Monday, March 12, 2007

Face-Lift 293

Guess the Plot

The Miracle

1. Phyllis Jablonski drives into Manhattan at lunchtime, and finds an empty parking space right in front of the building she's going to. And there are still forty-eight minutes on the meter.

2. Jerry Greene opens his mailbox and finds no bills, no credit card applications, and no catalogues. And it isn't even Sunday.

3. Marina is Jewish and a passionate supporter of Israel. She meets an Arab who's handsome and rich. After a few months of torrid sex they get married and move to Saudi Arabia.

4. Tiffany gets more than she bargained for when she claims that she's still a virgin despite being seven months pregnant. If it will bring the Pope on his first-ever visit to Decaturville, Tennessee, however, the town's willing to believe in the miracle. Also, a hillbilly Hitler impersonator.

5. When $523.42 in an unmarked envelope appears in Milo's mailbox -- the exact amount he needs to pay his rent and electric bill -- is it a miracle, or is it a subtle attempt to drive obsessive-compulsive Milo to the brink of a nervous breakdown?

6. The blizzard struck just before a loooong weekend of very important sports TV, when Doug and Smitty had only six beers and one bag of chips. These pious buddies had a portable generator so they turned it on and prayed. They watched TV and ate and drank and ate and drank and on Sunday night they realized -- neither the beer cans! Nor the chip bag! Nor even the generator tank! ever emptied! --- Should they call CNN? Or the Pope?

Original Version

Dear Mr. Agent:

Marina Lansky has always dreamed of being a spy, but when she gets recruited by the Mossad in her junior year in college, she gets more than she bargained for. Her growing obsession with Ali Chalabi, [With Ahmed Chalabi so prominent in the news in the recent past, is there a reason you've chosen such a similar name?] a fellow student from Saudi Arabia, takes her from New York to Riyadh to the Arabian Desert and almost costs her life.

Marina is Jewish and a passionate supporter of Israel. When she learns that Ali has broken into Israeli military computers, she volunteers to help Israeli intelligence track his activities. Ali likes to brag about his computer-hacking exploits, so spying on him is easy. [Did she learn Ali had broken into the computers from him, or from Israel?] [Does Ali know Marina's Jewish?] It is also a lot of fun. He is handsome and rich, and Marina enjoys expensive restaurants, torrid sex made even more exciting by the deception

[Mossad: Hello? Agent Lansky? We're calling for your report on Chalabi's activities.

Marina: Let's see, last night we dined at 21. Then we went back to Ali's place and had torrid sex all night. Thursday night we ate at Per Se. Then we went back to my place and had torrid sex all night. Wednesday . . .

Mossad: Has he said or done--

Marina: Listen, call back in the morning, will you? I'm kind of tied up right now.]

and a newfound sense of purpose. When Ali is recalled home to work for the Saudi Defense Ministry, she marries him to continue to spy on him. In Riyadh, she rarely leaves the house, communicating with her Mossad handlers through e-mail. [Typical email from Marina:


Ali brought home take-out last night from Al-Nafoura. I had kabsat dagag. Don't know what it means, but they got the gag part right, LOL. Then we had torrid sex all night. ;-)


She struggles with isolation and growing suspicions of Ali’s sinister brother. [Osama Chalabi] But Ali is kind to her, he is the only friend she can turn to in this oppressive and alien world. She begins to fall in love with him for real, and she feels no pleasure in betraying his trust. But it’s too late to stop now. [True, as shown here:

Marina: I've grown to love you with all my heart, Ali.

Ali: As I do you, my flower.

Marina: Thus I have decided that henceforth I will stop informing Israeli Intelligence of your every move.

Ali: Most considerate, darling. Excuse me, I need to use the intercom. Miss Adeela? Would you send in Borgo the Disemboweler, please?]

She discovers a terrorist plot to steal nuclear weapons from Israel but is unable to warn her contacts through the usual channels. [That's so annoying. Spammers selling Viagra manage to send you hundreds of emails, but when you're trying to prevent nuclear war, all your emails bounce.] She can do nothing and cause the deaths of thousands of people or she can warn the Israelis and risk exposure which would bring her a death sentence as a Zionist spy. [What is the communication method she would have to use that would expose her?]

THE MIRACLE is a romantic spy thriller, complete at 83,000 words. Thank you for considering my novel. May I send you sample pages or the complete manuscript?


Thrillers and romances usually get away with a few plot holes, but I thought I'd bring them up anyway:

She rarely leaves the house, but manages to discover a plot to steal nuclear weapons? Who else lives in this house?

The Saudi Defense Ministry needs to fill a position, and they can't come up with anyone better than a college student in America?

Presumably Israel would hire the finest computer minds available to try to hack into their military computers, as a safeguard. Then this college student pulls it off as a prank? (I assume it's a prank, as he probably wouldn't brag about this accomplishment if he were doing it as a spy operation.)

The Israelis find out this guy hacked into their military secrets, and instead of kidnaping him and torturing him, ask a 19-year-old college girl to keep an eye on him?

Ignore the fact that we have a Jewish student dropping out of college, marrying an Arab, and moving to Riyadh, where she'll be a second-class citizen at best, and dead at worst. Just think about what mattered to you when you were a college sophomore: boys, music, your dreamy psychology professor, movies, passing chemistry, torrid sex . . . Maybe Marina should be a graduate student. A few more years under her belt.

Also, what's the miracle?


Anonymous said...

Who's the dumber character? The empty headed chick who marries somebody to keep up the guise, or the blowhard moron who brags about his spying? Why would either the Mossad or the Saudi government want to hire these idiots?

I think a year of reading the newspaper would do wonders for the story. It might make it halfway believable.

Anonymous said...

"Marina Lansky . . . but when she gets recruited by the Mossad in her junior year in college. . ."

Is this an internship or something? Would such an important job be goven to someone this early in their schooling? How is she recruited? Needs a little explanation to be believable. I agree with EE that maybe she should be older - grad student makes more sense.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Rightly put, EE. On the surface sounds quite pleasant to read but with any thought at all sounds like something that could only happen in fiction.

Great comments as usual. I happen to know Boris the Disemboweler. He's on retainer with our county's police department.

Evil Editor said...

or the blowhard moron who brags about his spying?

Whether Ali is a spy isn't clear. He brags about his hacking exploits. Sounds like his brother's the bad guy.

Anonymous said...

I would say this was wildly implausible but Israeli spies do keep getting into the most embarassing situations. Just this weekend an Israeli "diplomat" was reportedly discovered sprawled on his front yard: drunk and clad only in "bondage equipment". So you got 100 free believability points.

Lots of torrid sex intermarriages would be a very good thing for the Israeli and Saudi governments to promote if they want to achieve peace, but if that doesn't work out I guess maybe a giant bomb is the likely alternative. That's kind of your religious war cosmos in a nutshell. What do I think of the query? I'm not sure. It sounds like a silly chicklit treatment of a serious subject. This is the sort of thing I write guess plots about because it's so absurd. But real people are bleeding and dying and killing each other and have been for decades. I'm not sure if you're writing this as satire or as an affirmation of the cannot-get-along/must-kill theory. I'd want that to be very clear. Satire, I might like. Anti-Arab propaganda, I've got no use for.

Dave Fragments said...

YIKES! Remember what the psychologist said to Portnoy at the end of Portnoy's Complaint?
"So what's your problem."

But seriously, what's the miracle part of the story? Surely not a slice of liver.

Robin S. said...

EE, are you by any chance vacationing in Bermuda?
Just checking - I was thinking that the only places where it's one hour ahead of East Coast time are sort of out in the Atlantic, aren't they?

I really enjoyed your comments on this one, especially "I'm kind of tied up right now", "Osama Chalabi", and "Ali: Most considerate, darling. Excuse me, I need to use the intercom. Miss Adeela? Would you send in Borgo the Disemboweler, please?" Thanks for the morning laughs!

writtenwyrdd said...

As presented, your story sounds weak and (as EE points out) full of plot holes, Author. I don't say you can't make it work; but it sounds like a highly implausible series of events to me.

Besides the plot holes EE mentions, I thought I would suggest that 1) they'd recruit her after she married the git and not before; 2) she would probably screw things up because she's a civilian playing at being a spy; 3) and romance wouldn't really be there in any book about spying on your husband I can think of...unless she's really a sociopath and excellent actress (or a multiple personality).

I'm not an agent or editor, but to have a book called a 'romantic spy thriller' makes my wtf alarm sound. It gives me the sense of plot schizophrenia, at any rate, as if you don't know what it is you wrote. One theme/plot dominates the other, so use whichever one you think that is. I'd assume it's a thriller, based on what you wrote.

Good luck with this. I suspect you may need to revise the plot some, based on this letter, but it has some gripping elements that could make for a good story.

writtenwyrdd said...

I live on the New Brunswick/US border. Literally, the other side is Atlantic time, 1 hour ahead. Lots of turf that direction...Labrador, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island...

Brenda said...

On Kristen Nelson's blog, they're discussing genres and sub-genres and how people use the phrasing to wrap up the idea of the story, like "light urban fantasy", so I have no problem with the use of "romantic spy thriller". My brain stumbles over it, but I get the idea. I'd probably rephrase it to "spy thriller with romantic elements" IF they're romantic. This sounds more like EROTIC elements though. Maybe "sexy spy thriller" would roll across the brain easier.

"She can't talk right now. Her mouth is full."

Rei said...

The real Mossad spy stories are a lot more interesting. Read about Gerald Bull. Or Mordechai Vanunu -- that's an interesting one, and actually somewhat similar to your situation.

Vanunu worked at the Dimona research center back when Israel actively denied having a nuclear weapons program, rather than "refusing to confirm or deny it" as they do nowadays. Due to the sensitivity of the program, they monitored his personal life, and their files were full of notes observing that he was sympathizing with the plight of the Palestinians. Still, he was such a good worker that they overlooked this and allowed him not only to continue in his employment, but to advance. Meanwhile, he became angrier and angrier at what Israel was doing, and eventually reached a breaking point. He smuggled a camera into work over several days, snapped all kinds of pictures, then fled the country to Australia.

Israeli intelligence was on high alert but stayed simply observing him. After a while, they relaxed; he showed no interest in disclosing any secrets. Rather, he spent most of his time depressed, lonely, often drinking. However, while in Australia, he converted to Christianity. After some soul searching with his minister, he decided to expose what he knew.

Mordechai flew to Britain to provide the pictures to a British paper. However, the paper had just had its reputation burned after buying a bogus "Hitler Diary", and spent ages vetting him and his story to prevent a repeat embarassment. Meanwhile, the Israeli government informed a rival paper headed by a Zionist sympathizer that Vanunu was about to leak information, and the rival published a preemptive attack to discredit his story. The paper publishing Mordechai's pictures quickly pushed ahead and published. Only problem was, they couldn't find Vanunu any more. He had disappeared.

He was last seen in a bar chatting with a woman. If Mordechai had one weakness, it was women. He was lonely. He had been warned by a number of people that he had to be careful, that the Mossad would try to capture or kill him. However, when he met "Cindy" in the bar (an "American Jewish woman"), he had hit on her, so he assumed she was safe. "Cindy" really was the wife of an Israeli general, working as an agent of the Mossad. They had no plans to kill him -- "Jews don't do that to other jews", as one would later say -- but they certainly wanted to capture him. Israel had recently been involved in a scandal that had strained their relationship with Britain, so they didn't want to have to deal with him on British soil. So, "Cindy" told Mordechai that she was leaving for Italy to stay at her sister's apartment, and invited him to come along. He went. As soon as he walked into the apartment, he was hooded and drugged. He woke up in a prison in Israel.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, the published report was a sensation: Israel *was* working on nuclear weapons, and here was the proof. Analysts began estimating the strength of Israel's nuclear forces. People wanted answers. Among the most immediate questions demanding an answer: Where was Mordechai?

They might not have learned for decades; Israel was determined to keep him silent. However, in his captivity, he used a marker to write on his hand the details of what happened, then hid his hand. As he was being transferred, the van drove past a band of reporters. He stuck his hand against the window and held it there -- long enough for a photographer to snap a picture (which I have on my wall):

"Vanunu was hijacked in Rome, Italy, the 30th of September, 1986, 21:00 hours."

This one act changed the way Israel now transfers prisoners (they're now loaded in a concealed staging area and transferred in vehicles with blackened windows). The story was exposed. Still, Israel kept what secrecy they could. Vanunu was tried and sentenced to over two and a half decades in solitary confinement.

During this time, he was adopted by an elderly American couple so that they could see him (read "Our Son, The Rebel") and get information out. He was quite bitter with Israel, needless to say, going so far as to refuse to even read Israeli newspapers. Upon release a few years ago, Israel imposed upon him what he probably viewed as one of the worst restrictions they could: he may not leave the country (he wants assylum abroad), and is constantly monitored. Here we meet present day.

Fascinating story, ne? Equally fascinating is the case of Gerald Bull, developer of the "Babylon Supergun" (a cannon that could have shot projectiles into orbit had the first Gulf War and his assasination not interrupted it). Well worth a read as well.

Robin S. said...

Hi writtenwyrdd -

I was just teasing about Hamilton, Bermuda being the only place in that "slice" of time zone. I assumed there'd be a decent slice of Canada, and quite bit of South America in there as well. I just used Bermuda because it's what I'm familiar with.

Sorry if this came across as offensive!

writtenwyrdd said...

Sorry if I sounded offended! Just mentioning the facts, is all. I would have mentioned S.A. too, but I'm too lazy to look up the time zones.

The things that the black ops people get up to are beyond belief. I had a buddy in college who, when he'd had a few beers, would tell me some really odd stories about his life in the military. I am not sure which ones were true, if any, but they rival the one rei just shared...

Anonymous said...

I totally thought GTP#3 was a joke...

Hey, REI; that is a great story!

Wonderwood said...

rei, cool story well told. That's an awesome pic too.

I like Brenda's suggestion, call it a sexy spy thriller. This story does stretch the limits of my willingness to suspend disbelief, so the writing would have to be pretty dang strong to keep me reading. Though I am reading The Last Templar right now, so go figure.

Blogless Troll said...

The Miracle is the author said Israel has nukes and there aren't any anonymous comments condemning her/him as Anti-Semitic.

Twill said...

So what if Isreal has nukes?

They have used them responsibly for, what, three decades? Anyone care to lay odds on whether Iran can match that?

Robin S. said...

Hi blogless troll - looks like your miracle may have ended.

rei - I forgot to mention yesterday that your story was incredibly well told, and took me straight to Google to find out more. Thanks.

Katerina Kramova said...

I am the author. Thanks to EE and to everyone for the comments and the questions. Here are a few answers:

Ali brags to Marina about hacking into an Israeli military computer even though he knows she is Jewish. He is arrogant and self absorbed and he thinks, not without reason, that she is in love with him. Marina alerts the Israeli Consulate expecting them to stop him. But once the Israelis find out that Ali intends to give whatever he finds to his brother who is an intelligence analyst in Saudi Arabia, they begin to feed him misinformation to confuse the Saudi intelligence. They ask Marina to find out more about his family and its political connections and to copy log files from his computer whenever she gets a chance. Ali's brother uses the fake intelligence Ali gives him to further his career in Saudi Arabia but runs into resistance from rivals who question the validity of the new intelligence source. Ali is recalled to Saudi Arabia to work for the ministry so he can defend his methods and bolster his brother's credibility. Marina is willing to marry him and go there because it is only supposed to be for a few months. Marina makes a bargain with her control officer that once she is back, she gets to move to Israel, go to Mossad spy school and become a “real” Mossad agent.

In Riyadh, Ali and Marina live in a family compound with extended family, including the evil brother, who brings paperwork home from the ministry and leaves it lying around. Marina scans it into the computer and sends it to the Mossad also, along with whatever she finds on Ali’s computer. The brother is connected to a terrorist group in Syria and is the mastermind of the plot to steal nuclear weapons. The plot is made possible by the vulnerability Ali supposedly discovered in the computer at Dimona (See the very informative post above about Vanunu). In fact, the vulnerability is an illusion, a plot by the Israelis to lure the previously elusive terrorist group into a trap. But Marina does not know this, and when she finds out about the plot, she panics, and sends the disks with the entire contents of Ali's computer though a package service. The package is intercepted by the secret police and she is arrested. She is condemned to death as a Zionist spy, taken out in the helicopter over the desert and forced to jump. The miracle of the title is that she survives. (Though I really like the fake plot about finding a parking space in Manhattan). Now if I get this far in the query, people will want to know how she survives and why. This will easily take another half a page. and I am out of room already.

I can see from the comments that this query is no good. The previous version had more detail, but was criticized for being a synopsis by Miss Snark in the Crapometer. How much detail is the right amount? I welcome any suggestions.

Evil Editor said...

The first five sentences of your comment contain information that answers most of the questions the query inspires. Some of it can easily be worked into the query without lengthening it much, while some of it would add a few sentences.

What happens in Riyadh isn't so important to the query, and can be covered by saying she plans to be there two months tops, but her cover is blown before she can get out.

pacatrue said...

I doubt anyone is reading this anymore, but, Katerina, if you are, I clicked over to your profile and there are a couple items there which I think need to be in the query. The main one is that these novels are already published, albeit in Russian translation. Won't any agent or editor want to know that? I assume that your contract with the Russian publisher does not cover the U.S. or English market? If correct, the fact that these are published already is a strong point in your favor. It means that someone in the world has read the books and thought them worth publishing, albeit in a very different market. It's a credit.

Another approach you might try is instead of selling them as a debut novel, try to sell them as the English version of the Russian novels. What I'm thinking of is stuff you see on the American agent blogs, where they contract with other agents to sell various world rights and the like. Maybe what you are selling is American rights to a previously published Russian novel.