Monday, September 29, 2014

Face-Lift 1225

Guess the Plot


1. Slogging through the sewer, Jenny plummets into a land of talking animals, height-altering tarts, a red queen, a white rabbit . . . and a hunky Hatter. It's like Wonderland, but topsy-turvy.

2. Chasing his pet rabbit, eleven-year-old Gregor falls through a vent in his basement and lands in a grim world called Underland, where he ends various wars, fulfills various prophecies, and falls in love with a princess.

3. Billy has developed a new type of pig that grows in the ground like potatoes. The other farmers laugh and sneer, but how will their Cumberland sausages stand up against his Underlands?

4. Just as the trophies are handed out at the 2033 World Bacon Eating Championships, randomly ethereal underworld wizard lord Voorg the Majestic's thumb manifests inside a discarded pig's skull. Can Mage Hunter Hoolihan dismantle the Five Portals of Doom with only a single digit to aid him? And who is the fat woman from Boston who demanded "more Porky"?

5. Bobby gets into the secret club under the lunchroom one Tuesday because the bullies made him wear his underwear on his head for an hour. Young outcasts gamble here and girls dance in their underwear, and they make Bobby the Boss. It's revenge of the Underland Club.

6. Welcome to Underland, where the Vampires are arrogant bastards, the Zombies do all the dirty jobs, and the Skeletons dominate the music and art scene. But when a human teenager enrolls at Underland High, will everything go to Hell?

7. The Underlanders live on moss and have learnt to echolocate, but nothing can prepare them for the deep mine that will cause their caverns to collapse. It's up to 8-year-old Eddie to save the day.

Original Version

Dear EE,

Chasing that creep was a terrible idea. And following him into the sewers? Even worse. But seventeen-year-old Jennifer Pilgrim refused [refuses] to let him steal her chess piece necklace, a gift from her deceased mother.

Then, mid-pursuit, the ground disappears under Jenny’s feet.

A terrifying tumble ends in an urbanized Wonderland—now coined Underland by its inhabitants. Talking animals, height-altering tarts, and the outlaw of the color blue. [A reader could interpret that as an outlaw who always wears blue. You could use "outlawing" or "banning." Or "where blue is taboo."] Nothing makes sense [here] and showing up with blue eyes and a blue dress? Jenny is in constant danger.

Desperate to escape the topsy turvy world, Jenny turns to Cornelius Hatter, finder extraordinaire. He reveals that the thief was actually a White Rabbit, the Red Queen’s bounty hunter. Terrified the Alice-look-alike will somehow retrieve the necklace, the Queen unleashes [has unleashed] her guard to capture Jenny. Or more specifically, her head. [The first two sentences of that paragraph don't seem connected to the last two because the last two have nothing to do with the Hatter. You can connect them by specifying that the Hatter tells her that the queen is out for her head.]

No way is that happening. Jenny formulates a plan: get her mom’s necklace and get home. [That's her goal, not her plan.] [Perhaps replace the paragraph with: All Jenny wants is to get back her necklace and get back home.]

Except Jenny’s strategy pushes her [keeps falling] deeper into Underland. With their memories taken by the Red Queen, Underland’s inhabitants teeter between revolution and submission. Through the Oyster Rebellion’s intel, Jenny discovers that her necklace originally belonged to Alice. And holds the key to returning everyone’s memories.

Jenny finds herself torn between a world—and a man—she has come to care for and the family and home she has always known.

Complete at 80,000 words, UNDERLAND is a steampunk/urban twist on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Thank you for your time and consideration.



If the inhabitants don't have their memories, why do they teeter toward revolution? I would expect them to consider revolution after their memories are returned, and to be submissive before.

You could put the 2nd paragraph at the end of P1 and the 5th paragraph at the beginning of P6.

You didn't happen to see the 2010 Tim Burton movie Alice in Wonderland, did you? In it, nineteen-year-old Alice falls down a hole in the ground and ends up back in Wonderland, which is now called Underland. (Actually, it was always called Underland; Alice misheard it when she was there as a child.) It's a place filled with talking animals, etc. She learns her true destiny is to end the Red Queen's reign of terror. (The movie was not the first use of the name Underland;  it's the name of all the land under Narnia, and Henry Payson Dowst long ago wrote a short story called "Alice in Underland."). 

Focus the query on the necklace and the urbanized/ steampunk aspects of the world, as you haven't made it sound much different from Wonderland or Burton's Underland.

I'd get the significance of the necklace in earlier, even if you have to claim she finds out from the Hatter instead of the Blue Oyster Cult. (Which, of course, is what you should call the Oyster Rebellion.)


InkAndPixelClub said...

Even with the steampunk angle and the chess piece necklace, I'm concerned that this is a story I've heard before. Anything and everything you've got that will differentiate your visit to Wonderland from dozens that have come before needs to be in the query.

Opening paragraph is not grabbing my attention. I'd consider condensing it down to a single setence. "Seventeen year old Jenny Pilgrim is chasing the creep who stole her chess piece necklace through the sewers when the floor beneath her disappears." Cut right to the chase.

Like EE said, steampunk should be in the query, not just the genre. Potential editors are going to want to see how your descriptions will make the world and characters every bit as fascinating as the better artwork that will pop up when they google "steampunk Alice in Wonderland."

Presumably Jenny can find a different outfit to avoid being spotted as an outlaw from a mile away.

I assume that it's Cornelius Hatter who Jenny is developing feelings for since he's the only man mentioned besides possibly the white rabbit.. But he gets so little attention here that I know why they're falling in love or really care about whether they end up together. If their relationship is an important part of the story, it needs more space in the query.

The stakes are getting a little muddled here. It sounds like Jenny has to make a choice between Underland and home, but I don't see how helping the Underlanders and going hom are mutually exclusive goals and I don't know if Jenny has a way to get home.

Chicory said...

The story you describe reminds me really strongly the Syfy mini-series, `Alice' which is also an `Alice in Wonderland' retelling in an urban setting with Hatter as the love interest, people who are referred to as oysters, and a piece of jewelry that acts as the Mcguffin. (It's a ring, not a necklace, but still...) That is a lot of similarities to an existing adaption.

Sorry I can't be more helpful. You probably feel like everyone is accusing you of being derivative, and here I've just made it worse.

Giving a new face to an old story is HARD especially one that has already been adapted so many times. Hang in there and, as InkAndPixelclub said, try to figure out what makes your version stand out from the crowd.

SB said...

Personally, I'm always interested in new takes on Wonderland (even though I hated the original stories). So I'd probably be interested in reading this right off. I would say, if this is a steampunk version, play that element up more to show me what's unique about this particular spin on Wonderland.

Also, like EE pointed out, I immediately thought of how Wonderland-is-Underland has been done before. So I'd suggest not using that name. Either keep the name Wonderland or come up with a name for it that no one's used before.

I'd also like to at least know who the love interest is, if you're going to mention that she has one. (And knowing there's a love aspect to the story would increase my interest, so I'd recommend that you do keep some part of that in the query, if it's at all important.) (I for one hope it is the Hatter, but that may be because certain already existing adaptations/spins have made him rather attractive.)

The thing about outlawing the color blue made me sort of rebel against the query, but then I reminded myself that it's Wonderland so things don't have to make any sense. Which is really only true to a point. A large part of the reason I like Wonderland adaptations but not the original is that most of the adaptations make some semblance of sense while the original is pure nonsense.

But for the most part, I'd totally pick this book up in a store.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Thing is, using the name Wonderland is also dicey because Disney may actually hold rights to it. It's complicated, and probably the reason the more recent film went with "Underland".

Discrimination against people with blue eyes sounds a bit... well, let's not go there. (Although a moment with google shows that it is a favorite hypothetical example used by bloggers.)

Anyway, I agree that if you're doing Alice, you have to really emphasize what makes this different from the other Alices.

CavalierdeNuit said...

I'm all for an original take on a classic, but this does not sound original at all.

If you want to use Alice in Wonderland, take elements of the story and weave your own. Make up your own names and characters.

Like, read every piece of literature (Go Ask Alice, Through the Looking-Glass, etc), listen to every song (White Rabbit etc), watch every movie (Burton's Alice etc), and use all of those to make your own version without stealing anything.

Tell a story through the poor lonely Jabberwock's pov--first person linear narrative--nobody's done that! I'd read that for sure.

Evil Editor said...

Actually, the author was seeking feedback on the query letter. As the book has already been written, much of the advice coming in is a little late.

Author said...


Dear EE:

Seventeen-year-old Jennifer Pilgrim expected darkness, grimy water, and rats when she chased a thief into the sewers. What she got was a one-way trip to Wonderland—or Underland, as the residents call it. Instead of the whimsical landscape of the past, rundown cities pulse with electricity. The few remaining forests spurt blood-rain and hold rats the size of Great Danes. And the famous Alice? She’s all but forgotten due to the Red Queen’s theft of the inhabitant’s memories. At least the villain is still the same.

Jenny wants nothing to do with this bizarre place. She chased that creep to take back her chess piece necklace, a gift from her deceased mother. Guided by a cat with a too-wide smile, Jenny enlists help from the debonair Cornelius Hatter, finder of lost objects. Hatter vows to retrieve Jenny’s necklace and take her to the Red Queen’s castle, where the only portal to Earth resides.

As Jenny travels deeper into Underland, she realizes her chess piece necklace once belonged to Alice and holds the key to returning everyone’s memories. The exact spark a secret revolutionary group needs to increase recruitment and overthrow the Red Queen. Jenny’s protection and successful retrieval of the necklace becomes its top priority.

Upon discovering the rebellion’s plan, the Queen reinstates her favorite pastime: beheading enemies of the court.

And Jenny is first on her list.

Complete at 80,000 words, AFTER ALICE is a young-adult, steampunk twist on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with sequel potential. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Evil Editor said...

"Instead of the whimsical landscape of the past, rundown cities pulse with electricity." I don't find that this quite makes the point. "Rundown cities" suggests the place has become a dump. But "pulsing with electricity" isn't necessarily a bad thing. Disney World pulses with electricity despite being a whimsical landscape. You could cut the sentence off at rundown cities. Or change "electricity" to "the roar of steam-powered playing card factories."

Also, "of the past" might be better as "of Alice's world."

I prefer "And Alice? to "And the famous Alice?"

inhabitants' {apostrophe)

"Guided by a cat with a too-wide smile" isn't needed.

I'd change "take back" to "get back."

Use the name of the secret revolutionary group rather than call them that.

Change "its" to "their."

Change "pastime" to "policy."

SB said...

I don't think this is a bad query letter, but it doesn't really convince me that this version has something really new and unique to offer. If you could, I'd suggest trying to play up even more how yours is different. (I want to suggest telling how some of the various Alice characters are different in your version, but I suspect others would caution against putting too many characters in the query, so I'll hold back.)

InkAndPixelClub said...

It's an improvement on the first version, but it could still use some tightening up and extra oomph.

It'd be nice if you could get Underland into the first sentence. A dirty sewer is not a major part of your story. The sooner you can get to the setting that is key to your story, the better.

I'm having a tough time visualizing the forest spurting blood-rain (does it come out of the trees) and the rats the size of Great Danes seem a little out of place. Neither visual screams either steampunk or Alice in Wonderland.

I don't see how it helps Jenny or anyne else that the villain is the same one from the original book, so that setence can go.

Without any context for why there is a portal to Earth in the Red Queen's castle, it feels like a plot contrivance to force Jenny to go to the most dangerous place she can be. I'd change "Earth" to "Jenny's home" or "Jenny's world," unless your story makes it clear that Underland is a different planet.

Why does the rebellion need Jenny and not just the chess piece necklace?

The previous draft started to discuss Jenny's dilemma: she wants to get back home, but she's starting to care about the inhabitants of Underland, particularly the Hatter. Putting that back in will help Jenny to seem like a more active protagonist, someone who starts making her own choices rather than just being helped and protected by others.

I like the new title better than the previous one.

Chicory said...

This new query is better. :) I like the first sentence but I agree with InkAndPixel that Jenny's dilemma should be returned to the query.