Saturday, February 24, 2007

Face-Lift 279

Guess the Plot

One Way to Paris

1. Library assistant Gertrude Moffin is too claustrophobic to take the Chunnel and too afraid of flying to take a plane. When a mysterious man offers her passage on a Unesco hospital ship, she knows it is her last shot at a vacation on the Continent.Will she accept without a round trip guarantee?

2. When sexy spinster Amelia Pettipants goes undercover in a lingerie factory, she discovers a frightening plot to blow up the southbound Chunnel using explosives hidden in corset-boning. Can she prevent a rapid British population decline? Or will France be forced to digest the influx of British cuisine?

3. It's good-bye Siberia! Hello world! when Demetri Pushkin uses duct tape and baling wire to reinforce the machinery of his grandpa's old car, waves adieu, and steers toward Paris with his dog Groucho.

4. This exposé of the Parisian chocolate factories explains why the world can't get enough French chocolate. The trail of clues leads from the Belgian guilds to the Pennsylvania countryside to the war in Afghanistan. The investigators conclusion: "It's just a freaking Hershey bar sprinkled with opium!"

5. Fatima escapes from an arranged marriage, looking to Paris for a new life. Unfortunately, a clerical error lands the burqa-clad beauty in Paris, Texas. Hilarity ensues when the handsome Homeland Security agent takes her aside for some 'probing' questions.

6. When Annie is forced to rent out rooms in her downtown Paris home, she gets some odd tenants, including a woman whose husband apparently has rabies, and a master vegetable peeler from the United States.

Original Version

Attn. Evil Editor

Query for ONE WAY TO PARIS, a story of resilience, rebirth and the power of love.

Annie’s husband died on her two years ago and she’s not exactly recovering. [In fact, she's still trying to get out from under him. What was she thinking, marrying a sumo wrestler?] She’s only thirty-five but has three demanding children in tow. [The word "but" implies that it's unusual for someone only thirty-five to have three children.] Sure her beautiful house is located in the heart of Paris, but it’s derelict and bankruptcy is looming. Annie, an American, is surrounded by French people, a breed she doesn’t particularly trust. She’s anxious whenever she leaves her house, she’s too fat, at least by Parisian standards, and for a reason she can hardly admit to herself, she’s angry, angry as hell. These days, Annie’s options are, unlike her, pretty thin. [That's two cracks about her weight in two sentences. Meeeoow.]

Lucas, her wealthy, blue-blooded, Lanvin-wearing friend who knocks at her door daily and complains about her American coffee will not, absolutely not, charm her into selling her beloved house, her one anchor in this world, for her own good. What Annie will do, in part to make ends meet, in part to infuriate Lucas, is rent out rooms to perfect strangrs. “Start over in Paris?” says her small ad placed in two American newspapers.

Enter Lola from Bel Air, who’s everything Annie wishes she were: gorgeous, even-keeled, and long-legged. Lucas, that rat, is smitten. They don’t know that Lola is secretly hiding from her violent husband, who’s currently foaming at the mouth and circling the globe in search of her. [If you're looking for someone, and you've managed to narrow down her location to "somewhere on the globe," it's time to settle for someone else with the same color hair.] Althea, the second tenant also looks harmless at first. She’s a quiet young mid-westerner, master vegetable peeler, [She can finish off a good-sized cuke in six strokes.] albeit anorexic and crippled with a teensy bit of a death wish. Althea puts Annie’s patience and empathy bone to the test and she wonders if Althea will manage to kill herself before she [Who's "she"?] strangles her with her bare hands. Things unravel completely with the arrival of a third tenant, a smoldering French artist named Jared. The women in the house swoon while Jared spends his nights roaming the underbelly of Paris or locked up in police stations. [Not clear how Jared's arrival and the resulting swooning constitutes a complete unraveling.] [Also, this makes it sound like it's his roaming and getting into trouble that makes them swoon, rather than his accent and that cute thing he does with his eyebrows.]

What did Annie get herself into? The plan was for them to start over! But what happens when you get involved with people is that your heart might open up in dangerous ways. You might face the lies you’ve been repeating to yourself for the last ten years, and you might--kicking and screaming and against your better judgment--begin to trust again, forgive yourself, and perhaps even fall in love.

ONE WAY TO PARIS is a work of women’s fiction and is 95,000 words long. I hope you will be interested in reading my manuscript and look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,


Heavy on the synopsis side, but I'd rather hear more about the book than a list of credits--unless those credits sparkle. This makes the book sound entertaining, amusing, fun. Assuming the book is fairly light (describing it as a story of resilience, rebirth and the power of love doesn't get that across; perhaps you could describe it as exuberant, spirited, or lighthearted without sounding like you're bragging, the way you would if you called it hilarious, rollicking, or effervescent), the tone is spot-on.

I don't, however, think you're fitting all of that on a page, so here's a shorter version that might squeeze in.

Revised Version

Annie’s husband died two years ago and she’s not exactly recovering. Her beautiful house in the heart of Paris faces bankruptcy, she's surrounded by people she doesn’t particularly trust (the French), and for a reason she won't admit to herself, she’s angry as hell. These days, Annie’s options are (unlike Annie) pretty thin.

Lucas, her blue-blooded, Lanvin-wearing friend who knocks at her door daily and complains about her American coffee will not, absolutely not, charm her into selling her beloved house, her one anchor in this world. What Annie will do, partly to infuriate Lucas, is rent out rooms to perfect strangers. “Start over in Paris?” reads her small ad, placed in two American newspapers.

Enter Lola from Bel Air, who’s everything Annie wishes she were: gorgeous, even-keeled, and long-legged. Lucas, that rat, is smitten. They don’t know that Lola is secretly hiding from her violent husband. Althea, the second tenant, also looks harmless: a quiet young mid-westerner, a master vegetable peeler, but crippled by a bit of a death wish. When a third tenant arrives, a smoldering French artist named Jared, the women in the house swoon.

Annie's plan was to start over, but when you get involved with people, your heart can open up in dangerous ways. You might confront the lies you’ve been telling yourself. You might forgive yourself, begin to trust again, and even . . . fall in love.

ONE WAY TO PARIS is a lighthearted, 95,000-word story of resilience and the power of love. I hope you will be interested in reading the manuscript.

Best Regards,


Brenda said...

This sounds like something I'd pick up. I love interesting characters, and your query definitely shows their personalities in well-chosen words. EE tightened it up quite well. I'd be interested to know if you send this out and what kind of replies you get from editors/agents.

I'm wondering who she possibly falls in love with. This is obviously womens fiction with romantic elements, but neither of the guys mentioned seem worthy. If it's one of them, I'd bet on the Rat.

writtenwyrdd said...

EE's changes were great. As I read this, I found it interesting but pretty vague as to why I should read teh book.

Then I got to the last chapter where you say "What did Annie get herself into? The plan was for them to start over! But what happens when you get involved with people is that your heart might open up in dangerous ways. You might face the lies you’ve been repeating to yourself for the last ten years, and you might--kicking and screaming and against your better judgment--begin to trust again, forgive yourself, and perhaps even fall in love."

That's what makes the book one I want to read. Not the quirks of the zany secondary characters so much as the underlying changes.

I would probably read this if I found it on a bookshelf, based on that paragraph.

Your description makes me think of Under The Tuscan Sun, btw.

writtenwyrdd said...

Brenda, I am betting for her "friend" Lucas as the love interest.

Anonymous said...

these women all sound pathetic. why such losers? the widow is determined to stay in Paris but seems to like nothing about the place, does nothing much but be angry and can't even adjust to French coffee? she must have the last "house" in the "heart of Paris". why not just sell the lot to a skyscraper guy for a million or two and fly her can of Folgers to New Orleans where its so easy to justify a life of weeping ennui?

writtenwyrdd said...

Jeez, anon, you obviously don't get the women's fiction genre at all, do you? It's usually about personal transformation.

Stacia said...

This sounds cute, it really does, but (as many of you know, because I always nitpick on this) I just can't stomach the idea that you can, as an American, just pack up and start over in Europe. You can't.

It's just the line about placing ads in US papers that say "Start over in Paris?" that gets me, and would probably make me put the query or book into the reject pile.

Assuming you've explained this better in the book, I'd take it out of the query. Just say she put the ads in English-language papers, or papers catering to American expats, or whatever.

In the UK there are laws about renting flats and even rooms to people in the country illegally or on visitor's visas. You can get in considerable trouble for doing so if they catch you. (This is why hotels want to see your passport before they'll give you a room.)

The laws may very well be different in France, but without knowing for sure my instinct is to believe they aren't that far off.

My only real nitpick in what does sound like a charming story.

Evil Editor said...

I was not under the impression this was an ESL author's query, so you fooled at least one reader.

Those prepositions will need to be repaired at some point, and I recommend doing it before submitting. A local or online critique partner or group (with Americans) would help you avoid minor but noticeable errors (like saying "and more of its share of American and French bashing," when you mean "and more than its share of American and French bashing"). Good luck.

Brenda said...

I had no idea it was ESL. But then, I'm Texan, and I had to read EE's "of" vs "than" twice before it clicked for me. But don't tell anyone, k?

PS - Knew it was the Rat!

Anonymous said...

OK, Brenda, you are now #1 in comments in four of the last five posts, and #2 in the other one. I think you need a hobby. Or maybe... are you letting your infatuation with our buddy Evil show a little too much?

Lucky guy, that Evil.

Stacia said...

I had no idea about the ESL, none at all. Very impressive.

Anonymous said...

er, speaking as someone who knows, no you cannot just pack up and move to a foreign country...ANY foreign country. That really bugged me about Under the Tuscan Sun. But, that said, this is fiction and we can pretend, can't we? Besides, most EU countries and the US will allow visitors to stay six months. You can essentially live in a foreign land as a non-immigrant so long as you continue to convince the authorities that you 1) still maintain a residence in your homeland; and 2) you aren't actually making your home in the foreign land. You have no legal standing and they can indeed toss you out on your ear with no recourse. Done it a few times in an immigration officer capacity myself. Banking, business, homes and all are suddenly inaccessible because someone was caught as having established their homes illegally in their chosen new home. But they can stay for six months. I guess you have to draw the line somewhere...

Blogless Troll said...

All these comments about starting over in another country and immigration laws have me confused. I was under the impression the MC was already living in Paris with her formerly breathing husband and 3 kids. Am I missing something?

I do agree that this query did not sound like it was written by an ESL author, thus breaking the long streak of queries that did.

Brenda said...

anon 1:05, are you jealous? *grin*

It's really because I'm sick (again - pneumonia - again) and online more than normal, so I jump all over the place repeatedly, and I'm able to see new things as they appear.

Anonymous said...

My feeling was opposite to writtenwyrdd's: the "moral" of the story doesn't do much for me, although I understand it has to be there for marketability. What I want to read is a frothy story about odd characters in an exotic (to me) setting, with just enough meat on the bones to make me care.

Corine Gantz, your later post describes a much more serious book--one that I probably wouldn't enjoy so much. But I love the premise.

Also, EE, your fix-up is most edifying. And I do love being edified.

Anonymous said...

Story premise as set up in your query: three dysfunctional American women share a household in France. In addition to their individual issues, they all lack suitable mates. Then a potential new unsuitable mate [painter who can't stay out of jail] moves in and they all get a crush on him.

That's it. The dead husband etc are all backstory.

If I was an agent, you would definitely need a lot more plot than that to get out of my slush pile. In the comments here you provide a list of violent scenes wherein you kill off numerous characters. These events do not add up to a gripping story line in which motivated characters unite to achieve some Big Goal, which is what I'd be looking for as an agent. It's more like a series of more or less equally dire troubles that pop up sequentially and must be reacted to. See the difference? You've got kind of a melodrama soap opera structure going here. Giving each character their own gripping story line might be working great in the book but that's hard to do well and I'd want the query to make it more clear that was your plan.

You say it's a lighthearted story. The tone of a query always speaks for itself. The tone is what it is. Give us a witty funny query and we'll expect the same in the book. These people sound seriously miserable. Also, I have a low tolerance for bickering dialogue so the expectation that we're going to hear a lot of French-bashing and American-bashing and talk about coffee brands and vegetable peeling is not good.

Brenda said...

Anon: IF you were an agent? You summed that up so thoroughly, if you're not an agent, ya should be. I'm trying to learn how to do that: sum up a book in a few lines. I'm not good at it yet, but practice, practice, practice...

Anonymous said...

Brenda -- yeah, that brief premise thing takes a lot of practice. The books I've seen for novelists don't really deal with it. Try reading STORY by Robert McKee. It's aimed at screenwriters and it's pretty analytical, but it has the most useful discussion of various story structures, character arcs, and structure problems I've ever seen. If it seems tough, rent the movie ADAPTATION, which basically illustrates some of McKee's main points, he plays himself -- the screenwriter's seminar guy.

none said...

So, while all this is going on with the adults, the "demanding" children are doing...what?

Evil Editor said...

Didn't you read the revised version? There are no children.

batgirl said...

EE's revision is a dandy. Especially getting rid of the children. I can see that they add to the economic necessity aspect of the plot, but in the query they're just a distraction.

none said...

Oh my, EE--you mean you revised them not only out of the query, but out of the BOOK?

Actually, shame on me, no, I didn't read the revision. I have the attention span of a sqrl.

Brenda said...

Anon, I own STORY (and Volger's, and every other book on craft I can think of) but it HAS been awhile since I picked through it. Thanks for reminding me.

I got so bogged down for literally two years learning everything I could that I stopped writing. Then I worried that I'd learned too much, and it paralyzed me from doing any writing at all out of fear of not doing it "right". I'm just now coming out of that, two and a half years later, and writing again, but I may be able to peek in at McKee without needing psychiatric help. Thanks!

Of course, when I freak, I run to EE anyway. EE, brace yourself, honey, and then be sure to blame it all on anon.

Anonymous said...

When did I ever mention moral in any post ever in a less than derogatory light, anon?

This doesn't have a moral, from what I read; it's about a woman who learns a few things. Humor, of course, would also make me happy.

Anonymous said...

br br wrote:
anon 1:05, are you jealous? *grin*

Busted. Jealous doesn't half describe it.

verification word: gollpeni
I'm not even going to touch that one.

none said...

Well, this is what I wondered--what does happen with the children? They're so demanding that they just disappear!

writtenwyrdd said...

Evil is evil. He DISAPPEARED the children. (Have you checked the children? Bwahahaha...)

Now that it's been brought to my attention, I can see that the kids being disappeared really does improve the query.

Brenda said...

anon 1:05 - You need a nickname, and this one isn't doing you justice. I shall have to refer to you as gollpeni.

I can see no kids improving the plot. *eyes her four heathens*

Anonymous said...

A gang of wily kids who can shift their attention from digging for vampires and treasure in the basement to haunting the house in order to banish the unsuitable bachelors with terror might save the book. Insipid little whiners would not.

none said...

I think I have it now. What the children are demanding is the rent.

writtenwyrdd said...

anonymous, you are channelling Dennis the Menace. I like it. And when the kids dig through the basement and discover one of Paris' famous sub basements leading to an ancient cellar in the neighboring house...

Then there are the (chalk?) caverns that they could dig into... Houses have been dropping into them in Paris, too.

YOu almost make me want to write about a bunch of children driving their mother crazy in paris myself!

none said...

Rent with Menaces!

Anonymous said...

I don't think your switch to the 2nd person hypothetical at the end of the query [you might do x, you might do y, you might do z] is an enticing approach. The query is supposed to tell us what the characters in the book do, not give us a guessing challenge. Your story's not about me. It doesn't matter what I would do.

Heather Dudley said...

The only thing that bugged me about this query was the abuse of commas.

Every sentence, like this one, is littered with too many commas, and you interrupt your thoughts too often, so you wind up with a runon sentence.

Remember that each comma denotes a pause in the sentence, the reader will be taking a mental (or physical) break at each one. Too many, and they'll get annoyed.