her father's never heard of this. So who is it who's keeping this secret?

Most of this is setup. The story is what happens after Gerraint is captured. What's Enid's plan, what goes wrong, what choice must she make in order to reach her goals? We want more story and less of the situation when the story begins.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Your writing is still coming off as too informal. "Pissed" and "kinda" maybe fine for dialogue but in a query, they may scare an editor by suggesting that there's going to be a lot to clean up in your already lengthy book. And as Cil mentioned, it can make it sound like your book is more light-hearted than I suspect it is.

Agree on killing paragraph #1. It reads better without it.

Ditch the uncle, as he doesn't really add anything but the suggestion that Enid should cut and run, which we have no reason to believe she will do.

The pairing of "law-abiding, church-going" with "law-breaking, church-burning" strikes me as too cutesy and again suggests comedy rather than drama. Ditch one or the other for a different phrase.

Setup is important, but what we really need to know is what Enid wants, what's standing in the way of her achieving that, what asetts she has that might help her succeed, and what she intends to do to get what she wants. It sounds like what Enid wants is to save her family, but given that I know nothing about her brother and she already suspected that her dad was a vampire, I'm not really sure why she wants to do that. I know some of what Enid's up against, though the monster is never explained and I don't get why the other vampires are trying to destroy or abduct Morcant's kids instead of just turning them. What Enid has going for her in her fight against the vampires and what she will do to save her family is completely unclear.

I do like that you've changed the title, as "Things I Can't Unsee" just made me think of photos of kittens looking horrified.

If you're pitching a book that's intended as part of a series, especially a long one, it might be a good idea to mention that it can also stand alone. I'm guessing most editors will shy away from a book that they worry will be impossible to sell unless the sequels happen because it's all just setup for book two.

Mister Furkles said...


Wouldn't a vampire story be horror rather than urban fantasy? Or perhaps they are exceeding suave and genteel vampires and you meant urbane fantasy. But my guess is that your plot centers on Enid's secret powers. If that's the case, you ought not hide them from the agent/editor.

Your first two paragraphs should be scrapped and a new first paragraph should mention these special powers.

“Fifteen-year-old Enid discovers her magical powers: she talks with porcupines, turns moose plop into cherry pie, and can be polite in French. She uses these special powers to defeat an army of murderous vampires.” Those are her magical powers, right?

Two simple rules: (1) never start a query with a rhetorical question, (2) do not keep major plot points secret from the agent/editor.

SB said...

Thanks so much for your comments, guys. I really appreciate all the advice (and humorous comments). Dang, but this query writing thing is tough, especially for certain types of plots.

CavalierdeNuit said...

It feels a bit messy to me. Also, I would really like to know what Enid is turning into.

Mister Furkles said...

Okay, one more little thing:

“Explain why she already suspected her father was a vampire or get rid of she saw it coming.“

Every teenager knows her father is a troll and her mother is a vampire. So, here it is obvious that Enid suspects the reverse.

K Hutton said...

I disagree with another commenter who said that your word choice was "too informal," although I do agree that you want the voice in your query to reflect the tone in your manuscript. So for me, the issue isn't that it's too informal but that you haven't nailed down the voice and tone smoothly yet.

Here's the first two parags of author Courtney Summer's successful query letter. It's a mix of some intelligent word choice and more informal bits, but it works because it matches the genre and voice of the story:

"After a disastrous party at the end of junior year, Perfect Parker Fadley decides the popular scene is stupid at best, boring at worst and senior year is an ideal time to call it quits. (...)

"But try explaining that to everyone else. When will people finally get it that yes, Parker meant to quit the cheerleading squad and relinquish captaining duties to her considerably less talented rival, Becky Halprin? And of course she wanted to end her relationship with Chris Ellory, the hottest guy in school. Falling so far behind in her homework that not graduating has since become a very real possibility? Well… everything except the Possibly Not Graduating part was totally on purpose. "

Good luck!

SB said...

I don't have a new query draft yet, but I do have some questions. There seems to be a consensus that 122k words is too long. There is a spot in the middle where I could maybe get away with cutting it in half, but it would leave the two halves at roughly 71k and 51k. I tried finding a spot nearer the middle, but nowhere else would really work as any kind of ending/beginning point.

So my first question is: do you think I'd have better chances at finding an agent/publisher if I cut it, even at these shorter wordcounts? Should I try to find some way to lengthen the second half if I did this?

I'm also unsure about genre. It's definitely what I'd call urban fantasy, being that it's set in modern day with fantasy elements (vampires and a little bit extra, but not a full-blown magical system). The main characters are 18 and 15, but the 18-year-old gets about 2/3 to 3/4 of the page time. There are some bits that take place in high school, but it's not really about high school, and she'll be graduated by the next book in the series (assuming things go well enough for me to write it). The overall theme of the series is (in part) about the transition from teen to adult (first real love, finding a job, seeing your parents as just people, etc.). I'd originally written it as YA, but then I thought maybe it's more NA. And given the amount of violence and "adult themes" that crop up, I wasn't sure if it should just be adult UF.

So, second question is, does this sound like it's more YA, NA, or adult? (Note, I don't anticipate there will be a "steamy romance" or detailed sex scenes, which seems to be the main theme in NA.)

Third question: given it relies so heavily on vampires, is it even worth going through the bother of cutting in two and playing with word count, or are vampires unsellable right now pretty much no matter what?

SB said...

Okay, so I've done a pretty major revision of this story. I've also written a totally different query, coming at it from another angle. So please let me know what you guys think of this one:

Dear (agent),

Eighteen-year-old Enid Apcarne is going insane. Literally. It started a couple days ago, about the time her younger brother got kidnapped by vampires. She’s trying to find a way to save him, but the invisible bugs crawling under her skin just won’t let her focus.

Turns out, the madness is a symptom of a genetic condition known as ‘being a Seer.’ When her sanity returns, it comes with uncontrollable new powers. With one touch, she can see a person’s past. Cool in theory, not so much in practice.

Question is: will her new powers help her find the vampires and rescue her brother—or will they only get in the way? With both their lives on the line, all she can do is find out.

BASICALLY HUMAN is a 100,000-word urban fantasy about family, sacrifice, and the realization that loved ones are only human—even when they’re not.