Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Face-Lift 1219

Guess the Plot


1. Jacob is a Drifter, a man who is not anchored in time but instead slides, or drifts, from year to year, often centuries apart. And then one day it's 1939, and Adolph Hitler just handed him a gun.

2. Drifting scross Texas in the 1800's, Dustin spots windmills and heads toward them. He reaches the Cartwright's Ranch, where he spots a naked woman bathing, and Hoss and Little Joe nowhere to be seen. Maybe it's time to finally settle down.

3. Dewey's the big cat curator at Wildcat Safari. He loves the big cats and they love him. When the park is forced into receivership, the bankruptcy administrator sells what he can and plans to euthanize the rest. At 3 A.M. Dewey takes his favorites—two lions, a tiger, and two snow leopards—into his RV and hits the road. Hilarity ensues.

4. When hang-gliding stoner Airey Weedpipe catches the ultimate drift in the Himalayas his seemingly endless ride becomes a metaphor for the world's hopes and dreams. Will he be joined by millions of would-be gliderphobes . . . or shot down by the Russkies?

5. Selene's mother keeps telling her she needs to find a nice man, settle down, and have a family--but it's not like Selene's some irresponsible wild child. It's just that when you're literally light as a feather, settling down is easier said than done.

6. The broken hull of the boat lies at the bottom of the ocean. The leg of the water-skiing frat boy sits partially digested in the shark's stomach. Annie sits in the tiny life raft cursing the day her dead boyfriend challenged fate and named the damn boat DRIFTER. Asshole.

Original Version

Dear E.E.,

Dustin Leahry is good at three things: drifting, helping people, and using his gun. [His metaphorical gun?]

Craving the adventure of his childhood heroes, Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok, Leahry set out for the untamed land west of the Mississippi;[,] taking with him his gun and his best friend – his horse Baker.

Years later the thrill is tempered by the reality of trudging through the dusty cactus[-] and yucca[-]filled plains of Texas after Baker loses a shoe. The Drifter would rather have a cool drink and a black smith’s [blacksmith's] forge than excitement as he plods toward distant windmills that hint at relief. [Blacksmith, shmacksmith. What self-respecting drifter would ride through the old west without spare horseshoes and nails in his saddlebag?]

Trouble finds Leahry when he arrives at the Cartwright Ranch [It's called the Ponderosa.] and catches sight of Shelly Cartwright taking an outdoor bath. He knows he’s in deep trouble when Shelly uses his distraction to center a rifle’s sights on his chest. Something about a woman wrapped in a towel holding a gun on him convinces Leahry to stay instead of continuing to drift. [Wait, what about the trouble he was in one sentence ago? What happened?]

His trouble escalates when he goes to work for Shelly. [What is this trouble that escalates? He can get a new shoe for Baker at the ranch; Shelly didn't shoot him; he finally has a job... He's got less trouble than ever, far as I can tell.] His penchant for helping people soon puts him in the middle of her struggle to keep the ranch from being taken over by August Benson. Benson is determined to own the city of San Angelo and the surrounding countryside. Naturally the Cartwright Ranch is the last obstacle.

Leahry finds himself in confrontations with Benson’s men, on a horse drive to earn ranch-saving money, and in a war between the ranches. After the deaths of several of Shelly’s men, he resorts to the thing [what] he’s best at as he heads to San Angelo and a showdown with Benson.

Drifter: San Angelo Showdown is set in 1898 Texas and is approximately 119,000 words. Drifter pays homage to classic TV Westerns while adding new characters to the fold. [Shouldn't you pay homage to classic western novels and let TV pay homage to TV westerns?]

Thank you very much for your time.



This horse drive to earn ranch-saving money suggests that the ranch will be saved if Shelly can pay her bills. The confrontations/war/showdown suggest that ownership of the ranch is more than a financial/legal matter. How has Benson come to own everything except this ranch? By taking it at gunpoint or buying it? Was this San Angelo area totally lawless as late as 1898? My guess is 1885 would be better, but I've been wrong before, or so I'm told.

The word count is kinda high for a western novel.

Instead of spending three paragraphs on Dustin's arrival at the ranch, try compressing that into one paragraph and devoting more space to what happens after he gets there.


khazarkhum said...

EE, a brilliant editor you are, but a horseman you are not. Replacing a shoe on a horse is a complex and difficult art that requires someone who really knows what they are doing. Your average cowboy doesn't, and it takes a top horseman to really understand what to do.

The rest of the story is too cliched for me to comment on. Unless there is hot as hell erotica between Dustin and Shelly, in which case--proceed.

SB said...

I was really hoping plot 1 was the real one. :(

I don't really have much to say about the query. I'm not into westerns unless they have some really unique hook that grabs me or really interesting characters that grab me. This plot seems pretty typical of a western, and the query doesn't really make any of the characters sound all that unique either. Is there something about this story that isn't an "homage" to all the westerns we've already seen? If so, you might want to highlight that part.

Evil Editor said...

Excuse me, KK, but a horseman I am. Or rather was. But my own experience never being enough, I researched my comment on the Internet and found numerous sites that echo this exact quote from an article on trail riding:

Provisions are my next concern. Pack extra horseshoes, nails, farrier’s hammer and a hoof pick.

While today it's common to use a hoof boot or a temporary shoe in order to make one's way back to civilization without damaging the horse's hoof or leg, My guess is that a guy drifting through cactus land in 1898 could end up stranded in the desert if he couldn't replace a lost shoe well enough to last till he reached a settlement with an expert.

InkAndPixelClub said...

So you're paying homage to classic Westerns. That's fine, but what are you doing with this story that those classic Westerns haven't done just as well or better? "Lonesome drifter meets pretty lady, wants to settle down, has to take down one last bad guy" is a story older than Texas dirt. Why are people going to want to pick up your story instead of reading or watching an established Western classic?

Dump the first sentence. It's not exciting enough to stand alone. The second one gets the story going and is more intriguing than a list of character skills.

Beyond that, I'm with khazarkhum and SB: this is just too much of a cookie cutter Western for comments. Unless you have something unique to bring t the table and put it front and center in your query, it's going to be very hard for your book to stand out.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

But the real question is: When were women first called "Shelly"? My guess is 1971, but I, too, have been wrong before.

Mister Furkles said...

The Cartwright's ranch was roughly 900,000 acres. It bordered Lake Tahoe and the map was shown at the opening of every episode of Bonanza.

Be careful writing about any historical topic whose readers tend to be experts on that history.

Selena said...

I'm excited to see a Western! I thought they might be dying out.

I'm probably not the best person to critique, so I'll just wait for the rewrite. :)

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

It seems to have been a theme park.


Author said...

Revised Version:

Dear E. E.,

Dustin Leahry calmly re-loaded his Mare's Leg gun. The men before him looked at their ruined pistols and fled. They'd be back. More men would accompany them.

Leahry took stock of what he'd done. It didn't matter the fleeing men had intended to kill and and the men he worked with. He was the first to use a gun. August Benson now had an excuse to up the ante from over-priced goods and intimidation to war.

Benson wanted Shelly Cartwright's ranch. The Drifter hoped to help Shelly keep her land, provided she didn't kill him for sticking his nose where she didn't want it. Good intentions usually got him in trouble.

Honestly, wanting to help wasn't what had him working as a ranch hand on the outskirts of San Angelo. Not this time. Shelly kept him there. She could fend for herself; she didn't need his gun. But he'd used it to defend her land and he'd use it again in the coming battles.

Shelly was his problem. Drifting was his nature yet he wanted to stay. After the gun smoke cleared, would he continue to be the Drifter?

DRIFTER: SAN ANGELO SHOWDOWN is under 119,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Evil Editor said...

P1: Calling the invaders' pistols "ruined" is intriguing, but only because it hints that Leahry has magical powers. What ruined their pistols?

P2: "and and" should be "him and."

If Benson and his men intended to kill Leahry and his men, as you claim in sentence 2, then claiming that Leahry using his gun gave them the excuse they needed for war doesn't follow. It sounds like they didn't need an excuse.

Also, what did Leahry use his gun for? Did he shoot someone?

P3: We don't know whom you're talking about when you refer to "the Drifter," as you haven't told us Leahry is a drifter.

P4: Seems somewhat contradictory to say wanting to help wasn't keeping him there, Shelly was. It's Shelley he wants to help. Also, "Shelly kept him there" could be interpreted to mean that he was a "kept man" or even that she had something on him and was forcing him to stay.

P5: "Shelly was his problem" isn't the best way to put it, as it can be interpreted several ways.

"Would he continue to be the Drifter?" makes it sound like he's known far and wide as the Drifter. Is that his superhero name, or is he just some guy who hasn't settled down?

P6: "Approximately" would be a better descriptor for your word count than "under."

All that aside, this is an unusual format for a business letter. Are you opening with the same lines that open the book? Is this an excerpt from chapter 7? Even if you clean it up, it may not appeal to many agents/editors. You may be better off cleaning up your original version.

SB said...

This still doesn't show us anything that sounds at all unique in a western.

InkAndPixelClub said...

The narrative approach isn't grabbing me. You've chosen to start just after Leahry has fired his gun, effectively ending the confrontation. The immediate problem of Benson's men wanting to kill Leahry is over before I even know it's a problem. That gives me very little incentive to read on, even if you tell me this is merely one battle in a larger war. If you want to grab your reader, consider showing the beginning of the standoff and not giving away the resolution.

I don't know if Leahry killed anyone or merely fired a warning shot that made his foes turn tail and run at the notion of facing such a high quality firearm. Either way, I'm not coming away with the impression that Leahry is an amazing shot or very brave; just that he has the better gun and Benson's men aren't very skilled if they can't use their superior numbers to their advantage while their enemy is reloading.

This doesn't solve my problem from the first version. There's still nothing in here that doesn't scream stereotypical Western. If you don't have anything that makes your Western different from dozens of classic Westerns, it's going to be tough to argue that fans of the genre should pick up your book instead of an acknowledged classic of the genre.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

What you've written doesn't sound like a query. It sounds more like it's intended as jacket copy.

Structure the query this way:

[Protagonist] must [cope with major problem]. But [obstactle] stands in his/her way. Protagonist [does something to overcome the problem] but [things get worse] and now [bigger problem].

You may think you've done that here, but you haven't. I've got a feeling that you're trying to get us to guess what the protagonist's problem is. That's arguably okay for a book jacket, but not for a query.

Your query has one minute of the agent's divided attention. Possibly less. Cut to the chase.

khazarkhum said...

"The Drifter" comes from nowhere. There needs to be something to link it to Dustin.

Dustin Leahry, also known as The Drifter, is a hard man with a fast gun. When he meets Shelly Cartwright, he's going to get to put that gun to good use.

Now we know he's the Drifter, second cousin once removed of the Man With No Name.

August Benson, a land-grabbing merchant baron, wants Shelly's ranch. He has the money and the men to get his way.

We have Conflict.

Will the high-spirited, strong-willed Shelly let The Drifter help her, even though she's sworn to never surrender to any man? Can the Drifter stop Benson's hired army? Or will he forever be entombed in the dust of San Angelo?

Everything is now laid out for the reader.

Good luck! We need more Westerns.

Author said...

Dear Evil Editor,
In September 2014 I submitted two attempts at a query for you and your minions to tear to shreds. You did, and rightly so! Please accept my humble attempt to correct the issues pointed out in with this re-write:

Dustin Leahry is the Drifter. Leahry has a penchant for getting in trouble but it usually isn’t his. In Drifter: San Angelo Showdown Leahry finds himself in the middle of the conflict between Shelly Cartwright and August Benson.

Benson is a wealthy land baron who owns most of the land in and around San Angelo, Texas. Shelly owns the only ranch outside San Angelo Benson has no stake. When her father died, Benson sought to take the prime spread from his former friend’s daughter. But Shelly proved tougher than she appeared.

Leahry arrives at the Cartwright Ranch and finds a trouble bigger than the looming confrontation in the green of Shelly’s eyes.

When Benson ups the ante and orders the death of Shelly’s men, Leahry proves more than just a Drifter by singlehandedly outshooting the hired guns.

With a range war starting Leahry has to decide whether to stay and see the trouble through to its end or cinch his saddle and keep drifting.

DRIFTER: SAN ANGELO SHOWDOWN is set in 1885 Texas and approximately 118,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Evil Editor said...

P1: Make it a drifter rather than the drifter. Right now it sounds like it would if you said Bruce Wayne is the Batman. Maybe it would be better to open: Dustin Leahry is a drifter with a penchant for getting involved in other people's trouble. Also, "the" conflict should be "a" conflict.

P2, S2: Sentence doesn't make sense. You need "in which" before Benson. Also, it isn't the only ranch outside San Angelo that he doesn't own. You have to narrow it down to the county or West Texas or whatever. S3: Maybe change "her" to "Shelley's." Would it be better to use both first names or both last names instead of one of each? How did August try to take the ranch? by force or buying it or swindling her?

P3: Describe the trouble Leahry finds instead of describing Shelley's eyes.

The one-sentence paragraphs toward the end aren't helping. You need to put ideas together.

Does the Drifter have superhuman marksmanship? That would be unique. Which I mention because this is pretty much the same information as before, leading me to believe you haven't got a new slant on the western. You do have a guy and a girl; have you considered making it a romance novel set on an 1885 Texas ranch? You'll probably have to add a few romantic scenes if you don't already have them, but . . .

AS Olivier said...

The first paragraph doesn't really mean much - it tells us three different things about the story, but they're not connected, and each one kind of feels like its own little "hook". Start with a clearer idea of who Leahry is, and what his world is before the inciting incident.

I don't understand why Leahry sticks around. You talk about big trouble and looming confrontation, but what does that actually mean? Why does he get around, and what reason does he have to stay? At the moment, it sounds like his main motivation is the hope of getting laid.

I want to know more about Shelly. How is she different from the hundred and other feisty heroines who don't need no man but actually kind of do that populate every genre? It sounds like she gets the token label of "strong" just because she might be able to shoot straight, but that's not nearly enough to make her interesting or relatable - she stills Leahry to bail her out. That's an ancient trope, and it's patronising and annoying.

Also, land baron wanting that one bit of land that isn't his and the only obstacle being a Few Decent People is ancient as well.

Anonymous said...

Dustin Leahry is a drifter with a penchant for getting in trouble that ain't his. He arrives at the Cartwright Ranch in San Angelo, Texas, just passing on through, and gets snared by a pair o' green eyes and a shotgun (weren't his fault the gal was nekkid). He stays 'cause he's got honor and finds himself getting shot at by thugs. Seems a land baron wants a few things that ain't his. Well, now it's personal.

Ok, I don't watch enough westerns to do the dialect convincingly but I hope you get the drift

Keep the focus on:

*The MC--what exactly does he really want? To get laid? To find a place to settle down? To fulfill his childhood dreams of being a hero? Make this clear in the query even if it's not clear to the MC

*The conflict--external conflict is the land grab, internal conflict is what?
What's the plan? What goes wrong? How does he shift the plan?

*The stakes--what does the MC personally lose if he fails? (his life? the girl? his horse?) What does he lose if he succeeds? (his driftin' days? the girl? his horse?)

If there isn't anything unique about your take on the western, the writing is going to need to have something going for it (quirky, funny, excellence, etc), or you're going to need to be more than lucky (when did you last win the lottery?)

InkAndPixelClub said...

Author, I'm concerned that this draft still doesn't have anything in it that strays from the basic Western formula at all. I feel like I've seen these characters and this setup before and can probably guess where the story is going. The characters aren't unque or interesting enough to make me want to sit through a formula plot and the plot isn't suggesting any surprises either.

EE, the other minions, and I have all been asking you to include anything that makes this a unique take on the Western since draft one. The fact that I'm still not seeing anything makes me think it's just not in there. If that's the case, your best move might be to revisit your story and see if there's a way you can add in a hook without losing what you like about it. Would it still work if the characters all switched genders? Could you set it in a differenttime period? Could Leahry have some personal problem he has to overcome in addition to saving Shelly's land? Could the land war be more complex than the bad guy who wants control of everything and the good guy refusing to give up her family land?

CavalierdeNuit said...

Great that you're still working on this! It reads like a synopsis, although the sentences are clearly written. I'm not feeling any excitement with this query. Spice it up with some tension and doom. Don't try, just do. It's f****** hard, I know.

AA said...

The voice is all wrong.

"When her father died, Benson sought to take the prime spread from his former friend’s daughter."
It doesn't sound like a Western when you use too-complicated sentence structure (from his former friend's daughter) and words like "sought."

"When Benson ups the ante and orders the death of Shelly’s men, Leahry proves more than just a Drifter by singlehandedly outshooting the hired guns."
Again, voice. This could easily be about a Chicago mob.

"Baker loses a shoe," should be, "Baker throws a shoe." Anyone can lose anything, but a horse can throw a shoe. Use the language to your advantage.

In an earlier version you say Dustin "arrives" at the Cartwright Ranch. So can an accountant arrive at the airport. Dustin is a drifter- perhaps he "drifts onto" the Cartwright ranch.

The "men he worked with" were his compadres.

"He was the first to use a gun." You use deodorant. You draw a gun.

Voice, voice, voice, voice, voice.