Monday, July 30, 2007

Face-Lift 388

Guess the Plot

Second Time Around

1. The term leftover takes on a new meaning when food critic Vera LeBlanc dies from a bad meal. Her assistant must prove the death wasn't an accident. But first, he, too, must learn the hard way that no food dish is good . . . the second time around.

2. When Tess Malone answers her ringing phone, she's plunged back in time eight years. Will she have to live those painful years over again? Either way, she vows to learn what all the buttons on her iPhone do before pushing them again.

3. An outcast caveman who is reincarnated in New Haven, CT in the mid 1940's must fight his primitive instincts if he is ever going to become the modern president his father failed to be.

4. Alexi was born in the frozen hinterlands of Russia, where he worked hard and died in poverty. In his second life, Alexi was born in the frozen hinterlands of Norway, where he worked hard and died in poverty.

5. Gay divorcee Wesley Welsey left Harry for Barry two years ago. When he tries to recreate the magic of his first love on Bali Bali, he finds that love is lovelier and fun is funnier - the Second Time Around.

6. Rookie Nascar driver Brett Kilgore had the lead after one lap of the Daytona 500, but when veteran Bobby Joe Hitchcock's girlfriend tosses a grenade on the track, Brett realizes he may not make it a . . . Second Time Around.

Original Version

I read on that you are interested in women's fiction. I am hoping you may be interested in my novel Second Time Around (women’s fiction; 94,000 words). I invite you to review my manuscript and consider representing me.

When Tess Malone answers her ringing phone, she’s plunged backward, to a time when her life seemed much simpler. [A time when there were no telephones.] [Idea for a story: Woman picks up telephone but forgets to dial prefix; just dials 1875. Suddenly she's transported to 1875. In order to return to 2007 she must inspire a drunken Alexander Graham Bell to lay off the sauce and invent the telephone. She succeeds, but she failed to recall that the concept of zero had not yet been discovered in 1875, and the phone dial has only 1 through 9. Brilliantly, she dials 2111, planning to then use a phone to return to 2007, but when she appears in 2111, she's on a Pacific island where natives decide she's a witch, and sacrifice her to the volcano.] [I should have used that as one of the Guess the Plots; no one would have believed someone made it up.] [Someone write that up and submit it to Asimov's; we'll split the payment.] After eight years, Jim Tidwell has decided to track down and get reacquainted with the woman he kicked out of his life. With one phone call, the floodgates between the past and the present have opened. Like all floods, the havoc that ensues affects everyone. [Except people who live on houseboats.] [I don't think "opening the floodgates" is the right expression. It usually means everyone will be doing something that wasn't previously allowed. I can't tell what your flood consists of.]

In Second Time Around, Tess is given the opportunity to step back into the arms of the man she thought she loved eight long years ago. [Given the opportunity?

Jim: Tess, baby, long time no see. I know I broke your heart eight years ago, but let's face it, it was kinda your fault. Anyway, all is forgiven, and you can have me back.

Tess: Are you serious?

Jim: Well, I do have conditions.]

She hesitates, questioning his rationale for phoning her, and her rationale for letting him back into her life. But when her questions deepen, and no answers are forthcoming, Tess realizes she must revisit the past, those painful first years after the breakup, and discover why her heart has stalled. Through the reading of her journals, she comes to recognize that she’s been living her life on the fringe ever since that fateful day Jim broke things off. [The fringe of what?]

Even though she’s overcome the death of both her parents, [a brief fling with Alexander Graham Bell,] a debilitating dance with alcoholism, [You have a bout with alcoholism; you dance with the one who brung you.] and a move across the country, she now faces the most daunting choice of her life: whether to stay in the shadows, or fully embrace life and walk in the light once more [; whether to latch back onto the scum responsible for her being in the shadows for eight years, or to laugh in his face; whether to forgive him for deciding to sow his oats for eight years, always assuming he could have her back whenever he felt like it, or to invite him over for a healthy serving of arsenic casserole] .

[Jim: Tess, I was a fool. It took eight years of playing the field, making love with thousands of women, to teach me what I should have known all along: you're the only woman for me.

Tess: Are you serious?

Jim: Yeah, thousands. Hard to believe, huh?]

Second Time Around gives us a glimpse into one woman’s journey through the decisions of the heart; both the heart of the past, and the heart of the present. The novel shows a woman willing to finally stand on her own for what she wants, rather than wait on the people in her life to show her what is best for her. [Vague and wordy. What does she want, and what did the people in her life think was best for her?]

I am a member of RWA, PRO-status. This is my fifth completed (unpublished) novel. I am unmarried with a grown daughter in her junior year of college, and recently relocated from Cleveland to California.

I’d be happy to send you a complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Frankly, the time travel and arsenic casserole scenarios sound more interesting. You've taken a lot of space just to say that Tess must decide whether she'd be happy with the total loser she thought she loved eight years ago. That situation can exist in a suspense, paranormal, historical, contemporary, or comedic romance. We want an idea of what happens in the book, not just the situation Tess finds herself in. Do they meet? Do they have jobs? What century is it? Do they go somewhere together? Is there a vampire? Surely it's more than dialogue and journal entries.


Dave Fragments said...

We all know that Pot Roast, spaghetti and soups are better the second time around. The question posed here is - do deadbeat boyfriends improve like fine wine or sour like vinegar?

Also, EE, you dance with the devil, a tango. Or play chess, like the Knight in The Seventh Seal. I had to find a way to mention Bergman today.

Robin S. said...

...Tess: Are you serious?

Jim: Yeah, thousands. Hard to believe, huh?]

That was a good one.

I'm here to laugh but I'm also here to learn, so I'd like to ask...I've read that including something like this - "This is my fifth completed (unpublished) novel" is not a good idea. What do you think?

And another question is - this author is a member of RWA. Why is this "women's fiction" rather than a romance novel - what separates those genres (other than the reference to this novel as women's fiction in the query)?

Anonymous said...

The later description of vents in the past seem to contradict the earlier assertion that the past was a simpler time.

It's hard to imagine anyone "stepping" back into the arms of a former lover after eight long years of hell.

It might be nice to know a little about why Jim suddenly decided to reappear.

You did move from Cleveland to California recently, though, so chances are the actual book is pretty good.

Evil Editor said...

How many unpublished novels you've written isn't information that will convince me to ask for your manuscript . . . or not to ask for it. Some successful authors have gotten their first sale after writing fifteen novels. An ageent may prefer knowing that you can churn out more books, if she's going to take you on. But what she really cares about is whether she can sell one book. She'll worry about more later. There are certainly more useful items to put in a query than a count of your unpublished novels.

Women's fiction doesn't have to have a romance (e.g. it could just be several women who are friends), and if it does have one, it doesn't have to work out happily.
I'm sure others will chime in.

Anonymous said...

Talking of "others"... It seems rather quiet round here recently. Has everyone gone on vacation?

Anonymous said...

To be brutally honest, your query, as written, is not very compelling. I read it as reluctantly as you seemed to write it. You have the opposite of what the past couple of queries suffered from. Instead of trying to hook us with every line, you are trying to dehook us. Each paragraph seems to push the reader away a little more until by the end, when we get to the part about this being your 5th unpublished novel, we're gone. You have to make this more compelling.

WHy is Jim calling Tess after all this time? To play more emotional headgames with her? Because he needs a wife to inherit a million dollars from an eccentric uncle who insists he must be married? Because everyone he recently proposes to turns him down? I mean what is it that makes him call her? And Tess, what can you do to make this door mat more compelling to us right from the get go? Clearly she is not a door mat, right? I'm sure you have written her to be a caring, sympathetic character. But that is not how she is coming off in this query. Also, you kind of throw in all that she suffered and lost, but you don't integrate it to the plot of this story so that it feels detached,like an aside.

Eight years after having her heart brutally broken and living a life of regrets, Tess must decide to ... fill in the momentous decision, and not the one in your query that was so vague. Make it real and substantial and most of all, make it compelling. I'm not really sure what is going to be original about this story, so you have got to make your characters stand out. If there is anything unique about your story, make it clear here. I would also take out everything in your RWA paragraph except the first line.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

What ello and EE said. I was just glad someone else was as mystified by this whole query as I was. What's really the story?

Also, the most important thing in women's fiction these days, from what I hear, is voice. Unless you can convince the agent you've got something truly unique to say, you really need at least a unique voice to say it in. I don't see either a unique story or a unique voice here, I'm afraid.

Can you try again with a few more specifics? Ello has some good questions you can use to start from. And see if you can work in a bit of the voice your novel is written in.

As your lead-in hook, I'd like to see a version of Second Time Around gives us a glimpse into one woman’s journey through the decisions of the heart; both the heart of the past, and the heart of the present. However, I think the "journey" part is too cliche and the sentence as it stands too vague. Maybe give us something more concrete (sorry, this is quite rough):

Decisions of the heart are fickle ones. In SECOND TIME AROUND, Tess Malone must reconcile her feelings for the man who dumped her and broke her heart eight years ago with the love she still feels when he reappears and forces/eases [this word choice is important to capture the gist of your story] his way back into her still-fragile heart.

In your first 'graph, be confident. Don't say you're hoping for representation. Say something like I invite you to consider SECOND TIME AROUND(women’s fiction; 94,000 words)for representation. Note the agent will be representing the book, not you. And it would probably mean a lot more if you referenced the agent's Web site rather than AgentQuery as to where you're finding out about the agent's interests. AQ is the first stop, but you should always follow through to the Web site or at least to their PW profile if possible.

I'd nix your entire "credits" paragraph. Even though I have a few little credits I include in my queries, I save room by adding "Member RWA" after my name at the end. You can add "PRO" (Member RWA PRO) if you want, but the fact you're submitting indicates you're PRO eligible at least so I don't think it's necessary (I don't add it to my stuff).

Robin: EE's right on the diff between women's fiction and romance. Romance has to have two things: the romance must be a principal driver behind the plot and the characters must survive and come together in a happily ever after (or sometimes, at a stretch, in a happily for now) ending. Women's fiction is pretty much everything else that appeals to women and their lives that isn't a romance -- although it may have romantic elements.

Sylvia said...

"This is my fifth completed (unpublished) novel. "

If the query were compelling, this wouldn't matter. But in my opinion, it could be enough to swing someone from "maybe" to "maybe not".

For me, the point is you are trying to sell this story. Whether you can churn out a book a year isn't particularly relevant (yet). I know it's possible and even likely to have a stack of unpublished books on the shelf (I have stacks of stories, good ones!) it does sort of beg the question "so what's wrong with them ... and is that a problem with this one, too".

Sort of like picking up the last loaf of rye at the bakery. There's nothing wrong with being the last one ... someone has to. But my eyebrows raise a bit as I wonder, well, why didn't anyone else want it?

Personally, I would never mentioned unpublished anything in a query ... it's not the right time.

Robin S. said...

Well then, referring to this novel as woman's fiction rather than as a romance novel might mean that Tess is gonna toss the guy rather than living happily ever after with him.

I just wondered - because of the author's affiliation with RWA - why the novel was being referred to as woman's fiction rather than a romance novel - and that there was probably a reason for this.

Anonymous said...

I hung in there, interestwise, until she started reading her journals. I'm all for introspection and have plenty of hard-earned empathy for people whose exes reappear (they always start out talkin', but they want somethin' else), but journal-reading added to all the quiet was too much.

In these parts, we dance with the one _what_ brung us.