Thursday, September 17, 2009

Face-Lift 674

Guess the Plot

My People

1. They'll call you -- no matter where you are or what you're doing. You don't need a phone to do business with them. Or sanity. And when they're done, you will be too. Shall we do lunch, or would you like to start running?

2. Lady Chumley attempts to rally her kin to resolve the troubles of the day, namely, the matter of Fred, the price of chicken, and that vampire thing in the basement.

3. 10-year-old Angela doesn't believe college students collect little kids--until she looks in her sister Kimmy's closet.

4. Anna, AKA Torture Lady, tries to impress Ana, AKA The Salvadoran, but Ana doesn't respect her. What's a girl gotta do to make friends at summer camp?

5. Thomas Fredericks wants to save a corrupt world. He decides to start a cult, gain power and influence, and force the world to be more peaceful. Can he lead his people long enough to effect change before it all falls apart in violence, scandal and disgrace?

6. Mark Freeboon hasn't spoken to anyone who isn't a Lego since he was two. They are his people. They love and protect him. And tell him he will go straight to hell if he doesn't do what they say. Like liberate their brethren from FAO Schwartz.

7. The puppet master of Croydon wows audiences in London with the antics of his spry little creations -- until Inspector Birks proves the toys are actually vampires that prey on pigeons and stray dogs at night.

8. My People, Jeanette Morton's memoir of oppression and woe--which reveals all the horrors and foibles of her family's past--hits number one on the bestseller lists, only to be derided and ridiculed by her next-door neighbor, an ignorant witless tart with six trunk novels under the sofa and a brain the size of a pea.

Original Version

Dear Editor,

13-year-old Anna Brooke wants to be brave, to make a difference in the world. Going to the Conservation Leadership Institute’s summer camp is one small part of her plan. So of course when she sees a big kid shaking a little kid she makes him stop. She didn’t mean to get nicknamed Torture Lady. [That's like a cop arresting a shoplifter and they start calling the cop "Serial Killer."] [Even if it made sense for Anna to get the nickname, wouldn't it be Torture Girl?] Or to be introduced by that name to Ana Reyes, the Salvadoran refugee girl who has the poise and courage Anna craves. [Your main characters are named Anna and Ana? Whether you've done this so there can be hilarious incidents of mistaken identity in the book or just to make your proofreader's life miserable, consider that it may be more confusing to readers than it is to the camp counselors.] [Or is it because all your character names are palindromes? That I could live with. Are we about to meet Bob and Hannah? Interesting palindrome thoughts:

1. You can't have palindromes without repeated letters, yet "palindromes" is the longest word in the English language that has no repeated letters.

2. Palindrome? Shouldn't the word be "emordrome"?

3. There should be a superhero named Palindrome who captures criminals and then lets them go.

4. Emit no SOS on time. I just made that one up.

5. I would buy a book that had a one-sentence palindrome hidden in every chapter.]

Anna spends the rest of the week trying to prove herself to Ana, and incidentally to herself. She sticks up for James, who’s accused of being gay; she tells off the kid who grabs her butt; she tried to get her new best friend Allison, who shares her liberal ideas but has considerably more money and tact, to admit that some of the rich kids at camp are bullies. [This place sounds even more miserable than Camp Swampy, where my parents sent me every summer, with its two-hour vesper services and Counselor Bob's nightly nude camper inspections.] Soon many of the campers won’t speak to her--including James and Ana. Naturally, Anna tries harder. The camp petition drive doesn’t go according to plan either, but it does reveal enough of Ana’s past to shake Anna’s assumptions about bravery, and her understanding of what you have to do to make things change. [Not clear what you mean by a petition drive revealing Ana's past. Make it clear or just say, When Anna learns the sordid truth about Ana's past . . . ]

My People is a bittersweet, sometimes funny MG novel about the courage to grow up. I’m submitting it to you because (insert long list of real good reasons.) [A list of reasons for submitting to a specific person should have a range of from zero to one items.] (Pages, synopsis, whatever they say they’ll take) are attached. Thank you for taking time to read and consider this submission.

[--EE, this is a WIP, so there is no word count.]


Does "My People" mean Anna's people? Because no one at this camp seems to be Anna's people.

Shouldn't a middle grade book about summer camp have some monsters or a guy in a hockey mask? Something to make kids want to read it?

The list of things Anna did that supposedly caused everyone to stop talking to her doesn't sound like such bad stuff. Telling off a kid who grabs her butt makes her a pariah? She sticks up for James, and he won't talk to her? It seems to me that a camp that focuses on leadership rather than fun and games would attract a better clientele. Or at least would have counselors preventing stuff like bullying and taunting and turning fellow campers into social outcasts.

The main theme is coming through, but mainly through lists of things that happen. Make it feel more like a story than a series of unfortunate events.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like characters & incidents in search of a plot. Or a collection of shorts. Perhaps you could benefit from a little more study of structure, which is difficult to get in the 'how to write literary' section of the bookstore, wherein its all supposed to happen magically or by osmosis or via analogy or some such rot, so sneak over to the 'how to write screenplays' section and steal some of their secrets. McKee's STORY being the classic. But Elliot Gould's Raindance guide is more succinct and easier to apply.

Eric P. said...

Anna and Ana? Please tell me that was a joke. "Elizabeth, Lizzie, and Betsy and Beth, all went together to seek a bird's nest..."

It appears that Anna (if that's the right one) already spends most of her time sticking up for other people or for herself. That usually requires courage and poise and self-confidence. (It also usually endears you rather than otherwise to the people you stick up for.) What exactly is she missing? How come a refugee from a war-torn foreign country has it?

The title "My People" tells me nothing about the story presented here-- I was expecting something about discovering and embracing an ethnic identity or some such.

Unless the point of the story is that every other teenager is a jerk who doesn't accept people who have the courage to stand up for themselves and for others and Anna just has to learn to get over the inevitable rejection... I may be missing the Big Life Lesson here. (Though I suppose that point is a rather practical life lesson for many teenagers...)

As a disclaimer, I'm completely not in the target audience for this kind of story, even when I was 13. (I was going to say "when I was a teenager," but on reflection I don't think I ever really was.) So take that for what it's worth.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

"Accused of being gay." That sounds bad on so many levels, and I'm not talking about for the character. Do you mean that he's getting picked on because people Think he's gay? Because there are about 100 nicer ways to say that than "accused."
Also, a liberal wouldn't talk like that.

There's a lot of details, but they aren't fully cohesive.

Finish the book first.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

For what it's worth, the audiobook version of this would be doomed if you really call the main characters Anna and Ana.

_*rachel*_ said...

Not that a series of unfortunate events won't sell, EE.

You really shouldn't have both Anna and Ana. One of them's got to change names.

I second Eric P.'s 2nd paragraph. And this wasn't what I was reading at 13, either. I think I was reading Ender's Game and The Blue Sword. Still am.

Anonymous said...

You lost me at the accused of being gay thing, too. Like she better prove that he's not gay. God forbid.

Joanna said...

Thanks all!

I'll rephrase 'accused of being gay';should have caught that myself. Maybe 'heckled because presumed gay' would be better. Anna tells the bullies that being gay isn't a problem, while James is desperately arguing that he isn't gay at all; hence his not speaking to her by the end of the week.

And I may need to change Anna/Ana. The story is first-person, which rmakes the similar names easier.

EE: Yes, Anna is trying and failing to find 'her people", and learns that she'll need to be willing to go it alone and to fail sometimes.
And yes, you'd hope a leadership camp would be well led--but have you ever been to one?

Anon: I think I need to study query structure, not story structure. But thanks all the same.

Eric P: a lot of good points there--thanks. Anna has had a fairly easy life and desperately wants to be brave; Ana has had a very difficult life and had to be brave, and doesn't waste time agonizing over whether she is brave or not.
Re title: there is an ethnic identity subplot--Ana is proud of being Hispanic, whereas several of her relatives at the camp are trying to pass as Anglo.

Yeah, when i was a teenager I was reading stories about heroes, in fantasy and history. So is Anna in the book. I think, though, that I would also have read a book about a kid trying to be a hero and learning that it's more complicated than she had imagined.

I'll try a more thematic query soon.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Ha! Great GTPs. I was really hoping it was 1 or 6.

Author, from what you've described here, it seems like Anna's problem isn't bravery, it's tact and learning to work with people rather than against them. What is she doing wrong in her attempts to help that make people angry with her? That should be the clue to Anna's growth.

But this is pretty strong considering you haven't finished the book. Keep plugging away and worry about the query letter after you've got your manuscript polished up. Sometimes themes shift around during editing.

Mame said...

It's a mess, but it's middle grade. Most thirteen year olds are already reading YA.

Echo the stuff about names, echo the stuff about gay accusations, echo, echo, echo....

(I'm having cavernous space/new Dan Brown flashes)

Faceless Minion said...


If 'Joanna' is anywhere close to your real name I would suggest renaming both Anna and Ana. Otherwise you will most likely face accusations of Mary Sue and self-insertion whether or not there is any other evidence to support it.

You might want to try giving details of one incident of trying to help and explicitely saying how it goes wrong instead of listing a bunch of incidents which should be good and then saying everyone now hates her. Also if you mention the large shakeup of Anna's assumption, you should probably give details as EE and others have said.

Hope this helps.

Mame said...

You almost wrote a query trying to explain your book~

"Anna has had a fairly easy life and desperately wants to be brave; Ana had a difficult life and doesn't waste time agonizing over whether she is brave or not."

You can trim it of course, but that's a fairly good description of these two girls internally.

"Ana is proud of being Hispanic, whereas several of her relatives at the camp are trying to pass as Anglo."

HELLO conflict! Find the rest of the issues and talk about them simply like you do here.

And to wrap it up...

"a book about a kid trying to be a hero and learning that it's more complicated than she had imagined."

You know this book, and your query says none of this stuff. This is the meat.

Uberman said...

This camp would make Camp Crystal Lake sound sane and normal if I knew anything about it. Why is Anna getting railroaded for defending people or protecting her modesty? What is this camp for? This whole thing seems awfully muddled.

Dave Fragments said...

Ths sounds like the story revolves around Anna the torture gal and Ana the Other's relationship. Your query seems to mis-focus on that relationship. Anna the torture gal is a young lady who desperately want to be a success but doesn't really understand what being a (success) or hero means. And then she meets or befriends Ana the refugee who really is a hero but understands what that means (you have to explain that in the query).

People don't understand that the paramedic who heroically saves the person in the car accident also removed the dead bodies from the accident the night before. For great joy there is also great pain.

And that's what your two Anna's must reveal to the reader. It's that emotional coming of age in Anna's case and in Ana's case, her returning to being just a girl.

I promise I won't say please change those names. I promise I won't say please shange those names. Ooops, that just slipped out.

Joanna said...

Thanks again to all of you, especially Aimee and Dave. Here's another try; too long, I know, but I hope it may be closer to the meat of the book.

13-year-old Anna desperately wants to be brave and to make a difference in the world. She arrives at the Conservation Leadership Institute’s summer camp with great expectations and a stack of books about real and imaginary heroes. Her new best friend Allison shares her ambitions and her liberal ideas, though she has more money and tact than Anna’s ever possessed. But when Anna steps in to stop a big kid shaking a smaller kid Allison thinks she’s taking her ideas too personally. Apparently other kids think so too; Anna ends up with the nickname Torture Girl and several new enemies.
And then Althea arrives at camp. She’s one of the younger and smaller kids, but she speaks and acts with authority. She chides her cousins for their dyed-blonde hair and their refusal to speak Spanish in public, and she protects them from older and larger bullies. She is what Anna wants to be. But after hearing Anna’s nickname Althea wants nothing to do with her.
Anna spends the rest of the week trying to prove herself to Althea, or at least to be like her. She takes on the boys who torment James because they claim he’s gay; she succeeds only in further embarrassing James. She tells off the kid who grabs her butt, and gets lectured for making scenes and using private words in public. Finally she circulates a petition about a camp rule that strikes her as unfair. Half the campers sign on, and Anna thinks Althea will admire her this time. Instead Althea blots out her cousins’ signatures and tells Anna to stop doing things that could get people killed. She isn’t paranoid; her family just fled El Salvador.
Anna takes a long hard look at the difference between trying to be brave and having to be brave, and at her assumption that being right loudly is bound to make things better. She stops trying to regain Althea’s or Allison’s approval and accepts her loneliness. And when some of the girls decide that she’s lesbian and try to make an issue of it she finally finds a way of helping James.
My People is a MG novel about a girl who tries and fails to be a hero, but finds the courage to grow up.

Joanna said...

Aimee, you wrote: "It's a mess, but it's middle grade. Most thirteen year olds are already reading YA." Did you mean this book should be classified as YA? I was assuming it was MG because kids are usually said to read about older protagonists... I never read at the level I was supposed to anyway, so I have trouble figuring out appropriate age ranges.

Dave Fragments said...

She chides her cousins for their dyed-blonde hair and their refusal to speak Spanish in public

This revelation is too late in the query. We need to know that Anna is either Latino or speaks Spanish earlier.

That's a problem with some of your "A" names. They sound so whitebread, so Mayflower, so Caucasian. I think the names have to be obviously Spanish.

Help me understand "Conservation Leadership Institute’s summer camp" as being a camp for girls to learn leadership. Am I missing something? Is there something inherently Spanish or Latino about a "Conservation Leadership" group. I first thought they were treehuggers and environmentalists. Is this me? I haven't been near a camp since I played bagpipes at Freshman Camp in College.

Mame said...

Joanna- email me at aimeestates at yahoo dot com - if that's okay to post here, EE. I'm not sure (I'm not worried about junk mail). I can point you to some really great MG and YA query critique/writers. I do think your book is MG, FWIW. And my personal opinion is that it does help tremendously to get some outside help.

From the way you describe your book in the comments, I'm interested in it. But your new query isn't doing you justice. It reads far too much like a synopsis.

_*rachel*_ said...

It's a bit listy and I don't like the last few sentences, but this is pretty good. I like how specific this new version is.

Eric P. said...

I agree with the above-- you've written a synopsis rather than a query. (On the bright side, it's a good synopsis.) I'd also agree that you need to make it clearer that Anna is Latina, or at least sooner, if that's at all important to the story.

I still don't see how stopping a bully from picking on a small kid would make Anna unpopular except with other bullies.