Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Face-Lift 364

Guess the Plot

The Weeping Woman

1. Neighbors wondered why the wan, trembling, reclusive woman in apartment 7-B always departed from her mailbox in silent tears, carrying a stack of letters, hand-addressed to her in a beautiful, elegant script. All the other residents made fun of her--all except Rocky, the part-time maintenance guy. He knew what made Claire weep, and he knew that one day all those SASEs would lead to Claire's first acceptance.

2. Picasso's famous painting, The Weeping Woman, has been stolen. Mandy knows where it is, but the thief knows Mandy knows, and Mandy knows the thief knows Mandy knows. What Mandy doesn't know is whether the thief knows she knows he knows she knows.

3. This engaging pop-up book is a history of Western Civilization told as the faux memoir of a statue of Venus, originally created in ancient Greece, stolen by marauding Romans and moved several times, then broken to pieces during a riot of religious fervor by early Christians. We follow various pieces as they are lost, buried, excavated, slowly scattered across Europe, and finally reunited by Starman 8GYU69Q, of Planet Y.

4. Gertrude Noonburg's life improves dramatically after she sees the weeping Virgin Mary in her grilled cheese sandwich. But when her roommate accidentally tosses it while cleaning out the refrigerator, Gertrude finds herself in a race against time to find the sandwich and prevent her life from going to hell in a handbasket.

5. When Dr. Dirk Dearborn saw Lisa Preston wheeled into his ER, he couldn't take his eyes off her. Dr. Dearborn was a leg man, but apparently so was the flesh-eating bacteria consuming Lisa. He knew by her weeping wounds he'd have to amputate, but would he be cutting off his chance at love as well?

6. Abram Heber thought the scraps of parchment were a joke, but soon realized that the scraps the strange shepherd boy brought him were actually lost books of the Torah, explaining where Noah’s flood really originated.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

In 1937, Pablo Picasso created a mural depicting the bombing of Guernica, the symbolic capital of Basque country. He followed up with a series of paintings called The Weeping Woman, showing the grief mothers and wives must have felt on that day. A particularly striking version of The Weeping Woman is on loan to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. [You'll note in the painting that Picasso's chief influence in this period was Bizarro Superman.]

Vacationing Amanda Patrone witnesses a murder. Mathew Foster, a powerful criminal, had stolen The Weeping Woman and he pins the blame on a group of Basque freedom fighters. The Basques attempt to negotiate for the return of the painting so it can be returned to its rightful owner. [Wait a minute, what happened to Amanda and the murder?] The negotiation goes terribly wrong, and the ruthless Foster kills their spokesman after revealing the location of the painting.

Mandy is discovered eavesdropping, and the remaining Basques take her into their protection, while attempting to evade Foster. He will not hesitate to kill Amanda or have her arrested, since he has the local police in his back pocket.

[Mandy: Officer, I heard a gunshot through my hotel room door.

Officer: You're under arrest for eavesdropping.]

The Basques offer to take her a safe distance to an embassy beyond Foster's reach.

Sendoa, the only remaining member who speaks English, joined the movement as a young man, ignoring his family's aversion to violence. His passion stems from the murder of his father by a Spanish policeman. Sendoa is assigned to be Amanda's guardian.

Foster's men pursue them through the Pyrenees, and Amanda and Sendoa are separated from the rest of the group. They stumble on the village where the painting is hidden.

They must decide whether to rescue one of the greatest symbols of Basque suffering or melt into the mountains, leaving The Weeping Woman to her fate.

THE WEEPING WOMAN is a romantic thriller, complete at 75,000 words. In accordance with your submission guidelines, I have enclosed the first five pages. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Revised Version

Dear Agent,

Mathew Foster has stolen Picasso's The Weeping Woman, a great symbol of Basque suffering, from the Picasso Museum. Mandy Patrone, on vacation in Barcelona, overhears a conversation in which Foster reveals the location of the painting and then murders one of the Basque freedom fighters negotiating for its return. Now Mandy's life is in danger.

The Basques take Mandy into their protection, Foster's men pursuing them through the Pyrenees. When Mandy and Sendoa, one of her protectors, are separated from the others, they happen into the village of Ordino--where the painting has been stashed. They must decide whether to melt into the mountains for a passionate sexual encounter, or to postpone their romance until they've rescued The Weeping Woman.

???????? (Paragraph hinting at what happens next.)

THE WEEPING WOMAN is a romantic thriller, complete at 75,000 words. In accordance with your submission guidelines, I have enclosed the first five pages. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is a new version and new title of Face-Lift 263. (Which is where most of the laughs are.) The good news is that there's less information, and thus less confusion. The bad news is that there's still a lot of trivial information, and what's here isn't well-organized. The opening makes it sound like an art history article. Better transitions are needed to connect the ideas. And it feels like the query ends where the story begins. Surely the book doesn't end as they contemplate their decision. Either this is the story of the Mandy/Sendoa romance, in which case your query ends just after they're thrown together, or it's the story of the rescue of the painting, in which case your query ends before they even decide whether to try to rescue it. Either way, it's mostly set-up. The first two paragraphs of the revised version (not including the last sentence) are enough set-up. From there you need to tell us where the book goes. Unless that really is the end, in which case you need to finish the book.


PJD said...

To me, reading this felt a lot like watching the movie Memento. (A movie I loved, but not a good model for a query letter.)

EE's rewrite is excellent. You don't need all the art history in the beginning; everyone knows that an original Picasso is worth a lot and might be stolen. We also don't need a lot of background on the others (e.g. the paragraph about Sendoa's family history).

I love the GTP about the pop-up book. That's some pop-up book!

Bernita said...

Aren't there embassies in Barcelona?
If your life is in danger, the fate of a painting, no matter how iconic, doesn't seem like much of a dilemma.

Dave Fragments said...

Back in the 80's, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC held a retrospective of Picasso's paintings.
The painting, Guernica, occupied one wall of a gallery all by itself. People would walk in the door and stop as they faced the immense canvas. It is nearly 12 feet high and 25 feet long. The emotional impact of the painting is astounding. None of the patrons were prepared for the image on the wall. The Weeping Woman and the other studies for Guernica were on the back wall of the gallery where the door was. So I saw both pictures.
Picasso's Last Will & Testament specified that Guenica only return to Spain when it became a democracy.

For anyone who doesn't know what the picture commemorates, the NAzi's bombed and destroyed 3/4's the Town of Guernica in April 1937. This was viewed as a terror bombing.

Anonymous said...

I actually like the old version (Beyond Ordino?) better. Is this really the same book with bumbling terrorists replaced by greedy art dealers? Or am I being had?

BTW, that GTP from the original was a brilliant performance by the author, the GTPers, EE and also the commenters...

Anonymous said...

I liked my GTP where the guy had a speech impediment. EE must have a bias against me!

Anonymous said...

It's always a bad sign when so many people reading a query or synopsis keep mentioning the movie 'Memento'.

Anonymous said...

I thought the weeping woman was going to turn out to be Kristin Nelson.

Evil Editor said...

I liked my GTP where the guy had a speech impediment. EE must have a bias against me!

Here you go:

A man with a speech impediment describes his recurring dream to his roommate. IN the dream, Julius Caesar has returned to his farm and is harvesting crops. Also, Paris Hilton goes to jail.

Sandra Cormier said...

Mr. Evil, I thought you were smart, but now I know you're even smarter. For what it's worth, I know how the story ends.

Pete, you're right about the background stuff. Good call.

Bernita, the bad dude has a lot of control in Barcelona and the embassy there won't do any good so they're going to Bilbao.

Dave, great lesson on Guernica! Fascinating stuff, and a lot of people are unaware of the history behind the Basque struggle. All they see in the news is ETA.

The Tree of Guernica survived the bombing, but it was sickly, so was replaced a few times. Think of the White Tree in Lord of the Rings.

Sandra Cormier said...

I suppose I should see the movie 'Memento'.

Anonymous said...

The treatment of the mystery & crime stuff here doesn't seem very tight or sophisticated, so I'm guessing you'd do best to call it a Romance with a thriller subplot, rather than visa versa.

It's my impression that you're very keen on the Basque cause and hope to rouse international sympathy and understanding through this book. A noble cause, I'm sure, but your basic American doesn't know a Basque from a sofa. Also, thanks to the blatant fiasco of Iraq, "freedom fighters" of every variety are currently viewed with a great deal of "good luck, buddy, can't help ya" skepticism. War stories have consistently bombed at the box office in recent years [with the notable exception of 300, which, alas, doesn't help you because it has nothng in common with this story].

What does this mean for you? It means you're much more likely to sell the book despite the Basque thing, rather than because of it. All the more reason to pitch it as a romance and let the political Basque connection be discovered through reading the manuscript. Like in Dr. Zhivago.

Also, nobody's going to waste their money on a couple of heros who don't immediately embark on the obvious rescue mission and then just bumble into the correct town [can they not read maps, or what?] and then still are plagued with indecision about whether to do the right thing or not. You might dally around like that, but you're not a character in a book.

Karen said...

Actually, there is no American Embassy in Barcelona. It's in Madrid.

I live in Spain, and I have to say from the point of view of people here (not that it matters, I guess, as they're not your audience) a book where Basque "freedom fighters" (AKA ETA) are painted the long-suffering heroes will taste a bit sour. The tenth anniversary of an ETA bombing in Barcelona not far from where I live just passed-- and it still stings.

Maybe your heroine should join up with the Catalans. They want their freedom, too, but they're pretty non-violent about it. I find seeing them as helpful heroes much more believable.

writtenwyrdd said...

The first version was better sounding, despite all the problems. In this version, I do not find anything that makes me like anyone or want to know more.

I agree, the bumbling terrorists sounded at least accessible. That was a relationship between the woman and her captors that felt like it had potential for a story; whereas this version doesn't really give me any of that stuff.

Sandra Cormier said...

This is all very helpful. Thanks.

Sandra Cormier said...

Karen, there is a Canadian consulate in Barcelona, and my main character is Canadian.

I had the great fortune to live in Spain -- I love the country, but it was during the 70's and you can imagine what times were like then.

At the risk of annoying those who don't like the author to 'explain', I'll clarify that this is primarily a romance, and the political stuff is only background. There's a fine line between preaching and telling a story, and I'd rather just tell the story.

A funny coincidence -- I recently discovered that my great-grandmother was a Basque.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chumplet:

If a critiquer really wants to help a critiquee, it usually works well to be exposed to the work first without background and then to get the author's explanations. That way we can say, "Going into it cold as an agent/editor would, these are the issues I see," then we can look at the author's take and maybe help bridge the gap between where the writing is and where the author wants it to be. So I'm all for author interaction.

In this case, knowing you consider the book primarily romance, my suggestion would be to be sure you cover the story arc of the Hero and Heroine in this. What draws them together and what keeps them apart? I really don't get that vital romantic interplay from this query. Here's my idea for the query's outline, emphasizing the romance (sorry, this is extremely rough, but may give you an idea of where I'm coming from):

When the poignant symbol of the Basque plight, Picasso's Weeping Woman, is stolen from a Barcelona museum, negotiations for its return result in murder. Vacationing Amanda, a non-political airhead, not only witnesses the murder and inadvertently learns where the painting is stashed, but gets caught up in the Basque struggle.

She meets Basque freedom fighter, Sendoa, and becomes drawn to his passion for the movement, appreciating how he reviles the violence associated. That's when Foster, the murderer, targets Amanda and Sendoa, putting them to flight across the Pyrenees. Escaping close calls with Foster's men as they search for the painting leaves little time for Amanda and Sendoa to explore the attraction so obvious between them, but it does give Amanda time to learn to appreciate Sendoa's side of things. By the time A & S locate the painting, Amanda is convinced the Basque struggle is a worthwhile one -- and that some things are worth the fight.

Together, A & S steal back the painting and do whatever they do to Foster. And Amanda, bippy airhead no longer, decides to stay in Spain and help Sendoa realize his dream.

Sandra Cormier said...

Phoenix, you rock. You really do. This is extremely helpful. I appreciate the efforts of EE and all the minions, since you all helped immensely with my first 'Face Lift' (Face Lift 36). That novel is being released digitally next week.

Anonymous said...

Hooray, Chumplet! But isn't is time to start marketing your real name?! The way December Quinn is now starting to combine her pen name with her real name = December/Stacia. Or do we look for you by "Chumplet" on Wild Rose Press? :o)

(PS: Just checked out your profile -- we could be twins! Age, Zodiac sign, LOTR, Steely Dan and The Who ... it's like my pofile's looking in the mirror!)

Sandra Cormier said...

My pen name is on my blog! My real name is kinda lame.

Sylvia said...

I also live in Spain and I disagree with Karen. I mean, I agree that painting the ETA as freedom fighters will leave a sour taste in the mouth of a lot of people but the nastiness and fear and violence that your story starts with makes no sense for the Catalans.

However, I do think you need to give the ETA a bit more personality in your query: good or bad but at the moment it feels very indifferent. Yet Another Political Party, where I suspect the majority of Canadians know very little about the issues and the causes.

Personally, I'd like to see Sendoa sickened by the violence and turning away from the group whilst still believing in the concept. That would give more merit to the consideration of melting away...

Sandra Cormier said...

You're on the right track, Sylvia. Sendoa is indeed ready to turn away.