Monday, October 20, 2008

Face-Lift 575

Guess the Plot

Houses of a Thousand Dolls

1. Shanghai, the business center of China. For many it's the gateway to riches. For Xa Xang, it's the home of her brainchild: mobile sex clubs. Can she keep her business going while her customers are coming?

2. Katrin has less than two weeks to figure out who is killing the other girls in the Houses of a Thousand Dolls. Otherwise she'll be sold off cheap, like a cow that stopped giving milk. Also, talkative cats.

3. It was the strangest contest in the history of reality TV, and Blythe Dornbusch was determined to win it. So, after visiting every tag sale and thrift store in Pakumpsuck, Mississippi, she took her thousand dolls and began to build a house. This is what happens when you let pigs schedule programming.

4. There are a thousand stories in the Geisha houses run by Kiroshi, but none more heartwarming than this tale of Li-Li and a wounded American soldier during World War II. Also, a magic Samurai sword.

5. Heroin is being smuggled into the United States in dolls, but when a case of the dolls falls off a truck and is discovered by a Girl Scout troop, the town of Happy Valley must contend with an epidemic of addiction.

6. Collector Corcoran Lourdes sets out to gather every doll, ventriloquist's dummy, and marionette that ever came to life to torment its owner in a horror movie or TV show. Turns out he needs to buy three houses just to hold the ones from Twilight Zone episodes.

Original Version

Dear agent,

Things Katrin Satogo has to do before the Redeeming...

1. Find out who in the Houses of a Thousand Dolls is killing girls. [My money's on Chucky.]
2. Discover the secrets of her own past, who she is and why she was left at the Houses.
3. Avoid betraying the few friends she has, including a clan of talkative cats.
4. Stay alive.
[5. Figure out what the Redeeming is.]

But none of those things are going to [will] be easy. Because missteps in the Houses are as easy as wearing the wrong asari, [Asari? Is that the same as sari? Google doesn't think so. If it's a made-up word you might use the English translation in the query.] and long hidden anger simmers under the ginger-scented air.

Katrin Satogo was left at the Houses of a Thousand Dolls at the age of seven, too old to be Groomed, as the other girls in the Houses were. [Also, too old to make the Olympic gymnastics team.] Now she's seventeen, without formal training or caste, and if she doesn't do something, she'll be thrown out, property of whoever wants to claim her. So when Katrin finds out that three girls have died suspicious deaths, she strikes a bargain with Matron, the head of the Houses. If she finds the killer, she'll have a caste and a future. [You can just give a caste and a future to someone who isn't Groomed? I don't think so.] If she fails, she'll be sold. Now Katrin will need all the luck and help she can get, because everyone is hiding something.

And the Redeeming is only twelve days away....

Houses of a Thousand Dolls is a young adult fantasy about a seventeen-year-old girl trying to figure out who she is, and the unexpected family she discovers along the way. Unlike many fantasy novels today, the setting for this story, the Sangitian Empire, was inspired by the culture of ancient India.

I am a graduate of the Institute for Children's Literature, and have been a contributor to I also recently sold a young adult novel to OakTara (formerly Capstone Fiction), which is projected to be out in trade paperback in spring of 2009.

The complete manuscript of Houses, 50,000 words, is available for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Not bad, but what's the Redeeming?

I'm not sure it would be called a fantasy just because it's set in a fictional place. Does it have magic or fantastical creatures? If the cats actually talk, that's something, but perhaps the main fantasy aspect could be stressed more. Is it the Redeeming?

House of a Thousand Dolls is a better title. You see lots of singular houses in titles: House of Flying Daggers, "House of the Rising Sun," House at Pooh Corner, "Fall of the House of Usher," House of the Seven Gables, House of Sand and Fog and the TV show House. Okay, there's Houses of the Holy, an album by Led Zeppelin (also a song, but they decided the song wasn't good enough to go on the album so they stuck it on a future album that they put out after they ran out of good songs).

You're probably thinking a thousand girls wouldn't fit in one house so it has to be houses. As long as there's one main house that all the dolls pass through (sort of like the administration building on a campus or the bar in a hotel) you can call it House. Actually, you can call it anything you want, since the publisher will probably change it to Hookers in Training in hopes of selling beyond the YA market.

This is the second consecutive query on which I finally gave up and wrote three fake plots because you guys are falling down on the job.


Sarah Laurenson said...

This story looks interesting. Add in the ancient Indian culture, and I'm there.

I notice you have her thrown out once and sold once. Seems like two different things to me. And I don't think you need her full name the second time.

Starting with the list gives it more of a light, comic feel to me. And the story you present is anything but.

Maybe you could say she has 12 days and not mention the Redeeming since you don't explain what that is anyway.

EE - we're falling down all over the place. I think you need some fresh mea, um, minions.

Whirlochre said...

The beginning is very confusing, and I'm still not clear what the Redeeming is or what function the cats serve.

After that, it improves, so maybe ditch the list and go with a few straight paragraphs.

Anonymous said...

The GTP for this sounded awesome, and the note about ancient India made it sound even awesome, but I don't think the query is doing service to the idea.

Try starting quicker: Katrin Satogo is just days from being thrown out of her orphanage. With no caste and no Grooming, she's got no future. So when she discovers her roommate's dead body, things start to look up...

Agree with EE re: the title.

writtenwyrdd said...

This query doesn't make me care because it doesn't give me a clear conflict.

What I take from this is that she has been living in some sort of limbo since being left there at 7. I infer this is a whorehouse and her only trade is sex for sale. But this being a kid's book made me think I misunderstood the implications.

The other thing that I got was that your protagonist is in a situation where 1) teh Redeeming is the girls being tossed out on their ears as too old for the sex trade, and 2) girls are dying before they are tossed out. These two elements made me think Why Should Anyone Care? After all, if they are to be tossed out shortly, why would solving the murders earn your protag a rung on the career ladder?

Maybe tell us what the Redeeming is, what role she's in now that she will lose and still be considered to have no career/skill/life expectancy after she's booted? And what is the conflict? Between the girl and society or the solution to the murders? One has to be the main plot, and I can't decide between them.

Anonymous said...

You say inspired by ancient Indian culture but I assume that the culture of the book is not, in fact, Indian (based on the name of the empire and your mc's name) so if "asari" is supposed to be like a sari, that just sounds...odd. And if you actually meant sari, then are the other details "Indian" as well? I guess I'm looking for what the connection is between ancient Indian culture and this story. Otehr than the "asari."

Some ancient saris did not include the choli (shirt), which would give an interesting twist to your story. And make it more likley you'll get the title change EE predicts...

Renee Collins said...

I think this sounds pretty cool. I agree with Sarah Laurenson about the list at the beginning. It seems little too flippant for the themes you give us here.

Ditto to EE about telling us what the Redeeming is.

Also, I would include that the story is set in ancient India in the very beginning, because that's likely to grab an agent's attention.

EB said...

I'll see EE's title concerns and raise you one: "House of a 1000 corpses," a 2003 horror film.

Julie Weathers said...

Mea Culpa.

I promise to be more active soon.

none said...

Why is being sold worse than being a whore?

Anonymous said...

Hey! I contributed one.

Buffysquirrel: I would guess being sold means you could be sold to a street pimp, whereas being a whore in an expensive brothel means some modicum of caste/class quality.

Anonymous said...

What happens to the girls who are "groomed"??? Sounds creepy.

Castes are usually something you are born into, so if these girls are dropped off at an orphanage/whorehouse, I'm not sure how they are going to rise in the caste system once they are groomed. (can you get fake caste papers??)

If the girl were particularly resourceful, it would be more interesting for her to get thrown out of the orphanage/whorehouse and have to make her own way--especially since you apparently can move in and out of the caste system other than by birth.

If she actually wants to stay and solve the murders, it might be more compelling if she did so because she cared that girls were dying (and showed some indication that she is fighting against the caste/orphanage/grooming/whorehouse system) than to save her own position in the caste.

Evil Editor said...

I don't think it can be assumed from the query that the girls are being groomed as prostitutes. That it's YA and that seven is too old to begin grooming would seem to indicate they aren't.

Anonymous said...

YA books include discussions of rape and sex so not sure why that means this isn't about a whorehouse. I think the posts have used whorehouse as shorthand for the sex trade industry that tragically involves children who are sometimes very, very young.

That being said, I actually don't think this is a whorehouse, but I think some of the issues raised are valid, no matter what the House(s) is/are.

EB said...

I didn't necessary gather that The Houses of Multiple Capitalization were part of a brothel or whore house or some form of child sex ring, BUT, seeing as how enough comments have raised the issue, it might mean the query has missed the mark a bit.

This is just a personal thing, but Matron, Houses, and The Redeeming are given titles which obviously are meant to convey significance, but have little meaning in the context of the query. Is The Redeeming more frightening that a plain ole' redeeming? I'd prefer you give us a character or an actual conflict, as in what IS the redeeming, rather than engage in what seems like capitalized sleight-of-hand.

talpianna said...

Is it possible that The Redeeming means something like getting something out of pawn, and the girls have been sent here to be Groomed for...grooms? Then it wouldn't be a whorehouse, but a sort of finishing school (except that if seven is too old to begin, it's more of a starting school).

And if you want us to produce more, you might consider raising our wages.

Evil Editor said...

And if you want us to produce more, you might consider raising our wages.

Done. As of now everyone's wages are tripled.

talpianna said...

And what about the medical plan?

none said...

If it isn't for the sex industry, the author might want to reconsider "Grooming", as that's pretty welded in the public mind to the idea of preparing children for sexual exploitation--at least over here it is.

E.D. Walker said...

1. Cut the list at the beginning.
2. "asari" If you mean sari- fix it. If this is the cool, fantasy term you made up for saris in your universe- change it. If its something totally different that has nothing to do with clothing or saris- cut it because it adds nothing.
3. "Groomed" just reads awkwardly to me. I think about horses and personal hygiene. Not young girls being trained up or taught or whatever.
4. I like the second paragraph. I think the query should go in that direction. Actually explaining stuff.
5. "Unlike many fantasy novels today, the setting for this story, the Sangitian Empire, was inspired by the culture of ancient India." The first part of the sentence comes off as arrogant/borderline silly. I mean, you could change and apply that to any novel. "Unlike many fantasy novels today, my story features a half-blooded red-head." I'm guessing you mean unlike the usual sword and sorcery books set in pseudo-medieval Europe yours is set there. Its fine to explain about ancient indian culture inspiring yours but cut the first part of that sentence.
6. Cut the Redeeming line or explain it.
7. Overall this sounds kind of interesting but the query needs work.

Miriam Forster said...

Thanks for the review EE, and thanks for the great minion comments!

I really got a sense of what needed to be clarified. And just for you all, here are some of the points I apparently left out.

1.The Houses are where orphaned girls of lower castes are taken and trained into the wives of upper caste men. Those girls not spoken for are given a worker caste and set up in a useful trade.

2. The Redeeming is a yearly ceremony where the girls are either spoken for by the men they are to marry, or set up as apprentices.

3. This is a fantasy universe, where the cats can mind-talk and there are creatures that are half animal. That does need to be clearer.

Thanks again guys, I have a much better sense of what needs to go in the query now.

talpianna said...

Miriam, you definitely need to change the name of The Redeeming; the word has the connotation of recovering something you have pledged at some earlier time, and these girls have no previous connections to the husbands who will choose (or purchase) them. Even The Ransoming would be more logical.

This and the talking cats are the most interesting parts of the story and should be much more developed. How did she find out that the cats can talk? Why did they befriend her as opposed to any of the other girls? How do they help her solve the mysteries?

Do the girls have any rights of refusal at The Redeeming? Are they chosen sight unseen or have they been introduced to their prospective purchasers?

Why does the heroine of a story set in a world based on ancient India have one Scandinavian name and one Japanese one?

How about calling it HOUSE OF THE UNREDEEMED? (or the un-whatever you finallly decide to name it?)

Anonymous said...

If I had a book on the verge of publication I would mention whether there was an agent involved in that, and whether rights remain which could potentially be sold: film, foreign, etc.

none said...

I confess I don't understand why these upper-caste men want these girls. Sure, they're trained in...whatever...but they won't bring either money or status to the marriage.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am baffled why the upper caste men would even consider marrying a "redeemed" girl. If it's based on ancient India, all I can think of is how the lower castes were actually treated. Marriages were arranged to consolidate familial power and ties (and to finally give the groom's mother someone to boss around). I assume your research shows that such "finishing schools" for lower caste women existed and that upper caste men would actually marry them? If not, I'm not sure what the tie is to ancient India. (Besides the asaris.) I'm not sure how much thought was given to actually making something out of lower caste women, when even upper caste women could be tossed on their husband's funeral pyre...

So was based on ancient India just a comment in the query meant to introduce the fact that there are castes in your fantasy universe?

talpianna said...

Perhaps they are intended to be "outside" or lesser wives--basically concubines?