Thursday, February 07, 2008

Face-Lift 486

Guess the Plot

Death and Taxes

1. All work and no pay. A penny saved is a penny earned. Just do it. Another day older and deeper in debt. The sky is falling. Another day, another dollar. Farmer Bob Jones deconstructs popular economic theories as he drives his combine across Kansas.

2. Jim "the butcher" Takamini has the Yakuza horning in on his sushi business. But when the IRS decides to do an audit, he learns there's one thing even more inevitable than death and taxes: the wrath of his mother-in-law.

3. Tax collector Ryan Conner doesn't know why no one in Colmera Springs ever pays taxes, but he's going to put a stop to it, even if it means throwing the whole town into jail. Maybe Conner would have thought twice if he'd known the truth: that the residents of Colmera Springs are all . . . zombies!

4. A glamrock tribute band from Des Moines gets attacked by a skinhead mob in the reptile house of the Amsterdam zoo. When they flee through the red light district, a chance encounter with an IRS agent and a Puerto Rican undertaker becomes their only hope of getting safely back to Des Moines.

5. Desperate for revenue, the federal government pushes through legislation that makes "you can't take it with you" legally binding. Souls are not allowed to pass on until all taxes are settled in full. But Harry Needleman would rather spend eternity in limbo than let the government get its hands on his last fifty dollars.

6. Jacqueline poisons her husband, Jerome, to collect on his $100,000 insurance policy. But getting away with murder isn't all it's cracked up to be when it turns out Jerome owes over $200,000 in back taxes. Not only that, it turns out the IRS is more irritating than Jerome ever was.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I would like to offer my manuscript, Death and Taxes, complete at 55,000 words, to you for review and consideration for representation.

No one in the forgotten town of Colmera Springs has paid taxes in 160 years. [160 years ago, no one in any U.S. town was paying taxes. The income tax became constitutional in 1913. There were brief periods of income tax from 1862 - 68, and 1894- 95. Internal taxes on tobacco and alcohol existed in various periods, but 160 years ago, government was financed by tariffs on imported goods.] No one has ever come to collect, and no one there ever bothers to file. Toby, Danita and the other residents would rather just play a game of Eats with whoever happens by.

Ryan Conner is a tax collector. Armed with rubber stamp, ballpoint pen, and his new secretary Clarice, he greatly enjoys serving notices and seizing assets. The fact that his newest target – Colmera Springs – is inhabited by zombies makes no difference. [Or does it? If you died last year you have to pay taxes on last year, but if you died 160 years ago, I think you're clear.] They didn't even bother to file an extension! [Of course zombies don't file; the tax laws for zombies are too strict. For instance, to take the deduction for business meals, a zombie is required to obtain a receipt from the person whose brains he eats. And don't get me started on Schedule Z, Depreciation of Body Parts.] At the first sight of Toby, Clarice is more than ready to leave the mountain town, go home and find a new job. Her boss however, never backs down, and he has the keys to the car.

Ryan ends up infected [Zombiefied. If you don't use the technical terminology you look like a hack.], Clarice and her boyfriend Nick are taken for questioning when the government steps in, and most of the zombies are shot in the head. Everyone is taken underground to the Tau Seven Research Facility.

Observations and testing quickly commence using everything from samples, [Samples of what?] to parfaits,

[Sir, we've captured a zombie. Shall we begin testing to determine how he was able to reanimate?

Later. First let's observe his reaction to a strawberry parfait.]

to ballpoint pens that attract zombies. Clarice and Nick attempt an escape that results in a cascade of system failures – effectively letting Toby and Danita out of their cells. The last survivors of Colmera Springs repopulate their numbers utilizing research personnel.

With new freedom, Toby seeks out his own ballpoint pen while Danita quickly organizes a new game of Eats. Clarice and Nick must now try and escape the facility while playing fetch for the surviving scientists who want data tapes and the UCK (Universe Creation Kit). [You're losing me.] Soon however, everyone involved – human and living dead alike – must deal with Ryan. He has succumbed to his infection, but retained his identity. As he is now both Death and Taxes, nothing stops him.

For over a decade I have paid taxes, and am well familiar with how annoying they are. I have even used ballpoint pens when needed, and the occasional rubber stamp. During my three years as a chaplain, I have also been around a number of corpses (though none have [has] walked, yet). [As a chaplain you should know enough to call them vitality-challenged beings, rather than corpses. I mean, would you speak to a group at a viewing by saying, Joe was a wonderful man and it would please him greatly to know so many of you have turned out to see his corpse.]

Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be happy to send a copy of the completed manuscript for your review. I look forward to hearing from you.



It should be shortened. I would ditch the part about being held captive for experiments and escaping. After the long Ryan paragraph you can say something like:

The government steps in to help clean up Colmera Springs, but for every zombie they kill, Toby and Danita manage to zombiefy two government agents. When Taxman Ryan is himself zombiefied, both humans and undead are in trouble, for Ryan is now the most unstoppable force on the planet: Death and Taxes. Can Toby and Danita somehow destroy Ryan and salvage their freedom from taxation?

Of course that Death and Taxes line is basically just a gag, but I get the impression it's a gag in the book as well. On the other hand it's pretty lame, so maybe you sould at least ditch it from the query.

The part about government experiments has a more serious tone than the opening. It seems to have switched from a comedy to a thriller. Possibly you can pull that off in the book, but I'd stick with one genre in the query.


Anonymous said...

great strawberry parfait dialogue.

Can't quite place this on my inner genre map. Which part of the bookstore do you envision it belongs in?

DD3123 said...

Thanks for the input so far. I really had a hard time trimming down the second half of the query, and I do like chopping it out completely.

A few things for clarity:
1) I have Ryan going to Colmera Springs collecting property taxes, not income. I believe this can fit the time line for the town's history, but I should read up on it more it seems.

2) The entire thing is a comedy. I did not intend the tone to shift at all, but I can see that it did in the query. I don't think it does in the book either, but it is something I'll look specifically for feedback on as it gets passed around.

3) EE - Your strawberry parfait dialog is pretty spot on - though it's peach parfait. The parfait bit came about naturally on its own when I was writing. It does actually have a reason behind it and wasn't just tossed in randomly

4) I really liked GTP #5

5) As for where in the bookstore, I'm a little stumped. I was thinking general fiction, but then books like "Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul" are in Sci Fi.

writtenwyrdd said...

Blogger ate my first post, so I hope I can remember what I said!

First off, this sounds like a romp of a read, but the letter is confusing and doesn't work for me because you seem to be trying to create a humorous tone which ends up sounding like you are makign fun of the story.

I think if you revise to clarify the plot a bit and tone down the humor it will work better, because the plot is zany enough without any help.

Also, wondering if 55K is long enough for the elements you describe. Sounds like a fun read. If it were me getting this letter, I might even have asked for pages just because it sounds so weird I'd be curious.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's going to be rewritten anyway, but one thing jumped out at me:

They didn't even bother to file an extension!

That line just felt like a non sequitur given what came before it.


But his newest target – Colmera Springs – is inhabited by zombies; and they didn't even bother to file an extension!

Though it still feels a bit like a tax gag for the sake of a tax gag...

writtenwyrdd said...

When does this take place, anyhow? Present or future?

Anonymous said...

Should "with whoever happens by" be "with whomever happens by"? Or is "whoever" OK here?

Evil Editor said...

Grammatically whomever is correct. Though there are times when you're trying to establish tone that bothering to use correct grammar may work against your goal. In this case, I'm not sure why the sentence is needed at all. That they would rather play Eats than file taxes isn't that informative, because most would rather do anything than file taxes. Better to say they'd rather [Insert something horribly disgusting] than file their taxes.

Of course Eats is probably disgusting to us, but it sounds like zombies enjoy it.

Dave Fragments said...

But "Agnes and the Hitman" or "Faking it" by Jennifer Crusie which is terribly funny, isn't Sci Fi.
"Company, a Novel" by Max Berry is a comedy. And then there is the fairy tale sendup of "The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse" by Robert Rankin...
Or Anthony Bourdain's two novels - Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo.
Two more: Running with Scissors, & Sellevision by Augusten Borroughs.
Last One: The Shroud of the Thwacker by Chris Elliot

Be careful that the query doesn't get so weird that no one understands it. You have to present the tone (light and comic, I guess) and still not lose the agent in the weirdness of the story.

Anonymous said...

You mean this wasn't a joke?

I also liked GTP #5. (I liked the one I submitted, too, but I like #5 better.)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

GTP #1: Absolutely. Inspired.

Schedule Z, Depreciation of Body Parts - *giggles*

WW, I'm not sure what's wrong with spoofing the story if it's a romp anyway? Here's my go at it:

Land taxes? No one in the forgotten town of Colmera Springs has paid 'em in 160 years. But the enthusiastic new county tax collector is determined to change all that. Armed with rubber stamp, ballpoint pen, and his secretary Clarice, Ryan Conner heads up to the little mountain town for a few frolick-filled days of serving notices and seizing assets.

One look at Toby, Danita, and the other residents, though, has Clarice thinking smart and ready to backpedal out of there. Ryan, however, is determined to stay and have his fun. Besides, he has the car keys. What Clarice doesn't count on is her boss assimilating so quickly into Colmera culture. Seems one day he's salivating over a tax roll of nearly 200 land owners, and the next morning he can't salivate at all -- he's been zombified.

That's about the time the government steps in to do what they do best: turn this sleepy little zombie town into a living hell. But Ryan isn't going down without picking a few brains first. With Toby, Danita, and his other walking dead buddies, Ryan sets out to convince Clarice and her pack of walking feds that reanimation is not a choice, taxes aren't a surety and, even for zombies, death can be iffy.

Evil Editor said...

Should "with whoever happens by" be "with whomever happens by"? Or is "whoever" OK here?

If you can find your answer in this paragraph, go with it.

In this case, I'm not sure why the sentence is needed at all. That they would rather play Eats than file taxes isn't that informative, because most would rather do anything than file taxes. Better to say they'd rather [Insert something horribly disgusting] than file their taxes.

Of course Eats is probably disgusting to us, but it sounds like zombies enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Talpianna said:

It's whoever. The clause "whoever happens by" is the object of the preposition "with"; whoever is the subject of the verb happens.

Bernita said:
"Whoever" is correct, being the subject of a noun clause "whoever happens by."

Evil Editor said...

As I've become convinced my original answer to the whoever/whomever question was incorrect, and as I don't want incorrect info influencing readers in a bad way, I've removed the answer. This made the comments from Talpianna and Bernita seem odd, so I combined them into a comment that doesn't refer to EE's answer.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Nice job, Phoenix. I love your rewrite!

Sounds like a great story, mego. I'd read on.

DD3123 said...

Thank you all again for your input and responses.

Phoenix I love the rewrite.

Maybe when I finally start querying I'll just label it as general fiction as let the chips fall.