Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Face-Lift 516

Guess the Plot

Where the Puck Stops

1. In an alternate reality, the famous presidential saying comes out not as "The buck stops here," but "The puck stops here," ushering in a new era of hockey-based politics. When two star players compete for the ultimate job--Goalie In Chief--high-sticking hijinks ensue. Will the gloves come off?

2. When Dee gets run over by a hockey player's Corvette, she ends up in the hospital and the Corvette ends up in the river. Is the driver feeding the fishes downstream? Or is he lurking nearby, hoping to ice Dee before he's sent to the penalty box for vehicular assault?

3. The "Puck," a legendary passenger zamboni that travels between Toronto and Calgary, always visits a lonely, isolated rest stop that isn't on any map. Is it a portal to another dimension? The gate of Hell itself? Vacationing teens Robin, Chris, and Brenda aim to find out, no matter what the Puck's driver says.

4. A literary accident sets the characters of A Midsummer Night's Dream loose on the streets of Manhattan. When Robin Goodfellow develops a knack for picking winning stocks, Wall Street takes an interest and Puck finds himself in play between Oberon Financial and Titania Mutual.

5. Hockey meets high finance when hockey fanatic and EU investment banker Marc Vanderbeel buys a struggling hockey franchise with his clients' money. When Marc's body is found at the hockey rink with a puck firmly embedded in his skull, Mountie Dick MacKenzie must determine whether it was murder or just a slap shot gone astray.

6. He's an off-Broadway actor who's just landed his big break: playing opposite Pia Zadora in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She's a foul-mouthed hockey player from the wrong side of the tracks who's convinced a scout to let her try out for the NHL. When they meet . . . pucks fly!

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When ex-Mountie Lacey McCrae moves to the Alberta Rockies to protect her old friend Dee from a stalker, she enters an arena of oil-rich power brokers, trophy wives, and the pro hockey players they all play on the side. [I'm not certain what you mean by power brokers playing hockey players on the side.] One of these golden people has bugged Dee’s law office. Someone runs her down with the classic red Corvette that killed her dog last winter. Her house is burgled. [So far Lacey's doing a great job.]

While Lacey holds vigil at Dee's hospital bed, the Corvette surfaces in the flooding Elbow River. Its owner, a young hockey player on the verge of being cut from his team, does not. Is he feeding the fishes downstream? Hiding out with one of the trophy wives on his conquest list? [If you need to hide out, I wouldn't think you'd do so with someone else's wife. Men like their trophies on display. As you probably don't want to ask four consecutive questions anyway, I'd get rid of this one.] Lurking near the hospital hoping to ice Dee before he's sent to the penalty box for vehicular assault? How can Lacey keep Dee – and herself – safe from a threat not even the Mounties can get a stick on?

'Where the Puck Stops' is an 85,000 word novel of mystery, suspense and infidelity.

My previous writing credits include numerous short stories published, three of which were shortlisted for the Great Canadian Story competition in 2003, 2004 and 2006. My other unpublished mystery novel, [name withheld because it's currently in blind judging for the short list] reached the top ten in Canada's premiere crime writing award, the Arthur Ellis.

Enclosed are the first three chapters and a synopsis.

Thank you for your attention,


No need to explain why you're not telling us the title of your unpublished novel--though I fail to see why revealing the title would matter, unless you're sending the query to one of the judges.

Shouldn't the title be The Puck Stops Here? Where the Puck Stops sounds like the title of a Canadian soap opera.

So the mystery is who's out to get Dee? Does the missing hockey player have a reason to want Dee dead? Are there any other suspects or motives you could throw in to make it more intriguing?

A car is pretty heavy. I wouldn't expect it to suddenly bob to the surface of a river once it's sunk into the muck at the bottom. Maybe the river should be drying up in a drought instead of flooding.


Anonymous said...

I assumed s/he suppressed the title of the novel because of the query being published *here*.

writtenwyrdd said...

The plot left a big question mark over my head. I had more questions than answers, and not in a good way. For a few, Why would the guy want to off Lacy or Dee? Why would the RCMP fail to perform even a cursory investigation upon a possible homicide-- or missing persons case? What would the hockey player actually gain by posing a threat to these women? And what do his hockey skills have to do with anything? Lastly, how does any of this pertain to the apparent death threat on Dee's head (from some unnamed and apparently unknown cause)?

Give us something concrete about the main plot, and give us soemthing that makes us care about the story, want to know about it, in this query. What you've got is a list of questions and that just tends to make people's eyes glaze over.

I like that you have a woman ex-Mountie; all the RCMP members I know (that's what they refer to themselves, not a sexual pun, FWIW) are all guys. There are apparently not that many women in uniform in the Atlantic provinces, or they're spread pretty thin.

At any rate, good luck with the query.

Dave Fragments said...

I was going to ask why the missing (and nameless) hockey player seems as important as Lacey and Dee? Mostly, he seems to be a pawn because a mere hockey player villain doesn't twist the plot enough. I think Writtenwyrdd beat me to that questions, sort of.

I also made my self a magnificent chicken dinner -- Chipped Chicken on Toast. ;)

A list and an ugly list: One of these golden people has bugged Dee’s law office. Someone runs her down with the classic red Corvette that killed her dog last winter. Her house is burgled. Don't do these lists. They don't sound good. Say something substantial and exciting like "But someone doesn't like Dee: they bugged her office, killed her cat and burgled her house." See, that sound more exciting. Now you can add: And they think that Pierre, the heart-throb hockey player, has just tried to run her down with his flaming red Corvette. But Lacey can't question Pierre, he's missing, on the lam from the law or running for his life. No one knows."
I'll bet that's as exciting as your book. You're allowed to sell your book in the query.

It may need another sentence or two about the conclusion of the story. You set up the situation, now set up the climax for the reader and make them want to read your book.

And I wish you good luck on the 30th.

talpianna said...

[I'm not certain what you mean by power brokers playing hockey players on the side.]

I think it's "play" in the sense of "fool around with sexually."

I agree with the others that we need more reasons for why all this is happening to Dee.

fairyhedgehog said...

I read Guess The Plot #4 as saying "When Robin Goodfellow develops a knack for picking winning socks. That would be a truly stellar plot.

Nancy Beck said...

I'd agree that there aren't enough details here to get really involved in your story.

I like Dave F's take on this; I think he's provided you with something better than lists. (And I also like this: You're allowed to sell your book in the query. That's exactly what you're trying to do, so don't be shy. :-))

And what's with the Corvette bobbing to the surface? Bodies, sure. But could something like that really happen?

Good luck! :-)

Dave Fragments said...

Why does the flaming red Corvette float?
Well, you can't keep a good freudian penis symbol down. They always poke upward.

talpianna said...

I think it's more likely that the car would be revealed by a melting snowdrift.

*Mole goes off humming "When It's Springtime in the Rockies"...*

Bernita said...

My problem with this is that it sounds like static backstory.
Dee in in hospital,Lacey is holding vigil, someone is missing.
No sense of the protagonist characters: one is a victim, the other a loyal friend. Period.
Implies a passivity of plot, which I'm sure is not the case in the novel itself.

Anonymous said...

I think I like #5 better.

Thanks for the input, Evil E and minions. I'll take it all under advisement and post a rewrite in a few days rather than explaining more about the plot or characters here and now. If people don't 'get it' from the query itself, all the explanation in the world won't fix that letter, right?

Writtenwyrd is correct: they're 'members' and 'ex-members'... but using that term in a query letter might give rise to misconceptions about the main thrust of the plot. ;D

They also refer to their service as The Force, not the 'Mounties'. Unnecessary realism for a query, though.

Yes to anonymous: the reason I'm not including the title of the other manuscript in this letter is because the blind judging is going on NOW. The 'real letter' will include the title of the manuscript and whether it rose higher than the long list.

The contender, btw, might be familiar to minions from a query and opening you all got the chance to savage a year or so ago. I'll post the Face Lift # after the short list is announced, if anyone wants to go back and look.


Anonymous said...

Dear Editor,

The only thing disabled Jan and fitness freak Lacey have in common is a mutual friend, Dee - and someone's out to destroy her. Somebody is recording her legal-privileged phone calls with clients, calls that, if leaked, could sour millions of dollars in real estate deals and bury Dee in lawsuits. Dee is about to report the recording device to the RCMP when she is run down and left for dead on a deserted back road.

The main suspect is Jerrad, a young pro hockey player whose feud with Dee has been conducted as publicly as his affair with his agent's wife. While the RCMP look for him, Lacey guards Dee's hospital room and Jan struggles past her physical frailties to look after Dee's home. Then Jerrad is found dead, in circumstances that rule him out as Dee's hit-and-run attacker. What's worse, the Mounties now think Dee might have killed Jerrad herself, two before she was attacked.

With Dee in a medically induced coma and unable to answer questions, Jan and Lacey set aside their differences to try to identify her attacker and clear her of Jerrad's murder. There's a short list of new suspects: Dee's realtor ex-husband, Jerrad's vengeful lover, and the oil baron up the hill, who is helping with Dee's hospital expenses and even walking her gigantic, unruly dogs. When Dee's house is burgled, though, the dogs' behavior rules out two of them.

Just as Jan realizes that Jerrad, not Dee, was the primary target all along and that the murder may be linked to troubles in his early hockey career, Lacey runs into the real villain and discovers that Dee's office bug, and thus Dee herself, had inadvertently picked up a clue to his plan for Jerrad. Lacey ends up tied up, concussed, and half drowned. Jan pushes herself past her disabilities to stop the killer's escape and get help for Lacey.

Where the Puck Stops is complete at 85,000 words. The opening chapter is attached. My other mystery novel, Tea & Tommyguns, was a semi-finalist in the Crime Writers of Canada's unpublished manuscript competition and is currently being read at Coteau Books. My short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines over the past twenty years and has won local and provincial awards.

Your attention is appreciated.


Julie Weathers said...

Author, is this last post your new query?

If so, it's far too long.

Take what EE and the minions have suggested.

Yes, I know it's painful at times. I am the worst at this because when I finally get to the point I think something is acceptable, I am sick of it. But, when you get past the screeching and howling, you realize they were right.

This really is one of the best places on the web to test out queries and openings.

I'm in the too many questions camp. I pretty much hate questions in a query, but a good one can pique my interest. Several questions make me want to scream, "Why are you asking me?"

Unless the missing hockey player is an integral part of the plot, I would axe him.

Cars normally don't bob up. Bodies do after two weeks, but not cars. Perhaps a tree could become entangled on the car in the flood and workers discover the car as they are trying to clear the pseudo dam.

Good luck with this.


Ellie said...

Your new query has too much plot and not enough character.

You don't make it clear if the main character is Lacey or Jan or both of them equally. Nor do you tell us who they are besides Dee's friends. What skills do they have that will help them investigate? What flaws do they have that will make them trip up?

Why don't Jan and Lacey get along? The only things you mention are that Jan is disabled and Lacey is a fitness freak. There's no reason Jan couldn't be a fitness freak too. Wherefore the rancor between them?

What are Jan's disabilities? Is she recently disabled, and has to regain confidence? Has she been underestimated all her life because of her disabilities, and wants to prove herself? Or is the fact that she's a person with disabilities immaterial to the plot (which would be cool, we need more characters with disabilities, but the way you have it written now makes it sound like a major plot point).

I'm also not clear on when the book starts, in the timeline of the plot. Does Lacey show up before or after Dee is run down? When do Lacey and Dee decide to clear Dee's name? (Unrelated: if the police think Dee hit Jerrad, who do they think hit Dee?)

It's easy to say, much much harder to do:
Introduce us to the characters.
Then give us just enough setup and plot so we know exactly:
- what the problem is
- what's at stake if they succeed or fail
Then leave us hanging and dying to know what happens next.

Good luck!

Dave Fragments said...

I really like part of your third (up to the colon) paragraph and part of the fourth paragraph. I think that they would make a good query if you cleaned up the wording a bit.

You need a catchy opening line. I'm thinking of something like:

"When Jan and Lacey's mutual friend lies in a medically induced coma from being run over and the main suspect her lover is found dead, they join together to find the killer before he kills again."
It's the hunting of clues that makes a mystery.

And the idea of the fourth paragraph is that Jan must rescue Lacey from the killer despite her disabilities. The dogs are colorful but not necessary. It starts out with Lacey discovering the killer and Jan having to rescue her. That's the exciting part of the story.

All the rest is color around the story. Fit it in sparingly.

BTW - I think that if you really want to start out with "The only thing disabled Jan and fitness freak Lacey have in common is a mutual friend, Dee - and" then you need to continue with something like "and Dee lies near-death after being run over." That gets the reader's interest really fast.

Anonymous said...

Author! Dave, EE and others have great suggestions but I think you have a pretty willd plot and character dev enough to be of topical interest. GooK Lucd. ..Good Luck!!

Anonymous said...

"Oh, And don't forget what Tal said!" And be sure to chat about Robert Penn Warren on Sat."

Dave Fragments said...

Something I thought about... Queries are not so much about describing a novel as selling a novel. They begin with a hook to draw the reader into the story and then they describe the plot in exciting terms. Think of how salesmen pitch their wares. It's part hype and part show. It's about the hero, how they confront the villain, and how they solve whatever problem they have.

talpianna said...

The relationship between Jan (who wasn't even in the first version of the query) and Lacey isn't made clear. They have nothing in common, but are they at loggerheads? Nothing in the query suggests that there is antagonism between them; instead, it sounds like they are complementary--Lacey seeks to protect Dee while Jan keeps her home fires burning.

And I think you really need to tell us the nature of Jan's disabilities (plural???): is she blind? deaf? paraplegic? mentally retarded? a victim of Tourette's syndrome?

Anonymous said...

So the first version was too much sell/insufficient detail, and the second is too much substance, insufficient selling.

I'll aim for the middle next time.

Thanks all, especially Dave F., for looking at this again (and if anyone else wants to comment, I'll be checking for another couple of days).


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Jeb. Personally, I think your first query was closer to the mark. Just, yeah, not enough sell. The good thing is, mystery and suspense novels are formulaic. Not in a bad way, but in a way that makes them easy to distill down. (Unless, of course, it's YOUR book and you're the one trying to do the distilling. We've all been there.)

All you need to convince an agent of is that you have a plot with a red herring or two and a story that has a relatable setting, relatable characters, and some excitement. The details don't matter at this stage. Not unless they are sooo unique they qualify as differentiators or hooks in themselves. The details you've presented don't. So they can be ditched.

Here's my go at it. And remember, even if Jan is the one who really rescues Lacey in the book and who finds the most important clue, her character didn't make the cut in your original version nor in my version. A little bit of fudging is acceptable. Your goal is NOT to present the story as faithfully as possible, but to get the agent to ask to read the actual work.

When Dee, an old friend, asks ex-Mountie Lacey McCrae for protection from an office-bugging stalker, Lacey figures it's a simple enough request. After all, in a town known for oil-rich power brokers, trophy wives and bed-hopping hockey pros, if someone's own business or private life isn't being investigated, it's likely they're the one doing the probing.

But then Dee is run down by a red Corvette and left for dead, and Lacey realizes this isn't simply business as usual in the posh Alberta Rockies. The Mounties have a suspect: a young hockey player whose [land] feud with [real estate attorney] Dee had been conducted as publicly as the affair with his agent's wife. That trail twists, though, when the player's Corvette is found in the Elbow River, along with the player, and circumstantial evidence points to Dee as the murderer. The Mounties are confident they have their perp.

To prove her friend's innocence, Lacey must find and face the real killer. The bug in Dee's office leads her to him, but finding him is the easy part. Getting away from him alive will take resourcefulness, daring, and training. And even Lacey's not sure if this ex-Mountie still has what it takes to survive.

WHERE THE PUCK STOPS is complete at 85,000 words. My other mystery novel, Tea & Tommyguns, was a semi-finalist in the Crime Writers of Canada's unpublished manuscript competition and is currently being read at Coteau Books. My short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines over the past twenty years and has won local and provincial awards.

The opening chapter is attached. I look forward to sending you the full manuscript.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Phoenix, you almost make ME want to read the book! (although, after a half-dozen full reads for editing purposes, I'd rather stick red-hot salami sticks up my nose)

Thanks. That's a good-sounding amalgamation of detail and excitement. It's always easier doing a query for someone else, isn't it?

talpianna said...

Yes, Jeb, doing someone else's query is always easier. It's like the Scilly Islanders, who earn a precarious living taking in one another's washing.