Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Face-Lift 477

Guess the Plot

Bless the Dying

1. Bless the dying, it is said, for they make way for our children. "Fuck that," Oscar Munker says, and so begins his hilarious quest to find a way to cling to this mortal coil forever.

2. Dear old Father Gabriel spends his nights at the hospital, ministering to the terminally ill. But only Ian, the vampire who works in the lab, knows that 'Father Gabriel' is really a devil known as Gabron. Can Ian destroy Gabron before he harvests any more souls?

3. Afer a routine medical test, a cop checks into the hospital. He's been poisoned! His ex-lover suspects he's dying, so she says a little prayer for him. He dies anyway. She decides to solve the case.

4. When evil scientist Ray Winegast accidentally infects himself with homemade zombie microbes and starts an epidemic, it's up to Thor Jones and Bongo Mugwump to save voluptuous Screaming Mimi from the roof of Virus Central before the US Air Force flattens Pittsburgh.

5. Sally Bless has only one month in which to make her handicraft store show a profit, or the bank will seize all her assets. Then she meets Oliver Quilby, an aging hippie who shows her the forgotten art of tie dying. Suddenly a craze for tie-dying hits the USA and Sally finds herself richer than she ever dreamed. But will her new millions alienate the hippie she has grown to love?

6. Candace always wanted to see Africa. When a brutal coup occurs, though, hunky CIA agent Tom Thomas whisks her off to a secret resistance base in the jungle. Can she win his heart by going under cover as a nun into the new regime's hospitals and extract useful secrets from its soldiers while administering last rites?

Original Version

Dear XX: [Nothing assures a rejection like spelling the editor's name wrong. That's EE.]

When a policeman falls ill after taking a routine medical test, his former lover, head of public relations for the hospital where he’s been admitted, suspects the worst. [I have no idea what "the worst" is because the test and the illness aren't specific enough:

Routine Test....Illness........Diagnosis

Prostate Exam........Bug eyes..............Normal
Cholesterol test......Numbness........Tourniquet too tight
Steroids Test....... Gigantic Head.....Cantaloupe-sized tumor
AIDS test.................AIDS......Needle used to draw blood for test was infected
Eye exam...............blank stare..........Dead]

Was his poisoning an accident, or did someone prescribe the test knowing full well the outcome?

[Doctor: Where's Crampton?

Nurse: I sent him to the lab to have some blood drawn.

Doctor: Excellent. Mwaahhh ha ha! Soon he will be dying from a slow-acting poison administered by lab assistant Igor, and we can move on to the next phase of our diabolical plan.

Nurse: May God bless him.]

That’s the premise of a character-driven mystery I’ve written titled BLESS THE DYING.

When not writing fiction, I’m a feature writer for the Houston Chronicle. I spent ten years in health care public relations before becoming a journalist, and still have many contacts at the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and other media outlets, which will prove helpful when publicizing the book.

My short stories have appeared in BorderSenses Literary Journal, Farfelu magazine, and Texas Magazine. A portion of BLESS THE DYING, which comes in at 65,000 words, was honored by the Florida First Coast Writer’s Festival in its annual competition.

Written in the vein of Irene Allen’s Elizabeth Elliott series, BLESS THE DYING is the first in a planned series of mysteries. The second novel follows the protagonist as she’s called upon to defend a physician accused of molestation. [BLESS THE MOLESTED will be followed by BLESS THE SNEEZING, in which the protagonist must deal with the aftereffects of pollen being released into the hospital allergy clinic. Accident, or Mother Nature's henchmen?]

Please feel free to phone or e-mail if you’d like to read BLESS THE DYING. Thank you for your time.


That's all we get? The premise and a bunch of stuff about you? If you tell us what he was being tested for and what his symptoms were, we'll have some grounding, but this being a mystery, I assume someone gets murdered. Is it the cop? He dies from the poison? Who wanted him dead? Who had opportunity? Get us interested in the mystery.

How do they know the routine test had anything to do with this? Obviously if you have your hearing tested and later get a stomach ache you aren't going to connect the two. Usually if you have an illness you assume it's caused by the usual suspects, not a medical test you had recently.

The cop's former lover is going to be your protagonist in a series of mysteries, and we don't even get her name? The only character named in the query is Elizabeth Elliott, and she's not even your character.

Come up with eight or ten sentences summarizing your plot. Your premise can be two of them.

If editors had to decide which manuscripts to request based on two-sentence premises, they'd have to request everything or nothing. I, for one, would go with the latter.


Anonymous said...

My suggestion is that you form a close alliance with the author of Face-Lift #476. You can grumble about MDs, exchange manuscripts and hard-assed bitchy critiques, and share homework lessons re: fiction and cops -- thus working on your craft in a chummy supportive situation.

Or are you already in a critique group together? If so, maybe it's time to change what you're doing.

Sarah Laurenson said...

We seem to be getting a rash of queries that contain very little about the novel and a lot about the author. Is this a new trend?

Part of me hopes so. That way the editors and agents I send my stuff to will be zipping through their slush at a faster rate.

Alas, only a part of me is that self-centered.

Author, I hope you focus more on the novel and less on yourself in the rewrite. There's so little to go on otherwise. In fact, it was easy to tell which GTP was the real one as it was very sketchy and didn't really hold together.

Anonymous said...

Man, I would read GTP #1 in a New York minute.

WouldBe said...

There'll probably be little substantive comment since there's so little query to comment on. The author could claim to be Steven King, yes THE Steven King, and the query would then be just fine.

talpianna said...

I vote for #5 as nonfiction, as it's actually happening:

Spring 2008 Trend Alert: Tie-dyed fashions
| Posted Jan 22nd 2008 8:02PM by Lauren Messiah

Whenever I think of tie-dyed garments the first thing that comes to mind is 'summer camp' -- not going to summer camp (I was far too cool for that) but actually teaching summer camp. Working with dozens of children assisting them in creating a garment that was destined to be a disaster. Deep down I think the kids knew that their tie-dyed creations were a disaster too because they were seldom worn outside of campgrounds.

That was then, this is now.

When left to professionals, tie-dye can actually be cool. From dresses to swim wear, expect to see tie-dyed apparel make an appearance in your everyday attire this coming spring.

I am a fan of the floor length tie-dye gowns, they give an easy-breezy sort of feel and are easy to throw on and walk out the door. Pair your tie-dyed garments with flat gladiator sandals and a hobo style bag for a complete look.

Xenith said...

Getting the novel down to a one sentence statement isn't something to be sniffed at though ;)

(Actually, it can be a good exercise wrtiting a logline, because you need to really focus on what the novel is about. Once you're got that done, I find the query & synopsis become easier to write.)
(It might even help coming up with a title.)
(Or maybe not. Nothing makes that easier.)

talpianna said...

I gather that the cop has been poisoned via the "routine test;" but this is problematic, as EE pointed out. However, it might be made to work if you used a routine SHOT or vaccination. I recently read a story in which one of the plot points was that the teenaged heroine was allergic to eggs, so her parents decided not to have her vaccinated before moving to the African jungle because the smallpox vaccine is cultured in eggs. They figured the chances were remote that she'd ever be exposed to smallpox.

Yeah. right.

There are also drug allergies, as for example to penicillin. I myself am allergic to tetracycline.

And in 1952, when I was getting shots before we were sent to Europe, I had a very severe reaction to the typhoid/typhus series. Fainted dead away at a Bluebird Father-Daughter Dinner.

PJD said...

Thanks, talpianna, for the tie dye article. Nice to know I've been retro hip before retro hip was hip retro. (I have no idea what I just said. Just go with it.) I've tie dyed and sold corporate tee shirts as a fundraiser for United Way the past few years, and they sell surprisingly well, bringing a nice price.

Anyway, to the query: I'm not sure there's anything that can be said that EE didn't say. Except I like GTP #2 and hope that Ian the Vampire shows up in more GTPs in the future.

And in GTP #4... why, exactly, would we want to stop the US Air Force from flattening Pittsburgh?

Robin S. said...

I liked the prostate test bit, with the bug eyes.

(I laughed my ass off watching my husband mince around like he'd been violated after he came home from having had his first prostate exam. We had a little chat about stirrups in exam rooms for women's exams, and why they were there, and all about how much fun, and how painless, childbirth is. And how one finger up his lubricated little...well, you know. Anyway, BFD, Sport.)

OK- on to the query.

I have to say I've read certain agents like to hear about applicable pub credits, about what genre your novel is and where you think it would "fit in" in the scheme of things - I've also heard some say they like (reasonable) comparisons to published authors. I've also read agents wanna know you have more than one book "in you". Then I've read other agents' wants-and-want-nots lists, and they prefer a polar opposite approach to each of these little nuggets. So I'd say this is (obviously) going to be a case-by-case deal.

When I've written a query that EE doesn't dismiss top-to-toe, I'll feel more comfortable saying more about the premise/setup portion of people's queries. As that hasn't happened yet (and as I may chicken out and never rewrite one for him, fearing the wrath of the gods if I screw up again), I'm bowing out of this portion of your query author, except to say,
I know it's hard as hell, and I wish you the very best of luck.

Anonymous said...

robin, that is such a cop-out on the query.

I am laughing my prostate off at your story about your hubbie, though. I am at that age for my first such exam, and I think I scored big points with my doctor (a woman) when I said, "If my wife can go through childbirth--twice--without drugs of any kind--then I can handle this." I refrained, however, from doing my best W impression and saying, "Bring it on!"

Chris Eldin said...

So glad EE didn't go to medical school.

Anonymous said...

You can think of the "fiction = sex +/or violence" equation as a tool for constructing and troubleshooting story/plot structure. What is the main "conflict" about? S or V? What is the main thing that needs to be resolved -- some problem of S or V? That's your main plot. That's the arc your main character is going on. What are the subplots about? Do these complement each other well?

It's like there's a "sex" dial and a "violence" dial. You adjust the balance as needed. Every genre has its standards for both text and subtext.

There are many forms of violence that do not involve fisticuffs or explosions. And many forms of sex that do not involve fucking. Yes, you can call it love and death, if you'd rather.

In today's "literary non-genre" genre, both sex and violence tend to be kept turned down low. Maybe they're on the "subtext" setting throughout, so violence remains in the subtext of the main character's anomie and sex never goes beyond the subtext of her nostalgic thoughts.

If a story or scene is not working, it often helps to adjust the sex or violence dials to either a more subtle or more overt setting. If publication is your goal it helps to avoid grossing readers out or boring them to death.

In the plot description we get for this query, the S & V dials are both set to "ambiguous" so we can't tell what the story is about. Maybe you can't, either. After reading this we expect the plot to be ambiguous in the book, too. Which is the very problem common to works the subtle Miss Snark used to refer to as "rambling pieces of crap."

It would help to set your S & V dials to more overt settings, so we at least know what the main characters care about and what their troubles are.

Robin S. said...

How did I miss this handy and down-to-earth sex and violence discussion?