Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Face-Lift 530

Guess the Plot

Weird Tattoos and Low IQs

1. Amateur sleuth Benny Collins has Down's Syndrome, but that doesn't stop him from taking on murder cases that have the police stumped. Also, weird tattoos.

2. A funny, poignant memoir which focuses on my teenaged sister's dating habits.

3. Why do so many young women get lower back tattoos? Why would a man have anime characters permanently inked onto his arm? And why do people choose tattoos in languages they don't speak? Homicide detective Zack Martinez ponders these questions and more while investigating the death of star basketball player Mkembe Balawa.

4. Mindy "Razor Mouth" Huggins details her descent into the hell of Mall Goth, a bizarre world in which a parent's credit card and no concept of appropriate attire are only the beginnings of extreme peer conformity.

5. Tattoo artist Truck Parker makes his living off the stupidity of youth. But when a busload of mentally challenged prison escapees arrives, all wanting tattoos of Einstein, Truck drives them across the Mexican border where tattoos are cheap--and human life is cheaper.

6. The only clues are the woman's tattoos: ostriches battling each other with swords. Can Bo Bumble, The Dense Detective, figure out where his teacher disappeared to before the bell rings, ending fifth period?

Dear Agent,

WEIRD TATTOOS AND LOW IQS, a 65,000 word Young Adult mystery, features Benny Cooper, an amateur sleuth with Down's Syndrome, whose disability outfits him with a unique perspective on solving crime. [What a dilemma. Normally I would mock this idea with exaggerated examples and sample dialogue from the book, but that wouldn't be PC. Or would those with Down Syndrome be more offended by my not giving them mockery equality?]

Benny loves "Wheel of Fortune," does a great Fonzi impression, and has dance moves that rival his idol, John Travolta's. [So far he's just like Evil Editor.] [These days, Travolta's lucky if he can squeeze through the door of a dance studio.] One thing he isn't, however, is a private detective—at least not until Benny's dysfunctional parents accuse him of his beloved MiMa's murder following his discovery of her severed foot.

[Benny: Mom, look, I found a foot.

Mom: Murderer!]

While the police seem to be stuck in a quagmire of paperwork and bogus leads, Benny takes an online quiz that tells him he is most like TV detective Dave Starsky and decides that he can and must find MiMa's killer. [According to an Internet description, Dave Starsky, was loud, brash, enjoyed street life and ate a diet of junk food. To me, this calls the validity of Benny's quiz results into question.]

At Siesta's Home for the Elderly and the Active, Benny delves into the dark underbelly of South Florida's retirement community where he befriends MiMa's secret lover, Henry. Confused but certain he is doing the right thing; Benny falsely accuses Henry and thus unwittingly ruins the relationship between Henry and his lifelong companion, Rose. Now, the police won't listen to a thing Benny has to say. [Now they won't listen?

Cop: This case is nothing but dead ends.

Captain: I guess it's time to bring in Benny Cooper.

Cop: Apparently you haven't heard. Benny broke up Henry and Rose at Siesta's Home for the Elderly and the Active.]

Captain: Damn. How about a psychic?]

What's more, Benny must learn to waltz, try to cope with his little sister's first boyfriend, track down a thieving cabbie, and keep his first secret all within a matter of months. [Three items per list, please. No more, no fewer.] Despite some bungling, [He's more like Inspector Clouseau than Starsky.] it is Benny's disarming demeanor that allows him to obtain secret information and turn his supposed disabilities into his greatest source of ability.

[Killer 1: We did it. We robbed the bank, murdered MiMa, cut off her foot, and got away with it.

Killer 2: Hey, shut up! There's a guy right there listening!

Benny: I've always had a thing for blondes. Like you said, Feldman: Everybody deserves a second chance. Hutch do you got any more questions?

Killer 2: Whew. Okay, continue your boasting.]

WIERD TATTOOS AND LOW IQS seeks to give people with mental disabilities and their loved ones a protagonist with whom they can identify without examining societal implications. [You might put "without examining societal implications" at the front of the sentence so it clearly modifies the book rather than "identify." Also, it wouldn't be overly immodest to say "gives" instead of "seeks to give."] Like Benny Cooper, I am from South Florida where I worked with people with mental disabilities through the Special Olympics and a pen pal program. [No need for "Like Benny Cooper."]



Certainly there is plenty of fiction featuring people with various disabilities making good. And certainly Down Syndrome isn't rare. And it's fiction, so even if it's unlikely Benny could solve a crime, who cares? However, while I know there's a wide variance in the cognitive abilities of those with Down Syndrome, I'm in the dark as to what percentage are young adults who could handle a detective novel. That would be the main concern: is the market big enough? And in the likely case that it is big enough, can you convince an editor that it is? If you're querying editors who aren't necessarily in the know, maybe a couple stats are in order.


writtenwyrdd said...

While Pat Wood has done a remarkable job with Lottery, where her protag is mentally challenged, this story may have some difficulties because it's a murder mystery. Unlike literary novels, genre fiction comes primed with tropes and expectations which I think might make writing the query so it doesn't sound like it's potentially making fun or light of mental disabilities difficult.

I don't know if this will be helpful advice or not; but perhaps if you begin with saying up front that "Benny decides to solve his grandmother's murder, but people aren't taking him seriously because he has Down's Syndrome-- in fact, he's the prime suspect, blamed by his parents!" Or something similar. Then delineate the plot/problems he runs into.

I'd be cautious about making it sound like a keystone cops comedy on accident, as well.

Sounds like it could be a really good story.

Anonymous said...

My little brother has Down's Syndrome, and he has a lot of awesome and amazing abilities, but deductive reasoning ain't one of 'em. I love detectives and I love retarded characters but I can't see them going together well. Want a beta-read?

Make sure to put Benny's age in the query letter.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I think there's a really good story here, but I'm having trouble getting a handle on the tone. It alternates between the keystone cops and something a lot more serious for me.

If it's more funny, then you might reach a wider audience. Think There's Something About Mary. If it's more serious, then you might be pitching at the wrong audience. Just some thoughts.

writtenwyrdd said...

Just my further thoughts on the matter after reading Sara's comments:

Because the author states this is written for the mentally challenged and their families, I took it to mean that the character would have some dignity. So I think indicating comedic/keystone cops overtones would be harmful. Lighthearted is one thing; comedy is another, because it seems like the book would then come across as mean-spirited toward those with differences.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm with WrittenWyrd here. Beginning with Benny and his solving a murder is a better hook than the original.

I think that the comparison to Starsky is a weak opening for a query. Not everyone remembers Starsky and Hutch and even if they do, they might remember it as awful. That hurts your chances of selling your novel.

The engaging story s that Benny, a Down's kid and he takes on the seemingly impossible task of solving a murder. It's his story and his success that inspire us.

Please avoid a phrase like: dark underbelly of South Florida's retirement community... It's actually kinda funny and humorous. I once survived staying three days at a friends house in a Florida Retirement Community. I had a t-shirt made up to commemorate my days in the joint with the guards taking my name and checking cars and the endless card parties, the annual drag show/talent contest, the gay couples living together, the helpless, man-hungry widows, the genderless couples with the neutered husbands and domineering wives, the golf cart drag races, the automaton-like Hispanics on funky mowers... I survived all that, dark underbelly of retirement village. I'm not sure YA audiences want to experience the wonder and awe of the dark side.

Sarah Laurenson said...

The title suggests a more funny approach to a Down's Syndrome child being accused of murder by his parents.

I'd like to see the query set the tone for the book, but I'm getting one feeling from the tone of the query and another from the subject matter.

Anonymous said...

Nitpicky concerns: you misspell your title in the final paragraph, there's an errant semi-colon, and you introduce 'beloved MiMa' with no context whatsoever. While 'murder' isn't generally used for members of the animal kingdom, I was a bit confused about whether this was a human, especially as nothing in the rest of the query indicated Benny had any emotional response to the death.

If I were a lit agent I'd need to see pages, because if this is written in first person, the voice is going to need to be rock solid (think The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), and if it's in third person, I'd worry about how the narration would sound.

writtenwyrdd said...

Sarah has a good point about the title...it does imply comedy. Perhaps make sure it says what you want it to say about the book?

EB said...

This has the potential to be interesting. But I think the query must reflect the voice, because the set up (A young man with Down's investigating his grandmother's murder) is fraught with peril if it's not handled well.

The title suggests comedy. Again, I'm sure there's comedy here, but if the "Low IQs" are a source of the comedy, that's off-putting. You might be well served to explain (at least in part) how Benny's Down's Syndrome puts him in the unique position to sovle this murder.

Anonymous said...

Shoulda' named the grandmother "NaNoWriMo"

Anonymous said...

Well, then it's a good thing you didn't name the grandmother "NanoWriMo".

none said...

I had no idea who MiMa is. Nor do I give a toss about a man getting in trouble for cheating. Serve him right.

Why is Benny uniquely equipped to solve this mystery? That's your angle, imo, but you pass it over leaving the reader no wiser than before.

Polenth said...

The references were dated for a modern child/teen. John Travolta dancing, Starsky and Hutch... it feels like things the author grew up with, not Benny (and not the teens reading the book).

It might be the old stuff is Benny's hobby, which gets him made fun of by the other kids. If there's not time to say that in the query, it might be better to gloss over the names. You don't want to sound like you're out of touch.

Julie Weathers said...

This would be a tough sell to me. I had twin step-sisters who were handicapped and we used to spend a lot of time going to the state institute to try and improve conditions.

While I am very sympathetic to them, of the very many I got to know, I don't think solving a murder mystery is feasible.

Stranger things have happened, but Beth Shope mentioned once you have to remove all the objections a reader is going to have to your story. This is a pretty big stumbling block.

Dave Fragments said...

MiMa didn't surprise me.
I've heard "Mee-mah" for Grandmothers, P-Pah for Grandfathers. Nana is another name. Grams, Grammie and a few ethnic names for grandparents. I might not use it in the query, though.

When I was adviser to a HS robotics group and we took HS kids to EPCOT, several kids had disabilities. One kid was autistic and very bright, but quite a handful to take care of.

Another year, I gave a young man with severe Cerebral Palsy a day a week (6 hr days thanks to the transport) "job" and set him up in an office with a computer etc... He did good considering it was his first attempt at a job of any kind.

There were several others, too - A gal with CP, a girl with Spina Bifida, a deaf boy that was so hard-working, a little person, a kid with Osteogenesis Imperfecta who loved roller coasters.

None of these kids got any sympathy from me or easy rides. What I asked of them was what I'd ask of any able-bodied kid in their position. I never gave myself pity and I wouldn't do that to them.

So I assume that a Downs kid would appreciate the same treatment. Accept the kid for what he can do. Benny sounds like that. He knows he can do a good job and regardless of what the rest of the world thinks, he's going to do it. I like that stubborn streak.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Polenth, I thought the old references were the best touch. With that demographic there's no concept of "dated" and there's certainly no concept of "kitsch" so anything fun has a ridiculous staying power. I know more than one guy who's wanted to be Danny Zuko for years. Right now the group home is nuts about Dukes of Hazzard because one of them got the DVD set. Plus, the familiarity has a really strong appeal. Benny's hobbies are what give me a real hope that the book might be halfway accurate to his way of thinking.

talpianna said...

I agree with all the others about the inconsistencies in the tone of the book--humor, pathos, thrills, whatever. Pick one and stick to it.

I think it might work better if Benny (a bow to Faulkner?) was not the sole detective but was, or had, a sidekick. Tanya Huff wrote an urban fantasy/mystery in which one of the protagonists was a mildly retarded girl (she was the one the faerie types communicated with because she had no trouble believing in them); but she was aided by friends, including a bag lady, a social worker, an Adept, and a cat (Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light).

As for the title, it made me think the book was about the minions.

Stacy said...

Ouch, Tal!

Polenth said...

150, my point is not that a kid couldn't like these things. My point is that a common error in young adult books is to set them in the past, but call it the present day.

The alarm bells aren't caused by the old references, but the lack of new references. It doesn't mean that Benny needs a hobby change.

His best friend loves Justin Timberlake, but Benny longs for the days of disco. He has the moves of John Travolta and he's not afraid to use them.

I'm not saying to put that in the query, but it shows what I mean. Benny being a John fan is interesting. His whole school being John fans, and not following any modern music, would be dated. The query doesn't tell me which it is.

Julie Weathers said...

I agree with Tal. Except the title thing. That just made me cry. I'm delicate.

I've been trying to figure out a way to salvage this and I think that's the answer; he needs a friend.

Anonymous said...

polenth: Great point.

talpianna said...

Freddie and Julie--you mean you DON'T have weird tattoos?

talpianna said...

I just realized that my last comment might be read as implying that Freddie and Julie DO have low IQs. What I meant was that I assumed they were in the "weird tattoos" group and NOT the "low IQs" group. As for the latter--you know who you are...

Julie Weathers said...

*sniffs and looks around for comfort*

Tal thinks I'm stewpid.

"Freddie and Julie--you mean you DON'T have weird tattoos?"

Eeeeew! I'm delicate, like a flower. How many flowers do you see with tattoos? That's what I thought.

I don't do pain, since I'm delicate and all.

talpianna said...

delicate c.1374, from L. delicatus "alluring, delightful, dainty," also "addicted to pleasure," of unknown origin; related by folk etymology (and perhaps genuinely) to deliciƦ "a pet," and delicere "to allure, entice." Meaning "feeble in constitution" is c.1400; that of "easily broken" is recorded from 1568. Delicacy "a dainty viand" is from 1450.

"A dainty viand"? Maybe the moles need dessert after devouring EE....

Julie Weathers said...

delicate c.1374, from L. delicatus "alluring, delightful, dainty," also "addicted to pleasure," of unknown origin; related by folk etymology (and perhaps genuinely) to deliciƦ "a pet," and delicere "to allure, entice." Meaning "feeble in constitution" is c.1400; that of "easily broken" is recorded from 1568. Delicacy "a dainty viand" is from 1450.

"A dainty viand"? Maybe the moles need dessert after devouring EE....~

DAINTY! Yes, that's me. Easily broken. Yep.

Addicted to pleasure? What the heck is that?

Pet? Not any more. The collar irritates my delicate (dainty) skin.

Delicate viand? Dessert? No way. Go eat EE and leave me alone.