Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Face-Lift 247

Guess the Plot

The Orphan Pearl

1. The rutabaga, the radish, the potato, and the beet—orphans all—eyed the newcomer askance. In the world of parentless vegetables it verged on rude to claim a false identity. Silently they agreed to reject the little white sphere until it accepted its full name—the Orphan Pearl Onion.

2. A travel writer and a bandit's widow are thrown together on a sea voyage to London. But the widow has secrets that could endanger their lives. Also, a concubine.

3. After their parents are killed in a freak jewelry accident, Pearl leaves her sisters Sapphire, Amethyst, Ruby, Topaz and Geraldine to follow her fortune in a Seattle-based grunge band.

4. In this charming children's fable, global warming and wicked oystermen wipe out Pearl's family. The plucky orphan makes her way to Washington, D.C., to lobby against over-fishing, with unexpected results. Includes Rush Limbaugh's recipe for oyster stew.

5. An albino toddler washes up on the beach after a devastating storm in 1904 Okinawa. An aging fisherman suffers ostracism and prejudice when he raises her as his own child. Can she redeem his memory as an adult by saving the village?

6. A jealous author time-travels to Hillsboro, West Virginia. His mission: the murder of Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker. Will the ploy successfully prevent the birth and writing career of their daughter, Ms. Buck?

Original Version

Dear Correct Name Correctly Spelled,

You may be interested in my historical romance The Orphan Pearl, complete at 84,000 words. I've integrated Middle Eastern themes into a traditional historical romance set in England, 1838, putting a new angle on an old favorite.

Lady Diotima Spark [Diotima?] steps aboard the Cordelia [Maybe it should be Lady Cordelia Spark steps aboard the Diotima.] [Admit it, you came up with that name after writing the phrase, What an idiot I married, and then eliminating the early and late letters. Now you have an amusing secret your husband is too dim to ever catch on to--until your book gets published and you tell the story on Oprah.] determined to stay put in her windowless cabin from the moment the ship sets sail in Constantinople until it docks in London. She can't let her pursuers find out where she's going, [If her pursuers are on the Cordelia, they probably know where she's going. If they aren't, what's the problem?] and she can't let her family and friends in England find out where she's been. If it were discovered that the duke's daughter and the bandit's widow are one and the same, it would mean social ruin at best and violent death at worst.

Friend: Where've you been, Diotima?
Diotima: Constantinople.
Friend: Then . . . you must be . . . the bandit's widow!
Diotima: I'm ruined.
Friend: Worse. I'm arranging to have you drawn and quartered.

But the journey is long, Diotima is restless, and late one night she decides to take a walk on deck. When she has a brief but intriguing encounter with a man, she knows that her safety is compromised [Because this complete stranger is going to get a message to her pursuers? Does he know who she is? Why is she in more danger from this guy than from whoever brings her her food, or from whoever showed her to her cabin?] but she has to see him again.

It doesn't take travel writer Luke Benton long to realize that he's met the woman of his dreams. She's like him: a wanderer, a risk-taker, a thinker. She won't tell him her name, who her family is or where she's from [So again I ask, how is her safety compromised?] – although she gives him her understanding, [I don't know what that means, delete it.] and even her body, [I know what that means.] she will not share her secrets. [A woman who gives her body without blabbing her secrets would be the most popular woman on the ship. If anyone could pronounce her name.] When Luke wakes up one morning to find the Cordelia docked in London harbor and his lover vanished without a trace, he vows to find her again.

But reunion is only the first step along the road to a happy ending. [Replace the rest of this paragraph with the next paragraph.] Luke has to re-think all of his assumptions when he unearths Diotima's background – in England, and abroad. Hero worship unbalances their relationship when Diotima realizes that Luke is the author of books that had a profound effect on her life.

Even as the two grow closer, they work at cross-purposes. Diotima's attempts to thwart her pursuers plunge her deeper into danger. A crucial mistranslation prevents Luke from protecting Diotima when she needs it most. An old flame, a former concubine, and a diplomat's son throw further obstacles in the way of true love – although only one of the three is a villain.

I hold a master's degree from Harvard University, as well as a BA from Columbia University. I have the research skills to write historical novels accurately incorporating Ottoman history, the Great Game, and the true history of the legendary, but lost, Orphan Pearl. [Apparently you assume the reader knows what these last two things are.] I've traveled extensively in the Middle East, so I know the lay of the land and something of its flavor.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


I got the impression the book starts as she leaves Constantinople, so I'm not sure how important it is to be familiar with the lay of the land--the land being the Middle East. You say you've integrated Middle Eastern themes into the story, but you don't elaborate on this.

Who are her pursuers, why are they pursuing her, and why are you keeping it a secret?

If this is based on the "legendary Orphan Pearl," you might mention it up front.

If it isn't too long now, it will be after you answer a few of the nagging questions, but with a little work you'll get it down to the most important page worth of information. Cutting the plot description after "...he vows to find her again," wouldn't cost you much.


Anonymous said...

This question is NOT a snipe. Do agents and publishers really care if an author has a degree from Harvard (or anywhere else)? Would it matter if it were Wayland Baptist or Prairie View? -JTC

erin said...

I got Diotima from Plato's Symposium - it's the name of the woman to teaches Socrates what love is. I thought it was a kinda cool name for a romance, but I guess it could be off-putting. I named one of my pet lovebirds Diotima, though, and I do like saying it. It's fun!

As for the rest, I think you're right & will sit down to re-work the query. I think the characters have a good reason for keeping a low profile on the ship, but it's not important and if it can't be explained it doesn't need to be in there.

Evil Editor said...

The Middle East travel is a more important credit, or would be if it were more clear how that figures in. The education seems to be here to suggest research skills. I doubt a less-impressive educational resume would matter. Of course, if you happen to know the agent attended the same school you did, it doesn't hurt to mention it.

erin said...

anonymous: I've actually wondered the same thing. My point is actually pretty specific (I had access to a really great research library, and I was writing a historical novel), and I don't have a ton of other credentials. But sometimes I wonder if I'm shooting myself in the foot by bringing up my degrees.

Anonymous said...

You mention a lot of seemingly incongruous items personae and circumstances without connecting them. Lots of name dropping. I'm left wondering, huh? Could be a good story but I can't tell what the heck these characters are about.

Anonymous said...

As a reader, I would not know until told what the "Orphan Pearl" is, and to me the "great game" is polo. If these two items are vital to the plot 9and I think they are from what I read) please educate those of us who are in the dark. I do like learning things through books and will often research afterwards, but would not want to research DURING the read. ruins the cozy mood I get when reading.

Dave Fragments said...

I kinda think that this is the Scarlet Pimpernel meets Death on the Nile - - and that would work as a murder mystery. The query doesn't focus on the struggle to get away from the villians and the love affair.It has too many details that don't add to the action of the query.

As for Alma Mater - never sell a good education short. Graduation from a prestigious university has benefits. One of them is what you are supposed to have learned many things and that learning is assumed. A second is that you know how to work hard because presumably the university challenged you. It counts as an introduction. it is not a guarantee of quality. I know lots of PHDs who lack common sense.

Anonymous said...

She should turn into a zombie. There aren't enough early 19th century Brit-Middle East zombie novels out there.

Anonymous said...

Diotima as a name may have a meaningful origin, but it sounds too much like plankton to me. Do reconsider it.

Marissa Doyle said...

I know about the Great Game (and 1838 was early days for it) but have no clue re the Orphan Pearl...or what it has to do with your story as detailed here.

I'm also curious as to how old your heroine is, and how she can explain traveling alone in the Middle East at this time and still expect to be socially unstained--how can her family have no idea of what she's been up to? You might want to reconsider what details you include in your query so as not to introduce questions about things like this, some of which might cast doubt upon your historical credibility.

Historicals that feature twenty-first century heroines striding about being feisty and independent while thinly disguised by corsets and bonnets make my hair stand on end. Okay, I'll stop ranting now.

Anonymous said...

only mention your education if you have absolutely no professional accomplishments.

Dave Fragments said...

Someone should write a children's picture book about GTP #1.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

I'm with Marissa here-- there are some things happening that don't appear to make sense, given the year in which this story is set.

That a daughter of a duke should be the secret widow of a bandit is a stretch, but she also sleeps with a strange man on a ship while being pursued by nameless something-or-others?

It all might make sense in the context of the story, but the way you're pitching this now makes one wonder if you really understand your era. Be careful of this as you do your re-write.

erin said...

Actually, people who think that you're only writing "authentically" if your historical women are twittering cowards kind of get my goat. Part of the reason why I wrote the story I did is that I spent a lot of time reading biographies of early Victorian female travelers to the middle east. Women like Hester Stanhope, Isabelle Eberhardt, or Jane Digby would put most twentieth century "feisty" women to shame - they were real adventuresses. Daring, plain-speaking, strong-willed, independent.

I think that women in general have been done a real disservice by the idea that women who break out of this very particular Jane Austen-esque mold of what women should be like must be anachronistic. Women, as a gender, have never and can never be made to conform en masse to a particular mold. The counter examples are there, just waiting to be discovered.

Anonymous said...

Thanks erin and EE. It makes sense when you put it that way. -JTC

Anonymous said...

erin, I'm not questioning a woman travelling or even a woman explorer - there's a great book about Victorian women explorers called 'The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt', which you've probably read. I did find myself wondering a bit whether Diotima, on her return to civilised parts, had a maid or any servants with her. I could kind of see her hiding to avoid people curious about why she was unescorted, because it would look rather strange if she was alone on shipboard. Is that the case?

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Erin, there's a world of difference between wanting a character to seem authentic to their era and suggesting that historical females should be "twittering cowards."

Most women were nothing of the sort, and I'm surprised you think the Minions aren't aware of this. But your query hinted at anachronism to this reader with a degree in history, and who reads non-fiction history almost exclusively.

If you feel confident that your writing isn't anachronistic, no worries, right? Just find a way to convey this a little better in your query.

Believe me, no one is saying you should make your females sound like something out of James Fenimore Cooper.

Bernita said...

I know it's a convention in romance, but the suggestion that he boinks her against the bulwarks or up against the thwarts the first time they meet doesn't really fit with her desire to travel incognito in a "windowless" cabin.
I am sure this is addressed in the novel but it reads oddly in the query.

erin said...

Well, I've rewritten the query - as far as that goes, I don't disagree with anybody's comments, and hopefully, I've managed to put them to good use.

I wouldn't say that my book or character is perfectly true to the time - I'm writing a historical romance, and I took a few liberties - but my character doesn't do anything that I don't know for sure that at least one real woman of the time has done.

In any case - no, she's actually not traveling alone. She has a companion (the former concubine mentioned in the query). And she doesn't have sex with the hero the first night, or in QUITE so public a locale.

The hiding has more to do with a quick, clean change of identities. Until she gets on the ship, she's been dressing and acting like a proper Muslim woman wearing a veil. Afterwards, she's back to corsets and pelisses. Since she doesn't buy her own ticket aboard the ship, there's no record of her passage and it will be like the veiled woman disappared in one place and the Englishwoman reappeared in another. I think it would make it harder to trace her, or even just psychologically, draw a line between the two.