Thursday, October 26, 2006

Face-Lift 222

Guess the Plot

Where Evil Resides

1. It looked like just another historic home tour - until the door opened and a devastatingly handsome editor ushered the group in.

2. A delightful illustrated tour guide to such varied buildings as The White House, The Bates Motel, and several New York publishing houses.

3. Attempting to recreate the Inferno, Dante blows up a power plant. If anyone can stop his quest for world domination, it's the yodeling cowboy.

4. A paperboy turns to extreme measures when his subscription payment at the Kneivel house is way overdue.

5. Real estate agent Carrie Fordham has sold her share of tough properties, convincing homebuyers to look past lead paint, radon levels that would choke a horse, and the occasional cracked foundation. But when 666 Elm Street in Amityville comes on the market, Carrie must take her sales skills to a whole new level.

6. Postman Sal Magundi has never met a letter he couldn't deliver. So when little Clara Hexton misspells the addressee of her Christmas list as "Satan," neither fire nor sulfur nor hordes of marauding demons will keep this carrier from completing his task.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Tranquil, quaint and unquestionably safe is what most residents thought of life in the northern Arizona town of Pine Ridge. [Then . . . the zombies came.] [Is this the same Pine Ridge as in the movie Yodelin' Kid from Pine Ridge?] [Quote from the movie:

Col. Millhouse: Marvelous, Autry, marvelous! You certainly have that animal trained and I don't see how you do it.
Gene Autry: The secret in training a horse, Colonel, is that, ah, you have to know more than the horse.]

That changed the day the plans to build the Sycamore Canyon Power Plant outside of town were announced.

Over the weeks following the announcement Pine Ridge became a town divided as the residents subtly aligned themselves. There were those who welcomed the progress and jobs [and electricity] the power plant offered while others feared it would forever change the landscape of their lives, and yet another, small, sinister faction that saw the division of the town as an opening to pursue its own agenda.

That group named themselves the Pine Ridge Alliance or PRA. They furtively began recruiting members from those who not only opposed the plant but also had reason to hate or fear the government. [In other words, everyone except the filthy rich.] As the group grew they began their campaign of terrorism under the guise of environmental conservatism. Their attacks began with minor acts of subterfuge while the sprawling plant took shape. [For instance, graffiti slogans like "Nuke the Plant" and "Free the Yodelin' Kid."] Over the two years it took to bring the plant online the acts became increasingly more violent, finally culminating in the bombing that disabled the plant and shook Pine Ridge to its very core. [Core? Is this a nuclear power plant?]

Many PRA members tried to leave the group then, believing that boundaries had been crossed, but they soon found their lives were no longer their own. [Had they been members of PRA, or PRA, they would have had no trouble getting away.] Dante, their shadowy leader now ruled by intimidation and threats against their families. [Now that the plant's been bombed, what more does Dante want from his followers?] When two members were viciously murdered as an example, someone went to the feds and helped infiltrate federal agents into the group.

Ultimately the undercover mission led to the apprehension of several members and that’s when Department of Justice agents Shelby Ryan and Carson Billings of the domestic terrorism unit arrived in town. [These wouldn't be your main characters, arriving in chapter 19, would they?] Their task was to investigate and build the prosecutorial case against the suspects as well as aid in the capture of Dante and the members still at large.

Over the months Agents Ryan and Carson work with local Sheriff’s Lieutenant Gabe Navarro to stop Dante, whose ultimate goal entails a far more iniquitous attack than anyone could have envisioned. [He plans to bring in PRA to assist in destroying the peaceful town.]

Where Evil Resides is a completed 70,000 word thriller. I would be happy to send a synopsis [I think you just did.] and sample chapters. Thank you very much for your time.



It's a bit long on plot. The PRA legally requires you to get it down to a page.

Why are we keeping the sinister faction's agenda a secret? It's Dante and the PRA that makes this a thriller, yet we don't know what their threat is. Is it a threat to Pine Ridge, or the US, or the world? We need to know what's at stake if we're to be hooked by the query. Also, is there a character we follow throughout the book who's a good guy? Usually in a good guys versus bad guys story, we meet the good guys early on.


Anonymous said...

Again, these GTPs rock! The Knievel residence, LOL...

Anonymous said...

The query letter comes across as a bit dry.

First, please get through the backstory faster. If it's a thriller, then get to the thrilling part (explosions! yay!) as soon as possible. That's also the point where your central conflict comes into play, so it's a good part of the story to highlight in the query.

Second, consider changing to the present tense once you have got past the backstory; that seems to be standard for query letters.

Anonymous said...

If this really did have a yodeling cowboy I'd be more inclined to read it.

acd said...

Until now I never realized the importance of writing your summary in present tense; reading, I thought the entire thing was backstory, but now it sounds like it might be the entire book. Change the tense, and try to tell the story in terms of its players rather than events.

Anonymous said...

666 Elm Street in Amityville


Anonymous said...

I don't read a lot of thrillers, so my comments on this may be completely out of line ...

Reading this letter, I get very little sense of who the main character is. With my (limited) knowledge of thrillers, I suspect one of the agents is the main character, yet they're only mentioned towards the end of the query. I understand it may be normal for thrillers to focus more on plot, and less on character, but I'd still like to know who's side of the story I'm supposed to be following here. If it's one of the agents, or the lieutenant, then I don't see a whole lot that makes this unique. There may well be something that does, but I'm not seeing it.

I recommend shifting the focus of the query to give a better impression of who the main character is. So far, the only character I'm interested in is Dante. So if it's from his POV, I want to know; that would probably get me to glance at the first few pages. The other interesting possibility I can see here is to tell it from the POV of one of the PRA members who's being threatened. Not sure how appropriate that would be for a thriller though.

The other thing that struck me about this query was that it seemed heavy on backstory. To my mind, the action begins when the bomb goes off. The impact of the power plant on the town ... well, it doesn't grab my attention, partly because I haven't got a character to link it to. The idea of people protesting against a power station is, IMO, common enough that most people can understand it without a detailed explanation of the background. And I'd say this is even more concerning given that this is a thriller - I want to see the action.

I'd work on tightening the query, and then providing some sample pages that blow the reader away. (Pun definitely intended. It's been a long day.) I'd have to see the writing to know whether this was going to hook me.

And like I said, I don't read that many thrillers, so feel free to ignore me :)

Anonymous said...

...if anyone can stop his conquest of the world it's the yodeling cowboy.

Don't we have one of those in the White House? Or is he the one doing the "conquesting"? Confusing. But, the Yodeling that's catchy.

Catja (green_knight) said...

The sinister plan, obviously, is to drown the sleepy town in paperwork!

And the hero of the day is the man who invented the Internet and the paperless office.

Sorry. Different nightmare.

As an aside: devout people are referred to as god-fearing, which is a positive trait; but government-fearing people are immediately suspect. Makes you wonder...

Dave Fragments said...

I am reminded of the current NIMBY going on in two communities in this area. One NIMBY is against a power plant that will burn mine tailings, the other is a gas turbine peak shaver plant for hot summers.
Neither opposition group is violent. I know a few of them and they wouldn't (to borrow a cliche) hurt a fly.

The thriller is the race to prevent the destruction of the power plant. The mystery is who is Dante and why is his strange organization named after a 14th century poet whose most famous work is about HELL, sin and damnation. Is that foreshadowing?

You don't say if the Sycamore Canyon Power Station uses coal, oil, gas or nuclear fuel. Let me tell you, it makes a difference to the story because blowing a peak shaving station run on natural gas wouild result in no damage to the town. Nor would blowing up the largest coal-fired plant (except to cover the nearby landscape with tiny bits of boiler metal and lots of soot, black soot - like exists in your fireplace). Spectacular yes, but only destructuve to the plant.

Of course, I could be all wrong here. Dante might know the dread personal secrets of the principles - Shelby Ryan and Carson Billings - and when they confront him with the dynamite in his hands, he reveals their most dreaded family secrets of loves and lives and behaviour that cannot be named and Shelby Ryan and Carson Billings are so crushed that Dante escapes and destroys the power plant and their social lives. The three meet again many years later, in the nursing home. All three have black lung from the soot and there they finally end their days in tears of forgiveness while comparing prices for liquid oxygen and motorized wheelchairs.

HawkOwl said...

I wouldn't read past the title. Having read past the title, though, I wouldn't read past the query letter, because the style bored me. Query letters aren't about style, but if you can't make your plot sound exciting for one measly page when it matters the most, I doubt the book is going to entertain me. Like Whitemouse said, if it's a thriller, get to the thrills already.

born_liar said...

dave, I would totally read your version of the book. Not so much the version described in the actual query, though.

Unless it's from Dante's POV. I'm a sucker for antiheroes, and he seems like he'd make a good one.

Anonymous said...

Can't be all bad if you have a character named Shelby! I just hope it's a girl Shelby and not a boy Shelby.

That said, I'm not really sure I see what's original about this book. Whenever a giant new development comes to a small town, there are always divisions, and those are rarely subtle. The eco-terrorism sounds just like The Monkey Wrench Gang except the Monkey Wrench folks are funny.

Then it gets confusing--as EE said, what does Dante want? Why is he killing people? Murdered as an example of what?

Members are apprehended and then the investigators show up? Talk about killing the suspense. Usually part of a thriller is the question of whether or not the bad guys can be apprehended in time to stop them from doing something...bad. Simply showing up to build the case seems very anti-climactic. It's like watching Law and Order except missing the first half hour.

Dante, whose ultimate goal entails a far more iniquitous attack than anyone could have envisioned. This is the single most interesting and original part of the story, but it's the last sentence and we have no idea what his attack might be or what his motivations are for doing it. By the time I get to that point, I'm so bored I'm flipping back to Tivo to watch the beginning of Law and Order.

Also, pacing seems to be a concern here. 2 years of building the power plant and people sabotaging it? Months of investigation afterwards? The key of a thriller is urgency. You need some kind of ticking clock here.

I'd focus the query on a form of the Ws:

Who is the bad guy?
What does the bad guy want?
How is he going to attempt to get that?
When does he plan to do that?


Who are the good guys?
How are they going to figure out what the bad guy wants?
What are they going to do to attempt to stop him?
Will they have enough time to do it?

I'm also wondering who the protagonist is, because if it's Dante I also love an anti-hero and think that would be a very cool angle.

Anonymous said...

GTP #1 -- heehehe. Someone needs to write that.