Thursday, February 05, 2009

Face-Lift 600!

Guess the Plot

North American Primates

1. It's about men. Need I say more?

2. Homo redneckus. Homo thuggus. Homo canadiansis. These are just a few of the primates you'll meet in North America.

3. It's a dating jungle out there, and a girl needs to know her way around the wild life. This book is your own trusty wilderness guide to stalking and landing the alpha male, and making him your prime mate.

4. Maria is investigating the university's fraternities for the school paper. She thinks the members absolute animals, especially the President of Sigma Phi. He's practically an ape. So why does she find him so attractive?

5. An introduction to the unimaginable past, when warm-blooded bipeds roamed the continent, before the Great Release that freed cockroachkind from the constant terror of squashing.

6. After encountering a massive animal at his campsite, Clay Sturgeon immerses himself in the Bigfoot phenomenon. But will his new obsession put a damper on his already meager social life?

7. When Judy Higgins takes her shaggy new dog to get a trim, the clippers reveal the true identity of the beast: her long lost son, Jeff. Hilarity ensues as he resists psychiatric treatment, chases cars, and seems to be a total misfit. But then the town is taken hostage by international terrorists, and soon everyone realizes the boy-dog is their only hope.

8. Forty years as a wilderness guide, and Shorty still couldn't afford to retire. He'd got pretty sick of the soft city slickers who ordered him around. So when the aliens wanted to complete their collection of North American stockbrokers, attorneys, and middle managers, Shorty hired on without a second thought.

9. Amos Lee McAlverson, the world's leading televangelist, sets out to disprove evolution once and for all by creating North American Primates: a reality TV show where humans and apes live in mutual captivity. Unfortunately for Amos, in a house with no rules, the apes aren't the first to start flinging poo.

10. Archeologist Spencer Philby Twickingham discovers the fossilized remnants of a civilization in what is now Simi Valley, and pieces together a people's struggle from petrified dung and cave drawings.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Editor,

I discovered your website in the 2009 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market, and through your blog I've discovered that you and your cronies can turn dogmeat into Miracle Whip in terms of raising the quality of a reeking query into something acceptable. I'd like to tell you about my 53,000 word novel, North American Primates.

Cryptozoology is the study of hidden animals, [I love that. Here's a pretty cool hidden animal puzzle.] some mythical, some simply waiting for the scientific light of scrutiny to illuminate their invisible lives. North American Primates studies a suicidal man who embraces a mystery to justify his own invisible life.

Clay Sturgeon is a small town recluse who has had an encounter with a mysterious animal, a massive, reeking thing [with muttonchops] that lurks just beyond the firelight at his campsite in the Adirondacks. [Probably just a damn bear.] Convinced that the animal was not "a damn bear," as his friend would have him believe, Clay immerses himself fully into the Bigfoot phenomenon, [I don't think Bigfoot exists. Maybe it's a Wookie.] but his new obsession creates havoc in his already meager social life as an eccentric group of characters, from hippie cultists to high school rejects, invades Clay's world with the promise to bring him closer to discovering meaning in a secluded life where love is as elusive as a legend. [Is Sturgeon suicidal because his wife left him? Is he a recluse because the girl he was attracted to laughed at him? What's love got to do, got to do with it?]

My novel wasn't intended for a genre audience, though with the popularity of shows like Monster Quest and Fringe, I expect that they'll be near the front of the line. I'm looking for a wider readership than that, and I think anyone who enjoys unconventional contemporary authors like Junot Diaz or Chuck Palahniuk will be entertained by the flamboyant characters and sharp dialog that shape this story. [Instead of tossing out TV shows the editor doesn't watch and authors the editor doesn't read, just say, My novel is for Bigfoot fans and non-Bigfoot fans alike.]

I've included the first three chapters for your consideration and a SASE for your response. I'd love to send you the complete manuscript at your request.



If the guy's a small-town recluse, I would expect him to stay at home all the time--yet he goes camping (Does he live in his campsite? If so, I'd call him a hermit, not a small-town recluse.)

Also, I wouldn't expect a recluse to have a social life, even a meager one. Apparently he has enough of a social life that making time to chase Bigfoot plays havoc with it.

Less about whom it's for and more about what happens, please.

The title, as you no doubt intended, sounds like a textbook. I don't like it. Clay Sturgeon and his Quest for Love and Bigfoot sounds more interesting.


Chelsea Pitcher said...

"Convinced that the animal was not 'a damn bear,' as his friend would have him believe, Clay immerses himself fully into the Bigfoot phenomenon, but his new obsession creates havoc in his already meager social life as an eccentric group of characters, from hippie cultists to high school rejects, invades Clay's world with the promise to bring him closer to discovering meaning in a secluded life where love is as elusive as a legend."

My oh my oh my oh my. That is one loaded sentence, and a lot of the info in it is very vague. Consider expanding that sentence into several, where each plot point is developed.

Your writing style is effective and humorous, and except for that long sentence, I liked this query a lot. However, as EE said, you aren't really telling us what the plot is. Mostly you just tell us how it starts. If you can add some more info about concrete things that happen, I think this will be excellent :)

Anonymous said...

Clay Sturgeon?

Robin Wendell said...

I was longing for it to be the dog into boy plot - I loved that one.

Cryptozoology -- fabulous!

If the guy's a small-town recluse, I would expect him to stay at home all the time--yet he goes camping (Does he live in his campsite? If so, I'd call him a hermit, not a small-town recluse.)

I too see a recluse as a homebody, stirring only for an Ed Mcmahon big check moment, or if someone sets his porch on fire.

I'm thinking hermits often are holy man types, I'm envisioning St Benedict in a plaid deerstalker throwing fish guts into the fire as a massive reeking thing lurks nearby -- seems wrong.

People do go to hermits for advice -- maybe the reeking thing needs a spiritual director?

How about 'small town loner'? Male loners, camp, often have a few marginal attachments and the odd obsession or two.

Otherwise, just wanted more plot specifics in general -- mostly on the elusive love thread.

Blogless Troll said...

Who you calling a crony?

EB said...

Dogmeat into Miracle Whip is an improvement?

More story, less market positioning.

Clay Sturgeon? He any relation to Stone Barracuda? I bet he dates the equally reclusive Sandy Minnow.

talpianna said...

Yeah, a small town loner.

Like Ed Gein.

none said...

Is Miracle Whip some kind of BDSM product?

Not sure the query really needs to define cryptozoology at such length. If at all. Does immersing himself in the Bigfoot phenomenon involve more than a few issues of Fortean Times and that crappy video of a man in a suit?

Anonymous said...

I like the title. It reminds me of The Sex Lives of Cannibals, which was nonfiction but was not in fact about cannibal sex. I finished it anyway. It was good.

Dave Fragments said...

Maybe a title like: "How Bigfoot Became the Best Man at My Wedding" ? ? ? ?

Adam Heine said...

"...with the promise to bring him closer to discovering meaning in a secluded life where love is as elusive as a legend."

This part of that (long) sentence made no sense to me. Be more specific. Don't use phrases like "discovering meaning" or "elusive love" or unclear similes (what's elusive about a legend? I've got 10 in my bookshelf right now), unless you really, really know what you're doing.

Unknown said...

Man, I hadn't expected this to be so sobering, like ice cubes down my pants.

Are there really non-Evil literary editors that haven't read Chuck Palahniuk or Junot Diaz? I'm serious when I say I want to avoid them.

Point taken. There are smart people in the biz who will take care of the marketing aspect; it's presumptuous to suggest who they're gonna be selling my Pulitzer Prize winning Bigfoot novel to.

Clay Sturgeon is a great name. Shut up.

Miracle Whip is one of the most aptly named products of the 20th century. Shut up.

My serious problem with querying is that it's nearly impossible to convince anyone that I'm serious about this book. It's a novel about people and their obsession with mysteries, how something like cryptozoology can mirror religious fanaticism. Like how do I say, "Bigfoot is a metaphor for God" with a straight face?

Blah blah, yeah there's all this highly clever thematic crap happenin, but of course the story is the meat of it, and yall are right. I need to explain it better and more fully.

Thanks, EE. This has been very helpful.

Unknown said...

Oh, ps I should have said I was the author of the query.

PPS, can I submit an updated query in the comments?

PPPS, would anyone be upset if a dog-boy shows up in my final draft?

Anonymous said...

I loved the title! Agree, agree with many comments and I would like to add that sometimes a bonobo is just a bonobo, but sometimes it is a chimpanze, by which I mean that after praising your powers of entitlement, I do hope there's at least a chimp or ape (writing poetry) character in all this?!

I'd also read the the shaggy boy-dog.


Anonymous said...

“Clay Sturgeon is a great name. Shut up.: Miracle Whip is one of the most aptly named products of the 20th century. Shut up.”

“My serious problem with querying is that it's nearly impossible to convince anyone that I'm serious about this book.”

It’s not your only problem.

And I don’t get this “It's a novel about people and their obsession with mysteries, how something like cryptozoology can mirror religious fanaticism.”- from the query.

Maybe there’s a reason nobody is taking you seriously. Here’s a clue from the gun: It’s your query. It might be the writing too, but I wouldn’t request pages from this to know if it was. It’s not enticing and even if it was (cause yanno someone is going to say, it is) you come across as a writer with their head up there own genius. Maybe the writing holds up, but so what if the “tude” holds up too. You need to spend less time on informing us great you are and more time writing well. This isn’t a good query but it will be once you extract the ego.

Robin Wendell said...

Dog-Boy Yes please.

How about a dog who turns into a boy named Bob who turns into God...DOGBOBGOD. Nice palindrome. Good symbolism,,,,same beginning and end...alpha and omega... yada yada. Plus -- Bob is Short for Robert and Robin, which I read somewhere are the names they gave to any children born as fruit of the mayday revel unions, (when everyone was having sex with anyone they stumbled across.), Interesting...... I for one would not mind being called a Dogbobgodian :-)

none said...

EE told us ages ago what he represents. I think it was SFF, Romance, and Thrillers.

none said...

Er, represents? Edits. That's it.

*shakes head at self*

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Buffy, I see EE as more the mystery, thriller, SF type. Romance and fantasy? Do you, EE? Maybe it's the "knows it so well it's hard to be objective about it so best not to say too much" syndrome. Dunno. Don't care. Love him no matter what.

Now Roland, I take this type of character very seriously. My brother, who has an MA in anthropology, spent several years researching Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti with a stint in the Pacific NW on a research expedition. He even wrote a closet novel about two men, a woman, a plane crash and a Hominoid Encounter. BTW, he doesn't fall into the hippie or high-school reject group of flamboyant eccentrics. But, as a researcher, he would have been the type of guy to seek out your MC to interview.

What your query fails to show me is anything about the characters, who they are, what they're looking for out of life. Clay's a recluse who's suicidal? How do those two things follow? Do they? How does love fit into it all -- and why does it? There's nothing here to connect any dots.

You're basically saying "I've got a story about a big hairy primate and a suicidal recluse and a bunch of zany hippies and outcasts. And they're all looking to find themselves. I'm tellin' ya, it's good stuff -- wanna read it?"

Um, no. Not from THIS query. But if you can SHOW us why these characters matter and that there's a story here in a query revision that, yes, absolutely you can post here in the comments, then maybe, yeah, it would be a story I would want to read. Maybe even my brother would like it, too.

Evil Editor said...

Revised queries are welcome in the comments.

The query sounds reasonably serious once we ignore the Miracle Whip paragraph, which of course won't be part of the query. The name Clay Sturgeon is amusing, and may have something to do with people thinking the book is a comedy. The name is reminiscent of Kilgore Trout, the recurring Vonnegut character. The name Kilgore Trout, for those who don't know, was based on Vonnegut's pal, author Theodore . . . Sturgeon.

The title is North American Primates rather than American Primates because Canada or Mexico or Central America figure in?

Is the title basically a joke on your human characters, like showing a chart titled Primates, and theres a picture of a gorilla, an orangutan, a chimp, and then Donald Trump? Amusing maybe, but another reason to assume it's not a serious book.

To assume a specific editor has read your favorite authors is a mistake. Even if he has read them, if he hated them, it won't help your cause. And if he's read them and loves them, he may not trust you to be the most reliable source of an accurate comparison.

Anonymous said...

*throws ice cubes*

Nobody who needs "cryptozoology" defined for them is going to be interested in representing a book about it. Besides, the word isn't all that obscure.

The only decent paragraph is the one that starts with "Clay Sturgeon is," and I think the first sentence of that is pretty good. The second is too long and too vague. If you tell us what actually happens, you should find places to mention or imply the parallels between seeking Bigfoot and seeking God. Right now you've got a hook and some meaningless babble sandwiched between ego.

For the title, how about "God and Other Primates of North America"?

There isn't enough hypertrichosis in fiction. Bring on the dog-boy. (But not in the query, unless he's an important cause or effect.)

Looking forward to the rewrite!

none said...

You'd have to go a long way back, Phoenix. But I'm sure EE did a series of posts on various genres, and those genres were Romance, Thriller, and SFF, and maybe one more. And at the end he wrote something like, "Now we've got to the end of the genres I..." well, memory says "represent" but maybe "acquire"? That's iirc.

Evil Editor said...

My two main fields were reported in Q & A 8 and Q & A 30.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I love your voice, Roland. Yeah, the query needs some work, but I think I'd request pages to see if your voice holds true.

Unknown said...

Phoenix, I actually did approach the subject seriously, and I'm very open minded about non-human primates living in our mountains and swamps. In the novel, the most down-to-earth, intelligent character is a legit Bigfoot researcher. The other characters just sort of stroll into Clay's life as he's researching the subject on his own; they represent the more spiritual-minded people you see getting marginally involved with this stuff.

EE, I still like North American Primates because of the textbookish, official sound of it, but American Primates is actually really good. I'm gonna chew on it over the weekend.

Here's the first revision:

Clay Sturgeon is the town weirdo living a nothing life in a nothing town in the rural expanse of Central New York. He's never had a girlfriend, never had a real job, and so far it's been a life without ambition or purpose.

That is, until he sees Bigfoot while camping in the Adirondack Mountains.

At least, he thinks it was Bigfoot.

In fact, his buddy Anderson would have you believe that the massive shadow they saw creep'n just outside of their campfire's light was a damn bear, but could a damn bear toss a boulder on top of a damn tent?

Determined to prove to Anderson and the world that the creature exists, Clay returns to the woods and comes ever closer to gaining the animal's trust. Meanwhile, his interest in all things Bigfoot has attracted an eccentric group of characters into his life, from sharp-witted researchers to high school rejects, and when he meets Carla, a new age hippie who has also encountered something strange in the woods, Clay believes that he's finally found love.

Except Carla has a psychotic ex-boyfriend, a cult leader named Reggie that worships the beast as an Earth spirit, and he seems to think that Clay plans on shooting the creature to prove its existence. You see, Reggie has no problem killing a Homosapien if it means protecting the entity he calls The Man in the Woods.

If Cryptozoology is the study of unseen animals, then my 61,000 word novel, North American Primates, is the study of an unseen man who embraces a mystery to justify his existence in a world where happiness is as elusive as a legend.

none said...


You REALLY have to pay attention around here!

Anonymous said...

Much better, methinks. I'd want to read the story. I'll leave critiquing (sp?) it to the regulars. : )

Anonymous said...

Much MUCH better. Nice job.

Two more comments:

1. I don't care to read about bored, boring losers, so you might want to skip to the Bigfoot sighting quicker.

2. Having an interest in something usually leads YOU to other enthusiasts, not the other way around. How are they finding out about him?

I'm impressed. I hope there's a New Beginning in the queue.

Unknown said...

150, those are great points. Both of those sections are problem areas for me. I'd like Clay to be at least as charming as I think he is in the novel, and of course his investigation leads him to the eccentric characters, so that's a great distinction I hadn't thought of.

I'm also thinking of taking his last name out of the query. It's unnecessary and obviously distracting in some way.

Evil Editor said...

It's distracting because it's a fish. Change it to an amphibian.

Anonymous said...

I actually like the first paragraph--Clay interests me more than Bigfoot. But the if-then setup of the last paragraph doesn't sound quite right--to me it invited the question "Is that what cryptozoology really is? And if not, then what is this story really about?
And I rather like Clay Sturgeon as a name.

Blogless Troll said...

I still like North American Primates because of the textbookish, official sound of it...

I didn't get the textbooishness until you mentioned it, and I didn't get that from the query either. My first reaction to the title was I pictured an assorted group of primates--like maybe a chimp, an orangutan, a gorilla, and something smaller, a squirrel monkey say--all walking in slow motion across a parking lot, doing various slow motion things (putting on sunglasses, turning slightly to the left, taking a drag from a cigarette) while loud rock music plays, like the opening credits of a primate cop show or something.

That's probably just me.

American Primates is better.

Sylvia said...

Regarding the first revision:

I like the first two paragraphs and how they set the scene.

At least, he thinks it was Bigfoot.

I would cut this - of course he thinks that, you just told us that. I don't think it needs to be signalled that he might be wrong.

I would skip right to "His buddy Anderson ..." and now it's the same info (he's a recluse, he thinks he saw BF, his buddy thinks he's crazy)

I would tighten up the rest of the synopsis - there are two many details to keep track of (and I think if you mention female name + psychotic ex it's assumed that she's a love interest).

Something like this:

Clay returns to the woods and [a direct action verb] the creature. He attracts eccentric Bigfoot fanatics including Carla, a new age-hippie with a psychotic ex-boyfriend who would rather see Clay dead than allow any risk to the the beast.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

This opens up a lot of questions for me about Reggie's character. People who practice earth based religions don't tend to be that violent. Why does he assume Clay is going to shoot Bigfoot? Why doesn't he just ask him?

Adam Heine said...

Because it took me a long time to find them, and I like you all enough to save you the trouble: Q & A 8 and Q & A 30, where Evil Editor reveals his two main fields of literature.

talpianna said...

How quickly we forget! I was so sure I remembered that EE specialized in editing books about the medieval architecture of northWESTERN Portugal.

Anonymous said...

I also wonder about Reggie. If he's actually psychotic I hope you've made him convincingly human, nuanced and somewhat sympathetic. If he's just bizarre, arrogant and violent, leave the psychotic part out.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Now that's a query letter, Roland! Just a few suggested tweaks, and then send that puppy out into the world.

Delete the two "you's". Second person that isn't actually addressing the reader is always suspect.

If you have a damn bear and a damn tent, it ought to be a damn boulder, too.

The only use of dialect you have is in "creep'n" and so it sounds out of place.

And for the query, I'd break your two extra-long sentences into two sentences each.

"Entity" sounds a bit too erudite for the rest of that sentence. Maybe "thing" instead?

And I'm with Joanna in not quite getting the last paragraph. I think you're trying to pack too much into it. Play with it a bit. I'm sure the right arrangement of words to a more simplified thought isn't too far away.

Good luck!