Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Face-Lift 363

Guess the Plot

The Postcard

1. After Jerry Thompkins blows up his Chevy van, the ruins are sifted, and a scribbled postcard addressed to Santa Claus is discovered. Could this be what homicide detective Jane Ramirez needs to solve the intractable Case of the Toddler's Tantrum?

2. The post card was addressed to his deceased father, the return address from a place called Fantasaria. Soon, Steven finds himself in a magical realm full of talking plants, evil flesh-eating clouds, and unicorns. Also, Irish hitmen.

3. Sara gets a postcard from Morocco dated 1913 and addressed to her great-grandfather. So where was it all those years? And why did she get it now?

4. A harmless looking postcard arrives mixed with the rest of the junk mail offering the lucky recipient a choice of prizes. But the prize turns out to be the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse. Now it's up to FBI agent Harry Grimes to solve the baffling case. Also, hypnotism.

5. Yvette Richardson needs some time away after her divorce. Even after extensive research on the Internet, she still can't decide between Mexico or Puerto Rico. Mysterious mail sent from a travel agency she's never heard of helps her decide, but will she meet the tight-abbed hunk on the front of the postcard, as promised?

6. Feisty literary agent Cara tells her best friend Sue, "If I get one more query on pink unicorn paper, I'll blow up Grand Central." As a joke, Sue drops that very thing in Cara's box the next morning. Now Grand Central is nothing but ashes, Cara has disappeared, and Sue has received a mysterious postcard saying "I didn't do it" in red lipstick. But it's not Cara's color.

Original Version

I have just completed The Postcard, a work of crime fiction. The novel runs 220 pages, [Or 880 postcards.] a little more than 61k words.

A harmless looking postcard arrives mixed with the rest of the junk mail. The postcard offers the lucky recipient a choice of prizes absolutely free. When the prize turns out to be the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse, [I would have gone with the Orlando vacation, but the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse would have been my second choice.] the local police are called in. [Does the prizewinner call the police to report the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse, or to complain about not getting his prize?] [By the way, what's the difference between a dismembered corpse and the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse? They're both pretty grisly. I'm guessing with one all the members are there, albeit scattered about, and with the other, all that remains are the parts the killer didn't eat.] [Wait, the parts he didn't eat wouldn't be the grisly remains--they'd be the gristly remains.] [How did whoever shipped the prize handle it?

Customer: Yes, I'd like to ship this crate.

Postal clerk: Anything liquid, fragile or perishable?

Customer: Ah, I guess it's perishable.

Postal clerk: Fruit? Vegetable? Cheese?

Customer: No, no, just the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse.

Postal clerk: Okay, you'll have to fill out shipper's declaration 326B.]

When a second card sends the locals into a booby trapped house, killing seven policemen, the outmatched local officials call in the FBI. The Bureau relies on Special Agent Harry Grimes to solve its most puzzling cases and Harry has his work cut out for him. The innocent looking postcard is packed with anagrams, palindromes and number puzzles. [Taunting the cops is cruel, but making them play Jumble, the scrambled word game, in order to decipher your taunts is truly diabolical.] Harry, a crossword puzzle fan himself, gets a thorough grounding in the myth and mystery surrounding ordinary numbers. It soon becomes increasingly difficult to know what is a clue and what a red herring. Harry's persistence leads him from an amateur crossword puzzle competition to a curious church deep in a Florida swamp. [Okefenokee Orthodox.] Harry also stumbles on a suspicious motorcycle gang and a string of missing Iraq war veterans [There's a little something for everyone in this book.] whose disappearance is linked to a malignant government sponsored experiment in mind control. The story delves into man's relation to numbers and word games and explores the history of hypnotism

[1790: Mesmer becomes the first to hypnotize someone into clucking like a chicken.
1850: Riechenbach is the first to employ the revolutionary dangling pocket watch.
1910: Svengali discovers hypnosis can be used to get babes.
1917: Rasputin engineers the Russian revolution through mass hypnosis of 80 million peasants.
1979: Candy Goes to Hollywood hits porn theaters.]

and the government's efforts at developing a mind control weapon.The reader follows Harry's evolving knowledge in these arcane subjects as well as changes in his personal life, his budding romance with Aviva (a palindromic name), [Is he in love with Aviva or her name? Lose the parenthetical phrase.] his separation from his wife and daughter, [Hannah and Lil,] pressures from his boss and team mates. Running throughout the book are numerous anagrams, palindromes and the relationship of numbers on the human mind. [ Incredible! I just realized--this entire query letter is a palindrome.] The mystery deepens and is not resolved until the very last twist on the last page [, a page that has been encoded into the Navajo language].

I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know when you get around to reviewing it.



If you anagram every word in the query letter, any agent who figures out the entire text would have put so much effort into your work already, she'll have no choice but to represent you.

Wait, make the entire book a giant cryptogram! And it comes with the reader's choice of a Scrabble game or a Sudoku book.

"Harry Grimes" sounds too much like porn star Harry Reems.

As you don't bother to even name the prize recipient, I assume the story starts when Harry Grimes is called in. Thus we can reduce the backstory:

The winner of the latest Publishers Clearinghouse contest was expecting a million dollars a year for life, and all he got was the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse. Clerical error? Maybe, but FBI agent Harry Grimes doesn't think so.
To me this falls apart when you start listing all the disparate elements covered in the book. Is the mind control experimentation related to the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse? Is this a mystery about Harry and a serial killer who leaves clever puzzle clues? If so, stick with that thread in the query and leave the history of hypnotism and the missing war veterans for the book.

And use paragraphs. Your plot is too long to be one paragraph.

And there's too much about word games: "packed with anagrams, palindromes and number puzzles," "man's relation to numbers and word games," "throughout the book are numerous anagrams, palindromes and the relationship of numbers on the human mind." We get it. If you play up the word game aspect too much, people will think the games are a bigger part of the book than the characters and plot. People buy novels to read about the grisly remains of dismembered corpses, not to solve cryptic crosswords. You might want to remove a few of the puzzles "running throughout the book" and save them for the sequel.


Bernita said...

Re-title it as "The Kitchen Sink."
EE is right - way too much crammed in.
And when you throw in a "budding romance," I lose any sympathy for your protagonist.

Chris Eldin said...

Grubsteak, gristly remains, and clucking chicken. Back to our vegetarian discussion, anyone?

Author, I agree with EE--you need to connect the plot elements better.

And all this number stuff going on--I don't want to feel too stupid when I'm reading a book. An occasional vocabulary word is okay, however.(like 'prehensile' from Bernita's website, or 'ululant' from a Dean Koontz novel).


Anonymous said...

Who is your good guy? Who is your bad guy and why is he doing rotten stuff? Who lost the legs? What for? So what? This might be a great idea and a good story, but who can tell? Your plot description is a list of jumbled miscellany.

EE is right, I'm not generally inclined to buy a novel in order to read about some guy solving a crossword puzzle and this description fails to inspire such an inclination. It gives me that "oh no! not more DaVinci Code!" feeling.

Plus numerology not something I take seriously so when you talk about revealing the importance of numbers in our lives I'm a little worried. If you were talking about the importance of numbers in the lives of the characters/world of your story, fine, I could go with that, but if you want the work to pertain to the world at large, you need to be talking about something that people generally already accept and your would-be agent, in particular, already believes in, not something we scoff at. Yes, there are people who freak out about numbers like 13 and 666 etc, but most of us don't and a novel about postcards, anagrams, crossword puzzles, and lost legs won't convince us.

Your word count seems low in proportion to the amount of miscellany you're covering so I'm concerned the text is as sketchy and scattered as the query letter. You might do well to go back and add more details and scenes, concentrating on character development and the relationships between key characters, and see if you can bring the word count up.

Dave Fragments said...

[Okefenokee Orthodox.]
This will keep me giggling all day. I've been to Okefenokee Orthodox, It's next to the boy scout camp and the gay men's nudist colony (wrinkly, wrinkly, wrinkly).

writtenwyrdd said...

Well, in addition to all the other comments, I have to say that this read to me like a DaVinci Code wannabe that uses palindromes instead of ancient secret organizations and the child of Christ.

Palindromes! Numbers! Wheee! Wait a sec, let's see...are those more or less interesting than the child of Christ? Nope, less interesting.

Whether or not your book works, I couldn't say for certain from reading this query letter. But honestly, it sounds like you don't know what makes a story. Bernita's right, this is a kitchen sink plot.

Anonymous said...

Oh my. I thought the word count was low to begin with, but then you start enumerating all the subplots and, honestly, I get the feeling this is that first "closet" novel most writers have to get out of their system before they can get on with their "real" stories. You know, that novel that crams every idea the author ever had into one book so hurriedly written to get to the end to prove the author CAN finish a book that no element of the story is really actualized. (Been there. Usually there's nothing wrong with any of the elements themselves and sometimes whole sections of that first book can be worked into later, more thoughtful manuscripts.)

Clues you don't want to leave your targeted agent:

1. You've "just completed" your work. This implies you typed "The End" on a first draft and are ready to dash it off to them.

2. Page count and word count. You only need to reference word count.

3. "I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know when you get around to reviewing it." What exactly are you asking for here? For the agent to send you a note saying, "Hi. I'm just reviewing your work now. I'll get back to you just as soon as I'm done."? Better remember to send TWO SASEs, if that's the case.

4. Bloat and repetition in the query. This is the agent's first impression of your writing. If one page of your writing has this much repetition, the agent may very well fear the 61K-word book may in reality be only a 35K novella once the writing is leaned down.

5. Don't most mysteries play out to the very last twist on the very last page? The way that sentence is placed in the query makes it sound like this is something special your book has going for it rather than the table stakes it better have for the genre.

The second postcard in the query confuses me. It sends 7 cops to their death in a booby-trapped house, but it is an innocent-looking postcard "packed with anagrams, palindromes and number puzzles"? Is that really the same postcard? Does a quick surface read of it say, "I'm the killer. Meet me in the house at 123 Fair Lane and let's talk about this" and the coded message read "For a killer party, come to 666 Death Road"?

Rather than tell the query reader multiple times about the numerous clever puzzles in the book, maybe weave a couple of the more clever ones into the query letter to really pique the agent's interest?

EE, you are in top form with this one! Truly splutterific!

Evil Editor said...

"I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know when you get around to reviewing it."

Hmm. It's probably a message to EE, not part of the query. The implication being, I never read your blog, but if you let me know when you post my query, I'll show up that once.

Guess I'd better try to dig up the author's email address.

AmyB said...

This right here:

A harmless looking postcard arrives mixed with the rest of the junk mail. The postcard offers the lucky recipient a choice of prizes absolutely free. When the prize turns out to be the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse,

I found funny and intriguing. You had me hooked nicely, and since I'm a crossword puzzle solver myself, I liked the puzzle aspect.

This right here:

Harry also stumbles on a suspicious motorcycle gang and a string of missing Iraq war veterans whose disappearance is linked to a malignant government sponsored experiment in mind control.

is where you lost me, and I started feeling that there were too many disparate elements in this book for it to work. Perhaps all these things do work in the book, somehow, but they don't work in the query letter.

Anonymous said...

When I was reading this query, I was thinking about the "Naked Gun" series of movies. I really enjoy them, and this query came off sounding equally absurd.

However, if that is what the author is trying for, the plot we're given is an uneasy mix. The word puzzles will appeal to puzzle freaks but that niche market seems to me to go more with a cosy-style mystery and a lighter tone. I'd take out the seven dead FBI guys; that's neither cosy nor funny.

On the other hand, author, if you're not trying for absurdity, maybe rethink the concept.

EE - "gristly remains". Loved it. Still chuckling.

Stacia said...

"Harry Grimes" sounds too much like porn star Harry Reems.

Thank you, EE! I was trying to figure out why that name was ringing bells in my head.

I thought the postcard thing sounded cool. I was even willing to keep reading after the thing about mystical meanings of numbers.

But as a mathphobe, I'd never, ever buy this once I found out about the palindromes and puzzles and number games and equasions or whatever. It reminds me of "The Eight" by Katherine Neville, which annoyed me so much I couldn't finish.

Anonymous said...

I'm struggling to connect palindromes and number theory with the history of hypnotism; can't quite see how that would work, but... I will obey, master.