Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Face-Lift 1298

Guess the Plot

The Corner of Burch and Grace

1. Akshually th coroner (mispelled thet) ov birch (misspeled tat) aand grapes (misspellt that that)- uh ghyde fer whoredikulcher docters evereehwere.

2. Here's the Google Street view of "Corner of Burch and Grace." It looks like a residential neighborhood in the middle of fucking nowhere, so I'm guessing this is a coming of age story or some shit like that.

3. Six-year-old Grace Burch is tired of being a pawn in her divorced parents custody battle, so she raises money through a Kickstarter campaign, files for emancipation, and sues both her parents for child support. Told in the alternating viewpoints of her dog, Princess, and her cat, Mephistopheles.

4. Burch and Grace are conjoined twins awaiting the surgery to finally separate them. Yet their life afterwards is not as separated as they may hope.

5.  There's a little diner at the corner of Burch & Grace, where the lonely, the lost and the loveless come for food, coffee, and maybe some pathetic attempt at human interaction. And that's the way they liked it, until the night the Glam Girls of Glendale showed up.

6. Nothing of interest has ever happened at the corner of Burch and Grace in Buffalo, New York . . . until the night they dig up the children's skeletons.

7. The haunting true story of the image found in Edward Hopper's masterpiece, "Nighthawks".

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

My memoir, THE CORNER OF BURCH AND GRACE, was written about the first 14 years of my life growing up in Buffalo, New York, in the transformative 1960s. [The 1960s may have seemed to go on forever, but I'm pretty sure they didn't last 14 years.] 

While everyone will enjoy this collection of stories at face value, they are especially powerful for every adult who had a difficult childhood, and, [Commas not needed.] for every adult who ever had a relationship with someone who had a difficult childhood. Finally, these stories are for every child who became an adult and chose to never look back. [Maybe it would waste less space if you just told us who these stories aren't for.] [I'm not sure what "at face value" means in terms of enjoying a book. Is it related to judging a book by its cover?] [It sounds like what you're saying is, Everyone will enjoy this book at face value, but those who hope to enjoy it on a level other than face value must fall into one of the following three categories, which include pretty much everyone.]

From the deterioration of my mother, my family and me [If you just say "my family," we will deduce that you and your mother are included.] amidst a backdrop of shame and silence, to the heartrending testimony and rollicking humor of life lessons learned, both sweetly and harshly - in the neighborhood, at school, and at home - THE CORNER OF BURCH AND GRACE is a call for all of us to consider, both literally and metaphorically, what makes us turn out the way we do. [This is all totally vague. It's like saying, "My family: the good, the bad and the ugly, here there and everywhere." Except that would use less space, leaving more room to tell us some specific things that happen in the book.]

My wish is that these poignant and humorous tales will show every reader that it is often necessary to dig up our childhood skeletons and set them down - right alongside the happy memories. [I think the skeletons you're talking about are in the closet, so no need to bring a shovel.]

It is in the spirit of service that I offer this variety of pieces from my manuscript. [Not sure what that means. You are doing the recipient of your query a service by including pieces from the manuscript?] The book is finished and is awaiting a good literary home. I've inserted the manuscript within this email, per your guidelines. [How long is this book? Hard to believe anyone's guidelines include inserting the entire manuscript within an email.]


[Not clear if this next part is part of the query or intended solely for EE, but it doesn't belong in a letter to a literary agent. Or to EE.]

Once a journalist, I now maintain a [website where I post pieces of various genres]. I invite you to visit me there. I have chosen several pieces for your perusal – simply click on “Selections for Literary Agents” under Categories.

I am available for journalistic assignments, essays, columns and features, and of course, other books - as there are even more Tales from Burch Avenue and beyond. [What happened to Grace?]


Shame and silence; heartrending testimony and rollicking humor, sweetly and harshly; literally and metaphorically; poignant and humorous; skeletons and memories. My mother, my family and me; neighborhood, school and home. These pairings and lists of nouns, adverbs and adjectives don't tell us anything about your book. Except that everyone will enjoy it, for it is all things to all people. 

Once you call it a memoir of your childhood, I expect it to consist of vignettes starring you and your family. Possibly you don't need to also refer to it as a collection of stories, poignant and humorous tales, a variety of pieces... It sounds like something along the lines of Winesburg, Ohio, halfway between a novel and short story collection, in that it consists of stories, but with the same setting and characters. 

We need the word count so we can complain about it.

Pretty much no one wants to read about the first (or any) fourteen years of anyone's life in Buffalo, New York, so if you want to sell this, you're going to have to convince us that your first fourteen years were truly remarkable. You haven't told us anything that happened to you in those years.

Of course it's hard to describe a collection of stories in a few paragraphs, but at least these stories are unified. You could give specific brief summaries of two or three of the stories, then hint that these are but a sampling of the fascinating tales in your book. For instance:

In 1960, a young girl tosses a stone at Lake Erie and watches it skip across the surface nine times before plunging to the depths. She immediately applies for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In 1965, this same girl is swimming in Lake Erie when the surface of the lake bursts into flames, an event that inspires her to invent a delicious recipe for chicken wings.

Two years later, a singer convinces this same gal to come out of her Buffalo, New York house at night and dance by the light of the moon.

These and a dozen other stories compose my memoir of growing up in a deteriorating family in a deteriorating neighborhood in a deteriorating city in the transformative 1960s.

You can make the summaries slightly longer, but make sure they're at least as interesting as my examples.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Two very important things.

The first is you need to tell us what your memoir is about. Lots of things can make childhood difficult: Abuse, poverty, war, natural disaster, being raised in a cult.

The second is you should read a lot of queries. Read the ones on this blog. And read Janet Reid's blogs. (She has two blogs; read 'em both.).

(I just tried googling Evil Editor memoir to see if there were any good memoir examples that had turned up on this blog, but all I learned was that many memoir authors believe their editors to be evil.)

Evil Editor said...

Though I stopped labeling queries somewhere along the line, and though I later reduced the number of labels that appear under "Labels" in the sidebar because there were so many, I've now temporarily returned "memoir" to the list of labels. Whether any are good queries is another matter, but there are nine of them (a couple are fictional memoirs), and perhaps they, along with their comments, will prove useful.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

#503 is one I would find very encouraging if I were querying a memoir.
Or, well, anything really.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that memoirs are non-fiction that is written and sold like fiction, which mean you need a comprehensive narrative structure, and your query should look much like one for a work of fiction.

As an aside, short story collections are a tough sell for any genre. They usually only come together as anthologies or as collections of stories already published in sources like magazines.

For your query, don't tell us what your book is about. Tell us a bit about the main character background, what they want in life, what their plans are for getting it, what problems they run into, etc. You also need WHY this memoir is important to read, and WHAT it says about a larger world than just the subject of the memoir. And it needs to say all this in a way that sheds new light on whatever it is you're talking about.

The market is generally saturated with memoirs. If your life isn't particularly unique, and you don't have any particularly new insights or unusual experiences, I'd suggest either self-publication for family members or come up with some fictional bits to make it more interesting and re-write it as a novel.