Sunday, July 15, 2007

Face-Lift 378

Guess the Plot

Catalpa Hall

1. When gardeners plow up what might be an old cemetery on the grounds of Catalpa Hall, Boring-0n-End's oldest building, amateur sleuth and all-around busybody, Amelia Pettipants, suspects the Illuminati are at it again.

2. Her brother drowned twenty years ago. Now Melody Moon has returned to her hometown, rich, famous, and determined to find out what really happened at the lake behind . . . Catalpa Hall.

3. For years everyone steered clear of the oldest building on campus after dark, fearful of meeting its celebrated ghost. But Russell and Trevor need a special project for Photography class. Can they survive a night in Catalpa Hall--and get photographs of the ghost?

4. Sir Neville Hall ships his daughter Catalpa to Kenya to marry a plantation owner before the product of her passion for art can be born. Her artist lover follows, determined to be part of his child's life. Now can Catalpa convince her new husband that the baby drew those pictures of nude women on the wall of the nursery?

5. Expelled from high school, Turk Lombard is sent by his parents to Catalpa Hall, a military academy where troublemakers supposedly get whipped into shape. When it turns out they just get whipped, Turk organizes a rebellion that leaves the entire faculty dead.

6. A university instructor of anthropology must find a missing thousand-year-old, gold-plated nasal cavity before all hell breaks loose – literally.

Original Version

Dear Agent Almighty,
Melody Moon has returned. Returned to her rural roots with fame, riches, and a burn-scarred young daughter named Ruthie in hopes of finding Gideon, the young man with the spectacular birthmark on his face [It looks exactly like the chariot race from Ben Hur.] whose memory has haunted Melody for twenty years. Yet the date Ruthie discovers Gideon had carved under the stage at the now dilapidated Catalpa Hall is the currentyear. [1. How does she know the date wasn't carved in the current year? 2. How does she know Gideon carved it? 3. How young is Ruthie, and what is she doing underneath a stage in a dilapidated building? 4. The word "yet" leads us to believe finding the current year carved under a stage is astounding. We won't find the event astounding unless you've already convinced us of its genuine unlikelihood. It's sort of like opening your query:

Johnny Graves walked straight to school without seeing anyone. Yet the ruler in his bookbag was orange!
This is astounding only if you've already told us he left home with his purple ruler.]

Melody and Gideon were once known as the “Double Uglies,” dubbed as such by Melody’s obnoxious older brother, Dean. The cruel nickname later earned Melody quite a reputation for herself as an author of children’s literature, [Maybe you mean the nickname earned her fame as an author--for instance, when she wrote a series of books about the Double Uglies? Can you have a reputation as an author, if you are an author? Evil Editor has a reputation (totally undeserved) as evil. He has fame (also totally undeserved) as a blogger.] but only Gideon knows that it has actually cost her dreadfully more--it cost her brother’s drowning long ago. [You mean it caused her brother's drowning? Calling Melody and Gideon Double Uglies caused Dean to drown?] It’s a death that torments Gideon to this day, turning him into the recluse he has become.

He feels responsible for the death. [If you get tired of someone calling you ugly, and hold his head underwater in a lake until he drowns, are you really responsible?]

What exactly did happen at the hidden lake behind Catalpa Hall when they were all but children [All but children?] just trying to get by in the backwoods culture…and who else may have witnessed it? It appears that someone with much more sinister motives is also involved. [Much more sinister than whose? Motives for what?] Gideon’s deep love for the enchanting young woman he’d been forced to leave two decades ago may force him to abandon her once more. Melody has no idea why Gideon, once again, feels he must leave her, as well as her daughter, behind. [She goes off and becomes a writer, while he becomes a recluse. She comes back, and he's still there. Yet you claim he left her behind?]

Catalpa Hall is complete at 90,000-words. May I share this mainstream love story with you? I’d be happy to send a partial, or the entire manuscript at your request. Thank you for your time.


It's not clear enough. One could easily get the impression you're trying to keep us in the dark about everything. Why does Gideon think he's responsible for the drowning? Is the person really responsible still hanging around twenty years later? If I'd gotten away with murder, I'd have headed for New Zealand before the cops wised up.

Is the non-romance part basically the twenty-year-old mystery? Or is something going on now? Is someone in danger from the sinister person? Melody came back in hopes of finding Gideon, and Gideon is there. Problem solved. Now Gideon's ditching her because he drowned her brother twenty years ago? I can't remember what I was doing two years ago. Twenty years ago I was so ripped I could have killed a dozen people and I wouldn't remember it.

Gideon feels deep love for someone he hasn't seen in twenty years, and they were children when he last saw her? I don't buy it.

I realize there are lakes smaller than Lake Superior, but for a lake to be hidden, it would have to be more like an indoor swimming pool. I mean, you could call it hidden if it's out in the middle of nowhere, but this lake is right behind Catalpa Hall. Who's it hidden from?


writtenwyrdd said...

Author, that first sentence killed any interest for me. Too tangled and long. The plot details are not here, and we need them to know what the story actually is. Also, as EE pointed out, you have some problems with relational words that renders the cause and effect impenetrable. Keep trying.

I really liked the Double Uglies idea, but it made me more expectant of a midgrade story than a mainstream love story.

Anonymous said...

What they said. Too often can't figure what you mean, prose seems to have logic problems, some story elements seem more suited to middle grade readers than adults.

It sounds like you've written a murder mystery about a cold case but you're calling it a romance.

If you want to pitch a romance you're supposed to identify the main characters, show that they "belong together" although something keeps them apart, and make the reader desperate to see them united. You have to do that much, but that's all your query needs. Other subplots and their associated clues can be discovered as the agent reads the manuscript.

Anonymous said...

A romance with suspense elements, perhaps?

Robin S. said...

Hi Author,

There could be a good story and novel wrapped up in this. I don't really know, but I'm guessing this reads like the back blurbs on romance books - is that right? Where you are supposed to hint at the plot, but not give anything away, to entice the reader to, well, buy and read.

By the way, I do think you can believe you love someone you haven't seen in twenty years, (especially if, together, you've experienced a traumatic event)although, after twenty years, you usually love the memory of the person and your enhancements of who they were, as you don't really know them anymore. (Except maybe for EE and his 20-year-old ripped brain fog.)So, I could see this being part of a good story.

The problem seems to be that the story isn't capsulized here. And the language of the query is very florid. The good news: this is a very good place to try out a rewrite to see what works.

Good GTPs, esp. 4 and 5. And I could see #3 being a made-for-TV Disney Channel movie for the Halloween season.

Oh, and this "[If you get tired of someone calling you ugly, and hold his head underwater in a lake until he drowns, are you really responsible?]" is a really good one.

Anonymous said...

Mom is one of the Double Uglies AND she has a burn-scarred child? Holy facial disfigurement!

GutterBall said...

So, how's the climate in New Zealand this time of year, Mr. Evil?

As for the query, I don't get what the current year being scratched below a stage has to do with anything. Is that, what, a prediction that this is when Melody will come back? Is it a graffiti typo? Does it have anything to do with anything else in the query?

If not, maybe leave it to the synopsis and save that space for telling us about the plot in a more linear fashion.

And why is Ruthie looking for it? What kind of mom sends an already disfigured child under an abandoned and likely rickety old stage to look for 20-year-old graffiti?

Sorry, but as you can tell, that tidbit really distracted me.

Anonymous said...

Dea Mr. Evil...

Thank you for the feedback on my query. I'd like to comment, but cannot get through to you from work,
so if you'd like to post this for me, I'd be much obliged.

I did try and write this like jacket flap copy, as a few agents I've been following have
mentioned they liked that style. Still, I see it is too vague, and I plan to clear up most of
your questions. Such as... it's a surprise to find a current date carved under the stage (along with Melody and
Gideon's names in a heart) because no one seems to know what happened to Gideon. He disappeared long ago.
He also wasn't actually responsible for Melody's brother's death, that's where the sinister part comes in.
I'll clear that up. And maybe I should say "secluded" lake, instead of hidden lake.

When is a large pond really a lake, anyway?

Also, this was also a new beginning, but I cannot remember
what number it was. Do you happen to recall???

Thanks you so much, you charming man!!

Evil Editor said...

Also, this was also a new beginning, but I cannot remember
what number it was. Do you happen to recall???

# 250

Robin S. said...

First, let me say- I'll be surprised if this author isn't Southern.

Second- EE, how does it feel to be known as a 'dear man'? If you came down here to visit, we'd tell you that all the time.

Author, I like your style.

Robin S. said...

So sorry - I stand corrected- that was 'charming man'.

Gotta love it!

Dave Fragments said...

I keep misreading Catalpa as Catawba (after that oh so delicate, pink, carbonated wine my Parents loved and I hated all through childhood) or Cataldi (my first case of puppy love).

Is this story set in Oregon?

Anonymous said...

...Actually, a Catalpa is a tree. It has large, heart -shaped leaves, and grows
both in the North and the South. It is a very beautiful tree, especially when it
flowers in early summer. However, those flowers grow into huge, long pods that look
kind of creepy in the fall. It believe it used to be called the "Indian Bean" Tree.
Thanks to all for the comments!!

Bonnie said...

Oh, Indian Bean tree! I didn't know it had another name. If I had known that, I would have done a far different plot summary. (Hm, I wonder if an English gentleman with colonial interests really would name his daughter for a tree?)

I thought the story sounded like it had a lot of interesting elements and intrigue, but I was puzzled by the same things that puzzled everybody else. Also by what role the daughter and her burn scars played. She's too young to have been burned in the 20-year-old tragedy, whatever that was, and apparently also too young to be Gideon's daughter. If she's not critical to the story, I wouldn't mention her here.