Friday, January 30, 2015

Face-Lift 1247

Guess the Plot

Dragon Bait

1. Sluggish creatures! How can we get human women to hump us again? We must lose weight and offer ourselves as exotic dancers in bowties. We'll rule as the world's sexiest monsters!

2. In this hard-hitting expose of Chinese restaurant menus, journalist Kaley Higgenbothams unravels the secret of General Tsao's chicken. Also, fried rice.

3. With his hypnotic eyes (transplanted from a dragon), and his velvet top hat, Uncle Joe hunts down and kills Red "traitors" in 1950s America. The daughter of one of his innocent victims seeks revenge, but first she'll have to get past the dragons protecting Uncle Joe's TV station.

4. Lorelei kept pestering her older brother and his friends to let her join their knight-in-shining-armor game, but when the young girl finds herself tied to a stake and sees an actual dragon swooping toward her, she wonders if she shouldn't have stuck with playing house.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

It’s a 1950s where dragons rule the skies and the nearly-human Dragonlord rules the Americas. [Also, a 1950s where America doesn't have an air force of lethal fighter jets.] The Dragonlord’s carefully chosen Draconem hunt down and eliminate Red traitors. The Draconem used to be human until their eyes were cut out and replaced with the mesmerizing eyes of young dragons. [I heard they've experimented with transplanting pig hearts into people, but I didn't realize those people would then be described as "used to be human."] [Is "used to be human" (draconem) the same as "nearly human" (Dragonlord)?] Leading the charge is the Dragonlord’s favored Draconem, Uncle Joe.
With his hypnotic eyes, his crushed velvet top hat, and his pointy white beard, Uncle Joe has the nation’s devotion. And its fear.

Catherine Pearce is stunned when Uncle Joe announces her dad is a traitor on national television. She sprints home, only to pull her dad’s lifeless body from their burning home. Cat knows her dad was innocent. It was his unsanctioned science experiments that made him a danger to the Dragonlord’s power, not his loyalties. [The Dragonlord was being paranoid. Dad's experiments transplanting dragon mouths onto dogs would never have led to an army of fire-breathing poodles.]

Cat’s mother leaves Cat with her wealthy yet aloof Great-Aunt Ro in a misguided effort to protect Cat. Bullying and loneliness fuel Cat’s desire for revenge against Uncle Joe, and his television station is right in her hometown. Sure, it’s surrounded by dragons, and whenever Uncle Joe looks into your eyes, you have to obey him, but Cat’s pretty sure she can figure out some way around that. [X-Ray specs.] She’s got her Dad’s old notes, her own burning hatred, and her Aunt Ro’s influence at her disposal.

DRAGON BAIT is an upper MG Fantasy complete at 63,000 words. As per your guidelines, I have included [whatever the guidelines say] below. Thank you for your time and consideration.



If, as seems likely, this is meant to be analogous to 1950s US history, I'm not sure middle graders will get that.

Examining the analogy (for our foreign readers), the 1950s was the period of "McCarthyism," when Senator Joe McCarthy led a movement of "red baiting" (which consists of accusing people of being communist, socialist, anarchist... ). In your book, it's the 1950s, and Uncle Joe is out to get Red traitors. The title suggests that maybe dragons are replacing communists, but it turns out the "enemy" is still "Reds," while the dragons are on Joe's side.

So here's how to change the book:

Instead of 1950s USA, set it someplace innocuous, like maybe a farm. Dragons fly around minding their own business. Some of them help the farmers (like Superman does, except with fire breath instead of heat vision). Jo-rah (a giant hog who resembles Godzilla) wants to shoot down all the red dragons because he thinks they're all menaces (actually, they're no worse than the purple and green dragons), just because there are lots of red dragons in the faraway land called Stollen.

My point being that in Animal Farm, the setting and all the characters represent some entity.

Of course, I could be way off. Maybe what you're going for is not allegory, but alternate history. A novel that explores what McCarthyism would have been like if dragons really existed.

In any case, I think we need to get to Catherine a lot sooner. Obviously you don't want to end the query by saying: Also, dragons. But if you start by introducing your world, drop the Dragonlord and draconems and just let us know dragons exist and a mesmerizing TV personality named Uncle Joe rules the country through fear. Then on to Catherine.

Or start with paragraph 2, slipping in important facts about the world (like that there are dragons) whenever you get the chance.

You might want to include what dad's unsanctioned experiments were all about so we know he wasn't a mad scientist experimenting on human children, and thus even worse than Uncle Joe.


AS Olivier said...

I really liked the opening, and the idea of a 1950s America with dragons. But then the dragons seemed to get pushed aside while the query focused on allegorical McCarthyism, so I'm not sure how they're relevant at all. Normally when something has dragons, a lot of the plot is dragon-centric - like, why have dragons at all if you're not going to use them? But here it seems like you could cut the dragons' presence and have Uncle Joe be any kind of spooky/hypnotic creature and it wouldn't make any difference.

You've got a lot of set-up here, but not a lot of story, so maybe that's why the dragons feel a bit tacked-on.

khazarkhum said...

Why are there draconem?

They have dragon eyes--why? The only one who uses them is Uncle Joe. What are the others?Henchmen? Spies? Cops?

Dad is doing something illegal, and Cat is surprized when he's caught? Shouldn't she be worried about that possibility?

Dave Fragments said...

There's a good market for Alternate Reality fiction in novels, movies and TV. Just to name two - Captain America movies and Sharon Carter.
The mood of such a story is heavy and all-encompassing enough that the plot doesn't need to wander into allegory at the risk of becoming polemic.
Be careful of that.

Selena said...

This really doesn't sound like a middle grade novel. Sure, the dragons and hypnotic eyes would be perfect for MG, but eye removal??

And the stakes seem kind of... off, too. You've got all this worldbuilding, but all Cat wants to do is destroy a TV station? What happens if she fails? Her dad's already dead.

Also, while parents get killed all the time in MG, usually it's by car crashes or cancer or suicide. I don't think murder by government officials is going to cut it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it doesn't sound like middle grade. It sounds more like animal farm meets communism paranoia meets distopia flavor of the day, with dragons (sort of).

For queries in general focus on the MC.

Is your MC Uncle Jo? That's who I assume since that's who you start with and focus on for nearly half of your query (If it is, or is for part of the time, this is really not MG) I also assume he's one of the good guys until you get to paragraph two--you probably don't want that.

If your MC is Catherine, keep the focus on her. Ditch the first paragraph, keep only the information that is absolutely necessary and add that into the other two paragraphs.

Sarah Hipple said...

Very interesting comments.

I've already re-written the book to emphasize the part dragons play in the world, but it is hard to show how integral they are to the world in the query (covering only the first part of the book).

Well, looks like I've got some work to do integrating the world into a more Catherine-centric query. I knew I was taking a chance starting off with a world set-up paragraph, but I was hoping it'd play well -and better feature the dragons.

Back to revisions!

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Credential check: I'm a mg author. Have just signed a contract for my ninth book with a major publisher. I'm mentioning that so you'll get where I'm coming from.

How attached are you to the McCarthyism analogy?

Because the idea of an alternate America ruled by dragons certainly seems to have possibilities. But I don't see any reason for it to be the 1950s. You've already created a fantasy world. A different time isn't necessary.

McCarthyism is not usually covered in elementary school curricula, and that matters a lot from a publisher's perspective (no market) and a reader's perspective (most of them won't know what you're analogizing about).

If you can drop the idea of the 1950s and drop the connection to McCarthyism, at least in the query, you'll have a lot stronger presentation.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Author, keep in mind that you can cover a lot more of. The book in a qiery tha you would in the jacket copy. You don't have to worry about spoilers for agents and editors the way you do with readers, so you can go as far as right before the resolution. This might give you more room to cover some of what Catherine does and give a sense of what she'll accomplish if she succeeds in doing whatever she's doing (I imagine that she's going to have to do something beyond destroying the TV station if she doesn't want to end up sharing her dad's fate) and what the consequences are if she fails.

AA said...

"With his hypnotic eyes, his crushed velvet top hat, and his pointy white beard, Uncle Joe has the nation’s devotion. And its fear."
I can see how hypnotic eyes would be scary, but the rest makes him sound like Burl Ives.

"Catherine Pearce is stunned when Uncle Joe announces her dad is a traitor on national television. She sprints home, only to pull her dad’s lifeless body from their burning home." THAT escalated quickly. (Will Ferrell image here.)

"Cat’s mother leaves Cat with her wealthy yet aloof Great-Aunt Ro"
I assume this is Cat's Great Aunt, not her mother's. And why "yet"? What's wrong with the humble "and"? You don't have much space in a query to show your skill, so choose words carefully.

"Bullying and loneliness fuel Cat’s desire for revenge"
Who is bullying whom?

"She’s got her Dad’s old notes, her own burning hatred, and her Aunt Ro’s influence at her disposal." Against dragons? She's toast.
There must be other people who have been treated equally badly and have attempted to overthrow ol' Uncle Joe. What makes Cat so unique that she can succeed where others have failed? And don't say "her dad's old notes" because I inherited my late brother's computer programming notes and as far as I'm concerned they make as much sense upside-down as right side up. The chance of Cat understanding a scientists notes well enough to actually do anything useful with them is slim to none. Consider changing this to an invention he left behind.

I agree there are no stakes. Is Cat trying to save America from Uncle Joe? Admirable, but it would be more admirable if there was any indication that America was unhappy with the state of affairs. If you've got three squares a day and cable, who's complaining?

There really isn't any fun in this story as it's presented here. Kids this age are not yet completely cynical. It's one thing to be edgy, but that can easily cross the line into "depressing."