Thursday, February 21, 2008

Face-Lift 493

Guess the Plot


1. If Roman barber Septimus Sanguineum clips Caesar's ear one more time, he's lion food. His idea to pin two short daggers together on a pivot would revolutionize the hair-cutting industry, but where can a lowly barber get the money to build a prototype? With the Emperor due for another trim, will Septimus live to see his creation . . . and come up with a catchy name for the new tool?

2. When the body of fashion guru Roberto Garibaldi is discovered in his plush Beverly Hills home, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: Garibaldi didn't sever his own carotid artery with pinking shears, and he'd better get his wife a new pair of scissors to replace the ones he wrecked gutting fish last weekend.

3. School supplies in an elementary school classroom become nearly human in this cutting-edge horror fantasy for young readers. Following an unfortunate incident involving an inquisitive youngster in the supply room, the erasers try to cover it up and the pencils get the point, but the scissors just want to be cut-ups.

4. The fortune teller told thief Thad McLarney "You can run with them, but you cannot hide." Turns out she was talking about the Scissors of Dornath--and the wrath of Dornath's priests, who need to shear the sacrificial sheep.

5. Chaim Goldstein wanted to be a doctor, but he never quite mastered the requisite classwork. But now, by God, he's going to be the best mohel he can be. Can he win his father's acceptance by performing the world's first combination bris-appendectomy? Or wouldn't that be Kosher?

6. Everyone who was involved in a botched medical operation is suddenly being targeted for death. Could it be that someone has discovered that the surgeon couldn't find his surgical scissors; that he instead used his child's plastic safety scissors to make a crucial muscle cut; that everyone in the operating room has covered up this travesty? If surgeon Terry Oliphant can't get answers, and fast, more "accidents" are sure to follow.

7. Stan Estrella has been a barber for 25 years: flat-tops, red-and-white-striped pole out front, and lollipops for the kids. But the times they are a-changin', and Stan has trouble surviving when the kids who lined up for buzz cuts stay away to grow their ponytails. The story of one man's struggle to adapt to upheaval during the waning days of the 60s.

Original Version

SCISSORS is a 100,000 word suspense novel that explores how one deadly mistake has the power to draw blood ten years later. [Another vampire book?]

A decade ago, what began as a simple surgery ended in tragedy after a slip of the hand [, and too late it dawned on our hero that a person with chronic motor tic disorder should not pursue a career as a brain surgeon.] Today a nurse lies unconscious in an intensive care unit, victim of a hit-and-run [, and it occurs to our hapless hero that maybe cab driver wasn't such a hot career choice either]. Although the events appear unrelated, surgeon Terry Oliphant will discover that the two are inextricably linked [, for both the hit-and-run driver and the surgery patient were manatees]. While visiting the nurse, Terry encounters one of his old professors on the verge of a breakdown. [Coincidentally, he, though not a manatee, resembles one from the neck up.] Dr. Posner confides that he's received a grisly message about an old case that's left him looking over his shoulder as he's trying to salvage his faltering career. [I wouldn't refer to a message as "grisly." "Menacing" or "threatening" maybe.] In an attempt to help his former teacher, Terry begins digging into the past only to learn that, despite the gloves, everyone's got dirt under their fingernails: the chief resident thrown out of the operating room, an ex-medical student who now scorns the profession, even the nicotine-stained lawyer of an abandoned malpractice case. [This surgeon seems to have a lot of free time. Can't he afford to hire an investigator?] Despite the skepticism of the police, Terry becomes convinced that random acts of violence are instead the result of murderous intent. [How many acts of violence have there been?] And the more he uncovers, the closer he draws to a man driven by vengeance to rectify the past.

Told [like almost all novels] largely through the rich voices of its characters, SCISSORS offers the reader a grandstand seat at Fenway Park, a barstool in a sour Boston dive, [a look into the thriving paper doll industry,] and a spot at the head of the operating table. [Lists do sound better with three items than with two, but Fenway Park just leads me to say Huh? Can you come up with a setting that doesn't seem to come out of nowhere? How about the Sea World manatee attraction?]


Up through the part where you state that the two incidents are inextricably linked, all was well. But the rest forces the reader to make assumptions. We need clear connections. For instance:

What is the link between the incidents?
Who was the surgeon? Was the injured nurse present during the operation?
Is the old case referred to in the grisly message the same case?
Outside of the hit-and-run, what are the random acts of violence?

If your hook is that everyone who was involved in a decade-old operating-room death is being killed off, say so in so many words. No need to beat around the bush with the hook. Put an irresistible piece of bait on it and dangle it right in front of our eyes.

Also, some paragraphing would be nice.


Dave Fragments said...

This sounds like the Abominable Doctor Phibes without the jazz, without the sexy girl, the haute couture and the gory deaths.

We need some more danger and risk in the story, preferably something personal that Terry Oliphant will lose if he/she doesn't solve the crime(s).

Dave Fragments said...

This sounds like the Abominable Doctor Phibes without the jazz, without the sexy girl, the haute couture and the gory deaths.

We need some more danger and risk in the story, preferably something personal that Terry Oliphant will lose if he/she doesn't solve the crime(s).

Blogless Troll said...

I kinda got lost in all the clever turns of phrase. For instance, "nicotine-stained lawyer" sounds cool, but I had to stop and think: Okay, does this mean the lawyer has nicotine-stained fingertips? Or is his entire body stained? Does he have some weird cigarette fetish wherein he rolls around in a pile of half spent butts to compensate for some childhood trauma? Or is this just a lawyer who...smokes?

Same with the "grisly message," "inextricably linked," and "despite the gloves..." lines. I like the tone, but it's a lot of extra words without any specific info about the plot. What you give us sounds promising, so give us more and dress it up less.

Plus, unless the book's gonna offer me box seats behind home plate and a free beer every half inning, that last sentence needs to go.

EB said...

Perhaps I should have added a few vampires to garner more comments.

You guys both make good points: in an attempt to keep tone & subtlety, I've sacrificed clarity. Dr. Posner botched the original surgery, and now somebody's after him. A warning left for him is pinned to an eviscerated cat (hence the grisly message). Once Oliphant gets involved, as a favor to his old teacher, he winds up with a knife at his side.

I waffled on that last sentence; best to lose it and devote more to the plot.


Blogless Troll said...

"warning pinned to an eviscerated cat" is MUCH better than "grisly."

pacatrue said...

What blogless said about the cat. Go through and find each stylish but ambiguous/vague sentence and replace it with exactly what you are talking about.

Bobbie said...

As always, EE was spot on with his comments and the general confusion some of the sentences left me with. One little nit of my own:

"And the more he uncovers, the closer he draws to a man driven by vengeance to rectify the past."

Can you really rectify the past? If someone died, there's no rectifying it. There's just vengeance. You can't bring that person back. Rectify implies making something right again.

I love a good suspense novel, and it seems you have the making of one here. So I would recommend letting the suspense be the tone, not the clever turns of phrase. Let us know what the real stakes are so we'll be engaged.

talpianna said...

No eviscerated cat!

No eviscerated cat!!


---Sethra and Aliera

Whirlochre said...

Not sure I'd go with Oliphant if it's a straight thriller...

EB said...

Talpianna admirably points out why I didn't mention the cat in quite such explicit terms in the original version

Sarah Laurenson said...

Not sure about Oliphant. Isn't that a cartoonist? It is an interesting name though.

Hm. Being a cat lover, it is hard to read about the cat. But this is a mystery and gory details do tend to be a part of it. I thought it was a very strong statement evoking a lot of feeling.

Anonymous said...

This sounds to me like you're presenting things out of order. Terry's your protag and POV. Show things happening as he finds out about them. Something like:

When Terry Oliphant stopped into the hospital to drop off flowers for his girlfriend, he didn't expect to run into his old professor, Dr. Posner. He definitely didn't expect to find Dr. Posner sitting in the hotel lobby reading a threatening note pinned to a dead cat.

The police are useless. As a favor, Terry agrees to do his own investigating into the threat. But as he gets deeper into the mystery, more and more people turn up in the hospital...all of them with ties to Dr Posner and a tragic mistake a decade ago. If Terry can't find the deadly avenger soon, he won't have to visit the hospital anymore...he'll get sent straight to the morgue.

EB said...

150: Thanks for that. The narrative begins with a scene in the operating room ten years before and as the manuscript progresses, the story is revealed largely as you've sketched it out. I think I'm hamstrung myself a bit by using the chronology of the MS in the query. You've helped me clarify a bit.

talpianna said...

Benwah: Just FYI, that comment was posted by my cats, not me.

EB said...

Those are some exceedingly talented cats. Are they available for proofreading?

talpianna said...

Benwah: Cats don't proofread, on the grounds that they never make mistakes.

But I know a Seeing Eye dog who charges very reasonable rates.