Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Face-Lift 358

Guess the Plot

Crossing Broad

1. Six foot, 300 pound Wilma Spittle has finally found the job of her dreams. Outside Herman Wooster Middle School, she rules supreme with her whistle and stop sign as . . . the Crossing Broad.

2. Mickey Spillane meets Danielle Steele meets Lon Chaney meets Mitt Romney meets Paris Hilton in this crime-romance-thriller based on the famous Sharon Stone scene in Basic Instinct.

3. Concerned for the darling kindergartners, Elsa Sykes becomes Maple Hill Elementary's first crossing guard, but she can't fit her ample bosom in the vest. No one slows down. After little Fanny Turtle is driven over like a speed bump, Elsa strips down to her birthday suit. This not only stops traffic, it earns Elsa the name that will follow her to her grave: "Crossing Broad."

4. Dirk takes his job seriously, as do all the traffic management specialists. They all agree: Busy school intersections are no place for a woman. Then along comes Priscilla Cody, fresh from Australia, with orange hair and spandex biker shorts. But Dirk’s not willing to let any broad weaken “the guard.” He has a plan, one that may permanently stop the flow of her traffic!

5. Broad Street is more than the border between Middletown and Portland. It's a socioeconomic and cultural barrier dividing the upscale WASPs on the north side from the adult book shops, massage parlors, and liquor stores on the south side. When Portland's working girls start showing up murdered, though, homicide detective Zack Martinez learns that a lot of people have something to hide, on both sides of the street.

6. You don't mess with the law when you're passing through the town of Broad. One day you're a comic strip character, the next day you've been thrown in jail for baby snatching. Cora Mae wishes she'd just stayed in the Sunday funnies, instead of . . . Crossing Broad.

Original Version

Bedlam, broken laws, and romance ensue in small-town Broad when an abandoned infant is rescued by a skateboarder, pursued by a cartoon character and stolen by a disco-diva nurse. At 57,000 words, Crossing Broad is a completed adult novel. With fantastic elements, it occupies a tidy, yet cozy, space near Christopher Moore and Darby Conley (Get Fuzzy). [Trying to get authors to quit comparing themselves to other authors is clearly a lost cause. But Get Fuzzy? The comic strip? My book should appeal to fans of Charles Dickens and Charles M. Schulz. Think of it as a cross between Catch 22 and Garfield.]

Ruby Jenkins, seductive Head Nurse of E.R. doesn’t know why she finds this particular infant so bewitching, but when cartoon character Cora Mae slips out of the comics and onto the pavement with adoption in mind, [Does she want to adopt or be adopted?] Ruby finishes her shift, conceals the infant in her tote-bag and struts headlong out of the hospital. [This makes it sound like she takes the baby because Cora Mae has slipped out of the comics. If there's any connection between the events, establish it. If there isn't, put them in different sentences.] It is not Ruby, however, who is in line as prime suspect, it is the even more flagrant in presentation, Cora Mae, [Even more flagrant in presentation? That's a lot of words to say . . . what? She's dressed more ostentatiously than a nurse?] who steps into her first dose of reality, when based on appearance, she is arrested, booked, and sent to the slammer for baby snatching. [Even though she has no baby?] With the ingenuous Cora Mae behind bars and the town befuddled into inaction, Ruby is able to fly far enough under the radar to dodge local law enforcement and a host of Broad’s most vocal citizenry. But, as her options become limited, [You can only walk around so long before someone says, "Excuse me, ma'am, but your tote bag is bawling."] Ruby is finally forced to make a decision, which ultimately proves that rules are sometimes better broken than followed, especially in a town called Broad. [What decision? What rules? Why "especially"?]


I assume Ruby was able to get access to the baby because she was a nurse. What is it about Cora Mae's appearance that makes her a suspect? Is she dressed like a nurse? Does she look like a comic strip character in reality? Olive Oyl? Broom Hilda? Mammy Yokum?

More plot would be helpful. All we have is that a nurse takes a baby from the hospital, and another woman, who used to be a comic strip character, is accused. The rest is vague. Both women seem to want a baby. Do they want the same baby?

You mentioned bedlam and romance in the opening sentence. Yet the town is befuddled into inaction--hardly bedlam--and there's not even a hint of any romance.

Maybe Cora Mae can hire Lionel Hutz* as her attorney.

*Lionel Hutz: Cartoon lawyer on The Simpsons, who once said:

He's had it in for me ever since I kinda ran over his dog . . . Well, replace the word "kinda" with the word "repeatedly," and the word "dog" with "son."


Dave Fragments said...

Don't babies come with LO-JACK already attached in the womb, nowadays?

Anonymous said...

Trying to get authors to quit comparing themselves to other authors is clearly a lost cause

I am glad to hear you say this, but you would be amazed (or maybe you wouldn’t) at the amount of agents who request some kind of niche comparisons of published books and authors to what you’re trying to sell. If you compare, then clearly you have not written anything original (as if there was anything original), and if you don’t, then clearly you have no idea where you work will sit on the shelf!


Peter Damien said...

"My work is similar to books written by God, Dan Brown, and J.K. Rowling, in that we all use some of the same words."

I'm just going to start putting that in my letters.

Does the cartoon character look like a human being (of whatever proportion) or are we talking Who Framed Roger Rabbit? here, where they have lines and animations and look like a cartoon character?

From the query, I have zero idea how the book progresses, 'm afraid. But I DO want to go watch ...Roger Rabbit again. So that's all right.

Bernita said...

One may avoid arrogant comparisons by suggesting that readers of certain authors might enjoy yours.

Anonymous said...

How about "My book is just like 'War and Peace' except it blows.

Anonymous said...

Cross between Catch-22 and Garfield = Beetle Bailey?

Anonymous said...

I think you're burying the most important feature of your story -- a cartoon character comes to life!

That's hardly noticable because you've poured a load of boring plot detail on top of it. I think you should have a few sentences about the cartoon character coming to life, then throw in a more broad description of what happens.


Anonymous said...

The idea of this sounds really good - (reminds me of the 80s video where the guy in the cartoon comes to life - can't remember the song), but I agree that this idea is buried a little too deeply in the query.

I like the thought of this as a novel - but I'm not sure where you're really going with it.

Your query has some good descriptive phrases that might be fun to read in your book ('flagrant in presentation' comes to mind)- but they that may not be the best choice for the description in your query, because, rather than giving me a glimpse of the picture of what you see in your mind - they are giving more questions, rather than providing answers.

I agree with anon 1:42 pm - the standout part is the cartoon character coming to life.

Hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

*Rant alert*
The problem is, there is no right way to write a query. Agents and editors can't agree what makes a query stand out. Rules and formulas abound on agent sites and in their pub'd works and blogs. Some agents/editors want to see a nice healthy plot arc, which EE advocates here. I just read an agent's e-book on queries (link mentioned on the crapometer) that firmly states devote no more than 3 (THREE) sentences to what the book's about, do NOT include character names, and BE SURE to make a suitable comparison to a similar book or movie.

Now, I suspect Miss Snark and Rachel Vater would object to devoting such limited space to the story itself. Nathan and Jessica and Kristin might go either way based on the types of queries they hold up as highly regarded on their blogs(although all kindly requested pages of different projects when I submitted my EE/Snark/Vater-inspired queries to them).

However, unless you read everything put out by every agent, you won't know their individual likes. Most of the time, they'll talk in general about how to submit a query to them, but leave out important details such as whether they love/hate comparisons or if you should mention whether you already have a full out to a respected editor. The devil's in the details, and their omission is what causes such angst amongst us.
*Rant over*

But on to this query. The setup is very confusing. Is Ruby a cartoon bigot? Why would she be concerned that a comic character would want to adopt? Snatching a baby is a pretty extreme way to keep someone from possibly adopting a baby. Not that it's clear the baby Ruby snatches is even going up for adoption. I'm making a huge leap here to get that the skateboader found this baby and brought it to the hospital and that's why it's adoptable. Hmm... the baby is still missing and the town is "befuddled into inaction"?

The idea behind this story sounds fun. And from the sample here, I'll bet the voice in the book is nice! But the way it's presented here is just disjointed and confusing. I don't even know who the protag is. Ruby, who's continuing to run around with a stolen baby? Cora Mae, who's arrested just because she's a cartoon? And is there an antag? And is there a resolution? Inquiring minds want to know. And 57,000 words might find you an e-book publisher, but probably not a traditional one...

Anonymous said...

I would add GTP # 2 (with Sharon Stone) to the query, even if it isn't in the book. Then send the query letter to a horny, evil editor.

pacatrue said...

Robin, for the record, that video is "Take on Me" by "A-Ha". And here's a YouTube link for it. The singer definitely gets a cookie for hitting the note at the end of the refrain. I'd have to do damaging things to my body to get that high so smoothly. Hmmm... Was this the last time a Norwegian band was a huge hit in the U.S.?

Anonymous said...

"My work is similar to books written by God, Dan Brown, and J.K. Rowling, in that we all use some of the same words."

ZOMG, that's priceless! I want to use that line too! :-D

reminds me of the 80s video where the guy in the cartoon comes to life - can't remember the song

"Take On Me" by Aha.

*displays her 'Old Fart' T-shirt proudly*

Anonymous said...

I agree, phoenix. If you look over agent's websites and interviews, you'll find preferences from a 3-sentence query to a mini-synopsis as required, and much in between.

I guess the best bet is to write a baseline, detailed semi-synopsis query letter, knowing it's gonna need to be redone as you go through your agent list.

Although frustating (because what reads as a good query for one person may well be anathema to another - different senses of humor, irony, expectations, etc) I don't think I'd expect it to be any different from this.

I went to a conference this spring (first one) because there was a particular agent I wanted to see, simply to get an idea of what he liked and didn't like, and what he was like as a person. I thought he had a really good sense of humor, he was very well-spoken (which matters to me), but what said he wanted in a query letter was to read a well-written one, with a well-done premise.

I'd be truly happy to oblige, but standards are subjective, so...
I guess I'll see soon enough.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, paca and whitemouse- I'd forgotten all about A-Ha- and I don't know if I ever knew they were Norwegian- but what I REALLY know is, our hair in the 80s was really goofy looking.

I had a super short cut which changed color (magically) quite a bit. How about you, whitemouse - did you have one of those gel-held-in-place short cuts, too?

Sorry, author - this doesn't seem to have anything to do with your book, EXCEPT the cartoon character idea is a good one. Brings back memories, of a sort.


Anonymous said...

Don't try to come up with incongruous comparisons to make your story sound fresh. If it is, it'll show. I'm not an agent, but I would have stopped reading your query right after "tidy, yet cozy." It pained me.

And the query could use tightening. EE already pointed out the "flagrant in presentation". Things like "fly far enough under the radar" could be pruned to "she evades" or "she dodges" without using a tired cliche.

We need some idea of character motivations. What is so special about this baby that is (a) bewitching to your seductive, disco diva nurse, and (b) causes a character to leave the funny pages? Does the baby belong on a page of the comics? This book is about a cast of characters who want this child badly. It seems important to tell us why.

Anonymous said...

I get it. The comparisons to Get Fuzzy and Garfield--

They aren't chasing a baby at all. It's something furry swaddled in blankets that turns out to be Siamese or craves lasagna. Right?

(Sorry, author. Couldn't resist)

PJD said...

I am truly ashamed. Although one of the GTPs was mine, I never thought of the tie-in to being a crossing guard. Why am I ashamed? I've been a volunteer crossing guard at my kids' elementary school for four years!

Anyone know Wilma Spittle? I could use her on my team. You'd be surprised at some of the new traffic rules the drivers come up with every day. (And yes, I've saved a few lives in that time and nearly lost my own once. Sleepy little suburban street, too.)

Marissa Doyle said...

Bad eighties hair...I had a cut my senior year of college in '85 that was shoulder length on the right and ear length on the left. But it stayed one color.

I agree with phoenix--who is the protagonist? Need to start there...and then say what happens to them.

Anonymous said...

I liked Roger Rabbit and Jessica, too-- as a movie, that is. I don't know if I would be interested in reading a book where the author describes an oversized rubber mallet smashing the head of a cartoon rabbit who is subsequently able to re-draw himself with his own cartoon crayon. Maybe you could give us a little verbetim from the book that actually describes the cartoon-like aspects of Cora Mae. That description might be helpful in the query as well. The story sounds kinda, sorta interesting. I just wonder how you pull it off.

Anonymous said...

I actually think War and Peace blows. I'd rather read about a cartoon character that goes to prison for kidnapping a baby. or have my toenails pulled slowly out over a propane fire. My question is - was it Catch 22 the book, or the movie - and Garfield the cartoon character, or the movie. These are things I would really need to know. Because if it was book to book or movie to movie, or book to movie, or movie to book, that could really change things.

GutterBall said...

Pacatrue, the best part of that video is them pulling in Chris from Family Guy when he reaches for orange juice. I just about died.

Lois: Chris, honey! Where were you?
Chris: ...I...don't...know!!

Anonymous said...

Well, wondering if I can subject you to a 'rework read...?'

Ruby Jenkins, seductive Head Nurse of E.R. doesn’t know why she finds the abandoned infant so bewitching, but when cartoon character Cora Mae slips out of the comics and onto the pavement with adoption in mind, Ruby, proprietary, conceals the infant in her tote-bag and struts headlong out of the hospital.

It is not Ruby, however, who is in line as prime suspect, it is the one-dimensional, yet larger than life, Cora Mae, who steps into her first dose of reality, when based on appearance, she is arrested, booked, and sent to the slammer. While the ingenuous Cora Mae is behind bars and the town is befuddled, Ruby is able to dodge local law enforcement and a host of Broad’s most vocal citizenry. But, when Ruby’s own mother, an ardent fan of the comics, unknowingly finagles Cora Mae’s release and Lieutenant Tooly, head-honcho of Broad P.D. discovers Cora Mae three-dimensional, real, and the most beautiful thing he’s seen in quite some time, Ruby questions her ability to continue hiding. Her time unwinding, Ruby decides to leave town. With one last opportune stop, however, she discovers a reason behind her journey: the infant’s young mother.

*Lionel Hutz sounds good, but Cora Mae has Lieutenant Tooly in her back pocket...

Anonymous said...

Hey me: Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a book first, in case you'd like to try it.

Evil Editor said...

I don't like "nurse of E.R." Call her an E.R. nurse.

It's still not clear why Ruby takes the baby. If Cora is interested in adoption, wouldn't she go to an adoption agency rather than a hospital? And even if Cora is interested in adopting this specific baby, how would Ruby know that?

Wouldn't Cora be two-dimensional, not one-dimensional?

It's still not clear why Cora's arrested when she doesn't have the baby.

It's not a clear telling of the story. Try telling the story without any long sentences. That might help you organize the information more clearly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks 150. I clicked, I went, I saw. So does the actual book have actual cartoon drawings (with the balloons) in it? Sorta like a Graphic Novel then? Was it paragraphs of type and then pictures?
I ask because I wonder if the author, Ms. Peck, has considered that?
Plus, what EE said.

Anonymous said...

Better. You're getting the romance in there and some more of the complications.

One thing your rewrite seems to make clear, however, is that we have no idea WHY Cora Mae becomes 3-D. And in this version, it seems Ruby takes the baby *because* Cora Mae arrives. What's the connection between the two? And is this connection resolved in the end?

In fact, there are a couple of cause and effect claims here that don't really seem to be related.

In that long 'graph, you first say Cora is 1-D even after she's hit the real pavement, then later call her 3-D.

Still unclear why the town is befuddled (it's a great word choice for your tone, but not for meaning).

Maybe delete "unknowingly" -- raises too many questions. Ruby's mom can just "finagle Cora's release" since you've sent her up as a fan.

Not sure why Tooly's fascination with Cora would make Ruby question if she can continue hiding. (cause & effect) And how would Ruby even know this if she's in hiding?

How can she "discover the reason behind her journey"? Is it some sort of real bewitchment that made her take the baby and bring it to its mom? Some psychic unconcious thing? With the setup you've given us, she's decided she likes the kid and is now on the run with it -- and that's the reason for her journey.

But notice: you've intro'd this potentially fun character out of the comics -- something to be played with in a weird and wonderful way -- but what do you give us about her? She appears out of the blue, gets jailed immediately, gets bailed, and has Tooly lusting after her. That's it. Boringly normal. She could have been simply a (human) stranger in town and played the same role. Why is she a cartoon? What's so special about her or the story that you have a cartoon-come-to-life in it? And how does her story end? Does she have to go back to Flat World? Does she want to? We don't even know whether she came to Broad willingly or was coerced or what. Being the differentiator for your story -- the thing that sets it apart -- Cora Mae needs to have her story arc told here, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the valuable and non-valuable, but amusing comments. I actually didn't know that that Roger Rabbit was originally a book. Interesting to know. Back to the grind...Thanks again!


Sylvia said...

I liked your rewrite a lot better. I think to an extent, you might want to play with crossing off every detail that isn't critical and seeing what you are left with.

This sentence would grab me much faster if you lost the detail and focused on what happened:

"Ruby Jenkins, seductive Head Nurse of E.R. doesn’t know why she finds the abandoned infant so bewitching, but when cartoon character Cora Mae slips out of the comics and onto the pavement with adoption in mind, Ruby, proprietary, conceals the infant in her tote-bag and struts headlong out of the hospital.