Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Face-Lift 304

Guess the Plot

The Nature of Santa Cruz

1. Well, it's near the beach and there's nice sidewalks, but there are a lot of college kids and it sort of rains a lot.

2. Trees and stones take human form to wage a secret war in Santa Cruz. 15-year-old Cassie has the ability to bridge the gap between man and nature, tipping the balance of power. But will her mom let her go into the woods by herself?

3. Like mother, like daughter, knows Professor Irons. It's no surprise when young Jade flees the mundanity of Peoria for the glamour of the West Coast. But when she falls into the company of communal hydroponic farmers, it's up to the Professor to rescue her, before she succumbs to . . . The Nature of Santa Cruz.

4. When “undocumented worker” Carlos Cruz shows up at the day labor pool on Christmas Eve, the only guy offering work is a pequeno duende with bells on his shoes. Driving the sleigh is no problem, but will Christmas be ruined when Carlos has to take a leak at 30,000 feet? The kid who asked for the jar of marbles will probably think so.

5. Sasha, a young ecologist, fights to protect the endangered wildlife refuge near her Santa Cruz home. Things heat up, however, when she meets Don, a hunky land developer who claims to have a heart for the environment. Will Sasha have to choose between her newfound love and . . . The Nature of Santa Cruz?

6. Hot tubs, hot bikinis, and hot days on the boardwalk don't convince Marvin he's seen the real Santa Cruz. Join Marvin for a walk amid the downtrodden--migrant workers, homeless runaways, and Internet porn slaves--and learn that even these forgotten souls can cry, laugh, and love.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am looking for representation for my young adult fantasy novel, The Nature of Santa Cruz (100,000 words).

Don't talk to strangers. Stay with the group. Listen to your mother. Fifteen-year-old Cassie Ravenssen knows all the rules. In the next three months she'll break every one of them. [She'll even run with scissors.] The Nature of Santa Cruz is the story of a girl growing up, a mother facing her past, and a world about to slip into war.

Cassie hates living on the run. The frequent moves, the fake names, and the non-stop lies leave her aching for a normal existence. [You might want to mention why she's living on the run.] Her mother's over-the-top restrictions make it impossible for her to have any fun, so when a letter arrives and they head for the west coast, Cassie hopes things are finally going to change. [What's in the letter? What makes her think things might change?]

But Santa Cruz hides mysteries Cassie can't leave alone, and her search for explanations takes her way out of bounds. Who is setting fires around town? Why are there soldiers in the woods? And since when are Australians the enemy? [Since they started training kangaroos as suicide bombers.] Her new friends Stan and Hawk hold the answers. When they introduce her to their charismatic leader, Jay, Cassie knows she wants to join the shadowy Western Forest Authority on its environmental mission. [What's their mission?]

Stan, Hawk, and Jay don't just defend the natural world, however; they are part of it – Arborei and Stannen – trees and stones turned human to wage a secret war. It is no accident Cassie has come to Santa Cruz. Someone wants her there and someone else wants her dead, for Cassie is a hybrid who can bridge the gap between man and nature, a weapon that can tip the balance of power forever. [Does she know she's a weapon? Is she always on the run because she's a hybrid? Was the letter that brought her to Santa Cruz written by a human or a tree?]

If only she'd listened to her mother. Once her cover is blown and Jay knows who she is, Cassie's thrilled to be accepted into the Arborei. But the Stannen have her mom, Jay has a plan for Cassie, and she'll soon learn no one's on her side. [She can't even go to the cops:

Cassie: My mother's been kidnaped.
Officer: By whom?
Cassie: The stones.
Officer: The stones? You mean the Rolling Stones?
Cassie: No, age-old rock-people who never die.
Officer: That's what I said. The Rolling Stones.]

The Nature of Santa Cruz is the first in the Tipping Point series; one of four novels that follow Cassie as nature goes to war. Uniquely placed between man and the environment, ["Uniquely," meaning she's the only hybrid?] she'll raise her own army, fight her own battles, and forge a brand new path to peace.


Maybe it's just me, but mentioning that Cassie's a hybrid and her friends used to be rocks and trees might be done earlier. Perhaps in an introductory paragraph. As it is, it's kind of a "Whoa!" moment. If I'm reading about a world in which rocks and trees turn into teenagers, I want to know it up front. The current introductory paragraph can be dumped. Her mother's rules aren't that intriguing, and certainly aren't what I'd call "over-the-top restrictions."

Are the bad guys the soldiers or the stones and trees?

I'm more interested in the answers to some of my questions than in the questions about fires and Australians.

The book is the story of a girl growing up, a mother facing her past, and a world about to slip into war. It might be better if the query focused on one of these. We know nothing of the mother's past, little about the trials of Cassie's growing up, and the war seems more local than world-encompassing. Focus on the aspect most likely to appeal to the target audience. Is it mainly a story about trying to fit in in a new town and school when there's lots of weird stuff going on? Or is it mainly about The Chosen One trying to defeat the forces of evil who are out to destroy goodness and light?


Blogless Troll said...

Actually, I think the mother's past is pretty clear. In her younger days she was one of those extremists who chain themselves to trees for days on end. One time she probably brought some rum to keep her warm at night, spilled a little on the roots, one thing leads to another...she's already tree hugging anyway. Nine months later hybrid kid is born. Somebody got pictures, posted 'em all over the internet, now every time she starts a new receptionist job someone walks in and says, "Hey, aren't you that tree fu--" And BOOM, she's out the door, dragging tree girl to another town.

I agree we do need to know what's in the letter. And also how her new friends to react to things like toilet paper and granite countertops. I suspect junk mail would really piss them off. It's such a waste.

This sounds like it could be fun as long as it doesn't get too messagey.

Sylvia said...

blogless_troll made me laugh aloud -- try explaining that one to the rest of the people in the office!

I could live with her discovering she's a hybrid at the end of the synopsis, but I felt pretty uncomfortable with five new names brought up at once (Stan, Hawk, Jay, Arborei, Stannen). Then, it wasn't clear to me that those were tribe/being names until I saw that
Stannen had her mom -- at which point I was confused again because I thought they were the good guys.

Anonymous said...

sylvia's right: can't explain why I'm laughing without sharing all of blogless_troll's post, and that necessitates reading all of the original post, and that needs the set-up of the entire blog...this is so darned context-dependent.

The query shows good writing ability, but it's more jacket copy than query letter. EE again makes the point that a query's purpose is to provide information and be fascinating. Jacket copy's purpose is to raise questions so people will buy the book to see what it's about.

Rei said...

[quote]And since when are Australians the enemy?[/quote]

We've always been at war with Oceania.

Jennifer Feddersen said...

I know, I know - I keep writing book jackets! (and this story lends itself so well to parody - believe me, I've come up with most of the jokes already) Here are a couple of paragraphs I banged out to try to be more direct. Whattya think?

Fifteen-year-old Cassie Ravenssen wants to join the Western Forest Authority. She’s new here to Santa Cruz, California, and she doesn’t know much about the mysterious environmental group, but she’d like to spend more time among the enormous coastal redwoods, especially with her friends Stan and Hawk.

Then Cassie discovers the boys are soldiers and the WFA is a military organization, not a club. But how can an entire army hide in the forest and why are the Australians the enemy? It’s all about the nature of Santa Cruz. Hawk is Arborei, a tree that can become human, and the WFA is one outpost in an empire of trees. Stan, a Stannen, is the embodiment of a rock, living among the Arborei as a token of good faith. As climate change threatens the balance between species, conflict between natives and colonizing eucalyptus trees is heating up.

Cassie is the prize they all want to control. She is a hybrid, the first of her kind, a cross between human and tree that can change the balance of power. Cassie must separate desire from purpose, friend from enemy, before she can decide for herself which side she is on, and when Stan betrays her to help his own people, Cassie realizes that her true nature aligns her with the trees.

I know I'm not supposed to hint in any way that this is a series, but for God's sake, this is a YA fantasy novel - is anyone actually fooled by that? What do you do in this situation?

And by the way, there's no message, except that if we don't get those vicious blood-sucking trees they're going to wipe us all out the first chance they get.

Bernita said...

While the stone and tree people sound fascinating, the title is dull.

Evil Editor said...

The new version gives a much better picture of what we're dealing with. I imagine some will find the idea of a human/tree hybrid silly, but you can point to the ents in LOTR. And the talking apple trees in TWOO.

Dave Fragments said...

GTP #6 would make a great book for someone who can create interesting characters.

Anonymous said...

I think your new version kicks ass. Nice job! Of course, take that with a shaker because I don't know how to write a good query myself. I like that one.

Xenith said...

why are the Australians the enemy?

Bugger. Found Out. Wait, Australians are your friends -- always, right?

Revised version sounds much more interesting. Mother's rules and being on the run aren't particularly attention getting.

Vicious trees <-- Yes!

Anonymous said...

Well, it is an iteresting twist on an old idea. The "hybrid/halfling/half-elf/half-vampire is the only one who can save the world" idea has been done a lot, so It would help if you could show how yours is different.

Also, if this is YA, I wouldn't mention the mother confronting her past. Teens and preteens don't really care what their parents think. It's "me me me!" all the way.

Wonderwood said...

[Since they started training kangaroos as suicide bombers.]

That is some funny funny shit.

Anonymous said...

While the stone and tree people sound fascinating, the title is dull.

How about Attack of the Eucalyptus?

Jennifer Feddersen said...

Is Outpost Santa Cruz a better title?

Or Girls Gone Wild? Oh wait, that one's taken.

Nature's Army? Secret of Santa Cruz?

Anonymous said...

Your rewrite of the query is much more attention-grabbing.

I wouldn't worry overmuch about the title. The Nature of Santa Cruz makes a passable working title. From what I hear, when you get a publisher, your editor is likely to suggest changes, anyway.

The Word Veri feature suggests "vagda" -- which is a rather cool name, but has nothing to do with your book. Maybe I'll incorporate it into one of mine.

pacatrue said...

It's not clear why Santa Cruz in particular is so important that it needs to be in the title. It seems like this could take place anywhere there's rocks and trees.

I vote for "Attack Trees of Death."

none said...

It seems a bit of a given that "her true nature aligns her with the trees". After all, she's half-tree. Maybe a less predictable solution to her problem would be more engaging. Nobody wants to spend their time waiting for the protagonist to notice the bleeding obvious.

Bernita said...

The "working title/publisher will change it anyway" is a dangerous excuse.
Your title is your first hook.
It's a knotty problem.

Robin S. said...

Your revised version reads really well. Best of luck.

Blogless Troll said...

I really like the rewrite. And as long as we're throwing out titles, how about My Dysfunctional Family Tree, or The Arboreal Guerrilla War.

GutterBall said...

Cassie: No, age-old rock-people who never die.
Officer: That's what I said. The Rolling Stones.

Heheh. That is some funny shit.

As for castaway titles, how about Sticks and Stones? Death to Rocks? Trees Are People, Too?

Oh, oh! My Dad, the Tree! Someone might mistake it for literary fiction and put it on Oprah's Book Club! Woot!

Jennifer GWOTW said...

Here's what I'm not getting across so far:

These are not talking trees. These are trees that can spit out a human being. Once it's out, it's just like us.

Cassie isn't out to save the world. She just wants a date with Hawk. Who happens to be a tree.

At the beginning of the novel, only one person knows she's a hybrid and it ain't Cassie or her mother. By the end of the novel they've all figured it out and all the different sides want to control her - not because she has superpowers, but because of what her offspring could mean for the trees. (Making them equal to humans)

Aside from the current battle between the native SC trees and the interloping eucalyptus ones, there is a much longer running tree/stone conflict which is why Stan is trying so darn hard to get Cassie to join up with him.

And then there's Fisher - a stone who's joined the tree side. (Think Vanilla Ice - really wants to be black - never will be; same thing going on here.)He's been after Cassie and her mom all this time. He wants Cassie dead and his own shot at making hybrids, if you know what I mean. He blows Stan's plans and now Cassie thinks all the stones are evil.

About half the characters in the book find out what Cassie is in the last scene, during which Stan makes his move, Fisher makes his and the trees arrive to "save the day". Of course within 2 pages in the second book we realize what a huge mistake Cassie's made.

So - how to get all that into one snappy sentence, eh?

Jennifer GWOTW said...

Oh - and why I'd put Santa Cruz in the title?

The story is very place based. Not only do all the scenes take place at actual locations around town, there are actual trees from around town in the book.

I can picture the tourist brochure now.

pacatrue said...

Actual trees around town.

I think that's very very cool.

Anonymous said...

The title is actually pretty good once you know what it means. EE's "guess the plot" for your story was the one I wanted to read. I say crib from EE and add some detail.

Choose one hero, one villain, and one conflict. Leave the rest for the agent to discover as they read your pages.