Sunday, March 11, 2007

Face-Lift 292


Guess the Plot

A Perilous Reunion

1. Marion's been separated from her husband George for three months. When he walks in the door, she flies into his arms. Too late, she remembers that he's been away undergoing experimental cosmetic surgery, and now has thousands of porcupine spines on his back and chest.

2. Separation was difficult for Siamese twins Ted and Tad. But now that Ted's liver is kaput, there's only one way both boys can survive to adulthood: reunification. But as Dr. Wackner begins this very difficult surgery, her cell phone rings. It's Bob! He can't wait to hear about her new shoes!

3. When Ellen Strunk gets an invitation to the tenth reunion of her class at stuntperson school, she has no clue just how frickin' hard it's going to be to park her car safely, much less get to the bar for a drink in one piece.

4. When Seth Loki is imprisoned for beating a man nearly to death, his wife divorces him and moves to Ohio with their son, Joey. He'll never find us here, she thinks. And she was right-- until Loki received a letter from Joey, postmarked Sandusky, Ohio.

5. After dating for a year, Sara finally agrees to attend a family reunion with Tom. But when she discovers a corpse in the bathtub, she begins to realize that while some of Tom's wacky relatives are harmless eccentrics, at least one is deadly. . . and that one may be coming after her next!

6. He's a gay prostitute to the rich and powerful. She's a genius ex munitions expert with a passion for social justice. Together, they're fraternal twins who were separated as kids in Houston's foster care system. An accident involving a broken heel, a spilled drink, and a craps table brings them together again. Now no one in Washington is safe.


Original Version

Dear Agent:

Susan Shepherd gained strength from divorcing her abusive husband, Seth Loki, while he was serving time for beating a man nearly to death. Before Seth was released from prison, Susan and her teenaged son, Joey, moved from Florida to Ohio to escape his inevitable rage and begin a new life. Led by the "goodbye" letter Joey sent from Ohio, Seth discovers their location and plots to destroy Susan’s happiness and reclaim his son. [Joey's goodbye letter:

The novel opens with Seth watching his family’s new house from the seclusion of a tree-covered park, gaining valuable information as he constructs a plan of revenge. [All that stuff in the first paragraph happened in the prequel, Seth Loki: Birth of a Brute.] Unaware of Seth’s presence, Susan lands a job teaching fifth grade and hopes that her new home is a safe haven, but feels more unsettled with each passing moment as she encounters several reminders of her ex-husband. [She should never have brought their wedding album or his collection of human fingers when they moved. But the clincher is when she finds the message,

Prepare to Die,

Love,

Seth

written on her bedroom wall with blood.] Joey, a friendless fourteen-year-old struggling with the reality of what his father is capable of, has no idea that he’ll soon be faced with the predicament of protecting himself and his mother by using the last gift his father gave him, a gun. Meanwhile, Susan and Joey’s German Shepherd, Duke, who has exceptional depth and intuition, [Certainly more than Joey, anyway] is the only one who knows this "sour man" has arrived. [Sour man? That's what Duke calls him?] Bo, an astute sixteen-year-old girl dealing with the threatening presence of her new stepfather, [Seth Loki,] befriends Joey and is unwittingly pulled into his family’s strife.

Through media coverage of a young woman’s disappearance in Florida, Susan, Joey, and Bo separately piece together bits of information and realize too late that Seth has arrived. Only in the final pages does this family come together for A Perilous Reunion, causing each individual to discover how much their strength of spirit has evolved.

A Perilous Reunion is a contemporary suspense novel, complete at 75,000 words. A third person narrator offers the perspectives of each of the five main characters [Five? Joey, Susan, Bo, Seth and . . . Duke?] in short, alternating sections. [Duke's section:

Duke came running into the living room. "Hey, Susan," he said. "That asshole you used to be married to is camped out in the park across the street. I think you better call the cops."

"Joey," Susan yelled, "Duke wants something. Call him, will you?"

"Duke!" Joey called.

"Listen to me, you ignorant broad," Duke continued. "It's Seth Loki. With his gun and his knives and his ridiculous last name. He's gonna kill us all!"

"Joey," Susan called out. "Get Duke one of his bacon treats. Maybe that'll shut him up."

"For Christ's sake, lady, how can you be that stupi-- Did you say bacon?!!"]

I have been a teacher of secondary English in Ohio for eight years and recently completed my Master’s Degree in education. I would be happy to send you A Perilous Reunion. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Notes

You can safely leave Bo out of the query. For that matter, Duke isn't necessary, though we don't want to shorten it too much.

A woman disappears in Florida, and three different people separately realize this means Seth is in Ohio? You might want to leave that out as well, unless you can explain it.

If you beat someone to death in Florida, you could get life in prison. Unless it's a homeless guy, in which case you still get ten or fifteen years. Seems like beating someone nearly to death would be a fairly long sentence, but I didn't get the impression Loki was locked up very long.

43 comments:

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Oh man - I was laughing my head off, EE. Duke was too. Yeah, he's with me now. He IS a smart dog.

Anonymous said...

Okay so I'm a cynical veteran of 10 years employment in the legal system and I'm pretty sure if a kid whose mother used to get beaten by dad is savvy enough to be weilding a gun, he is surely not stupid enough to blow the family's cover like that unless he's hoping / planning to shoot the old man on sight. Those kids hate hate hate and fear their fathers and are usually very protective of their mothers. The mom is normally the lame brain who writes a zillion love letters to the prison and invites the guy to come on over and murder her as soon as he gets out. The kids are smarter.

blogless_troll said...

If the mom was smart and really loved her son, instead of leaving Florida, she would've left him in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. Then nobody would find him. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Great GTPs this time. I especially liked the stunt woman one.

Dave said...

I had trouble with the time sequence of events . Mostly, I had trouble with the length of his imprisonment for nearly beating a man to death. It sounds like he only serves enough time for his wife and child to relocate and as we all know, that can't be the case.

However, since the backstory consists of those events in Florida, Why do we hear about them in the query. The story is about a man, just our of prison hunting down his wife and child.

I also have trouble with the kid keeping and treasuring the hand gun. First, if he knows the father's violent history, why does he treasure the gun? Second, you never make clear if 16 y/o is old enough to own it. I don't know the law concerning hand guns in Ohio. If his father was in jail for five years, he was given a hand gun at 11 y/o. That's not believable.

And Bo? Bo makes me shudder. You say: "Bo, an astute sixteen-year-old girl dealing with the threatening presence of her new stepfather"
That implies she is being adopted or she is marrying Joey. Having dealt with marraiges at that age, I'll tell you that they are not happy events. And if Seth Loki introduced himself as the convicted felon father of her underage husband-to-be. . . well, ther's going to be trouble with the inlaws at that wedding. Normally, those wedding are not happy affairs because of an unwanted, early pregnancy. Be that as it may, In-law trouble raisies its ugly head, once again.

But this assumes that they know Seth Loki (a villian with the last name of a mythical villian, wowie-zowie-gadzooks!) is in town. Sometimes, you make like he's announced his presence in Ohio and other times, he's remaining hidden.

Dave said...

I have a question about #3:
"When Ellen Strunk gets ... she has no clue just how frickin' hard it's going to be to park her car safely, much less get to the bar for a drink in one piece."

Is the drink in one piece, or deconstructed? OR, is Ellen in two pieces?

pacatrue said...

Really funny, EE

Kidder23 said...

I was really hoping that this one was plot #6. Pure genius.

December Quinn said...

Oooh, blogless troll, ouch!

I think the problem with this one (aside from "Seth Loki", unless you plan to write that Birth of a Brute book EE came up with because that's an awesome title) is that the bad-abusive-ex-stalking-wife-and-kid isn't a new or even particularly interesting story anymore. It wasn't even new when Sleeping With the Enemy was published, or when the movie was made (or The Burning Bed, or that one with Nancy McKeon where she sues the police dept., or really any movie Lifetime has ever made except for the child molestatione ones.)

What looks different about yours is the attack-on-the-girl thing, where everyone realizes as they watch that investigation unfold that Seth Loki is in town. That sounds like an interesting twist. I'd focus on that bit.

Shannon said...

As a Corrections professional, it would not surprise me to see this guy out in 3-5 years, with time served credit and good time (a lousy human can still be an ideal prisoner).

Attempted murder can be pled down to aggravated assault, armed with intent, or willful injury (or a combination). In my state, these all fall around the D-felony range --3-5 years with up to $7500 fine per count. Multiple counts can be served at the same time.

He may be skipping out on his parole officer or work release center, but once they leave the state, it’s pretty hard to track someone down until they re-offend.

Robin S. said...

Hi Author,

I agree with december quinn that
"What looks different about yours is the attack-on-the-girl thing, where everyone realizes as they watch that investigation unfold that Seth Loki is in town" and this might be interesting to spend some time on.

I like the guy's last name. It sounds different, and wil porbaly be remembered by the reader - just look at how many people enjoyed playing with the name here on this blog.

I don't think it matters that your subject has been done before - because I'm pretty sure just about every subject has been done before. A lot. And that what would matter is how well the story, retold by you, is done.

EE, I loved your letters to and from Seth.

Anonymous said...

Well - after wiping the evil slime off my face, I'm ready to thank all of you for your constructive criticism. Unfortunately, you seem to think the problems aren't with the query - but the story itself. I'll work on bringing out what is original in the story as I revise.

Anonymous - good point about it not being realistic for the kid to blow their cover.

Dave - he doesn't "treasure" the hand gun. He doesn't register the thing, either, lots of 16 year olds have things in their possession not deemed legally appropriate. I wasn't clear enough about Bo's step-dad - not connected to Seth or Joey.

Shannon - He was in 4 years. I thought that could be realistic considering that our justice system is nowhere near perfect.

December Quinn & Robin S - Thanks - more of the book is focused on that "twist" than the query alludes to. Maybe I should take the backstory out of the query and add more of the connection between Seth and the kidnapping - how they realize he's in town now.

Robin S - Thank you. "I don't think it matters that your subject has been done before . . ." I know it's been done - I tried to make it new.


EE - Should I not include the back-story in the first paragraph?

cheryl said...

I'm with kidder...someone write #6, quick!

Evil Editor said...

Should I not include the back-story in the first paragraph?


It's okay there, though it feels odd to get this information,and then say The novel opens...

Perhaps cut the 1st paragraph before its last sentence, and begin the 2nd paragraph:

Led by the "goodbye" letter Joey sent from Ohio, Seth discovers their location and watches his family’s new house from the seclusion of a nearby park, gaining valuable information as he plots to destroy Susan's happiness and reclaim his son.

By the way, Joey is 14, not 16. If his father's been in prison 4 years, he gave Joey the gun when Joey was no older than ten.

Kings Falcon said...

Unfortunately, I can see Seth getting out in 4-5 years but I think Joey might be a bit young to save the day. You might want to be a bit more explict as to how Seth tracks them down from the goodbye letter. Was Joey really naive enough to tell Seth where he was going or was it the postmark?

Loki is the Norse God of mischief. Seth, however, is not. You might want to change the last name.

Anonymous said...

EE - Thanks again. And I know the timeline - I was responding to Dave who stated the age of 16 - didn't feel the need to correct.

Kings Falcon - Joey wasn't naive enough to state where they are - Seth saw the postmark. Believable? How many kids use the mail these days? Most communicate through computer and text message. Something I need to think about.

Carolina Wren said...

I actually liked the concept of many POVs- some of my favorite books have been written that way. Donald Harrington's novel WITH is a great example. It uses over a dozen POVs, including that of a dog. It can be done, and it can be done well.

I agree that four years in prison is believeable. People get out all the time due to a technicality, so that didn't strike me as odd.

A thought about Joey's letter: He was only ten when he wrote it. What if he never planned on mailing it? Maybe he wrote it at someone's suggestion to deal with his loss and hid it, but during the move it got lost and someone else finds it and mails it, thinking they are doing a good deed?

I like books that take an "old plot" and try to update it or make it new. I think this could work if the author includes inventive twists.

Best of luck!

Dave said...

Author, my remarks were not about your novel. I don't know anything about your novel except what I read in the query letter. Neither would an agent.

That's the problem of being close to the writing. I am always amazed when EE posts my stuff and people read other things into it than I intended.

This happens all the time. When you read our impressions and they don't mesh with the novel, take note.
Sometimes the minions get it all right, sometimes all wrong, and sometimes they wander into the vast wilderness ...

Robin S. said...

Hi again, Author-
carolina wren wrote - "Maybe he wrote it at someone's suggestion to deal with his loss and hid it, but during the move it got lost and someone else finds it and mails it, thinking they are doing a good deed?"

This, or something like this, sounds like a good idea to me. Lots of people have been totally screwed, if you'll forgive the tacky word choice, by the good-deed gods. It makes sense, as well, from the perspective of what children do today to communicate, as you mentioned. I'm not sure my daughters would know how to mail a letter- write it, yes, mail it, not sure. They've never had to. They text, Skype, IM - or whatever that's called - and email.

Dave,
Thanks for saying " When you read our impressions and they don't mesh with the novel, take note."
Makes sense, and better to find out here than when your work is in front of a pair of decision-making eyes that are giving a sweeping glance over your letter, and don't have the time to ask clarification questions.

Author said...

You people are truly wonderful.

Dave's comment: "I don't know anything about your novel except what I read in the query letter. Neither would an agent." Excellent point. Yes, Robin S, it is better to find out here than in the form of rejection after rejection.

I am "taking note" of all of your comments and have started to revise the query to add in things of importance - twists that make my story unique. We all know that it's tough to include all the important information in the one page query. Your comments are helping me see what needs to be omitted and added.

Love Carolina Wren's suggestion to have it mailed without his knowledge.

Keep the comments coming - they're very helpful!

Anonymous said...

Your credibility will be greatly improved if you say what he did and what he was actually convicted of and how much time he got. Not just that he "beat a man almost to death."

You don't give enough info about the disappearing person incident for us to have any clue what the connection is between her and these other folks, so I agree with EE, best to not mention that subplot here or explain it a little more. Plus a character entranced by TV or newspapers is action twice removed, so a-guy-watching-TV scenes don't usually score very high on the gripping scale. The query doesn't indicate you handled that in a remarkable way so I hope the news scenes don't add up to a major portion of your pages.

As for whether agents think there's a market for gritty domestic violence stalking stories these days, I have no idea -- but if nobody grabs this as it is, you might want to try turning the dad to a werewolf or vampire or some other fantastic thing as there is definitely a huge demand for escapist fiction right now.

writtenwyrdd said...

I would just mention the entire backstory in a sentence, something along the lines of "having fled (wherever) to hide from a violently abusive husband, wife and son are in (Town). When they hear dad is out of prison and looking for them, they do Y." Then mention the action from there. We can all figure out the events of the past with that much info.

As far as 'treasuring' the gun, I think it's not the best word choice. I think I know what you mean; but I'd use a word that doesn't imply the gun has nostalgic value. Perhaps you could describe it as something upon which he anchors his sense of safety in some manner?

At any rate, this needs to be tightened up, but does sound like a workable story with some clarification.

Anonymous said...

I also loved #6. Can we have a contest to write the beginning of that one, EE?

Anonymous said...

Another suggestion: Dad doesn't give him the gun; the kid finds it, takes it, and keeps it handy just for Daddy... Because, like anon 10:40 says, the kids are smarter than the parents about these situations a lot of the time...

Evil Editor said...

As far as 'treasuring' the gun, I think it's not the best word choice.

That was Dave's word choice, not the author's.

They moved to Ohio before the dad was released--presumably not long before. Thus the goodbye letter would have been written when Joey was 14, not 10.

Taking his dad's gun makes more sense than receiving one as a 10-year old. Giving a gun to a 4th or 5th grader is stupid enough; giving it to one whose mother you abuse is asking for it.

author said...

Anon 12:10 - Since it's backstory - I'll save the info about Seth's conviction for the novel and take it out of the query.

The TV scenes are very brief and far apart - just used to give bits of info. I understand that's not so gripping and used them sparingly.

writtenwyrdd - the beginning has been revised to one sentence. The word "treasured" in reference to the gun was never part of the query. It was assumed and I'll make sure it's clear.

anon 12:30 - I like the idea of him finding the gun. Thanks!

I think I'll post my revision in the comments later for more of your thoughts - this has been helpful!

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person who thinks "Set(h) Loki" is overkill for a villain's name?

Are his best friends called "Satan Cain" and "Adolf Jenghiz"?

writtenwyrdd said...

Ooops! My bad on that "treasure" comment.

Author, you might benefit from reading "Such A Pretty Girl" for a powerful child about the right age as your character. She's dealing with a father getting out of prison for molesting her, and her mother is completely clueless and unavailable.

Dave said...

When I read one of these query letters, I almost never write a comment on the novel. I try to write the comment on the novel presented in the query letter.

Sometimes those are two different items because the author is so close to the writing and we are not. That's why you see all the confusions about the novel and its plot.

Robin S. said...

Hi EE -

What about the "sour man" reference? Would you keep that, or remove? It seems like this is done as an entry into the voice of narration of the novel - does it work?

author said...

Okay - here are the revisions - have fun!

After being released from prison for a violent crime, Seth Johnson discovers the location of his ex-wife, Susan Shepherd, and son, Joey. Seth watches his family’s new house from the seclusion of a nearby park, gaining valuable information as he plots to destroy Susan's happiness and reclaim his son. Unaware of Seth’s presence, Susan lands a job teaching fifth grade and hopes that her new home is a safe haven, but feels more unsettled with each passing moment as her mind plays tricks on her, making her see her ex-husband in places that she knows he can’t possibly be.

Joey, a friendless fourteen-year-old struggling with life in a new town, has no idea that he’ll soon be faced with the predicament of protecting himself and his mother by using his father’s old gun. Meanwhile, Susan and Joey’s German Shepherd, Duke, who has exceptional depth and intuition, is the only one who knows this "sour man" has arrived. Bo, a witty and astute sixteen-year-old girl dealing with the threatening presence of her mother’s new husband, befriends Joey and finds herself pulled into the family’s strife when an encounter with Joey’s estranged father lands her in the hospital.

Through media coverage of a young woman’s disappearance in Florida, a crime with which Seth is directly involved, Susan, Joey, and Bo separately piece together bits of information (a tattoo, a few nicknames, some grainy surveillance footage) and realize too late that Seth has arrived. Only in the final pages does this family come together for A Perilous Reunion, causing each individual to discover how much their strength of spirit has evolved.

Dave said...

That sounds much, much better.

I'd drop this completely: "Meanwhile, Susan and Joey’s German Shepherd, Duke, who has exceptional depth and intuition, is the only one who knows this "sour man" has arrived."
Just because the dog creates lots of questions that don't seem to fit in the story.

Also, build the suspense just a little bit by moving this phrase to the end of the paragraph. "has no idea that he’ll soon be faced with the predicament of protecting himself and his mother by using his father’s old gun."

That's all just my opinion.
And I wouldn't be me if I didn't say: Too many words, cut about 1/3 of them. Your choice.

writtenwyrdd said...

Author, this is much better, but the ending is still a problem, because (to me) the wording "Only in the final pages does this family come together for A Perilous Reunion, causing each individual to discover how much their strength of spirit has evolved" gives the impression that Seth (who sounds like an unmitigated bastard) is also coming together with the family in a good way. Coming together has a connotation of improving conditions.

Overall, this was vastly easier to read and follow. And it really does sound like it could be a good read.

You imply Bo is a pov character when you use "sour man"...is this the case?

Anonymous said...

You lose me with the dog being the only one who's smart enough figure out what's really happening. I realize there are books/movies with pets as heros and detectives [Underdog, Lassie, etc] and I loved them as a kid but I can't quite take them seriously now. So for me that pretty much takes your story out of the realistic adult genre and puts it into the young adult or middle grade category. Whether others will agree, I can't say. Maybe that's your intended audience. I don't know. It just seems a little incongruous with the basically hard-boiled sensibilities of the rest of it.

author said...

I know I've said this - but thanks again for your comments.

Robin S - I kept the "sour man" b/c the dog is a POV character - his parts are short but give the reader info that Susan and Joey do not have. I think this answers writtenwyrdd's question - but the dog is Duke (WW you wrote "Bo" in the question).

Dave - you mention leaving out the info on the dog in the query - I feel that if I do this I will misrepresent the book b/c some of it is from his POV. Do I assume that you think I should just cut the dog completely? I got the impression that EE might agree with this. The dog was an attempt to give a new twist to an old story line . . . I like your suggestion of moving the one sentence - I had trouble with it and think the new placement will help. I get the wordy thing too, thanks. That's hard for me.

Writtenwyrdd - I agree with your comment that the "coming together" implies a positive connotation for Seth - and this is not the case.

More to work on. Here I go.

writtenwyrdd said...

Duke (not Bo, sorry, no sleep) can be cut without harming your query. The point of the query is to illicit interest, not foster confusion. So if you can say what the book's about without adding the dog, you have done what you need to do.

Dave said...

The wordiness thing is hard for everybody. It's especially hard with my own writing because I fall in love with my words and hate to cut them. But sometimes as a writer, you have to be ruthless, cold and relentless.

pacatrue said...

OK, I admit I haven't read every comment, but I did see your revision, which I agree is an improvement.

A different thought I had was about our 5 protagonists - or is it 4 and Seth? Right now, even with the revision, we largely get the idea that these people all sit around waiting for evil Seth who they don't even know is around. We know that the mother is teaching again, so that's something, but after that, there seem to be no goals for anyone. I'm just thinking of the classic plot frame where the heroine wants something and the antagonist, who I assume to be Seth, gets in the way. But right now it isn't clear what the heroine wants. What does the presence of Seth stop her from doing? Even if what she wants is a healthy life, try to find a way to make that a specific need for her. How does she represent a healthy life - a job, a house, peace in the evenings when there used to be screaming, etc. Once we know this, the more we feel for her when these little Seth cues threaten to take this specific need of hers away.

The basic idea is that the more you can do to make our heroine (and other good guys) special so that we really care for them, the more your book will stand out in the crowded field. The less we know about them, the more generic the agent assumes your book to be.

How's that for general?

Anonymous said...

I think paca's point is good, but if the book's action takes place over a short period of time, vague goals are not as big of a problem.
writtenwyrdd

author said...

The story takes place in about one week's time. Main goal - a life free of turmoil.

Anonymous said...

...Loki. Hm. Book would have to be really good to get me past a villain named Seth Loki.

Wonderwood said...

Author, I think you've got some compelling elements in your story that don't come through in the query. The sequence of events as presented in the query can be re-arranged to have more impact. I'm not a query expert, trust me, but I took the liberty of doing some cut and paste with yours to see if I could present these events more dramatically. I'm sure it could be fleshed out more, but here's what I did with it:

Seth Johnson, a violent convict recently released from prison, is making plans for a surprise reunion with his family. When he discovers the location of his ex-wife, Susan Shepherd, and son, Joey, Seth plots to destroy Susan's happiness and reclaim his son.

Joey is a lonely fourteen-year-old struggling with life in a new town when he is befriended by Bo, a witty and astute sixteen-year-old girl with family issues of her own. Susan lands a job teaching fifth grade and hopes that her new home is a safe haven, but feels more unsettled with each passing moment as her mind plays tricks on her, making her see her ex-husband in places that she knows he can’t possibly be.

Through media coverage of a young woman’s disappearance in Florida, a crime with which Seth is directly involved, Susan, Joey, and Bo separately piece together bits of information (a tattoo, a few nicknames, some grainy surveillance footage) and realize too late that Seth has arrived. Joey will soon be faced with the predicament of protecting himself and his mother by using his father’s old gun in A Perilous Reunion.

I don't know how much help that will be, or if it would even be considered better by EE or any editor/agent, just trying to lend a hand. Good luck!

Wonderwood said...

Oh yeah, loved the letters by Seth and Joey!