Sunday, March 04, 2007

Face-Lift 285

Guess the Plot

What's for Dinner?

1. Tossed salad with thousand island dressing, baked chicken, rice, and Brussels sprouts. And for dessert, tapioca pudding. Wait, forget all that. Lasagna.

2. The "prize" for winning the school bubble blowing contest is that your mother has to cook dinner for the principal. Carlita wins the contest, but a last minute grocery mix-up leaves her wondering . . . What's for dinner?

3. When the guests at Mary Whitaker's potluck club won't stop asking, "What's for Dinner?" she finally answers: "You are." She pulls the "idiot lever," and the floor falls away, dropping her guests into a giant vat of boiling broth.

4. A band of Neanderthals debates whether the time has come to take a break from sex and stalk a mastodon. They decide it hasn't.

5. From unidentifiable leftovers out of the microwave to ramen over the kitchen sink, America gives up its culinary secrets in this companion volume to What's for Lunch? and the acclaimed What's for Breakfast?

6. Even as Alexander the Great's half-dead army crawls across the scorching desert, they're still complaining. Chef Golgi has provided a lovely selection of thinly sliced camel guts on a bed of fur, but that's not good enough? Let them eat cake, then. He's going to hike back to India -- where his talent was appreciated.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for my 5,400 word chapter book manuscript, [You forgot sentence and paragraph. 5400 word sentence paragraph chapter book manuscript.] What’s for Dinner? [5400 words about what's for dinner? Is this a manuscript or the Cheesecake Factory menu?]

Everyone knows ten year-old Carlita Fernandez blows the biggest bubbles in school. So why won't she enter the bubble gum blowing contest? Because she doesn't want to win. Carlita thinks having the school principal over for dinner is more of a punishment than a prize. [She's right. It's like winning Wimbledon, and then finding out that the prize isn't a million dollars, it's that you have to cook dinner for Queen Elizabeth.] [Does the principal eat at the home of every student who accomplishes anything? Or does it take a really important accomplishment, like blowing a bubble or walking upright?]

But Carlita’s mother disagrees. Mami jumps at the possibility of hosting Ms. Bader for a traditional Dominican meal. Despite her aversion to bubble gum, Mami presses Carlita to enter. Carlita’s reluctance continues until, goaded by the obnoxious [vice principal,] David Erby, she enters the contest – and wins. [She didn't consider purposely losing?] As dinner with Ms. Bader looms, Carlita argues for serving hamburgers and dressing [Hamburgers and dressing? I prefer them with catsup.] in jeans. She does not want Mami to make her a dress, to use Spanish words or to serve Dominican food, [which consists largely of various tubers more likely to be found in the New York Times crossword puzzle than in a dictionary]. Carlita worries she and Ms. Bader will have nothing to talk about.

When a last minute grocery mix-up threatens the event, [The grocery delivers yautia, mapuye and auyama instead of hamburger buns and ground beef; Mami can't understand how they could screw up so totally.] Carlita has to make a tough choice. The result is a change in plan for dinner, and a change of heart for Carlita.

I think the inter-generational conflicts, ethnic recipes, and light humor in this book will appeal to kids. [What kid wouldn't want to read a sancocho recipe?] I hope you agree. The full manuscript is available on request.

I have enclosed a SASE for your reply. Thank you for your time.



The book is the length of a short story. I'm assuming it's not for the age levels reading Dr. Suess-length books (which, come to think of it, includes Evil Editor), as inter-generational conflicts and ethnic recipes would not be so appealing to them. Thus even with large type and lots of pictures, you'll probably get 100 words on a page, which comes out to 54 pages, or 27 thicknesses of paper. That's more like a stapled booklet than a bound book. Have you considered writing five or six stories, each featuring Dominican food, and putting the recipes in the back?

One would think Mami's aversion to bubble gum would have been a major obstacle in Carlita's quest to become the best bubble blower in the school. Apparently Carlita isn't the most obedient child.

"Idiot lever" from Guess the Plot #3? Anagram for Evil Editor.


Anonymous said...

Not sure if you meant this to be set in America or where, but the link between bubble gum and dinner follows logic suitable for a magical kingdom. If you're using magical thinking, why the mere principal? I would think a rock star, astronaut, zookeeper, or Hollywood talent scout would be 10,000 times more popular with kids, which is supposedly your audience. In a realistic world Mom's perfectly capable of inviting townsfolk over for dinner any time she likes, is she not? So the contest sounds like a needless complication. It's tough to structure around motivations of the "I am loathe to do X, but I must!" kind.

Anonymous said...

Harry Potter's greatest asset = parents are dead. He is free. He spends each book achieving goals that are his own. The kid in your book is an instrument of her mother's. The goal she achieves is the opposite of her own. She defeats/sacrifices herself to satisfy her mother's ambitions. That's a lot more exciting for parents than it is for kids. Maybe you should make it a short story for moms.

pacatrue said...

Hmm... I'm not so negative as Anonymous 5:24. Depending upon how it's written (of course), it seems like it could be fine. None of the children's books I read make any sense. In one decently popular one, this guy chases another guy around shoving diseased eggs and ham in his face until they ,a goat, a mouse, and a fox fall off a cliff onto a boat and speak under water.

In "10 Apples Up On Top" a lion, a tiger, and a dog break into a couple bears' home and steal milk and apples from the fridge (after walking safely on electrical wires to get there) and then the entire town chases them with baseball bats. It's like Grand Theft Auto: Seuss Edition.

In worlds such as this, I can easily imagine a connection between bubble-blowing and someone important to the child coming to dinner.

The question I do have is what the target market is. The author needs to mention if this is middle-grade, a board book, a level 2 reader, etc. It sounds like it's for about 7-8 year olds. They are old enough to be self-conscious about being like everyone else and yet still really care about the principal. You hit 9 and they're getting a credit card for Hollister's.

Anonymous said...

The goal she achieves is the opposite of her own. She defeats/sacrifices herself to satisfy her mother's ambitions.

Seems to me that a lot of kids' books (I have a 10-year-old) involve stories of kids that are forced to do something they think is bad or no fun but which ends up teaching them some sort of serious life lesson or turning out a whole different way than they expected.

I don't believe kids wish their parents were dead so they could be "free." I think kids really enjoy the idea that their parents could actually be wiser and more experienced than they are. In fact, your own argument, Anon 5:24, about Harry Potter's parents being dead as the story's greatest asset, is backwards, IMHO. Harry's greatest desire is to have parents (or parental figures--see Dumbledore, McGonigal, Lupin, Black, et. al.) who help watch over him and keep him safe, who love him.

I also don't see any problem with the bubble-blowing contest leading to dinner with the principal. Our elementary school holds a weekly drawing of random students who get to eat lunch on Friday at the principal's table. I can't imagine that they'd like it, but it's terribly prestigious, and every kid wants to win.

To me, this situation and plot are perfectly fine. The only plot hole is EE's question about whether the girl would not come up with the idea of losing on purpose. I think that needs to be addressed, even if it's just realizing she could have thought of it after she accidentally won. Or, if the actual cause of her winning is so she can stuff it in the face of that whiny know-it-all jerk David Erby, make that clearer in the query.

The other things that strike me are these:
The principal is "Ms. Bader." Not Mrs.? Every woman principal I've known (several) has been Mrs. Ms would imply a younger, perhaps even attractive woman, and in my experience there is no such elementary school principal. (I laugh every time I think of the one little rat who called one of the local principals "Missile Tits" right to her face. I mean, his description was accurate, but still.)

Also, does Carlita really worry that she and the principal will have "nothing to talk about"? I would think it would be much more of a "child vs scary authority figure" worry than a "lack of chat topics" worry.

I don't get the connection between a grocery mix-up (presumably the mom's problem) and Carlita's choice. What choice does the 10-year-old have to make when her mom is supposed to make dinner for the principal? Seems like at that point the 10-year-old is along for the ride. I think we need more detail on the choice and her situation to understand what's going on.

I say lose the self-analysis in the penultimate paragraph. Your decision, of course, but I can't think of a single time when those in the know actually recommend including this type of promotion. If you want the light humor to come through, make the voice of the novel more evident in the query. Right now it reads like an accurate and clinical description of what happens, but I don't get the light humor.

I'm hoping the length is a typo and it's actually 54,000 words and not 5,400 words.

Rashenbo said...

Well, I think the idea of the child fretting over the principal coming to dinner may be interesting to some kids... I'm not sure about the bubble blowing competition. This isn't something I'd be likely to pick up for my kids.

Anonymous said...

"Idiot lever" from Guess the Plot #3? Anagram for Evil Editor.

So is Die Vile Tor.

Small press envy?

Evil Editor said...

Google is unfamiliar with the term "chapter book." You are perhaps referring to a chapbook (, whose name doesn't derive from the word chapter.

Anonymous said...

Amazon, on the other hand, knows exactly what they are.

Evil Editor said...

Thank you. They seem to be what I used to call "books" when I bought them for my kid. If they're intended for early readers, I'm not sure I'd stress the inter-generational conflict and recipes in the query. These samples on Amazon seem to be for ages that would be more interested in the humor.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome to borrow my Neanderthals and their mastadon question, if you want. They are, of course, French. But they'll love Dominican food.

Anonymous said...

From the author: thanks for all your insightful comments. Will delete references to inter-generational conflicts. There are no actual recipes in the story, just lots of talk about food, so I'll adjust there, too.

PS I grew up chewing bubble gum despite the constant threat of the "idiot lever" and the vat of boiling broth below...

Anonymous said...

Every woman principal I've known (several) has been Mrs. Ms would imply a younger, perhaps even attractive woman, and in my experience there is no such elementary school principal.

Oh, pjd, Mrs. also presumes the principal is married. Not every older, not-so-attractive female principal has a hubby...

Anonymous said...

Being a person who likes ethnic food, (watching other people blow) bubble gum, and children's books, I was trying to figure out why this query left me no desire to read the manuscript. Then I thought about the last book of a similar length that I enjoyed: "The Legend of Spud Murphy" by Eoin Colfer.
Here's the synopsis for it from Amazon:
During the hoidays, Will and his big brother Marty are packed off to the library, the home of the dreaded librarian Spud Murphy, who uses a spud gun on kids who put a foot wrong. Eventually, Will and Marty discover a love of books and that Mrs Murphy isn't so bad after all.
Drawing parallels between "The Legend of Spud Murphy" and "What's for Dinner", there are two things that bothered me about your query:

1. Mum wants kids to go to the libary because kids used mum's expensive makeup as war paint. The kids don't want to go. (Mami wants Carlita to enter the competition because she wants the prize. Carlita doesn't want to enter.)

In the former, the parent is just. At this point, I'm already hoping that the kids will grow to love the library. In the latter, Mami sounds selfish. I hope the principle turns out to be horrible, ruins the dinner, and leaves Mami begging Carlita for forgiveness.

2. The kids don't want to go to the library because the librarian is Spud Murphy. Spud Murphy leaps at the softest noise in the library, throws library stamps like they're weapons, and can trace footprints on the floor to see exactly which book someone has moved. (Carlita doesn't want to enter the competition because the prize is dinner with the Ms Bader. Ms Bader is... is... is... um... the school principle.)

For all I know, Ms Bader could be an awesome character, but there's nothing in the query to show this. Is she terrifying? Crazy? What? Please don't tell me she's boring because, like Spud Murphy (note that it's her name in the title of the book), Ms Bader is the antagonist. The antagonist isn't the grocery mix-up (or being bound to a carpet that represents the children's library). That's the setting. Your focus shouldn't be there.
Tell me about Ms Bader. I want Carlita to convince me that I don't want this terrible woman over for dinner either. I want to tremble with Carlita when the doorbell rings. Then I want to feel the same change of heart that Carlita feels.

PJD said...

Oh, pjd, Mrs. also presumes the principal is married. Not every older, not-so-attractive female principal has a hubby...

Touche. You are correct.

I also think Naz has some very good points I failed to consider, particularly the one about Mami's intentions. It is possible, of course, that Mami intends to open the principal's eyes to certain things such as diversity and the third grade gym teacher's hip flask. But the query gives the impression she just wants to show herself off to the local "royalty," as it were.

Dave Fragments said...

The last time I saw a spud gun, burnt and smoking spud flew 100 feet into their neighbor's yard. I wasn't arrested, thank Dog.

Members of my family hated being ethnic. They actually lived in fear of anyone calling them ethnic names. On one side, they never used garlic or olive oil because a neighbor had said that they could smell an Italian house. On another side, they never ate lamb because it stank and when they cooked it once, a neighbor complained that they would feel greasy for days (Grecian). Ah life can be so illogical.

I can see a mother or a daughter being "ashamed" for the wrong reasons about being ethnic. It's one of those dysfunctional family things.

Anonymous said...

This is my first time posting here, so I hate to do it arguing back with EE, but 'chapter book' is a well known term in British children's and educational publishing - I don't know about elsewhere.

Chapter books are short books - of this kind of length - for children who are just beginning to read independently. They're longer than picture book texts and though they don't have pictures on every page, they may have them scattered through the text (often just in black and white). And they're divided up into chapters...

Evil Editor said...

Now now, you're merely providing the group with knowledge, not arguing.

Dave Fragments said...

Go to any bookstore and look in the childrens section. There you wlil find racks of thin books with big type by various authors. I mentioned "The Magic Treehouse" by Mary Pope Osborne in another comment

#32 in the series is about merlin the magician. The story is repetative and simple and has lots of action. My Newphew's little girl loves them. They are for kids learning to read, so they are simple language.

The plot, "What's For Dinner" is a good idea. A kid who wants her mother to be something else. All parents embarrass their kids at one time for another.

I think that the author is trying to sell the story like an adult novel. That's creating the problems with the query. Take a look at the blurbs on Amazon about the chapter books and model your descriptions after those.