Saturday, August 19, 2006

Face-Lift 161

Guess the Plot

Way Off Track

1. Janice's novel seems to practically write itself. But the plot is worrisome, and her regency romance comes back time and time again to the flesh-eating zombies scene.

2. Mindy is in love with Rock, but he has eyes only for the pool boy next door. Still, Mindy pursues Rock relentlessly, and it falls to her best friend, Louella, to gently steer her on a different course.

3. David and Bobbie have odd ways of coping with the death of their son Jamie. David has an affair with the driver of the SUV that killed Jamie, and Bobbie risks death in the cockpit of a formula race car. They're both . . . way off track.

4. An enterprising bookie struggles to bring the excitement of "betting on the horses" to rural Saskatchewan, and corrupts an entire town in the process.

5. Nine-time Iditarod winner Brad Craddock gets his biggest challenge yet from Jo Gombatz. Only when they're both lost in a snowstorm and forced together for warmth does Brad begin to guess her feelings for him - and her dark secret.

6. Twelve-year-old Lester Phipps loves his electric train set. But a freak storm sends him into another dimension where The Engineer rules, and Lester must meet his freight schedules--or die.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

As David and Bobbie Stair haul the broken remnants of their lives onto the lawn for a yard sale, they witness a car crash that kills their sixteen-year-old son Jamie. The tragedy knocks the Stairs out of their shared twenty-year suburban stupor [and they immediately decide they'll shut down the yard sale at two o'clock instead of three.] [Great idea for a book: The obsessed main character has been searching years for the one item that will complete his collection. He's tried antique stores, conventions, Ebay, now he's reduced to visiting yard sales every weekend, searching through the junk in people's attics, until finally he spots it! The Missing Piece. (That's the title.) As he's about to make his purchase, the people conducting the yard sale witness the death of their child. Now our hero is thinking, Should I leave and contact them after a respectful period of mourning? What if they just decide to trash everything? Dare I steal it? From here there are many ways to go. If it's literary fiction, he steals the item, but is wracked with guilt, unsatisfied with his completed collection, and commits suicide. If it's psychological horror, he steals the item, and it takes on a life of its own, tormenting him until he commits suicide. If it's standard horror, he steals the item, but the child returns as a vengeful zombie and eats his flesh. If it's fantasy, he tells the couple that in return for the item he will introduce them to a necromancer who can return their child to them.] as each embarks on clandestine, sometimes perilous endeavors. Cynical David slips into an unlikely affair with the driver of the SUV that killed Jamie. Control-freak Bobbie discovers a passion for speed and begins a covert tryst with a racetrack, facing death in the cockpit of a formula race car. Their pudgy daughter Pauline begins a surreptitious career baking cakes, guarding her secret as desperately as her parents guard their own. [If my parents find out I'm a baker, I'm a dead woman.] Woven into these tempts with fate are jovial carnival freaks, an unknown stalker, a crag-faced teen with a crush, a giant 25-year-old virgin, and a one-legged man who analyzes car crashes for a living. [The whole thing is starting to sound like a car crash. Maybe we should leave out the freaks and the giant.] [While it's a rare book that wouldn't be improved by weaving in some jovial carnival freaks, it's not essential that we get them into the query letter.]

“Way Off Track” is a literary novel, at 90,000 words.

An excerpt from this novel was published in the anthology “Building Bridges Between Writers and Readers.” I have published humorous culinary articles for San Francisco newspapers, [Including, "Hollowed-out Brussels Sprouts Filled with Jalapeno Paste--a Great April Fools Day Gag," and "Noodles--Funny Name for a Funny Food."] and was the recipient of the California Writers Club awards for young adult fiction and for poetry. I am a member of the 5 Monkeys Writing Group, [Which consists of me, Magilla, Cheetah, Curious George, and Evil Monkey, from Family Guy. We sit around all day typing, hoping one day to produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Except for Evil Monkey, who runs back and forth hitting everyone's "Q."] based in the Bay Area, and have helped run the San Francisco Writers Conference with agents Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen. [Pomada and Larsen? They've requested three partials from Evil Editor, and never a full. They obviously have no sense of humor.] I am working steadily on my next novel, entitled “Missing Women.” [It's a modern telling of Little Women, but without any women.]

Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,


Despite all the blue, it reads well. I'm not sure we need the baking daughter. And while mentioning things like the carnival freaks etc. is often a good way to arouse curiosity, it's possible this one has aroused enough already, namely, How could this guy have an affair with that woman, and is it really that easy to get a ride in a formula race car?

What's missing is a sense of where the book is going. Are we interested in whether they split up or stay together? Is it about whether they remain knocked out of their stupor or fall back into it? Do David and his new girlfriend cheer Bobbie to victory in the Indy 500? Is there a mystery involving the car crash, solved by the one-legged man? Basically, all we have is a death and the reactions of two or three people to it. I'd like to know something else that happens.


Anonymous said...

What's so weird about a twenty-five-old virgin?

Anonymous said...

Bobbie is a girl? I got confused because the query never specified Bobbie's gender. Should I assume it's a girl, then? I mean, even if it isn't, does it change the story much?

writtenwyrdd said...

I actually guessed #3, but I would *really* love to see #4. Sounds like dark comeday a la Get Shorty. Or maybe Faulkner. Or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The mind boggles....

I really want to know how David could have an affair with the SUV driver.

McKoala said...

I'm interested in the baking daughter, simply because it seems to me that that could be the kind of character that is the catalyst for some kind of resolution. Am I right?!

This was not the story that I was expecting from the possible starts!

Stacia said...

The baking daughter was the only character that interested me--this is a great query and probably a good book, but it's not my kind of thing at all. I loved the idea of her baking into the night with the doors closed and the windows open, praying nobody smelled anything, then stuffing fresh cookies into her mouth, trying to eat them all before somebody woke up.

I felt her desperation much, much more clearly than her parents', maybe because her outlet made sense to me in a way theirs did not.

Anonymous said...

I did not guess this one from the fake plots (but I'm glad it wasn't the one about Mindy and Rock!)

I agree with McKoala that the daughter who is overweight and bakes is interesting (and so far the most normal). I'd probably kill a husband who had an affair with the woman who killed my son, so that part of the story, where the wife(?) Bobbie just goes off racing, seems totally cold and "off track."

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2: Bobbie is virtually always short for Roberta; the world's gentlemen named Robert usually spell the nickname Bobby. Plus, it says right at the start that Jamie is Bobbie and David's son. Unless either biology or adoption law has advanced seriously since the last time I checked, that would imply that Bobbie has two X chromosomes.

And I agree with the about Surreptitious Baking Girl. What a goofy idea; I love it. It also makes me want to read some of these cooking comedies.

Anonymous said...

EE-your comments are hilarious. by the end of the query, I was LOL. Thanks (needed that).

pacatrue said...

Hm. Other than making jokes, I always try to be helpful, so let's see what I can say here. This is going to start off sounding harsh, but the description in the query sounds to me exactly like why I stopped reading literary fiction. Too often the back covers of lit fic sound like elegantly written Jerry Springer, meaning there is this never ending drive for novelty in order to generate literary art and the works therefore end up grabbing the strangest people the author could think of and throwing them all together to be depressed all the time. That is the way the query letter currently reads to me. My guess is that this is not what you in fact wrote.

So, and here is why I try to be helpful, is there any way you can inject more humanity into the main characters (I mean in the query; based on your credentials I am going on faith that you have succeeded in the novel)? I want to connect to them and think I am going to read a book that moves me. There needs to be something in common between the characters and the readers and that something needs to shine through in the query. Right now I mostly get a bunch of people acting really dumbly because of a tragedy. Let me feel for them when they act dumb, understand why they are behaving this way, and want them to get out of it. I know that's a tall order.

Anonymous said...

Damn, I really wanted it to be #2.

I think the baking daughter's reaction is a bit more... believable than the parents, but why does she feel the need to keep it a secret? These aren't like the cakes you get in Amsterdam, are they?

Naturally my interest is more piqued by the jovial carnival freaks. Does the daughter sell her illicit cakes to them?

Dave Fragments said...

prithee good friends, canst thou enlighten me as to what this means:

"begins a covert tryst with a racetrack,"

none said...

Sounds like EE needs a critique partner. If hawkowl isn't free, then I volunteer!

(I am so not in the target readership for this literary novel...anything that has "x undergoes y, so they have an affair" goes back on the shelf; seems to me the "x loses his son, so has an affair with the driver responsible" merely reflects the desperate search for a new and original reason for the character to commit that most predictable of literary tropes)

Anonymous said...

I agree with EE. You don't just start driving a formula 1 race car. No more far-fetched than 5'5", 140lb Tom Cruise playing a tough guy secret agent, though. -JTC

Beth said...

jovial carnival freaks, an unknown stalker, a crag-faced teen with a crush, a giant 25-year-old virgin

Now all we need is a brutal eunuch.

Emma Ray Garrett said...

spot on, Beth. And a bear on a unicycle, LOL!

none said...

The author didn't specify Formula One.

It's possible to buy "Formula Experiences" relatively cheaply, where you get to ride behind a professional driver or even drive a formula car yourself. Not in a race, obviously. So it may not be as unlikely as it sounds at first.

(word verification: yiaeee!)