Friday, January 18, 2008
Guess the Plot
Life Code From Brooklyn
1. Cloning has eliminated genetic diseases, and scientists have engineered highly intelligent people. But in 2112, the world that was supposed to be perfect is falling apart. Skip Wellington has gone to a graveyard in Brooklyn, desperate to uncover some viable DNA. Can he clone a plumber before every last toilet in New York City is clogged?
2. After Tony got neutralized by the KTG, he spent all his time lamenting his lost virginity, combing his toupée, and raising levels of urban insecurity by broadcasting ads for "Loretta's Bed-o-rama," an imaginary brothel, on his CB radio. But when he finds a body in the dumpster he knows the culprit: Mr. Whiskers, a dubious across-the-alley neighbor. How can he prove it?
3. When a strange, half-fish half-rat creature crawls from the East River and, gasping its first primitive breaths, tells a tourist, "Fuck You," scientists think they've found the key to unlocking the secrets of evolution. Little Fanny Sue adopts the foul creature as a pet, however, leading to years of lawsuits and two lucrative book deals.
4. Just when Trudy Hench thought it was safe to stage another play, along comes Homeland Security with 584 new safety rules: shoes must be x-rayed, handbags must be checked, lights must stay on bright the whole time, no simulated explosions or costumes that cover the face are allowed, etc., etc. Who can play by those rules? She'd rather take it to court!
5. Bartolino Ferranti, MD teams up with an attractive female geneticist and a longshoreman to collect life forms from deep-sea ocean vents. But their attempt to develop useful microbes forces them to weave through webs of politics and organized crime. Possibly they should have performed their experiments somewhere other than Brooklyn, where the mob has their hands in every bowl of primordial soup.
6. When 9 year old Lala McGee grabs her steel Starbucks cup and conks an unruly customer at the lemonade stand, she doesn't plan how to explain what happened to crooked homicide detective Gus "Chicken-face" Lombardi. Too bad everything she says only makes it worse. Then there's diabolical prosecutor Lloyd "Fatboy" Nelson: he'll soon be running for mayor and wants to toast Lala with the death penalty.
Scientists no longer think life started on the surface of our planet based on carbon, oxygen and water. The first surface of our planet was like its current molten interior, a mixture of chemicals that can support life forms [Archaea] that exist free from carbon, oxygen and water. Early Archaea may have evolved into today's creatures. DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid serves as the life code for the reproduction of all creatures. Archaea exist today at deep-sea oil seeps, volcanic ocean vents and perhaps outer space. [What is this, the transcript of a National Geographic documentary?]
Life Code from Brooklyn is based on the science of genetic engineering. While Bartolino Ferranti MD [Change his name to Bart Ferrari. You want him to sound like a stud, not a pizza chef.] is trying to reconcile a relationship with his estranged son, he teams up with an attractive female genetic engineer and a longshoreman leader. With his son they collect Archaea from deep-sea ocean vents. [Shouldn't they team up with some divers instead of a longshoreman?] They attempt to develop useful microbes genetically engineered from these Archaea. Their pursuits force them to weave through entangling webs of politics, big business, and organized crime. Life Code from Brooklyn is an 88,000 word action/adventure novel. [Action/adventure? Your plot is three people try to make useful microbes out of Archaea.]
As a Yale educated physician, I have had an eventful teaching career as Director of Allergy at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. [You're just the guy I need to talk to. This fucking Allegra does nothing to stop me from sneezing. It's fucking January, there shouldn't be any pollen anyway. I never should have gone with the generic version; I can't even pronounce it. Sorry I'm venting on you, but what good would it do to complain to the drug companies? Those bastards want me to be sick. It's the only way they make money.] I in part wrote and edited a textbook titled Food Allergy for allergists that was judged the best by Lancet. As a result I consulted for an agricultural genetic engineering firm, General Foods, and the makers of MSG. [I don't trust any ingredient that's so hard to pronounce they abbreviate it. Plus, MSG has been shown to cause glaucoma in rats (which is why I never take my rat to Chinese restaurants). And you say you're in the pocket of the MSG manufacturers? What am I supposed to do about this burning and the numbness and the bronchospasms? Just stop eating Mongolian shrimp? That'll be the day.] I also co-authored a book for the general public entitled " What your doctor may not have told you about your Child's asthma and allergy" [He's been sneaking MSG-laden snacks from the school vending machines. That's why he can't breathe, lady.]
Recently I began to write fiction. [Actually, you started writing fiction when you wrote that report on the numerous health benefits of massive amounts of MSG in the diet.] I have won first place in the 2005 Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association Annual Writing Contest. in the Poetry division for my entry "Inner City Asthma Rap".
[You say you can't breathe but you ain't been capped,
Well dig me while I drop on you the asthma rap.
You chillax in the ghetto where there's shit in the air,
Better pack your inhaler when you stuck down there.]
I had a short story "Children are Precious'' published in January, 2006 issue of www. thirstforfire.com. A second short story ``The Impatient Patient at a New York City Hospital'' [I gotta hand it to you: your titles don't leave me wondering what the story's about.] was published in issue 13 of www.LauraHird.com .
Michael Crichton's best selling book Next and Vincent Patrick's Family Business demonstrates a significant commercial interest in a work of fiction that has the science of genetic engineering as a theme. [I have a different theory: Michael Crichton's ability to get a novel involving genetic engineering published demonstrates a significant commercial interest in works of fiction by Michael Crichton.]
There's too much here about scientists and you, and not enough about your story. Dump that first paragraph and get to the attractive female genetic engineer as soon as possible. Why are they messing with microbes? What use are they hoping to find for them? Who's trying to stop them, and why? Are they in danger? I see nothing to indicate this is an action/adventure. As the old saying goes, you can't sell a pie by describing a saltine.
Posted by Evil Editor at 9:25 AM
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EE-- this might be your most hilarious commentary since the werewolf Popes.
Author-- oh my.
What EE said.
Hm. Are you trying to sell a fiction action/adventure or a white paper on genetics and the beginning of life on earth?
I think your focus is wrong here. Don't explain the science, show us the voice of your novel in the query.
And perhaps it would be best to summarize the previous publications as they don't sound all that exciting to a fiction fan.
All your credentials are good if this is non-fiction, but they don't really work here.
Right now, the 'voice' puts me to sleep and that won't sell a novel.
Holy crap, dude.
You should eliminate your first paragraph. I've often said that when it comes to zombie movies, I couldn't care less what causes the dead to rise, just show me shambling corpses. Same goes for thrillers. (Which I believe is what you'd label this, not action/adventure.) I don't care what the starting-point of life was, I want to see what happens when scientists collect and manipulate it.
Your third, fourth, and fifth paragraph should be in one ending paragraph, and limited to the most relevant creds. You have great ones in 4 and 5. Don't say that you recently started writing (why would you highlight that you're an amateur?), and limit your educational information to one short line.
The meat of your query is the second paragraph, which should take up most of the space in your letter. Start by introducing your main character and his situation. "When Bart Ferrari, MD, managed to extract the building blocks of life from a deep-sea vent, he had no idea that his own life would soon be in danger." Then what happens next. And next. Finish with the stakes: "If Bart can't create genetic supermonsters by next Tuesday, the government, the Mafia, and the big drug companies will make sure he never tweaks another genome."
Please, please, please change the title.
And have fun!
So, we know the female genetic engineer is attractive. What about Barto and the longshoreman? Are they hunky at all?
I think it's an accidental comedy.
Civilization is threatened by genetically altered, mutant microbes from the ocean floor and Bart Biologist MD must find a cure to save the world.
That's the basic plot but "civilization is threatened" and "cure to save the world" are cliches. Bart leads a team to save the world. It's Billy his estranged son, Bebe his genetic engineer lover and "Muscles" the longshoreman. Together they (fight the microbes?) or (fight the mad scientist?) to prevent the mutant microbes from altering mankind's genetic code.
Something like that...
What they said.
Your query's punctuation wheezes a bit.
[You're just the guy I need to talk to. This fucking Allegra does nothing to stop me from sneezing. It's fucking January, there shouldn't be any pollen anyway. I never should have gone with the generic version; I can't even pronounce it. Sorry I'm venting on you, but what good would it do to complain to the drug companies? Those bastards want me to be sick. It's the only way they make money.]
This, and "As the old saying goes, you can't sell a pie by describing a saltine". Ha!
Just go ahead and place this in the top five for 2008. I think it's a safe bet.
And I'm with Buffy. Tell us about how the MEN look. The MEN. Bright and brainy is nice, well-pecced, well, that's even better. And sensitive. Yeah. That, too. As long as they're not TOO sensitive. I have a long-standing rule, and it's worked for me:
"Never go out with a man who has less testosterone than you do." If he's too sensitive, well, that's a sure sign of troubles ahead.
This sounds like a very interesting story underneath the clinical description. I have to say (and I'm guessing EE will disagree) that your background lends credibility to your capability of telling this story, at least as far as the science goes. And my guess is that's why you've included the background.
Perhaps it could stay, but not be the center of attention in the query?
And don't worry- almost everyone gets hammered here. I did. And I'm still (sort of) alive.
I think you are suffering from a lack of self-confidence.
You clearly have credentials on the scientific side--degrees, track record of employment, etc. But you've spent too many years in academia, where degrees are worn like lapel pins and the only measure of value is what you've published lately.
Therefore, when you step into the world of publishing fiction, you naturally fall back on your existing credentials to illustrate that you're qualified to write this particular novel. Somehow, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, and that your novel is more worthy of being read if you say how many credentials you have.
But that doesn't matter here nearly as much as your ability to tell a story. What you need to do is lose the need to tout credentials. Stand up and say, "I wrote a novel, and dammit I'm worthy!" When you can do that, you will feel liberated to let the story stand on its own.
And if you can't let the story stand on its own, then perhaps you need to write a new story.
You don't have to be a history professor to write an historical novel. You don't have to be a theology professor or a signals analyst to write The DaVinci Code. You don't have to be a NASA rocket scientist to write science fiction.
I agree with Robin that this is clearly a finalist for Best of 2008. The rap really caps it.
Here's what EE wrote about my query on January 11 (Sangre de Cristo).
"We don't mind learning a little history while reading a novel, but the history is not the story. The people are. Make us care about the characters. The book may be different, but the query sounds like you couldn't decide whether to write a novel or a textbook."
He was right.
I love a good scientific thriller like this, and this has the makings of a good story. Unfortunately, I can't tell from what you have written.
Listen to Dr Freud Dude when (s)he talks about "... too many years in academia, where degrees are worn like lapel pins and the only measure of value is what you've published lately." All these credentials could be summed up in a single sentence at the end -- if you have to put them in at all.
Paragraph two is the only one with real information in it. I think the salient points here are:
- who he is
- that he's genetically engineering microbes
- that politics, big business, and organized crime get involved.
You need to say how or why they get involved, and what sort of trouble that brings him.
You're just the guy I need to talk to. This fucking Allegra does nothing to stop me from sneezing. It's fucking January, there shouldn't be any pollen anyway. I never should have gone with the generic version; I can't even pronounce it. Sorry I'm venting on you, but what good would it do to complain to the drug companies? Those bastards want me to be sick. It's the only way they make money.
Oh my God - This is exactly the sort of thing I think about saying to my doctor whenever I go in for more allergy medication.
EE reads minds, I swear.
There's a little problem with having "politics, big business, and organized crime" as your host of scoundrels: those are not characters. They need to be personified. Much too abstract.
Scientists no longer think life started on the surface of our planet based on carbon, oxygen and water. The first surface of our planet was like its current molten interior, a mixture of chemicals that can support life forms [Archaea] that exist free from carbon, oxygen and water. Early Archaea may have evolved into today's creatures. DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid serves as the life code for the reproduction of all creatures. Archaea exist today at deep-sea oil seeps, volcanic ocean vents and perhaps outer space.
Okay, you are apparently a well educated sort of person. First, don't speak down, speak on the same level as. That is our job, or rather it is yours and it will be mine. You are an intelligent person and henceforth capable of being elsewise then condescending and confusing.
You should mention that they also exist in jam, or am I getting things confused now?
But really, this sounds like a beginning of time story as aversed to honest science. That is the joy of science, it is honest and straight forward. There should be nothing pretensious or implied about it.
Don't tell us the meaning of DNA, if we don't know what it stands for we aren't going to understand the implications of it either.
"perhaps outer space..." woke me up from my half-memories of biology and into the grave reality that you are writing a story with microbes possibly destroying the world. Keep in mind that people will be touching, as this is a common plot, and you should defend yourself as you can.
How about: The first life was a type of prokaryote known as archaea, similiar but not identical to bacteria. But then the world became filled with oxygen, and so they retreated to places very hot and very cold where oxygen did not exist.
Wikipedia says, "they can survive high temperatures, often above 100°C, as found in geysers, black smokers, and oil wells. Some are found in very cold habitats and others in highly saline, acidic, or alkaline water. Mesophiles favor milder conditions in marshland, sewage and soil."
The rest needs more energy, but everyone else took care of that part.
Fiction, basically, is about sex and violence. In a contemplative literary thing the S & V might be hidden in a cold undercurrent, not overt. In your chosen action-adventure-thriller genre the S & V thermostat has, by definition, been turned up to HIGH. Therefore your query must demonstrate the presence of intriguing S & V characters engaged in an A vs B type plot. Or else it looks like you are not yet the master of your genre. Jabbering about primordial soups in the query worries us because we fear the narrative will be disrupted by long science-guy digressions when the S & V should be zipping along at a rapid pace.
Plus the key thing you seem to have missed about the Crichton is that he was always writing fiction, he went to med school because he thought English classes were too boring. He worked on fiction skills for many years, he didn't just pick up the thriller pen and suddenly dash off the Andromeda Strain on a whim.
Yeah. I agree with all the comments.
Definitely leave in the short story credits. And I agree with the last anon's post. Well, all of the posts, actually.
Queries for fiction are quite different from proposals for non-fiction. If world- or premise-building is necessary, work it into the query in an exciting way; no lecturing. Agents may well think a lecture in the query will translate into a lot of boring lectures in the book itself. So maybe something like:
Dashing doctor Bart Ferrari's recombinant DNA research produces startling results that promise to change the face of medicine forever. That is, if he and attractive genetic engineer Lola Carolla can keep their focus on the experiments and off each other. And if he and Lola can stay one step ahead of a scheming politician, the CEO of a large drug company whose profits are threatened, and, of course, the mob.
Using primitive life forms, archaea, collected from deep-sea ocean vents, Bart and Lola develop a new virus-eating microbe that might just cure everything from AIDS to the common cold. The microbes are tough: they can't be starved, suffocated, frozen, or burned. Acids and disinfectants can't touch them. And they reproduce so rapidly, once let loose, they could spread across the earth in just a few weeks and eradicate all viral diseases worldwide within a year.
While the scientific world receives the news with great excitement, others feel threatened. Congresswoman Mae Wong, a deeply conservative Catholic, wants to put a stop to anything that smacks of "playing God," and bases the platform in her run at the primaries on halting all genetic research, beginning with Bart's. The CEO of Genex, the largest drug research company in the world, sends a team of saboteurs to Bart's facilities to ensure Genex stays number one. And mob boss, "Chicken" Cacciatore, with his hand in every business in Brooklyn, targets Lola in a kidnapping plot to ensure Bart pays his fair share, too.
But then the engineered microbes begin to mutate, and if they can't be contained in time, it won't be just viruses they attack, but also the beneficial bacteria necessary to support advanced life -- like humans.
LIFE CODE, a thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton's NEXT, is complete at 88,000 words. I'm a Yale-educated physician who has worked for an agricultural genetic engineering firm, General Foods, and the makers of MSG. I co-authored a textbook, "Food Allergies," which earned high praise from Lancet, and a general-interest book, "What Your Doctor May Not Have Told You About Your Child's Asthma and Allergies." Two of my short stories have been e-published.
EE, you'll need to ratchet the funny way up going forward to top yourself here. The rap and where the mob has their hands in every bowl of primordial soup made my morning -- and then some!
And 150, I nearly swiped your "If Bart can't create genetic supermonsters by next Tuesday, the government, the Mafia, and the big drug companies will make sure he never tweaks another genome."
This post is bringing out the best in everyone!
Here's another key thing about Michael Crichton's books: you don't need no stinkin' graduate degree to love them. Junior high sophistication will do.
I really want to read GTP #2. Sounded like a fresh update of "Rear Window"!! And EE, yes, I have to agree that you've started the year out with a studly band and rap dude! XLN!
Author, have a slice of pie and some milk and then re-write this query! Pay special note to Dr. Dude and anon 7:31. And of course, EE.
Fiction, basically, is about sex and violence.
I don't think you should extrapolate the entire universe of fiction on the basis of the stories you read in Playboy.
Doc, a query letter isn't a c.v., so I'd suggest you drop all mention of poems, short stories and such unless you won a major award. Also, don't go on at length about your degree except maybe a single sentence.
The object is to sell the novel, not you, so give us more of the characters and their story. We have a lot of set up, and yet I don't know what, exactly, happens.
to anon 10:00
Actually, I'm a girl and don't read Playboy. If you think fiction is not about S & V you must be hiding under some "literary" rock in academia. Here's an arbitrary sample of what I read broken down to the essence for you:
Moby Dick - violence
Alice in Wonderland - violence
Stardust -- sex & violence
miscellaneous by PG Wodehouse -- sex
Le Morte D'Arthur -- sex & violence
Harry Potter books -- violence & sex
anything by Michael Crichton -- violence & sex
Metamorphoses -- sex & violence
Odyssey -- sex & violence
Well, you know, anon 10:00 pm, I'm thinking breaking it down to sex and violence comes pretty close. Not all the way, but pretty close.
Maybe it's not all gun 'em down violence and why-don't-we-do-it-in-the-road sex, but still..
Garp- sex and violence in abundance.
To Kill A Mockingbird - sex and violence as as undercurrent.
Burroughs novels - yeah.
Sophie's Choice- sex and violence.
Almost all mysteries- sex and/or violence of some sort.
If you think fiction is not about S & V you must be hiding under some "literary" rock in academia.
Yeah, because that would be the only other possibility, right?
Well, anonsky, it may not be the only one, but it's a pretty fucking good guess.
Not many other 'genres' get off on navel-gazing and lint collection. I'm talking, and I guess the female anon was talking, about quasi-lit fic, the stuff that isn't widely read but is instead chatted up in a quiet, furrow-browed frenzy of multi-syllabic pats on a fraternity of NYC backs, and eventually, mercifully, forgotten.
Was it the "academia" reference that irked you so? Or "literary"? Maybe you actually write bestselling picture books for toddlers...
Seriously, you're not alone, anon. There are zillions of writers who haven't noticed that fiction always boils down to S &/or V and are trying to make stories out of other stuff. Doing laundry, for instance, like -- Protagonist cannot get the damn spot out!
Ooops, that would be MacBeth: violence.
Crawl out from under there and go read Robert McKee if this is really shocking news to you.
There are zillions of writers who haven't noticed that fiction always boils down to S &/or V and are trying to make stories out of other stuff.
It's perfectly, totally, OK for you to believe that. Really. No one's suggesting otherwise. There are other people who might not buy that -- who might consider it's somewhat dismissive and missing of the point, who might consider that few or none of the books mentioned are about sex and violence -- and yet still have a functioning place in society. Long shot, I know, but us (non-academic) rock dwellers need some kind of hope to cling to.
The lucky thing is, we don't have to agree. We don't even have to fight about it.
I'm talking, and I guess the female anon was talking...
Because only a guy would disagree? Interesting angle.
I guess I need to work harder with the epilator.
Good Lord. Try removing that plank of doom, a/k/a, the slogging burden of the self-righteous, from your shoulder, Elvira. I don't give a rolling fuck whether you're male or female. Or if you shave. Or if you ever have.
When you state an opinion with the air of one-who-is-right, capital R, don't expect not to get knocked in the nuts, proverbial, or otherwise.
I don't know the other anon, and I didn't know she had posted when I wrote what I wrote.
But what I do know is, when you smart ass posted this:
"I don't think you should extrapolate the entire universe of fiction on the basis of the stories you read in Playboy" -
you shouldn't have expected to have the last word on that self-righteous bullshit.
Opinions and discussion are great. Self-righteous aggrandizement. I don't think so.
When you state an opinion with the air of one-who-is-right, capital R, don't expect not to get knocked in the nuts, proverbial, or otherwise.
Hmm. Doesn't Playboy actually have a history of publishing some pretty damned good stories by very respected writers? -- and thus would actually be a reasonable sampling of the entire universe of fiction?
Yeah. You got it. Wish I'd thought to say that last night. Renders the original irritating comment moot. At least the spirit in which I believe it was intended. (I may have been out drinking last night with husband and friends at a bar where a guy named Seamus was singing, and I may have come home and read a post and gotten pissed off. It could happen.)
Yeah, that Seamus, eh? Does it to me every time, too.
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