Monday, June 11, 2007

Face-Lift 352

Guess the Plot

Living with the Bull

1. Know-it-all Morton Sledge inherits a fortune from his grandfather's bedspread business, but will his millions distract beautiful Bunny Perkins from the fact that he's a crashing bore?

2. Evicted from her apartment, ostracized by her friends and coworkers, Jennifer begins to suspect it was a mistake to get a pit bull.

3. The new bull Mary hired to work in her china shop just isn't working out. Not only is her business tanking, local biker gangs start harassing her. That's when she finds that sometimes a bull can come in handy.

4. Prison romances don't always turn out happily ever after, but Corinne Pilch, Number 4411227, is in for life -- with the guard of her dreams.

5. "Dear, you look gorgeous today!"
"No, Mom, we didn't get any homework."
". . . and there's absolutely no obligation to buy!"
Esther Poncky has heard it all. It's just part of . . . Living with the Bull.

6. Despite what Bill says, he really isn't the reincarnation of Napoleon, the lost King of Sweden, or the heir to the Howard Hughes fortune. Nor is he the secret lover of Paris Hilton, or the love child of Elvis. Living with the Bull might be too much for some; but Naomi loves her husband and won't see him wrongfully prosecuted for murder.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my novel, LIVING WITH THE BULL, complete at 72,500 words. [I hope all you people looking for agents and publishers are prepared to start . . . Living with the Bull.]

In LIVING WITH THE BULL, Jennifer felt like she was one letdown away from being back between her Strawberry Shortcake sheets at her parents’ house. [The only reason she didn't move back with them was because then she'd really be . . . Living with the Bull.] Then she meets Gwen, a woman her own age who spends her spare time rescuing dogs in the suburbs of Chicago. Jennifer wonders where Gwen hides her [matador's] cape, until she discovers that her friend’s utopian dog rescue more closely resembles a Tim Burton movie. Feeling betrayed by her friend, ["I trusted you, Gwen, but now I find out that your dog rescue operation is like a combination of Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, and Mars Attacks! You've betrayed me."] Jennifer wants to give Oscar, a pit bull, a second chance at a good life. [That might be a better place to start the query.] She hopes that saving him might rescue her, too. But she never expected that her commitment to put kibble in his bowl would turn into a civil liberties crusade.

Because of Oscar’s breed, Jennifer is accosted by strangers, [mauled at home,] and ostracized at work. It’s one thing to have to defend his reputation, but her level of commitment to Oscar and her ability to keep her own life afloat are tested when she is evicted from her apartment [Yes ma'am, I know your lease says pets are allowed. But your pet has eaten everyone else's pets.] and faced with a city council that wants to ban pit bulls entirely. [Plus, her crusade to have the Constitution amended to give pit bulls the vote is going nowhere.] LIVING WITH THE BULL is the story of a woman trying [to] navigate the worlds of dog adoption, prejudice, and twenty-something independence.

I earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, [so I am well-qualified to write about . . Living with the Bull.] where I won a Hopwood Award for Poetry. I have been active in animal rescue for over eight years and I currently sit on the Board of Directors of Pit Bull Rescue Central.

A full manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



The reason pit bulls have a reputation for aggression (besides the fact that the media always trumpets it whenever one of them kills a rhinoceros or a little league team) is because of their name. Pit bull sounds intimidating. Henceforth, let's go with Mellow Mutt.

Even if I correctly guess that you mean Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, it's still not clear how the Tim Burton reference shows betrayal. Dump it.

It's admirable that you want to incorporate your passion into a book, but I want to know more about what happens. All we've got is, woman adopts dog, woman loses all her friends. If you have a good story, tell us what it is. What's Oscar's past history? Was he Michael Vick's champion fighter? What does Jennifer need rescuing from? We'll care more about them if we know this. If their stories are boring, if you're mainly defending pit bulls, perhaps nonfiction is the way to go.


Chris Eldin said...

Wow, I'm sorry, but I would never buy a book like this. I actually do know a little girl who was attacked (daughter of one of my kid's preschool teachers) and her face is a mess. She was 5 when she was attacked, and has had several surgeries. Now that she's older (10) her nose has to be fixed again because her facial bones are longer.

Pit bulls were bred to be aggressive, right? I don't wish any animal to be harmed, but I don't have sympathy for this kind of dog. Sorry.

Blogless Troll said...

I'm not sure I could read a whole novel about dog prejudice. I'm no dog expert, but I have seen a lot of dog bite cases, and while pit bulls and rotties get all the bad PR, the really mean sombitches are any kind of Chow mix. Yet, who's afraid of a Chow? In some communities, you can't even ask that question without fear of being mauled in your sleep. I would definitely read a book exposing the Chow-Media-Complex.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I wouldn not read this book, either. I'm an animal lover and I don't fault the dogs, but I don't think they should be legal because of the danger of irresponsible owners. Yesterday, my husband went jogging and was chased and almost taken down by two pitbulls. I can't believe I almost lost the man I love. Two years before, a neighbor's pitbull mauled another neighbor and her small dog. I cannot generate symphathy for your protagonist or her goal.

Beth said...

This novel sounds more like a thinly disguised personal crusade than a story. If you want to make a point, write an informative, non-fiction treatise on how pit bulls are misunderstood. Keep agendas out of fiction. It rarely ever works.

At the very least, we need more story in this. How did Gwen betray her? The Tim Burton reference meant nothing to me.

PJD said...

EE, thanks for the many laughs in this one. Rhinoceros or little league team. That one got my cube-dwelling coworkers into full prairie dog mode trying to see what was so funny.

I kept waiting for the bit where Jennifer marries the pit bull against her mother's wishes. But I guess it's not that book.

Sorry, author. Pit bulls get no sympathy from me, and even the dog lovers I know don't defend them. (Rottweilers, on the other hand, get lots of love from the dog lovers I know.) You might as well write a book about a young woman who volunteers at a prison and marries an inmate, then goes on a crusade to promote the good qualities of incarcerated convicts.

I actually thought this story had a chance until you wrote, "But she never expected that her commitment to put kibble in his bowl would turn into a civil liberties crusade." Erin Brockovich is a good civil liberties crusade story because it's "me against the evil corporations that are killing children for profit." Pit bull rescue is not so sympathetic a cause.

Anonymous said...

You don't need any more anti-pit bull comments, but I found a few other things sort of strange.

In one sentence ("felt like she was one letdown away from being back between her Strawberry Shortcake sheets at her parents’ house." we get two indications that this character is extraordinarily childish.

First of all, she's old enough to move out but still has SS sheets on her bed at home? Most girls would've gotten rid of those when they turned 13. Then, if she gets one more letdown she's gonna move back home with Mummy and Daddy? Grow up, girl!

All of which makes the character rather unlikeable. If she wants to crusade for anything, I don't care.

Also - I don't know what the others think, but I don't think I'd mention the Board of Directors of Pit Bull Rescue position in the query letter. Yes, it means you understand the situation, but on the other hand it screams Axe To Grind! and you don't want to put people off. Better to unobtrusively let your story do your talking for you.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer felt like she was one letdown away from being back between her Strawberry Shortcake sheets at her parents’ house. Then she meets Gwen, a woman her own age who spends her spare time rescuing dogs in the suburbs of Chicago.

This sentence switches from past tense to present tense.

Anonymous said...

Anti-social dogs of any breed deserve no more sympathy than anti-social people. That said, there are many social pits who would make fine companion animals. The number of "good" pits I've met certainly outweighs the number of "bad" (and I've worked extensively with all kinds of dogs).

Unfortunately, what the commentors have been saying here is what makes "agenda" books a hard sell: The converted will be happy to read them, but the people you're trying to reach won't.

As for the query itself, I had the same thought as others: What happens? The city council is looking to ban the breed -- does Jennifer face them down? Does she mount a parade to call attention to her cause? Start a grassroots campaign? Or does she just fret that the council will vote for the ban? A commitment to her dog is sweet, but it isn't compelling in and of itself. And what's her occupation if she's ostracized at work for having a pit? Unless she's bringing him to the office, would people really care?

I understand you're trying to say Jennifer peeked under the covers at her friend's rescue operation and found it lacking, which felt like a betrayal to her. Perhaps you can be a little more explicit there. Is her friend a hoarder? Covering up attacks? Just not able to care for the number of dogs she takes in?

It feels like Jennifer is being very reactive to the world around her. It's fine to start her out that way, but assure us in the query that she -- and maybe even Oscar, too -- does some growing.

Anonymous said...

Not my genre. I haven't bought a dog book since fifth grade when I thought Old Yeller was cool and even then I was way more excited about the historic setting and the boy than the dog. I'm not sure this premise is "commercial" enough to attract an agent, but I don't know anything about dog people or their book buying habits.

You might want to do some market research like for a nonfiction query so you'll have numbers to show an agent in order to convince her that your audience is big enough to generate royalties that are worth her time. Or else make sure you query agents who already represent popular dog titles and know the audience.

AmyB said...

Hi author, I'm a dog person too so I know where you're coming from. All the same, I wouldn't read a book like this because it sounds like an agenda book--that is, its purpose is not to entertain, but to educate. Or worse, lecture. I don't read fiction to be lectured.

If you want to raise awareness of this issue in fiction, I think you'll need to be much more subtle. Make the book about something else entirely, and put a sweet-natured (and perhaps vilified) pit bull into a minor role. As a linked subplot, it might work, but as the focus of the book, it just screams, I am here to convert you to my way of thinking, which for many of us is a huge turnoff in fiction.

As far as the issue itself, you've picked a controversial one. I know there are many sweet and loveable pit bulls that are hurt by breed-specific legislation. I also know that many pit bulls are specifically bred for aggression, and are not properly managed. As a dog lover, and a mother of small children who likes to be able to walk around the neighborhood without getting mauled, I can see both sides of the issue. This query gives the impression of being one-sided in favor of pit bulls, without acknowledging the very real concerns on the other side.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm the only one that felt this could be more of a social commentary? Using the pit bull to show the irrationalities of prejudice, etc?
Animal Farm, anyone?

I'm guessing if the query writer could craft that dramatic of a story, the query would show it...

Anonymous said...


A book needs to be about more than a message--it needs to be about the characters that deliver the message. The plot should be driven by the character's actions and choices as they grow and change. Does your main character change? or is she the same person who encounters conflict after conflict and doesn't change internally?

I could see a novel about a young woman who grows and matures as she faces problems keeping her dog, but the young woman should be the emphasis. This can't be the only thing going on in her life, right?

Bernita said...

I get a sense of a gored ox here.
" They came for the domermans, but I wasn't a doberman, so..." -
might improve the scope.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear from the author on this. Is there more plot? What happens?

I can't see this book succeeding in its mission, because one fictional well-behaved pit bull is never going to defeat, in someone's mind, one real-life badly-behaved pit bull. A nonfiction would at least present a real-life well-behaved pit bull as a counter-example.

Could I have gotten any more hyphens into that paragraph??

Anonymous said...

I may be the only one that didn't like the title, but boy does this title bother me. It's very misleading because I had no idea it was about pit bulls and not a real bull. I thought it was going to be a matador story or something. I don't have a problem reading about a pit bull, I think it could be a very interesting story given the discrimination and history of this breed. BUT, what is the hook of your story? What is new and exciting about it that is going to make me want to pick it up? What you have is not enough.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a dog person (like 'em in the abstract, not in real life, with the pooping and the biting and the barking and the attacking cats) and pit bulls are at the bottom of the dog tolerability scale, so I'd not be interested in an apology for the breed.

However, I love the concept of animal main characters. Not anthropomorphized as in children's books, but as they really are. I myself would only want to read about a cat or possibly a golden retriever or some other endearing mammal, but for dog people, this might appeal. Some of the most interesting and lovable people I know are not human.

Dog books have sold well recently. I haven't read any of them, but this one might have a chance.


Anonymous said...

Author here...

Thanks to all for your comments. It is clear to me that the query did not do a sufficient job of expressing the book. When I complete my latest manuscript revision, I will, of course, be spending time with my query.

This is the story of a twenty-something woman who is struggling to keep her life together and she learns to stand on her own two feet when she has to stand up for her dog. It looks at the role that dogs play in our lives and how they can help us change.

And, yes, it's also about prejudice. My main character is a woman who is not the type of person that most people think own pit bulls...who has a dog that is endearing in a way that most people do not think pit bulls are. Hopefully, the reader will relate to this woman and this dog, and what she goes through when faced with the possibility of losing her best friend, especially when she's come so far with him to get past her previous struggles (non-dog people may not get this, but I hope this is at least getting through to the dog folks).Pit bulls are not portrayed in the book as an angelic dog that everyone should adopt. There are both sides of the story, including pit bull attacks.

The comments about being an agenda book and wanting to see more plot are things that are already on my mind as I go through this next revision.

The comments about pit bulls are exactly the reason I picked that breed as the backdrop for the themes of the book - it's a controversial issue that gets people talking. And, yes, it is one that I care about.

writtenwyrdd said...

From your explanations, Author, this does sound like a book that is wrapped around a message. Makes me not want to read it when described that way. I want entertainment and a story, not a message.

Heather Dudley said...

I'm a big defender of pits, and this query just fell flat for me. I don't want to read a message story, as the rest here. I'd love the see the amended query, and see that it focuses more on the actual story than one small part of it.

And to all you anti-pits out there... it's silly to discriminate against a dog breed simply because of sensationalized media. No one's asking you to be uber-sympathetic, but every time someone says "pits are bred to be aggressive" an angel loses its wings.

More bites occur every year from "family" dogs than pits... and a dalmation is much more likely to be aggressive than a properly socialized pit.

Anonymous said...

Dear author,

The second and third paragraph of your last post provide some, heartfelt lines. Use them for your query rewrite!