Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Face-Lift 353

Guess the Plot

Forced Air

1. Flatulence is no laughing matter. It strikes millions daily. In this memoir, Fredrick Cheese relates the difficulties of living with extreme flatulence on a daily basis. He has worked as an elevator operator, a shoe salesman, and a co-pilot, and has sued former employers for discrimination. But to no avail, since the courts refuse to recognize the rights of the gastronomically challenged.

2. Thin-lipped, pasty faced Rob Hoover faces humiliation at his inability to rip one at will, the way his friends can. With the help of a time portal he finally achieves gas-passing superstardom when Christopher Columbus teaches him the secret of the musical fruit.

3. Tracy was having a bad day, what with her dad's heart attack, losing her job, and her husband leaving her. But the worst part of all was "letting loose" when her attractive neighbor dropped by to "console" her.

4. Doing a little "duct work" for lonely housewives has become a lucrative sideline for HVAC expert Gus Furness. Until he gets caught, that is, by an irate husband who is about to show Gus what can be done with sheet metal and . . . Forced Air.

5. Pulled over at midnight on the 91 Freeway, passing the alcohol test is a breeze for Rhonda. But a freak windstorm intervenes, sending her, Officer Dyson, the squad car and her Ford Windstar into another dimension.

6. Wilbur goes through life unnoticed, until someone needs a topnotch heating and air conditioning man. That’s when they call Wilbur. His specialty—forced air systems. His hobby—installing sophisticated surveillance equipment in the duct vents and streaming the provocative footage to his pay-per-peek website.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Editor:

In Forced Air, Tracy Winters thinks Friday morning is bad enough with her father in the hospital after a mild heart attack. In the afternoon, though, her company’s CFO is dragged away in handcuffs, and the company goes bankrupt. Then, when Tracy gets home, her husband and daughter walk out on her because they can’t take her ultra-controlling, type A lifestyle any more. [Goodness. I certainly hope nothing else traumatic happens to Tracy in the next few hours.] Tracy believes she could handle all of it—except for the rejection of her daughter, Amber. Tracy’s singular goal as an adult has been to be the perfect mom, unlike her own mother who downed a bottle of pills when Tracy was just a kid.

In a reactionary moment of “letting loose,” Tracy allows her friendly—and attractive—neighbor to drive her to Santa Cruz in time for the Saturday sunrise. By breakfast, though, Tracy finds herself running for her life without money, phone, or car, and the very person she turns to for help is the one who wants her dead. Through it all, Tracy’s only thought is to survive long enough to have a second chance with Amber. [She never once thinks, Why is someone trying to kill me?]

Survival requires putting her trust in several strangers including two old ladies, a homeless former bookkeeper, [She's doomed.] and the pretty ex-girlfriend of her would-be assassin. Survival also requires breaking into the boss’ email, shooting two men, and confronting her own gambling-addicted father—from whom she finally learns the truth about her mother’s “suicide” thirty years earlier.

[Rank the following in order of how much trouble you would have believing it:

1. Your father has a heart attack, and you go to work for the day and then go home.

2. Your father has a heart attack, and you don't tell your husband or daughter.
3. Your father has a heart attack, and you do tell your husband and daughter, and they choose that day to walk out on you.
4. Your father has a heart attack, your husband and daughter walk out on you, and you agree to go to Santa Cruz to watch the sunrise with your attractive neighbor.
5. Your father has a heart attack, your employer goes bankrupt and your husband and child walk out on you, all within a twelve-hour period.
6. You make an unscheduled trip to Santa Cruz in the middle of the night, and when you get there, someone's trying to kill you.
7. You're an assassin, hired to kill a woman who has no idea she's a target, and you screw it up.
8. You're running from an assassin who has trailed you to Santa Cruz, it's not even breakfast time, and you run into his ex-girlfriend.
9. You confront your gambling-addicted father, and he wants to talk about your long-dead mother instead of trying to borrow money.
10. You work for a company big enough to have a CFO, yet you leave your home without your cell phone. Or someone took your phone and money, but not your gun.]

11. Your father says, "I'm sick of this type-A lifestyle, let's ditch your mother," and you agree to leave your home, your friends, and your mall to live with him in Canada.

I’ve enclosed the complete synopsis and first three chapters of Forced Air, and I would be happy to provide the completed manuscript (62,000 words) at your request. My work has appeared in the literary journals The First Line, Thereby Hangs A Tale, and THEMA.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The query is written okay, and every novel has some hard-to-accept stuff going on, and no doubt there's a logical explanation for everything I've brought up. But it might be a good idea to give the logical explanation for some of these items, because they all happen within about 24 hours. Jack Bauer would have been lucky to get through this day.

Is the friendly, attractive neighbor a man or woman? It seems unlikely you would bother to call a female neighbor attractive, but it seems more unlikely that she could be talked into "letting loose" with another man when her father's in the hospital and her daughter's suddenly gone.

Based on having to break into her boss's email, I assume the attempt to kill her has something to do with work. But no one from work would have known she was going to Santa Cruz. She didn't even know she was going. This leads me to believe the assassin was preparing to break into her house and kill her just as she left for Santa Cruz. And he followed her. Or the assassin is her neighbor--although it's unlikely she would have to break into her boss's email to survive being killed by her neighbor. Either way, it's hard to believe any semi-competent assassin managed to botch the job.


Anonymous said...

What, no comments? Has that ever happened before?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I guess this is new. I could have sworn that a second ago Forced Air wasn't on the top.

Well, I think this one is going to need two separate categories: Issues with the query letter, and issues with the plot...

Anonymous said...

With this title, there's got to be some farting in the story, even if it's incidental. Judging by the GTP's 97% of the minions will be disappointed by this.

Robin S. said...

EE, when you're on fire, I really enjoy it, and I read through just waiting for the line that's gonna have me laughing out loud like a fool. there was a goodbuildup with your list, and you had me grinning.

Then- ""Jack Bauer would have been lucky to get through this day."

This was the one. Thanks!

pacatrue said...

I don't usually find farting jokes funny, but this line from GTP 2, "thin-lipped, pasty faced Rob Hoover faces humiliation at his inability to rip one at will" made me spit on my monitor. Actually, that whole GTP is hysterical.

I don't know what the author can do about the amazing series of tragedies at the beginning which stretch credibility to the max. My best rec is to just not mention one of them if you can - heart attack seems the least important to the plot. After that, the causality behind all of these things is less than apparent. If you can make it clear how her job loss, email theft, and assassination attempts are connected, we can forgive them more. It's OK to tell the agent what Tracy's gotten drawn into.

A couple things to watch in the rewrite:
1) Tracy has just been left by her only child and her dad's in the hospital and yet she finds some time to be attracted to the guy next door.... Makes me want Tracy's daughter to keep going.

2) Make sure you don't have another novel about how women would be happier if they worked less and stayed home more. I think you are avoiding that by making her learn "to let loose", which one can do while pursuing all sorts of dreams. After all, it really is hard to manage private and public life for everyone. Just be careful there.

Anonymous said...

Paca is right. All of those tragedies don't seem necessary to the plot in the first place, but certainly not in the query letter. Besides cluttering it up it makes the plot look silly.

I'd lose at least two tragedies. I'm not 100% sure what the story is so it's hard to say what belongs in the letter. I'd just say it's a troubled mom on the run because of trouble at work but she's more concerned with hooking up with her daughter than staying alive.

Wait, now I've made it even more confusing!

Rei said...

I agree with Pacatrue. I'd say less so that there's less to disbelieve. EE's "rank the following" section was spot on (and hilarious). I think you need to present less pieces of the puzzle and use the extra space to more closely indicate how they fit together.

Just my 0.16 bits.

Beth said...

This sounds like a pretty exciting story, but you do have too many unbelievable tragedies happening too fast, and her motives aren't clear. And the title, as proven by the GTPs, is truly terrible. Please think of another one.

Bernita said...

A different title, to begin with, please - this one reminds me of an advertisement I saw once for a "four stair furnace."

Dave Fragments said...

There has got to be a plot that we're not getting. How does all of this tie up into a coherent package? It's got to come together with an explanation even if it is "the Butler did it".

Anonymous said...

Yes, we do need more connecting of the dots in the query, please.

Aside from not understanding the major issues of how everyone and everything are tied together, I also had a hard time overlooking a nit: Companies don't go bankrupt in an afternoon. The company can file for bankruptcy in an afternoon, but the process is long and drawn out. And that process would likely begin, not end, with a CFO being led away in handcuffs.

Love the believability ranking list, EE!

I've read a query or pages for GTP #5 -- it's eerily familiar...

writtenwyrdd said...

I think the plot sounds workable if you delete daddy's heart attack. That right there makes the rest of the actions sound like a heartless woman is the main character.

That list of improbabilities had me snorting coke...wait, that's not what I meant! Funny stuff.

I think the letter isnt too bad, actually. But that heart attack needs to go. Plus, you might give us more background as to why the attractive neighbor is such an immediate option when husband/daughter walk out.

I gathered the neighbor is the assassin.

Anonymous said...

Plot structure has a lot in common with the zany Rhubarb Pie ads on Prairie Home Companion, which are, in turn, sort of spoofy jokes about bad writing. You might make this work if it was meant to be silly and it actually came off as funny, but my impression is that hilarity was about the last thing you intended.

Try listening to some of these radio shows for the rhubarb ads to experience the full effect of over-done plotting.


Anonymous said...

The 2nd para seems to be included because that's where the "Run For Your Life" thread begins, and I'm guessing that a good portion of the novel has Tracy on the run, trying to get back to her daughter. But I think it (the whole para) needs reworking because the "letting loose" rationale does seem a bit strained, following so close on the heels of such successive tragedies.

By breakfast, though, Tracy finds herself running for her life without money, phone, or car, and the very person she turns to for help is the one who wants her dead.
From this I inferred that the attractive neighbor is out to get her. Maybe that's just me.

Who is more important to the plot, Amber or Tracy's mom?

Just a few thoughts from an unsuccessful query-writer-minion-in-training.

Scott said...

The question that immediately popped into my mind is, is it the Santa Cruz, CA sunrise they're rushing off to see? As a native West Coaster, growing up not far from Santa Cruz, let me tell you: the sunsets over the ocean can be spectacular, but sunrise on most California beaches isn't all that spectacular. In Santa Cruz, those damn mountains get in the way, not to mention the fog most of the year.

PJD said...

Thank you to everyone who commented. I learned a lot from this. I do believe the plot hangs together over the 65,000 words despite the implausibility most of you found in the query. So far, the people who have seen the full synopsis tend to agree. (It is, however, quite a small sample, but it does not include my spouse or my mother, so the opinions are mostly credible.) It has to do with the complexity of the relationships but also a little bit with coincidence. The tragedies are related and ultimately caused by one set of circumstances.

If I understand what I've read, most of what was said is summed up by one sentence from rei: I think you need to present less pieces of the puzzle and use the extra space to more closely indicate how they fit together. This is indeed where I will put my effort in the query.

As to the title: It has no meaning and really no connection to the actual story. Just a place holder. I loved the GTPs. Thanks for the laughs. It is difficult to believe I never saw the fart jokes coming.

phoenix, in responding to your nit: Companies don't go bankrupt in an afternoon. The company can file for bankruptcy in an afternoon, but the process is long and drawn out. And that process would likely begin, not end, with a CFO being led away in handcuffs. I worked for a publicly traded company once that held a meeting after market close, and the CEO said, and I quote, "We can pay you through yesterday." The company went into receivership and, yes, it took several years for things to settle, but for all intents and purposes the company was done that day. I also worked with a vendor once that sent an email to all their clients at 2 p.m. Central on June 2nd saying, "As of this moment we are out of business." Turns out they had mismanaged their funds and had some accounting errors, and by the time they discovered it they realized they were insolvent. So perhaps "bankrupt" is not the word; "insolvent" may be better?

Finally, a big thank-you to Evil Editor for the opportunity. And for the constant humor.

jjdebenedictis said...

The third paragraph is a miniature Ingredients Query, which literary agent Nathan Bransford talks about in the link.

As he put it, listing flour, sugar, butter and eggs does not make someone want to eat a cookie. Likewise, listing a collection of happenings does not make someone want to read the book.

Here's some things you might try to focus on when you rewrite this query:
1) What is Tracy's goal?
2) What gets in her way?
3) What are the stakes if she doesn't get her goal?
4) What does she do to try to get around the obstacle to her goal?
5) What goes wrong after she performs that action?

Good luck with it!


Anonymous said...

Scott, I was thinking the same thing. Sunrise on the East Coast, Sunset in the West.

I think the chase is the story, so I'd lose some of the needless tragedies. And instead of being vague about "attractive neighbor" and "let loose", spell this out because it's important.

And about that bankruptcy, the other commenter is right. Maybe the bankruptcy culminates that day but it sounds a little simplistic to say a mega corporation went bankrupt that day.

If it were my story I'd dispense with the overwritten setup (at least in the query letter) and start with the midnight ride to SAnta Cruz. If you have to have all the tragedies, she can tell the attractive neighbor a few things about her day while they're driving.

I think it could be a good story.

Twill said...

A little more sequence in the synopsis - don't break it out as "this list will happen to her, this list she will do".

Also, in a query, don't be coy. It's not back-cover copy. The agent wants to know that you have a complete story, so put what the story is really about. (...Within reason...)

Anonymous said...

I like a good thriller as much as the next reader, but the set-up here wouldn't cut it for me.

I might buy all those tragedies happening to one person if they were 'in the past few months'. Then, when mouthy Amber leaves after harsh words, and is staying at Dad's for the next week being spoiled even more rotten, newly unemployed Mom has one too many cocktails in her suddenly empty house and starts a fling with the handsome neighbour and sha-zam: the rest unfolds without me closing the book on page 10 because of having nothing in common with a heroine so feisty she can handle all that disaster before the cocktail hour and still have the energy for a little garden romance.

Show me the motivation.