Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Face-Lift 467

Guess the Plot

Maureen Pope

1. A starry-eyed nun's chance encounter in the Vatican turns into much more when she gives birth nine months later to a baby girl.

2. In a world where the demons are all too real, the daughter of the Pope gains the power of Super Prayer.

3. As a child, there had been nothing she wanted more than to be Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, but at fifty, she had to face the bitter reality: she was just Maureen, Pope of Rome.

4. She was a cross-dresser, she was a nun. And now, thanks to the liberalized rules of the New Catholic Church, she's the Pope. And man, does she have some altar boys to get back at.

5. Born and orphaned in a taxi in Belfast in 1967, she was adopted and raised by the taxi's deaf driver. She joined the IRA at twelve. Now 26, she's one of the organization's most violent and vicious leaders. When she discovers she's become pregnant, she faces choices and soul-searching she never expected. She's . . . Maureen Pope.

6. She studied the classics when she was very young. Then when she was five her mother sent her to boarding school for ten years. Now she's back, and someone's gonna pay. For something. They call her . . . Maureen Pope.

Original Version

Dear Ms. Agentname,

Maureen is a privileged child from birth. Silent and observant, she spends her time reading and studying the classics with her father, Adam. [What do you mean, "silent"? Does she speak? Can she?] When Adam dies [How?] shortly before her sixth birthday, [She was five? I thought she was studying Oedepus Rex and The Aeneid. Now I find out by "classics" you meant The Cat in the Hat and Winnie-the-Pooh.] though, her quiet life suddenly changes. Her once-vibrant mother banishes her to a far-off school, where Maureen spends the majority of her childhood. Maureen returns home nearly ten years later to find her whole world changed, [How?] and soon discovers a sinister pattern of denial, not only of the dead, [Not only of the dead? The dead are in denial? Of what? If this is a zombie book, that's your biggest selling point. Trumpet it. Change the title to I Was a Zombie's Daughter.] but of the living, as well. [Who's denying what?] She must then struggle to lay her father's soul to rest and free his exiled memory.

Maureen Pope is a literary fiction piece. It is 64,000 words. I understand that you are particularly interested in literary fiction; I think that my novel is well-suited to your tastes and hope it fits your agency's needs. Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to your response. [Too many blah sentences in this paragraph.]



I don't understand "free his exiled memory."

Why isn't her father's soul at rest?

All we have here is that a girl's father dies, she goes away for ten years, and when she returns things have changed. Not enough to go on. I, as an unusually prescient editor, can deduce that Maureen's mother murdered Adam, and his spirit can't rest until Maureen kills her mother, marries her stepfather, and finishes reading the complete works of Euripides, but most agents and editors will want the specifics spelled out in the query. I've pointed out a few places where specifics can be easily added.


PJD said...

EE pretty much said it all. There's not enough here to go on to offer suggestions on improving the query.

If I read the denial part right, which I'm not at all sure I do, then no one is in denial but rather they are denying. Seems like it's more a cover-up than denial. Denial implies that someone can't believe something and therefore just lives like it's not true. E.g., Maureen's mom pretends Adam is off on an extended golf outing rather than buried in the rose garden--not just to convince the cops but because she simply can't function in reality.

Cover-up is implied by the word sinister. For example, Maureen's mom found out that Adam was cheating on her and that Maureen isn't really her baby (we can deduce Maureen's mom is blond in this example). That would explain the lack of vibrancy and the subsequent banishment of Maureen off to school. In this case, Maureen's mom and the gardener would both be denying that they conspired to kill Adam and turn him into rose fertilizer.

OK, enough. I don't know what's happening in this book, and I can't tell whether to latch onto the sinister denial, the restless souls, or the once-vibrant mother. Maybe EE's got it right.

Sarah Laurenson said...

There's not many words in this query, so you have room to grow and explain more about what goes on in your book.

With rearranging, assuming, and tightening, I've got it around 110 words.

Maureen is a privileged child from birth who enjoys reading and quiet time with her father, Adam. When Adam dies shortly before her sixth birthday, her life changes. Her once-vibrant mother banishes her to a far-off school, where Maureen spends the majority of her childhood. Returning home ten years later, Maureen discovers new off-limit topics – like her beloved father.

Resisting this betrayal of her father’s memory, Maureen uncovers a sinister pattern to the denial of Adam’s existence. More about the denial of the living. Yadda yadda yadda.

Maureen Pope is a 64,000 word literary fiction piece. I understand that you are particularly interested in literary fiction. Thank you for considering my submission.

Robin S. said...

I agree I'd like to know a little more, but I think your novel sounds like something I would read.

And I do think it's quite difficult to write a query for literary fiction, where much of the action/change is internal.

I wish you the best of luck with your work.

Nezha said...

Hi evil editor.
Could you visit my website and give me an honest opinion about my work (especially my unfinished piece entitled "a boring job"). It would be very kind of you, and i'll find out if i just need to stick with my day job. Think about it, you might be saving a fellow human being from a life of eternal poverty. Thanks. Nezha

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Author: I'm not as good as EE at reading between the thoughts, so this query only left me very confused, I'm afraid.

First, Maureen is five when she's shipped off and a teenager when she returns. She's a teenager. Of course her whole world is changed. What insight is the query reader supposed to understand from that?

Seems strange to yank a kid out of high school when she's been gone 10 years -- is there an inciting incident to bring her home? Seems that might be important to help the query get to the internal conflict.

Maureen starts out pretty young, so that it takes awhile for her to discover that her mom's been denying her existence is understandable, although some inkling should have gone through her mind after, say, around year 8 or so at the boarding school. To suddenly realize mom's been ignoring you for 10 years doesn't make her sound as bright at 15 as she was at 5. I'm assuming that's what "denial of the living" means. If it isn't, then I'm clueless what that means in the query.

As Robin notes, literary usually equals lots of internal conflict. Showing a little of that in the query might be helpful. Is she the same quiet, observant girl at 15 as she was at 5? Or is she coming home an angry, pregnant teen? Does she quietly stumble across evidence of all the denial, or has she turned into a nosy little sleuth determined to dig up the truth? Why does she care after all these years?

Nezha: I don't think EE would have posted your comment if he were going to respond privately to your request. Follow the guidelines here as you would when querying or submitting work to any agent or editor if you'd like feedback. One of the "rules of the blog" is that you have to be willing to subject your work to all.

Yay! New blood...