Sunday, October 07, 2007

Face-Lift 432

Guess the Plot

Dylan O’Leary and the Magic of the Calawacadoza

1. Dylan O'Leary is rolling home from Paddy Whack's Knick-Knack Pub when he stops to give a dog a bone. From a single act of kindness comes the gift of magic, bestowed by a mysterious Italian circus troop, the Flying Calawacadoza. But is the ability to turn people into gold truly a gift? Or is it a curse??

2. When stage magician Dylan O'Leary inherits a life-sized wooden Indian named "Calawacadoza" from his uncle, the spirit in the statue shows him that Magic is real. Can he defeat Prince Tromedlov and save the world from the next Dark Age?

3. A poet was all he ever wanted to be, a real one, like his namesake Dylan Thomas. Instead all Dylan O'Leary has is a job at a pub and a girlfriend who cheats on him. When he keeps a strange coin found on the bar, tiny men begin following him around. Will they help him . . . or destroy him?

4. No one believes Dylan O'Leary when he tells them about his favorite new herb - especially not his closest family members, who insist he's just drunk on the local ale. But they sing a different tune when they try his special recipe for brownies.

5. Dylan O'Leary is your typical Irishman. He spends most of his days (and nights) at the local pub. Until that stranger walks in the door and dies at his feet. Now, Dylan is on the run from leprechauns who want to know the secret of the magic of the Calawacadoza. Dylan runs into a fairy circle and begs help from the Fairy King whose price is eternal sobriety. Will Dylan pay with his liquor to remove the threat of the leprechauns?

6. Dylan O'Leary falls through a wormhole in Lake Michigan, emerges in a land where magical calawacadoza flowers have helped create an advanced talking animal civilization, and is assigned a mission to save humanity from an evil organization of criminals. Can Dylan succeed in time to start the sixth grade?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Through a bit of very obvious research, I know you take great joy in tearing apart query letters, which is exactly the reason I’m sending you the "final draft" of my letter for the 68,500-word middle grade fantasy, Dylan O’Leary and the Magic of the Calawacadoza. I’m hoping to get some wonderful advice that I can use or, at the least, a good laugh. [At first I assumed this was a note to Evil Editor, but as it's the only place that mentions the title, we'll assume it's part of the query letter, and that we should replace "tearing apart query letters" with "dispatching form rejection letters.]

One hot summer’s day, Dylan O’leary, daydreamer and adventuress-at-large, listens to unexpected directions from a crazy red bird, falls into a wormhole in Lake Michigan, and finds herself on the hidden islands of Animalia. [Immediately she wonders what was in that Kool-Aid her friend Johnny D. Light gave her.] But her biggest shock comes when the island’s outlandish creatures assign her a task; stop the Black Eagle Group (B.E.G.) from discovering their treasure-filled land. If she fails, these animal poaching modern-day pirates will become the wealthiest powers on the planet and rule our world. When Dylan embarks on a wild adventure in the middle of the Indian Ocean, she must challenge the unknown. [Is this the same adventure?] What’s being human really about? [It's about being at the top of the food chain. Okay, second--I forgot about sharks.] Is being brave in her DNA? Will she ever meet her father? [Where did that come from?] And as she plunges further into harm’s way, can she lead the notorious B.E.G. to their demise without exposing Animalia’s secrets? [If you were going to use the phrase "notorious B.E.G.", you should have made them the Black Iguana Group.] In a place where nothing is as it appears [Nothing? Are there or aren't there outlandish animals on the islands of Animalia?] and magical Calawacadoza flowers make the unimaginable possible, the battle to save humanity becomes hers to win…or lose.

Pretty daunting task considering Dylan starts grade six in three weeks.

I’m a creative director from the world of advertising and a first time novelist who’s very active in my writer’s group and the SCBWI. I was sitting in my backyard when a crazy red bird instructed me to write a humorous and culturally relevant story that was inspired by my travels, history and current events.

Please let me know if you would like to see the completed manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. May many wild adventures fill your dreams!



There's a kids' book called Animalia which I understand is being made into a television series as we speak. It's for younger kids, and "animalia" is a word anyway, but consider that once something's on television, no one'll think you came up with it yourself. That's why Dr. Suess changed the street in his book And to Think that I Saw it on Sesame Street to Mulberry Street after the TV show came on. He knew everyone would think he stole it from PBS.

In the first sentence Animalia is a group of islands. In the second it's one island.

I assume a big draw of the book is the outlandish creatures of Animalia, but no animals are described once we reach Animalia.

Although I could envision this query getting a request for pages, we had a fairly specific plot going until we cut it short and started asking vague questions. Eliminating the questions leaves room for a more engaging opening, like this one which uses information from your as-yet-unposted synopsis:

How could Dylan O'Leary possibly have known that that crazy red bird, CARDINAL RICHELIEU, would open a wormhole at the exact moment two dogs pushed her and JAKE, her braniac best friend, into Lake Michigan? When Dylan and Jake emerge, they're on the hidden, treasure-filled islands of Animalia, home to totally advanced, and oftentimes freakish, creatures. The surprises keep coming: Dylan couldn’t converse with animals before, and now they won’t shut up.

Dylan and Jake soon learn that they’ve been called by KING RAJ III--half tiger, half chameleon, half spider monkey--to stop Black Iguana Group (B.I.G.) from discovering the islands. If they fail, these animal-poaching modern-day pirates will become the wealthiest powers on the planet and rule the world.

In a place where magical Calawacadoza flowers make the unimaginable possible, Dylan and Jake battle to save Animalia--and humanity itself. Can they lead the notorious B.I.G. to their demise without exposing Animalia’s secrets . . . and still make it home in time to start sixth grade?


Anonymous said...

Nice job, as always, EE. Loved your rewrite.


none said...

Now I have yet another scary critter to worry about. The sqrl-eating aout shark.


Chris Eldin said...

I ditto Sarah. Nice rewrite.
I wanted to hear more about the animals. To me, that's the hook.

Good luck!

Dave Fragments said...

I like this idea and most likely will like the story when it surfaces. It even sounds a bit satirical.

Dylan falls into a lake in Michigan and finds islands of magic. That makes the reader unprepared for this sentence: When Dylan embarks on a wild adventure in the middle of the Indian Ocean, she must challenge the unknown

That's so unexpected and vague to be in the Indian Ocean. I know wormholes do funny things, but converting Michigan into India... Bombay to Detroit?

And speaking of the unexpected... I think that you should reveal this as a YA with a sixth grade protagonist (about what 11 or 12 y/o) early in the first paragraph.

Another unexpected - "wealthiest powers on the planet" - Planet Earth or Planet Animalia? Island Earth or Island Animalia? How about Island Atlantis in the Indian Ocean (Sorry, my inner snark snuck out).

"unimaginable possible" is an unfortunate phrase because the funky combinations of animals in animalia are "imaginable." You did imagine them so they are no longer "unimaginable."

As I said, I like the story, I like the lightness of tone, I think this is fun.

Lightsmith said...

This plot sounds like it was generated using a checklist of standard middle-grade fantasy elements.

Portal to a fantasy realm: Check

Talking animals: Check

Pirates: Check

What differentiates this book from every other book containing the same elements? I don't see a hook here.

P.S. I knew a guy in college named Dylan O'Leary. I'm sure he'd be thrilled to know his literary namesake will be an 11-year-old girl. ;-)

Samantha said...

Thanks, EE.

Your comments have really helped. I've had too many cooks in the kitchen in my writer's group. My query synopsis just kept getting longer and longer and longer.

I'm glad I sent you my synopsis yesterday. (It was a little nerve racking to press the send button without knowing the comments from this query).

And, I did get my laugh. Or, maybe it was those special brownies I ate at the pub with Dylan and the leprechauns?

In any case...

I became aware of that picture book after I wrote the novel. Now, I do have an alt name for the Archipelago. It's Azoolia. (The kids emerge onto the great island of Pawgo Pawgo--I suppose that's enough for the query). Hey, if I can come up with Calawacadoza, snizards, and bearkeys, I can come up with an alt name.

Ha. You picked up on it. I actually like the name Black Iguana Group.

You were close with Raj. However, he is part white tiger-but has the mane of a lion, gorilla-but on his feet has hooves, and eagle-but the wings are colored like a peacock. I think saying part tiger, gorilla and eagle would suffice…

Please Note: the first paragraph would be "tailored" for the recipient. (i.e) Through a bit of research, I know you are interested in fantastical middle grade novels that have broad commercial appeal, which is exactly the “category” which Dylan O’Leary and the Magic of the Calawacadoza fits. (Another sentence to agent/editor).

P.S. buffysquirrel, you're somewhat safe. Most of the creatures of the archipelago only eat fish, fruits and vegetables. Occasionally, natural instincts kick in. But, I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Actually, I can see EE's version getting requests because it has voice and sounds fun. If stock characters and plot can be made fun, then the MG crowd will likely eat it up. And agents will happily look to see if your pages match the voice.

However, the original query doesn't have the voice, IMO, to carry the stock stuff off. And while you want to stand out from the crowd, maybe tone down the "sitting in your backyard" and "may many wild adventure" sentences. (Hey, my background is advertising and marketing, too, but really it is best to let the paragraphs about the story outshine your bio and close.) You shouldn't need to spell out that the story is humourous, culturally relevant, and inspired by history and current events. Well, in this case, maybe you do because that doesn't come across so much in the story paragraphs where it should be.

And see, because you've included that sentence, now all I can do is glom on it and start asking how the story is culturally relevant. I start thinking Animal Farm, but no, nothing in there like that. Indian Ocean - maybe a comment on outsourcing? But no, not a big concern for 11-year-olds. Is it poaching? Maybe, but then the battle at the end is to save humanity, not the non-human animals. Or is that all metaphorical? See, maybe a wormhole you don't want to fall through.

If your hook is that it's a culturally relevant fantasy -- or satire on world events that would be of interest to MGs -- get that out in the open and up front quick. Then finish with EE's rewrite. Otherwise, I'm afraid it seems like just another portal story taking the MC to a strange (but rather bland because you haven't really described it well) new world and rescuing the inhabitants there.

Samantha said...

lightsmith (and anybody else)-

Nope. No checklist. I suppose this is a satire.

Here it goes…

They are not really pirates of the yo-ho-ho sort. They are modern day pirates. The Black Iguana Group (new name) is a crime syndicate that is comprised of members from six different countries. They are headquarted in Indonesia, in the Strait of Malacca, and make their living doing anything illegal- including piracy, animal poaching, kidnapping, weapons dealing and drug trafficking.

You see, Raj is pissed off at the state of the world and now that notorious B.I.G. is in the picture, humanity is totally doomed. Dylan and Jake must save us!

I pull issues and events from today's headlines including gorillas that were just executed in the Congo, the state of the Sumatran tiger (it's almost extinct), Michael Vick, racism, global warming and terrorism, etc. Scary I know. (This isn't done by lecturing. Example: The kids talk with an orange gibbon about a chew toy that Jake's dad bought his dogs that look like one of our sports figures. The dogs ripped that toy to shreds. #2 Raj is watching his big screen satellite TV that a Task Master- see below- set up when he sees a newscast about the gorillas.)

The talking animals, well, they act more human than man. And, they have advanced because of the Calawacadoza and the work that humans have been called to do. (This special group of people are called Task Masters) i.e. Darwin, Aesop, Fossey, MIT grads, United States Space Surveillance, even a couple of lawyers, etc. I'd love to have Walt Disney and Speilberg in the mix, but don't want to get sued. Also, Dylan's mom is a friend of Azoolia (new name) in addition to the father she's never met. He's been working on the islands for ten years unlocking the secrets of the Calawacadoza.

Please note, although the underlying content is rather heavy and dark, it is delivered with whacked humor. (Dogs performing CPR on the class bully...Jaguar cubs hitchhiking with opposable sprouting peacock colored eagle wings and flying...and Crick, Jake's comedian blockhead dog, gets his wish of having purple glow in the dark eyes--thanks to the Calawacadoza and dragonfires…the leader of the B.I.G. is turned into a baby orangutan…etc.).

This has been my issue. How do I say all this in 175 words or less in a query? I’ve just used almost 400 words writing this response!

Any thoughts?

Blogless Troll said...

Hey, if I can come up with Calawacadoza, snizards, and bearkeys,...

bearkeys = bears with long tails going, "oook, oook, eeek, eeek" ?

snizards = slow moving lizards?

I know you said you're from another world (advertising), but back in the 80s there was a popular cartoon and accompanying product line called The Wuzzles. They were cute little mixed up animal creatures with clever names like Bumblelion, who was, get this, half bumblebee, half lion. There was also Rhinokey and Flizard, although my favorite was, by far, Hoppopotamus--half hippo, half heroine addict. Granted, the YA kiddies probably won't call you on it, but it's out there, and on TV, so you might want to try on some new names at least.

Also, as Dave and EE already said, you should avoid phrases like "make the unimaginable possible" and "a place where nothing is as it seems," because you end up with all kinds of logic problems, or worse, vague clichés.

none said...

My problem with Azoolia is it sounds like a place with no zoos (and therefore no sqrl-eating animals, which you wouldn't think would be a problem, but la). Then again, Zoolia sounds like something from Ghostbusters.

The naming of [things] is a difficult matter.

(nobody expects the Indian Ocean!)

Blogless Troll said...

If you're hesitant to use Disney and Speilberg for fear of getting sued, you might want to drop the notorious B.I.G. as well, so no one pops a cap in your ass.

Samantha said...


Never heard of Wuzzles before today...And, I'm not saying I came up with the concept of hybrids either. The point I was trying to make is that I can certainly come up with a name that isn't Animalia for the archipelago.

Most of the names I come up with have meaning behind them. Last name O'Leary--Chicago Fire, Cow. (Mom's name is Catherine) Raj means king in Indian. Watson and Crick, two dogs named after the scientists credited to having discovered DNA. Cardinal Richelieu (Rich), etc.

I've decided to keep Black Eagle Group (B.E.G.) as their mantra is Beg. Borrow. Steal. Eagles are hunters, sharp talons, etc.

The hybrids are only important to the story for the mere fact they exist in this strange place. (and there are others like gossalemurs and chinchiphants-even creatures you thought were extinct) I guess you could say the world is more than Darwinian.

I'm going to think of some additional alt names for the archipelago. I'm leaving for China tomorrow on business and to play with panda bears. Who knows? Maybe I'll be inspired by something...

I have a lot to think about and I appreciate all your comments!

Anonymous said...

You could just call Raj "chimeric" and leave it at that.

Lightsmith said...

The kids talk with an orange gibbon about a chew toy that Jake's dad bought his dogs that look like one of our sports figures. The dogs ripped that toy to shreds.

Assuming this book is actually published, many months will have passed before it hits the shelves, at which point the Michael Vick scandal will be ancient history, and all you'll be left with is a pack of dogs tearing apart a chew toy shaped like a black man.

Good luck with that. I don't see how anybody could possibly take that the wrong way. ;-)

Samantha said...

Purely inspiration.

Michael Vick is not mentioned...nor his race...just a "sports figure" who hosted dog fights where animals fight to their death.

Dog fights, "rooster" fights, etc. are frowned upon in this land. And people have been doing both long before Mr. Vick was put in the press...

The creatures here are taught to respect one another regardless of their race, gender, species or religion, breed, or, well, half breeds. They do have their own set of laws you know...


Peter Damien said...

If the Black Iguana Group and a pair of pachyderms go to war against each other, does that mean we have a fight between the Notorious B.I.G. And TwoPach?

Samantha said...


That's too funny. Maybe the plot for the next book...

Thanks for the laugh.

Anonymous said...

I always thought Dylan was a boy's name.

Samantha said...

The name Dylan has increased in popularity as a girl's name. (Especially after Drew Barrymore's performance in Charlie's Angels...)


I'm somewhat partial to names (or nicknames) for girls that can go either way. Hey, my name's Sam.

Blogless Troll said...

Most of the names I come up with have meaning behind them. Last name O'Leary--Chicago Fire, Cow.

One of the side effects of subtle name meanings is unintended connotations. When you said a crazy red bird in your backyard instructed you to write a humorous and culturally relevant story about trippy-looking animals gaining insight through the ingestion of magical substances, it wasn't Mrs. O'Leary or her cow who immediately sprang to mind. It was Timothy Leary. Followed closely by Denis Leary, and then Daisuke Matsuzaka, although, admittedly, the last one's probably not your fault. All I'm saying is, when it comes to names and their meanings, you have to assume that half the people won't get it, and most of the other half will get it wrong. Google helps.

Samantha said...

I'm going to be on a 13 hour trip tomorrow...and it doesn't have anything to do with Timothy Leary. Off to China.

Before I go, I did some tweaks...

How could Dylan O'Leary possibly have known that crazy red bird would open a wormhole at the exact moment two dogs pushed her and Jake, her braniac best friend, into Lake Michigan? When Dylan and Jake emerge, they're in the Alchera Archipelago and the surprises keep coming. Dylan couldn’t converse with animals before, and now they won’t shut up.

After making friends with the locals, some being total freaks of nature, and none being human, they soon learn that their arrival is not by mistake. KING RAJ III – half tiger, half gorilla, and part peacock - assigns them a task; stop Black Eagle Group (B.E.G.) from discovering his hidden, treasure-filled islands. If they fail, this animal poaching crime syndicate, who’ll do anything illegal to make a buck, will become the wealthiest powers on the planet and rule the world.

In a place where magical Calawacadoza flowers have transformed creatures into an extremely advanced civilization, Dylan and Jake realize their battle is to save humanity itself. Can they lead B.E.G. to their demise without exposing Alchera’s secrets…and still make it home in time to start sixth grade?

The word Alchera or alt name (Mura Mura) is not a God, but the primordial timeless dream that existed before the world. Comes from Australia's aboriginals (or if you prefer Zoolander speak- Abdordiginals).

Alchera is located in the Indian Ocean in between Madagascar and Australia. But, closer to Aussie-land. This new name would be explained to the kids by Li, that bright orange gibbon, when they get a tour of the palace grounds. (the O'Leary/Chicago Fire thang is touched upon in the novel too)

You minions are tough. Guess that's why they call it query hell...

Anonymous said...

I like the new one.

Not sure about 'creatures' in this line:

'In a place where magical Calawacadoza flowers have transformed creatures into an extremely advanced civilization'

although I suppose 'animals' won't cut it since you have the half breeds. Maybe it's the fact that flowers have made them an advanced civilization. Too much to expect from a flower - even a magical one?