Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Face-Lift 294

Guess the Plot

The Horses of Roan

1. As hordes of rowdies march toward Roan Castle, Minnie Murphy grabs her wedding dress, jumps on the nearest horse, and starts a thundering stampede. The villains run away! Minnie saved the day! Then she finds a priest and her cowering beau, Sir Falderall! It's City Slickers meets Camelot as the wedding goes on as planned!

2. When musician James Morgan inadvertently releases the Horses of Roan, a man/horse demon gives him two weeks to get them back. But how? Can Morgan's music charm these savage beasts out of the swamp? It's Amadeus meets The Horse Whisperer, as Morgan races to round up the herd.

3. Professor Jones leaves more than a tip behind for busboy, Cole Wyatt. Stuck between chili smeared napkins, Cole finds a copy of a map and the Professor's notes, notes that describe the treasures of the "Horses of Roan." It's Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Diner as Cole seeks the road out of greasy spoon hell.

4. While the Knights of Roan get drunk on rum at the Roan Tavern, their enemies, the Knights of Naor, steal all the horses. Now what? Must King Roannaor cancel the jousting match? It's Monty Python and the Holy Grail meets Marie Antoinette, as Queen Naorroan says, "Let them joust on foot!"

5. Baz, lead stud of the Horses of Roan frat house, is organizing the annual ugliest-date orgy. When he mistakenly invites the Bitches of Eastwick sorority instead of the Coyotes of Camden, the mighty Horses end up toadying to the man-hating B's. It's Animal House meets The Wicker Man as Baz tries to de-frog the football team before those Bitches finally succeed in gelding the Horses of Roan for eternity.

6. Joey McDeever, son of a rodeo cowboy deadbeat dad, sees the Lippizaner stallions on TV and realizes his calling is to train horses for such grace and beauty. But all he's got is two worn-out, brownish nags. It's Seabiscuit meets Kramer vs Kramer as he trains the horses into champions, only to have his father return to fight for custody.

Original Version

Dear Slightly Less Evil Editor,

My name is Roan.
People think like this: right and wrong. Black or white.
I think in terms of mine and not mine.
These horses are mine.
They will be forever.

[That was remarkably similar to a curse I uttered only yesterday:

My name is Evil Editor.
People think like this: brilliant bestseller. Millionaire.
I think, More manuscripts rejected = fewer manuscripts to edit.
The slushpile is unpublished.
It will be forever.

When brilliant musician James Morgan moves with his parents to the home of his eccentric dead uncle, [Being dead is the first sign of eccentricity.] he uncovers secret upon secret in its maze of halls. By playing an ancient piece of music he discovers deep within the house, James inadvertently releases the Horses of Roan, a herd of preternatural water horses, and steps into the curse that accompanies them.

Roan – man, horse, demon – charges James with a task: return the horses in two weeks or join them. [Where are the horses? Were they released from an incorporeal state, and are now roaming free? Join them? That sounds like a threat: join them as incorporeal, cursed creatures? Or join them wherever they've been released to? This could be made more clear.] With the help of his new friend Cat and his increasingly powerful psychic perceptions, [Whose psychic perceptions? We can't tell whether "his" goes with Cat or James without knowing whether Cat is the same gender as Cat Stevens or Catwoman.] James must unravel the musical contract that binds Roan's horses to him before the curse destroys him and everyone dear to him.

Set against the wild marshlands of eastern Virginia, The Horses of Roan is an eerie novel geared towards a young adult audience. It is complete at approximately 65,000 words.

May I send you the complete manuscript for consideration? This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you very much for your time.


I feel like I have to guess at the plot details. Here's one guess: Some demon named Roan with magical powers declared that a herd of (roan-colored?) horses would be his forever. The horses have been trapped in the Phantom Zone ever since, but when James plays his bassoon, the horses rematerialize and run into the Virginia swamps. This ticks Roan off to no end, but being a fair-minded demon, he gives James two weeks to round up the horses. Otherwise, he'll kill James and throw his body into the swamps with the horses. How'd I do?

One could get the impression from the title that the horses are Roan's. Is it so wrong to want your horses back after some klutz accidentally releases them? In the old west, if you released some rancher's horses into the wild, you didn't get two weeks to return them; they strung you up. Outside of the term "man, horse, demon," there's nothing that indicates Roan is a villain.

Is that the curse at the beginning? Not clear how that curse threatens to destroy everyone dear to James.

I think just a few more sentences would clear things up.


Anonymous said...

Er...are you channelling Tolkien?

The horses of Rohan were a big deal in the Lord of the Rings.

Anonymous said...

Excuse my farm upbringing, but when you say he stepped in the curse left behind by horses, my first impression is -- yeah, now that he's got livestock loose in the house he will definitely need to start watching where he steps, or he'll wreck those shoes.

Anonymous said...

What is a preternatural water horse? A little more description would help. Also, given only a name after reading about supernatural entities I didn't know if his friend Cat would be human. Maybe that's a talking pet, or some other kind of supernatural being.

Guess plot #3 would make a great spoof.

Bernita said...

To me, calling the horse demon Roan ( a colour, as EE points out)) is simply distracting.
I don't suppose your musician is red-headed as well, is he?

Brenda said...

I wouldn't mention it's a multiple submission. It takes up space you could use to answer some of EE's questions, and from what I understand, agents/editors assume it's sent to many anyway.

Dave Fragments said...

Roan is not just a color of horse. Roanoke in VIRGINIA was the first settlement in the USA and died out mysteriously (starved into legend). To invoke a name such as Roan and then add a mysterious curse is to link the two in reader's minds. You might not intend this, but you have to accept and deal with it.

The verse at the start of your query isn't compelling, nor informative. If you are going to use that sort of device, then it has to be very, very good.

IMHO - I think you got the legend all wrong too. These horses are the property of Roan and he maintains control of them with a curse - standard curse plot. So when they get free, what do they do? Run away from Roan. Why is this bad? You don't say. And if once released, they cause damage and wreak havoc (let slip the dogs (or ponies) of war?) on the waterways of Virginia. If James Morgan can't catch them and return them to their barn, he joins then? Joins them in what? poaching fish? Pissing in the streams?

Go look at the legend of the Flying Dutchman and analyze his curse. Then make your curse into a curse. What grave harm befalls James Morgan if he can't return the horses in two weeks.

shaded-lily said...

Is a water horse like a seahorse?

Marissa Doyle said...

Hey, any paranormal novel that doesn't have vampires in it has a leg up as far as I'm concerned. Okay, shoot me, but I'm darned sick of vampires.

Yes, this query letter needs the clarifications EE and others have pointed out (by the way, how old is the hero? You might want to specifiy if this is YA), and more of a sense of why we should care whether or not James "steps in it" terminally--but it's definitely not the same old same old.

Keep it up, author. This could be different and fresh.

Marissa Doyle said...

Water horse as in kelpie, maybe?

Anonymous said...

I would not include any curses in the query. You need the space for other things. There are rich traditions of curses in numerous cultures. I'm guessing you can do more research on any one of them and come up with something more scary and lyrical than this.

I would assume only a small minority of young adult readers are well enough versed in the early history of Virginia to be aware of a vanished village of "Roanoke".

Anonymous said...

Dave, you're thinking of Roanoke Island in North Carolina...

Nancy Beck said...

This sounds like something I might read, but I agree with others that there needs to be more details in the query.

And I second dropping the opening verse; it didn't do anything for me.


writtenwyrdd said...

This is unfortunately vague, but as a fantasy buff, I was interested in the story even though I did have to guess the plot elements.

The one thing that seemed strange and unusual (and possibly unworkable) was the idea of a "musical contract." I think that this point of all of them needs to be portrayed in the query in a way that shows the reader you can make it make sense. (I hope this advice makes sense, too.)

Good luck with it.

Dave Fragments said...

oops, I did read that wrong.

Roanoke Island in NC and Roanoke city has nothing to do with being the first colony in the USA. Other than it's name. It's a shame it isn't a fact taught in history books anymore.

The Battle of Roanoke Island was part of the Civil War.
Rowan Oak is also Faulkner's home in Mississippi.
Roan Creek is in Tennessee, and the city of Roan Norway is in, well, Norway.
And the Rowan or Roan Oak, is big in Celtic mythology.

It's a burden on the story. More than just the color of a horse, Roan has associations that hinder this story.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thanks EE and other commentors. Writing queries is my weak point - I just can't for the life of me actually seem to focus on the important bits and still capture the mood of the story.

A bunch of the comments make me think I really missed the mark on the query. To me, standing THIS close to the novel, it's obvious to me that these supernatural water horses (yeah, like kelpies) are being held prisoner by Roan and that any teenager in his right mind wouldn't particularly see that as a great career move.

And I never even considered that Roan had to be proven more evil in the query, either. I thought I had it covered with "Demon," since generally that tends to refer to entities that are - well - demonic. Not gentle, hore-loving entities. But . . . hmm, I'm going to have to reconsider all of the query.

But the name Roan stays. Rohan, Roanoke, and Rowin' be $%^ed . .

Thanks again, minions. Any more suggestions, I'd glady take 'em.

Anonymous said...

It's a burden on the story. More than just the color of a horse, Roan has associations that hinder this story.

I dunno, Dave. I associated it with rowin' a boat, and that fits right well with water hoses. I mean water horses.

Anonymous said...

Although the "man, horse, demon" thing probably actually works nicely in the novel, it confuses me--would it work just as well to keep him a plain o' demon for the sake of the query or summary? You can explain his manly, horsey attributes in the novel.

This sounds like a fun read. 9-year-old me would've been all over this.


Maggie Stiefvater said...

See joining an eternal group of musicians trapped in the form of horses as a great career move.

Hmm, it strikes me that that was an important detail of the sort that could be included in a query. Would it help other's of EE's species to know that the horses Roan (who is the color Roan) holds prisoner are in fact all captured musicians from various periods in time when Roan has been called by their virtuousity?

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Oh, BAD typos . . . BAD typos . . .

I think perhaps EE and his Evil Minions have just helped me uncover >gasp< the true heart of my plot. I can see how rewriting it with the concept of the stolen musicians at the forefront could actually make the thing make sense in query form.

pacatrue said...

I thought of Rohan as well immediately upon reading the title. Distracted me through half the query. I like the idea that the curse is tied up with the lost colony of Roanoke, but alas it was in NC. And I think the mystery is largely gone with pretty strong evidence that the surviving colonists just went to live with the native americans already there....

Anyway, I get the impression that the problems here are in the query, not necessarily the book. That's terrific. Something that would have helped me is putting the young adult nature right up at the front. Gets me in a different mindset for reading the rest.

Evil Editor said...

Demon is bad. A creature that's 1/3 man, 1/3 horse and 1/3 demon? Possibly bad, or maybe his good and bad sides are constantly at war with each other. The bad guy usually doesn't get top billing in a YA book. Can a bad demon be the rightful owner of horses?

Merely stating that he's holding the horses prisoner (and where) is enough to show they aren't his, despite the title.

None of the other similar-to-Roan words is bothersome to me. But since the color roan is most often used with horses, one easily assumes the title refers to the color.

Not clear to me what you mean in your comment: any teenager in his right mind wouldn't particularly see that as a great career move. See what as a great career move?

Anonymous said...

Not gentle, hore-loving entities.

Coincidentally, I happen to be a gentle, hore loving entity.

Evil Editor said...

Hmm, it strikes me that that was an important detail of the sort that could be included in a query.

Hmm, could it be that it's not a "detail," but the entire basis of your plot?

Anonymous said...

Hmm, that very important detail would actually take your story out of the "pretty pony fluff" category and put it into the "potentially very interesting" pile. Don't leave it out.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about why you decided on the name Roan--as a horse fanatic I automatically think of the color, especially in a book that mentions horses.

Does it have something to do with the association the word has with seals? Because in the context people are automatically going to be primed to think of the color (if they know horses).


Maggie Stiefvater said...

Well, Roan IS roan-colored. I guess he's an evil, soul-sucking version of Red the red-haired fraggle on Fraggle Rock.