Monday, February 23, 2009

Face-Lift 606

Guess the Plot

Camp Weight-A-Spell

1. One magical summer, the kids from the Fat Camp and the kids from the Boot Camp for Troubled Teens meet, overcome their differences, and band together to kill and eat the counselors and administration.

2. Outraged by the cultural appropriation of Native American language, protesters occupy Camp Winne-hoho-ugh and rename it for its real inhabitants: chubby pasty-faced rich kids.

3. Chester isn't surprised to see flying rowboats and outhouses that clean themselves. After all, it's a magical fat camp. But he is a little surprised to find his cabin leader is an alien laying the groundwork for a war against the human race. Also, Cyclops and Bigfoot.

4. Sherlock Jefferson goes undercover as an elk hunter to search for Octopus Jones, a thug now hiding undercover as an inarticulate waiter at Bonnie's Egg & Bacon Inn, just down the road from the local terrorist training center, which is trying to pass itself off as a fat camp for boys.

5. Becca has always been heavy. The summer before senior year, she plans to attend Camp Weight-A-Spell, a weight-loss camp famous for its astounding success stories. What she doesn't know is that Margie, the camp's director is a witch, and her "diet shakes" are actually magic potions that quite literally melt away the pounds.

6. The boys' camp always won the Muddy Lake fishing contest. But this summer the girls have an advantage, as Wiccan counselor Kate Hecky adds enchantment to their fishing rods. But their lures attract a lake creature older and bigger than anyone expected. Can Kate and her novice witches send it back into the deeps?

Original Version

Welcome to Camp Weight-A-Spell, a magical fat camp where the outhouses clean themselves, [If I'm attending a fat camp (and who among us couldn't stand to lose fifty pounds?) I'm going to find one with plumbing.] rowboats can fly, and spriggans get drunk on Listerine. But fourteen-year-old Chester Jones isn't worried, he's used to weird stuff - he's a warlock. [If you're going to say he isn't worried, give us something most people would worry about, like the lake is full of monsters, not the outhouses clean themselves. Or, instead of "worried," say he isn't fazed or impressed.] [Also, if the fat camp is magical, why don't they magically create some toilets? Better yet, magically melt fifty pounds off the campers; otherwise those rowboats will never get off the ground.]

Chester's real concern [So, he is worried.] is with his psycho cabin leader, Kyle (don't call me "Sir",) Mutare. Kyle isn't even human, he's a shape shifter evoking a shimmer. But that's not the worst part. A gateway has opened to the old shifters' world of Meta. [So, this is what's known as Meta-fiction?] Buried there is a mummy Kyle wants very much - a mummy that when resurrected will lead the shifters in war against the human race. [How does Chester know all this?]

When Kyle and three campers disappear from a group outing, Chester fears Kyle has taken his friends hostage to assist him in an ancient ritual to revive the mummy. Armed with a map of the burial site and his exceptional abilities at incantations, Chester sets out to save his friends and find the mummy before it's too late. His plan, however, didn't include an angry Cyclops and a Bigfoot with an agenda of his own. [Didn't we just have another Bigfoot story? I don't really see Bigfoot as much of a threat to a warlock. It's a tall hairy guy with big feet. Not that I'd want to come face-to-face with Bigfoot in the real world, but in fiction, where shapeshifters and warlocks exist, he's kind of lame.]

Camp Weight-A-Spell, an MG fantasy, is complete at 60,000 words.

Thank you in advance for your time. [It's too late to thank me in advance; I've already read the entire query.]


This reads okay for a middle grade book. And perhaps the following logic problems won't matter to kids:

1. An army of shapeshifters should be able to defeat the human race without needing a mummy to lead them. In fact, the mummy is the only member of the Meta army the humans could handle. We'd take out the mummy within seconds.

2. Is there some reason Kyle has chosen to be a cabin leader at a fat camp when the mummy is buried on Meta? Surely there are better first steps toward conquering humanity. Does the ancient ritual specify the need for three obese human teenagers?

3. The stakes seem kind of high for a kid. This sounds more like a job for the Men in Black.

4. Aren't flying rowboats counterproductive at a fat camp?

Also, the title gives no indication that this is a high-stakes thriller. Try: How Chester Jones Lost Fifty Pounds and Saved the Human Race.


Anonymous said...

the proliferation of harry potter inspired plots have jaded me toward magic-school-for-kids stories, of which this is one. the potter series attracted all that readership by having original characters engaged in a plot with substance, and internal coherence, not by an extravagance of boundless magic tricks. you took a random assortment of stock characters and mixed them with a random assortment of stock plot elements including boundless magic tricks and the result is kind of a mess.

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of delighted by the combination of magic camp and fat camp, but weight loss is hard and magic makes things easy; why bother with fat camp when you can cast an illusion of thinness and drink some elixir of health?

I was just reading about La Chasse-galerie, so the mention of a flying rowboat tickled me. Also kind of excited by spriggans with minty-fresh breath.

Wouldn't a group outing be the worst place to disappear from? If I was Kyle, I'd wait until we had small-group activities. Then no one would notice for hours.

Agreed that Bigfoot doesn't sound particularly challenging for someone with exceptional incantation abilities. Cyclops does, though.

If Chester has some particular edge or reason for fighting the mummy (oh, killed his parents), then mention it. Right now his involvement in the fight sounds pretty circumstantial.

I'm not sure anyone in your target age group is even aware of the idiom that's the basis of the title pun. I actually kind of like EE's title suggestion.

Including Bigfoot means this is probably set in the Pacific Northwest, but I could stand to see a specific setting in the query letter. It could be evocative.

Good luck!

batgirl said...

I read enough fantasy to be okay with most of this, and the mish-mash of mythologies is normal for children's fiction. I'm stumped, though, by 'evoking a shimmer'. Means what? I'd think identifying him as a shapeshifter would cover it, and you could probably cut that phrase.
Fat kids as heroes is great, there should be more of them. I hope they don't end the book hating their bodies.

pulp said...


1. Yeah, what does "evoking a shimmer" mean? It can't mean what it says, which is that people who behold him shimmer. Or does it?

2. Are you using kids' weight as a source of derisive humor? If you're going for laughs at the expense of The Unthin, remember that ten years ago you could have used gay kids, and fifty years ago you could have used black kids. Maybe in another five years it will be equally politically incorrect to make fun of fat people; then you can target people with unveneered teeth, or bad hair.

Or maybe the camp inmates are genuinely funny and not only because they're big. Maybe you are one of them. Or maybe there's no humor at all. I can't tell from the query.

writtenwyrdd said...

Iloved EE's suggestion for the title!

Author, this is a bit confusing but not too bad. I would probably read a page or two because it has some unusual details--although flying rowboats and self-cleaning outhouses aren't really that interesting, might not even work well. But the details you share do show some promise to me. I kept wondering if this would read like the Darren Shan Cirque du Freak books.

And I'm also confused what that shimmer is about.

What I suspect you need is to anchor the story in the kid's problems. In other words, tell us why he's at the fat farm and some of the situation. I figure it's something like he's "stuck at a fat farm for the summer, away from ho-hos and twinkies and with a shapeshifter with a napolean complex for a camp counselor."

And then you can tell us about the crisis he has to solve.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

This kind of feels like an allegory for other things that happen when a camp counselor and several campers go missing...

Why do the shapeshifters want to battle the human race? Are they pure evil, or does humanity have it coming?

Anonymous said...

"It's too late to thank me in advance; I've already read the entire query"


I read a lot of blogs that list query letters, and this isn't one of the worst. It sounds unpolished, and could have used some more work, but it wasn't too bad.

And just because it's an MG fantasy, doesn't mean it's a rip-off of Harry Potter! I was reading MG fantasy (when I was MG!) years before that particular series came out, and I have to say that although it had some new elements, it wasn't necessarily all that original.

Anonymous said...

My biggest question after reading this is why a fat camp? From what you give us here, it seems like Chester a regular camp for wizards. Can you throw in a few details that link the weight issue to the main plot? Maybe Chester is fighting self-esteem issues or the camp has some sort of isolation spell to keep the kids from conjuring candy.

Dave Fragments said...

Let's not get all bent out of shape about it being a fat camp. I know a kid who's been heavy from a baby (fat isn't the right word)... and he is quite active and determined to be fit. He will never be a thin person. I was always skin and bones and a nephew of mine is still skin and bones at 13 (a real twig). This kid isn't and he just might be at a "fat camp" if you want to so indelicately call it that. He's determined to be healthy and eat right but I suspect he'll always be 250 to 300 pounds, healthy or not. But he's never going to be small. It's not that old crap of big bones, either. He's a big kid the way other kids are tall, or jockey's are always small.

So nothing about this camp surprises me. As for the magic stuff, it's middle grade and those MG readers like action and quirkyness. Even Narnia was a bit silly and childish at times.

talpianna said...

I was SO hoping for Plot #1!

Anonymous said...

Author here.

Thanks to EE and all of you for your comments. I knew someone would say it sounds like a Harry Potter wannabe. It's pretty hard to write a magic story that doesn't sound like a Potter rip-off. After all, Rowling incorporated most of the major magic elements in her seven (some of them very long) books. My characters use wands but their wands are metal Element wands and none contain a Phoenix feather. Does it mean that because Harry Potter used a wand, no one can ever write a story about magical kids using a wand? If it helps, my characters don't fly on broomsticks. They have to use normal methods to get from place-to-place (no foo powder, either.) Unless of course, they're good at incantations and can conjure a herd of harpies to move the boat they're seated in from point A to point B :-)

The issue of the fat camp is handled with care. I am not making fun of overweight kids. I was an overweight kid. It just so happens that my heros are overweight. I thought it was about time someone wrote a story for kids where the hero and heroine are weight challanged.

As to why they don't use magic to make an elixir to make them slim, my magic has its limitations. Unfortunately, the kids have to loose weight the old-fashioned way - diet and exercise.

Thanks for pointing out the confusion with the term, shimmer. I will fix it in my next incantation.

Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

Hi author!

Since the "all MG fantasy sounds like HP" thing seems like an argument worth having, I want to point out that wands encompass a small sliver of magic-users in fantasy history. Right off the top of my head I can think of traditions that use staves, stones, dust, jewelry, salves, spittle, and the power of their minds. In this query, other HP elements include kids doing otherwise normal things with magic, unusual animated objects, and critters from a wide variety of lore. So yeah, no single one of these things has to be a Potter ripoff, but they give a cumulative effect of it. What you have to ask yourself is why you chose the same elements that JKR did, rather than anything else available.

I'd also like to point out that I didn't suggest the kids use magic to lose weight; I suggested they use magic to gain the same benefits as losing weight (appearance and health), which I think is an important distinction. Are you saying that magic in your world can't make you feel or look any better?

(Also, because I'm nothing if not pedantic, I'd expect harpies to come in flocks, not herds.)

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

There's a terrible epidemic of fat kids these days, and it has really very tragic consequences for them, so a fat camp seems perfectly sensible. Every heavy kid should go. They maybe can't safely do some outdoor activities that more athletic ones can, but fat kids need to walk away from the computer and go move around, too. I don't think you should need to apologize for the setting, or be silly about avoiding calling it a fat camp. That's what the kids call them.

none said...

All those elements were around long before Harry Potter. Rowling doesn't own them.

Anonymous said...

Two things hung me up. We get more on motivation from the bad guy than the MC. We know what the bad guy wants and how he goes about getting it. What does the MC want?

The prominence of fat-camp is miss leading. I expected kids using magic in an attempt to outwit adults who want to make them loose weight and felt cheated to discover its a hero thwarting villain book.

You do need to mention the boy is at fat camp, but from what I read, fat camp is more location (like Hicksville Ohio) and less to do with plot. If it has more to do with plot, we need to know how. See below.

1. What is the MC's goal (to earn the love of a girl, gain respect, become leader of the world?)

2. How does the villain interfere with the MC's goal. (Its the why and answers: what motivates the MC? Big foot,cyclops, and fat camp, itself, are obstacles. You nailed two out of three and this where fat camp should go. You should give us an example like you did with the first two obstacles.)

3. How and with whom does the MC succeed? Specifically, does our MC succeed by himself or with help?

The pot is buried but its there and that good. I'm no agent but I'd read a few pages to see what writings like. Good Job.

Rick Daley said...

This is very Potter-esque. However, if the voice is tones with the proper wit, it could play out as a good comedy, but I wonder if the MG audience could grasp it (if it were written as a spoof).

I'm thinking something along the lines of what the movie GHOST TOWN did for THE SIXTH SENSE.

"He sees dead people. And they annoy him."

writtenwyrdd said...

Re the wands issue: I'd argue that it is too HPish if you only have kids using wands. Mix it up! In both real and fantasy magic traditions there are all sorts of tools or none used. Variety isn't bad.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is a spriggan? Is this a term the average reader would understand? I've never heard of them myself, but I've never read any of the Harry Potter books either so maybe it's just me...

Anonymous said...

While I am glad you are not making fun of overweight kids, I also hope you don't glorify it. Read the stats on overweight children--in one haunting stat, drs are predicting that there will be an epidemic of these kids needing liver transplants in their 40s because of fatty liver disease, and of course we don't have the livers now that we need. Just one example. You don't want to damage self esteem but I think you also have to be wary of saying hey it's okay if your child is overweight.

none said...

spriggan. Dour, ugly warrior fairy of Cornish tradition, where it is nearly as well known as the piskie. Ghosts of old giants, spriggans are now very small but may inflate themselves into monstrous forms. Found around cairns, cromlechs, and ancient barrows, they guard buried treasure, but are also responsible for bringing storms and the destruction of buildings and crops. Like piskies, they may also abduct children.

batgirl said...

Somehow I doubt that one MG fantasy story would make overweight kids complacent or comfortable with themselves, in the face of overwhelming societal disgust and disapproval of that particular deviation from the Ideal. Geez.

Also, I kinda want to write GTP#6.