Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Face-Lift 639

Guess the Plot

93 Degrees North

1. Gary Stale dreamt of traveling to the arctic and standing at the very top of the earth. After his retirement, his dream turns into reality and he makes a chilling discovery--A hovering spaceship that is the source of the northern lights.

2. On earth, there exists a portal that crosses into another dimension--A portal that rests at 93 degrees north. When an exploration team crosses over and gets lost, can they survive "Dark Earth" long enough to make it home?

3. What does 93 Degrees North mean? Absolutely nothing. But when a minion is tasked with making a humorous plot to go along with this bland title will he give up and walk away or persevere and submit a weak entry?

4. On a research vessel in the North Atlantic, Stu Nash discovers a magnetic anomaly: the ship's GPS reads "93 degrees north." Have they sailed into a realm of supernatural dangers - sirens, krakens, monsters and an inhuman otherworldly creature that feeds on human death? Or is the damn GPS malfunctioning as usual?

5. First thing Wizard Ferkle does is ruin the compass and get lost. Second thing is drive through a time warp and blow the tires. Third, the map goes up in smoke. Now it's up to Tommy to save them by battling a horde of angry Druids and an evil princess and finding the way home to Glasgow.

6. Robert Fredrick Albert Cook has a beef with history. Admiral Peary discredited his ancestor's journey to the North Pole, and Bob wants to set the record straight. Unfortunately, he's lost, his GPS is giving him an impossible latitude, and he's just spotted what looks like a massive toy factory made of candy canes.

Original Version

Dear (Agent),

I am seeking representation for my horror novel "93 Degrees North" (101,000 words).

Stu Nash isn't even supposed to be aboard the research ship Waylander; his friend Tony Morland was supposed to run their experimental equipment, while Stu monitored the results from their Edinburgh base station. But, when Tony breaks his leg, Stu has to take his place [because the electricity that powers the experimental equipment is produced by pedaling a stationary bike really fast] - and so it's Stu who discovers a weird magnetic anomaly, a strange waveform somewhere in the North Atlantic.

Depressed by his accident, Tony strikes up an acquaintance with Germanic historian Joanna Kretzschmar. [When you're in Edinburgh monitoring experimental scientific equipment, is it normal to have German historians hanging around the facility?] Joanna is with him when Stu's report comes through, and she sees the waveform - and recognizes it; she's seen it before, on a mediaeval Norse manuscript [, the sheet music to Eric the Red's megahit, "King Harald Wartooth Goes to Valhalla"].

It's a mystery that needs investigating, and Tony and Stu arrange for the ship to follow the line of the mysterious waveform, into the Arctic Circle. But things start to go wrong; there's a shadowy figure haunting Joanna, and as the ship follows the signal, its communication and navigation systems begin to break down. And then the crew of the ship start to see ghosts, too.

As Joanna struggles with her ghosts, she comes to understand what's happening; the waveform is a lure, put in place by a monstrous, inhuman creature; a white hunger that lives outside the real world. [She just "comes to understand" this? Was her train of thought something like this:

1. A research vessel has discovered a strange waveform.

2. That's the same waveform I once saw in a
mediaeval Norse manuscript.]

3. It's a monstrous inhuman creature from another world! We're all gonna die!]

And, as the Waylander follows the lure, it's drawn out of the real world itself, into a realm of supernatural dangers - sirens, krakens, monsters of the deeps. The ship's crew are being picked off, one by one, while the white hunger feeds on their deaths.

Tony and Stu's equipment is the only link left between the Waylander and the real world - and Tony is obsessed, now, with finding what lies at the end of the waveform's path. Can Joanna break through his obsession and get him to turn the ship back towards safety - or will the white hunger feed on the lives of everyone aboard? [If I'm part of the crew that's getting picked off one by one, I'm not waiting around to see if Joanna can get through to Tony. The ship is turning back, and if Tony doesn't like it, he's going overboard.]

I'm a computer scientist and linguistician with an abiding interest in the mythology of the Norse sagas. Although I've been an avid reader and amateur writer for many years, this is my first attempt at finding professional representation.
Thank you for your time and consideration - I look forward to hearing from you.


Author's note; not part of query: (The ship's haywire GPS reads "93 degrees north" at one point, hence the title. But I'm sure you gathered that.)


Wasn't this an X-Files?

If your ship is no longer in the real world, can you really get to safety just by turning around?

Is it just a coincidence that the one person in the world who would recognize a waveform from a medieval Norse manuscript happens to be present when that waveform is transmitted to a scientific facility in Edinburgh?

Are waveforms so distinctive you never forget one? Even if they're all unique, it's like a cop seeing a fingerprint and remembering it from a case he had years ago. Or it would be, if Joanna was a physicist instead of a historian.

What do the crew think is responsible for the deaths? Is there talk of mutiny? I mean, from the Arctic Circle to 90 degrees north is 1650 miles, and research ships aren't speedboats. How long before someone says, "Hey, cap'n, turn the fuckin' boat around."?

The query reads okay, it's just a matter of deciding whether any of the questions it inspires need to be answered or avoided.


Anonymous said...

This reminded me far too much of the horror movie The Thing (and the original, and book, etc...). We've got the arctic, researchers, supernatural events, people dying one by one (well, in The Thing, the parasite is taking them over), helicopter chasing a dog to danger vs ship chasing a waveform to danger. Maybe it's just me, but make sure you separate the two more if you can...

Definitely agree with EE about having an historian on board - I'm sure you have a good reason, but if you can, explain it (e.g. she's there to study an historically important ship that sunk)

I find it odd that you used the defunct / hardly used term linguistician. Just use linguist so the agent does get the same confused look on their face that I did... (and then have to look it up)

Other than EE's comments, it sounds interesting.

Dave Fragments said...

Is a "white hunger" any different from a "green hunger" or a "beige hunger" ... Sorry, it was way to easy a snark to resist.

I don't get a feeling of dread or fear or excitement from your query. I think that the reader of the query needs that. All it would take is one line like the catch phrase "In space no one can hear you scream."

_*rachel*_ said...

EE, you are in good form today! I snorted.

Can't you call it something besides the white hunger? Like, maybe... Moby Dick? He's white and he's hungry! Just like me! ...Anyway, it sounds too vague.

You've got some comma problems. Find each comma and check the comma rules. You could probably get rid of half of them.

I'm not sure you need your bio. Your career you might keep, but I'd toss the rest, especially calling yourself an "amateur writer."

I think you need a few more specific plot points in there. It goes along with the "white hunger:" vague.

Matt said...

The query was written well, at no point did I have to stop and re-read something. I thought the paragraph about the author's bio was extraneous because he/she didn't have credentials pertaining directly to writing.

The plot isn't for me, but I don't read horror so I suppose it's more a matter of personal taste than anything.

150 said...

I'm just really curious how this waveform presented itself on the Norse manuscript. I can't think of a way it would appear that wouldn't imply the ancient Norsemen had really advanced math.

Evil Editor said...

Actually this shot of Thor shows that the Norse of ancient times were more advanced than you might think:

walkinhomefromthethriftstore said...

What's a linguistician? I believe the correct term is linguist.

Anonymous said...

Reading this, my attention was focused on the mechanics and gadgets and problems like if you need advanced electronics to follow these "waveforms" how'd the Viking's notice them?? And wtf is a "waveform" supposed to be in this story, anyway??? etc. Then we find out you didn't stop at reinventing geometry and physics, you packed in all monsters from mythology. Maybe that's just revealing too many of the plot elements that challenge belief.

Steve Wright said...

Not quite as painful as I'd feared it might be.

In my natural abject terror at the thought of submitting anything at all to Evil Editor, I've put together a query which is pretty ruthlessly pared down to just the central situation. It now appears that I've been too ruthless, and have pared away information that EE would like to have.

Well, as the psychiatrist said when his patient told him everything reminded him of soap, that's life, boy.

So let me see if I can provide that information, concisely enough to work it into the query letter ... Tony manages to persuade the rest of the science team that following the magnetic anomaly to its end - wherever that might be - is the only way to get the ship back. Since Tony's gadget is the only working instrument they've got by this time, the ship's captain and crew go along with it, for a while. When the dead bodies continue to hit the deck, though, they change their minds and try to turn back. Tony fixes the machine to give them false readings, so they only think they're going back ... Eventually, they find out about this, and poor hapless Stu (the one who's actually on board the ship) spends quite a few pages hiding in cupboards while the captain chases after him with a blunt instrument.

When the white hunger wakes up, the ghost of the old Viking who wrote the manuscript wakes up too ... Since Joanna's the only one who's read his manuscript, he tries to communicate with her. He has to break through the psychic interference of the white hunger to do it, but eventually he manages. Joanna then has the admittedly knotty problem of convincing the geophysicists not to trust their instruments, based on her conversation with a fourteenth century Norse ghost.

Rachel, I got sort of taken with the idea of the "white hunger" as this awful *thing* that's older than humanity and neither needs nor wants a human name ... However, if it bothers you, I suppose I could look up the Old Norse for "white hunger" and call it that. I can see your point.

What else? Tony gets dragged, crutches and all, to a party by his feckless flatmate, who thinks he needs cheering up. That's where he meets Joanna, who (initially) fancies him, and pursues him with the aim of administering some unlicensed physiotherapy as soon as his leg's out of plaster. I thought that detail was too trivial to put in the query letter ...

My lousy bio paragraph has attracted deserved scorn ... The problem is, I'm cursed with a fairly common name. If I send a query, signed the way I normally sign things, to any UK agent, four out of five of them will think I'm a radio DJ, and the fifth will think I'm that bloke who killed all those prostitutes in Ipswich last year. (If they get as far as the synopsis, the proportions will be reversed, but it's still the same problem.) So I have to do something to assert my own identity, before they start dreaming of lucrative celebrity tie-in deals or true-crime memoirs.

Of course, all this is pretty much moot, since the whole book now has to be rewritten along the lines of GTP #6. But thank you all anyway!

pulp said...

If you think you need more room to explain the plot, you can condense the backstory in the first paragraph quite a bit.

I like the science aspect, the North Atlantic setting, and Norse fantasy/mythology. However, I've learned the hard way that "horror" means guts and explicit descriptions of agony, so it's not a book I'd buy, myself.

Dave Fragments said...

BTW - there are two English errors you should fix. Even WORD flagged them.
And then the crew of the ship start to see ghosts, too
The ship's crew are being picked off, one by one,

Steve Wright said...

Dave, I'm British (dash it all), and in British English it is perfectly acceptable, in the right context, for collective nouns to take a plural verb.

And in my opinion - as a linguistician - MS Word's grammar checker was written by dyslexic illiterate Martians.

batgirl said...

Steve, you have my sympathies with the name problem.
Also, Word's grammar checker is illiterate. Among other things, it refuses to believe in reflexive verbs.
I read 'white hunger' as relating to the Arctic, like James Houston's books White Archer and White Dawn. Hey, maybe you should change the title to The White Hunger?

batgirl said...

Oh hey, was it this Norse manuscript?

Dave Fragments said...

Dave, I'm British (dash it all), and in British English it is perfectly acceptable, in the right context, for collective nouns to take a plural verb.

I kept reading those two sentences and scratched mt head because alone, each sentence sounded right. Together, they didn't.

I was going to change the post but I had cleaning ladies descend on my house in the middle of cooking dinner and chaos ensued. I'm now well fed and the house is clean.

I come from the land of accented English: like "Yuns all ready?" and gumband and cans of pop and "put out the lights, will ya!" and worst of all - my hair needs washed.

I think my unease is more about he closeness of the two sentences. IN one sentence the noun Crew is treated as singular and in the other plural.

I cannot easily explain why my mind sees repeated words like "crew." For some reason it flags them and calls my attention to the occurrence even when I don't want it to do that. Suffice to say that I can look at a table of numbers or a scatter plot of experimental results and see mathematical correlations.

So why not instead of
The ship's crew are being picked off, one by one, while the white hunger feeds on their deaths.
why not say
The white death picks off the crew one-by-one, feeding on their deaths and growing stronger."
Or say
A killer picks of the crew 1by1 and the white hunger grows stronger with each death...

none said...

No, crew is treated as plural in both sentences.

Adam Heine said...

Steve wrote: "In my natural abject terror... I've put together a query which is pretty ruthlessly pared down to just the central situation. It now appears that I've been too ruthless, and have pared away information that EE would like to have."

Be careful about that. Your query should be pared down to just the central situation. You need to do what EE said at the end: Decide whether the questions raised need to be answered or avoided.

Try taking out the information that raises the question (or word it in a way that doesn't raise questions). If the query still reads fine, leave it. Always be careful about adding too much.

Robin S. said...

I like GTP #3. Wish I'd written that.

Hey Steve,

Sounds like an interesting story.

_*rachel*_ said...


Please, please, please be kind and tell me if that "translation" is a joke. Please.

It was... amusing.

Dave Fragments said...

At one time in my scientific career, my company had 550 people -- 350 engineers and scientists, 150 technicians, 50 secretaries and 50 management types. When we expanded to 1100 people under President Clinton, we were left with 25 secretaries.

So I and many others used WORD's grammar checker in place of a secretary. It might be a dyslexic moron or semi-literate or just plain half-assed. But when it's all you have...

I still can't put good words to why those two sentences bother me. They just bother me. I am a man of science, of all things provable and rational and yet something says to me -- there's a better and sexier way to say that.

Now Buffy can excoriate me for being human once again ;)

And BATGIRL, that was so naughty!

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Dave, wouldn't it be 'starts,' with an 's' on the end if it were singular?

Anyway, about the linguist thing, I have two things to say:
1) Do people actually *use* the word linguistician where you come from or are you just being pedantic?
2) Did you write this whiney article: ?

In any case, I don't think being eccentric and cute in a query will get you any brownie points.

none said...

Eh, it seems to me there's a much better alternative to Word's 'grammar checker'. Learn grammar.

Joseph said...

So, if I'm reading the wiki correctly, "linguist" is a very old word referring to someone with the ability to speak many languages, while "linguistician" is a more recent word for someone who runs abstract computer analyses of languages they cannot actually speak.

Linguists are, obviously, cooler.

Steve Wright said...

After all that time spent learning linguistics, I'm actually pretty confident about my (British) grammar - I only leave the Word grammar checker switched on because I have a morbid curiosity about what it's going to come up with next.

My favourite was when I had one character saying something like "I think we should do such-and-such," and another one agreed with him and said, "So do I." Word green-squiggled that and said it should be "So do me."

One day, I must shove an MS into it and accept all the checker's suggestions. I could produce a surrealist masterpiece!

- Dave, since I'll be rewriting this anyway, I shall be sure to alter the parts that have caused you undue perturbation. Can't say fairer than than, now, can I?

Evil Editor said...

Guy's in a bordello trying to decide which lady to take upstairs. He says to the first, "You look too much like my sister."

The second lady says to him "So do me."

Steve Wright said...

I'm beginning to think I should explain the crucial difference between a linguist and a linguistician.

A linguist is someone who has expertise with one or several languages.

A linguistician (I tried to hold out for "linguisticist", but no one would let me) is someone who's spent four years of his precious youth poring over phonetics and phonology and different models of phrase structure grammar, reading Noam fricking Chomsky and Ludwig fricking Wittgenstein until he has some idea of what the buggers are on about, and has then emerged into the real world with no marketable skills and job prospects not worth a bilabial fricative trill, and has had to do conversion courses in computer science to get any sort of career going, muttering to himself all the while, "my mates all went to bloody Oxford, I should have done the same, read law or something, I could have been a bloody MP or a civil servant by now."

Not that I am in any sense bitter, you understand.

Dave Fragments said...

Dave... Can't say fairer than than, now, can I?

That's good enough for me.

My complaint about WORD's grammar checker is that you can't flag dialog as OK and have it stop. As we all know, dialog is seldom complete sentences or grammar correct. But for bland technical reports it was great. When I had to teach technicians how to write formal memos it was great. I helped debug a "clairvoyance" system for people with very little control of their hands and fingers. The computer would guess the words as you typed and rather than spell a long word, you could select if from a list. So I have a high tolerance of things happening on the computer screen. A squiggly green line doesn't bother me.

Ed McMahon said...

Heyyo! You are correct, Sir!

Ed McMahon said...

Damn, why did those two guys have to post ahead of me? They ruined it!

Steve Wright said...

Is there, maybe, a writing exercise in this, somewhere? Find some of the more ... interesting ... grammar checker suggestions, and work out a context where they actually make sense?

(EE, I commented to my writing group at the time, "She's a sexy redhead, of course I'd do 'er. But I take it amiss that MS Word insists on it.")

writtenwyrdd said...

Overall the query was hard to follow for me, but the story sounds good. I'm chiming in late so I won't say much other than stick with the main point and clarify that, make us want to read that story. You don't have to be absolutely literal, giving everything that occurs in the query, but you do have to make us want to know what happens.

Best luck with the query. And I like the title. I fits the story.

Adam Heine said...

If a linguist can be defined as someone who has expertise in one language, then everyone's a linguist and the word loses all meaning.

I don't see any ambiguity in calling multilinguists and language scholars both "linguists". It's all in context (as any linguistologist should know). When a lady says, "Wow, you're a linguist?" she is impressed that you're multilingual. When a depressed man in a suit mutters, "I'm a linguist," he is embarrased that he didn't go into dentistry like his mom wanted.

More to the point: the query... Since I've never heard anyone use the word linguistician before this conversation (and I studied linguistics in college too), it sounds either pretentious or wrong, neither of which you want in your query. Say linguist or cut it.

Anonymous said...

Better yet, say you're a cunning linguist and be done with it.

none said...

ha ha ha ha

Adam, you should read some slush to disabuse yourself of the idea that everyone has even a basic understanding of the language they speak....

Adam Heine said...

Fair enough, Buffy. Though you should try teaching English in a Thai school. The most illiterate author in your slush is more fluent than most Thai kids will ever be.

Apparently "expertise" is a range.

batgirl said...

Back when I took first-year linguistics, my instructor, who only spoke English, made quite a point of distinguishing polyglots (people who spoke more than one language) from linguists who actually studied and understood language as a whole. Because I was also studying Japanese, Chinese, Russian and Spanish, he discounted most of my answers, suspecting me of speaking from a knowledge of a given language rather than a true understanding of it. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I suggest simply ignoring the linguist(ician) argument altogether in the query as it doesn't really have much relevance.

I also suggest taking out the Norse references from your bio since the query crosses mythologies with the mention of krakens and sirens.

So, in my version, I went with no bio:

I am seeking representation for my horror novel "93 Degrees North" (101,000 words).

Tony Morland is at his Edinburgh base station monitoring data being returned by the research ship Waylander when a strange waveform in the North Atlantic oscillates across his screens. The weird magnetic anomaly is the most exciting thing to wiggle in front of him since he hooked up with his historian friend, Joanna, and to not be on the ship experiencing the phenomenon firsthand makes him bitter, frustrated, and not a little jealous of his longtime colleague, Stu Nash, the chief geophysicist onboard.

Joanna, meanwhile, is proving to be a mystery of her own. There’s something familiar to this [Norse-o-phile] about the waveform and, shortly after she sees its distinct signature, a shadowy presence begins to haunt her. As the ship draws closer to the anomaly, the apparition grows more agitated, plainly attempting to communicate. The only message coming through clearly, though, is “White Hunger.”

That’s when the ship’s navigation systems break down and the floundering Waylander sails into a realm of supernatural dangers - sirens, krakens, and other monsters of the deeps. With his crewmates’ corpses hitting the deck at an alarming rate, Stu must rely on Tony to guide the blinded ship out of the maelstrom and back to safety. What Stu doesn’t know is that Tony has developed a preternatural obsession with finding what lies at the end of the waveform’s path, and is determined to send the ship further into the depths of the White Hunger’s realm.

If Joanna’s ghost can’t break through to her and reveal the secrets of the White Hunger before Tony succeeds, not only will Stu and the Waylander be lost, but the Hunger, having fed, will begin to spread.

Thank you for your time and consideration - I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.


(PS: It's always scary to me when people not well grounded in grammar themselves comment about other peoples' grammar. For instance, I once had someone commenting about one of my writing samples [not here] suggest I need to take a remedial course in grammar. There's a semicolon and comma or two in your initial query I would change, but both of your crew noun-verb references are fine. And I was especially impressed that you knew the correct apostrophe rule in "Tony and Stu's equipment." That one trips up a lot of people.)