Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Face-Lift 706

Guess the Plot

Shadow Cats

1. They creep in at night. They poop in her garden. But no one believes Frieda Elsburger; only she can see them. Can she wage a one woman battle against the Shadow Cats? On her pension? Buy this book to find out. Buy six. She needs the money.

2. Shadassa inherits a fortune, but there's a catch: to get it she must spend a year living alone in the family mansion, which just happens to be occupied by vicious territorial creatures known as shadow cats. It's gonna be a rough year for this plucky thirteen-year-old mute orphan.

3. The life of Lawrence Hornsby is ruined when cousin Louise performs a seance to ask Aunt Edna where she buried the gold. Edna's spirit does not show, but the shadowy ghosts of her 27 damn cats rise from the back yard. Can Lawrence get rid of them in time to save his relationship with Naomi?

4. After the poor reception of his latest musical, Elliot Rogers fears bankruptcy. When his rival, Andre Floyd sets up a successful production of ‘Oklahoma!’ featuring only mimes, Elliot is struck by an idea that could save his career. If he can remember how to make something other than a shadow bunny, the world will soon see the premiere of his one-man production of . . . Shadow Cats.

5. Gertrude visits her aunt Hortensia, a.k.a. the crazy cat lady, actually a soul-stealing witch, and knocks over Hortensia's gardening bag. The souls of all the cats Hortensia had used as practice escape. Now the town of Spriggerton will face the wrath of the . . . Shadow Cats.

6. Jennifer wants a cat, and is surprised when her mom tells her they already have two very shy cats. Jennifer's never seen them, but she starts putting cat treats on a plate every night, and in the morning they're gone. Is it possible to love a cat you've never seen? And which cat will be Jennifer's favorite?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

All Shadassa wants is a family, but that is the one thing she does not receive on her thirteenth birthday, [Actually, it's one of many things she does not receive.] when three lawyers visit the orphanage and turn her world upside down. The last of the Faider family, Shadassa is a potential heiress to a large fortune. [Who was the next-to-last of the family, and why didn't they find her a better living arrangement?] The money and the family mansion are hers on one condition – she must stay for a year in the mansion, alone. ["Stay" meaning never leave, or "stay" meaning make it her home? Can she go to the grocery store? The doctor's office?] Not the ideal living style for a mute orphan like Shadassa. However, she has no choice.

Taken from her friends and thrust into the wary, secretive community of a seaside town, the last thing Shadassa needs is more trouble. Too bad it's living in the same house. Dwelling in her basement is a clan of shadow cats, not-so-mythical creatures who thrive in the darkness and consider the mansion their home. In their opinion, Shadassa is trespassing on their territory, and all intruders must pay the price, as she soon learns. The cats' first attack is enough to make Shadassa wish for her old life, but the lawyers left her no way of contacting them, even in an emergency. [Even if she could contact them, you said she had no choice but to live there.]

To make matters worse, Shadassa discovers a riddle about a part of her inheritance she did not know about, a castle hidden on the mansion grounds. Curiosity leads her on the hunt, but someone else is also searching, a man with his own intentions for the secrets guarded by the castle, [How does this man know about the riddle?] and he will let no one get in his way. Between shadow cats, the riddle, and a dangerous adversary, Shadassa has plenty of reasons to falter, but hope keeps her going. There's a chance she might regain her voice.

A middle grade fantasy, Shadow Cats stands at 60,000 words. The manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you.



I have trouble buying that anyone would put these terms in their will, but I'm sure there must be a logical explanation.

If the castle is a small toy or a chess piece, I'd leave the castle out of the query and just say she discovers a riddle that could be the key to regaining her voice . If the castle is an actual castle that is somehow difficult to find even though it's right there on the mansion grounds, did you consider making it a hidden room in the mansion, or a secret passage from the lounge to the conservatory? The mysterious mansion's a fine setting. It's where the shadow cats are. So why walk out and go to a mysterious castle? Whatever's in the castle can just be in the mansion where there's the ever-present danger of a shadow cat assault.

The standard villain in this story would be someone trying to scare Sha-na-na into leaving the mansion because the money then goes to him or his organization. That he's looking for the castle doesn't seem as dangerous. We don't know what happens if he finds it before she does.

A thirteen-year-old girl isn't gonna hang around a house for a year if she's being regularly attacked by creatures that want her gone. The place must stink to high heaven, the furniture must be in shreds, and she probably already has cat scratch fever.

Do shadow cats cast shadows?


Mother (Re)produces. said...

Yeah. I have a plausibility problem with the will; I can't imagine it's legal for a 13yo to live all by herself- no guardians, so it would probably be pretty easy to contest this will, if it requires her to do something illegal, right?

_*rachel*_ said...

Can a minor legally inherit something so big without a trustee? Because, if so, for the next nine years or so my will will have very complicated instructions for my little brother concerning access to my CDs, money, and stuffed dog.

I smell a story without much dialogue.

My main problem with this is that I don't believe it--mostly the inheritance bit, and how in the world a 13-year-old can be allowed to live on her own like that.

On another note, I have a suggestion for the first part of the query: All Shadassa wants for her 13th birthday is a family. All she gets is a long-lost family's money and mansion. And to get that, the will in question stipulates that she must move from the orphanage to the old mansion and live there for a whole year--alone.

Middle grade fantasy? No. It sounds like middle grade Gothic to me.

Anonymous said...

I think the basic premise is interesting, but I worry about a mute protagonist living alone. That could mean pages and pages of no dialogue, and for me, that's a deal breaker.

When does the story take place? IF it's modern day, I can't see the government letting a thirteen year old live alone.

A castle could be hidden on the grounds...provided it is nothing more than a mound. Or is it in ruins, and covered with weeds?

150 said...

I can't suspend my disbelief; if the story is set in some place or time where a thirteen-year-old can be forced to live alone without legal challenge, you'd better say so.

Anonymous said...

What country is this? What century? Castle implies Europe, that's our only clue. Nothing like this could happen in the modern USA, and I'm skeptical that it could happen in modern Europe either. On the other hand, Pippi Longstocking was one of my favorite characters in middle grade, and she was living alone at some young age, too. And the Lemony Snicket orphans are quite independent, though very young.

I think the problem here might be that your tone is off. The query sounds like you think you've laid out a seriously plausible scenario [which comes off as somewhat horrific], but the plot won't work that way. It could work as a fantasy, but there's no indication that you intend it to be a wildly impossible but amusing story of the sort that appeals to kids.

Anonymous said...

No mention of the 80's cartoon?

Blogless Troll said...

The plausibility of the will depends on how it's presented, the tone of the story, etc. I didn't have a problem with that so much as I did trying to visualize what a Shadow Cat is. "Not-so-mythical creatures who thrive in the darkness" isn't doing it for me, especially when it's the title of the book. It's vague and leaves a gaping hole which I've temporarily filled in with a cross between the Thunder Cats and the Top Cat gang. Are they more like cat-people or cat-monsters? Are they fearsome and intelligent? Or could they conceivably be distracted for an entire year with a steady supply of mice and/or yarn?

Dave Fragments said...

I really wanted the story to be GTP #3.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I agree that the issues of legality will become less of a problem if this is presented in a more fantastical light. But I do have one question: how is she to inheret the fortune after a year if she has no way of contacting the lawyers?

Phoenix Sullivan said...

My big "what??" moment came at the end when all of a sudden we learn hope keeps her going, not because of the money and mansion she'll be inheriting, but because she might regain her voice. I had no idea where that came from as a motivation.

Also, easy does it on the stock phrasings. I would find your special way of rephrasing a couple of the following:

"turn her world upside down"

"she has no choice"

"the last thing Shadassa needs"

"must pay the price"

"to make matters worse"

I also question "Taken from her friends" -- Is she going against her will? The query doesn't make it clear whether she wants to go live in the mansion or not.

I do like the line: "Too bad it's living in the same house" a lot.

Marie Simas said...

Please... no more female characters with needlessly complicated/fabricated/ridiculous names.

This story would have to be set in a fantasy land to be even slightly plausible.

Too much junk in the mix! It's an information overload... scary cats, mysterious stranger, scary house, scary castle… too much!

And to top it off, she's a fucking mute. I agree with Rachel. A mute main character is an excuse to skip dialogue; unless you are FUCKING BRILLIANT.

And by fucking brilliant I mean Homer.

And by Homer, I mean Iliad… NOT Simpson.

Adam Heine said...

Maybe it was growing up in the 80's, but I can think of at least 5 cartoons and 1 movie that have used the "protagonists must spend the night/month/year in a haunted mansion if they want to inherit the fortune" plot line.

Hm, also known as the On One Condition trope, apparently.

Adam Heine said...

Forgot to add the nic(er) part of my comment. Just because it's an old trope doesn't mean you can use it (esp. in middle grade, where your audience is likely unfamiliar with it). But in the query, I want to know how your story differs from the old trope.

Adam Heine said...

Ahem. "Doesn't mean you can't use it."

Why doesn't my inner editor pay attention when it matters?

Steve Wright said...

As others have said, the business with the will seems contrived - and then there's that bit at the end about regaining her voice: now that's a real motivator, so can you perhaps stress that, rather than the terms of the will?

Also, you rather lost me with the bit about the hidden castle. Castles are large; you know when you've got one. (Maybe there's some sound explanation in the book, but if there's no room for that explanation in the query, I'd leave the whole thing out.)

Yes, we need more information about the monsters, and the mute protagonist is worrying; still, this sounds like an interesting story to me, which is the main thing.