Friday, April 02, 2010

Face-Lift 749

Guess the Plot

Mana Engine

1. The sorry tale of the greatest invention never sold. How could Mycroft have predicted that his brilliant Mana Engine would be torpedoed by both a simple spelling error and the unforeseen dearth of heavenly fuel?

2. When Jehovah starts supplying a miraculous food each morning, curiosity leads Abiri to stay up all night and watch for the heavenly food to form upon the ground. What he discovers is a machine from beyond the stars, which drops the substance while the Israelites sleep. Will Abiri keep mum, or reveal knowledge that will alter the spiritual future of the planet?

3. As Paula is demonstrating her new invention, the Mana Engine, for the government, it explodes. General Tecumseh Cooley immediately realizes that while, as an engine the machine sucks, as a bomb it's not bad. He must have it. So he threatens to kill Paula's family members one by one unless she builds him another . . . Mana Engine.

4. It's more than an engine; it's a perpetual motion machine that will eliminate the need for gasoline. But Ulysses Bradley, who invented the Mana engine, won't get it to market if OPEC and Exxon have anything to say about it. You think you're doing something great, and suddenly you're a target for the richest people in the world. Sheesh.

5. You're probably familiar with the children's counting rhyme, "Engine, engine, number nine." Now learn the true story of how this locomotive on the Missouri and Northern Arkansas line derailed in 1906, killing forty seven people and injuring countless others.

6. Every video game designer builds in a hidden "god mode" so they can roam untouchable through their virtual world. But when the AI behind Rafe's online RPG unexpectedly achieves sentience, he's going to wish he made himself a little more indestructible.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor

I'm seeking representation for Mana Engine, an 85,000 word fantasy suspence [suspense] novel, written with liberal, female readers in mind. [Everything on this blog is written with liberal female readers in mind.]

After Paula’s mana engine explodes during a live demonstration, the government bans her research, and she is left with a disfiguring blue scar that will eventually kill her. [Scars form when wounds heal. They're not life-threatening until one of your relatives can't stand looking at it anymore and kills you.]

She seeks refuge with a rogue general, Tecumseh Cooley, in the distant Frontedge, on a base [She's in the Frontedge which is on a base? What is the Frontedge? By "distant," do you mean on a distant planet or 50 kilometers away?] meant to keep the local fire-elf tribes in check. In exchange for medical treatment and generous pay, she agrees to rebuild her engine in his lab.

She soon discovers that Cooley wants her engine design because he sees its potential as a weapon of mass destruction, not as an engine. [Especially if she can figure out how to make it explode again.] She abandons the project and flees the base, only to be dragged back and shown a list of her friends and family. These, Cooley tells her, will die one by one until she finishes designing his bomb. [Even if she starts working on it again, they'll die one-by-one until she's finished? Does she get to choose the order in which the people on the list die?] [Actually, that would make for an interesting situation. Imagine some villain handed you a sheet of paper with a list of people on it and he said they were going to die, one every day, until you finished your novel, and you knew it was going to take two days to finish, and the list included your spouse and your kid brother and your best friend and Evil Editor. Who would you save besides Evil Editor?]

But if she finishes the bomb, he’ll use it to racially cleanse the fire elves. Now she must decide whose lives are more valuable. [Between fire elves and people? Come on.] [Oh wait, I was thinking of fire ants.]

I never submit work to multiple agents simultaneously. [At this point in your relationship, your submission policies are not of interest to the agent.] I've included a SASE.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Why hasn't the general racially cleansed the fire elves already? He doesn't have any other weapons at his disposal that are as effective as the mana engine, even though it isn't even designed to be a weapon?

Are Paula's friends and family anywhere near the distant Frontedge?

Are we on Earth? What's a fire elf, and why are they being kept in check? What is the mana engine supposed to do?

It sounds like science fiction. Is there magic? Is it the fire elves that make it fantasy?

I don't see the point of saying this was written with liberal female readers in mind unless you're going to make it clear why liberal female readers would enjoy it more than others.


Jude said...

Lol great critique.

Note: I never comment on multiple agent blogs.

Amy said...

This query is not drawing me in, I think because I am envisioning most of the story as taking place in the lab, where this evil rogue general is forcing her to do this work and threatening to kill her friends, and it sounds depressing. The query is villain driven--here's all the awful things that happen to the protagonist, but I'm not seeing any action from the protagonist (except her running away and being dragged back, and being forced to make an awful decision). I feel like I know the villain better than the protagonist. Can you make the query more balanced so I get a better sense of the protagonist and the things she does to oppose this villain?

I'd also like a better idea of the setting. As EE comments--is this earth? This could be urban fantasy or secondary-world fantasy; the text of the query doesn't make it clear. A little background on the fire elves wouldn't hurt, so I know whether or not I should care about them being racially cleansed.

I know it's an impossible task to fit everything into a query and not make it overlong, but I think more emphasis on the setting and the protagonist would be helpful.

By the way, you absolutely should submit to agents simultaneously--especially considering that quite a bit of them don't respond to queries at all if they're not going to request material, so you could wind up waiting ages for a reply that's never going to come.

Dave Fragments said...

Everything internet in my house went goofy this afternoon. I tried to post this even the cable company didn't know what end was up.

My comments: When J Robert Oppenheimer saw the first nuclear blast at Almagordo NM, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita:
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

Does this sound familiar? A scientist invents a weapon of mass destruction that works beyond his/her imagination? It's the basic plot of your story. When the story of the A-bomb is told, it is always told by Oppenheimer and the other people involved. The bomb itself is always in the background.

So this is Paula's story.
-- While attempting to create a device that feeds the people, Paula discovers a weapon that kills on a massive scale. Afraid of the device being used as a weapon, Paula flees to the frontier but even there, her protectors want the device as a weapon and kidnap her family to force her to build it...

And what Paula does next is the story. Does she build the device and if she does, is it used to kill? Does she save her family?

Tom Bridgeland said...

I am interested in why you want to limit your target audience to women. And only liberal women at that. This sounds similar to a lot of fantasy and SF stories I have read and enjoyed, and I am neither female nor particularly liberal.

Some genres are gender limited, but fantasy and SF are not, even if the protagonist is female.

Bartholomew Klick said...

I've got several problems.

The first is that my story is really a suspense novel in a fantasy setting. Do I call it suspense or fantasy?

The second is that I've actually got a three book series, and I'm not sure how to query it.

The overall plot of the series is tied very closely to the fantasy elements of the world, but the plot of the first book is only somewhat tied to it.

I think I'll leave target audience out, this time. It seems to be making everyone scratch their heads.

With this in mind, I present a revision, where I attempt to show both plots, and actually bother to tell the agent what I am selling.

Dear Agent,

Mana Engine is an 85,000 word suspense, set in a fantasy world. It is the first of a trilogy, following Paula, an engineer who has accidentally discovered a way to turn mana, the substance that powers elven magic, into a weapon of mass destruction.

Paula dove on the mana-chamber of her latest invention, knowing that either she, or the vast audience behind her would die.

She saves the crowd, but is left with a fatal dose of mana-poisoning, and her failed demonstration causes congress to ban her line of research.

Her master’s degree in mana-engineering now useless, Paula accepts a job offer from rogue general Tecumseh Cooley, whose base in the distant Frontedge keeps the local fire-elf tribes in check. In exchange for medical treatment and generous pay, she agrees to build weapons for him.

She had no idea that her mana-bomb design would carry more destructive force than a thousand nuclear bombs, or that the poison cloud left in its destructive wake would leave the eco-system intact.

Not wanting to give Cooley a means to commit mass-genocide, she removes a critical component to her bomb's schematic.

When Paula refuses to make the bomb work, Cooley shows her a list of her friends and family, where they live, and what they do all day. She will make the bomb, he tells her, or else he will choose a name from the list.

Neither of them realize that the mana they've been stockpiling is opening a portal to hell.

I've included a SASE for your reply. The manuscript is available in any portion or format you'd like.

Thank you for your time and consideration


Adam Heine said...

Judith's comment wins funniest comment of the day award.

Author, don't offer an exclusive unless the agent asks for it. It doesn't add the value you think it does (more info here and here).

Tom Bridgeland said...

I hope my post above didn't come across as too snippy. I apologize. Maybe EE could see his (her?) way to deleting it and I'll find a more polite way to ask my question.

I read a lot of SF and Fantasy and this one sounds like it has promise. I'd probably pick it off the shelf and look it over on the title alone.

Evil Editor said...

Doesn't sound snippy to me. If you decide you want it deleted, click on the trash can.

Adam Heine said...

Bartholomew, both queries seem to be very definitely fantasy. To me, anyway. When I think of "suspense" I think of mainstream thrillers like Dean Koontz and James Patterson. I don't see magical fire-elves fitting on the shelf next to those, but maybe that's just me.

Tom Bridgeland said...

Thanks EE. This is your blog and I am a visitor. I want to be a welcome visitor. One thing I like here is the attitude of the participants.

_*rachel*_ said...

How much you want to bet she explodes it at the end, killing the general and (maybe) herself?

I'm guessing the blue scar isn't so much the problem as radiation or poisoning or whatever, which will be the actual cause of death. Is it lodged in the scar?

The problem here is that there are enough world-building details to make it confusing, and not enough to tell us what sort of world it actually is. To me, it has the look of The Kitchen Sink meets The Tabloid Weird.

1. I'd call it fantasy.
2. Say it has the potential to become a series.

Evil Editor said...

She throws herself on the thing and it explodes, and it has the force of a thousand nuclear bombs, and she gets a scar?

Heather M said...

I liked Dave F's suggestion.

BTW, in your new query, the sentence that starts "Paula dove on the mana chamber" is understandable to me only because I read your old query. Ergo, not understandable to your potential agent.

I think, like Dave said, not so much backstory. (Even if it's the first half of your book.)

Since her line of research was banned, Paula has been working for a rogue general, but when she discovers she's accidentally invented the perfect weapon for genocide--a mass killer that leaves the environment intact--she sabotages her own design. The general threatens to kill her family unless she makes it work so that he can kill off the _____ fire-elf tribes who surround his frontier army base.

(The ______ is in there so you can tell us in a word or two why we don't want the fire elves killed. Other than being theoretically opposed to genocide. Maybe they're nice. Maybe they're mean. As long as they're interesting, we won't want them killed.)

Then she does something. I'm almost certain she does something, because you seem like a decent writer, and she's already done one thing. Tell us what she does.

If the portal to hell opens and *then* she does something, tell us that. Don't tell us about the portal to hell unless you tell at least one thing she does, or is going to have to attempt, after that. Cliff-hangers are for book jacket copy. Here you just have to prove to us you have a plot.

(I do think the fact that the engine uses mana, which the fire-elves also use for their magic, is worthy of mention; but I think it should come later in the synopsis, because I'm almost sure that whatever actually happens (that stuff you're going to tell us) in the climax of the book is somehow connected to it. Because, like I said, you seem like a decent writer.)

Good luck!

Joe G said...

She can't die at the end because it's supposed to be a trilogy.

I think you could do with less setup and more story. This is really rough, but here:

Mana Engine is an 85,000 word fantasy novel about Paula (Paula who?), an engineer who has discovered a way to turn mana, the substance that powers elven magic, into an unlimited food supply. But mana is a highly dangerous substance, as Paula discovers when she contracts a dangerous disease during a mishap where the Mana engine explodes with terrific force. Relieved of her license to study mana by the government and desperate for support, Paula is forced to accept a job offer from General Tecumseh Cooley (general of what?), whose base in the distant Frontedge (the what?) keeps the local fire-elf tribes in check (is this his job? Are the fire-elves dangerous?). In exchange for medical treatment she desperately needs--and a generous paycheck (this detail gives her a little bit of an edge) she agrees to illegally build (mana weapons? isn't mana her area of expertise?) weapons for him.

But Cooley has bigger plans for Paula's inventions. Cooley seeks to destroy the fire-elves once and for all and put himself out of a job, and tries to manipulate Paula into building the mana bomb, which has the force of 1,000 atomic bombs. He will get it at any cost, whether or not he has to threaten her, or her family and friends, or her little dog too.

Neither of them realize that all of the mana they've been stockpiling is opening a portal to hell.*

*This confuses me. Do you mean this literally? If you do, this sounds like it's where the plot starts. Is the whole book just setup for this? I mean, it's fine for a novel to be setup for a much bigger story, but it should still have a dramatic structure that makes it a satisfying read, and you should allude to what that is.

I'm just saying the heroine's capture by the villain, having her loved ones threatened... this is pretty routine stuff. What else happens in the story?

Looking back, I think Dave pretty much said everything I wanted to say, only he was much more succinct :P

ril said...

To be fair, I quite like to limit my audience to liberal females, too.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Most fiction contains elements of suspense. If this novel is in a fantasy setting, then you query literary agents who rep fantasy.

I like the direction your revised query is going. I agree with the above comment on the portal to hell--it just popped up out of nowhere.

Also the line about diving on the chamber is awkwardly written and in essence says that *because* she dove on the chamber either she or the audience behind her would be killed. I had to read it three times to realize what you really meant.

and what they do all day. - awkward. Either rephrase or delete. If you say "he's had operatives watching all of her friends and family and will kill them one by one" that he knows who they are and where he can get to them.

batgirl said...

This sounds like alternative-history or steampunk to me. I'd say go with steampunk, since that's pretty hot, not only as genre but as fashion.
Oh, look at me, talking as if I know something! But, really, my agent did tell me steampunk is big, and YA steampunk is popular. Take that for whatever you think it's worth.