Friday, July 06, 2007

Face-Lift 372

Guess the Plot


1. Asked by a centurion how many enemy soldiers are approaching, Algebron wanted to say DX, but having never been good at arithmetic he mixed his Roman and Arabic numerals. Though he was punished severely, he later was credited with inventing a new field of mathematics.

2. When urban rapper "500" Cent learns he's the illegitimate son of Malcolm X he leaves the hip-hop lifestyle behind in his search for a time portal.

3. "Fee Fie Foe Fum" is all well and good for scaring off the locals, but everyday life for a giant is not easy. For starters, it's nearly impossible to find a decent t-shirt in size 500X.

4. Sir Isaac Newton is on the verge of inventing calculus, but no one knows that he is being coached by Vallomint, an astronaut from the Twenty-First Century. If Sir Isaac can't figure out a derivative that yields 500 X, the future of the planet is at stake. Can Vallomint knock some sense into Newton's thick skull?

5. Janne is a Fortune 500 market analyst, but on weekends nosedives into the Xstacy-fueled underworld of Helsinki, Finland's grungy rave parties. Threatened with exposure by a colleague, Janne heads for the relative calm of New York City.

6. 500 . . . 499 . . . only 498 miles to go. Danica is on her way to winning the Indy 500, bagging that new hunky mechanic she hired, and showing the world women can drive fast too. She's got it all in the bag until she accidentally passes her pit . . . and has to back up. Where the hell is reverse on this car?

Original Version


My name is Henrik Wilenius and as I understand, you have an interest in commercial fiction. Therefore, I believe you may be interested in my novel, 500 X. Below, you will find a short synopsis for your consideration:

Bright, ambitious, and handsome Janne Valo wants to live his life to the fullest. Throughout the week, he is a hardworking, dedicated international market analyst with an exemplary life style, while on the weekends, he takes nosedives into the Xstacy-fuelled underworld of around-the-clock clubbing. [Uh oh. Not another autobiography masquerading as a novel.] When an embittered colleague threatens to expose his nocturnal life, [Actually, it's what he does on the weekends, not at night.] Janne makes a fatal mistake and the consequences throw his life into an abyss. He flees to New York [When your life is in an abyss, heading for New York is not the solution.] to seek oblivion through any means available. With death just a few breaths away, he finally awakens. [We editors and agents are rather dense, and would prefer that you spell things out for us. What was the fatal mistake? You mean literally fatal? He killed the embittered colleague? Why is death a few breaths away? What do you mean, "he finally awakens"? No need to be cryptic.] Along with the help of a friend, he makes a complete transformation, which sends him on a journey to face his past and find meaning in his life.

500X is a contemporary novel with 60 000 words. The story is set in Finland at the end of the 20th century. After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russians immigrated to Finland in a quest for a better life. At the same time, the younger generation took to a new club culture and designer drugs. In smoky industrial warehouses with pulsating strobe lights, they were looking for a lost Eden while the rest of the country was pulling clear from the great depression caused by the stock market crash of 89. [We seem to have morphed from a novel to a Finnish history book. Perhaps that's a good thing. Finland is one of those countries that always gets short shrift in American history books, not unlike Uruguay. One might even say Finland is the Uruguay of Scandinavia. ] Janne’s insatiable thirst for fulfillment takes him from the grungy rave parties of Helsinki, Finland and through the megaclubs of Ibiza, Spain to the Yakuza-joints of Tokyo, and finally after a sobering stay in New York, to the remote Finnish woodlands close to the Russian border. [I got the impression earlier that he fled directly from Finland to New York. Now it seems he went there after a world cruise.]

My first book, The End of Restlessness, was published in Finland in 2001 by WSOY. Aktivist, a popular Helsinki city paper commented:”This new book surprises and will no doubt be one of the literary topics this spring. Mr Wilenius reveals his life of travel, parties and drugs not only honestly but also with laconic, gonzo-oriented and ultimately humorous (black) attitude”.

Currently, I am working on two screenplays for the Finnish market and preparing material for my third novel.

If you would be interested in reading a partial or the entire manuscript, I would be most happy to send you a copy either by email or snail mail.

I thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

With kind regards,


If Janne did indeed kill his bitter colleague, I would assume it was because he was in danger of losing his career. Then he gives up his career anyway. If I killed someone to salvage my career, I would be doing whatever I could to get rid of the evidence, not fleeing to New York. It's not like the cops in Finland know what they're doing anyway. They're all parked in front of Dunkin' Karjalanpiirakkas.

The title tells us nothing. I guessed X refers to Xstacy, what's 500? I note that the title is spelled 500X once and 500 X another. To you, no big deal. To Stephen Hawking, the difference between eternity and the end of the universe.

You might want to tell us what's to like about Janne. Readers like to pull for a main character, but you haven't made it clear why we should care what happens to him.

Has Janne committed a crime? That he fled to NY makes me think so. That he returns to Finland makes me wonder.


pacatrue said...

I am sorry, author, I have nothing useful to say. Instead I am going to quiz you about Finland.

When I was in Finland (Helsinki) for all of one day, I visited a famous Finnish architect's house out in the countryside, which, despite being a horrible tourist trap I'm sure, was incredibly designed. Can you tell me where I likely went? I am sure there are many famous Finnish architects, but this guy was THE famous Finnish architect. I've always wanted to tell the spouse more about the house, but I don't know where I was.

My main thought from the query is to simply sing: "Finland, Finland, Finland, it's the country for me. So near to Russia, so far from Japan. Quite a long way from Cairo, many miles from Vietnam." -- an obscure Python tune.

Margaret Taylor said...

I was hoping it was GTP #4. The sequel could have been 250Xsquared + C.

Dave Fragments said...

(note: Most westerners date the Fall of the Soviet Union with the fall of the Berlin Wall. November 1989. The stock crash happened on Black Monday, October 19th, 1987. Most westerners do not date the fall of the Soviet back to Gorbachov but those of us who do study history, know the truth. It was Gobachov who let the Union dissolve after the August 1991 coup and obviously Gorbachov who never insisted that the East Germany seal the wall in November of '99. I remember Honecker or Krenz announcing they would shoot no fellow German. none of those three get very much credit nowadays - history is a harsh mistress, sometimes.
Sorry to be long winded but I remember this well. A very, very good friend was an expatriate German. We followed this with much excitement.)

What links Janne's fall into drugs with the fall of the Soviet Union? Is Janne perhaps the son of Russians? Also, what event precipitates his fleeing to the USA? And once he flees, does he work in Wall Street before or after the Crash of 89? Or not at all?

Janne travels from Finland to Ibiza to Tokyo to New York and finally Finland near Russia. What drives that journey? Self discovery? Money? Drugs?

I know very little about Finland and Finlandic culture (mostly Sibelius is my Finnish culture). I suspect that I'm not alone. This exploration of Finnish culture and thinking will be a selling point to western publishers. I'm not sure of how to mention that in a query. The closest novel I can think of too look at is "War of the Rats" by Robbins about snipers in the battle of Stalingrad during WW2. Most people knew nothing of the battle other than "the Germans lost the battle" before this novel. Nor did they realize Krushchev was a part politico at Stalingrad.
I'm guessing that Janne Valo's journey in some ways mirrors the fall of the Soviet and the subsequent spiritual search by its citizens.

Anonymous said...

It looks like two different stories. If you can merge the two and work the necessary history into the query (by that I mean, leave most of it out), this might read better.


writtenwyrdd said...

If this is what Dave posits and it's really about Finlandic culture and/or the effects of socio-political issues around the Finnish or Russian culture(s) and the fall of the Soviet Union, your query doesn't come close to selling that. What it sounded like to me on first read was a drugged out, burnt out stockbroker type slips a cog and goes on a self-destructive spree, ending up in New York. And I wasn't interested in that. I am guessing you are telling us some of the actions but not what the story IS. Sometimes, telling the various activities is completely misleading. In your case, I hope that's what happened.

Peter Damien said...

It comes with little packets of drugs. You take them at certain points during the book. It works perfectly then. Otherwise, it's trying to read a 3D-image book without the glasses.

Anonymous said...

Hey, there's an idea -- a book you can only really enjoy if you lick the pages...

Anonymous said...

Personally, I toss aside anything in which the major plot issues are to be resolved by the main character "facing his past". WTF is that supposed to mean? Is it an elevated way of saying his troubles are all in his head so all he needs to do is change his mind about something and finally he does? That there are three main characters in the book: he himself, and him? That as an old man he develops a talent for time travel and gets into an altercation with his youthful self, who sets the old guy straight? That he undergoes Freudian psychoanalysis and comes out happy? That he ends up in prison, where, thanks to years of celibate meditation, he realizes the error of his ways?

He "faces his past", eh? This sort of "plot" might be enticing to others, but it does not sound like you've got the sort of gripping narrative I'm looking for.

You mention some interesting things here and make allusions to others, but the query needs to be more focused on your story and the description of the story needs to be more specific and vivid, or we shall suppose the book is also not.

Anonymous said...

An interweaving of the history with the story line here might be just the ticket.

It's 199x, and Janne Valo, like many bright, ambitious young Finnish men after the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic collapse, secretly spends his free time in the X-stacy-fuelled underworld of a rising club culture marked by grunge raves and [promiscuity]. But when an embittered colleague threatens to expose this international market analyst's secret life, Janne [accidentally kills the man during an X-stacy high]. Janne flees in terror for his life, hiding out in the megaclubs of Ibiza, Spain, then in the Yakuza-joints of Tokyo, and finally on the hip-hop cool streets of New York.

There he meets [the equally bright and beautiful Russian emigree Pat], who sobers him up and gives him a reason to stop his self-destructive slide into oblivion. And when [the turning point action/climax of the story happens], Yanne [and Pat] forsake the tumult of New York to return to Finland to live in relative obscurity, but happily, in a remote woodland near the Russian border. {This denouement seems to carry a lot of weight, but it's relatively boring. I'm assuming the dramatic turn is pretty dramatic and makes up for this seeming sleeper ending.}

If your story has any other themes or historical parallels, try weaving them in as well so it's clear who and what Yanne is supposed to represent.

One caution: It feels like English is not your native language. Some overly correct phrasing and the odd use of a preposition or two tip us off. If you can, have a trusted native English writer review your final query letter before sending it off on submission.

Best of luck with this.

Anonymous said...

To Stephen Hawking, the difference between eternity and the end of the universe.

Killer, EE. Killer.

Unknown said...

pacatrue, was the architect Alvar Aalto? He'd be my pick for Most Famousest Finnish Architect (and a wonderful one).