Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Face-Lift 596

Guess the Plot (Sorry, too lazy this morning to reduce this to only five fakes.)


1. Khoughing with khonstant khatarrh, the khalico khitten Kharon seekhs a khure. A riskh-filled qhuest khoncludes with the akhuisition of a khodex khontaining the recipe for the khure--khoded in Khufic.

2. When Karen Cooper holidays in Greece, she little imagines that helping the weary old ferryman she meets will lead to an unexpected change in her career, her life, and her name.

3. King Khoran has serious girl trouble. Everybody wants to be the Queen. The whole country's loony, he can't get a moment of peace. So he sails away in search of his long lost cousin, Rolligar, former crown prince who scrammed and is rumored to be hiding out on some remote island in the South Seas.

4. Six young mountaineers set out to climb a remote peak in the Himalayas, and soon become lost. They're so lost, they slip through time to a wild ancient frontier and are captured by a force of axe-wielding yakmen who decide to sell them to Alexander the Great's army as entertainers. Will the Emperor appreciate line-walking and rap music?

5. The ferryman of the river Lethe, smitten by the shade of a waifish Goth girl, breaks all the rules by returning with her to the world of the living, only to find that she's happier in the gloomy underworld.

6. Twins Karen and Sharon find a mysterious sequined dress at the thrift shop. When they make themselves matching bustiers from it, they are transformed into the superhero Kharon, and the whole double-dating thing gets even more complicated.

7. A beautiful woman with a red evening dress and a broken-down car, a barking dog, twin midgets, a "magic wand," and a sullen cook with a limp -- these are all out of place at Willows Manor -- but were they part of the jewel heist of the century or the murder of aged billionaire Pasha Parma? It's Mike Kharon's job to find out -- if he can stay ahead of the masked bandit long enough to discover the truth!!

8. In the ancient land of Yofflia, a thin little prince nicknamed "Grasshopper" seeks enlightenment down by the fishing hole. When a winsome damsel comes skipping along with a basketful of muffins, will he toss off his crown and say yes?

9. College freshman Karen Smith learned belly dancing, changed her name to Kharon, splashed herself all over the internet, and started handing provocative photos to foreign MBA students, which soon brought her to the attention of Sgt. Jones, vice squad officer. Then a Russian oil mogul's heir disappeared, leaving Kharon's chocolate-smeared picture as the only clue. Now homicide detective Zack Martinez knows he must find Sgt. Jones -- before he kills again!

10. Kharon believes his demise is imminent. Sure, he's innocent, but that doesn't appear likely to halt his execution . . . until a group of vigilantes who believe in his innocence rescue him from jail. Now, with the help of a monk, a circus contortionist, and a dwarf, he must prove his innocence without being re-arrested.

11. Ferrying the dead was boring, until the day that thug Kharon took over for his cousin Charon. Will the Underworld ever recover? Also, a talking flute.

12. Kharon hated his Mom and hid Dad and his little brother, but could he have murdered them? The GPS unit in the computer chip located in his brain says he was at the skate park at the time, but does it tell the whole story?

13. When one of her classmates disappears from campus, Camden suspects Kharon of kidnapping her. Kharon suspects that Camden suspects him, and Camden suspects that Kharon suspects that she suspects him. The big question is whether Kharon suspects that Camden suspects that Kharon suspects that Camden suspects.

14. All her life, Kharon Jones has grown up with that lousy name. When her family moves to a new town, she gets a chance to become popular and admired. However, her arch rival Britancy Broadships has other plans and the battle of the blonds is engaged.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Going away to boarding school is like getting a new life. I mean, you practically show up wet, cold, and with a freshly snipped umbilical cord or something. It's a pretty big change when you're fourteen.

Sometimes things suck. Like roommates. Especially when your roommate hates you. Or when she says messed up stuff like, "your parents don't want you anymore. That's why they sent you here."

You know that's total crap. Except somehow it gets in your head. So when that butt-munch roommate leaves herself open to the best prank ever, you'd totally take it, right? [What would you take? The prank? I'd say "You'd totally go for it, right?"] Yeah you would. I did. [You did? Is this an autobiography? A cry for help? Do I need to arrange a rescue?]

But I probably shouldn't have. Because instead of getting even with my roommate, I ended up scaring the crap out of this girl named Jamie, who was pretty fragile to start with. Now she's gone. Official word is she went home voluntarily. In the middle of the night. And left all her stuff. Including her wallet. Rumor mill says she killed herself, and that prank I pulled was what sent her over the edge. Everyone hates me. If the rumors were true, I'd hate myself too.

But the thing is, I'm pretty sure all those people have the story wrong. There are a lot of secrets here on this campus when you shut your mouth and open your eyes. The big one is that Jamie was stolen. I just don't know how to prove it. And last night, I'm pretty sure the guy who stole her figured out that I know something.

Kharon is a literary novel, complete at 70,000 words. It could be described as The Secret Life of Bees meets Five People You Meet in Heaven,
[If you were gambling that I've read those, you lose.] with thematic focuses on the search for identity and redemption.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

[Title Explanation (not part of query): Kharon is the name of the man our heroine (Camden) believes is involved with the disappearance of students from campus.]


Okay, first a brief discussion of whether it's a good idea to write a business letter to an editor in the persona of a fictional character. If it paid off with any frequency, everyone would be doing it. There'd be query letters starting off like these:

My leg? It got bitten off by a whale. The name's Ahab. Most guys would retire from whaling once they were down to one leg, but not me. I'm gonna find that whale and put a harpoon in his side, preferably before he eats my other leg.

Call me Silas. Yes, I'm a hulking albino. What of it? It so happens I got involved in a tale of intrigue that will shock the Christian world. That I'm a hulking albino is beside the point. Stop staring at me!

Possibly there are agents who would find this clever, though I suspect if they took you on they would rewrite the query letter before submitting to editors. I'm guessing your book is in first person, Camden's POV, and you want to work her voice into the query. But the voice is there, even if you change "I did" in paragraph 3 to "Camden did," and use 3rd person the rest of the way.

In 1st person, you lose the voice in the last paragraph. It should be more like: Kharon is a 70,000-word book I wrote about what happened that semester at boarding school. In 3rd person you can go ahead and talk about the bees who go to heaven if you must.

Here's something in 3rd person that's not much different from your version:

Going away to boarding school is like getting a new life. You practically show up wet, cold, and with a freshly snipped umbilical cord. It's a pretty big change when you're fourteen.

Also, roommates suck, especially when they hate you and say messed up stuff like, "Your parents don't want you anymore; that's why they sent you here." You know that's total crap, except somehow it gets in your head. So when that butt-munch roommate leaves herself open to the best prank ever, you'd totally go for it, right? Yeah you would. Camden did.

But instead of getting even with her roommate, she ended up scaring the crap out of this girl named Jamie, who was pretty fragile to start with. Now she's gone. Official word is she went home voluntarily, in the middle of the night. Right. And left all her stuff? Including her wallet? Rumor mill says she killed herself, and that prank Camden pulled was what sent her over the edge.

But the thing is, all those people have the story wrong. There are a lot of secrets on the Oberon campus when you shut your mouth and open your eyes. Camden can't prove it, but she's pretty sure Jamie was kidnapped by this guy named Kharon. And she's pretty sure that Kharon thinks she knows.

Kharon is a literary novel, complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time.

The way the query reads in 1st person (with a few changes) might be a good way to start the book, an intro to the plot. Here's how The Catcher in the Rye begins:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all - I’m not saying that - but they’re also touchy as hell. Besides, I’m not going to tell you my whole goodam autobiography or anything. I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out and take it easy.

In other words, the main character's voice as he announces that he's about to tell the story of a certain period of time. (Not having seen how your story does open, I'm not suggesting you switch to this, just saying it reads like an opening might.)

If most of the characters are about 14 years old, is there a reason this is a literary novel as opposed to YA? Most adults, having been 14 at one time, are aware that there's not much going on in a 14-year-old's head that they care about. It also sounds like a mystery or a suspense novel.

Kharon doesn't have much query space, considering the book is named after him. Should we know a little more about him?


EB said...

I sure hope I don't meet any bees in heaven.

EE, are you training to be an ophthalmologist? What's with the eye-chart shrinking font sizes?

Anna Claire said...

I wholeheartedly agree with all of EE's comments. That said, I also really like this query. I'd definitely pick up a book like this in the bookstore.

The voice is very YA-friendly. What if you called the book literary YA? And I've seen several agents mention they're looking for a "high-concept" YA suspense/mystery at the higher commercial end.

I haven't read "The Disreputbable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" yet but this query reminded me of the premise a little bit. That book is YA and was a National Book Award nominee...possibly your novel could go along similar lines.

Anonymous said...

The query doesn't sound like literary fiction. It's good, but I was startled by "literary novel" because I'd been reading about a YA suspense story.

EE's improvement does tone down the voice a little, but I agree it has to be done. Another publishing world blogger (not that I am unfaithful to Evil. I'm loyal, not dead. I'm allowed to look. ;-) ) says query letters should reflect the tone of the novel but need not mimic the voice. ( I paraphrase.)

Looks like a good story.


jaz said...

I really like the voice and the story. Agree that the query should be in third person.

For what it's worth, I don't care for the name Kharon, but I assume this is not so subtle symbolism? If so, that would seem a lot more YA-ish than lit fiction-y.

Anonymous said...

By an odd coincidence, I was just reading through queryshark last week and Janet Reid posted a similar query written in character, with a RAVE review. I quote from her:

I don't even care that it's written in the voice of the protagonist, something that is mostly viewed as a gimmick.

I don't care there's nothing else here, no pub creds, no bio, no nothing. I will read this with alacrity because it has the one essential thing: voice.

So, for every rule there's an exception if it's done well enough. You will take heat and there'll be a lot of people who will reject out of hand because it's not the correct format, but who knows? It might be worth the risk.

But I do agree with what everyone else has said about this being "literary" versus YA. Also, I've heard on other blogs that some agents don't appreciate the "soon" tag (they feel the author is trying to rush them) and that the "blank meets blank" pitch has fallen out of favor in a formal query letter.

writtenwyrdd said...

This sounds like YA not literary. If you are insistant that it's literary, I'd leave your opinion out of it and let the agent decide for him or herself.

This sounds like it could be a decent read, but the letter doesn't sell me on the story completely. I think that the letter has a little too much set up with the two paragraphs about going to boarding school. If you start with the crux of the matter--a girl is kidnapped and your pov character's lame prank is rumored to be the cause--it might have a bit more punch.

And I'd totally read GTP 3, except it was already done in Shrek 3, lol.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate all this good feedback. Thank you!

I have been struggling with the YA thing. The book includes drug use, strong language, death, and a student-teacher affair. For those reasons, I thought a YA agent might reject it.

I am intrigued by AC's comment on 'high-concept' YA, or any other specifier that would work for categorization.

And yeah, EE - I think you are right that maybe the title has got to change. I was surprised how many people caught the reference right away.

Thanks again! Looking forward to reading the comments as they come in.


fairyhedgehog said...

I love the voice and I'm intrigued by the story but I think that third person would work better in the query.

Really do love that voice. The only bit I didn't get was "butt-munch", which sounded rather rude for a YA book. It's probably because I'm British.

none said...

Great voice in this. If you want an opinion on your first page, EA ( then click on the Anonymati crest) is running a first pages workshop.

Chelsea Pitcher said...


As long as the student-teacher affair isn't explicit, I think you can still market this as YA. There are always going to be agents who only want the happy-go-lucky YA stuff, but there seem to be quite a lot of YA novels being published that are darker and more honest.

My only problem with the query was that, to me, it read like an adult who was trying to sound like a teenager. Granted, I am (technically) an adult, but in my experience kids can spot an impostor a mile away.

Mixing phrases like "wet, cold, and with a freshly snipped umbilical cord" with "suck," "crap," and "butt-munch" made me feel like the narrator was fluctuating between different ages (or different levels of maturity). Personally, (currently and when I was a teen) I'd have preferred the mature 14 year old to the typical one, but that may just be me.

As for the premise, it sounds really interesting.

Adam Heine said...

The query reads very, very YA. Fun and lighthearted, with a touch of dark suspense. If the novel is as dark as you suggest, author, that needs to come out in the query.

Also, I don't see what's literary about it. It seems like a fairly straightforward suspense plot. Maybe I just don't get literary (that's true).

And how is this like the two novels you are comparing it to? I don't see it at all. If I were you, I'd drop the comparison entirely (I'd recommend that even if your novel is like those books - comparing to bestsellers rarely goes over well).

All of that said, I really like the story as presented in the query. It sounds fun and interesting.

And for fairyhedgehog: "butt-munch" is a fairly low-offense, somewhat-low-brow insult in America. Beavis and Butthead used it a lot, so did I when I was in second grade. If kids actually say it today (which I don't know if they do), it should fit in YA just fine.

Stacia said...

Ditto the comments about changing the query to third person, and ditto loving the voice. I would totally read this; I love suspense stories like this anyway and this just sounds fun and awesome. As it stands if I were an agent I would probably still request from this, but I'm not an agent and so don't see all the queries they do. So why take chances, when it's such a small change, right?

I'd also take out the roommate quote, though. Maybe something like "So when her butt-munch roommate leaves herself open to the Best Prank Ever, MC doesn't hesitate. Trouble is, the girl disappears..." etc etc.

As far as some things being too dark for, not really. It depends on how it's handled, as others have pointed out. You can get just about anything in there if you do it right. Carrie Ryan's THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH has, if I'm not mistaken, incest and cannibalism, and it's YA (and apparently fantastic too; I can't wait to get a copy myself.)

Good luck! :-)

fairyhedgehog said...

Thanks, Adam, for the translation service!

Adam Heine said...

Anytime, fairyhedgehog. I'm here for all your English-to-English translation needs :-)

writtenwyrdd said...

I would also recommend changing the title to something that refers to the pov character. Meant to say that yesterday. Partly it's because Kharon is close to Charon and the Greek pantheon doesn't appear to have anything to do with the book.

Nothing wrong with literary/high concept YA either. Maybe still don't label the book literary but target your queries for those agents looking for that sort of YA novel.

And if you think that your topics aren't YA, try reading Such A Pretty Girl (about child molestation) or a number of other books out there. Great book, definitely YA, but not an easy topic.

It all depends on you and how you deal with the subjects, I'd say.

Sarah Laurenson said...

YA is a very broad field these days. And sex, murder, violence, rape, drugs, etc. are all included. So are more toned down stories.

The protaganist in a Middle Grade novel tends to be about 13 or 14. Whether or not an older teen would be willing to read about a 14 yr old might be an issue. In general, kids like to read up - the protagonist being a few years older than the reader.

There are a lot of articles on the web these days that go into the difference between YA and MG. One of the recent ones can be found here.

Evil Editor said...

The protaganist in a Middle Grade novel tends to be about 13 or 14.

The article you provided a link to claims the protagonist tends to be 8 to 12.

Anonymous said...

Buffy Squirrel - Thank you for the link. That looks like a good resource. I was daunted out of submitting by the 70+ pages in queue, but I look forward to learning from other people's pages.

I was also looking at the 'high-concept' sub-genre that was suggested by AC. The term did not mean what I thought it meant, unless I read inaccurately: Being able to sum the plot up in a sentence or two.

Any other suggestions for key words to specify a darker or more mature YA?

I am glad to hear it looks like a better fit to YA and the content does not necessarily make it a bad match. Thank you for all the input.


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Any other suggestions for key words to specify a darker or more mature YA?

The problem, I think, is that the query voice doesn't reflect that darker tone. You can certainly lead off with the breezy voice, but then take out some of your qualifiers like "probably" and "pretty sure" and kick it into darker gear by the 4th paragraph. Putting it into 3rd person will give you a better opportunity to add that darker, more mature layer.

You don't need keywords when the writing itself demonstrates the tone of the book.

And EE, I would so read Moby Dick if it came with that hook! But then, I suppose I'd be disappointed because the book would turn out to be all literary and Ahab wouldn't really talk like that. But I guess that's why query voice and tone should match story voice and tone. You are such a genius...

Sarah Laurenson said...

Damn. Looks like my long comment disappeared into the ether.

Short form:

Harry Potter series: HP is age 11-17
Keladry of Mindelan series: Kel is age 10-15
Charlotte's Web: she's 8, whatever her name is.

I don't know many MG books where the protag is younger than 10.

Best advice I got - read what's out there to see what's really going on in your genre of interest.