Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Face-Lift 298

Guess the Plot

Fear of Landing

1. After Sylvia gets her pilots license, her boyfriend comes up with an idea to get her out of his hair: a quest to visit every island in Great Britain and write a book about it. But some of those runways look more like driveways.

2. Now that she's at 27,000 feet, watching the landing gear fall toward Kansas, Wanda Carson realizes she should never have agreed to fly for Bare Budget Air Freight. But that free carpet shampoo was irresistible.

3. Tommie Landing has bullied the entire school all year, and not even the teachers can control him. The staff are terrified of what will happen when Tommie is promoted to third grade next year. Will the district recommend home schooling? Or can little Tara Smidley tame his savage heart?

4. Three year old Jeannie is just figuring out staircases. The straight up and down ones aren't too bad--just a matter of velocity adjustment near the bottom. But word from her older brother is that the ones that turn halfway down have monsters on them.

5. At first, Erica was agoraphobic, fear of the outdoors. Then she was aviatophobic, fear of flying. Now it’s fear of the Dead Cat Bounce (Felinus-Bouncy-Bouncy-Thudda-phobia).

6. The last three starships to return to Earth exploded upon reentry to the atmosphere. As physicists back home try to discover the cause, the captain of the Hephaestus, returning from Alpha Centauri, considers an unscheduled layover on Uranus.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I understand that you represent non-fiction books and would like to introduce my work-in-progress: Fear of Landing, about my travels in single-engine plane around the British Isles, told from a unique international viewpoint.

I am a 39-year-old German-American (brought up in both countries) currently living in Spain with my British boyfriend and very confused son. After I received my Private Pilots License, I found I wasn't keeping the hours up without a goal. My boyfriend set the challenge: fly to every island possible in the British Isles. [Recommendation 1: Dump this guy immediately.]

I have identified 38 islands with usable runways within the geographical British Isles, from Jersey off the coast of France to the icy Faroes, located halfway between Iceland and Norway. Ireland and the Aran Islands lie to the West and the Scottish Shetlands are my unexpected Eastern boundary. [Recommendation 2: Has it occurred to you that with a sea plane you could get to islands with no runways? 38 isn't bad, but 100, now that would be a feat.]

Highlights include Lundy in the Bristol Channel (population 7 [8, if I survive the landing]); Mainland, an intriguingly named island in the Scottish Orkneys; Barra in the Outer Hebrides with a runway only available at low tide [Technically it's available at high tide, but the landings tend to be a bit abrupt.] and Walney Island in English Cumbria, which appears to have no redeeming value whatsoever. [Recommendation 3: Make sure you have plenty of fuel when you land on Walney Island. The last time someone got stranded there overnight he literally died of boredom. True story.]

I have a blog about the project at http://www.fearoflanding.com/ featuring planning and historical information and photographs from my trips.

Excerpts from my initial travels have appeared in Piper Flyer and the Guernsey Star and Press.

Fear of Landing will be my first full-length book. I am happy to send you a more detailed overview and the first three chapters at your request.

Thank you for your time,


It's not clear whether the book is about the islands, flying, or you. In other words, I'm not sure whether the book is intended mainly for travelers, with photos and information about each island, in which case it wouldn't matter how you got to them, and the book might seem more complete if you made it to the Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm , or to Iona Abbey, even if you can't fly in; or if it's intended more for other pilots who might want to try something similar; or if it's mainly about the personal accomplishment of flying to these islands. The title is clearly more appropriate if it's the latter. But the query doesn't make it clear that this is an amazing feat. Have you given yourself a limited amount of time to pull this off? Is it amazing because you do have a fear of landing?

"Available only," rather than "only available."

Recommendation 4: In view of the book's title, and to make it a more daring accomplishment, include Sealand as one of your stops.


none said...

There's a non-English Cumbria?

This book sounds interesting, especially if it does come with photos.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

I'm surprised there's no GTP describing it as the sequel to "Fear of Flying."

Evil Editor said...

There was. It didn't quite make the cut.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on a small island and I can't figure the draw of that "told from a unique international view" thing with your various countries of origin & residence. Seems like it might be a fancy way of saying -- told by a tourist.

Maybe you can drop that part of your query and use the space to give more info re: the content of the book.

Anonymous said...

Author, it sounds from the query as though you haven't finished flying to all 38 islands. You "have identified," "Excerpts from my initial travels have appeared," "FoL will be my first.." Is the book complete? If it's a memoir, it will need to be finished before you can actually pitch it (I'm assuming this is just prep work for the big day!). If it's a travelogue, you can start pitching now. But then, if it's not a memoir, you'll need a whole non-fiction proposal with platform, audience, competition and the whole shebang.

I'm with EE in that I don't know what this book is supposed to be and who it's aimed at. Sounds like anyone traveling to most of those little isles will have a "unique" perspective since they seem pretty remote. How is the American/German view different from the British view in this case? Is the unique viewpoint humorous? Witty? Nostalgic? Do you give island history? I'm sorry. I'm just not getting the purpose of this book. Maybe it's a coffee table book with lots of pictures and little text?

Depending on audience, you might want to mention what kind of plane(s) you're flying, what constitutes a "usable" runway (paved, grass, lighted, etc -- I fledged on grass runways myself, so I wouldn't discount them), and if you're island hopping or visiting them one at a time with a long rest in the city inbetween.

Why is your son confused? Why is he in the query?

First paragraph needs an "a" -- "about my travels in a single-engine..."

I'd like to be more helpful, but I'm with your son there -- confused. Sorry.

Sylvia said...

My heart jumped into my throat when I saw today's post. But then, the guess the plots were so brilliant, I was laughing aloud: I'd forgotten it was mine by the time I got to the actual letter.

Funny how blind you can be, though -- I know it's a travelogue so clearly anyone reading the query must know that! I'll make that very clear in the next iteration!

Buffysquirrel: probably, in Ohio. Actually, I deleted "English" and then put it back in. I was concerned that a US agent would get confused. I think I'll take it back out.

Bunnygirl: me too :)

Anon: told by a tourist is correct -- but not an unknowing septic with "quaint" as the standard descriptor. Nor a view from one island defending it against all the rest. In the Channel Islands, it's a shivery experience being both us, the allies, and them, the occupying enemy. So I think it's unique. But I guess I would, anyway. :)

Kanani said...

The writer hasn't told me what her books is about.

The writer has told me what she's done, but what happens? What one line anecdote can she share that will let me know about her experience?

Another question she has to answer is what puts this travel book on par or a cut above Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson or Pico Iyer?

Make another pass. Shorten it. Bring the reader in quick and don't let it go for too long.

Good luck!

Sylvia said...

phoenix: You are right, it's in progress. As a travelogue, I'm looking to pitch early, mainly because the initial target audience (US? UK?) will make a big difference to the way I pitch it. Not quite yet, but before it's finished.

It sounds like I better drop the word "unique" though (and usable ... I'm hardly going to land on runways that aren't usable!)

I am taking hundreds of photographs and would love for the stunning imagery of the islands to be an integral part, but that increases the cost so I'm assuming that they won't be used. :(

My son and my boyfriend's mother have actually been interesting passengers on the trip with unique (argh, there's that word again) viewpoints that I would have missed -- but in retrospect I don't think they are particularly pertinent to the query. I was trying to give some context but I need to think again about how to best do that.

Looking at my drafts, you could use them as a travel guide (interesting places to go, unexpected sights, island history) but I don't think it would be sensible to pitch it as such.

I have a lot to think about. And you have been VERY helpful.

All of you. Thanks.

Sylvia said...


Oh, that's hard -- trying to explain why this is different, let alone better. I start to chew on my bottom lip as I berate myself for being completely unqualified. I need to work on that.

I was hoping the "highlights" gave a taste of viewpoint. Or are they just seen as factual rather than offering perspective?

I'll be making a few passes, it seems. This is so useful: it's so difficult to try to see how this looks from the outside.

Robin S. said...

Hi Author,

This sounds like it would be fun to read. I'm guessing since you said you had a "work in progress" that the book is progressing along as your flights are progressing along. Is that right?

Are you planning on staying for a bit on each islan - even if the island is as long as a decent landing strip- there's gotta be someone to "interview" - and learning about each island, the history of its inhabitants, etc?

This could be a bit like Bill Bryson's stuff. I'm thinking A Walk in the Woods, because he had a set goal- the Appalachian Trail, with history, anecdotes, conversations, personal trials, etc.

Good luck with it.

Evil Editor said...

So the flying aspect is merely your way of getting to the islands? And the book will be a travelogue about British islands with runways? Tourists may buy your book planning to use it to decide which islands to visit. It's possible islands they would enjoy visiting aren't even mentioned in the book because they have no runways. You could probably catch a ferry to some of these islands. Otherwise you'll be explaining that island X, while among the most interesting in Britain, isn't covered in my book because you can't get there by airplane. To you, 38 islands is a massive number. But will the book feel incomplete to others?

Marissa Doyle said...

I got more of a feeling of travel memoir, with external AND internal journeys being chronicled.

I'm also a sucker for this kind of book, so I hope you can pull this together and sell it, author. You might want to check out the travel presses--Lonely Planet, Vintage, Flamingo, among others--and see what they're looking for to customize your query.

Robin S. said...

Sealand. I just clicked on the link.

Almost, but not quite, unbelievable.

Kanani said...

Well, that's the question people ask in the travel book industry. Those are the natural comparisons when anyone says, "I travel, I want to write a book." You should read Don George's essays and interviews on travel writing.

Run through those books. You'll see in each scene "something happens." Whether it's Paul Theroux riding the rails with teems of Indians, Bill Bryson trying to dismantle the meaning of "Waltzing Mathilda" something has to unfold.

Sounds like you've got a good start. You've got the raw material via the personal experience and the photos. Now it's a matter of mining through it and finding the book you want to write.

Keep going. I think if you press yourself you can pull this off,

Sylvia said...

The flying aspect is an integral part. Which islands, getting to the island, first impression of the island. Thus, 'most interesting' is effectively defined by whether or not I could get there: that means stunning places like Iona get short thrift whilst Walney Island finally gets a chance to be in the spotlight. I'm pretty sure there's some travel karma in that for me.

You couldn't take away the transport and have the same book. On the other hand, I have written excerpts without the flying as stand-alone articles : the travelling is strong enough to hold its own. The history probably less so: it's pretty reliant on the context of the travelling.

At the moment, it's looking like approximately 6k per island, hence 38 being a lot. A (very approximate!) breakdown: 1000 words is flying, 3000 is travelogue, 2000 is history. The detail for the "flying" varies: the incoming flight (there's an island here somewhere, I know it), getting lost on the ground (yes, I can get out of the way of that 737 trying to drive over me), arguing with customs (what do they think I might be smuggling from Guernsey to Alderney?), accident reports. All fun and accessible - this is not aimed at pilots at all (although as a further project, I would love to do a serious guide to Britain's island airfields! Need more experience first).

Obviously, there's some variance. I suspect Lundy will probably be close to 50% about the flying but it's the concept of trying to dodge rabbit holes on a miniscule runway, not technical details. And even Lundy -- a lump of rock in the Bristol Channel -- has some pretty interesting stories: the conservation efforts for the Bronze Lundy Cabbage Flea Beetle, the island's history in Welsh lore as the entrance to the Otherworld, spending the night in a lighthouse.

I keep wanting to post excerpts; further proof that the query isn't doing the job it should be. Robin S. and Marissa make this pretty clear with their leaps of faith: I need to mention the history aspect and that I'm staying on most islands for two nights. There's the sideline story of Anne (born in London in 1924 and thrilled to be seeing these places for the first time. We keep her wheelchair stowed in the back) and an ongoing theme of confidence building and exploration.

This involves trying to distill the essence of my voice, which I'm clearly not managing at the moment.

I'm still thinking about the best way to approach this. You all have given me a ton to think about.

Kanani said...

"trying to dodge rabbit holes on a miniscule runway,"

Now that's interesting. That shows me that you're in the picture, it shows me the funny drama of a situation.

You might also check out books like "Actic Dreams" by Barry Lopez, "A Short Walk On The Hindu Kush" or "Round Ireland In Low Gear" by Eric Newby.

But.... don't drag the reader to all 38 islands. You can mention them, but as far as the experiences, those have to be plucked from the most memorable. In other words, you have to make your 60,000 word book fly at a quick pace.

You might consider starting a blog and posting your stuff there if you want more feedback.

Sylvia said...

it's in progress: