Thursday, August 20, 2009
Guess the Plot
The Mermaid Virus
1. When a dead mermaid with open sores washes up on the beach it causes a media frenzy. Can Dr. Michaels stop the plague she carries from spreading to humanity--before Arnold Toole convinces everyone that eating mermaid flesh grants immortality?
2. In a village famous for its seafood and its smell, Kayla's scientist parents are studying a mysterious virus that kills one teen-aged girl per year. When her parents suddenly die, Kayla must finish their work before she becomes the next victim of . . . The Mermaid Virus. Also, Rastafarian surfers.
3. Kyle designed the Mermaid Virus to trail bubbles across random office monitors and to relieve boredom. But when the saucy fish-tail starts skimming the managers' accounts and transferring the money to orphanages, cancer research, and Save the Whales, Kyle isn't sure if he's created a monster or an angel.
4. For years, virologist Lyle Bodecker has been studying the "Mermaid Virus", a mysterious disease that transforms women into near-duplicates of Daryl Hannah during the filming of Splash. Now he's announced he's on the verge of finding a cure. Can he be stopped in time?
5. Navy SEAL Hank Deadle knows he and his badass comrades are the best of the best . . . until they start growing iridescent green tails. Could it have anything to do with that top-secret medical research project funded by Disney that they volunteered for?
6. When fishermen in Nova Scotia land a mermaid, they think they've hit the jackpot--until they're stricken with a mysterious illness that makes them unable to breathe except while underwater. Can fish pathologist Hank Walley decipher the genetic code of this nightmare virus and identify a cure in time to save himself? Or must he, too, soon be tanked?
Dear Evil Editor,
Sandstone is an unusual village, not just because of its uncanny success in the seafood industry [despite its location 800 miles from the ocean,] or the mysterious virus that takes the life of one teenage girl every year, but because of its smell. [There's nothing unusual about a village that's famous for seafood also being famous for its smell.] The smell of Sandstone air is the first thing that strikes Kayla as unusual when she moves to the seaside village with her parents, scientists that are determined to discover the cure for the Mermaid Virus [thus saving 100 lives per century]. [I smell a Nobel Prize in medicine coming their way.]
Kayla is soon befriended by the mysterious and green-eyed Joseph [I'd rather know what's mysterious about him than what color his eyes are.] and a delinquent crew of Rastafarian surfers. When attacks from strange water creatures [Mermaids.] begin to take their toll on the surfers and fishermen alike, Kayla starts to realize that there is more to Sandstone's annual deaths than a “virus.” When her parents meet an untimely death at the verge of scientific breakthrough, she becomes sure of it. [It's the fact that one teen-aged girl per year dies that indicates "virus" should be in quotation marks, not the fact that sea creatures are trying to rid their waters of Rastafarian surfers, or that Kayla's parents, who aren't teenagers, died. What killed her parents?] Now, under the guardianship of a woman she does not trust, Kayla must continue the work that her parents began—discovering the cause of the Mermaid Virus—before she becomes its next victim, even as she struggles with her grief over her parent's [parents'] death, the unusual nature of her relationship with Joseph, [If you aren't going to tell us what's mysterious about Joseph or what's unusual about their relationship, why is he in the query?] and the dark secrets her surfing friends fail to keep hidden. [But that you have no trouble keeping hidden.]
The Mermaid Virus is complete at 67,000 words. I have spent several years on both the East and West coast and have become an avid reader of mermaid lore. I hold a BA in Literary Studies from Brigham Young University-Idaho. [BYU Idaho? That makes as much sense as MIT at Chicago.] My shorter creative work [A Haiku and a non-rhyming limerick.] has appeared in The Claremont Review and Bottle Rockets, and has earned several awards at my university's annual pre-professional conferences. I thought that this project may be suitable for you because of your interest in folklore, cannibalism, and obscure Asian history. Thank you for your time in reviewing this query. [For the record, my interest in cannibalism isn't literary in nature; I just like the flavor of a well-seasoned grilled human thigh.]
So what's so unusual about the smell of the air? If you're going to bring it up, you have to explain.
I don't see how scientists can be so convinced there's a virus that targets one teen girl per year, that they pack up their family and move to the scene of the deaths to find a cure. It sounds more like a case for amateur sleuth Amelia Pettipants.
On the other hand, if the villagers are sacrificing one girl per year to Aquaman, how did word that there was a mysterious virus reach Kayla's parents? Was it CSI Sandstone that originally determined that the annual deaths were caused by a virus?
How can a teen-aged girl just take over the work of her scientist parents? Doesn't this work require years of training?
Posted by Evil Editor at 9:57 AM
Labels: Mermaid books
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I'm still trying to figure out where the crew of delinquent Rastafarian surfers fits in.
Do they feature highly in the plot, or are they a walk-on part?
I might be EE's interpretations coloring mine, but this reminded me a lot of Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". A lot.
I wish I had more to say, but EE covered my questions.
Actually BYU-Idaho makes perfect sense. Brigham Young University has 3 campuses. The one in Provo, UT is the first-and most well known-so it simply goes by BYU. The campus in Rexburg, ID is BYU-Idaho and the campus in Laie, HI is BYU-Hawaii.
Comparing it to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Chicago only works if there is a state named Brigham Young. To my knowledge, there is not.
I bet you Joseph is a mermaid. A Rasta mermaid!
You mention several things--the air, mysterious Joseph--that you don't elaborate on. We need to know more. These details can be skipped; the plot can't.
Also, a few things don't make sense.
I do hope you were joking about your reasons for querying. I'd advise making sure those things are in the query, not telling about them. For example, mention how the cannibalism fits in, not that the agent/editor likes it.
I think we need to know more about mysterious green-eyed Joseph and the secrets of the Rastafarian surfers. I also think that "Mysterious Green-Eyed Joseph and the Secrets of the Rastafarian Surfers" would be a much better title. But that might just be me.
Why is the death of one person per year attributed to a mystery virus? Why is Kyla apparently distressed only by the death of one parent? These are deep waters, Watson. Possibly with mermaids in them, too.
So far, I have learned there is a Bringham Young in Idaho (who knew?) and this query makes no sense at all.
One death a year does not a medical mystery make. People need funding for that kind of "move to the shore" research, unless they're independently wealthy and eccentric, which makes sense.
I had a bizarre, untreatable allergy that strikes one in 50K people chronically for an average of nine long years and NO ONE CARED enough to research it because it wasn't as important or had enough revenue potential to put it up there with cancer cures or heart disease.
"I thought that this project may be suitable for you because of your interest in folklore, cannibalism, and obscure Asian history."
I also wouldn't necessarily point out someone's interest in cannibalism as having any relevance to this story whatsoever unless mermaids are getting caught in those tuna nets everyone bitches about. I certainly don't want a mermaid-salad sandwich.
I am sorry for being a troll, I'm just not buying it.
"On the other hand, if the villagers are sacrificing one girl per year to Aquaman...."
Aquaman meets King Kong. Now there's a novel. They have similar dating tastes.
Comparing it to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Chicago only works if there is a state named Brigham Young.
It was a joke, not a slur on anyone's religious beliefs. As Massachusetts has never been in Chicago to my knowledge, and Brigham Young was never in Idaho, it works fine as a joke, if a lame one. The last thing I need is a Mormon fatwa being issued against me.
Do the dark secrets have something to do with the Rastafari religion? Or is that just shorthand for conjuring the image of dreadlocked partakers of herb going, "Irie, irie mon"? If it's the latter you may want to rethink that.
I doubt members of the LDS church will cast an Islamic religious ruling against you, Evil Editor. Although, they may come to your door more often for making fun of their campus in Idaho. (So sue me).
Well, I don't have anything useful to add, which has not already been said about the query. I am sure there is a completely logical reason why so much time and effort and resources are spent trying to discover a cure for a virus that kills only 1 teenager a year. Can a pattern even be established with that statistic? Thousands of people die of unindentified causes every year and no one really gets alarmed until a pattern is established - like in cases of serial killers and viruses. The virus would have to be turning the victims into mermaids or something to even be interesting to the medical community. Hmmm - maybe the parents are really working for the navy seals to spread the virus? Hmmm. could be.
Anyway - what does the surfers have to do with the plot? I admit I googled Rastafarian because I didn't know what it was and came up with obscure religious movement and those that smoke a lot of weed. Neither of which was all that interesting to me.
As hard as it is after spending so much time getting mystery into the story, try not to be vague in the query. The story line - one girl a year turns into a mermaid - is interesting. But I need some details as to who, what, when, and why that aren't being answered in the query.
Who or what is your antagonist? What does he do to stop Kayla from discovering the truth? Why does he pick her as the next victim?
Also, be aware that there is some plot similarity to Neil Gaimon's "American Gods" where one child disappeared every year. Admittedly that was a smallish part of Gaimon's plot but the query should show that your story is not a derivative of his.
Yeah, this is the wrong place to be mum about the characters and plot. Competition is much too steep for that.
I'm wondering what could get this out of the slush.
Getting published by your own school's pubs would be most impressive if a] that school were famous for its outstandingly good creative writing program or b] the agent was an alum. When I lived in Island Park, Rexburg was the big city with the multiplex and the mall, but alas, the world beyond Boise knows it not. So I'm thinking unless you have reason to believe the agent you are subbing to already has a high opinion of your school, the space used for these credits can be more productively devoted to your plot.
The teen-saves-world-by-taking-over-parental-science-project plot element is one I have used in GTPs because it's so amusing, not because I take it seriously. However, I believe this could potentially work for a middle grade audience, and possibly young adult. If that is your intended audience, you need to say so and ditch the Rastafari [pot-smoking and little known but often despised, maligned, and slandered minority] surfers, or at least turn them into a less notorious and more book-buying sort of religious youth that you can write convincingly about, such as LDS missionaries, or perhaps a fictitious group you invented for the purposes of this novel.
If it is meant for an adult audience, perhaps it works to keep the Rastafari bunch and do something else with the teen-science. I'm not sure what. Making her an undergrad studying microbiology at Science U [not Rexburg] might give you enough plausibility points to pull it off. It is clearly total scifi, not real science, but you didn't tell us anything about the 'science', so who knows what it needs...
The verdict is basically: you didn't say enough about this story to sell it as either convincing or so much fun we want to read it anyway. The credits are too obscure to help.
Kings Falcon: Dude!!! Read more classics! Gaimon's 'one child a year' thing was so NOT original. His whole schtick is to use mixes of traditional plot elements and characters in modern settings, which is the oldest [and most popular] strategy in fiction.
Also it's Gaiman, not Gaimon.
Was Kayla studying up at Garrett Hathaway's library?
I agree that there just seem to be too many gaping plot and logic holes here for the story as expressed here to work. Don't assume that just because it's a YA, that teens won't notice them too. Most teen readers have extraordinarily sensitive BS-o-meters.
How does one establish a pattern with one death a year?
Well, that's the hero's destiny in life. the ability to see what others don't see. The ability to find a pattern where no pattern is readily apparent.
Why do engineers and scientists plot data points on graphs? To see a correlation visually what the mind might not find in mere numbers on a page. OR to disprove a correlation that numbers seem to reveal but only exists as bias in the scientist's mind.
The essence of all mysteries is that the brilliant detective, sees the killer in the patterns of the evidence.
Easy part: Reduce the final paragraph to two sentences - the word count and maybe the publishing creds. The story is your strength here at this point in the career, not the uni, etc.
My main issue with the query was that I never got a clear sense of the tone of the novel. When a teenage girl was trying to investigate mermaids with a hot boy and his gang of surfer buddies making jokes, I had one picture of the book. When the parents die, I got a completely different picture. Is this a fun book with a mystery in the middle, or some sort of dark thriller?
I also wasn't clear on what people knew about viruses and mermaids. Does everyone know that one girl a year becomes a mermaid, and they call it a virus? If so, is having mermaids around not an unusual thing in this world? Or do they not know anything about merfolk, but one girl disappears? Why would a disappearing girl be a virus, instead of a serial killer? What exactly does the family come to investigate?
There's definitely a good idea in here.
So Kayla's parents take their teenage daughter to a village notorious for the unexplained deaths of teenage girls.
Don't they like Kayla?
LOL - Buffysquirrel - you just made my day. Thank you. And, good point.
I can't stop giggling -
Actually, Gaimon is Gaiman, but in a Rasta accent.
Is it really a virus if it only infects one person a year? Or am I reading this wrong and maybe it infects tones of people, but only 1 person dies from the virus per year?
This query really just leaves me confused.
But I do like that there are Rastas in your book. Yay on Caribbean people. My uncle and cousins are Rastas.
It's not a virus; it's a "virus."
It's lucky Kayla got her Phd early and was able to continue her parents' research.
Pre-professional means amateur, does it not?
I agree completely with pacatrue - I didn't get a sense of the type of book this is... funny, sad, coming of age, thriller? Is this a fantasy, drama, horror?
Also, my absolute first thought when you mentioned that one teenage girl died each year reminded me fully of The Lottery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lottery). Though it's not specifically a teenage girl each year, the story takes place when one is chosen... Watch out for any similarities, since The Lottery is used/abused/copied/mutated quite a bit...
(or the similarity is just in my head).
But I agree with BuffySquirrel -- my second thought was, what kind of parents does she have? Shouldn't they have left their teenage girl to leave with grandma until she turned 20?
"On the other hand, if the villagers are sacrificing one girl per year to Aquaman, how did word that there was a mysterious virus reach Kayla's parents? Was it CSI Sandstone that originally determined that the annual deaths were caused by a virus?"
This made my day.
Just wanted to chime in about the parents too. That was also my first thought...these scientist parents move to a village to study the deaths of teenage girls...and they bring their teenage daughter.
Maybe they want to motivate themselves. I'd work like crazy if a family member's life was on the line.
I think my comment got eaten the first time.
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