Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Face-Lift 1195

Guess the Plot

Callie's Revolution

1. 1678. Jacques Callie has been working on a machine that will provide perpetual motion while creating endless piles of gold. All he has to do is balance the wheels, cogs, gears, humours and the spheres and he'll be set. That's what the owls tell him, anyway.

2. Bored with Victorian morals, Callie heads west in 1916 and gets involved in the Mexican Revolution. She rides with General Pershing's troops on the fastest horse in Mexico, on a mission to capture Pancho Villa. Also, movie star Lillian Gish.

3. When Lassie reaches that age of maturity when ED commercials make too much sense and low "T" is a problem, she decides to strap on a set and go to war. Screw Timmy, it's a call to arms, even if she only has legs. It's time for a revolution, a Callie's...uh-oh, never mind.

4. Tired of her parent's meddling, Callie hatches a plan to live with her gay BFF, Zak, until graduation. Then Daddy Dearest decides he's not paying for college, so Callie begins a youth outrage movement by taking him to court.

5. Callie, procrastinator extraordinaire, is chosen during the Harvesting as a divergent..I mean…dissonant revolution leader, believed to the be the right one to lead the nation toward the New Order of Enlightenment and Life (N.O.E.L). But can this indolent teen inspire the crowds when she has no motivation to run a comb through her hair?

6. Will Callie's Bible class believe that Jesus has been visiting her every Tuesday night bearing nachos and telling funny stories? If not, she'll take over the pulpit, and make the whole church believe with the robe He left behind.

Original Version

The idea--place a somewhat naïve young female journalist into the macho, dangerous maelstrom of the Mexican Revolution in 1916. Then watch what happens. [But since it's always best to experiment on animals first, we start by placing a bunny in a cage with six hungry wolves.]

Callie’s Revolution is a parallel story of political and social revolution, and the personal revolution of an adventurous young woman.

Through her eyes we ride with General John J. Pershing’s troops into the Chihuahuan desert, go with Callie into a dark cave hideout, face to face with Pancho Villa, fly in a Jenny Curtis biplane with ace pilot, Casey Wilde, and watch Callie and Casey fall for each other. [I realize the book is already written, but with a little tweaking you can dump ace pilot Casey Wilde and have Callie fall for Pancho Villa. Here's a photo of Villa and Pershing, chumming it up in 1914:

The way I see it, Callie's in love with Pancho, but in her position as a journalist she's covering Pershing, who falls in love with her. This gives Pershing's mission to ride into Mexico and capture Pancho a romantic motive. He doesn't care about following orders or stopping Pancho's raids; he just wants to eliminate his competition. Callie spends the entire mission trying to talk Pershing into letting Pancho escape (It's like in The Princess Bride when Buttercup agrees to marry Humperdinck if he'll let Westley live. Very romantic.), and when Pershing refuses, she rides ahead to warn Pancho (she has the fastest horse in Mexico). Which explains how Pancho did escape.]

We follow her into the heart of Mexico, [Who is this "we" you keep mentioning? I'm more interested in what Callie does than in what "we" do.] where she is seduced by the alluring sensations of an exotic culture, is awakened to her sexuality, and undergoes a stirring encounter with the mystery of the pyramids at Teotihuacan.

Then, into the nascent Hollywood movie colony with D.W. Griffith and the Gish sisters, the nightmarish experience of filming in the midst of World War 1, [Better title: Bride of Zelig.] and a brief, and nearly deadly reunion with Casey.

We fall into her delirium as she is pulled down to the brink of death by the raging Influenza epidemic.

Callie is tested time and again and survives, with her Colt 45, the fastest pony in Mexico, and a relentless desire to live an impassioned life. She is no saint, and constantly wavers between desire and morality

A Native American connection is alluded to during her illness, and is fully revealed near the conclusion--she is half Comanche, by a mother she never knew.

With her long black tresses and amazing ability with a horse and a pistol, Callie Masterson is a new kind of heroine--utterly feminine, compassionate, and fierce. She grows and changes in huge leaps because of her curiosity about life and her inborn courage. She is strong, gutsy and resourceful, but it is perhaps it is her compassion that will speak most fervently to the modern reader. [If her compassion speaks most fervently, you might want to include an example thereof, rather than listing all these adjectives (feminine, compassionate, fierce, curious, courageous, strong, gutsy, resourceful, compassionate again, horse-savvy, gun-loving, black-tressed.]

Callie is a trailblazer, pure and simple, who demands rights that women would not fully achieve for another fifty years. She straddles two different worlds in 1916: her past is Victorian morality, her future, Twentieth Century emancipation. She leaps into her destiny on the fastest horse in Mexico [Yes, her horse is fast. We got it.] and never looks back. [Another paragraph just describing Callie. If you show us what she's like, we'll be more intrigued than if you tell us.]


It feels like you're describing a biography of a fictional character, except that it all takes place in a five-year period. I think you should focus the entire query on whatever most drives the plot. That could be the mission to Mexico, during which Callie earns respect as an adventuress/journalist, or it could be the romance with the ace pilot or it could be the remarkable compassion she shows when she resists shooting Pershing's sexist troops. Right now it comes across as just a list of lists. Tell us a story.

The Gish sisters and the flu and the allusion to a Native American connection are eating space you need to make us care enough about Callie to want to read the book.


Veronica Rundell said...

Erm. I'm stumped. I thought this was a synopsis. It is clearly NOT a query letter.

Who, in 1916, would ever suppose to send a female journalist to war? For cripes sakes, I think they freaked in 2001 when female reporters were to be embedded with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What type of story is this? Adventure, historical fiction, romance, Wild West... How long is it?

We the reader are not supposed to be directly involved in this query. We are supposed to learn about your MC, her triumphs, her tribulations, how she overcomes the conflict of the book...focus on that.

Cut the repetition, and the platitudes. Choose your words carefully. The goal is to interest us in Callie, in her story, not tell us how great and adventurous she is/was.

Start over. Read the queries on the site and reformat.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Based on your first sentence (which took a couple rereads to understand, but let's blame that on the orange juice) I assumed this was some kind of time travel experiment. But apparently it's a historical novel... I think?

So okay. Do it like this. Drop your frame. You've written this in the style of an exceptionally gushing review. Rewrite it in the style of a query letter. Simply tell us who the protagonist is, what challenge she faces, and what she must do to overcome it.

Don't tell us that she's different from other heroines. That just makes us say, "Eh. Lots of heroines have black tresses." Don't tell us what we'll do. Tell us what she does.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Veronica, Nellie Bly reported from the trenches in WWI, and Mary Roberts Rhinehart, who was at the time one of America's best-known novelists, went to the front in 1915 to write a non-fiction book about the war.

Not all progress is forward... we'll be recovering from the 1950s for a lon time to come.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Er, a lonG time that is.

And possibly also a lon time.

Eric said...

So Callie "is awakened to her sexuality, and undergoes a stirring encounter..." Ooo, do tell us more! "...with the mystery of the pyramids at Teotihuacan." Um. Ok. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I guess.

I wouldn't say Callie is "a new kind of heroine"; the intrepid girl reporter who bolds goes off to explore things and kick some butt is a very familiar trope from pulp adventure fiction, to the point that she was homaged in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," for instance.

You say a lot about her good qualities; does she have any faults that she may need to overcome in the course of the plot? ("She's inclined to have sex a lot despite being Edwardian" does not count, since most modern audiences will see that as a good quality.) If not, be wary that you might be creating a Mary Sue.

Tell us your story! Because Callie is A, she has to face obstacles B and C, and if she doesn't overcome them D will happen, so first she tries E, but that doesn't work, and...

Anonymous said...

This query is just a hell of a mess. But I was left with one nagging question about the horse:

Is it a fast horse or is it just an old trotter?

Veronica Rundell said...

Fair point, well made. I wonder if they were dispatched, or merely interested.

Author, revision is still required.

AA said...

How does Callie get the fastest horse in Mexico? You'd think a thing like that would cost a lot of money.

Anyway, you say Callie is tested time and again, but you don't say how. From the list of her exploits, you'd think it was all just up, up, up for Callie. One or two concrete examples are better than a list of superlatives.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Veronica, interested I think. I read MRR's book. She went to the front while the British govt was still prohibiting reporters, so there was really very little information getting through to the folks at home and that's why she went. Her book is interesting if harrowing (since you suspect that very few of the people she interviewed, men or women, lived through the war).

Re Nellie Bly, I didn't read her stuff, but she certainly had a lifelong reputation for heading straight into the line of fire. An old kind of heroine, if you will.

khazar-khum said...

Is 'the fastest horse in Mexico' a metaphor?

If not, that's got to be one helluva horse, because Mexico did and has a lot of top quality race horses.

Her name--Callie Masterson--recalls Bat Masterson. I assume that's deliberate, especially since he ended up as a newspaperman.