Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Face-Lift 497

Guess the Plot

On After the Sunset

1. An insider's look at the Hollywood machine and what it does to those on the periphery of the industry, as told by NF14221, a streetlight outside the Chinese Theater.

2. When Maggie Farnsdahl goes to live in a sixties style commune, she finds that Earnie Parnecker is carrying on well after sunset. Can she handle this new life of pot, acid, mushrooms and booty calls?

3. Convinced she has a great title for her masterwork, Cheryl is heartbroken to learn that a crappy Pierce Brosnan movie shares the same name. Undaunted, she tacks on a preposition. Will two simple letters spell the difference between the slushpile and stardom? Also, a talking eraser.

4. When his friend Lazarus is killed, Noah is suspicious. His investigation takes him to Florida where he discovers the Fountain of Youth. Could getting younger bring back the hearing he lost, ending his career as a rock star?

5. Gigi, a devoted soap opera fan, gets more than she bargained for when one lonely Friday night she decides to flip on her TV and see what's . . . On After the Sunset.

6. Forced into a nursing home by his greedy daughter Marcia, Emile Lord isn't about to go gently. If he has to run his financial empire by cell phone from a wheelchair, so be it, and if he has to lose everything to ensure that Marcia doesn't get a dime, so be that, too.

Original Version

Dear Malevolent Manuscript Mauler:

My name is ___________. I found your listing on the AgentQuery website. My novel, On After the Sunset, is an urban fantasy at about 115,000 words.

Rock star Noah McCabe lost his hearing, and along with it, his reason to exist. [Lazy slob. What if Beethoven had cashed in his chips after losing his hearing? There'd have been no Die Hard, no A Clockwork Orange, and none of those movies with the Saint Bernard.] Now, the aging ex-musician holes up in his London flat, the Internet his only connection to the world. Then he [discovers newspapers and magazines and that he can turn on closed captioning on his TV, and then he] finds a suicide note posted on his friend's, Lazarus Brown's, blog.

After several unanswered emails, Noah's concern turns to worry. [He was concerned, but not worried, after his friend left a suicide note?] How do you locate someone you know only over the Internet? [I'm hoping it's impossible, because there are a few guys in Nigeria looking for me.] What he knows about Laz is incidental: he lives in America, he became a recluse when his wife died, he collects old music. [Not bad, he's narrowed it down to six people already.]

Through EBay, Noah finds Echo Capris, an artist who sold a vinyl album to Laz. A former fan of Noah's, Echo agrees to help. The shipping address she has for Lazarus is in Kentucky.

When they arrive at the house, its decrepitation [I think you want decrepitness; decrepitation is something else.] indicates that they are too late. [Of course it's too late. The second the EBay woman came up with the address, he should have had her call the cops in Kentucky. Instead he books a flight from London? Or did he come by ocean liner?] That evening's news confirms it; Laz was killed attempting to rob a bank. The obvious conclusion: suicide by cop. [That's obvious? I would have concluded that he was planning to kill himself because he was broke, and then he realized that suicide wouldn't get him nearly as much money as robbing a bank.]

But Noah refuses to accept this, despite the video footage. Not just despite it, but because of it. It's Laz's eyes. They're too empty: empty of thought, empty of pain, empty of volition. [Don't beat around the bush; if he's a zombie, say so.] Moreover, the bullet wounds have too little blood. Against her better judgment, Echo stays with Noah and listens to his ravings on kidnapping and brainwashing. They rewatch the robbery footage, and she finds herself falling down the rabbit hole with Noah. [How much footage do they have?]

Their investigation leads them to a green-eyed man who is murdered before they can question him. A second murder takes them to Florida, and a third forces them into the Everglades to avoid the police. [A fourth has them jetting to Bermuda, and then it's off to Nigeria with the fifth murder.] [Rarely if ever has one of my query critiques mentioned Nigeria twice when the query itself didn't mention it at all.] [But can I work in a third?] There Echo falls under the thrall of a youth-obsessed harridan, [Have you been using your thesaurus?] LeGar. Tethered by his burgeoning love, Noah follows Echo and LeGar on their search for the Fountain of Youth. [You travel from Kentucky to the Everglades with a woman you met a few days ago, and then she and a woman you met a few minutes ago invite you to join them in searching for the Fountain of Youth . . . and you agree to go with them?]

LeGar defeats the guardians of the Fountain, and as they cower at her feet, [Wait a minute, they've found the Fountain of Youth? And it has guardians? This feels out of the blue. Five and a half paragraphs of what sounds like it could be a mystery or thriller or mainstream fiction, and suddenly LeGar the harridan is defeating the guardians of the Fountain?] Noah is astonished to discover that a seemingly unharmed Lazarus Brown is their leader. [Lazarus is no longer dead? Didn't see that coming.]

He has no time for wonder, however, for LeGar orders Echo to drink. [And she obeys because . . . ?] The pain of reverse aging rips screams from her throat, and even more terrible, the Fountain is mixed with the River Lethe so that each year of recaptured youth is bought with the memories of that lost year. [Even more terrible? Personally, I'll take a few lost memories over pain that rips screams from my throat.]

When Echo opens her eyes, she no longer remembers coming to the Everglades, no longer remembers searching for Laz, [They were searching for Laz? I thought they thought Laz was dead.] and no longer remembers Noah. [Mainly because she's now two years old.]

I have pasted the first two pages of On After the Sunset below my signature. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,


I don't care how burgeoning my love for someone I recently met is; when she seriously suggests searching for the Fountain of Youth, the red flags go up.

It needs to be more clear what's going on with Laz. What is he? If he's your first supernatural element, get it into the query before we forget it's supposed to be urban fantasy (I'm not convinced it is in any case.) You might even want to mention the Fountain up front, so it doesn't come from nowhere: When Noah McCabe flies to Kentucky to prevent a friend's suicide, he has no idea he's embarking on an adventure that will lead him to the Fountain of Youth. Yes, the actual Fountain of Youth.

It's way too long for a query letter. Limit yourself to ten sentences, unless this is a synopsis. I can't tell whether the novel ends at the Fountain, or whether most of it takes place after they find it, but focus on what's most important and cut what you can do without.

Having a main character who can't hear would seem problematic. Do all the characters write everything down to communicate with him? It's hard enough to convince someone to go look for the Fountain of Youth if he can hear; trying to convince him by playing charades is nearly impossible.


writtenwyrdd said...

Sorry, this sounds really weak based on your letter. I don't find an emotional reason for your protagonist to chase after Lazarus, whom it appears he barely knows; and I agree with EE about not wanting to deepen a relationship with someone who says there's a Fountain of Youth.

Perhaps look at phrasing the letter so everything is emotionally and logically connected. You drop in story facts like bombs and it is jolting, not enticing.

Blogless Troll said...

This sounds interesting, but there's too much lead up and not much ending. I get the idea that Noah is upset the woman he just met doesn't remember him, but I'm not sure this is believable. If he's old and deaf and miserable, why not just drink some water himself? Then he and Echo could fall in love all over again AND be young. Also got the impression that once you drink you become Lazarus' slave or something, but it wasn't clear.

I was also going to point out there are no underground springs in the Everglades, so a fountain there would have to be man made. But then I realized you didn't actually say the fountain was in the Everglades. It's good you want to protect its location, but everyone knows its in Tampa.

AR said...

Mh-hmm. Lots of interesting things going on here, might want to read it. I'd need a demonstration of how the things relate to one another and cohere into a story. From this vantage point they could be merely a string of unlikely events.

Sarah Laurenson said...

It's a good description of the plot, I think. It is long and has no focus. Or too many of them. Makes me wonder if your book jumps around plot-wise.

If you can sum up the plot in one or two sentences then build around that, it should help.

Your writing style sounds intriguing if this is a sample.

none said...


Evil Editor said...

Not sure I like your attiness, but yes, that's a word too. A better one, in fact. Interestingly, when I look up decrepit on Dictonary.com, it shows decrepitness as a form of the word, but not decrepitude. Yet when I look up decrepitness it gives me nothing, and when I look up decrepitude it has it. In any case tude is more commonly used than ness, and ation is mainly used by scientists.

Anonymous said...

Is it necessary to travel so much? Why must they go to Florida? Are you describing all this in the novel?

I've lived in both London and Kentucky, and have vacationed in Florida... they're all (obviously) very different. I hope you've done your research, and I seriously hope you aren't using generalizations and sterotypes throughout the novel. That'll piss a lot of people off, and honestly, I am hesitant to ever read or watch anything regarding KY that wasn't written by a Kentuckian.

Seems everyone thinks only of Appalachia (that's where the crappy house is, isn't it?), and then assumes everyone is a drunk hillbilly feuding with the neighbors... grrrrrrrrr.

Anonymous said...

Amateurs. It's "decrepicity."

Anonymous said...

I agree with writtenwrdd; the query is jolting. As EE suggested, mention the Fountain of Youth early on.

Also, just a logic issue... you mention that Lazarus looks odd in the robbery footage; well, the footage is probably a bit unclear (as the cameras are usually stationed to look down from above, etc.) so I'm not sure his eyes or facial expression can be seen clearly, and even if it can, neither Echo or the deaf rock-star (sorry, can't recall his name) have ever even met him, right? How the hell do they know his face isn't always "blank." Some people just look that way :)

And I wouldn't travel hop so much in the query; it's confusing. I'd leave out the mention of both KY and FL, and simply say the journey takes him from London to the Fountain of Youth...

Anonymous said...

I hate the title. I'm sorry, but On After the Sunset is horrible. It looks like a typo... so I'd never even pick your book up in a book store. I'd definitely suggest changing that...

Sorry to be negative. I do wish you the best of luck in finding a reputable agent!

Matt Larkin said...

It does kind of feel like two different stories. While both are interesting, that still feels odd. And is there any reason the plot needs Kentucky? Couldn't Laz just live in FL and make things simpler?

EB said...

I agree with the general critique that the query bounces around too much. It needs direction and focus. Far too many jolting moments which has the effect of opening up lots of plot holes.

I'll address one: suicide by cop, at least when you state that it's "the obvious conclusion." (Having some experience with the phenomenon, it's not something that's just jumped to easily. Often it's a diagnosis of exclusion.) On the basis of grainy bank security camera footage Noah decides there's not enough blood coming out of the bullet holes...yet presumably the ME performed an autopsy, etc, etc. Now this is a plot point, and perhaps you've treated this in a completely appropriate way, but within the query, this raises questions that make me doubt your story.

The fountain of youth seems a little bit like a deus ex machina here since it seems to come out of nowhere and, as far as I can tell, serves to make Noah question his feelings for the woman Echo. (Please tell me this is the only name with some--ahem--resonance in a story with a hearing impaired protag.)

EE's point about having a deaf protag on a chase like this is a good one. I'd be curious to see how you play out the dialogue, the crashing through the swamps, etc. Is this a limited 3rd person? In which case you'd have to eliminate sounds. Could be interesting if well done.

As for the title: Meh. I guess you're shooting for the urban fantasy thing, but it's fairly bland. And far too close to said crappy movie.

EE, maybe the author meant crepitance. You know, the house was all crackly from the air trapped beneath its surface.

Dave Fragments said...

Decrepitation is a scientific term concerning crystals.
Harridan is like (dare I say) Hillary...
Burgeoning love, I read as code for erection.
Tethers belong on balloons, blimps and sometimes boats.

This story would work if Noah McCabe of England is searching for the Fountain of Youth or if Lazarus Brown hints to Noah that he is going to find it.

EE is correct about flying to Kentucky from England. It's a McGuffin that stretches common sense. It might work if Noah is completely obsessed with Lazarus, if this is his only reason to live, if Lazarus saved Noah in some way through their conversations on the internet. That's a very heavy Male-Male relationship (in a non-judgmental way).

There is another McGuffin that is a killer. How does Lazarus' body get to Florida? Here's a guy who robbed a bank, got killed, is very dead and then the police ship his body to the Everglades where he get reanimated by the fountain of youth. Not only that, he grows younger and forgets his scheme of dying, his internet friends and leaves his home and fortune behind?

The forgetfulness part of reverse aging argues that Lazarus doesn't know what he did in the past year or two or three.

The ideal age for youth is 21/22 or just when the human body gains adulthood. If I was reverted to that age and forgot the intervening years, I was only through three years of college and I would know lots of science, not to mention the intervening experience.

Dave Fragments said...

The ideal age for youth is 21/22 or just when the human body gains adulthood. If I was reverted to that age and forgot the intervening years, I was only through three years of college and I would NOT know lots of science, not to mention the intervening experiences with friends and the wisdom that comes with age.

Anonymous said...

If, after drinking the fountain, you revert to your ideal age and forget everything after that age, and assuming the fountain prevents you from aging further, wouldn't it also prevent you from learning anything new.
Or perhaps this fountain only replenishes you back to that age and you start aging again from that point. hmmmm...

Anonymous said...

All lot of plot holes have been mentioned, and maybe they're taken care of appropriately in the book, but the big logic problem I have with this is, through Noah's detective work he tracks down a lady who helps him search for Laz and they wind up in the Everglades with another stranger, searching for the Fountain of Youth, and lo and behold, there's ol' Laz? You gotta be kidding. Coincidences happen in real life and fiction, but that's stretching it a bit, I think.

I do like the idea of a washed up rock star as a protag trying to solve a mystery. The story has some bones but the query leaves me puzzled and doubting. And the title, I'd work on that. Sorry to be so negative. I do believe you've got something to work with, and maybe the problems are just in the query. Good luck with it.

Stacy said...

I'm not getting the plots and how they are supposed to be connected. I assume they're supposed to be connected?

I'm curious how the writer handles a deaf character in the book. Stephen King, as most of you probably know, did a very good job with his character Nick Andros in The Stand. And that was a looong book. So a writer can pull it off if s/he treats the character with some humanity and gives the character a strong inner life. But it doesn't feel like that's the case here.

Writer, I do know something about the frustrations of losing hearing through music, having been through it myself, so if you have any questions . . . feel free to contact me on my near non-existent blog. I only lost enough to annoy the people around me, though - not all of it. So it may not be what you're looking for.

Stacia said...

"Decreptiatiousness". Like something Jade from ANTM would say.

I think the idea of a Fountain of Youth and some strange cult guarding it is fascinating (though like the others I'm not sure it's really urban fantasy). Focus on that.

Anonymous said...

hm, no author comments?

reading the query again, this almost seems like two different stories: the deaf rocker looking into the death of a friend he only knows from their online association; and the meeting with a girl that leads to a hunt for the fountain of youth and the discovery of a rather sinister guardian.