Monday, June 30, 2008

Face-Lift 538

Guess the Plot

The Edge of Memory

1. Irwin needs to fit another 512Mb DIMM in his Dell XPS1720 so he can run the latest version of Hellspawn on Vista. But he's reckoned without the resource sapping power of the Aero interface. Can he downgrade back to XP, or is he destined to forever be at the very edge of memory?

2. A tall, strangely-dressed man is found wandering the desert outside Palm Springs. He claims to be Charlemagne. Is he delusional, or has someone at a nearby secret research lab really broken the time barrier?

3. Willow saw her mother killed twenty years ago, when she was only three. Since then she's lived in a silent world. Now Detective Gary Hiller has been assigned to the cold case. Can he reach Willow, or is she forever doomed to exist on . . . The Edge of Memory?

4. Beatrice lost a decade of her childhood to amnesia long ago. Fortunately she was taken in by a wonderful woman. Unfortunately that woman just died. Fortunately Beatrice finds a clue to the identity of her birth mother. Unfortunately, her birth mother was murdered. Fortunately her birth father is still alive. Unfortunately, her birth father is the one who murdered her birth mother. Fortunately, he just got out of prison. Can Beatrice regain her lost memories with the help of a murderer? Or is there another murder in the offing?

5. When strangers begin appearing in Carrie Strachan's life claiming to be old friends and lovers she begins to wonder how much of what she remembers is history and how much is fantasy. Her efforts to rediscover her true past draw the attention of a serial killer with ties to a counterintelligence operation. Carries must discover who she was and why her memories are important before she becomes another victim in a government-sanctioned killing spree.

6. You know how sometimes you're watching TV and an actor or actress is in the program and they look really familiar, like you know you've seen them in something else but you can't remember if it was a movie or TV show and it's killing you so you wait for the end to get their name but the closing credits go so fast you miss it? That's what life is like every hour of every day for Piper Jones, private eye to the stars.

Original Version

Dear Prospective Agent,

My novel, THE EDGE OF MEMORY, tells the story of a woman with childhood amnesia whose search for her birth parents uncovers brutal family secrets that force her to confront a violent murderer.

Although devastated by the death of the woman who took her in thirty years ago, Beatrice Greyson's grief turns to betrayal when she finds a hidden letter from her birth mother. Leaving everything behind, Beatrice follows the railroad tracks across the Midwest in hopes of finding where she came from and what happened during the missing decade of her childhood. [It's The Wizard of Oz. The railroad tracks are the yellow brick road. The MC is trying to get back to her midwestern home.]

With the help of a charming man she meets along the way (Raymond Richter [aka "The Scarecrow"]), Beatrice discovers she was once Mallory Edgewood, missing and presumed drowned in the Missouri River at the age of twelve. Shortly after her disappearance, her father (Vincent Edgewood) beat her mother to death. [So that's why Dorothy lived with her Aunt Em.] Vincent has recently been released from prison and Beatrice must face him to recover her missing past. Her need to learn the truth will uncover darker family secrets, [Darker than the fact that her father murdered her mother?] jeopardize her budding relationship with Raymond, and leave her teetering on the brink of murder.

THE EDGE OF MEMORY (Upmarket Women's Fiction) addresses the physical and psychological impact of traumatic childhood, for which my current work as a pediatrician gives unique insight. I had several poems published in Scars Publications and in literary magazines in college. [In fact, this novel was inspired by my first published poem, which goes:

My daddy got thirty years
From a very lenient jury
For murdering my mother
And tossing me in the Missouri.]

Medical training consumed most of my time after college, but at thirty-four years old, I now have a job that allows time for both medicine and writing. [I always wondered what was taking the doctor so long while I was sitting by myself in the examination room in my underwear pretending to read Health Magazine; turns out she was working on her memoirs.]

[Reason for contacting this specific agent goes here.] THE EDGE OF MEMORY (89,000 words) would appeal to readers who enjoy the work of Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve. If you'd be interested in considering my novel, I'd be glad to send the manuscript for your review. Per your agency website's guidelines, I'm including [whatever they say they like sent].

I truly appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.



How is it that Raymond has nothing better to do than join up with a woman who's following the railroad tracks across the midwest searching for information about something that happened thirty years ago?

No hint about what was in the letter? Apparently something like, Take good care of my daughter, and if she ever wants to find me, tell her I'm living near the railroad tracks in the midwest.

When fiction is declared "upmarket" does it mean it will appeal to those of means? I can see a Lexus being called an upmarket car, but what makes a book upmarket?

You could put the word count and genre in the same parentheses rather than two different sets.

Sounds like an intriguing story, though it also sounds more like some hybrid of mystery, literary fiction and suspense novel than women's fiction. You haven't made it sound like something that wouldn't appeal to men. I take it the Raymond/Beatrice relationship is a major aspect?


Anonymous said...

I would add more information about your current working conditions.

Anonymous said...

"With the help of a charming man she meets along the way..."

If I were an agent this kind of thing would drive me crazy. It seems like a plot device to add some kind of romantic angle. Okay, except you might want to make it feel a bit more legitimate by coming up with a reason this stranger wants to hang out with the MC who seems a little batty). Or else just describe the two of them working together without mentioning that he's a perfect stranger she happened to meet.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if your protagonist supposedly couldn't remember anything before age 13? Or what? Like, is this one of those bonk-on-the-head-amnesia stories? Or what?

Anonymous said...

This book sounds phenomenal. Seriously. If I found it on the shelves, I would not hesitate to buy it, based on the premise alone.

Dave Fragments said...

Your focus should be on Beatrice Greyson and her struggle to find out her past and deal with it.

When her mother dies, Beatrice Greyson's memories of her idyllic past are shattered by a 17 year-old letter from her birth mother.

That's part of the story.

Beatrice's forgotten past becomes a mass of complicated and traumatizing memories when she finds out that her mother was murdered and she was beaten and abandoned for dead by her father. She's like a modern day Moses, cast adrift on the river of amnesia, raised by a kind and generous woman only to discover that her murderous father is alive and in prison and the past has reared up to confront her happiness.

These aren't quite working as hooks. However, this is Beatrice's story and you have to focus on her struggle to understand first, her adoption and then her murderous heritage. You are telling the story of her adjustment to her real history.

The stalking serial killer is a complication to move the story along and (I guess) brings her closer to that mysterious lover.

My advice is focus on Beatrix / Mallory.

talpianna said...

I think "upmarket women's fiction" is intended for an audience of women who regularly use words of three or more syllables.

It's mean of me, I know, but I was reminded of this:

But you can't chop your mama up in Massachusetts
Not even if you're tired of her cuisine
No, you can't chop your mama up in Massachusetts
You know it's almost sure to cause a scene

Well, they really kept her hoppin' on that busy afternoon
With both down- and up-stairs chopping while she hummed a ragtime tune
They really made her hustle and when all was said and done
She'd removed her mother's bustle when she wasn't wearing one

Oh, you can't chop your mama up in Massachusetts
And then blame all the damage on the mice
No, you can't chop your mama up in Massachusetts
That kind of thing just isn't very nice

Now, it wasn't done for pleasure and it wasn't done for spite
And it wasn't done because the lady wasn't very bright
She'd always done the slightest thing that mom and papa bid
They said, "Lizzie, cut it out," so that's exactly what she did

But you can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts
And then get dressed and go out for a walk
No, you can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is a far cry from New York

Robin S. said...

I think of upmarket fiction as a sort of mix between commercial/lit fic - or 'book club' fiction.

This sounds really interesting to me - good luck with getting the tone of your query tweeked just right.

[I always wondered what was taking the doctor so long while I was sitting by myself in the examination room in my underwear pretending to read Health Magazine; turns out she was working on her memoirs.]

Good one, EE.

Anonymous said...

Dave F. taught me to trim words to add crispness. I regularly do "Dave F. edits" where I change things like "she looked like she was about his age" to "she looked about his age."

Just thought I'd give Dave his props...

writtenwyrdd said...

#5 sounds like it would be a good read, too.

I'm guessing that childhood trauma might have erased some of her memories. this is a valid phenomena. But if she recalls absolutely nothing from her childhood before her mother's death, I don't believe that explanation will fly. Not a bad sounding tale, but I have to agree that it's not cohesive enough yet to really sell your story.

H. L. Dyer said...

Thanks for the feedback, folks!

The romance does feature prominently, although The Edge of Memory is not a romance novel.

To the first anonymous... it's hard for me to imagine anyone would be all that interested in my schedule. *snort* But, since you asked:

I work as a pediatric hospitalist: an inpatient specialist. As the director of the program I attend meetings and give lectures, but otherwise I work 5 or 6 24+ hour shifts in a month. So, except for the meetings, I have 24 or 25 days OFF every month. Plenty of time for writing. I wrote the first draft of my novel in 7 weeks (finished 12/7/07), and have revised/rewritten 6 times since then.

I've revised the query a bit, by the way. She meets Raymond at the end of her journey (I see now that the letter sounded like she picked him up on the road.) And I cut the bit about the tracks... it seems they were adding more confusion than intrigue. *snort*

Yes, there are darker secrets than her mother's murder.

And as talpianna and robin s. suggest, that is also my understanding of the term "upmarket women's fiction" as defined on multiple sites. If there is another more appropriate description, I'd be glad to hear it.

Regarding the memory loss, I would hope my medical background implies that I have a plausible medical explanation. It's not a reaction to her mother's murder, btw. That happened after Beatrice left.

And Suzette... I've never met you, but I think I love you. *snort*

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi H.L.

I was going to comment on the RR tracks and the love interest, but since you've already changed those, I won't. Here's what I did consider as I read through the query:

My novel tells the story of ...
Kind of a wordy, lackluster start. The agent will pretty much infer it's your novel and that it tells a story. Make the story itself the star of the query, not your novel telling the story.

grief turns to betrayal
I don't think this is what you mean. Beatrice feels betrayed but she doesn't go from grief to betrayal. Also, as constructed, that sentence says Beatrice's grief is devastated by the death of the woman.

hidden letter
EE's mentioned we need to know something more about that letter. The mere fact of discovering a letter that your foster mom hid away doesn't usually send someone off on a reckless quest. What's in the letter, though, can.

As far as darker secrets, I'm thinking abuse (and Sybil springs quickly to mind). If that's it, why hide the obvious? And if it's not it, then perhaps assure the reader it isn't what appears to be the obvious.

Um, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you know the first Anon's remark about adding more about your current working conditions is sarcastic. Your poems, your age, your after-college life and that you can juggle job and writing are of no consequence at this stage in the agent-snagging process.

Not sure flow-wise that putting your reason for contacting the agent between your bio and the book comparison makes sense (unless Picoult and Shreve are the agent's clients). Marketing-wise, personalization works better right up front where you can grab attention and develop rapport immediately.

And, like the opening of the query, the closing is pretty wordy. The "If you'd be interested" phrase can go, as can the "Per your agency website's guidelines." Better yet, the whole last half of that paragraph can go, and the last line become:

"I truly appreciate your time and look forward to sending you the completed, 89,000-word manuscript."

The word count where you have it now is kind of a non-sequitir -- sounds like because it's 89K words it would interest those readers. And "will" is a stronger verb than the conditional "would" there.

It's a good start and an interesting premise, with the caveat I don't read enough in this genre to know how unique an idea it is. Good luck!

writtenwyrdd said...

"Regarding the memory loss, I would hope my medical background implies that I have a plausible medical explanation. It's not a reaction to her mother's murder, btw. That happened after Beatrice left."

The point being that the letter needs to make it sound plausible. This is a business letter selling your story, and just because you may have technical expertise doesn't mean you can rely on that to make the agent/publisher want to read pages. If you can't make it all make sense enough in the letter, your letter isn't doing the job it's supposed to.