Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Face-Lift 43

Guess the Plot

Little Girl Blue

1. Miss Blue isn't happy as a schoolteacher. But was she really any happier living in the communal home with her cadre of Marxist friends?

2. When rookie cop Sarah Baxter is sent on her first undercover mission, she must catch the killer quickly... or miss her thirteenth birthday party.

3. Jessica struggles to be accepted in the harsh world of elementary school after an unfortunate accident involving a vat of blue dye.

4. Clinically depressed Danielle Clay just inherited a million dollars. Will her therapist/lover wrest control of it?

5. Pinky and Little Boy Blue prepare their daughter for the harsh realities of life in a society built on kitsch.

6. Now it can be told: the uncensored version of what went on between Smurfette and the men of the Smurf village.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

I am seeking representation and publication for my literary mystery, LITTLE GIRL BLUE.

I would like you to meet Abby Blue – first year teacher, new mother, recent wife, ambivalent failure. A year earlier, she lived in a communal house with her boyfriend and their cadre of Marxist friends, believing that monogamy was nothing more than an oppressive arm of the corporate state, [Corporations want you sleeping around. Especially those that manufacture penicillin.] and that the educational system was a sinister government tool to crush independent thinking. [Just the attitude I want in my kid's teacher. Apparently she lied on the job application where it asked, Did you ever blow up the administration building of a major university?] But. Because she became pregnant, she married. And because they were broke, she taught school, hoping that by doing, she would somehow come to love it. [Are we to assume she just decides to teach, and a school decides to hire her? Did she act as a teacher's assistant and get certified? What is she qualified to teach? Does she have a curriculum prepared? Has she purchased a bullet-proof vest? Evil Editor will assume these concerns are dealt with in the book.]

Alas, she does not. [Big surprise there.] She does not love the mindless drone insipid teacher meetings. She does not love the moronic papers she must grade, [Are you sure her name is Miss Blue, and not Miss Snark?] nor the twice daily need to pump breast milk for her baby while perched on a school toilet that may or may not be sanitized. [I wouldn't want to be the first-grader who accidentally walked into that stall. She'd think the Borg had assimilated Miss Blue.] And most of all, she does not love this school, broken by years of racial discord, staunchly ignored by an administration who refuse to admit defeat in the face of a force they cannot control. In addition, Abby Blue has a smart mouth and a penchant for insubordination, and her job is now on the line. [You know there's a teacher shortage when you can get away with mouthing off during your first month on the job.]

But when her favorite student meets a grisly end in the Varsity locker room, everything starts to change. The school, quietly divided by color and subdivided by class, pulls apart, and Abby finds herself desperately hanging on to both ends. After promising a tearful mother to search for the truth when the police would not, Abby is hurled into a world of gang violence, land lust, [Land lust? What, are homesteading teachers squatting in her classroom?] regular lust, [Ah, the hunky idealistic teacher across the hall drops by Abby's room after dismissal. Please tell me it's the hunky idealistic teacher, and not the brilliant but misguided punk student she's trying desperately to reach.] and slick public faces. She visits the prison, steals from crime scenes, [She steals one of those DO NOT CROSS ribbons, and puts it across the door to her classroom.] tracks down lost parents, and lies more times than she could count in her quest for answers. Cops clamp down, parents demonstrate, students riot, and the murders continue. [And this is just the junior high.] As Abby slowly pieces together disparate bits of a terrifying truth, the rash of violence looms ever closer, bites at the edges of her life, knocks at her door.

LITTLE GIRL BLUE is a novel that is at once an off-beat mystery, a teacher’s story, a marital journey, and a meditation on motherhood. [It's Everybook.] It examines broken neighborhoods, broken families, broken classrooms, broken women, [You're starting to sound like a broken record.] and most importantly, how a life has the power to touch another life. How we become more than ourselves. How we become whole.

I am a writer, teacher and mom, living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My novel is complete, edited, re-edited and re-re-edited, not to mention sliced, diced, and, more than once, turned on its head. [Cute, but this is so long already, you don't have room for this.] It is eighty-one thousand words. If you would like to see the first three chapters of Little Girl Blue, I would be happy to send them, along with SASE, and any other pertinent details. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Hugs and Kisses, etc.

Revised Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Meet Abby Blue – first year teacher, new mother, ambivalent failure. A year ago she lived in a communal house with her boyfriend and their cadre of Marxist friends, believing the education system was a government tool designed to crush independent thinking. But because she became pregnant, she married. And because they were broke, she taught school, hoping she would come to love it.

Alas, she does not. She does not love the insipid teacher meetings, the moronic papers she must grade, the twice daily need to pump breast milk for her baby. And most of all, she does not love this school, broken by racial discord, and ignored by an uncaring administration.

When Abby's favorite student meets a grisly end in the varsity locker room, the school splits apart, and Abby is hurled into a world of lust, corruption, and murder. As she slowly pieces together disparate bits of a terrifying truth, violence looms ever closer to her door.

LITTLE GIRL BLUE is at once an off-beat mystery, a teacher’s story, and a meditation on motherhood. It examines broken neighborhoods, broken families, broken classrooms. Most importantly, it shows how one life has the power to touch another.

I am a writer, teacher and mom, living in Minneapolis. Little Girl Blue is complete, at eighty-one thousand words. If you would like to see the first three chapters, I will send them along. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This seemed too long. Snipping a phrase here, a sentence there, may have gotten it to a manageable length. If you want it longer, the short query with attached synopsis may be the way to go.


fringes said...

The entire premise of the book fell apart for me when, after listing all the venom and vitriol about her job, it turns out Abby actually has a favorite student. When did she find room in her scheduled hate to care about anybody?

Lea said...

I'm trying to figure out how Abby got a job as a teacher in the first place. There is a teacher shortage, but a shortage of GOOD teachers. Schools don't hire just anyone off the street. And they do very comprehensive criminal background checks. I doubt a militant marxist with no educational training would make the cut. And with the money that teachers make, it's not the career to go into if one needs money.

Anonymous said...

Should "Varsity" be capitalized in the query? It would make sense if it were the name of the school's team--the Fighting Varsities!--but in this usage shouldn't it be non-capitalized?

Just wondering.

Evil Editor said...

Correct. Unless it's the name of a gym or some other building with a locker room, which seems unlikely.

Anonymous said...

It's, um, really obvious that the author is a teacher and hates her job...

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to why she got married--lots of folks, Marxist and otherwise, have kids without getting married.

It seems odd that someone so committed to the belief that marriage is simply a tool by which the Man regulates the lives of the people would up and tie the knot just because she was in a family way.

Rei said...

The premise fell apart for me in the first paragraph. We're to believe that a person who thinks the concept of marriage is stupid is going to get married lickety-split as soon as she gets pregnant? Oh really? Why not write a story that begins with a vegetarian who eats a steak because she gets hungry? Then the character goes to teach, given that she hates the educational system? Yeah, that's going to happen. A person without credentials who hates teaching ends up a teacher as opposed to, say, a janitor? Sure.

In short, it sounds like the author wanted to set up a person with a "wrong" ideology as a house of cards and have her miraculously realize the errors of her views. Author, you're trying to bash other people's ideology, and sorry dear, it doesn't fly. It may surprise you to learn that many people *don't* believe in marriage or the educational system (and they're often quite different people), and they have perfectly cogent arguments for it.

Also, the author has quite the fondness for anadiplosis, epistrophe, and anaphora. They should learn the pitfalls of these techniques: namely, if you use them when the reader isn't engrossed in a work, it sounds bombastic.

KATZ said...

If she was morally against education, what about all the other job options she was formerly morally against?

Maybe she should just get a job as a stripper and hope she starts to love that, instead.

Pay's better, and a little angst probably helps. Lust, violence...yep, there's a story there.

Anonymous said...

a school toilet that may or may not be sanitized

And the houses in the communal Marxist household were sanitized?

Stacia said...

I think the story sounds really, really interesting but Abby sounds so loathesome and stupid I'd want to shover her down one of those possibly-germ-laden toilets. (Did Abby never hear of putting toilet paper down before she sits? Or do Marxists simply get angry that the proletariat haven't properly cleaned up for them?)

Anonymous said...

Also--I don't understand how the administration is simultaneously ignoring the school AND refusing to admit defeat. Aren't these substantially the same? And what does Abby think will happen if the admin admits defeat? That the school will close and she will be relocated to a predominantly white school in the suburbs? Shouldn't even a disillusioned Marxist want BETTER schools for minority children rather than NO schools?

I'm a teacher and the LAST thing I want is for the administration to admit defeat. I want better resources, better facilities, better support, a bigger paycheck, and brighter, more charming students. I won't get any of these things if the adminstration yields "in the face of a force they [sic] cannot control."

And what is this force? Poverty? Gravity? Elcetromagnetism? Evil? The enduring popularity of boy bands?

All this may, of course, be explained in the book.

Harry Connolly said...

Honestly, this sounds like a fine story idea matched up with the wrong protagonist.

michael gavaghen said...

Aren't these comments a lot more aggressive than we normally see here? I wonder if that's because the story dips into ideological territory.

It bothers me that we would go after someone harder in this forum because their piece seems out of alignment with any given political perspective. I think this was a stronger query by far than most that have undergone EE's facelifts, yet the tone of several comments sounded like an attack.

This seems like an ambitious book. I have no idea whether the writer brings it off or just misses (and needs a few more drafts to bring it off) or completely blows it, but I don't want to see someone get slapped around because they reached a little too far.

michael gavaghen said...

"Also, the author has quite the fondness for anadiplosis, epistrophe, and anaphora. They should learn the pitfalls of these techniques: namely, if you use them when the reader isn't engrossed in a work, it sounds bombastic."

Just an aside: Your advice on what an author "should learn" might carry more clout if your pronouns agreed with their antecedants.

Evil Editor said...

I thought it was well-done myself. I'd have done it sooner, but it took a while to come up with anything funny to say. Perhaps, based on the comments, all it needs is for the title character to quit her teaching job when she has a baby, run out of money, go back to teaching, but the only opening is at the inner-city school. Skip the Marxist communal house and the doctrine about the education system, and she becomes a more sympathetic character.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, I kinda have a thing for anti-heroes. If Abby was written as skilfully as those TV writers have nailed Dr. House, it would work for me.

Self-righteous, sanctimonious pomposity is just so dang SEXY.

On the other hand, maybe she--groan--evolves into a decent person or something by the end of the story.

Stacia said...

It was a very strong query, Michaelgav, but unfortunately the likeability of the protagonist is pretty important. Reading about a person who hates everything about her life and obstructs justice by stealing evidence just doesn't float everyone's boat.

Several of us commented how much we liked the premise of the book, but like it or not, the main character's likeability is a large part of what sells a book.

Anonymous said...

Well, since reading michaelgav's comment I feel rather bad. I actually DON'T have ideological problems with the work (and I don't use ideology as a literary litmus test (a litermus test?) which would foolishly cut one off from nearly all great books and leave one with only some dour and polemical pamphlets).

I understand the frustrations of teaching and I also sympathize with Abby's bad faith about the whole enterprise. No good leftist has ever told her class to "stay on task" without a flash of anxiety that what she's really saying is "be a good worker" or "don't rock the boat." Or has marked down a creative but patently false exam answer without feeling as though one is telling the student not to exercise his imagination.

My critique was just that I didn't see the consistency in Abby's character and her choices. And I really don't understand what she wants the administration to do.

But I apologize--what I wrote does look like an attack and I did not mean it as such. I think that the murder mystery in a troubled and racially divided school sounds great, and I actually like the idea of an unlikeable heroine. Didn't hurt _Emma_ any.

Rei said...

"Just an aside: Your advice on what an author "should learn" might carry more clout if your pronouns agreed with their antecedants."

And your advice on pronouns might carry more clout if you read up on what gender-neutral pronouns for individuals are acceptable these days.

Would you rather I have used 'it'? 'ou'? 'a'? 'E'? 'Ey'? 'Sie'? 'Ze'? 'Ve'? 'Xe'? Seriously, what gender-neutral pronoun would you prefer? Should I have said "The author" every time?

Harry Connolly said...

Yes, the singular they is perfectly acceptable. Personally, I use it all the time.

I didn't criticized the query on ideological grounds. I consider it a compelling idea. But frankly, the series of events that put the protagonist into the situation seems forced and artificial.

Maybe it works in the book, but we don't have access to that. It doesn't work in the query.

Rei said...

I agree. Rereading my original post, it came across harsher than I meant it to. I won't deny the plot, as described, comes across as a cheap and unrealistic stab at ideologies that the author happens to disagree with. However, I never meant for it to come across as personal, and if it did, I'm sorry about that.

michael gavaghen said...

Gender neutrality is great. William Zinsser advises the use of "you" wherever possible, and that's okay with me. My comment had to do with the contrast between dispensing pedantic advice on the use of anadiplosis and jumping from "the author" to "they" to "you" within two sentences.

And the minute I posted that little jab, I reread the final sentence of my previous entry and noticed I did the same damn thing -- from "someone" to "they" in the space of five words.


Maybe I just sat through too many lit courses where the professor cared more about technique than story. I felt there was a good story in that query, and that it came across despite the writer's debatable misuse of anadiplosis, epistrophe and anaphora.

Last point: Gotta love those apologies which include the adjectives "cheap" and "unrealistic."

Anonymous said...

Michaelgav, I find all the offerings of queries to EE ambitious and incredibly brave, precisely because they get 'slapped around' for reaching a little too far.

Rei, thank you for introducing me to three new words and the interesting article on singular they, which was filled with information I was also not aware of. The way I interpreted the article does not entirely agree with your usage, but apparently not all grammarians agree on the issue either. I am somewhat puzzled at your insistence on using a gender neutral pronoun in this case, however, as the author of the query is clearly a woman. Unless, of course, mother is supposed to be a gender neutral word?

As for the lack of teaching credentials folks have pointed out in the query: in some schools they are so desperate for teachers, they have options for hiring warm bodies to put in the class rooms. To be a substitute teacher (and yes, you can be hired as such for an entire school year) you don't have to have a college degree, though you do have to pass a background check of some sort ... whenever they get around to doing it. At least, that was my experience.

Anonymous said...


Kudos to you! What a professional response.

After all the ... um... interesting criticism in this thread, I would have been hard pressed to be so pleasant. Good for you.

As always, you have to glean the good stuff out and use it, and not get bogged down with the rest.


Anonymous said...

that is one heck-of-a-lot of story in 81 000 words!

Happy revising.
(I'm always impressed when the querier responds politely.)

Anonymous said...


I'm sure I speak for absolutely everyone when I say that I hope to God your kid is ok.

it takes guts to let EE et al critique (shred?) your query and it takes grace to respond to all the critiques with such good humor.

Anonymous said...

Good teaching is the radical act of actually encouraging students to think for themselves.

Thanks to politicians who confuse school reform with standardized testing, good teaching is becoming harder and harder to do.

That said, Abby is going to have a difficult time passing a teacher certification program with her bad attitude unless she has some well-developed teaching skills and a heartfelt connection with her students that don't come across in this query. You don't just sign up at the unemployment office to become a teacher. You have to pass your state's requirements for certification, which generally involves anywhere from one year of classes and student teaching (for the typical Master of Arts in Teaching program) to four years (for a Bachelor's degree in Education).

I've been a university supervisor for pre-professional science teachers (fancy term for "student teachers"), and we had a few attitudinal students in the program. Some had trouble passing their coursework, and didn't complete the program. One clueless attitudinal fellow, at the end of his student teaching, arranged a date with one of his students, and was refused a licence. A few passed the program, but later dropped out of teaching and took up other professions.

I'd buy Abby's character more if she was one of the "cape and cowl" sort, the self-proclaimed super-hero who is going to fly in and save education -- only to find out that the pace of educational change can be outrun by a glacier. So she carries out her ideals one class at a time, one student at a time, but is still frustrated by stuffed-shirt administrators who have forgotten what it's like to be in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

Geez, Michaelgav, you think things are rough here, you should hear what Kis has to say on that French Canadian separatist novel thread! Foof!

signed, Jim

Anonymous said...

Shit! Pay no attention to the above comment!

Brenda said...

This is actually really good. It provoked emotions on each end of the spectrum of like and dislike. I've heard as long as they love your work or hate your work, either is good because you made them FEEL something. With 34 comments, I think people are feeling!

A. M. said...

What made my alarm bells ring was the "meditation on motherhood" part and the fact that the milk pump gets mentioned in the query.

In other words: I'm hoping that there isn't a complete transformation from interesting character to Jane-Next-Door. I'm more interested in hearing about schools, what is and what could be done, than (yet another) story about the miracles of parenthood. They tend to get too sappy for my taste.

I disagree when it comes to likability. We don't have to love the main character to be fascinated by her. I'm currently reading Patrick Sueskind's Perfume. Before that I was interested to see how Madeleine Bourdouxhs's Marie would end up. And no, I didn't find Marie to be "likable". Not at all, to be honest. And her supposed redeeming actions weren't good enough. It's only her circumstances that let the reader be at least okay with Marie. I felt the same way about Jane Eyre. Only her back story excused (hm) her personality and behavior.

I would assume that Abby will fight for her students - and that could be enough of a redeeming quality for her character (in the eyes of those who think she's unlikable. I don't.)

It's a promising premise. Good luck with the book!

Grammar police: Is there a law that says commenters need to be writers and/or that comments need to be edited and rewritten and fit to print so as not to offend your eyes and provoke an unkind comment on the comment?

Emmy Ellis said...

It examines broken neighborhoods, broken families, broken classrooms, broken women, [You're starting to sound like a broken record.]



Stacia said...

I disagree when it comes to likability. We don't have to love the main character to be fascinated by her.

This is very true, a.m., but to me there's a difference between how I want to feel about the protagonist in a literary novel and how I want to feel about the protag of a mystery, no matter how litereray it may be. When I'm watching the protag trying to solve the mystery, I want to like and care about her. Abby might be likeable. We're just pointing out what our thoughts are on the query--

Remember, we're critiquing the query, not the book itself. So personally I think all the impressions are important, and the author-who is an excellent sport-knows that and can take what she thinks she can use and discard the rest.

I sincerely hope all is well with your little one, Kelly.

Anonymous said...

I just love how what started as a (rather scathing but at least topical) discussion of the query letter itself, has descended into a nit-picky mire of personality conflicts and literary holier-than-thouism. I can practically hear the irritated clickety-clack that must have accompanied some of these comments-about-the-comments. Haha. It's almost like being in high school debate club all over again. Only without the bench-clearing brawls.

Ah, high school. Good times...

Rei said...

Watercolorz: "This kind of flip is really quite common."

No, not really:

Few of the study subjects, for instance, were moderates; most were either solidly liberal (34 percent) or solidly conservative (37 percent). And their political ideologies were remarkably durable. “The interesting thing about these men is that over time, their politics didn’t change,” says professor of psychiatry George Vaillant, lead researcher of the study. “The Republicans at 25 were still Republicans at 85, and the same was true for the Democrats.”

It's a common myth that people, especially after their teens/early 20s, regularly change political viewpoints. It's even more of a myth that the changes are A) major, and B) rapid.

You don't go from Marxist/hate the educational system/hate marriage to "married teacher" in a matter of months. It's not realistic at all. That's like expecting a lifelong pacifist who thinks that the bombing of hiroshima and nagasaki were war crimes to join the military because they don't like what some country is doing overseas. People rarely change that dramatically, and when they do, it's rarely fast.

I simply have a lot of trouble buying into this concept; it comes across as an author who wanted a character to have a painful fall from the "wrong" ideologies. "She's pregnant, so obviously, she has to get married! Have her even consider simply cohabiting, let alone raising the child on her own? Never! And heck, lets make her have to be a teacher in a bad school, too, so that she can learn her lesson and realize the value that a good teacher contributes to troubled teens!"

A. M. said...

Oh, wow, December, what an interesting distinction to make! I thought about it and realized you're absolutely right. I love to read Patricia Cornwell because I like Kay Scarpetta and the others a lot. Mankell and his detective What'shisname not so much. Duh. :/ boggles

Thanks for pointing that out to me, December. I appreciate that.

Stacia said...

And thanks for your point, too, a.m.--it made me remember all those literary protags I wouldn't want to know in real life (Perfume was an excellent example), necesarily, but who, as you aptly pointed out, are fascinating and intriguing in a novel.

Anonymous said...

Grammar Police = Professional Copy Editors

Aspiring Authors = Ruthless Vigilante Grammarians

At least it would explain a lot.