Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Face-Lift 1287

Guess the Plot

Under the Rainbow

1. A fantastical adventure based loosely on The Wizard of Oz, but instead of meeting hundreds of Munchkins when she gets to Oz, Dorothy meets the over five thousand members of the American Pawnbrokers Association.

2. Dorothy, the world's first vampire, must travel to Greed City and convince Satan to release her from the contract she signed hundreds of years ago. Only then can she escape hell and find out once and for all if there's anyplace like home.

3. Mere days after returning to Kansas and professing her wish to never leave again, Dorothy longs for a world with color and the adrenalin rush of fighting witches and flying monkeys. But can she get back to Oz by clicking together the heels of her leather walking shoes?

4. At Area 52, an illegal rave in the Nevada desert, someone spikes the drinks with “Rainbow, a drug that makes speed look like slo-mo. When Marcia learns that Rainbow can only be synthesized in the atomizer her scientist parents designed, she realizes there's more to her nerdy parents than meets the eye. Can she uncover the true source of the drug before she and her friends wind up six feet . . . Under the Rainbow?

5. When Theodore brings his wolfhound Otto along to retrieve his grandmother's silver slippers from an estate sale, he's whisked away in a whirlwind of red tape to a land of drug-dealing imps, bricked music, and witchy strippers.

6. We can be pretty sure that if Dorothy had successfully boarded that hot-air balloon, it wouldn't have ended up in Kansas. Fly with her as the winds carry her to another wondrous land filled with danger and excitement. Also, a wizard who's not a fraud.

7. When gay rights activist and prominent drag queen Tuply Paper Mates is found strangled on a yacht belonging to prominent conservative talk show host Ross Bigelow, the media rushes in to crucify Bigelow. But homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, Mates was shot in the Hollywood Hills, not strangled; and two, having a boat in Marina del Rey probably isn't worth the hassle.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

Dorothy doesn’t remember anything after she’s staked and lands in Hell.

She doesn’t remember the contract she signed with the Devil hundreds of years ago, nor the thousands of people she murdered since then. [Once you've said she doesn't remember anything, no need to list a few individual things she doesn't remember. But since we prefer specifics to generalities, we's rather you get rid of the "doesn't remember anything."] But when an angel breaks into Hell, she tells Dorothy that, at the mere age of seventeen, she sold her soul to Satan for eternal youth, turning her into the world’s first vampire. [So Satan benevolently lets Dorothy exist oblivious to all the horrors she's caused, while this so-called angel spills the beans, sending her on the mother of all guilt trips?]

Now Dorothy’s regained her soul -- along with her guilt -- as part of her punishment. [How did she regain her soul, and why is that considered punishment?] But she learns if she wants a shot at redemption, she must travel to the City of Greed and somehow convince Satan to release her, something never before attempted. [If it turns out all you have to do is ask Satan to release you, a lot of people who've been in hell for centuries are gonna be kicking themselves.]

If Dorothy travels to the distant City, she faces a powerful demon that will stop at nothing to keep her from reaching it, claiming Dorothy is not out to seek redemption but instead to steal her title. [The demon's title? What is her title? Is this title in Greed City?] But if Dorothy stays where she is, [the book will end prematurely.] she faces her ultimate punishment – monster children with razor teeth tearing her apart as she tore others apart on Earth. [Hmm, an obsessed demon or monster children. Tough decision. . . . How many monster children?]

And as her memories start slowly coming back to her, Dorothy begins to realize this powerful demon has some connection to the night she sold her soul. [Why is that important?]

UNDER THE RAINBOW is a YA dark fantasy novel with series potential inspired by The Wizard of Oz, complete at approximately 78,000 words. It is written as a morbid and unusual fairy tale retelling for the audiences who enjoyed A.G. Howard's Splintered series and Danielle Paige's Dorothy Must Die series.

I saw on your website that your represent fantasy, literary horror and young adult. UNDER THE RAINBOW contains elements of each of these, so it seemed like a good match for you.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,


If we condense what you've written into something like:

Hundreds of years ago, when she was seventeen, Dorothy signed a contract with the Devil, trading away her soul for eternal life--and becoming the first vampire. Now that she's been staked and sent to hell, she seeks redemption. But to get it she must travel to the City of Greed and convince Satan to release her.

As Dorothy travels to the distant City, she faces a powerful demon that will stop at nothing to keep her from reaching it.

. . . you'll have room to tell us some of what happens. Insofar as you call this a "retelling," I assume Dorothy encounters allies who join her on the journey. Tell us the story, preferably without resorting to simply listing Dorothy's friends and the obstacles they overcome.

Was there small print in the contract that specified her life would be eternal only if she didn't get staked?


Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of basing your own work on someone else's, but there is a market for it. Keeping that in mind....

"world's first vampire" She can't be just any vampire. She has to be the world's first vampire? *eye roll* Seriously, is there a reason she needs to be the first vampire? Please review your manuscript for other possible Mary Sue qualities (not saying they're there, but you've already raised one red flag) Also, people who love their vampire lore may take issue.

When you say she doesn't remember anything after being staked, it sounds like she doesn't remember what happened between being staked and ending up in hell. In which case, so what? Later it sounds like she doesn't remember her years as a vampire either. I'm left with her remembering her life up to seventeen, then maybe remembering being staked, then being in hell. Is that accurate? Try to be more clear.

Not sure where the angel comes into it. Does she break into hell specifically to tell Dorothy how to save herself, or is she there for another reason and helps out in passing? Also, as EE said, this is a detail that can probably be left out of the query. Get Dorothy on the road ASAP.

You say she sold her soul. How did she get it back? Just by going to hell? How are you defining "sold her soul"? I'm asking this because the guilt, memories, and character arc seem to be at least partially based on it.

It would help to know specifically what the demon wants, especially if it's the primary antagonist.

The monster children don't really sound like an option. If you're mentioning a choice the MC is making, both options need to sound equally reasonable for the character and equally viable to the story.

I'd like to see a bit more about where Dorothy starts on the evil scale, and where she's going. It sounds like she's back at seventeen, and you're making it sound like she's a naive girl who now must deal with things she doesn't remember being responsible for. But, seventeen was when she sold her soul, which doesn't seem to add up. If it's a redemption story, it needs to be a redemption story, not "I did a bunch of bad stuff that I irresponsibly don't remember, I so shouldn't be held accountable for any of it, duh."

As a reader, I'd want to be certain the story holds its own as a story and the fun trappings are a bonus, not have a meaningless plug-and-play with nothing new.

InkAndPixelClub said...

If the plot you've described here isn't at least one third of your story, you're going to need to add more.

I'd start with Dorothy's current situation rather than detailing what she doesn't remember. She's in Hell. She presumably has no idea why since she can't remember anything that happened before she arrived in Hell. She's facing horrific punishment (or is she not in any danger until after she learns about her past from the angel?). A very convenient angel informs her that she's a vampire. She finds out (from who?) that she might have a shot at redemption if she can make it to the City of Greed and convince Satan to free her. (What does redemption for Dorothy look like? Limbo? Heaven? Another shot at living a mortal life?)

Get to some of the action we can expect to see while Dorothy heads to the City of Greed and some of the choices she has to make. The one you've presented her with comes too early and I'm not sure how she knows that the powerful demon will be after her, meaning the choice to go to the City of Greed has no clear downside.

I'd drop why you're querying that particular agent, as she or he probably knows from your description and genre that your book matches her or his areas of focus. Also drop "It is written as a morbid and unusual fairy tale retelling." The description of your story should get across the morbid and unusual aspects of your book without you having to say that it's morbid and unusual.

Anonymous said...

Very subjective view here:

I don't know about others, but I can't get a footing in your plot when you violate so many rock-solid assumptions of popular religion: Hell is inescapable, damnation utterly precludes redemption, vampires have no place in Christendom (except when they recoil from a cross), creatures that are unable to control their murderous impulses are not guilty of sin (no memory means no awareness to me), and Satan is impervious to your pleas. I don't know if an agent will have the same reaction, but it's possible. If that's something that concerns you, you should take care of those things coming out of left field that prompted EE's questions throughout your query, because they worsen matters considerably. I'd want to see this written in such a way that shows you've got your rules down firmly and that events mostly unfold with some logic; as it stands, this story lurches rather than builds.

SB said...

The big problem I'm having here is the idea that she needs to make this journey to convince Satan to free her. As a reader, I have no reason at all to think that she'd be able to convince him to do that, since it goes against everything anyone has ever said or known about Satan. It comes across as a totally futile effort. IMO, you need to either show why she might be able to convince him of this (does she have some sort of blackmail plan in place?) or give me an idea that her real goal once she gets there is something else, something with even the tiniest chance of working.

Otherwise, it's like, "Her only chance is to walk from Earth to the sun." Well, that's just not going to happen, so what's her actual plan?

khazar-khum said...

As a general rule, Hell doesn't have a 'return to owner' soul policy. It's a one-=way street. Now, if her soul is being held ransom for something, that' s different. If it's part of a collective bargaining agreement with Satan that staked vampires may have their soul back under certain conditions, say so. Otherwise she's set on an impossible task that the reader knows has no chance of succeeding.

As an aside to EE, what is literary horror? The books with the bad sex scenes?

Matt said...

I agree with SB. There needs to be a reason Doe thinks she can convince Satan, and it has to be more than just her powers of persuasion. I never considered Dorothy as much of a talker. And Satan is the master persuader himself.

Dorothy: Oh, Satan, Master of Blood and Tears, I would ever so much like to go home.

Satan: Can't do it for ya, bruv.

Dorothy: Oh, but me and Toto have come such a long way!

Satan: Sorry bruv. Can't do it. Can't do it for ya.

Dorothy: But we killed the Pursuant Demon of the East. It was oh so difficult to get here…

Satan: You takin' a piss, bruv? Can't do it for ya.

Dorothy: Well, alright…

So how could anyone, especially Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ, possibly negotiate with the Prince of Chavs? Like SB said, she would need some kind of leverage or trick. I like the concept though.

dhewco said...

I'm sorry, but I can't buy Dorothy as the first vamp. I'm picturing either Judy Garland or Bea Arthur (Dorothy on the Golden Girls) with fangs and that takes me completely out of it. I would find some ancient biblical name or some ancient Goth/Romanian name for the first vamp. Maybe you could mean the first American vamp and she's one of the girls who called 'witch' in Salem, Mass.

SB said...

Also, if you're going to use a title and character name that indicates it's a Wizard of Oz retelling, I'd want to see more of that. If those are the only things in this whole book that resemble Oz, I'd feel really cheated. (I love Oz and enjoy retellings, so if I'm reading an Oz retelling, I want to be able to recognize characters/plotlines and see how you've put a different twist on them.)

Anonymous said...

SB, "If those are the only things in this whole book that resemble Oz..." Wait, you got all these, right?

Glinda the Good Witch = the angel who breaks into Hell
Winged monkeys or possibly Munchkins = monster children with razor teeth
Emerald City = City of Greed
Wizard = Satan
Wicked Witch of the West = powerful demon
House landing on Wicked Witch of the West's sister = Dorothy begins to realize this powerful demon has some connection to the night she sold her soul
Dorothy yearning for land over the rainbow = Dorothy wanting eternal youth

AA said...

Anonymous: A lot of those are real stretches. Like the winged monkeys. They were supposed to catch Dorothy and carry her back, not just torment her. And the Munchkins were mostly friendly.
And the house landing isn't in there at all. At least so far.

Anyway, maybe you could set the story in a mythical underworld of your own making. It's more creative as well. Instead of using the typical Satan, Demons and lake of fire, you could make it more interesting. And then there would be no pesky preconceived notions and people going, "Yes, but Satan wouldn't do that."

Generally speaking, in folklore, the keeper of the underworld can be bargained with. This would be an excellent addition to your story. A trade for something really important to humanity would be cool.

I know this is supposed to be a critique of the query, but considering the reaction you're getting the book probably isn't ready yet.

Also, if you're going to be inspired by a work, you can avoid pissing off purists by making it very subtle and not advertising it as such. That way people won't go, "Great. I re-working of something I really love. Pass."
Instead, you could have those suggestions in the ms but leave them as a shadow in the background, so people will feel clever when they notice the resemblances. Like a few chapters in. Of course you would have to rename the mc.

Anyway, just some suggestions. Have fun with it.

Evil Editor said...

FWIW: Under the Rainbow could be (and, in fact, is) a good title for a book with the subtitle "Growing up Gay." It could be (and is) a good title for a book about Judy Garland. Or leprechauns. Or a retelling of The Muppet Movie with its song "Rainbow Connection." The rainbow isn't part of the original Wizard of Oz book, written in 1900. The song was written for the 1939 movie.

Anonymous said...

"I know this is supposed to be a critique of the query, but considering the reaction you're getting the book probably isn't ready yet."

I was thinking about this -- the consensus that the hell and Satan graft isn't working. I even thought of another reason why the hell/Satan thing is a bad fit: in the book Dracula, when he finally gets staked, just before his face crumbles to dust it expresses pure peace and release. It turns out vampires don't actually go to hell for being vampires.

So as long as Dorothy's a vampire, why not use (or make up) a vampire underworld instead of a Christian underworld? Keep all your plot elements, but change some names and adapt some other myths.

Anonymous said...

A bit curious as to whether the author is basing off the movie version or the book version.

InkAndPixelClub said...

There are a ton of different vampire legends out there. Just because "Dracula" said or implied that vampires don't go to Hell doesn't mean a book where they do is somehow wrong or not believable. I've seen plenty of stories that dispense with some of the most basic tenants of vampire lore that work fine. As long as they're consistent within the story about the vampire rules, it's not a problem.

Similarly, the query says that the book is inspired by "The Wizard of Oz," a story that has been retold and reworked plenty of times before. There's no need for it to be the exact text of the movie or the original book with "vampire" swapped in for little girl, "Satan" for "wizard," "angel" for "good witch," etc. it's more important that the story works on its own merits, even if you know nothing about "The Wizard of Oz" than to have everything be an exact parallel to the source material.

All that said, Hell and Satan both come with a lot of baggage for potential readers, baggage that suggests that Dorothy trying to convince Satan to release her is not going to fly. If you don't want to take the next query draft up to the point where Dorothy makes it to the city and tries to bargain with Satan, then you need to at least suggest why this might work. Ideally, there's a reason why Dorothy might be successful at this seemingly impossible endeavor when no one else could be. If there's no reason beyond "no one else ever tried before," your readers will be left wondering why no one in all of human history has tried this and - assuming Dorothy is successful - what's to prevent every soul in Hell from attempting to bargain their way out and keeping the Devil way too busy to corrupt humans on Earth.

Evil Editor said...

I could see Satan agreeing to release someone if that someone offered to send him lots of souls to replace the one he's losing. Especially if Dorothy says she'll corrupt some really pure souls destined for heaven and send them his way. In fact, having murdered thousands of people, Dorothy seems more valuable to Satan if she stays on Earth, doing his dirty work.

Just as the fictional world of Faerie has inspired many works of fiction with different rules, until an eyewitness to what's going on in hell comes forth and tells us what Satan is really like, anyone is free to imagine it any way they like. Dante's seven circles of hell aren't in the Bible, and Christianity isn't the only religion with hell. The version of hell depicted on Supernatural differs from that in Hellraiser 2 or the Simpsons.

Anonymous said...

As long as the world building is solid, I don't think the underworld not matching any particular version of hell will make any difference. The idea in the query is to not raise questions that make us wonder whether the author has really thought this through. I think we need to know:

*What state does Dorothy start in? What memories does she have, where did her soul come from (considering she sold it) and what state is it in, and how innocent/corrupt is she?

*What is Dorothy hoping to achieve? Getting to the City of Greed for redemption, yes, but what does redemption look like to her? What's her plan for getting what she wants?

*What's the action in the book look like? What difficulties is she going to face? What kind of choices is she going to need to make?

kljacks said...

Thank you, everyone, for all of your input. It's really helped me to look at this query (and the book itself) in a new light. These are some things that I'm really going to have to think about and, even harder, try to put into only a few paragraphs when I redo the query. When I post the revision, hopefully I'll have all of your questions answered. Thank you again!