Friday, August 29, 2008

Face-Lift 560

Guess the Plot

The Lights Were Off, The Lights Were On

1. In this frank look at what is mind and what is memory, Walter wakes in a hospital bed after months in a coma, missing part of his brain and thinking strange thoughts, like, I think, therefore I am better than dead and Who am I? and Will Baldeeny ever shut up?

2. Eric leaves the theater after sitting through the latest Spielberg blockbuster; yet, despite having blown nearly twenty bucks (including soda, popcorn and JuJubes), there is little to remember. Feeling cheated, Eric embarks on an epic quest to get his ninety minutes back.

3. When Janie Monroe returns to her home town after the death of her son and the collapse of her marriage, she craves peace and serenity. Within a week, she finds herself being terrorized by a former high school boyfriend - who always announces his arrival by urinating in the fuse box, setting the household lights a-flickering. Can Janie rig a way to electrocute her deranged stalker before her lights go off . . . forever?

4. Fledgling real estate agent Miki has never had much use for the theater - until a shrinking market forces her into a second job with the local semi-pro company. As if stage managing a classic French bedroom farce with thirty seven separate lighting cues wasn't hard enough, Miki must also deal with her growing feelings for the shy but cute dramaturge. Will Miki find true love on the boards?

5. At the Shadyvale School for the Visually Impaired, a disgruntled janitor's theft of all light bulbs from the student lounge goes largely unnoticed. But when an ancient bioluminescent creature colonizes the bulbless lamps, one brave student must save her classmates from the evil that lurks on the end tables.

6. The lights were off, the lights were on, the lights were off, the lights were on, and Brad Verde is having a real pain dealing with greenouts. So he decides to lead a band of rag-tag rebels as they generate consistent supplies of electricity and make the lights go on - permanently.

Original Version

Dear Editor,

Sometimes, simply waking up and getting out of bed can be the most heroic thing you’ve ever done. [Even if you've been kicked in the head while down, and beat into a coma?]

(Especially if you’ve been kicked in the head while down and beat into a coma).

“The Lights Were Off, The Lights Were On,” is a 70,000 word novel told within the brain-damaged thoughts of meek and geeky Walter, who wakens after three and a half months of complete and utter nothingness to find he has sixteen (mending) broken bones and brain matter that once quivered at the toe of a biker’s boot.

Atrophied, unable to get out of bed and missing a small piece of his brain, Walter busies himself by staring at a white and shiny ceiling, dreaming of a nurse he’s come to covet, practicing his dance moves beneath the sheets, all the while contemplating the profound ho-humness of just what makes Walter ‘Walter‘?

“If part of me was smeared upon the street, then what‘s left of who I am? [Shouldn't that be "of who I was"? He is who he is.]

I think, therefore I am better than dead, and that’s not all.”

What life there was and what life there is for Walter, might possibly predict what life there might be when Walter finally leaves the hospital and returns to his mundane life. His waking up and simply getting out of bed, he knows, will definitely help. [Isn't this where we came in?] [At least we finally have a paragraph with two sentences.]

(Being a hero won’t hurt his chances either).

In the meantime, Walter has time to ask himself a few questions--

Who was I? Who am I? Who will I be? [Does Nurse Chambers have an inny or an outy?] Will the mundane ever be the same when the brain has changed? Will reality ever stop being real when the mind denies it? [Would Baldeeny, in the next bed, notice if I discreetly flogged the dolphin?] Are the black spaces between conscious moments a prelude to what happens when the brain dies? Have you ever wanted to take your brain with you when you do finally die, thinking you just might actually need it? [Would it bother anyone if the first thing I did when I got out of this bed was smother Baldeeny with his pillow?] Will she or won’t she, and if she does, will it be just like I thought? Will Baldeeny shut his hairy pie hole and let me think my thoughts?

“The Lights Were Off, The Lights Were On” takes an unusually frank and goofy look at just what is mind and memory and explores why it's all reliant on matter. Like its protagonist, the novel makes up stuff while still facing up to hard realities that-- once accepted-- make life... well… what life is. And that’s all there is to it. [That's all there is to it? That's nothing.]

Thank you for your time and a moment of your mind,


Either we have a very unorthodox novel, and you're trying to get this across by submitting a very unorthodox query, or this novel has a plot and you're keeping it a secret. A guy awakens from a coma with no memory is the set-up. Does anything happen? Or is it 70,000 words of lying in bed thinking? If it's the latter, I think you need to come up with more interesting examples of his thoughts than a bunch of philosophical questions. The most interesting part is Baldeeny. Focus on him. A war between the narrator and Baldeeny as they both lie helpless in the same hospital room. Or is Baldeeny the guy's doctor? Either way, they need to go to war.

Now, if the guy does get out of the hospital, tell us some things that happen. Does he remember his life? Ask out the nurse? Where's the goofiness? Where's the beef? Where's the plot?


pacatrue said...

This novel does sound like the ultimate White Room, which is a term (as I understand it) for when the novel's protagonist awakens and stares at a great white nothingness with random thoughts occurring, eerily similar to the blank white page the author has been staring at, trying to come up with an idea of what to write.

Anyway, as EE says, you need to find a way to put some plot into this query, because it really does sound like the plot is staring at the ceiling, trying to think of something cool. Otherwise, the very thoughts themselves have to be captivating. I very much enjoy the movie (okay, i only saw it once) My Dinner with Andre, which is just two people talking over dinner, but Andre comes up with some genuinely interesting stuff.

EB said...

"Will the mundane ever be the same when the brain has changed?"

As the neurosurgeons say, "When the air hits your brain, you're never the same."

Cool set up, but what's the plot? You hint at Walter's heroics; presumably it has something to do with his beating? Is this a goofier take on the "Diving Bell & the Butterfly?"

Anonymous said...

You lost my attention. Your bedridden description brought back vivid memories of JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN... Which was a brilliant novel about the whole world, not just a guy in a bed. This just seemed too pale in comparison.

Stacia said...

I am _so_ not the audience for this book. (I was reminded a little of Johnny Got His Gun, too, but I loathed that book, so that wasn't a good thing. It also reminded me of my husband's attempts to get me interested in the philosophical discussions and questions in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and how dull, insipid, and annoying I found every one of them. So, like I said, I am not the audience for this one, sorry.)

So the only comment I can make is to say broken bones heal in 6-8 weeks, generally. Even large-bone fractures (thigh bones, for example) heal within three months or so, so for the protag to wake up three and a half months later and still have broken bones isn't believable.

Oh, and the bedridden war thing? That would be awesome.

Robin S. said...


I know we've seen the opening to this, and I liked it a lot. I think this is a case where the query doesn't tell the story. Been there.

I think it would be hard to write a query for this novel, if I understand where you're going like I think I do.

If the opening and the other parts I read are anything like the rest of this, I AM in the audience camp for your novel.

The Dinner with Andre that paca mentioned would ALSO be hard to write a query for, and this is one of the (many) reasons why I wish people would ask for the first 10 pages and a brief (not-necessarily-an-art-form-in-itself kind of) query, and pay more attention to how they felt when they read the first pages, and whether or not they really wished there was another page to turn to when they reached the end of the pages they'd been given.

I mean, writing a query for one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, Seinfeld, would've been one big bitch to do. And I think that's precisely because it was so different and such a breath of fresh air when it came out.

Mini-rant over and out. For now.

Whirlochre said...

I'm intrigued. And not too bothered about the paragraph thing because that's braindamageforya.

But — more questions than answers here, particularly in the paragraph with all the questions.

practicing his dance moves beneath the sheet, I like, along with
(Especially if you’ve been kicked in the head while down and beat into a coma)

I sense something better than this query hints at, lurking beneath this query.

Chris Eldin said...

At least at the obgyn office, the ceiling is decorated.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm trying to figure out what the novel is about. It this is about one man's recovery from a severe accident and his antics in the hospital that's one story. If it is about one man's heroic deeds that got him into a coma and hospitalized, that's a second story told in flashbacks. If this is about the discovery of ones self after a severe accident, then that is a third story.

The query tried to be all three and the query suffers for it. Pick the main story and write about Walter and his struggle, or Walter and his actions, or Walter and his discovery of a new life after coma.

I remember the New Beginning of this query and as I recall, the hospital staff thinks he's a hero and he doesn't think that. SO I suspect that's the story and that's what the query should be focused on.

Dave Fragments said...

BTW - I like GTP #5 and the idea of nearly incorporeal bioluminescent creatures out to take over the world. It's subtle, it's different and the setting is so unusual.

Anonymous said...

As has been mentioned, there is no story here in the letter. This felt like it could be interesting, but what's on the page is a yawnfest at this point.


Anonymous said...

I don't believe this will sell. The author has obviously been through the situation he describes (or has interviewed someone who has.) But those of us who have want to forget it, not read about it, and I cannot imagine that those who have not would be any more enthusiastic about it.

Scott from Oregon said...

Thanks robin!

I tried the tell what happens approach and everything sounded so trite in synapses that I thought I'd take a shake at a different approach.

Dave-- Yes, all three. A story about a life of great heroism, where there is no heroics, leading up to one heroic action that results in him getting beat into a coma (not the result he had in mind).

So, the story of the boy nobody paid any attention to, and the story of one great heroic moment that was great in its heroism but a failure in result, and the story of a coma survivor and how brain function IS what we are, and the story of those whose lives he touches or who touch his life...

(See, it starts to sound trite...)

But it also explains some things about the science of brain function and refutes what 90% of American believe about the transmigration of the soul...

So yeah, I can't quite figure out how to plate the meat effectively...

Sarah Laurenson said...

Deep soul searching done well can be a great read though I've known people who tire of it in a short period of pages.

I think Dave has a great point about picking what this book is about and not trying to be all things to all people. What is the main thrust of the story?

Sarah Laurenson said...

The philosophical ravings of a hero waking from a coma. With nothing but time, Walter examines his life to date, trying to decide if the bizarre bent to his thoughts is from losing a piece of his brain or from finally getting uninterrupted time to listen to himself think.

Just some of my own ravings here.

Julie Weathers said...

But it also explains some things about the science of brain function and refutes what 90% of American believe about the transmigration of the soul...

I'm curious as to when science proved this, but not curious enough to start a debate.

Scott from Oregon said...

"I'm curious as to when science proved this, but not curious enough to start a debate."

That's why I decided to weave the argument in a story. I figured it was better than telling people they don't go anywhere when they die.

That tends to upset some people.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious that this is not the standard novel, and one difficult to query.
I am a possible audience for this, if written well.
About the query: The list of questions needs to be shortened or turned to some sort of narrative: perhaps the protag's inner thoughts.
Dave's suggestion to focus on one one area is good.

pacatrue said...

Hi Scott, I was getting the impression that there were tinges of the mind/body problem in this book (I'm sorta in cogsci myself). I think it muddies the query unless you want to sell the book to people specifically looking for new ways to look at questions of the self, the mind, etc. Doughlas Hofstadtler's books have funn conversations between Achilles and a tortoise, and other fanciful asides, but are marketed at people interested in a "non-fiction" topic. But if your target audience is the regular fiction crowd, my thought is to take the neurological explanations of consciousness out of the query and let that theme emerge through the story.

none said...

Except that all the while the guy's in a coma, they can't set his bones, so they will probably have to be rebroken and set when he wakes up.

EB said...

@Buffy, re: setting of bones during a coma. Not necessarily true. Head trauma patients get pinned, plated or splinted all the time, particularly if the fractures are severe. They may get ex-fixes (external fixators), screws drilled into the bone with the heads connected to a rig above the skin that holds the underlying bone in alignment. Think erector set. The limiting factor to operative repair of fractures in the early traumatic brain injured patient is the fluctuations of intracranial pressure associated with anesthesia & surgery. But if somebody's achieved a "stable" coma, such repairs are common.

@December, re: bedridden war. In such a conflict the side that develops the bedpan catapult would undoubtedly win the skirmish (or squirmish).

writtenwyrdd said...

Scott, the concept as you describe it sounds rather overly theme-ish and might be a problem for the sell. Perhaps just show the story you are trying to tell, as in where the character comes from and where he goes to and the challenges the brain damage and coma have supplied him with. Sounds very much a character oriented story, but I don't think I'm along in saying I tend to steer clear of any theme that appears to be looming to batter me across the head and shoulders. So maybe minimize that aspect as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

Is the story a thinly veiled attempt to convince the 90 percent that they are wrong, or is the argument incidental to the story? You seem to indicate the former with your comment:

"That's why I decided to weave the argument in a story. I figured it was better than telling people they don't go anywhere when they die."

If the story exists only to prove that point it will be obvious (and possibly condescending and even more possibly tedious) to the reader. If the story is interesting and the "new" theory happens to show up somewhere in the story, that might be interesting/illuminating/engaging.

Julie Weathers said...

That's why I decided to weave the argument in a story. I figured it was better than telling people they don't go anywhere when they die.

That tends to upset some people.

Yep, I pretty much figure it isn't any of your business to "educate' me about my beliefs. Trying to sell a thinly veiled theory in the guise of a novel? Good luck with that.

Robin S. said...

Hey Scott,

I agree with what paca said: But if your target audience is the regular fiction crowd, my thought is to take the neurological explanations of consciousness out of the query and let that theme emerge through the story.

I think the concept of what you're doing sounds really good, and I'd only say - take your time and weave that in naturally in the story itself, and leave it out of the query, as paca mentioned.

Good luck with this. I think it could be wonderful - you've gotta step over some land mines in the process of writing. And the query- I guess the some of the story itself will need to show - what happened to put him there - and a few plot points on his journey back. Just my opinion.

batgirl said...

See, now, I would spell that name as Baldini.

AR said...

Scott, if you wish to disprove religious ideas it is well to research them carefully.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that Christianity teaches the immortality of the soul; and in its present fractured state, many forms of Christianity do imply that the soul is immortal and automatically survives death. However, there are well-established orthodox Christian teachings, dating from the long periods of Christian unity, that teach something rather different.

In this teaching the soul is the life - we do not and cannot experience it without our bodies because we were not so constituted. In fact, the soul with the body emerged from nothingness at the call of God, and separated from God it must return toward nothingness according to its own nature.

St. Athanasius, who formulated many of our essential doctrines, details this in his books; they are short and easy to read.

The question of anything surviving after death is not the primary concern of Christian teaching. We are more concerned with death itself being conquered and its destruction undone. What survives in the meantime, we believe, is not the soul but the person, and it only does so through God's creative act - something that Orthodox Christians describe as God "remembering" the person. Technically the human being as we know him sleeps in death, waiting for his real destiny.

The hope of final salvation for Christians is not of going to heaven as a disembodied spirit, but of being resurrected in the body. We hope, after the end of all things, to attain a life of perfect union with God, with humanity, and within oneself as body, soul, and personality are reconstituted according to the pattern of Christ.

This is why at the end of The Creed we say "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come."

Moreover, it is a very fundamental mistake in reason for people to believe that science has proved the non-existence of things to which science can have nothing whatever to say.

Anonymous said...

I liked the plot suggestions 3 and 5 better