Friday, April 24, 2009

Face-Lift 625

Guess the Plot

The Magic

1. When 13-year-old Spenser meets magician Morgan Miracle, he wonders if this guy can help him finally get rid of his imaginary friend. Also, two skeletons and a ghost.

2. Science geek Connie has not only figured out the secret to popularity - she's bottled it and is selling it for 40 bucks a pop. But what will happen when the entire student body is dosed up on ... The Magic?

3. Stage magicians Royal and Donat have been rivals since they were boys struggling with the five-ring trick. When they are swept into a world where magic is real, and recruited into opposing armies, will they cooperate to find their way home, or joyfully pitch enchanted fireballs at each other?

4. A loose zoo monkey bites surly waitress Robbi Newport on the ankle, and on Friday she calls in feeling like death with the flu. Monday morning she gets to work on time, but Bob the chef panics when she swoops in like a bat, rearranges the architecture, and starts gobbling raw steak.

5. Mad Felix, the terrible red-eyed ghost of Cousin Sally's cat, levitates his Datsun toward a midnight duel with Uthgar, Son of the Horde. Was he upset by something Sally said? Or is his temper adversely affected by the miniature nuclear reactor Cousin Dave left in the trunk?

6. As the mystery of the Baskerville cat deepens, body parts are found, storm clouds threaten, detectives are summoned, and little Jim-Bob Jenkins goes missing. But nothing can stop Roland Reinhart from cuddling up with the one he loves. Unless, perhaps, it's that man-eating Bengal tiger prowling the 'hood.

Original Version

Dear Editor:

The first rule of magic is never, ever tell how a trick is done. After all, you don’t want to spoil the illusion. [Interestingly, that's also the first rule of hot dog manufacture and editing.] In the Buckler house, the same applied to family secrets. But sometimes rules, like promises, need to be broken. And you do want to know what happened, don’t you? How the bones got into the lake and how they got out again? Where the money came from? How Spenser Buckler discovered who his father was?

With these words, Eddie, the imaginary friend of thirteen-year old Spenser Buckler, introduces us to the Buckler family, [If the first paragraph is the start of the book, making it the hook of the query kind of dilutes its effectiveness for the editor. Especially as you may be enclosing the first x pages with the query. Plus, I wasn't sure I wasn't reading a query for a nonfiction book the way it began.] the leading political and economic dynasty in the town of Quarry, Ohio. Spenser, who suffers from epilepsy, may be the heir to a fortune, but his life is a mess. His grandfather Hiram, a state senator, disappeared shortly after Spenser’s birth, his mother abandoned him to his grandmother’s care in order to pursue an academic career and no one knows who his father is. Hounded by the town bully Arnie and desperate to get rid of Eddie, who refuses to go away, Spenser spends the summer before he turns fourteen trying to uncover the family secrets.

Defying his grandmother, Spenser visits the local magic shop and meets Morgan Miracle, a retired vaudeville magician, who becomes his mentor and his friend. When his mother arrives for a visit and is forced to remain in town, Spenser hopes she will reveal the identity of his father. Through the discovery of two skeletons in the lake behind the Buckler property, Spenser learns the identity of his father. [Are they talking skeletons? How do they reveal anything?] He also finds out that he had a twin sister, Edwina, the ghost of whom is the true identity of the imaginary friend he is so eager to shed. [This paragraph is just a list of some things that happen. Choose the most important one(s) and elaborate. Leave the others out of the query.]

The Magic is an 85,000 word YA novel that explores the importance of family and the cost of keeping secrets while offering information about famous American magicians of the 20th Century

[Spenser: Oh my God! How did these skeletons get here?

Skeleton 1: Your father was the gardener at the Buckner estate.

Skeleton 2: Did you know that magician Doug Henning (1947 - 2000) was born in Manitoba and grew up in Ontario? He performed his first show at the age of 14 at the birthday party of a friend.]

and teaching about epilepsy. It is complete and has two sequels. [One of them, The Dummy, is the gut-wrenching story of Morgan Miracle's losing struggle with pancreatic cancer, into which I've sprinkled anecdotes about great 20th-century ventriloquists; the other, Balls and Clubs, involves Edwina, Parkinson's Disease, and famous jugglers.]

I am a teacher and a published author whose stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, 42opus, Tertulia Magazine, and The Oyez Review, among others. I have been awarded a Fiction Fellowship from the Midwest Writers Conference and the Leo Love Fiction Award from the Taos Writers Conference.

I hope you will consider representing The Magic and would be happy to send a first fifty. [I'm not happily sending you fifty until we've signed a contract. And I recommend you set your sights a little higher than fifty, even if it is your first novel.]


There's a guy with a magic shop, and a ghost. Is there actual magic?

I wouldn't start out with the first rule of magic if you aren't going to talk about magic. Yes, you mention Morgan Miracle's magic shop, but you drop it immediately, so I can see no reason it's in the query.

I would start out: Thirteen-year-old Spenser Buckler, who suffers from epilepsy, may be the heir to a fortune, but his life is a mess. That gives you more room to explore the plot.

Telling us there's a magic shop and a character with epilepsy is enough to convince us we might learn something. Telling us you've worked in information about 20th-century magicians and epilepsy serves only to make me worry you've interrupted the narrative flow of the story. (See the Write Like Cassie Edwards exercise, February 24, 2008 on this blog for exaggerated examples.)

A 13-year-old main character with an "imaginary" friend may be better suited to middle grade than YA, although this may be longer than most middle grade books. Maybe you should focus on the Morgan Miracle/Spenser relationship (I'm assuming Morgan is a major player).

Mostly what this needs is plot. You quote the opening of the book, give us some setup, and then list some events. I want to see a logical progression of events.


Sarah Laurenson said...

85K is a lot for MG, so the length would suggest YA. It's a hard sell for a YA protagonist to be so young. It's been done, so it's not impossible. Sounds more like it would fit into that semi-existent Tween category.

You've got some good flavor in this.

_*rachel*_ said...

Would you want to focus on Edwin/a a little more, seeing as s/he's the narrator? It's certainly an interesting choice of narrator. Also, who would name a character Edwina nowadays? Unless it's not nowadays. My advice: go to a baby naming site and find a reasonable name with some ambiguity, like Jamie or Pat.

talpianna said...

Aren't we overdue for Write Like Cassie Edwards, Part Deux?

Anonymous said...

give us more reason to like your protagonist. diseases etc don't address the charm question. Or maybe you can give us reasons to not like him. as it is, the query discussion makes him seem like a curious specimen with maturity issues who suffers a lot. I'm not sure kids are drawn to that.

Anonymous said...

I think this sounds interesting. The choice of narrator is unique and could be really fun to read. Is there a specific character trait of the narrator (mischevious or cautious) that you could highlight in the query to bring her to life for us?

batgirl said...

This sounds as if it could be a lot of fun (adjust for my being a sucker for both stage magic and invisible friend narratives!) but I'd agree that you need to concentrate on the storyline and the main character(s) so there's a clear picture. As has been said, the mention of Spenser being epileptic gives you edu-cred automatically, you don't need to spell out that the reader will learn about epilepsy.
Gotta say, I'd read this. I'm all in favour of non-generic protagonists.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am "in favour of non-generic protagonists." The title, however, is about as generic as you can get.

none said...

I dunno. David in "The Book of Lost Things" is thought to be epileptic at one point; the reader learns zilch.

Anonymous said...

get real. let them go to wikipedia or some other nonfiction source if they want to learn about epilepsy.

it's idiotic to suggest a magical fantasy novel is a good source of information about actual human disease.

Lauren K said...

This sounds like it could be interesting. The way the query is worded it sounds like it might be a little preachy about epilepsy though. If it's not, maybe you could take out the part in the query about teaching about epilepsy. (If information about it is woven into the story that's cool but kids don't want a lecture about it which is how the query makes it sound.)

I was also wondering if there is actual magic in the story. Good luck. It sounds like it could be good.

Jan said...

Thank you for your comments on my query re my first novel The Magic. I appreciate the feedback and will use it as I rework my letter. The book is not preachy about epilepsy or magicians,so I'll eliminate that paragraph and present a stronger plot line. May you all have a successful writing week!