Thursday, May 28, 2009

Face-Lift 637

Guess the Plot

A Long Way Home

1. When Timmy was scolded and sent to his room for teasing the cat, he was very cross. Then he found space aliens hiding under the bed and said -- take me to your leader! After wandering through the shrubbery eating roots berries and insects for a week, the aliens finally admit they got lost three light years ago and have no idea how to get home.

2. Brothers Jason, Jacob and Jared find their missing father's 63' convertible in their Grandfather's barn. Will they restore it and go on a road trip to find their father, or let Grandpa sell it to cover the cost of Grandma's cancer treatment?

3. Leonard had expected side effects when he created a rift in the space-time continuum. He didn't think they'd occur in the middle of his younger brother's birthday party. Can he get seven children, two dogs, a parrot and himself back through 16 centuries, 42 dimensions and an ice-cream stand?

4. After being sucked through a portal into an alternate dimension, Billy is befriended by an elf and a friendly dragon. The Goblin King, believing Billy to be the heir to the Wizard Throne, sets off to kill the young orphan. Will Billy survive the journey home?

5. Someone is murdering the cryogenically frozen passengers on a spaceship to another planet and only one teenaged kid can save the mission. But is it worth stopping a murderer if it means revealing a secret so terrible that to even hint at its terribleness would be . . . terrible?

6. Sure, it's only a few blocks to the store, but getting home can be a very long journey indeed when those blocks are in the City of Giants, where each block is a hundred miles long. Also, sentient traffic lights.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

317 year old Amy has spent 300 years asleep in cryostatis. [Cryostatis: the state of being in cryostasis.] Elder has spent all of his seventeen years on board a generation space ship bound for a new planet. Born to become the leader of the space ship, Elder has no idea there is a group of people cryogenically frozen in a hidden level of the ship. When Amy wakes up fifty years early, [I'm grouchy when I wake up fifteen minutes early. I'm steering clear of Amy for a few years.] she teams with Elder to discover who unplugged her—because whoever it was is now unplugging the others, and they’re not surviving their unbidden early wake-up call. Amy’s desperate search to find a home on the ship she’s trapped on is matched only by her search to stop the murderer before he unplugs her parents. [Comparing her need, desire, compulsion would be okay; comparing her searches isn't that informative. It's like saying her search to find her keys is matched only by her search for her missing sock.] The murderer, however, has a plan: use his strategic killing to make Elder, who is next in line to rule the ship, discover a terrible secret. [Now we're getting somewhere. The crux of Elder's conflict becomes clear at last as the terrible secret is revealed.] Now Amy and Elder must decide: is it better to tell the truth or let everyone else live in happy ignorance? [I missed it! I was so busy typing my blue words I missed the secret. What was it? Did anyone else hear it, or were you too busy reading the blue words?]

Building on the fear of isolation and containment in Jeanne DuPrau’s CITY OF EMBER and the psychology and philosophy in Mary Pearson’s THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, my novel, A LONG WAY HOME, is a YA science fiction light on science but strong [on fiction.] in character development.

I am currently a high school world literature teacher and an active member of SCBWI, having been published in and working as the copy editor of the state SCBWI magazine. Additionally, I run a blog on writing for MG and YA audiences which receives between 100 and 150 hits a day. [Running a blog has yet to acquire the résumé-enhancing respectability it truly deserves.]

I am prepared to submit the entire manuscript upon your request. Thank you for your time and consideration with this project.



One doesn't usually think of a ship as having a leader or a ruler. Is "captain" outmoded?

The bigger the secret, the more important it is to reveal it in the query.

I don't see the point of whoever is behind this mission keeping the cryogenically frozen people secret from the future captain or from anyone else. Getting these people to the new planet is the mission, right?

What is meant by Amy's "desperate search to find a home on the ship"?

Are there suspects? Or is it assumed the murderer is a 330-year-old stowaway?

Why doesn't the murderer just tell Elder the terrible secret instead of killing people to make Elder discover the secret?


Sarah Laurenson said...

Why did Amy survive being woken up early, but none of the others do? I'm assuming she was meant to die as well and no one would be the wiser since no one - except the murderer - knows of their existence. No one's explored the whole ship - this entire time it's been in space? And those bodies go where? Do they start to smell?

Anonymous said...

Yes, the secret must be revealed in the query. Too often it turns out to be a crushing disappointment that makes us feel we have wasted our reading time.

Hepius said...

Sounds interesting. I would read more. You definitely need to address EEs comments, but those were easy fixes.

Not sure about the name Elder. Seems too close to Ender for me. It was a distraction as I read the query. Could just be me.

150 said...

I have mostly logistical problems with this. Why would a spacefaring race trust their leadership to, essentially, birthright? (I assume there's some eugenics in there, so mention that.) Why wouldn't you tell your leader about your most precious cargo? What's wrong with posting guards in the cryo room? Doesn't the ship have security cameras? How does strategic (or any) killing reveal a secret; why can't whoever-he-is just tell Elder? Don't you believe that for leaders and scientists, unpleasant truth is far preferable to lies?

You don't need to be scientifically rigorous--nobody is going to ask you for your calculations on cryogenics--but it has to hold together logically, and I'm not getting that from this query. Try again, though, we'll look at it. I kind of like the tone.

Unknown said...

First, let me say I think this is something I would read if you convinced me that all the dots added up to a straight line.

What do I mean? I mean, I'd rather not scratch my head trying to figure out what's going on. WHO is the antagonist. Right now, I know about the protagonist - Amy - and her love interest - Elder. But not who or what unplugged Amy or why it did that. Because you are trying to keep those things secret, the query has a lot of holes. Holes are bad. Show me a logical story arc instead.

I'm confused as to why a 17 year old boy is in charge and why he doesn't know every inch of the ship. Is Elder the only one "awake" on the ship. Because you mention a "generation ship" it makes me think LOTS of people are around. So who are the stiffs in the freezer? Hu?

You spend a lot of time comparing your story to other stories and on your bio. Use that word space to tell me about the plot of this story. Just tell me what the secret is, why the antagonist wants Elder to know it, and what will happen as a result.

Good luck

Faceless Minion said...

The query might read a bit more clearly if the parts about Amy were listed separate from the parts about Elder. (i.e. paragraph about Amy and her issues, paragraph about Elder and his issues, paragraph on them together dealing with the problem)

Dave Fragments said...

I can't remember the tittle of the book, but I've read a very similar plot somewhere before. And in that book, there was more than one spaceship, each ship didn't know about the other ship, there was a third group of people who were trying to prevent the ship from completing its journey. And there was a subplot about a person trying to be reincarnated or reanimated to rule the sleepers. It was a lot more complex than this story with hidden murders and subplots.

This seems thin by comparison.

Matt said...

I agree that more needs to be revealed. If you are opposed to divulging the secret, at least give us a clear understanding of why it is so terrible and the consequnces it will have on the characters.

none said...

If Amy wants to protect her parents from the unplugger, why doesn't she just waken them until the killer's found?

Beware plot-driven character behaviour :).

batgirl said...

Is Elder human? Just wondering, because there's nothing specifying that he is. If he isn't, that would be interesting, and perhaps worth mentioning in the query.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I am guessing the secret cargo is related to the secret-secret. Am I right?

You have a good set up here (with a few previously mentioned holes). Now we need a good follow through.

Dave Fragments said...

I can't speak for the author but the way I think this spaceship works is that only a skeleton crew is alive and that crew maintains the ship. When that crew reaches old age or dies, a new skeleton crew is awakened from the stasis-cryogenic-whatever-you-call-it sleep. The effect of the sleep is to slow or inhibit aging for the length of the journey. The skeleton crew speaks for the all of the passengers and as such are captains, rulers, kings, or high exalted grand poobah...

Think of the start of the movie ALIEN (From 1979) where the crew is awakened from sleep by some outside action and gets to explore that alien world where the eggs are waiting.

_*rachel*_ said...

It must be a mighty big ship, going a mightly long way. Is there something you need to tell us about that?

I didn't realize it before, buy Matt's right; Elder is pretty close to Ender. Is Elder eld enough to get a name change? (ha)

I'm not worried about the quality of your actual book; your writing is good. You just need to pull the query together with a little more detail.

Xenith said...

is a YA science fiction light on science .Not sure about that bit. Space-based fiction tends to light on science so I assume so unless told otherwise :) But actually pointing it out, is putting your book down. Also, if it is strong on character development you want to try and show this in the query so you don't have to point it out.

(I can so see GTP #3 as a movie.)

Adam Heine said...

I like this idea a lot. Most of my comments (as with the others) are logical ones.

* Typically a "generational" ship is a colony ship where the people are alive and awake and self-sufficient, such that future generations will be the ones to arrive at the new world. A colony ship based on cryostasis is slightly different. That said, I say drop the word "generational" and just say colony ship, or whatever.

* "317 year old Amy" intrigued me right away. "has spent 300 years in cryosta[s]is" weakened that intrigue a bit. Probably because it explained it. Maybe withhold that info - not long, just for a couple of sentences.

* Is there anyone else awake besides Elder? Is he alone? Is there nobody training him? Surely he hasn't been alone for 17 years. And what if something goes wrong aboard the ship - is he the only crew available to fix it? (As Rachel pointed out, it is likely a very big ship).

* Along with the questions about Elder's training: why doesn't he know about the people in cryostasis? What does he think is on the ship going to the new planet?

* Why is Amy searching for a home aboard the ship? That seems tangential to the query. I'd cut it.

* And, of course, why is the murderer killing people to reveal a secret? Surely there are other, less violent ways to do it.

Steve Wright said...

I'm glad to see all the other people who think it should be "cryostasis" and not "cryostatis". Yes, I know it's a made-up word for a science-fictional process, but as a veteran skiffy fan, I'm used to the overall sort-of consensus about vocabulary, and "cryostatis" just feels wrong. It's like seeing Jim Kirk armed with a blazer pistol.

(Of course, as a veteran skiffy fan, I am by definition not in the YA target audience. So ignore me.)

I'm unclear on the live humans/cryogenic sleepers setup, here ... is this one of those situations where the ship's living crew have fallen back into savagery and superstition over the generations, as in the seminal "Mission of the Darians" episode of Space: 1999?

(Dave F: are you maybe thinking of Earthsearch? Might fit the bill ... )

writtenwyrdd said...

If I were an agent, I'd probably request a partial because this sounds good despite the problems. But what is the secret, you tease you? We need to know the secret, I think. Also, the compelling need for Amy to save her parents is a good one and really made me perk up my ears.

I think you just need to clarify Elder's conflicts and motivation and tweak this letter to clarify the confusions others mention.

Anonymous said...

Why can't a generation ship have a cryo "cargo" of people? They are secret, and apparently tie into the big secret secret that the letter doesn't reveal.

but that brings up the need to clarify what the secret is in the query letter.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

A couple of thoughts -

I think you can make the opening sentence much stronger. A 317-year-old teenager would be an attention-grabber! You're showing us all the cards in your hand AND the one up your sleeve, and it could be more carefully paced.

The next few sentences made me very unsure who the protagonist is, because the focus is on Amy-Elder-Elder-Amy, like some demented children's song, and I'm confused. Even if they're joint protagonists and both have POV, maybe focus on one of them (the one with the more interesting character arc?) for the query and bring in the other only as needed ('with the help of Elder, etc.').

Can someone more informed about selling YA tell me whether being a high school lit teacher is a good thing to include in a query for a YA book? I'm just worried it screams of 'dear God I want someone to sell my book so I don't have to teach high school anymore.' :)

I like the concept and I'd probably read the book.