Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Face-Lift 504

Guess the Plot

Unplugged Yellow

1. When Ukrainian heavy metal band Yellow nets just fourteen sales of their newest album, they break up and each members searches for meaning in his own way: one climbs Everest, one drops into a six-month drug haze, one gets a poetry MFA, and one lives with a native tribe in the Amazon.

2. When a gargantuan meteor sails into the solar system, it impacts with the sun, sinking halfway in. The remaining mass just sits there, stuck. Sunlight reaching the earth drops by 80%. Astrounaut Tom Dangerine hasn't failed a mission yet, but can he unplug the sun?!

3. Zach is obsessed with the paintings of the hottest new artist on the New York art scene. Especially the yellow ones. Then he meets Rachel, the artist's girlfriend and becomes even more obsessed with her. When the artist is killed in a Timbuktu sandstorm, will Zach and Rachel find happiness together?

4. Lisa wants nothing to do with sparky Dave the electrician, even when he rewires her house for free. But when every yellow lead in her apartment comes unplugged, is it bad wiring, or Dave's revenge? Either way, she has to mollify him, but in the process, will she end up . . . plugged?

5. A new superhero is born when genetic engineering meets Ariolimax columbianus-- the banana slug. And boy is she peeved about her loss of habitat.

6. Like, hey man, this weed's really good. A semi-autobiographical, maybe-reality based, might-be-a-drug-induced-fantasy of life among the hippies in a Colorado Commune known only as Mellifluous Daffodil with Primrose.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Zachary Willis, a 28-year-old contemporary art collector, becomes obsessed with the paintings of an enfant terrible who calls himself FleX. FleX is a painter [Do artists who paint call themselves painters? Seems like they'd want to differentiate between themselves and house painters. Although I had a guy paint my house once who thought he was an artist. He painted the whole house using a palette and a Kolinsky sable artist's brush; no buckets, no rollers . . . in retrospect it was quite clever, as I was paying him by the hour.] more known for singing and playing guitar in an early noise band. [It was FleX and four roosters.] They become friends and Zach also becomes obsessed with FleX’s Haitian girlfriend, Rachel Aufan.

FleX’s art career takes off, largely due to Zach. Zach is responsible for FleX’s meeting with Phil Grey, the art critic, and his art-collecting French wife, Agnés de la Façade. FleX’s paintings double and triple in value [when it's discovered that he's a mentally unstable heroin addict,] while his mental instability and heroin habit undermine everyone’s investment in him. [It's like a Catch-22.]

Phil is laundering cocaine money for the Haitian mafia by buying art in New York and selling it in Europe. [That's two unrelated references to Haiti already. What were the odds?] [Speaking of low odds: You're a respected art critic. A gang of drug-dealing punks known as the Haitian Mafia comes to you with a deal: they'll give you their cocaine profits so you can buy art, take it to Europe, sell it, bring back the money, and give it to them. And you agree to this? Are they holding your lover hostage?] Art is the largest unregulated market in the world, and Phil is cannily starting to flood the downtown art market with hot cash. FleX makes a theatrical disappearance during one of his sold-out openings; Zach and Rachel get caught together later that night in a snowstorm and become lovers. [When I'm caught in a snowstorm I'm more interested in getting shelter than getting laid.] FleX returns, briefly, and then he and Rachel leave together for her family’s empty house in the hills outside of Port-au-Prince, where FleX goes cold turkey.

FleX and Rachel descend into a folie à deux as they run to Paris, and then Timbuktu. Rachel goes to New York alone to pick up money and tells Zach she is pregnant with his child. She returns to FleX. [This has devolved into a list of things that happen. An outline. We need a logical progression with smooth transitions; some cause and effect; less what and more why.] Zach tracks down FleX’s real identity as he attempts to separate Rachel from the sacred monster he has helped to create. [Why "sacred"?] FleX dies in a sandstorm in Timbuktu the night he learns Rachel is pregnant with Zach’s child. Zach rescues Rachel, who dies in childbirth. [It's your typical boy meets girl-boy loses girl-girl's boyfriend dies inTimbuktu sandstorm story.] Willis’s true obsession is Rachel Aufan, and his need for her to choose between the collector and the artist is at the heart of this book. [If that's the heart of the book, focus the whole query on it.]

UNPLUGGED YELLOW (45,811 words) is a love triangle set in NYC, Haiti, Paris and Timbuktu in 1979-80. The same people who bought Danny Moynihan's "Boogie-Woogie" and Siri Hustvedt's "What I loved" would probably buy UNPLUGGED YELLOW. I am Editor-in-Chief at Afterart News, an art newspaper published in Paris, France. The novel is currently being serialized (I retain all rights) in Hearsight Magazine.



If the book is a love triangle, the first order of business is to get rid of the stuff that isn't connected to the lovers, namely the money laundering cocaine art critic Haitian mafia stuff. The only reason to mention Phil the critic is if it was Phil's reviews that resulted in FleX's paintings tripling in value. NY, Paris and Timbuktu are enough settings for the query. Nothing happens in Haiti that we need to know about.

Agnés de la Façade?

That the novel is available free online may make it less desirable to some publishers. That it's 45,000 words will make it undesirable to most publishers. Perhaps the serialization is an abridged version? The mere fact that that it has four major settings leads me to believe there are more than 45,000 words worth of story to be told here.

Focus on the Zach/Rachel story as your main plot, and throw in something about how the book provides a rare look at the contemporary art scene, as that seems to be your thing. Unfortunately, 1979-1980 isn't contemporary, and may be less interesting to those into contemporary art. Is there a reason this can't be set in present day?

The Timbuktu sandstorm sounds a bit wacko, if not Deus ex machina. You might want to just say FleX died, for the purposes of the query.


talpianna said...

sacred monster
–noun: a celebrity whose eccentricities or indiscretions are easily forgiven by admirers.

[Origin: 1980–85; trans. of F monstre sacré]

I tried unsuccessfully to track down the origin of the French phrase, but found a really weird painting by Dali on Wikipedia.

All in all, I think the banana slug would have made a better story. There isn't one character that I would give a damn about, based on the summary here. I gather Zach is supposed to be the viewpoint character, but he seems to be a cipher.

And how can Rachel be sure the kid is Zach's, considering she's been with FleX most of the time?

How about if the banana slug has the Midgard Serpent as a love interest?

Evil Editor said...

sacred monster
–noun: a celebrity whose eccentricities or indiscretions are easily forgiven by admirers.

[Origin: 1980–85; trans. of F monstre sacré]

Thank you Tal. Now my question is, is the term appropriate? Are the admirers whose investment in FleX he undermined truly forgiving of his addiction to heroin, or are they maybe a tad annoyed?

Did the term exist at the time of the novel (1979-80)? Did the term "Haitian Mafia" exist in 1979-80? These last two don't matter if the answers are Yes, but unless the viewpoint is such that the story is being told in 2008 as a remembrance, the terminology should mesh with the times. If you wrote a Sherlock Holmes story you wouldn't have him wishing he had a spreadsheet to keep track of his clues. I have no reason to believe the terms wouldn't have been known to the POV character; I'm just making a general point.

writtenwyrdd said...

There isn't anything to make me give a rat's patootie about these characters. And you mention the obsession with the Haitian girlfriend and then tell us all about FleX the heroin addict painter. Not sure what is the main plot here. I would think we do not need to know anything about FleX and his artwork except as a brief mention if the focus is the obsession with the girl. Something along the lines of "Zach is obsessed with making it rich and is successfully doing so by laundering money for the Haitian mob by buying and selling artwork. That is until he meets the girlfriend of artist FleX and becomes obsessed with HER." Only I am sure you can write it a lot better than that half-baked effort.

"his mental instability and heroin habit undermine everyone’s investment in him" really lost me because (IMO anyhow) no one cares about the artist's mental state. If he or she is really a hot property, they might prefer to have an artist with a death wish in their portfolio because they can gleefully anticipate the value of the paintings to soar when the guy finally offs himself.

Whirlochre said...

There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing here - but it's a bit like a playpark swing in a breeze with no-one on it.

This reads like an outline of subplots and I'm not sure who the central characters are.

I would avoid using Timbuktu as a location for anything other than the backdrop to a limerick - ditto Limerick itself, Wankee and Kaniapiskau. As for the other locations - why the need to have everyone jet all over the world?

Also, as it's unlikely that any editor will add to your 45,811 words, I'm guessing that this will be too short to constitute a novel.

Go with the love triangle and milk it.

Anonymous said...

Zach opens the tube. Then he squeezes it. He puts a ribbon of toothpaste on his brush. He Brushes up. He brushes down. The phone rings and he answers it.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Some of my thoughts as I was reading this:

Who's Phil? Looks back in query. Oh.

Who's Willis? And Rachel just died. Is this a different Rachel? Looks back in query. Ah. Willis is Zach. Why not say Zach? Re-examines last couple of lines. Oh. That last line is a summary thought.

Anyway. The upshot is - too many names; too much of a laundry list; stick to Zach, because when you suddenly switch to Willis at the end, it looks like yet another character; focus on the plot and not the action.

If your POV character is Zach and the main thrust of the story is his obsession with Rachel, then build on that. Bring in as little of the other stuff as possible.

Dave Fragments said...

Fascinating. I'd read all nine posted chapters if I didn't have bones to roast for stock, laundry, and Easter cards to mail. That's not a comment on the writing or the story, by the way.

It's real, minions... Both magazines exist. And I guess that the author does too. Hi, nice to meet ya!

This query is the author seeing only the trees from inside the forest. Step back. Pull away. Look at the arc of the story. Boy meets his best friend's girl and falls in love. Boy helps best friend become famous artist and gets his girlfriend pregnant at the same time. Best friend dies. Boy must rescue girl and live happily ever after. (except for that diaper thing with the kid).

It would help if you iD'd the artist as a Sid Vicious clone who imitates his idol in all things, drugs included. I'm a classical music fan and not pop music so I don't understand "flex" at all. And you might want to include the line about "beating Sid to hell by 18 months" because that would introduce the drugs and the shady dealings into the query. Phil Grey is a drug soaked entrepreneur who back's Punks, avant garde starving artists and drug addicts.

Your hero is definitely smudged and dirty since he finances his warehouse of art with drug money.

Matt Larkin said...

A very long query for a very short book. A book that thin, I know I wouldn't be able to help wondering if it's half-priced since it's so thin.

The query would be clearer if you use fewer named characters and concentrate on the viewpoint character (it worked for me ;)

Does FleX have a real name?

It feels like the mafia stuff kind of comes out of left field right now.

Stacy said...

I don't think I could ever care about a character named FleX - but I can't tell if the book is even supposed to be about him.

It's odd that FleX just "happens" to get killed in a Timbuktu sandstorm (there's a joke in there somewhere). That just takes care of so many issues. It's too pat. And what the hell was FleX doing in Timbuktu, anyway? And what the hell does "Unplugged Yellow" mean? The whole query feels disjointed, and if the story is as disjointed as the query, where events just "happen" with no logic behind them, that's a problem.

I think the story containing the Haitian Mafia is actually more interesting. It might provide a better and more exciting arc for the story. Rachel and Zach, after becoming lovers and getting mixed up with Phil through FleX, suddenly find themselves on the run from the Haitian Mob. To make matters worse, Rachel is pregnant. When FleX finds out about the affair, he goes on a drug-induced rampage, vowing to kill them both.

Something more like that. I'm not saying it has to be one long thrill ride, but . . . there should be an arc, like Dave was saying.

It just feels like the writer didn't do more than one draft on the query, or perhaps even the book.

. . . Wow. Not sure where all that came from.

talpianna said...

The Dali artwork Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time dates from 1939. The term is used in the titles of books about Maria Callas and some renegade Thomist I never heard of before. The term seems to be most common in the arts: it's used for performers, works of art (music and dance) and musical groups. So I think we can consider it non-anachronistic. As to the art world's attitude to FleX, if they can lionize Jean-Michel Basquiat, they can accept anything.

I recently read a romantic suspense novel in which the main plot involved money-laundering. There was a great deal of infodump, given that the heroine was a private banker who got drawn into it and framed for criminal acts. It's possible that art could be used for this, but you'd need a really skilled banker; and whoever was doing it would certainly get a cut.

I still vote for the banana slug.