Friday, November 13, 2009

Face-Lift 697

Guess the Plot

Ashley Erin Fox

1. Ashley Erin Fox wants revenge for her hideous 1980's moniker, so she and a skin-artist buddy drug her retro-loving parents' wine coolers and tattoo their foreheads with 'ALF' and 'Golden Girl'. Her parents interpret this as a 'warning signal' and call a therapist. Hilarity ensues.

2. Five kids in her kindergarten class were named Ashley (three of them boys). The other six were called Aaron, A-Rawn, Airynne, Eirean, Erinn and Yairhiynnan. Now Ashley Erin Fox's desperate need to determine who she is - once and for all - takes her across seven continents on the ultimate quest for meaning.

3. Eight-year-old twins Ashley and Erin Bingshakle find a fox and name it after themselves, hoping it will make a great pet. But the fox talks them into letting it sleep in their beds and into killing the chickens for its dinner. Can you guess who's in big trouble?

4. Twelve-year-old Ashley Erin Fox is a gifted ballerina. But when she goes to a martial arts summer camp she finds that she also has a natural gift for brutality. In fact, she's a killing machine, and soon finds herself surrounded by gun-wielding agents. She escapes and shaves her head to disguise herself as a boy, but how long can she survive on the lam?

5. When aliens invade, Ashley kidnaps their leader and suborns them into becoming her criminal gang. With their help, she breaks into a nuclear power plant and leaves a three-headed frog by the reactor. Next up: stealing the heir to the Betelgeuse Empire -- he's made of living diamond.

6. Bored with all the Whisky Tango November stuff, PFC Nate Shumberger invents his own phonetic alphabet. But what will happen to military communications, when this catches on among the troops of the Azerbaijan Expeditionary Force?

Original Version

Dear Elektra,

Twelve-year-old Ashley Fox is a gifted ballerina and unbeknownst to her, also a genetically engineered killing machine. Morally opposed [to] the violent legacy her mad-scientist of a father has designed [in store? prepared?] for her, Ashley is ordered to attend a militant martial arts summer camp where she discovers, much to her dismay, her natural gifts for brutality far outshine everyone she encounters [those of her fellow campers].

When a power-hungry bureaucrat murders Ashley’s parents, she finds, further to her horror, that her overwhelming desire is for revenge, [That seems more like a natural reaction than a horrifying one. Plus her previous reaction was "to her dismay," not her horror. I'd drop the phrase.] despite the inherent risk to her sarcastic younger brother, Geoffrey. Their father’s best friend, Major Ross, rescues the mischievous [Not the word I'd use to refer to a killing machine. Has she killed anyone yet?] children as often as he can, but when Ashley pushes their federally funded enemies too far, Major Ross is killed and Geoffrey is captured. Desperate, the young girl returns home, where an agent is waiting for her. Ash beats him senseless and calls the local police, hoping to expose the conspiracy.

Soon Ashley finds herself at the Angel City Police Department, surrounded by gun-wielding agents and officers, all of whom claim to have some legal jurisdiction over the girl. [[Are they pointing their guns at Ashley or at each other?] At a crucial moment in the final standoff, Ashley snatches her bittersweet moment of revenge, and narrowly escapes with Geoffrey. Together they flee to a prestigious martial arts academy, where Ash, with a newly shaven head, successfully forges their applications and registers herself as a boy.

Ashley is not fond of her new abilities, and to her highly logical mind, the will to use violence feels more akin to understanding, rather than power. [Not clear to me what that means.] Ashley feels she has some inkling of what is [was] meant by F. Scott Fitzgerald when he said ‘the measure of a first-rate intellect is its ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time’. She fears she is showing the ominous first-signs of adulthood; self-rationalization and hypocrisy. [This entire paragraph can go. This isn't literary fiction.]

Ashley Erin Fox is an adventure, complete at seventy-three thousand words. The second novel in this series, Trials of Ash, is also complete at one hundred sixteen thousand words, while others linger at various stages of development and abandon.

I have a degree in animation, once sold a few stories to Marvel Comics, and currently work in television and film. If you feel you might be interested, please email

Thank you for all your good work and for your dedication to this profession, God knows it isn’t always as easy as it looks from the outside, but it sure beats shoveling snow. I hope you are warm and happy, wherever you are, and look forward to hearing from you. [This is just something you threw in to amuse the minions, and not part of your query, right?]



The agent/editor is going to assume the book is intended for middle grade as soon as she sees the protagonist is twelve. She'll then wonder if parents want their kids reading about a 12-year-old girl who's a brutal killing machine and beats adults senseless. So tell her who your audience is. If it's adults, it may be a hard sell with such a young protagonist.

It sounds like something that would work well as a graphic novel.

Does Ashley's ballet training come in handy when she goes on one of her killing sprees?

Assuming we all agree a 12-year-old isn't physically capable of what Ashley does, she should either be seventeen, making it more realistic, or seven, making it even more obvious that you don't really expect us to buy it.


Anonymous said...

What EE said. The genre's not obvious so you will need to discuss your audience. The chatty remarks about other books and agent's lives are not helping.

Steve Wright said...

It's a sad thing to admit, but I'm not really up to speed on F. Scott Fitzgerald - which of his books features a twelve-year-old killer ballerina? (Or, in other words; this isn't really the literary comparison you want...)

I have to admit, I heard ominous creaking noises coming from my willing suspension of disbelief at several points during this one - is there any way you can make it sound a bit more, umm, likely? (Or, as EE suggests, a whole lot less likely, if it's meant to be a parody.)

Xiexie said...

I think this works better as a premise for a graphic novel than one for YA or adults just because of the protag's age. If you aged her towards 16-19, especially with what's discussed in the 4th paragraph, this could work even better.

Tweens and kids dealing with "adult" issues or taking "adult" action I think translates more easily when the story involved pushes adults out of the picture or puts them on the fringe. Think series like The Animorphs , Gone by Michael Grant, TV series lie The Tribe , various anime series.

Rose said...

A pre-pubescent ballet dancer seeking revenge for her murdered parents sounds... well... kind of weirdly awesome, actually. Don't know if the author intended it to be "Kill Bill"-esque, but that's just the vibe I get.

Like others, I'm a bit confused about the audience. My first instinct would be to age the character up a bit so the violent angle would be more palatable, since I'm not sure middle-graders would dig that much gore.

Actually, no. My first instinct was, "This would make an awesome comic book." When I read the author's experience with Marvel, I was not surprised.

Marie Simas said...

Hey-- I like this query! I would read this. And yes, it does sound like a comic book, but that's okay-- I loved comics as a kid and I still do now.

I think the query is too long, and introduces too many scenes and people into the mix-- a brother, a major? a lunch lady? Why do all these charcters need to be introduded now?

And I agree that she should be OLDER, puberty, at least. Like maybe 14-15. That would be better-- selling to tweens, teens, and college geeks. Gotta love it.

I like this story idea a LOT.

Adam Heine said...

When I read the first line, I immediately thought River Tam. For me, that's a good thing, provided the rest of the query shows originality.

The sentence about the second novel gave me pause. First, because I've heard multiple agents say to query only one book at a time. Second, because of the phrase "various stages of development and abandon." It makes it sound, on the one hand, like you're selling a whole series and, on the other, like the series is something you keep giving up on.

Keep it simple. Say the story is standalone with series potential. If an agent calls you about representation, you can ask them about the sequels then.

Overall, I think this is a cool idea, but the writing in the query needs a fair amount of tightening. Plus everything everyone else has said too.

Sylvia said...

This query would read better with tightening - actually, I love the GTP version which cuts it right down to the core.

Rescuing her brother makes sense - the reference to sarcastic through me (we went from high drama to light description in one short sentence) and I think you could make that sentence hit a lot harder. I'd jump straight to and then her brother is kidnapped and now she has no choice, without the faff in between.

I definitely agree that the quote adds nothing to the story as we understand it at this point.

The second novel in the series means that you need to make it absolutely clear that this is a standalone story (presuming it is) and I wouldn't mention the wordcount. The unfinished novels should be dropped completely from the query as not directly relevant.

Anonymous said...

EE - I'd like to buy the plush version of your Ashley Erin drawing for all my nieces and nephews for Christmas.

John Carrick said...

WOW! I'd forgotten I sent this to you!! The query has undergone a lot of changes - thanks in no small part to much of the advice I hear repeated here, (echo much?).

Anyhow - Thanks a ton! All the comments are much appreciated.

I do have to point out that comics great Mark Millar may have beaten me to the punch, but it just means I'm on the right track.

Thanks again


jcarrick said...

In terms of audience, I guess you could say it's like The Professional meets Dark Angel in the future, (with a bit of sci-fi / horror Pan's Labyrinth thrown in).

Author said...

It's been a while since you kindly ripped the first draft of my query for this novel, (#697),
and I think I'm ready for another round.

I'm on the fence about the title, so here are the options I'm currently considering...

The Legend of Ashley Fox

Trials of Ash

or simply...

Ashley Erin Fox

[Which you had fun with last time, and I do appreciate your sense of humor].

If you mixed The Professional and Dark Angel in the future, with a bit of sci-fi / horror Pan's Labyrinth thrown in, that would at least deliver the proper audience. It features children in dangerous situations, but is not limited to a young adult audience.

This story is about a child who wants nothing to do with the violent legacy her father has prepared her for, but she will do anything to protect her younger brother from the corrupt power brokers who murdered her parents and now hunt them.

Though still a pre-teen, it's obvious Ashley is unaccountably gifted in both intelligence and physical ability. She wants to become a professional ballerina, but her father, the leading intellect in genetic engineering, has other plans. They fight over his demand that she attend a militant martial arts camp, but when he and her mother are murdered, everyone's plans are thrown out the window.

Ash is on the run, her younger brother in tow. Her father’s rival, National Intelligence Director Stanwood, is behind it all. He wants her father’s latest invention, a wireless computer-to-brain interface; the holy grail of technological evolution. The children have it. Ash doesn’t like using it, but Geoff takes to it like a fish to water.

Stanwood's agents are ruthless in their pursuit of the children. Inevitably, Geoff is caught and Ashley must face her enemies alone. To survive she will have to embrace her violent destiny. She returns home, inviting the showdown. She is ready. She will be victorious or she will be dead, but Geoff will never look at her the same way again.

All observations will be greatly appreciated.

Evil Editor said...

Forget Trials of Ash. The others are okay, as are Daddy's Little Commando and I Wanted to be a Ballerina, but Daddy Made Me a Genetically Enhanced Killing Machine.

Drop the Professional/Dark Angel/Pan references; just put something at the end saying it will appeal to both a YA and adult audience. I'd drop the This story is about... paragraph too.

Matt said...

I like Daddy's Little Commando. I thought "thrown out the window" was a cliche phrase. I'm always reading about how agents hate those.

For me, the query lacked punch, but that might be because I remembered your first one. Don't worry about it unless someone else brings it up.

Sylvia said...

The Legend of Ashley Fox immediately made me wonder what legend and where so I would run with that one. The other two were more straight-forward.

I like this query a lot better although there are some aspects of the original that I miss now. :)

I'm wondering if it is stronger if you drop us into the action more, as follows:

The second para could simply introduce Ashley, deleting the first few words:

Ashley wants nothing to do with the violent legacy her father has prepared her for, but she will do anything to protect her younger brother from the corrupt power brokers who murdered her parents and now hunt them.

Then rearrange the next para to start on She

She's only (age here) but it is already obvious that ...

And if Ashley took her younger brother with him, an active verb would help here

Ash has kidnapped/rescued/grabbed her younger brother and they are on the run.

Also: The last line confuses me a bit as Geoff has the same power and finds it easier to use than Ash. That might be unavoidable but I thought I'd mention it.

Bernita said...

Oh dear, for all its faults I like the first query better.

jcarrick said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that what's really going to stand out is unique style or personality.

The more formal or run of the mill it is, the easier to brush of as unoriginal.

The catch being that the more unique or stylized - the easier to shred as 'out there' or strange. Yet simultaneously appealing to the fans of the genre being condensed.

If I'm miss-interpreting this please point out the flaw in my logic.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I think this is a better summary, but I would cut the first two paragraphs altogether.

Cut "The children have it" and "To survive, she must embrace her violent destiny." They're a little over-explainy.

I would also cut "it's obvious" and "inevitably." They aren't necessary and besides which, I just don't think it's a good idea to ever describe your plot as obvious and inevitable, even if you mean it in another context. It sets up the wrong connotations.

Presumably Geoff is also genetically engineered which is why he can use the computer brain thingie? Perhaps a sentence more about him and what he brings to the story.

Don't forget to include the word count and genre. And I think the best title came from Steve Wright's comment at the top of the page: "Twelve Year Old Killer Ballerina".

_*rachel*_ said...

Take one of these titles; they're fun.

Daddy's Little Commando

I Wanted to be a Ballerina, but Daddy Made Me a Genetically Enhanced Killing Machine

Twelve Year Old Killer Ballerina

My favorite is Daddy's Little Commando.

I'm with Bernita; the first query was more interesting. It had some faults, but it also had a lot more flavor.

Dave Fragments said...

I would try something more like what is below. the first two paragraphs of the new version are off-putting. There are aspects of Pan's Labyrinth that are off-putting and I don't know diddley about the other stuff you mentioned. IF you hit a prospective agent who doesn't know those books, you are wasting words.
Remember, this is Ashley's story. Your success with a reader is in making Ashley sympathetic and likable.

Though still a pre-teen, Ashley is both intelligence and physically able beyond her years. She is her father's invention and she wants to be a ballerina. Her father, a genetic engineer, insists she fulfill his dream of becoming a military weapon. When her father and mother are murdered, Ash goes on the run with her brother Goeff.

Her father’s rival, National Intelligence Director Stanwood, is behind it all. He wants the wireless computer-to-brain interface that Ash and Goeff have embedded in their minds. Ashley doesn’t like using it, but Geoff takes to it like a fish to water.

Stanwood's agents are ruthless in their pursuit. Inevitably, Geoff is caught and Ashley must return to free him. In order to win, she must embrace her violent destiny. Her life will never be the same again.

I'm not entirely satisfied with suggesting that because I think there are more significant consequences to having a computer/mind interface than just being a weapon. Presumably such an interface could gain access to any network and let the person mess around with banks, traffic lights, stock exchanges, electricity transmission lines.

I mean, why bother train that person as a soldier when they can bankrupt a nation from a distance? OR make its elevators stop, put CSPAN on every cable channel, or mess with twitter and all electronic communication?

I'm thinking of a non-descript man or woman just getting near a terminal at an airport, coffee shop or ATM and causing havoc. Then walking away and blending into the background.

jcarrick said...

That's really rather brilliant Dave, only I've limited the power a bit more than that, but that potential is definitely there. Being children, they really aren't that interested, and it also requires a hand held amplifier. The idea being that many future citizens are actually hardwired to networks, while this device requires no physical intrusion - it's wireless. However, a nice stiff password can still keep your bank account safe.

jcarrick said...

Thanks again to everyone - I'll keep at it, while trying not to dominate your blog w/ my pleas for help.

Bee Magic Chronicles for Kids said...

The second query doesn't really show that Ashley was engineered by her father. 'Violent legacy' could simply be a plan her father has.

I got confused about Geoff so I think something needs to be added to explain about him. Is he like Ashley?

Your story reminds me in part of the engineered ballerina/gymnyst/killer replicant in the movie Blade Runner.