Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Face-Lift 526

Guess the Plot

Slow Burn

1. A renegade demon messed with the heat controls in the afterlife. Now heaven is doing a slow burn. Can archangel Damia and damned furnace repairman Hector Blunt restore order before hell freezes over?

2. The idea was inspiring: clone Robbie Burns, the Scots' most famous incoherent poet. But the pubs of Aberdeen are no place for genetics, and what the patrons of the Lang Syne end up with is a lager-soaked, semi-retarded homunculus. Their only hope to have their achievement recognized is to run him for Parliament. First, though, they'll have to teach him to pluralize correctly.

3. It's taken Nancy fifteen years to get up a head of anger against her unfaithful husband, but now that her fuse is lit, she's on the rampage. Will Detective Crusoe work out that the women burning on upside-down crosses aren't the work of the local Satanists?

4. To heck with Beano and unpronounceable Mexican herbs: Zelda had found a secret ingredient for her 5-alarm chili that would prevent esophageal meltdown. But the disappearance of asbestos wrap from the wiring in abandoned factories across Elmville has made City Health Inspector Hamlin very suspicious.

5. Memoirs of a career fireman, focusing on the numerous people who've died in his arms at the scenes of vehicle accidents and house fires. Also, a dead man opens his eyes: resurrection or zombie?

6. When Yvonne, a struggling bartender, invents a hot new drink, she finds herself a hit among the club scene in Las Vegas. But her sudden success takes a strange turn when she learns an aerobics mogul plans to sue her for 'stealing' his title Slow Burn. It's all a lawyer thing until they actually meet, and Yvonne lets the hunky mogul teach her a thing or two about what that phrase really means.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

My 66,500 word memoir, Slow Burn; The Personal and Professional Evolution of a Firefighter and Paramedic, is the story of my growth as a person and public servant. Sixteen years as a firefighter and paramedic can rattle a person to his core.

As an 18-year-old, timid EMT student, I froze in awe and watched a dead man open his eyes after being blasted with a cardiac defibrillator. [Immediately I reached over and closed his eyes, as I'd seen done to dead people on TV numerous times.] Instantly, I knew I had found the career for me [, a career as the guy they call in to close the eyes of dead people. Hey, every city's got one]. [While we're on the subject, maybe you can tell me: is it as easy to close the eyes of a dead guy as it looks on TV? They just sort of put their hand over the dead guy's eyes, make a slight downward motion and the eyes close, and I'm thinking, I'll bet that's just an actor and he's actually alive and he closed his eyes himself. Possibly in real life you would have to grab hold of the guy's eyelashes and pull them down like a roller shade that you let go of and it went all the way up. Or is it easier, more like using one of those sliding dimmer switches?]

By 22, I question whether I am cut out for this kind of work. On a dark, slippery road, a young woman loses control of her pickup truck and is hurled from the cab. [I would put that sentence in past tense unless you were present when she lost control.] As I frantically provide her valuable air, the image of my fiancĂ©e’s face flashes before me and sucks my own breath away. [Quickly I snatch the woman's oxygen mask away and put it on my own face, and as a result I survive, but...]This young lady dies and as it eats away at me, I realize I need to be a stronger, harder person.

Just before dawn a few years later, a flashover from a house fire engulfs my partner and me. The lens of my SCBA mask distorts, melting from the scorching heat. I clutch the nozzle with both hands and roll onto my back. [Because if you're about to die anyway, you might as well spend your last few moments clutching the nozzle.] With only seconds to escape, I blast the ceiling with water. The flames vanish, only temporarily, and I scramble to find my missing partner. My screams of his name go unanswered and I fear he is dead.

A confident, seasoned firefighter at age 31, I walk into a house where a 15-year-old has delivered a lifeless baby onto a cold, cement floor in a dark, dingy basement. It barely fazes me anymore.

I fear I have lost my compassion forever by the time I reach 34 years of age. Then I hold the broken body of a six-year-old boy in my arms and watch the life leave his eyes. [No offense, but does anyone you come in contact with ever survive?] The shattered plastic, metal and glass of his family’s mini-van lie scattered across the highway as his parents hover and pray beside us. I want to cry. I hate myself for not being able to save him. This little boy’s violent death pulls me from a dark place and shows me I still care. [Interesting. I would have expected you to be pulled from your dark place by some rewarding experience, finally saving a life perhaps. Instead you're pulled out by putting the kiss of death on yet another victim.]

I am still an active firefighter today and live with my wife of 12 years and our 3-year-old son.

Thank you for your consideration.



I like that you've given specific examples, but I feel you need to tie it all together with a general description of the book. It's the story of a man whose experiences with tragedy leave him cynical and empty, but who grows to realize whatever it is you grow to realize.

I assume there were at least a few occasions on which you failed to kill someone. Possibly you could mention one of them in the query. Possibly you could lie and claim it was one such event that made you realize that while you can't save everyone, saving anyone makes it all worthwhile. Otherwise, make it more clear why the other deaths left you jaded and unfazed, but the boy's death showed you still care. What was different this time? It sounds like more of the same.


Dave Fragments said...

I shouldn't say this, but my brother who worked as a fireman said the worst accidents were car crashes with entrapment and fire. I didn't ask for more information than that. Sometimes writing out these deeply disturbing episodes is cathartic, but that's not why we are here.

If this is an emotional journey into darkness, despair and at its end, redemption and renewal, it doesn't sound like it. The query sounds like episodes of heart-wrenching tragedy and we get no idea of the resolution olther than now, you are happily married with kids.

What is the emotional end of the novel? What is the "uplift" at the end of the novel.

Kiersten White said...

EE, you are TERRIBLE. I'm trying not to laugh as this poor man is describing broken and lifeless bodies. Shameless. And hilarious.

I think the idea behind the memoir is intriguing, but I agree that you need to flesh out the narrative line beyond these episodes. (I'm sure it is in the book, but the query needs to show that, too.)

writtenwyrdd said...

Okay, this sounds like a downer. I totally get the job being a downer; I've worked in law enforcement and it does make you hard or cynical most of the time. However, you want this to sell and I think we need to see the redemption and struggle, not a list of really unpleasant things.

Is this tale the story of your redeeming your hope and finding real value and meaning in your job personally (besides the obvious saving of lives and risking your own heroically to do it)?

Because, to repeat myself, you talk about one good thing then several really bad things in your letter describing the memoir. Barbara Walter's best-selling memoir is funny even in the bad parts, and there's even scandal (gasp!). Your memoir is being represented as inspiration to slash my wrists. I wouldn't want to read a partial that sounded this depressing.

I am sure your memoir is actually uplifting, but you are focusing on the wrong elements in the letter, is all. Make a list of why this book is inspiring and try to get that into the letter.

Robin S. said...

Love that zombie addition to the real plot, there, Sparky.

Also laughed out loud at:
"[Quickly I snatch the woman's oxygen mask away and put it on my own face, and as a result I survive, but...]". Yeah, and OK, the nozzle one, too.

Author- this looks really interesting - but I need more to make me come away feeling there is gonna be a powerful feeling of it all having had a larger meaning - that it was worth it to you in a meta-world way.

I have uncles that were retired firefighters - one just did his job - the other one felt kind of a calling to it, if you will.

Are you worried if you go 'schmalty and emotive' that an agent is gonna be turned off? I'm not saying that isn't a valid concern. I'm just wondering.

You have life experiences here most people will never find themselves witnessing - powerful material.

Best of luck with it!

Stacy said...

This could be really good, with some editing.

One or two of the harrowing events is fine, but the query needs to be fleshed out. This shouldn't read from flash to flash, like pictures in a photo album. We're getting only flashes of memories, rather than the story of your life.

Also, some places in the query were too technical and I felt like you were talking 'fireman-speak.' In other words, it was over my head.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately unwanted problems of a legal nature can follow from publishing your take on things that actually happened and the truth of it might not be a defense. In this case, it looks like you might have issues of both story ownership and patient confidentiality. I'd be concerned that you're going to publish tales of matters that might be deeply painful and sensitive to the families of people died. Do you have their written permission to do so? Does your employer approve of you publishing about actual cases? Do your co-workers? Does your union? Royalties from this book are not likely to replace your current salary, never mind the salary plus legal fees and damages. Sometimes the best solution is to take a lesson learned from real life, keep no identifying details, and make your point in a very fictional story -- the more fantastic, the better.

Julia Weston said...

I must have a warped sense of humor. I can't stop giggling over EE's comments. I actually had to call my husband and read him the post. Clutching the nozzle???

To the author - I commend you for your work. I know I couldn't do it. For what it's worth, I think it could make a great memoir. I agree with previous posters about needing some resolution. We need to know that there's a balance and that you've grown (into more than just a cynical person).

Good luck!

Dakota said...

Thank you EE for the site and for using my query. I got a kick out of your comments.
Thank you to everyone who has posted. The consensus is that the query is too sad. I agree. I was trying to evoke an emotion and it sounds like I have done that. But whether it was the right emotion is the question. I am going to work on these suggestions.

Writtenwyrdd, I about fell off my chair laughing when you wrote "an inspiration to slash my wrists" Priceless.

Freddie, My goal for this query was to use flashes to tell my story. Maybe I didn't pull it off as I had hoped. I guess that is what I get for trying to think out of the box.

Anonymous, The events in my book are told in a completely unidentifying way. My employer has stated that they cannot endorse my story but they are not telling me not to do it, either. A chief looked through the material and said he didn't see any issues for the department. My co-workers will sign a release if I ever get an agent. I do not use my story to bash anyone so they don't have any issues. I also plan to aquire a personal lawyer at that point.

Whirlochre said...

Nothing to add other than to suggest you go for 3rd person and tidy up the middle section. It meanders, and until I scrolled down a few paras I wondered if you were going to give us the full 60,000 words in the query.

That said, it ought to be an engaging story for drama & truth.

Chris Eldin said...

Oh man, I'm late to this one, and EE is in top form!!
Love this: No offense, but does anyone you come in contact with ever survive?

I mean, sorry author because the query should've been sooo depressing, but I cracked up the whole way with EE's blue text.

I think you've gotten great comments. I wish you well with your project. I know paramedics are the real doctors when it comes to trauma medicine.

Stacy said...

As a reader, I want to walk away from this book having learned something eye-opening about life, not saying "Wow, that was an unusual form for a nonfiction book."

Anonymous said...

Are there any sharks?