Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Face-Lift 591

Guess the Plot

The Dinosaur Diaries

1. Monday: run, run, run, roar, roar, eat. Tuesday: run, run, run, roar, roar, eat. Wednesday: run, run, run, roar, roar, eat. Thursday: Bit cold today.

2. When her abusive husband Jimmy leaves town for a work project, Stormy uses the oven to hatch some dinosaur eggs. But does she have time before Jimmy gets back to train her allosauruses to kill him?

3. Ty Rex finds a time machine and travels to modern New York City determined to make good, but the youngster finds that it isn't easy being a forty-foot monster in a human city.

4. When the Jonas Brothers do a revival album of Enrico Caruso's Biggest Hits, newly licensed detective Patty James suspects foul play. Can a twenty-something save face while rescuing a boy band from the evil machinations of the Dinosaur Daddies from Planet Aendestick?

5. First it was sky lizards taking over New York, now a school of velociraptors are swimming up the Thames, eating everyone in sight -- everyone except Bruce Gupta, bicycle rickshaw guy. When his load of tourists are gobbled mid-ride, he speeds toward Parliament, knowing that only he can save the world.

6. Undergraduate intern Takota Jones gets a spectacular new hair color and matching tattoos and discovers her bosses are older than King Tut -- actual fossils! Using her connection to the corporate iphone network, this skinny rebel promptly takes control of America's Largest Bank and has her best year ever driving it off a cliff.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

What happens when a lonely 18 year-old newlywed uses Indian magic to hatch out dinosaur eggs in her oven?

Stormy Marks is just 18 when she runs away from her abusive home to live with Jimmy, a young man visiting California with his brothers. After a quick Reno marriage, she finds herself living in a trailer in a bleak Montana compound with the abusive Jimmy. [She "finds herself" living . . . ? Did she run away to live with Jimmy, not realizing he lived in a bleak Montana compound?] After he gives her some dinosaur eggs, Jimmy leaves to work on a distant job. [Some abusive husbands apologize with flowers. Others with dinosaur eggs.]

Desperately lonely, haunted by strange dreams, Stormy confides in her neighbor Susanna Black Fox, a Crow lady. She gives Stormy some medicine dags [That's Crow for peyote buttons.] and tells her to try the oven for the eggs. [I'd go with the frying pan, but either way, I like my eggs fresher than 150 million years old.]

To her surprise, Stormy soon has four baby Allosaurus fragilis running around her home. [Can you litter-train an Allosaurus? Because in a few weeks you're gonna need a litter box the size of a swimming pool.] Susanna's grandson Paul arrives from college, and Stormy quickly falls for the gentle giant.

But what will happen when the greedy, dangerous Jimmy returns? Will he sell the dinosaurs--or worse? [How does one go about selling an allosaurus? The classifieds? Wait, I know. Ebay.

Told in the form of Stormy's diary entries,

[April 14th

I named the allosauruses today: Big Al, Killer, Tiny, and Kowalski. Tiny's the big one. Killer's the one who ate Susanna's herd of cattle. Gotta get the roofing company out here to repair the hole where Tiny's head went out. Maybe I should keep them outdoors now that they're all three times as tall as the trailer.

April 15th

Suzanna gave me some more of her medicine dags. Suddenly I don't care that while I was at the grocery store the kids ate the trailer.]

"The Dinosaur Diaries" is complete at 80,000 words. May I send you some of it?

Thank you for your time.


Abusive family and husband versus dinosaurs. Hard to tell if this is for adults or boys, if it's litfic or slapstick. So tell us.

If you have four carnosaurs in your trailer, are you really gonna worry that your husband might sell them? Is she unaware that they will eventually be Godzilla?


E.D. Walker said...

For an out there plot like this it's really important to get the tone of the MS across. If it's as dry and serious as this query reads then I would consider reworking my manuscript, and if it's supposed to be more farcical or comedic then get that into the query. Bronto. Uh, I mean Pronto. (huh. Bad joke.)

none said...

Sorry, EE, you can't sell livestock on eBay! but lol, the listing was funny.

Stormy seems like a victim of circumstance--she jumps out of the frying pan into the fire with Jimmy, she "finds herself" in a trailer, she is surprised when the dinosaur eggs hatch. Maybe she needs to be more proactive, in the query if not in the novel? Even if a protagonist lacks agency at the beginning, they ought to develop some before the end, as this isn't litfic (ducks).

Anonymous said...

I'm left with a wide variety of questions, including: Where did Jimmy Nogoodnik get his hands on dinosaur eggs? Petrified or nonpetrified? What does Mama Black Fox have to gain by hatching them? What makes her think four vicious carnivores will make Stormy's life any better? Why does Stormy keep them? Wouldn't Jimmy, upon discovering his trailer full of reptilian monsters, shoot first and try to sell them later? Why is this in diary format? What genre are you going for? Aren't question lists fun?

If you mean Native American, say that. Indians are from India.

Anna Claire said...

I'm with EE--I think the hardest-to-believe part about this is that the query makes it sound like what Stormy is most worried bout is that evil Jimmy is going to come back and sell the allosaurs. That would not be my biggest worry if I had four prehistoric dinos running around.

Might help also if you included something brief in the query about how fast these things grow up, just to get her problems into perspective. If allosaurs remain gecko-sized for a few years or something, that might make the greedy-Jimmy angle more pressing.

Evil Editor said...

Having hatched from an egg no larger than a basketball, the creatures would be small for a while. It takes about 15 years to reach full maturity (35 - 40 feet). At the age of two it would be about seven feet tall.

Stacy said...

Indians are from India.

To me it just feels weird to say the word "Indians." And Indians (from India) are also Asian. I confess I had no idea that was the case until my film history class last semester in our section on Bollywood.

Actually, I did know it, kind of, but I never consciously thought about it.

Anonymous said...

oh boy, I hate to say it because I'm sure I might hear this one day about my query and story: But seriously what is this story about? There's just so many conflicting things going on here that it just doesn't make any sense to me. Sorry, maybe it's just the query.

Anonymous said...

This could work, or it might not. Can't tell. If there's no dinosaur on page 1, I would suggest revising because that'll probably either be the hook that sells the project to readers or the strange mid-book twist that throws everyone off.

Wes said...


The majority of "Native Americans", as you call them, call themselves Indians. Go to pueblos and reservations and see that. You can see an example of this by going to a Navajo website http://www.discovernavajo.com/, and click on the link Indian Country.

Dave Fragments said...

AS for Indians, a cigar store indian carved from wood is not a cigar store Native American. Sorry. On that point I'm not PC.

But what worries me more about this query is that it doesn't let me know about Stormy Marks' struggle. Why did she runaway with an abusive boyfriend? Why did she take up drugs? What does she want in life? And what happens between her and gentle giant Paul? I hope it's love and self-respect.

Is that the story I'm going to read?

Otherwise it becomes sci-fi silliness with dinosaurs. Not that I object to sci-fi silliness with dinos but if that's the case, then make the query funny. Maybe they can have a barbecue - dino burgers and allo-sausages.

Anonymous said...

Okay, here’s my two cents which may be exactly what you’ll find it is worth...

You've have a really good line in this:

"Desperate(ly), lonely,(and) haunted by strange dreams, Stormy confides in her neighbor Susanna Black Fox, a Crow lady."

( ) = suggestions, no more.

To me the "voice” in the query letter (and even the story content) suggests your target audience is somewhere between the ages of 8 and 12. If that is not your intent (and with an abusive marriage setting the scene I would hope it is not!) then you may need to change your intent or go volunteer some time in the lunchroom of your local high school for a year or so.

If you do decide to shift your intent then you already have the makings of a good daughter-father coming of age conflict. If you decide to go this way you may also want to reconsider the word “abusive”.

Overall, I think your ideas sound like fun, and I might read on…after the loose ends are tied up, of course.

Oh, and 150…I just can’t help but wonder what Strunk might have to say about terms such as Native American or African American. You’re a fan of his work, right? ;)

"If you mean Native American, say that. Indians are from India."

Evil Editor said...

Why did she take up drugs?

The query says nothing about drugs. I joked that medicine dags was Crow for peyote, but a. I know nothing about the Crow language, and b. I think we can safely assume this was a typo that should have said medicine bags.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Am I to believe the Crow woman knows how to hatch dinosaurs simply because she's American Indian? This concept feels culturally insensitive: The magical, cure all Indian!

Is there more to this than I'm getting?

I don't think you need to say that Stormy came from an abusive home. The abusive situation with Jimmy is enough to fuel the plot forward, and the fact that she was in a previous abusive home feels like unnecessary back story for the query.

I don't understand why Stormy's biggest concern is that Jimmy will take her dinosaurs. What kind of super human is he? They're dinosaurs. And if they regard Stormy as their mother, good luck getting anyone to take them from her.

I felt I needed more info about several things:

Where in the world did Jimmy get those eggs?

Stormy just puts the eggs in the oven and they hatch? That's it?

Paul shows up, almost as a side note, in the query, but I imagine he's an important character in the book, so I feel like the query should reflect that.

Jimmy is just gone for most of the novel?

What does Stormy plan to do with the dinosaurs? Or does she even have a plan? She sounds like someone who just lets things happen: Jimmy goes away but she just sits and waits for him. Dinosaurs hatch and she just waits for them to be taken away.

You have a really interesting premise here, but the convenient inclusion of the Crow woman just happening to know how to hatch the eggs, and Stormy's extreme passivity are curbing my interest.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Oh, and if we're playing the name game, I'd like the final word. I'm not going to get it, but I'd like it.

My guess is Native Americans/American Indians would actually prefer to be referred to by their individual tribe names, but assuming (and being proven correct) that most non-Indians are too lazy or apathetic to learn said tribe names, they've settled for being called American Indian.

If you think about it, Native American isn't any more respectful of their roots than American Indian, since "America" is the name of a dude that came to the country they already lived on. Ya dig?

Dave Fragments said...

I know nothing about the Crow language,
Oh, OK. Sorry about that. My bad. Let me present excuses: I was reading the B&W on the comments page and I'm sometimes literal enough to believe a Crow dags could be slang for drugs. I've had a bad few days with a company that doesn't understand customer service. It's cold out.

Anonymous said...


That's true, but in a query all I have to go on is a word on a piece of paper. If it says "Indian" my mind goes straight to India, whereas "Native American" or "American Indian" or a specific tribal name can't be misconstrued. It's about making sure the reader understands the first time around. If the first use of "Indian" came within about three words of the name Susanna Black Crow, there'd be context to clear it up, but here it's paired with magic, which could come from either culture. I'm easily confused--don't make me guess at ambiguous terms!

wendy: My copy is from 1959 so it doesn't address the question. But! I think that Section II, Part 12 sums up my above argument nicely: "Use definite, specific, concrete language." Strunk to the rescue! :P

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was supposed to say Medicine Bag. I didn't catch that until today. :-(

I loove all the other GTPs & EE is great, as usual.

There is a very complicated saga behind this one, so hang on.

I actually had an agent for this, who subsequently took off to have a sex-change. The head of the agency refused to help me, and the whole mess put me off writing for years.

Naturally, a year after the agency fiasco, I was forwarded a letter from someone at Warner's who wanted it for YA. By then, of course, the window of opportunity was closed.

What should be in the query is that Jimmy & his brothers are fossil poachers. Everyone even peripherally involved in paleontology worries about poachers.

I will get the opening to EE so the voice is apparent. I originally had it in WordStar, so conversion is going to be interesting.

The people I know from various rezzes call themselves "Indian" or whatever tribe they are, ie Pima, Comanche, Acoma, etc.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of three dinosaurs running around the trailer park as much as the next person but the query isn't your only problem.

I named the allosauruses today: Big Al, Killer, Tiny, and Kowalski. Tiny's the big one. Killer's the one who ate Susanna's herd of cattle. Gotta get the roofing company out here to repair the hole where Tiny's head went out. Maybe I should keep them outdoors now that they're all three times as tall as the trailer.

The copied text= yawn. You've chosen to tell not show. And no mater what you write, all the characters motivation needs to be realistic: like when she names the dinos. Seems to me she'd do it before they ate the heard of cattle, some crazy timing, like after they hatched.

I read this book about some crazy woman who kept her horse in the house- house broke it and everything. They had to reinforce the floor because the horse weighed 1300lbs. If you want readers to suspend disbelief past the first sentence, then you need to do research: how fast dinos grow, the load capacity of the floor in a mobile home with and w/out a permanent foundation, because by the time it's big enough to put a hole through the roof, the floor would have been long gone. Do you know how much a cow is worth? No. A small heard of cattle is to the cost? No, then you should look it up. The query suggests the conflict is with the abuse, but our character has plenty of conflict to worry about. Like everyone has said, the boy friend is the least of her worries. Now the pending felony for destruction of property over x dollar amount (Think cattle herd)or the lack of floor in house those are problems to worry about. Except our main character gets high on medicine bags so she doesn't have to deal- can you get high off a medicine bag? And since the dinos carry so much of the story they need some personality- a lot more than the little, big, one and the one who ate the heard.

This could be really funny, right now it's just boring and misses the mark with everything.

none said...

Still having trouble with quote marks or italics there, Anon?

none said...

Also, telling EE that his asides are boring isn't very polite :). Or do you not understand how the blog works yet?

Stacia said...

Wow, Susanna Black Fox is like the worst neighbor ever. If my female neighbor was being abused by her husband, and the husband left her some dinosaur eggs and took off, I'd be helping her escape him and go somewhere safe, not encouraging her to hatch the eggs and be stuck with four allosauruses running around. Seriously.

Also, why wouldn't Stormy call, like, the Smithsonian people? Or Spielberg? I think scientists and natural hstorians etc. would be pretty high on my list; how would I know how to care for baby dinosaurs?

Aside from that, I agree with the other comments. This feels a little unfocused. The basic idea could be really cute, but is it women's fiction, sci-fi, or comedy? It sounds like comedy but the tone and voice of the query are so serious. Once we know, I think the query will make more sense.

Oh, and Anon 2:19, the comments in blue text ("I named the allosauruses today...", etc.) are not part of the query. They're EE's additions. The writer of the query did not write them.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

No no no! Don't tell Anon the obvious. It's so much more hilarious when someone makes an ass of himself based on faulty assumptions.


I think the fossil-poaching thing should be up front in the query because it sounds really interesting. Maybe something like,

"When 18 year old Stormy falls in love with Jimmy, she has no idea he's a fossil poaching trailer honky who uses women as punching bags."

The fossil-poaching was definitely the clue I was missing in the query. From there, everything that follows makes more sense. It explains the eggs and it explains Jimmy's prolonged absence.

Are the medicine bags for Stormy's bruises, or are they somehow applied to the dino eggs?

Robin B. said...

Hey, KK,

I feel for you about that agent hassle early on. Yowza, that would hurt, being almost there, and then, not!

What's the age range for your novel?

ANd...[She "finds herself" living . . . ? Did she run away to live with Jimmy, not realizing he lived in a bleak Montana compound?] Love it, Evil.

Beth said...

Is the story about dinosaur eggs hatching, or is it about her relationships? Not that you can't have both, I suppose, but it seems like two, very disparate plotlines to try and merge. I can't tell if this is meant to be serious or satirical.

It does, however, bring back fond memories of one of my favorite childhood books, The Shy Stegasaurus of Cricket Creek.

EE, the diary entries (and the EBay listing) were a hoot!