Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Guess the Plot
An Impresssionable Age
1. A meticulously chronicled year in the life of Sammy, a toddler who hates peas.
2. An idealistic teacher takes a job at a school for troubled youth, hoping to turn lives around. What in God's name was he thinking?
3. Dotty is 97 years old and slowly losing her wits. Her grandchildren circle her like sharks, feeding her misinformation and lies in an attempt to gain her fortune. Unbeknownst to them, she's already frittered the lot away on online gambling.
4. Seven-year-old Bobby unexpectedly walks in on his parents' lovemaking at midnight. Five years later he's running a chain of brothels down the east coast.
5. Though the bronze, iron, and industrial ages get more publicity, the most impressionable age was the age of Silly Putty.
6. Media are calling it "Bloody Saturday" after a new Saturday morning cartoon show called How to Murder Your Parents debuts.
Not everybody who came of age in the’60’s made it to Woodstock, but, in common with others from his generation, Bill Raymond believes wrongly that passion and high ideals will protect him when he advances into the No Man’s Land of career and romance. [Not clear why there's a "but" in that sentence, or what the Woodstock phrase is doing on the front side of the "but." It seems to assume that anyone reading the query knows that those who made it to Woodstock were all passionate idealists. Actually, the only passionate idealist at Woodstock was Joan Baez; everyone else went thinking they were attending a stadium-sized concert, only to discover they were trapped in Calcutta in the monsoon season, with no bathrooms. (But at least there was good music and plenty of drugs to help pass the time while they waited for the 100,000 cars blocking them in to be moved.)] An Impressionable Age will remind readers of that time when the door closed on the period of their youth with its illusions, optimism and high expectations. [And who doesn't want to be reminded of that?]
Professionals look down on low-paying Bishop School, a residential institution for troubled urban kids, as an outpost of the Foreign Legion—happy people need not apply—but in 1968, Bill, a seventh-grade teacher at Bishop, exists on an exalted plane of idealism and boundless confidence in a future dedicated to noble and selfless undertakings. One night, by mistake he knocks on the door of Assistant Houseparent Barbara Soroko’s apartment and is enchanted by Fellow Scorpio Barb’s. [Fellow Scorpio Barb's what? Medieval decor? Low-cut nightgown?] [Did he know she was a Scorpio before he accidentally knocked? Or did it go something like this:
Barb (opening her door): "Yes?"
Bill: "Oh, sorry, I knocked on the wrong door . . . So . . . what's your sign?"]
For a brief time, he lives in the eye of the storm, a place of calm and grace where the blue sky holds only big, white, puffy clouds [Suddenly Evil Editor is thinking of the opening credits of The Simpsons. Wait a minute, Bill is based on Principal Skinner, and Barb is Edna Krabappel, right?] and it’s never too hot to drive with the top down. Swept along on a wave of Baby Boomer romantic fantasy part Camelot and part astrology avec un petit soupçon de Nietzsche, [Evil Editor likes to predict the exact moment in a query letter when 100% of the editors who haven't already tossed it into the recycling pile, will roll their eyes and do so. That was it.] he falls in love with the unsentimental, unromantic, highly-nuanced Barb, though he finds her a little bit dangerous. She lacks irony, but the hard-drinking Barb with her whimsical nature and genius-level IQ enthralls the naïve Bill. [Why the "but" in that sentence? Bill normally doesn't fall for women who lack irony?] [Boys seldom make passes at girl who are highly nuanced and lack irony.] [Evil Editor must admit he's impressed that you managed to apply eight different adjectives to Barb within a span of two sentences.] Except for tantalizing references to affairs with older men, Barb [You may as well change her name to Edna, because every time Evil Editor sees the name Barb, now, he envisions Ms. Krabappel.] lives only in the present: courting his mysterious Dark Angel is like dating an amnesia victim. After dating Barb for a year, her mother begins introducing Bill to her friends as her son-in-law, and at school, he is elected the youngest union president in the country. [This concludes my list of unrelated facts about Bill and Barb.]
An Impressionable Age, my 123,000-word character-driven novel, is literary fiction, but readers of The Water Is Wide will identify with Bill Raymond’s losing struggle against the reactionary oligarchs on the board of directors to make Bishop into a real school instead of just a warehouse for emotionally disturbed teens. [Why is there a "but" in that sentence? It implies that The Water is Wide is not literary fiction.] [By the way, Joan Baez does a decent rendition of the song "The Water is Wide," though Evil Editor much prefers the Orla Fallon version.] Bill doesn’t realize that he has descended into cynicism and spiritual collapse until he is fired from Bishop and Barb dumps him. [So, Barb does have irony, after all.]
As a union activist while teaching in an urban high school so dysfunctional I called it the Pirate Ship, I wrote contract grievances in elevated diction laced with Shakespearean quotations, but the first two years of my career, beginning when I was 20, inspired An Impressionable Age—at 22, I really was the country’s youngest fired union president. [Why is there a "but" in that sentence? Evil Editor's test for whether there should be a "but" between two phrases: replace the word "but" with "so you'll be utterly shocked when I tell you that" and see if the sentence makes sense.]
I’m enclosing a SASE. I invite you to read my completed manuscript. Whatever decision you make regarding my novel, I thank you for your courtesy in accepting my query.
Very truly yours,
Bill Raymond, a seventh-grade teacher at Bishop School, a residential institution for troubled urban kids, exists on an exalted plane of optimism, believing that his passion and high ideals will protect him in the no-man’s-land of career and romance. He's wrong.
One night, by mistake, Bill knocks on the door of assistant houseparent Barbara Soroko’s apartment, and finds himself enchanted by Barb’s whimsical nature. The two strike up a relationship, and soon Bill falls in love with this unsentimental, unromantic woman--though he finds her a bit dangerous.
As Bill tries to build a relationship with the mysterious Barb, who speaks of her past so rarely Bill often feels he's dating an amnesia victim, he also fights a losing battle against the board of directors to make Bishop a real school, not just a warehouse for emotionally disturbed teens. Only after he is ultimately fired from Bishop, and Barb dumps him, does Bill realize that he has descended from unbounded idealism and high expectations into cynicism and spiritual collapse.
An Impressionable Age is based on the first two years of my teaching career at an urban high school so dysfunctional I called it the Pirate Ship. I invite you to read the completed manuscript. Thank you.
Very truly yours,
Among the conjunctions that may be used to unite two phrases, always give consideration to the simple but safe "and."
ITunes lists more than 100 artists whose recordings of "The Water is Wide" may be had for 99 cents.