Monday, August 18, 2014

Face-Lift 1216

Guess the Plot

Audrey Maeng and the Chinese New Year

1. Audrey's life changes forever when she goes on a blind date with a handsome dragon dancer. A multicultural literary fantasy novel that will make you reexamine your view of scales!

2. The latest in a series of mildly racist children's books about holidays around the world. Preceded by 'Timmy Karim and the Ramadan,' 'Kelly Shabat and the Hanukkah,' and 'Sammy McShivers and the Canada Day.'

3. Asked by the principal of her school to host the Chinese New Year Festival, Audrey Maeng wants to scream. She isn't even Chinese. So she ruins the festival by printing signs whose translations are insults and putting doom predictions in the fortune cookies. Nothing makes 3rd grade bearable like a little revenge.

4. Audrey Maeng's Tiger Mom has always made sure she was first at everything. Valedictorian, All American in Taekwondo, and now she was headed to the Olympic trials. When she suffers a meniscus tear her dreams are shattered--until Mike, her hot physical therapist, starts treating her. Should she bring Mike to Chinese New Year so he can meet her family? She doubts they will approve of her new boy toy.

5. It’s a little known fact that Breakfast at Tiffany’s almost didn’t get made. They couldn’t find a female lead. That is, until Blake Edwards went on an all-night binge at General Tso’s 24-hour Mu Goo Gai Pan Palace, and spotted a terribly thin but quite confused waitress, with a penchant for overly-long cigarette holders and cheap fireworks. Also, dumplings. Lots and lots of dumplings.

6. In a bizarre series of unlikely plot twists, a giant man-eating plant swims across the Pacific and lands in a distant country. Changing her last name to reflect her new surroundings, she emerges into society just in time for the biggest celebration on their yearly calendar. Feeeeed me, Xi Moah.

7. Audrey's 88th New Year is approaching, and as double-eight is particularly auspicious in China, she wants to make it a spectacular event. Bring on the firecrackers, lanterns, red envelopes and interminable tales about her previous New Years.

8. When gorgeous Australian ranch hand Han Audrey and fifth generation Chinese immigrant Pamela Maeng discover that their dream of running a sheep farm is threatened by mysteriously cheap Chinese wool they realize that something just isn't right: the anti-democratic Chinese totalitariat has discovered a way to squeeze two year's worth of time into a single year!

9. Twelve year old, Audrey Maeng has waited a long time, for this night, to rid herself of that gnat of a ghost. Grandma said that it came twelve years ago, during the year of the horse, and could only be cleansed under that sign. Looking at the open drawers of the dresser, with her recently folded clothing hanging out, she is more determined than ever. But Audrey will learn that some horses have a mind of their own as--do some ghosts.

10. Audrey Maeng used to love Chinese New Year. But now that she's an executive for a global corporation that does its manufacturing in China, she just sees it as an annoying week of no work getting done. Can three spirits help Audrey remember the true meaning of Chinese New Year? Also: an amnesiac parrot.

11. When Audrey Maeng's DRAGON ONE ship malfunctioned somewhere over Saturn, she knew she was in for an adventure. Now she's in some crazy city where people are chasing after her, trying to set her tails on fire. How will she get out of this with her virtue intact? Also, singing crawdads.

12. Audrey has been trapped inside the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for three weeks. Everyday is Chinese New Year. Has her aunt been practicing black magic to win at blackjack again, or is her aunt's ex-husband, the washed up "magician" back in town?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

There are three Chinese students at Calla Lily Elementary, [so it's decided that the school play will be The Mikado, a decision that sparks the 3rd Sino-Japanese War.] but Audrey Maeng isn't one of them. A Korean-American girl, Audrey is extremely frustrated that her classmates (and teachers!) can't seem to understand that Asia is made up of different countries. [Of course it is. There's China, and . . . some other Asian countries.] The last straw comes when the principal asks Audrey to be the host of the school's Chinese New Year Festival... and her costume, of all things, is a kimono. [Seems like the kimono would be more annoying if Audrey were Chinese.] [How does Audrey know the three Chinese students and several other kids haven't already declined the request to host the festival?]

As much as Audrey would like to refuse and write an angry letter to the school board, [You did say she was in elementary school, right?] she doesn't want to get in trouble for refusing. [Not clear why she'd get in trouble.] And, okay, she could use the extra credit. With the approval and assistance of Yahong Li, the [Vietnamese] student in charge of coordinating everything, Audrey plants a few small "mistakes": changed lettering on the signs, some misplaced firecrackers, ["Misplaced" means temporarily lost. Is that what you mean? Or do you mean strategically placed?] fortune cookies. Nothing too big. Just a few jokes for anyone paying attention.

But when the Festival arrives, everything falls apart in the worst way. The lettering translates to insults Audrey didn't realize beforehand. The firecrackers go off too early, and nearly burn down the stage. Even the fortune cookies are predicting doom and disaster for the people who open them. [Just to up the stakes a bit, change that last sentence to: And the explosive charges in the fortune cookies maim all the students in Mrs. Patrick's 1st grade class.] [I don't see how the doom-predicting fortunes can be an example of things falling apart; Audrey did know what the fortunes said, right?]

Audrey wanted to make a point, but she didn't mean to ruin Chinese New Year. [Actually, the three jokes you list do seem more likely to make a mess than to make a point. If her point is that not everyone who looks Asian is Chinese, the time to make it was when she was asked to be host, by telling the principal, "No thanks, but I'll be happy to host the Hangeul Proclamation Day Festival, you bigoted jerk."] Now, with the principal furious and Yahong refusing to speak to her, [She did have Yahong's approval and assistance for her jokes.] Audrey has to fix what she's done -- and fast. [None of what was done sounds fixable. The best she can do is hire a political damage-control team.]

AUDREY MAENG AND THE CHINESE NEW YEAR [FESTIVAL] is a middle grade contemporary novel complete at 50,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.



Audrey Maeng Ruins the Chinese New Year Festival? 
How Audrey Maeng Ruined the Chinese New Year Festival? 
I'm Not Chinese, You Idiots!?

Hard to believe Audrey didn't know what the lettering translated to. Did she just make random symbols? Seems more likely she'd decide what she wanted the signs to say and ask Yahong to translate into Chinese.

If it's a middle grade book, why set it at an elementary school? Especially as wanting to write an angry letter to the school board and pulling pranks like changing the signs and the fortunes strike me as middle or even high school. Can you include Audrey's age/grade?

Wouldn't the student "in charge of coordinating everything," and not the principal, be the person who recruits a host?

The query's okay, and the point being made is worthwhile, but what could possibly make Audrey think that when people go to this Chinese New Year Festival and see her joke signs and read their joke fortunes and hear the ill-timed firecrackers, they're gonna think, Hmm, I now realize there are many unique cultures in Asia. Does Audrey do anything that might help the uninformed to realize that?


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

It's a great idea for a MG novel.

But I agree that in the query you haven't made the connection between what's annoying Audrey and what she does. What exactly is Audrey hoping to accomplish?

Show us how being told she must be great at math for the 106th time directly correlates to her actions.

K Hutton said...

I feel like this has lots of potential, but that a) that she should choose to say yes to the principal's request with the intention of playing these tricks (otherwise it's Too Stupid To Live. All she would need to say is "No, I'm Korean" and that would be that) and b) that the jokes need to be bigger, better and go even more haywire. They seem pretty tame right now.

The Bruno & Boots books by Gordon Korman are great examples of middle grade hijinks that go terribly--and hilariously--wrong.

Cil said...

Hi Author, forgive my ignorance but a quick googling confirmed my suspicion that a lot of countries celebrate the Lunar New Year as well as China. One of these is Korea, and the days are the same. Wouldn't it be easier for her to set up a celebration for Korean New Year, or set up a celebration that includes Chinese, Vietnamese and Mongolian New Year.

It might be better if the character was Laotian, Cambodian or Burmese they celebrate a different lunar new years. Or possibly she could be Japanese as they celebrate the solar new year.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I'm in agreement with everyone else on how good the theme is for a middle grade novel.

I can believe that Audrey wouldn't know what the signs said after she messed with them. What I can't believe is that the signs would just coincidentally say something offensive - particularly if it's multiple different signs - rather than "elephant dish calculator sing."

Would an elementary school student even be allowed to set up the firecrackers? Or did Audrey just move them even though she wasn't supposed to be anywhere near them? Even assuming that there would be pyrotechnics at a school event, they'd probably have to be set up and set off by a professional.

If you can keep the fireworks and have it make sense, they should be the last thing in the lost of stuff that goes wrong. Fortune cookies with bad fortunes seem trivial when compared with a stage nearly burning down.

EE is correct that none of this seems fixable. The fireworks stunt in particular sounds like grounds for suspension.

The other problem is that because Audrey's actions don't really address the key problem of the school' stereotyping, there's no indication of how that problem will be solved. The end of the query is about Audrey fixing the damage she's done, not about whether the school will see Audrey's valid frustrations. I get that Audrey is probably thinking more about venting her frustrations at the school's casual racism than changing things for the better, but can you at least hint at how we might get back to that central problem from unintentional Chinese curse words and fatalistic fortune cookies?

Anonymous said...

Ditto Cil. Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year as well, just in different ways. I'm Chinese American and have had many friends from South Korea, and none of them would have been offended to be asked to help plan the New Year celebration.

(Side note: I don't know where this book takes place, but in the states I've lived in no public school could call it "Chinese New Year" anymore. It's not PC, precisely because so many different cultures celebrate it. They'd get flooded with complaints.)

I actually think the premise would be more interesting if Audrey dropped the "I hate ignorant white people" schtick, but instead was angry because she feels like she was picked for the job only because she looks Asian. But then after her little tantrum she learns the principal trusted her because she's responsible, and her race had nothing to do with it.

Cil said...

Also I will mimic Alaska and K Hutton, it does sound like a fun read and the query is well put together.

khazarkhum said...

Do the Chinese kids resent Audrey being chosen to lead the festivities? We hear about Li; are the others also recruits, or do they sabotage things even further?

Who translates what the Chinese signs say, anyway? Or do most of the people at Calla Lily read Chinese? Otherwise, how will anyone know they're being insulted?

InkAnd PixelClub said...

It looks like Blogger may have eaten my first comment, so second try:

Agreed that a middle grade novel addressing this kind of stereotyping and casual racism is a good idea.

I can buy that Audrey has no idea what she's writing if she's making alterations to signs that are written in Chinese. What I can't buy is that her alterations - particularly if it happens of multiple different signs - just happen to create offensive words and phrases rather than "elephant sprinkler purple goes."

Is Audrey in charge of the fireworks or does she just surreptitiously move them? Even if an elementary school was going to have pyrotechnics at a school event, which seems like a bad idea to begin with, they would probably have to bring in a professional to set up and set off the fireworks.

If you can keep the fireworks incident, put it last in the list of things that go wrong. Downer fortune cookies seem pretty trivial when compared to a stage nearly burning down.

You need to decide whether Audrey is actually trying to make a point about Asian people and cultures being lumped together or just venting frustrations about it. If it's the former, then she needs to do something that actually connects with her point rather than just pulling pranks that won't make anyone understand her problem. If it's the latter, the pranks make sense, but you need to figure out how to bring the the story and the query back around to Audrey's real problem from Chinese swear words and fatalistic fortune cookies. If the query ends with Audrey having to patch things up with the school, the principal, and Yahong 9and presumably avoid being suspended over the fireworks debacle), we don't get any sense of how her concerns about being constantly mistaken for Chinese might be resolved.

Jeff Boulier said...

I'm assuming the kimono reference is there because one of the major Korean cultural traditions is hating the Japanese, but that's not something that may be apparent to most people reading the query?

For Cil: in Cambodia -- and I believe a lot of other South-East Asian countries -- they celebrate Chinese New Year as a minor festival (a combination of historic ties, sizeable Chinese immigration over the centuries, and, well, it's a good excuse for a party). But getting to the point: we don't actually know how familiar Audrey is with Korean culture; she can be proud of her heritage and annoyed at being mistaken for something else, without actually knowing much of anything about it.

Selena said...

Hi, author here! Thank you to everyone for your comments; they were very helpful.

To clarify a few things:
Audrey doesn't really know much about her heritage, but she's extremely proud of it regardless. Her parents are divorced; her dad, who doesn't have custody, is a professor of Asian studies, whereas her mom doesn't really care. Audrey's social justice obsession is more out of loyalty to her dad than a racial thing.

In the book, her pranks are more purposely-careless than malicious. She's going for a passive-aggessive approach. (Don't worry, she's called on it and gets better.) Things go wrong because they were sabotaged by a classmate who finds Audrey annoying and wouldn't mind if she got suspended for it.

I had troubled fitting these in without the query getting clunky, but if it makes the agent ask the same questions as here, I should probably try again. Wish me luck.

(P.S. And she's eleven -- sixth grade. Another detail I need to add to the query!)

SB said...

Agree with all of EE's comments.

While I do think there are young kids who would think that refusing to do something the principal asked would get them in trouble, those are usually the very rule-abiding types who would definitely not sabotage something (which, if discovered, would surely get them in terrible trouble, at least by comparison). So those two actions of hers don't really jive for me.

"I actually think the premise would be more interesting if Audrey dropped the "I hate ignorant white people" schtick, but instead was angry because she feels like she was picked for the job only because she looks Asian. But then after her little tantrum she learns the principal trusted her because she's responsible, and her race had nothing to do with it."

Ditto this.

InkAndPixelClub said...

SB and Anon> Maybe I'm not getting what you're suggesting, but wouldn't that undermine the whole premise of the book, which everyone seems to like? "Nope, ho racism here! You're just being paranoid."

I'm fine with the idea that Audrey might be rounding "some people are behaving in an ignorant and racist way" up to "the entire school is ignorant and racist," but this kind of stereotyping is a legitimate problem and I think it would be a mistake to change the book to have Audrey find that she was just being overly sensitive.

Cil said...

Hi Ink, I think the author will treat the subject well. My understansing of what anon is suggesting is keeping it to the plight of the third culture kid and them dealing with people being ignorant of their culture as well as being ignorant of their own (thanks Jeff). For example, mistaking where someone is from is not racist or necessarily hurtful, nor is thinking chinese new year is the over arching term for lunar new year. But to someone who has dealt with the mistake hundreds of times, or fears the next time someone asks them "where are you really from," it can be very frustrating.

I am looking forward to a revision, put us a little more inside of Audrey's head and I think the questions that come up will disappear.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Selena, your explanation did answer the questions people raised pretty succinctly. Also, try reworking the query with the antagonist (briefly) included. If Audrey's not causing the disasters, that's a different story.

By the way, I assume you do know that fireworks of any kind would not be allowed in any school activity.

Selena said...

Okay, so here's the revision -- I don't like how long it is, but I think it describes the plot better than the first one:

Dear EvilEditor,

There are three Chinese students at Calla Lily Elementary, but Audrey Maeng isn't one of them. A Korean-American sixth-grader, Audrey is extremely frustrated that her classmates (and teachers!) can't seem to understand that Asia is made up of different countries. The last straw comes when the principal asks Audrey to be the host of the school's Chinese New Year Festival... and her costume, of all things, is a kimono.

Audrey’s dad, a professor of Asian studies, would never stand for this. But he’s living on the other side of the country after the divorce. Audrey’s mom, on the other hand, doesn’t get why the principal’s request is so frustrating. In fact, she tells the principal Audrey is happy to host the dumb thing. So Audrey compromises. With the approval and assistance of Yahong Li, the student in charge of coordinating everything, Audrey pulls a few small pranks: rearranging the signs, setting out fortune cookies, wearing her costume the wrong way. Nothing too big. Just some “mistakes” to prove that she was certainly not the best choice for the job.

But when the Festival arrives, everything falls apart in the worst way. The original signs have disappeared, and the ones in their place have insults printed on them instead of New Year’s greetings. The fortune cookies are predicting doom and disaster. Worst of all, a pack of firecrackers catch fire after another "accident" -- and since Audrey had already confessed to the things she did do, the principal believes she sneaked the fireworks in as well.

Now, with Yahong refusing to speak to her and the school turned against her, Audrey's only hope for escaping a lifelong detention is to figure out the real vandal, clear her name, and fix everything -- fast.

AUDREY MAENG AND THE CHINESE NEW YEAR is a middle grade novel complete at 50,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I think that seems pretty good actually. There are some sentences in the beginning that sound choppy, but if you read them aloud you can fix them.

Evil Editor said...

Much better. You don't "figure out" a vandal. I'd go with unmask the vandal or uncover the vandal's identity.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I'm getting a much better sense of Audrey's problem, what she's trying to accomplish, and how her prank becomes something she didn't intend it to:

A few suggestions in addition to EE's:

- Last sentence in paragraph one: if you don't end up rewriting it, change it to "....her costume is, of all things a kimono." The way you have it now makes it sound like the problem is that her costume is a kimono as opposed to something else being a kimono. Just to be on the safe side, you might want to call it "a traditional Japanese kimono" just so your query readers arent put in the awkward position of feeling culturally illiterate themselves.

Is the issue with Audrey serving the fortune cookies that they're not really a Chinese food? Given that the problem is that her teachers and schoolmates don't get Chinese, Korean, and other Asian cultures, this might be too subtle to accomplish Audrey's mission of proving she was a bad choice to host the festival.

Cut "in the worst way." Things seldom fall apart in the best way.

I would double clarify that someone else is responsible for the insulting signs and the forboding fortune cookies, right in the first setence where they're mentioned.

Why does Audrey confess to the lesser pranks when some of them have been completely obliterated by the vandal's new pranks? If the signs have been replaced, no one will know that they spelled out "Lunar Year New Happy" before.

I'm still wondering whether Audrey will get the opportunity to teach her classmates and the faculty something about Asian cultural diversity. I know ots tough to fit it in there, since revealing the vandal is now the more pressing issue. But it'd be great if you could at least hint that Audrey could have an opportunity to address her original problem if she can clear her name first.

SB said...

I like the new version much better. It's clearer about what the conflict is and how she gets herself into this situation, and it doesn't raise as many questions (in a bad way) to me that the first one did.

I do still have to wonder, though, if you've got at least one non-Asian person in the story who's not racist/ignorant. Because it's hard to believe an entire school wouldn't understand that Asia is made of different countries. I'm not saying this needs to be in the query, but if I read the book I'd hope there was at least one example of someone who didn't meet her expectation of being totally ignorant of Asian culture. (Because, like I said, odds are bad that literally everyone in school would be like that.)

Selena said...

The majority of her school isn't like that, or at least they're willing to apologize. It's the few that refuse to admit their mistakes that overshadow everyone else in Audrey's perception. Nobody is purposely racist, though.

In the book there are two non-Asian kids who help Audrey out: the class president, Spencer; and Audrey's best friend, Kristin. They're both white.

If anyone was wondering, the principal is one of those who doesn't realize that he was wrong and apologizes after Audrey explains. (He still scolds her for not saying this earlier, though.)

SB said...

Thanks for clarifying. Yeah, it is easy to let the handful of people who drive you nuts make everyone look that way, especially when you're a kid.

T. K. Marnell said...

I'm late to the party, but this one caught my eye because I'm also Asian American and grew up like Audrey, very proud of a culture few people around me understood or had even heard of. (My mother hailed from Singapore. Everyone who can point to Singapore on a map, please stand up. No one? I'm shocked.)

The premise sounds funny, but here's the problem: Selena, can you tell the difference between someone from Finland and someone from Denmark? Can you tell whether a traditional costume is Pakistani vs. Saudi Arabian, or Argentinian vs. Brazilian, or Moroccan vs. Nigerian? No? Then you're a horrible racist bigot. Apologize at once.

If the principal thinks kimonos are Chinese, he's not necessarily racist; he's just uninformed. I know Audrey is a kid, but her sense of "social justice" sounds really petty and egocentric. Like, how dare people fail to identify exactly which country on the other side of the globe her grandparents were born in?

Also, she's fiercely proud of her heritage but doesn't know that Seollal (the Lunar New Year) is one of the biggest holidays in Korea? I've watched enough Korean television to know that every family-oriented show has a Seollal episode, the same way we have Christmas specials. If Audrey really wanted to teach people about the unique cultures of East Asia, she could simply wear a hanbok instead of the kimono and add some traditional Korean foods and games to the festival.

If you're not Korean yourself, Selena, I strongly suggest you ask a Korean friend to read your manuscript before you submit it for publication. If I were an agent or editor, the Soellal problem would be a deal breaker.

Selena said...

Maybe I should focus the query more on her family issues than the ignorance aspect, since the way the query is now doesn't seem to be getting the story across very well.

Her family does celebrate Soellal -- or at least they did, before her dad packed up and moved to Oregon. This is the first lunar new year they're having without him, and with her mom insisting she host the festival "without being so petty about it, it's still Lunar New Year",

Selena said...

, Audrey's pretty upset.

I hope the book is better than the query -- query writing is really hard!

(My comment got cut somehow. That's embarrassing...)

Cil said...

Hi Selena I think you are fine as long as the query makes it obvious we are dealing with Audrey's frustration and not necessarily a logical response. It might help to detail what she learns in the process. I presume she learns something and becomes a bigger person for it, so show that. My initial response to the query was that she over reacted, but I don't think that's a deal breaker if she realizes she over reacted and fixes it (I'm guessing that's a part of the existing story).