Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Face-Lift 396

Guess the Plot

Rain on the Dust

1. Country singer Lady Winters had one hit--the haunting 'Rain on the Dust'. Now she's been approached by a young singer who wants to do a cover. But can she let go--and see her beloved autobiographical lyrics turned into droning hiphop noise?

2. During the Dust Bowl, three sisters--Molly, Sadie, and Sarah--decide to brave the road to California. Will they find hope and love, or only despair? Also, a guardian angel.

3. Small-town reporter George Keevers is looking for the big story that'll get him a job on the Washington Post, so he goes to Thailand to report on a typhoon. When he runs out of money, he has no choice but to rely on the kindness of his Evil Editor if he wants to get home.

4. Pamela Gleeb has given up on housekeeping. But leaving the windows open night and day has a downside when the storms hit her tiny village, and she finds herself buried in mud up to her pretty neck. Will the handsome hunk from the Fire Brigade dig her out?

5. Widow Kate Darby runs the only saloon in tiny Dos Banos, out in the wilds of Arizona. When Frank Jeffers is shot and left for dead in the street, she decides to save him. But to do that, she'll have to disguise him while his enemies are in town. Will they notice the strange new girl at the saloon?

6. A storm's coming. But Great-Aunt Muriel's urn just fell out the window onto the front lawn. Can Joanna Frisby sort aunt from lawn in time, or will it . . . Rain on the Dust.

Original Version

Dear Agent or Editor

Vietnamese Amerasian teenager Tran Thi Mai is stigmatized by her mixed race and abandonment by her soldier-father. Mai's bitter aunt unfairly blames her sister's death on Mai and presses her into a harrowing overland refugee journey from post-war Vietnam, across Cambodia, into Thailand. In Thailand, Mai finds a kind social worker, Mother Agnes, who arranges a stabile life for her with an expatriated Vietnamese farm family. However, a typhoon shatters that stability. Because of a personal myth surrounding her mother's death, Mai stands against the typhoon to learn if rain controls her life as it seems. [Not sure what "stands against the typhoon" means.]

Meanwhile, George Keevers, a dissatisfied small-town reporter in the US, makes an impulsive trip to Thailand to chase a typhoon story, to tweak and impress his "Evil Editor," Shelly Lyon (whom he loves/hates). He craves a career-defining story to pave the way to his beloved Washington Post [/New York Times]. He hears odd tales about Mai's behavior during the storm and smells his story. (Alternating viewpoints have allowed the two main characters to converge at this place/time without confusion.) [No need to boast about pulling off this feat.]

George is astonished by Mai's mixture of grace and fatalism. [grace/fatalism] Feeling like a waste of oxygen, he raises his ambition to a life-defining story about Mai. Mai's adoptive family asks George to return her to Mother Agnes due to the storm's devastation. But Mother Agnes is outraged that George would remove Mai from a family for a threadbare refugee aid station. George finally admits his desire to take Mai home with him. Mai casts her lot with George and they go to Bangkok [where Mai is kidnapped and sold into sex slavery.] to face the tangle of international emigration and refugee laws. George has only a few problems: he has no more money or credit; he's single; [This is an immediate problem? Or he just wishes he weren't single?] and worst of all: he'll have to make double-nice with his Evil Editor to get back home.

Rain on the Dust is a YA historical novel complete at 40,000 words that is imbued with humor despite its setting [and despite the fact that I've made it sound about as funny as the Bataan Death March]. I have found little YA fiction about Amerasians. My writing credentials are mostly for professional technical publications. Thank you for your time and I hope you will want to read the complete manuscript.

Best Regards,


The personal rain myth isn't clear, and seems more important than the backstory we get at the beginning. You could begin: Ever since she drowned her mother in the Mekong River, Tran Thi Mai has theorized that water is the dominant influence in her life. When a typhoon strikes Thailand, Mai is there to test her theory by braving the storm in a rowboat with no umbrella.

Then move on to George, and how he writes Mai's story and tries to take her home. I realize the book may be largely pre-George material, but unless it's a biography of Mai, your story seems to start with the typhoon. If they make it to the US, give us something about that, especially if it includes teenaged friends/classmates, as right now it doesn't sound like YA.

Getting rid of Cambodia and the refugee camp and Mother Agnes will help make it conceivable that the book is loaded with yucks.


Chris Eldin said...

I found some of the concepts intriguing (the rain myth, different countries, Mother Agnes). But George sounds like a boring American. Why have him bring her to America? It sounds like the story's compelling points are overseas. How is coming to America a rescue, if indeed she needs rescuring? And how old is George? If he's gunning for the Wash Post, he should've gone to college then graduate school (age 24 or so) plus some time at local newspapers, working his way up. He's around 30, right? Not that it's scandulous if she's 17 or 18, but by then, she doesn't need protection or housing from Mother Agnes. She's younger than, right?

It sounds like the first half of your novel is a really good outline.

This is very short for YA. It's what my MG word length is, and that's an average count for MG.

Search and replace George with a long-lost half sister (teenager also) from the States. Just some thoughts....

Anonymous said...

Compared to some of the other queries we've been seeing, this one is good--a clear outline of a cohesive story, characters with actual motivations, etc.

This sounds like an intriguing book. I agree with EE on the lack of any appearance of humor, though. And the water thing is indeed a bit vague.

But otherwise, nicely done.

Dave Fragments said...

BTW - Mr Stabile used to own a restaurant in Pittsburgh. The word you want is stable.

I'm not sure of the ages here (but others have made that comment. You don't need ages in the query, you just need a good writeup.) but the story is that "ambulance chasing the typhoon disaster" George, discovers either the love of his life in Mai or a girl he would be proud to call his daughter. And he rescues her from a life of subsistence farming. (it would be spectacular if he helped rebuild the entire village or the orphanage, but then he might not be Mother Theresa.)

There's the story that will sell -- his change from a selfish-jerk, ambulance-chasing newshound to a caring human being and her change from dispirited, abandoned youth to adulthood.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I think Dave hit it right on the money. The way you've got the query now, it seems like George is the protagonist and Mai is the impetus that changes him to a better person. If Mai is the main character, then you need to focus more on those bits of the story that are intriguing - the rain myth and what she did during the typhoon that makes her a "story" for George. I would also cut out a lot of what you have in that first paragraph and keep it simpler - "Orphaned teenager, Tran is cast out by the only family she has and is forced into a harrowing overland refugee journey from post-war Vietnam, across Cambodia, into Thailand. THere Mai finds a kind social worker, Mother Agnes, who arranges a stable life for her with an expatriated Vietnamese farm family until a typhoon shatters that stability. Alone again, Mai stands against the typhoon to face the demons of her past and learn if rain controls her life as it seems. (here it would be good to know what the myth is)."

Anyway, these are just my thoughts and I too wonder if she is preteen or a real teen.

Anonymous said...

Mai stands against the typhoon to learn if rain controls her life as it seems.

I don't see anything to make it seem that rain might control her life. Not even the maternal myth makes it seem like rain controls her life. There would need to be more evidence than simply her odd behaviour in a typhoon. Typhoons are not uncommon in SE Asia, and lots of people have their stability shattered by them.

Not sure what it means to "teak" a newspaper editor?

The hopelessly single guy travelling to SE Asia and wanting to take the girl home with him...? Might need a little more explanation about motive there.

Anonymous said...

It's YA Historical? I didn't really get a "historical" vibe from the query...

WouldBe said...

The author said:

EE, thank you. I've over-sold the humor. It is more like comic relief of the self-deprecating or cross-cultural sort. And in trying to illustrate the alternating structure of the story in the query, the real story is muddled.

Dave's comments were appreciated. There is nothing sordid, so that must be clear. Mai is 14-15 during the course of the story. George loves his Evil Editor but sees Mai as someone needing and deserving help. Dave's idea about helping restore the village is quite good.

There were many useful hints by the others as well. Thanks all.

Dave Fragments said...

The historical setting is Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Amerasian children were reviled as impure, less than real citizens, and worse. So as the evacuation started, the USA hauled many Vietnamese out of the country. After that, any Vietnamese who worked with the Americans was "reeducated" in the communist style.
Mixed race children were always looked down on and may still be. These are countries with astoundingly different sensibilities than we ever experience. You and I are good people, we would never take the sins of the parents out on the children, We Would never abandon children. we would never throw them out away to beg food on the street. But back in 1975, after years of war, after a shameful defeat, Amerasian children were not welcome additions to families. The marked the woman as "collaborator" or "sympathizer" and a stain on the purity so loved by communists.

That same April, just a few days earlier than Saigon, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh and slaughetered the democratically elected leadership and their families. We all know this as the start of the "Killing Fields" ...

There was sufficient history to propel this story.

But on these sad comments, I hope the author writes a novel filled with humor. Why? Simple. Because this portion of history is so sad, humor will make it bearable.

Teak is what my dining room table is made from. Tweak is what you do to an editor or name a character on South Park. The finger missed a keystroke.

Ali said...

I thought this was a pretty good query. I did feel a little bogged down in the first paragraph--there's a lot of information that's important to the novel, presumably, but maybe not to the query.

I suggest keeping the query (and probably the novel, if it's YA, unless it has the potential to cross over into the adult market) in one point of view. Tell George's backstory to give him color, but begin when Mai meets him and give her spin on it. (That might allow for some humor, even).

I found it odd that in a YA novel, you didn't give Mai's perspective on George or his plan at all. Does she want to go with him? Does she trust him? And how about her perspective on Sister Agnes? YA novels, as a rule, aren't about adults except as they are perceived by the character the readers relate to.

Anonymous said...

The historical setting is Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Jeez is 1975 considered historical? Now I feel old. I prefer to think of the time and events as historic, but (relatively) contemporary. I don't even think of Carrie's War as being an Historical Novel.

pacatrue said...

Before I forget the author, wouldbe, might be interested in Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, which won the Newbery Award for 2005. It's Japanese-American, which may not be the same thing as Amerasian and also younger than your target market, but still. I mostly mention it to indicate that people in the U.S. are increasingly interested in Asian American experiences for kids, and I think there is a market for this story if the author can hit it the right way.

I like the query overall. My main issue is that Mai is getting lost when George shows up. He starts doing things to help her, but what she wants; i.e., her goal in the story, is disappearing. I am guessing that you continue switching points of view, and so there is more to know about her. I'm also focusing on her as you indicate this is a YA novel, and so I am guessing that Mai's story is the main story. George may become the most important relationship for her, but it's still about her. George is important because of his effect on her life.

In short, perhaps you can recast George's section in the query to be more about Mai's perspective. She is with Mother Agnes and... what? Finds some peace, but George comes and messes it up? Still wants something and George pops up who she slowly comes to believe may help her achieve her goal? Is the main issue for this section of the book developing trust between the two? You mention cross-cultural humor, so I am guessing they don't get each other for a long time in amusing ways.

I had a friend back in high school who lived in the Phillipines. He would travel on most vacations to work in Thai refugee camps of some sort. He never spoke much of them, but I know that you could tease him about anything you wanted, but you could never tease him about the camps or the picture of a girl there he kept on his wall. It reminded me of my grandfather who never discussed his experiences as a doctor in WWII....

Yeah, you have a great story to tell. Make us love Mai and let George earn our respect through her.

WouldBe said...

Author said:
I also meant to say that this story has an evil editor, but there is only One True Evil Editor (OTEE), which is he who rules this forum, lest any unworthies forget.

Chris Eldin said...

Pacatrue, Kira Kira is one of my favorite Newbery novels. What a great suggestion! However, the setting is entirely in the U.S., and how the family tries to cope living in a new country.

BTW, Takoda is now completely morphed into Church Lady. ;-)


Nancy Beck said...

who arranges a stabile life

Picky, picky, picky, but important - I think you meant stable.

stands against the typhoon

I'm guessing this means something like becoming one with the typhoon in some way (maybe like a Vulcan mind meld?). You might want to make it clearer as to how she accomplishes this.

This sounds quite interesting, as I enjoy reading about different cultures, and it's kind of weird that I read this today, after seeing a M*A*S*H episode on this exact same subject. I think focusing on Mai would be a lot more interesting than focusing on George (except through Mai's eyes; this really feels like Mai's story).

Good job!