Sunday, July 01, 2007

Face-Lift 367

Guess the Plot

Nate's Present

1. The rollicking first installment of the "Third Grade Roll Call" series; planned sequels include "Hannah's Absent" and "Dakota's At the Dentist."

2. Nate Wainwright can't do anything about the past. He isn't yet accountable for the future. But he sure as hell better get those zombies out of his basement if he's going to have any shot at all with that hot vampiress down the block.

3. Altering the past and the future are all in a day's work for Nate Knightley, Time Pirate. But when his evil ex-girlfriend sabotages his time machine, he finds himself stuck in the here-and-now. Soon the Time Police and Nate's ex are both on his trail.

4. Nate hates cats, but when his daughter rescued a stray she begged him to let her keep it. Since then the damn thing’s been leaving presents on his front door step: dead mice, the upper torso of a mutilated rabbit . . . When Nate wakes up one morning to find a severed human hand on top of his newspaper, he wonders if the feline is trying to frame him for murder.

5. David's mother instructs David in the finer points of budgeting in order for David to save up enough to buy Nate that remote control rocket he wants. David learns too well, in the end opting to keep the present for himself and giving Nate a hand-made card instead.

6. Confident his parents won't be getting him a Christmas present, Nate runs away from home and moves into Wal-Mart. When a night security guard finds him and realizes he's the missing boy she read about in the newspaper, she sets up a tent, gets Nate a sleeping bag, and helps him set up a household. Hey, the place gets lonely at night.

Original Version

In one week, it’ll be Christmas. Nate doesn’t understand why his parents keep crying. He also doesn’t understand why neighbors are bringing over dinner, and why he’s not allowed to wear Bobby’s sweatshirts anymore.

Nate’s had enough. [The crying he could tolerate, but do the neighbors have to keep bringing Brussels sprouts?] He stuffs his backpack with two handfuls of legos, his toy helicopter, four sweatshirts, and every cookie bag he finds in the kitchen. Then he hikes over to the nearest Walmart with Bobby. [Even a little kid should know that if you're planning to live in Wal-Mart, you don't need to stock up on cookies, toys and sweatshirts. You need the stuff Wal-Mart doesn't have: liquor, cocaine, and pornographic DVDs.]

Running away with an older brother is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. Bobby helps Nate cross the right streets and duck behind trees. And when they reach Walmart, Bobby shows him how to hide in the bathroom with his feet tucked up. [We don't really need this paragraph, especially as Nate seemed to have reached Wal-Mart in the previous paragraph.]

Nate’s hiding place doesn’t last very long. On the second night, Miss Williams, the security guard, hears him talking to somebody in the toy section. She sees Nate, and thinks he’s talking to an imaginary friend- until she reads the paper about a missing boy whose older brother was recently hit by a car. [It's the middle of the night. The store is closed. She sees a kid in the toy department talking to an imaginary friend. And instead of taking immediate action she goes off and reads the newspaper?]

Miss Williams takes three sleeping bags and a tent from the shelf, and keeps Nate company at night. [She's the night security guard, right?

Manager: Good morning, Miss Williams. I can't help but notice that all the TVs, computers and GPS units seem to have vanished overnight.

Miss Williams: Don't look at me. I was sleeping in that tent all night.]

But how many days will Miss Williams have to wait before she calls the police? [Will she be forced to keep Nate until after Christmas?] Will there be enough time for Nate to come to terms with Bobby’s death?

“Nate's Present” is a middle grade novel, complete at 40,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration of my work.


I'm sure Wal-Mart doesn't hire the best, but if one of their security guards discovers a kid--with already-grieving parents--who's suspected of being kidnapped or killed or lost, and decides to help the kid hide out for a few days, she's lucky if her next job is at the Dollar Store. Especially if Dollar Store finds out about the ten million-dollar lawsuit against Wal-Mart.

I realize adults aren't the audience, but even twelve-year-olds are going to realize Miss Williams is even more screwed up than Nate. At least Nate has an excuse.

I'm not even sure a senile Wal-Mart greeter wouldn't have enough sense to stop a little kid walking in by himself wearing a stuffed backpack.

Generally, middle graders want to read about older kids or at least kids their own age. I'm guessing Nate is no older than second grade.

In short, my problems aren't with the query so much as with the plot. I can see middle graders enjoying a comedy in which middle graders tell their parents they're going on a camping trip, and then they all move into Wal-Mart and trash the place. I can even see your plot entertaining a thirteen-year-old, if it were like Home Alone, with the kid foiling the security guard's attempts to get him. But Miss Williams is a bit hard to take. If this actually happened, she'd probably be accused of kidnapping before it was all over.

Somehow the tragedy of Bobby doesn't seem to meld with the comedy of moving into Wal-Mart. If it's not supposed to be funny, Nate should move into Target.


Dave Fragments said...

One of my relatives works nights at Walmart and another relative works nights at a huge supermarket. There's more than just security guards there, there's a dozen stockers and packers. In WalMart they move pallets down the aisles with fork lifts. Everything from TV's to toilet paper to cosmetics (well maybe not pallets of cosmetics but then, ya never know).
The point is that a Walmart is not empty at night. It's still open for business and there's a dozen employees working all over the store.

Back when I was a teenager, my father managed a bowling alley. The building was never left "empty." When they closed at night, the cleaning crew could not leave until the daytime employees arrived the next morning. The cleaning crew might finish early, but they had to stay in the building. That condition was part of their insurance policy. The cleaning crew wasn't allowed to entertain guests, or open the doors, either (insurance regulation, too).

Anonymous said...

As a chronic nightowl, I've been in Wal-Mart and various supermarkets late at night, and they are by no means deserted. They're actually pretty busy.

What if he moved into Toys R Us instead?

writtenwyrdd said...

I also didn't buy the Wal*Mart portion of the plot, but the hint that the dead brother's ghost is leading younger brother on some sort of quest really grabbed me. I LIKED that. Perhaps rework the story to use that angle, and set it in an environment that gives the kid some means of acting, of growing? Because I think that what you lack in this story is that fundamental need for characters to change and come to some sort of resolution with the problem.

I wouldn't be interested if you were going for the comedy angle, not with the ghost. And the woman who lets the kid stay and camp out? That would only work if she is also disaffected or an outsider, such as a homeless or crazy bag lady.

In my town, I believe Wal*Mart has all night security and also night time cleaners. And we are a very small town. So I'd recommend giving that idea up as a lost cause; you'll lose too much credibility if you tried it.

Anonymous said...

I must agree that that your audience doesn't seem to match the size story you're pitching, author.

I think the story line itself, if tweaked just a bit, could be fine for little ones, and it could be a good way to introduce the concept of death and coping to the tyke generation. I don't know how inundated the children's market may be with books that help kids cope with death, but if there's a demand, a story like this would probably fit the bill. The improbability of the Wal-Mart scenario doesn't bother me so much. Just make it the family-owned department store down the way and you can probably avoid all the questions about whether it's a 24-hour Wal-Mart, etc. Stories for youngsters don't have to follow the strict logic we expect for older grades.

Which brings me to the main problem that I see. It seems this is aimed at 4-8 year-olds, and kids that young aren't ready yet to even read chapter books. So 40K words is just WAY too long. I have no doubt the story lends itself to that many words, but the audience doesn't. You MAY be able to get away with this as an early chapter book rather than a late-reader picture book, but either way, even 10K words would be a HUGE stretch, and something that long not likely marketable. Keep in mind, too, that if you decide to pursue this as the much more likely picture book, you need to write to a 24- or 32-page format since that is how those books are most cost-effectively produced. That means MAYBE 2000 - 3000 words, tops.

Have you checked out the bookstore and library for books that have a similarly aged character with a similarly themed lesson (such as how to cope with any kind of stressful situation)? If you have and we're off base here, then let's revisit the query. If not, then see how to best package this piece for the market you're after.

Ooh, I want to read GTPs #2 and #3!

Anonymous said...

If it's not supposed to be funny, Nate should move into Target.

Snortilicious, EE.

Anonymous said...

Hi author--I like the idea of coping with a brother's death.

I did get a little confused in the query though. My thought process went like this:

"Not allowed to wear Bobby's sweatshirt anymore"--oh, okay, his older brother has died.

Bobby leads him to WalMart--oh, I guess he's not dead. Must have been some other tragedy.

Security guard sees him talking to someone who isn't there--Is the brother hiding? Maybe? Or-aha! ghost of bobby! Uh, I think.

No one else seems to have had any problem, so it might just be me. But I felt whipped around by the dead--not dead--oh, a ghost in the query. Actually, that's a pretty great way to yank a reader with the story. But it seemed too coy for a query.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Everybody, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate all the feedback.

This is a story I've been thinking about for a long time. I haven't written it yet. I wrote the query as a means of organizing my thoughts, and EE was kind enough to post it. Thank you!

I wanted exactly the kind of feedback you all have given me. The security guard isn't believable--got that, and she'll go. Walmart is too problematic, and maybe not different enough for the purposes of my story. That will also change. Dave, thanks for all that information. I would've discovered that once I began writing, but you've saved me from going down a wrong path for my setting. Saves me a lot of time!

Writtenwrydd, you summed up exactly what I want to do: dead brother's ghost is leading younger brother on some sort of quest ---

And Phoenix, Thanks for your thoughts. The older brother is 12. The younger is 7. It will be an MG.

Dancing Horse, thanks for the idea about Toys-R-Us. But I think that poses similar problems as Walmart.

Wrttenwrydd--Back to you: Perhaps rework the story to use that angle, and set it in an environment that gives the kid some means of acting, of growing?--Thanks for that! You gave me another idea, one which I think will work much better. There's a horse rescue farm not too far from where I live. I'm going to think about that as a setting. Any thoughts?

Any other thoughts on the story itself (versus the way the query is written) are greatly appreciated!

EE--Thanks for posting this, and helping me structure my story in a better way!


Anonymous said...

I too liked the idea of the "ghost" of Bobby helping his brother and I think you should lead with that -- the death being the main conflict. As for living in a Wal-Mart, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts pretty much covered that, and did so quite well, I thought.

I agree with Px completely on the age group thing. My son scores extremely high in reading comp, but I must admit he does not enjoy fiction very much. I struggle to find novels for him. I went and found two books that he read a few years ago. Louis Sachar's Wayside School series has 30 chapters 6-7 pages each(180 pages but the type size is small) and an illustration for each chapter. (35,000 words)On the back it says Ages 8-12 and it was too easy for him at age 10. He won it at school. BTW, Sachar also wrote "Holes" which is aimed at pre-teen, but sonny enjoyed it at age 10. The other book is J. Rand's American Chillers series, which have glowing testimonials from readers age 10-12. This book has 38 chapters 3-4 pages each,(total 187 pgs) no illus. & the type size is larger.(appx 30,000 words) The book looks a lot thicker than Sachar's, but it actually has fewer words. At the end of the book there are 3or 4 chapters of the next title in the series. I give you all this info because I think you need to age your MC and gear the book for the 8-12 set. There is a lot of latitude in that group, but as EE mentioned, they want to read about kids their own age.

writtenwyrdd said...

Takoda, first off, what is the quest? What need does the boy have, to cope with his brother's death? If so, then at a horse rescue place, or in the woods or living with the homeless, he sees/experiences a parallel event, but this time he has some power to make it come out right. Somehow, there has to be an echo of the brother's death but turned from dross into silver lining. That's just the feeling I think you are reaching for.

I've had a story I'm playing with where the pov character talks to her cat. The underlying question at the start of my story is whether the cat is really talking back to her or not. That's not the main plot, but it's the initial question that is posed when the main character's reality and that of everyone else starts to intersect.

In short, the question of the reality of this, like in the movie Harvey, is left to secondary povs. They don't see the rabbit, brother or my cat talking. And I suspect that this secondary pov character is someone who helps on the quest, the rehashed figure of your security guard.

Anyhow, just my thoughts.

Books that might be useful: My Side of the Mountain, Such a Pretty Girl. I'm sure there are more, but this isn't my normal read. These, though, both focus on kids that are essentially alone with a crisis and find an adult mentor who aids them, but they are the ones who really save themselves.

Anonymous said...

takoda - I think my biggest question is why the big brother's ghost is leading him AWAY from the family when they're in this state of grief and crisis. If the security guard turned out to be someone who desperately needed his help, that would at least make some sense. This is one of those queries where I wanted to know what the book was really about (i.e., themes). So it makes sense that you haven't written it yet -- sometimes the themes become evident only in the writing.


writtenwyrdd said...

Also, was there something the dead boy had hanging fire, some thing he desperately wanted? Maybe that is what motivates your younger boy.

I could go on and on playing what ifs with your idea, so I'll stop now. Feel free to email me if you want to hash out ideas.

Anonymous said...

Takoda: If it's ultimately the story of the 7-year-old, and he's the one who grows/changes, then you're still left with the wrong audience, even if the older brother is 12.

If you're going to revamp the story pretty drastically anyway, then how about upping Nate's age to 9? That would put it into lower middle-grade territory.

I originally thought Bobby was a ghost, but then the query didn't really bear that out in the end. Seemed more like Nate was simply trying to come to terms with Bobby's death and believing he was still alive.

But now if it's a brother ghost leading Nate on a quest thing at maybe a horse ranch story, then my initial thought that this was some sort of life-lesson book was way off. I like the idea of a horse rescue ranch, but am thinking maybe that's a little too idealistic for a 12-year-old? Unless there's a compelling reason for a 12-year-old boy to want to be involved in horse rescue himself. Maybe he's killed in a riding accident, but he knows it wasn't the horse's fault but the family wants to put down the "killer" horse anyway and Nate is helping to save that horse -- and maybe a few others along the way...?

However you go with this, I really, really think Nate's age has GOT to be upped if you want to pitch it as an MG. But you're involved with a writing-for-children blog, aren't you? Maybe the guys there will have better insight. I'm pitching upper MG stuff myself, and am somewhat removed from the current under-11 crowd. Many years ago, though, I evaluated supplemental educational media for K-12, and part of my job was to determine age/grade appropriateness. But times are changing, and I may well be out of tune with today's maturity levels.

Anonymous said...

Takoda, I knew this was yours even before you owned up to it. I guess I know your voice.

I don't have anything to add except that I think this is a good story. I'd have read it as a middle-grader...

...dave conifer

Dave Fragments said...

You might just change the time frame of the story. Go back to the 50's and 60's when stores like
Kauffman's, Gimbel Brothers, Lazarus, J Hornes, Sears Roebuck, Bonton, Woolworth, Kresge's and a whole bunch of others ran full service department stores and had camping departments and they really did close at nights.

I don't know if the sports stores - Dunham's, Cabela's, Gander Mountain and the others - stay open and stock or close down. You might want to visit one and ask. A kid going to stay at Gander Mountain would work if they did shut down. Although, they might be filled with motion detectors, too.

Chris Eldin said...

Thanks for all of the words of advice. It will be the relationship between two brothers--the older one who is dead, and the younger one, who is 'following' him on this quest. But at the end, we will realize it is really the younger boy's quest--the younger boy who in reality was leading all along.

Thanks, Me said--for the recommendation "Where the Heart Is." never read it, but now I will. And it is for the 8-12 year set. I'm glad we're on the same page! The MG world does have age divisions within it, so you were right about that!

Phoenix, this is off-topic, but the Picture Book trend is toward REALLY short books. A friend of mine just wrote a manuscript that's 250 words, with a plot and character development. I believe PB publishers want around 500 words or so. Just an interesting (and to me, depressing) tidbit...

Wrttwrrd, Your story idea sounds really interesting! I met the author of "Such a Pretty Girl" last year, but haven't read her book. Thanks for reminding me about it! My Side of the Mountain is great!

Anon-: "think my biggest question is why the big brother's ghost is leading him AWAY from the family when they're in this state of grief and crisis." It's not that he's being led away. It's that the younger brother doesnt' grasp the despair his family is facing, and wants to escape, with his brother. Younger brother is in denial about older brother's death.

Phoenix, I'm on the fence about the age of the younger brother. I want to keep him at an innocent age, but old enough that he can make basic decisions about survival. I also like the way a seven year old frames his world, and the kinds of questions he asks. The target age group is decided by more than the age of the MC. It's content, concepts introduced, sentence length, chapter length, dialogue, interaction with secondary characters, etc. Marcus Zuzak's "Book Thief" is a good example of a young character in a very adult role. One of my favorite books. Thanks for your advice though, because I haven't made up my mind yet!

Dave, thanks for your suggestions about the fifties. I don't know how to say this politely, but here goes--my parents adore the fifties. I'm not so close to my parents. The thought of going into their world churns my stomach. Sooo....can't do it for obvious psychological issues (grin)

anon dave conifer--thanks for the nice comments!


Anonymous said...

Lego doesn't take an "S", even in the plural. Sorry, you lost me right there.

Anonymous said...

PS There does seem to be a lot more girl MCs than boy MCs in the books for this age group;understandable because girls of this age are often voracious readers. Sonny boy strongly abhors reading a story about a girl. He has a hard time finding novels with cars or trucks figuring prominently in them, which makes up part of his criteria for a "good read". (Too?)Many of the boy MCs are depicted as jocks.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Anon,
With a thousand pieces of colored plastic littering my kids' rooms, I am so NOT going to tell them to go clean up their Lego!

Hi Me said--I think boys will read most books that aren't obviously 'girl-themed.' My 9 year old scored 100% in all categories on the standardized tests (minus 1 subcategory) 2 years in a row. He's been nominated to Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (will have to be a good mom and follow up with this!)--he's in his room with Junie B. books, laughing so hard snot is flying out his nose.
I don't know...a good yarn is a good yarn.


Anonymous said...

With a thousand pieces of colored plastic littering my kids' rooms, I am so NOT going to tell them to go clean up their Lego!

I'm right with you. After all, what's the point? They'll resent you for it and the stuff'll be all over the place again tomorrow, anyway. Give it a few days and you'll be used to it. It's amazing what you can get used to. In fact, if you go in the room barefoot, it's kind of therapeutic, like a Chinese foot massage but -- obviously -- much cheaper (yes, I know Lego ain't exactly cheap, but hear me out).

Anonymous said...

I've read posts by a number of agents who say they and the Children's editors they work with are DYING for more MGs with boy MCs.

So why isn't my own MG with a male MC up for auction right now?! :o)

But they ARE begging...

Anonymous said...

GTP #2 & 3 would be great stories.

The actual proposed plot has numerous elements the writing-for-small-children people advise against, since the little darlings have no reality-testing abilities and no one wants them to think it would be ok to cozy up in a bed type situation with random adults in real life. Etc. You might want to get more familiar with the conventions of writng for children before you sink a lot of energy into it.

Anonymous said...

You might want to get more familiar with the conventions of writng for children before you sink a lot of energy into it.

Yeah, like not spelling Lego with an "S". There's a whole generation out there thinks "Legos" is a word. Sheesh.

Twill said...

Anon -

"Legos" is a word. I use it, and have for decades. So does everyone I know, usually as a generic term when referring to interchangeable building blocks made by the Lego Group. (As opposed to their myriad other products, Bionicles etc)

In fact, that word is a keyword on, so either let it go or seek counseling.

Anonymous said...

Well, to be fair, I did a quick Google on legos and the second URL listed is this:

Straight from the Lego site; clearly indicating that "legos" is an error, and the searcher really meant Lego.

By the way, I prefer "counselling" -- two "L"s.

Heather Dudley said...

Lego is a brand name. It's also the word used to describe those interlocking bricks. Legos is plural for Lego. When you say "Legos", you mean more than one Lego.

I've used it since I was little. My dad used it. It's a colloquialism, short for "lego bricks" if you must.

Getting all semantic-y on a brand name is silly. ;)

Anonymous said...

Well, anyone want to argue that Lego shouldn't be capitalized?

Steps slowly away.

Heather Dudley said...

Oh, and from the company's website:

"If you are experiencing any one of these symptoms, then you too are a hopeless LEGO fan and you can be proud to stand up and say it! If you have not yet had any of the above symptoms, fear not! Instead, open your favourite set of LEGOs and begin to build. Sooner or later, you’ll be hooked and hopeless. "

I'd say if the company that created the word uses it, it's a word!

Anonymous said...

Phoenix said: "Stories for youngsters don't have to follow the strict logic we expect for older grades."

I disagree. It might be simpler logic the target audience can understand, but the story still has to make logical sense no matter what age the audience is.

I struggled with the inconsistencies too, but you might be able to add an extra layer for an older audience if the security guard ended up being in league with the parents to teach the kid a valuable lesson of some sort.

But yes, you should've researched Walmart. They're not empty at night.

writtenwyrdd said...

anonymous, you are being a twit. Regardless of what says, people say legos, have since the things came out. Live with it,you aren't going to win that one. And counseling is a valid spelling. In fact, it's the more common spelling in the U.S.

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't bother capitalizing it in general, even though I'm quite familiar with the rule. I'm just waiting to get hit by our anonymous troll for that, too.

Bernita said...

Last Anon has a point..."but the story still has to make logical sense no matter what age the audience is."...because the first "audience" is adult.

Robin S. said...

I just read through this.

Takoda, your story sounds good, especially with the things you talked about in the comments-
" It will be the relationship between two brothers--the older one who is dead, and the younger one, who is 'following' him on this quest. But at the end, we will realize it is really the younger boy's quest--the younger boy who in reality was leading all along".

The anonymous Lego/Legos poster needs to relax. Being corrected about something this insipid just such a pleasure.

Chris Eldin said...

Wow! All these postings so late at night, and rather drunken ones too! Ya'll gonna be reaching fer the Tylenol"S" this morning (HA!)

Stories for youngsters don't have to follow the strict logic we expect for older grades.
by Phoenix

I know she's not saying it's okay to write an "illogical" story. Even picture books, if they're not 'concept' stories, have to have a logical story arc and character development.

But I believe Phoenix is saying it's okay to stretch the imagination a bit. And I agree. In my MG "The Magic Gameboard," two boys go back in time. I was told by my critique group that I had to deal with the language issue, because the story takes place in Belgium. Now, rather than teaching myself Flemish or 16th century English, I wrote it so that the same magic that took them back in time also changed their tongues and ears to be able to communicate to 16th century Flemish people. It would be a stretch for adults, but not for kids. I believe that this would be an example of what Phoenix is saying, and I agree.

In addition to Legos, kids are also saying "Bionocles."
Discuss among yourselves (grin)

Anonymous said...

You know, this story rang a bell and I've been wracking my brain trying to think why. Now, I remembered -- thanks Tylenol!

In the film Where the Heart Is, the character played by Natalie Portman hides out in a Walmart for six weeks...