Friday, January 25, 2008

Face-Lift 478

Guess the Plot

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1. The instant longshoreman Joe Dentmore saw the dude and the dame in the white coats running toward his forklift, he figured -- mad scientists! And how right he was! They're attempting to take over the world with the aid of a woman whose outfits scandalously fall off at critical moments. Can Joe stop them, or must he call in Team X97Z -- the zombie axemen?

2. Prayers finds herself trapped in a tower after eloping with Eagle, a reckless warrior. She is rescued by a renowned gypsy adventuress (who has finally found in Sorgaard a man worthy of her attention). Meanwhile, Eagle is betrayed by Prayers's cousin, a mercenary in the employ of Alexey Nikolayevsky, who has a secret grudge to settle against Sorgaard. Okay, okay, none of that really happens.

3. Karen is trying to break up, but apparently for Todd, this does not compute. As she rants, he whaps himself upside the head and a small door creaks open, revealing a slot. He pops out the old disk, inserts a new one, and starts reformatting his brain. This is exactly what she was talking about! His needs always come before hers!

4. Despite legions of armed military, no beans can leave the coffee warehouses of Columbia. The Sisters of Platitude are saving the world from moral decrepitude, which Dr. Gus "Chicken Face" Lombardi proved is caused by coffee (his analysis produced a chi square statistic that was significant to the .04% level). This will be the worst day of General Rodriguez's life.

5. Technophobe Lulu Nelson goes crazy when her cell phone runs completely down, her PC crashes, her power is shut off, and her boyfriend tells her he's postponing their wedding. After being accused of taking part in a vicious crime spree, Lulu is arrested. But she falls in love with her bail bondsman, who turns out to be a video game addict.

6. Washington, DC madam Scarlett D'Onofrio loves her android employees. Indistinguishable from real girls, they don't get VD, they don't sleep or eat, and they always turn in 100% of the client fees. When Genevieve locks up during a routine wireless firmware update, however, Scarlett discovers her brothel has been hacked by the KGB, who've been listening in on Washington's most sensitive conversations.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Please consider reviewing LOADING...PLEASE WAIT (98,124 words, co-authored), cutting-edge women's fiction layered over a fantasy romantic adventure.

More simply put, LOADING is the story of two women who share two worlds, told two ways. [Even more simply put: L = 2(3W).] [I can't help noticing that every time we simplify it, it gets harder to figure out what it means.]

In the virtual world of Epoch of Epics (story told in standard narrative), [I hate it when I'm lost before the first comma.] a young noblewoman named "Prayers" (Preces) [Why is Prayers in quotation marks and Preces in parentheses? Which one is her name?] finds herself abandoned in an unfamiliar tower after eloping with Eagle, a reckless warrior who has been living in her parents’ manor. [When your job title is "warrior," it's kind of wussy to be living on your girlfriend's father's manor. Though I suppose it's nice to have the butler bring you scones and tea every morning before you head off to battle barbarians.] She is rescued by her friend Lyres, a renowned gypsy adventuress who has finally found in the itinerant Sorgaard a man worthy of her sincere attention. Meanwhile, Eagle is betrayed by Preces’ [("Prayers'")] cousin Kent, a mercenary in the employ of the powerful Duke Alexey Nikolayevsky, who has a secret grudge to settle against Sorgaard. [I'm not making a chart this time. Get rid of some of these characters.]

In the real world (story told via email exchange), "Preces" is 42-year old Beth, [Damn. Looks like I need a chart after all.

Virtual World......Standard Narrative......."Prayers"......(Preces)
Real World...........Email Exchange............."Preces".........Beth]

[Nope, didn't help.] a chatty, soft-hearted executive wife in Virginia, whose virtual lover, "Eagle," [She has a virtual lover in the real world who has the same name as her real lover in the virtual world?] is her son's best friend. Linda, a successful Los Angeles attorney and lightly cynical single mom, is "Lyres," and her virtual flirtation with "Sorgaard" has provoked an invitation to meet his creator face-to-face, behind the back of her increasingly resentful non-player fiancé. At first neatly separated, their real and virtual relationships gradually tangle, dragging Beth and Linda into confrontations with addiction, denial, obsession and each other.

Electronic relationship is a subject about which I've published several academic papers (see my Auburn University faculty webpage, linked at the very bottom of this email), and in which there is an exponentially-growing interest. According to the Pew Internet Project, 70 percent of American adult women are online; [Did that project survey real women, or virtual women (most of whom I suspect are teenage boys)?] email correspondence with friends and family, like that between Beth and Linda, is the dominant use. [Unlike American adult men, whose dominant use is porn.] While the fantasy subplot is accessible to anyone with imagination, it offers a special hook for the 6-million-and-counting female gamers worldwide; stereotypes notwithstanding, women aged 35-49 are the single largest demographic in online gaming, and fully 60 percent of college women in 2003 were regular online role-players (Nielsen/Net Ratings). [Which explains why 60 percent of college men have to settle for porn these days.] A novel about women's interactions -- online, in the real world, and in the space between -- is cutting-edge now, but headed for the mainstream as computer-mediated communication increasingly becomes the norm.

When I am not teaching Auburn undergrads or indulging my new-found passion for fiction-writing (a prequel to LOADING is outlined and the first chapter complete), I'm engrossed in raising my nine children -- three of whom, incidentally, are active gamers. [In fact, Gary plays my studly masseur, Lance plays my buff tennis instructor, and little Joey plays Brad Pitt in my current game, Sim City 9: Rule of the Amazons.] Co-author ___________, a writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and other periodicals, teaches grant-writing at UCLA. Like Beth and Linda, we met in the context of an online role-playing game and have never spoken or met face-to-face; we like to imagine our first-time meeting as an Oprah-worthy promotional event. [And it will be, when it turns out that "Linda" is actually twelve-year-old Jimmy Landry and a few of his buddies.]

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to sending you more of LOADING...PLEASE WAIT.



I believe that those who are into role playing would rather role play than read about the role-playing adventures dreamed up by fictional role players. Thus if a large portion of your book is the story of Sorgaard, Eagle and the Duke (Hey, that would make a catchy song title), we're in trouble.

Your story as I see it is about Linda (whose boyfriend is jealous of the time she spends in online role playing; to keep him from blowing his top, she doesn't tell him she's going off to Montana to meet a guy she met playing Epoch of Epics), and Beth, who's in the same E of E game, but unaware that her virtual lover, whom she's actually falling for, is her kid's best friend. These are the characters people want to read about. Those who want to read about Sorgaard and "Prayers" would rather you wrote a fantasy book about Sorgaard and "Prayers."

Dump the paragraph that isn't real, rework the one that is real so that it involves us in the conflicts of the characters (perhaps a paragraph about Beth's situation, a paragraph about Linda's, and a paragraph about the obsession/addiction/entanglement), and now you won't have to waste a huge paragraph convincing us there's a market for this. Unfortunately, I suspect too much of your plot exists only in the minds of Beth and Linda, and while fascinating to them, will be no more interesting to readers than the other ten million plots unfolding in online role playing games right now.

I could be wrong about that, but if not, it's not the end of the world; you'll just need to overhaul the book so that it focuses on the real world.


Kalynne Pudner said...

That was absolutely the most helpful response I've ever gotten to that query, including those from agents who requested partials and fulls. Well, ok, "full" singular.

You're not really evil after all, are you? (Though I rather suspect you'll respond to this comment with something nasty, just to prove me wrong.)


Sarah Laurenson said...

Hi Kalynne,

You think we minions are all masochistic and that's why we hang with the Evil Overlord? Welcome to the party!

I don't have much to add to EE's summation on your query. I think the real drama does lie in how the Second Life gaming affects the real world of these people. It doesn't hurt to add in the surprises of who they really are - like the kid's best friend.

Second Life stuff has appeared in TV shows recently and I personally think it was boring. I think they tried too hard to get across the 'cool' aspect of the virtual world without delving into the psychological impact on the real world.

And those of us who prefer to pick up a book would rather read about how this virtual living is screwing up your real life.

I had a girlfriend once who had an affair online. She found it wasn't very exciting after all. At least that's what she said when I looked over her shoulder. Um, yeah.

Anyway. Good luck with this query. I think you really have an interesting book in there. And if you align the query more with the real life aspects, then you can lose the justificaiton for writing the book (which is a very long paragraph full of boring statistics).

Sarah Laurenson said...

I think GTP 6 has great potential.

Stacia said...

So, if I have this straight, Prayers is actually the virtual character of Beth, and her story is the one Beth is playing? But Eagle is cheating on her with Linda in the real world?

Sounds kind of like that Will Ferrel movie I haven't seen yet. And maybe a little like that "Mazes and Monsters" movie with Tom Hanks years and year ago. Or "The Eight" (as I understood it, I've never read it). I'm not saying that to make you think your idea is old-hat or cliche at all, just that there might be other, simpler ways to describe the plot. It's really about the virtual and real worlds bleeding together, right, and people who get so caught up in it they can't tell where one ends and another begins?

I'd cut all the stuff where you call your book "cutting-edge", personally.

Anonymous said...

The query needs work, but this is a really good idea. I'm seeing it as a more complex update of You've Got Mail, in a world that's moved past silly AOL icons and onto more nuanced interactions with a growing virtualization of the real world.

I've considered the real/virtual life concept myself, with a more hardcore, typically male, gaming crowd and it always came out too Chuck Palahniuk for my writing style(not to mention my writing ability). You seem to have a lighter style going here, but I think I might still be interested in checking this out.
Also, you've probably come across this in your research, but just on the offchance you haven't you might find this site interesting. It's called the Daedalus Project - a sociology graduate student's quite successful attempt to question and document relationships in online RPGS:

Best of luck!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

What EE said, and ...

You're too close to academia. Stats and demographics are essential for a non-fiction proposal, but do not belong in a fiction query. An agent/publisher will not really care what the audience makeup is if the story is engaging and saleable. What some will care about -- and may even ask about -- is how you plan on reaching that audience. In other words, what your promotional plans are. How many of that potential audience can you personally reach?

Plus, your stats don't really support your conclusion, do they? There's a bit of a flaw in the logic there. An interest in gaming doesn't necessarily translate into a trend for your type of book. Millions of women watch, bet on, and otherwise participate in football and baseball events, but how many women's fiction or romance novels revolve around these sports?

Also, remember that at this point you're selling the book, not you. Keep the personal stuff short and relevant. For instance, what do your nine children have to do with writing about 42-year-old women? In fact, that could be a red flag that you have a heavy personal workload and may not be able to hit your deadlines. You don't want to bias an agent right off!

And if it's co-authored, with equal responsibilities, then give yourselves equal billing. If I were your co-author, I'd be a bit ticked off at the way this is written with most of the emphasis on you. But then, I'm something of a control freak :o)

No need to cite your word count to the word. Rounding to 98,000 is fine.

On a personal level, as someone who fits squarely in your demographic target, I would be concerned that the book has too much of a dual personality. That as soon as I got interested in either the role-playing or the real-playing storyline, I'd be switched over to the other storyline. Although, while I'm an avid fantasy reader/writer, the fantasy bit is kinda ho-hum to me as presented here. And since I don't read much chick lit, the real story isn't particularly compelling to me either.

Kalynne Pudner said...

Anonymous - What I wouldn't give if you turned out to be an agent! That is EXACTLY the premise (Sarah puts it well with "screwing up your real life"...though there is some good that comes out of it). And the Daedalus project site is a gold mine; I'd heard vague reports of something like it from the folks upstairs in Sociology, but no one had the actual name.

Thanks, everyone, for the helpful feedback. I was terrified of doing this, but I'm so much better off. Kind of like getting a root canal, but less painful. And I don't have a Lortab prescription to show for it.

(Oh, and Phoenix...she's cool with the query attribution. It was an 80-20 writing split.)

Sarah Laurenson said...

"she's cool with the query attribution. It was an 80-20 writing split"

That's all well and good for you and her, but what does it look like to the editor/agent reading your query?

EE - what do you think about getting a co-author query that focuses so much on one author?

Dave Fragments said...

When I was reading that third paragraph with all the strangeness in it, I thought of "Total Recall" the Arnold movie. Which is a movie about what is reality and what is fantasy.

Evil Editor said...

That's all well and good for you and her, but what does it look like to the editor/agent reading your query?

EE - what do you think about getting a co-author query that focuses so much on one author?

It could sound like the person who offered to write the query is trying to squeeze the other one out. But if we get rid of the paragraph of stats and the nine kids, the info split will be close to even on the authors. It's best if both authors sign the query. Is the 80/20 split in work going to translate to an 80/20 split in profits when this becomes a major bestseller? Why, she doesn't even deserve 20%. She barely did anything. Squeeze her out now, Kalynne, or I sense trouble in the future.

Dave Fragments said...

As for co-authors...
Think about it from the agents POV. What extras are going to go into the contracts to satisfy each author? What extra work does the agent have to do in preparing a contract? Do they have to issue two royalty checks? Two bills? Double everything?
Remember, it's business for the agent and publisher.

Evil Editor said...

Which is not to dissuade you; anthologies get published with many authors. Novel Deviations has 88 authors.

Robin S. said...

Hi Kalynne,

I think the background and setup for your story is really interesting. I think it’s even more interesting from the perspective of the basic human need for connection, setting aside where the fulfillment of that need takes place. Not discounting the method and place, but thinking about it from a universal perspective - the decision on what is or isn’t real to a human being who’s searching for congress, and thus for meaning. Whether through fantasy or reality, that feeling of connection is of paramount importance.

I’m wondering if mentioning this commonality would work well in your query. (It may already be there, and I’ve missed it. If so, sorry! I’m thinking of your storyline from this perspective.)

Jon Pumpkin said...

I just hope the novel doesn't start with a scene in the virtual and then surprise! it's not real.

Because I hate that.

Xenith said...

Shouldn't it be L=(2W/2)^2, which does simplify to L=W^2

The query strikes me as being a little wordy, in a way that reminds me of academic writing e.g

"More simply put," doesn't add anything here and it's not really applicable.

"Electronic relationship is a subject about which I've published several academic papers" could be "I've published several academic papers on electronic relationships".

Tighten it up, you'll lose less word, make it more attention getting and the agent is less likely to worry that the novel sounds like an academic paper :)

talpianna said...

Kalynne, since the writing split is so wide, perhaps your collaborator should be referred to as a "contributor" rather than a co-author? Though I don't know that that would help sell the book.

I must say that your query left me VERY confused about exactly who was doing what to/with whom (and where), which makes me wonder if I'd find the book even more confusing.

And I don't know whether this matters to anyone but me, but the differences in the names bug me, as they don't seem to belong to the same culture. Like Tolkien, I am an admirer of the linguistic aesthetic--all names in the same culture should be Latinate, or Scandinavian, or Hindi, or modern English, and not a mixture unless they are from different backgrounds and/or speak different languages.

But I'm not the best person to advise you on the quality of the story, as I don't play RPGs and don't care for chick lit. Give me Tolkien or Jayne Ann Krentz any time--but not in combination!

Polenth said...

The query didn't read to me like it was written by someone who plays online roleplaying games. Later you say you do, but you might have lost the gamer agent/editor before that part.

The thing that puts me off is the lack of a community in the game. It sounded more like the main characters were involved in an online dating site. Their world is filled with single people looking for love. They lacked friends in the game outside of their love interests. It could be the stable boy is played by a grandmother that Beth goes to for advice. There might be others in the adventuring group who are just friends (many of which are probably male). There could be real life couples and families playing the game together.

You're not going to put every detail in the query, but just a hint of the wider community would make it more believable.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think the mistake this query letter makes is the same one the doctor made a while back: Too much time spent on academic creds, too little time explaining the actual story.

As EE points out, it's pretty confusing what is going on. I gather that you have two worlds, the role-playing world and the real world, and then hilarity (or at least your story) ensues as these roles overlap. I think that you need to focus on showing us why this is something we want to read, not explain how you are qualified to write it. To put it plainly, you don't need to murder someone to write a murder story, so that info is irrelevant.

Good luck with the revisions. These letters are difficult.

Anonymous said...

She has a virtual lover in the real world who has the same name as her real lover in the virtual world?

hee hee hee hee

Lost in all this idle chit-chat about how to make the query better is the fact that EE did a terrific job with this one. >snort<

Chris Eldin said...

"Novel Deviations has 88 authors."

I want 1/88th of the profit. How about the rest of you?

Anonymous said...

you don't need to murder someone to write a murder story

You don't? Uh-oh.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

anthologies get published with many authors. Novel Deviations has 88 authors.

Well, yeah, but there were, ahem, no advances or royalties to consider there.

Still, my stuff has been in multi-authored anthologies where both the advance and royalties were paid unequally based on word counts of each published story. I never worry about the bookkeeping as long as the checks keep coming in. :o)

Evil Editor said...

It is about time the contributors to the Novel Deviations books started sharing in the spoils. You each owe me about $2.50.

none said...

Gah, I've been posting as my husband again. Anyone would think this was his computer.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Who do I make the check out to?

Kalynne Pudner said...

I don't know whether anyone is hanging around these comments anymore, or if there's some other forum for this, but any and all critique of the reworked query would be gratefully received:

LOADING...PLEASE WAIT (98,000 words) is a co-authored novel without precedent but with cultural relevance, as it chronicles the friendship of two very different women, in both the real contemporary world and a virtual medieval world.

Beth is a soft-hearted, somewhat air-headed executive wife unhappily facing the prospect of an empty nest; Linda is a successful attorney on the opposite coast, a single mom to whom the quiet and solitude of an empty nest sounds more like a promise than a threat. They met and formed an intimate friendship as characters in an online role-playing game: Beth as "Preces," a bright but devoutly religious teenaged noblewoman, and Linda as "Lyres," a gypsy warrior with a reputation.

LOADING opens in the virtual world, where Preces awakes to find herself abandoned in a tower after eloping with "Eagle" (the avatar of Beth's son's best friend). She is rescued by Lyres, whose adventures - especially those involving an itinerant chemist named "Sorgaard" - comprise the virtual world story line.

Chapters of virtual world fantasy are interspersed between Beth and Linda's email correspondence. These prolonged exchanges, light and chatty at the outset, gradually reveal secret tragedies, powerful obsessions and paralyzing fears that have put their real and virtual worlds on a collision course.

Electronic relationship is a subject about which I've published several academic papers; I see LOADING as an opportunity to explore some of the salient issues in a more entertaining and compelling way. Co-author XXXXX, herself a highly accomplished gamer, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and other periodicals. Like Beth and Linda, we met in the context of an online role-playing game and have never spoken nor met face-to-face; we like to imagine our initial meeting as an Oprah-worthy promotional event.

The pages pasted below are from the end of the first virtual world fantasy chapter and the beginning of the email exchange, to give you a flavor of both as well as the transition between them.

My contact information can be found at the very end of the email. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to sending you more of LOADING...PLEASE WAIT.

Anonymous said...

Here's my cold cruel world view of this. Multiple authors, multiple story lines, multiple genres, characters with real and imaginary identities, real and imaginary relationships, etc etc. You lost my attention about halfway through that query. Sounds like a mish-mash. Being without precedent is kind of a warning that there is likely to be no discernible way to market the book, even if it is a bright idea.

Will this appeal to someone who is devoted to the virtual world thing? I have no idea. I might find your fantasy world plot etc interesting if it was well written as a fantasy novel in which the world is "real". That would be my genre. But I'm not the least bit interested in reading about two women who sit on opposite coasts banging on their computers and forming an intimate virtual bla bla bla etc etc.

That title makes it sound like much of the book is really scene after scene spent waiting for your slow-ass old Windows computer to do something. Which makes me think you should come up with a new title because waiting for a computer is really nobody's idea of a good time.

Anonymous said...


I would drop the "without precedent" line (it's just asking for someone to think of a precedent), and the "Oprah-worthy moment," and I would say your characters "meet (present tense) rather than "met" to match the rest of the synopsis. Aside from those nitpicks, I think your rewrite is much clearer than the last version and gets closer to the heart of your story. Good for you for taking criticism so well!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Kalynne; Better, but I think you still need to leave the hype at home and make your description of the story compelling of itself. Also, no need to describe the way the chapters lay. And certainly do not send the last part of Ch 1 and the first part of Ch 2. I understand what you want to demonstrate, but agents will either like your idea from the query and first sample pages and want to see more or they won't. The rule is to send the first 5, 10, whatever number of pages, consecutive, starting from page 1.

And your contact info should come either at the top of the email or right after your query text and before the sample pages. Treat the query letter the same as you would any business letter. These are really common mistakes (believe me, I've made just about every mistake in the book myself!), but they do mark you as an amateur and you want to come across as a writing professional.

I think the query still needs to focus more on what happens in the book. And the number of characters mentioned by name here simply confuses the reader -- info overload. FWIW, I've taken a stab at separating the theory from the story:

Online role-playing adventurers Beth and Linda discover that what began as a simple way to escape the drudgery of middle age has taken a dark and sinister turn. Aspects of the virtual game have begun to infiltrate their real lives -- catching them up in a modern-day psychosis and putting their real and virtual worlds on a collision course.

Beth is a soft-hearted, somewhat air-headed executive wife unhappily facing the prospect of an empty nest. Linda is a successful attorney on the opposite coast; a single mom who can't wait for the quiet and solitude an empty nest promises. The fast alliance their gaming characters form in the virtual medieval world quickly translates into a virtual friendship in the real world. Before long, the game and their friendship consume them to the exclusion of friends, family and common sense.

When her son's best friend enters the game as Beth's virtual lover and Linda's virtual love interest begins pressuring her to meet in real life, the women turn to one another for support, only to learn that separating the game from reality will take more strength and conviction than either woman possesses alone. Their emails to one another begin devolving into confessions of secret tragedies, powerful obsessions and paralyzing fears. And when X happens, Beth and Linda must find the same courage and resiliency their online characters demonstrate or Y will surely come about.

LOADING...PLEASE WAIT is complete at 98,000 words. Co-author Kalynne Pudner has published several academic papers about electronic relationships. Co-author XXXXX, herself a highly accomplished gamer, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and other periodicals. Like Beth and Linda, we met while playing an online role-playing game and have never spoken nor met face-to-face.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to sending you more of LOADING...PLEASE WAIT.

Robin S. said...

Phoenix- I swear I truly believe you could make a damn good amount of money writing query letters for authors-in-distress.

(That includes helping me, please.)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Robin, let's talk.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Phoenix - you might want to consider writing queries for money. You're really good!

The thing that Phoenix does well here is to simplify the query and concentrate on the 2 MC's.

Although your new query is much better, it is still confusing and introduces too many players. I especially don't like the wife's son's mother's granddaughter's next door neighbor's kind of thing. Means I have to think.

Kalynne Pudner said...

Okay, I think I've got it this time (thanks to Phoenix, whom I pretty much copied, pasting the actual details of the story):

Two women who've never met, and probably wouldn't like each other if they did, find that what began as online fun is now threatening to shatter their lives, and they have only each other for support.

Beth is a soft-hearted, somewhat air-headed executive wife whose teenaged son introduces her to "Epoch of Epics" to ward off the impending boredom of an empty nest. Linda is a successful attorney and single mom relieving the stress of her overbooked life through the virtual adventures of a gypsy with a reputation. A series of coincidences has forged an alliance between their characters, so when Beth decides to quit the game, they translate their virtual-world friendship into a real one via email.

But Epoch of Epics has become more than a harmless pastime, putting real and virtual worlds on a collision course. A real-life rumor links Beth and her virtual lover — who turns out to be her son's best friend. A virtual flirtation leads Linda to a real-life rendezvous behind the back of her increasingly resentful fiancĂ©. A mysterious virtual-world stranger reveals a startling degree of real-world familiarity with both women. Within the space of a single year, Beth and Linda must come to grips with obsession, addiction, paralyzing fear, a secret tragedy...and the fundamental difference between reality and make-believe.

This difference is the premise of LOADING...PLEASE WAIT, a 98,000-word first novel by co-authors who, like Beth and Linda, have never met. Kalynne Hackney Pudner holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and has published several scholarly articles on the ethics of electronic relationship, while Sheryl G. Stuart, herself a highly accomplished gamer, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and other periodicals.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to sending you more of LOADING...PLEASE WAIT.