Monday, April 26, 2010

Face-Lift 760

Guess the Plot

Nothing Is What It Seems

1. . . . including this book. Nestled inside the cut-out pages is a Colt .45, two seven-round magazines and a roll of hundred dollar bills. I'm Ben Darkley, literary private eye, and I know how to handle overly aggressive wannabe writers.

2. When Debbie Ryman starts work on a new account, she doesn't know her world is about to turn upside down. Turns out her client is a secret society out to conquer the world, her new husband is a CIA agent working to stop them, and her mother-in-law is a demonic, soul-sucking hell-beast. (Well, technically, that last one is exactly what it seems.)

3. First Maya goes to her husband's funeral, but there's no body in the casket. Then her new boyfriend turns out to be a rogue FBI agent hunting her "dead" husband, whose name "just happens" to be an anagram of Evil Satan. It's all par for the course in a town where . . . Nothing is what it seems.

4. Millie thought she was buying a book. What she was buying was a brain washing program designed by the shadowy organization that secretly controls every government in the world. Fortunately, she's a conspiracy theorist.

5. Down is up! Cats are dogs! Mice are toasters! Exclamation points are question marks! Can Emilio escape from this Bizarro world with his priceless violin intact, or will he be trapped forever as a sousaphonist?

6. Pigs flying on dragons and lipstick tubes offering cosmetic advice and that's not all Dannie encounters after falling through a manhole cover in New York City. If only she can get out before Man Croc, ruler of the underground cesspool, forces her to become his bride.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

An empty casket funeral entwines the lives of a relieved widow, a grieving child, a rogue FBI agent, and a badass loan shark with a penchant for shooting people. [Shooting people who owe you money is counterproductive.] In the small Texan town of Hill’s Creek, everyone has secrets . . . but some secrets are worth killing for. [Or so it seems. But nothing is what it seems.]

Bent on avenging his sister’s death, Agent Jonah White is on a vigilante quest to track down Eli Savant, con artist-turned-killer, and the fifty thousand dollars he allegedly stole. Instead, Eli’s widow, and possible accomplice, tumbles into Jonah’s arms, and right into his heart. [Or so it seems. But nothing is what it seems.] One look in Maya’s eyes and one impish smile from her 5-year-old daughter, Lily, and a smitten Jonah is willing to do anything to gain her trust. Their budding romance, and Jonah’s secret investigation, is threatened however when a dead body implicates him in murder and an old acquaintance warns Maya of impending danger. [Move the two commas in that sentence so that they surround "however." And change "is" to "are."] When Eli resurfaces, very much alive, everything spirals out of control: Jonah’s lies are exposed, Lily is abducted and Maya loses faith. To win back Maya’s love and save Lily from certain death, Jonah must trust Eli, the one man responsible for everything. In the end, it all comes down to who you trust because nothing is what it seems. [That's what I was gonna say.] One will die, and one will save the day. But who will win back Maya’s love? [My money's on the one who saves the day.]

NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS (79,000 words) is a completed work of romantic suspense. Thank you for considering my book for representation.



I'm pretty sure that something is what it seems.

I don't think we need the loan shark in the first sentence.

How long has Eli been missing when they decide to have his funeral? Usually when there's no body they assume the guy ran off to Vegas with his mistress.

How can you claim Jonah is "willing to do anything to gain her trust" when he doesn't even tell her who he is?

There seem to be a lot of absolutes here. Everyone has secrets. Jonah is willing to do anything. Everything spirals out of control. Certain death. The one man responsible for everything. Nothing is what it seems. Aren't there any gray areas in this town?

Paragraphing would be nice in the long plot section. A new paragraph in the first two places I put blue words. Also, I think I'd drop the last two sentences of the plot.


Matt said...

When I saw Hill's Creek and then saw the name Jonah I pictured your MC as Jonah Hill. I had trouble taking the query seriously from then on.

I'm not joking here. I pictured him awkwardly shuffling his feet and mumbling as he tried explain why there was no body in the casket.

Of course, with Jonah Hill present I automatically envisioned Michael Cera as Eli Savant. And the name Eli Savant has it's own problems because it reminds me of idiot savant so now I see Michael Cera trying to pull off an academy award winning role as a genius with mental disability.

So...maybe you should leave out the name of the town?

Anonymous said...

...That the vengeful rogue cop falls in love with the impish smile of a five-year old makes me think the cop should go on some kind of state sponsored paedo quashing program.

vkw said...

I would leave off the loan shark.

You may want to consider -

Small towns have a penchant for breeding secrets but in Hill Creek some secrets are worth killing for.


The lives of a relieved widow, a grieving child and a rogue FBI agent become desperately entwined over the casket of man who isn't dead as secrets unfold in the novel Nothing Is What It Seems.

or something like that

I think you have two tag lines here - is my point.

I agree this sounds wrong. . "One look in Maya’s eyes and one impish smile from her 5-year-old daughter, Lily, and a smitten Jonah is willing to do anything to gain her trust."

Jonah's determination/plot/strategy/hunt/sinister roguish idealism/whatever he is doin is shaken when he sees Maya for the first time and falls hoplessly in love.

would work just as well without making Jonah sound like we need to keep our kids away from him and solve the "willing to do anything to gain her trust" problem.

just a few worthless pieces of copper.

Tom Bridgeland said...

Jonah falls in love with Maya, who may be a con-artist-turned-murderess. Hmm. I hope it takes more than one page in the book for this to occur.

Joe G said...

I don't really have anything to add to the critique except that you could sharpen up the writing a bit, but I think you do have a naming problem. I can picture the sequels now...

"He Dies At the End"

"Suburban Families Have Problems Too"

"War is Unpleasant"

"The Murderer Isn't One of the Guests, It's One of the Crewmembers"

"They All Live in a Snowglobe"

"It's Hard To Be a Middle-class White Male"

"Two People Fall In Love: Complications Ensue"

"Young People Do Drugs and Have Sex"

"People Get Chased, Shot At"

"Sometimes People of Different Races Get Along Poorly"

and who could forget

"Her Mother Who Disapproved Of Their Relationship Was Keeping the Letters Her True Love Who Was Away Fighting The Great War Had Sent Her a Secret, and The Heroine Almost Married The Wrong Man, But Luckily, She Found Out Just In Time"

Anonymous said...

Hi Author,
I did a quick version.

The memorial service puts an odd assortment of people together wondering what happened to the corpse. The lives of the relieved widow, her grieving child and the rogue FBI agent entwine as secrets are found out in Hill's Creek, Texas.

Agent Jonah White wants to track down Eli Savant, con artist-turned-killer, and the fifty thousand dollars he stole. Maya, Eli’s widow, tumbles into Jonah's heart making it tough for him to decide if she is on the level or an accomplice.

Their budding romance and Jonah’s investigation are threatened when he's implicated in a murder. Maya gets a strange warning from an acquaintance that doesn't make any sense to her. Eli surfaces, alive, and events spiral out of control: Jonah’s hidden agenda is exposed and Maya's five year old is abducted.

To win Maya’s love and find Lily Jonah is forced to trust Eli, the man responsible for everything. Nothing is what it seems in Hill's Creek.

I'm not wild about the names either.

PS I think I get the worst query letter of the world award - so use at your own risk.


Elizabeth Janette said...

Hi...Author here. Thanks for all the comments. You complaints about my title and character names are duly noted. My title sucks but I'm at a loss for anything else. Any suggestions? I'll revise my query letter to make Jonah seem less creepy. Thanks again!

Evil Editor said...

Hill's Creek Blues

Eli's Comin'

Empty Casket

_*rachel*_ said...

Maybe Empty Casket would work.

This is a hard one for me to critique. It feels a bit overdramatic at times, like it's meant to be read aloud by someone with a deep, foreboding voice. Could you soften that a bit, maybe by cutting the absolutes and making things more specific. What exactly is the impending danger, anyway?

Joe G said...

I think I was a bit snarky when I meant to be funny, I'm sorry about that!

Umm, I think just "Hill's Creek" would be a fine title. You might want to avoid titles that thematically state things like, "My book, Nothing Is What It Seems, is a mystery wherein nothing is..." etc. unless your title phrasing is a little more poetical.

Like... "'Salem's Lot" isn't called "Town Full of Vampires", or "Scary Town", it's called "'Salem's Lot".

Although I wouldn't put it past Stephen King to write a book called "Scary Town".

"The Empty Casket" has sort of a 50s noir feel about it, which is cool but maybe the wrong impression.

Also that first sentence throws me for a loop. I forgot to mention this. You say "Empty casket funeral" as if that's a thing (is it?). Use your powers of narration to tell us how so and so goes to a funeral but there's NO BODY IN THE CASKET!!! It's a hook.

I think you could focus more on the mystery/plot and less on who will win Maya's love. You say at one point that Maya is possibly untrustworthy but the rest of the query establishes that she's trustworthy. If Eli kidnaps the little girl, clearly he won't be winning Maya's love. I'm going to go out on a limb like EE and assume the hero lives to the end, so he probably wins Maya's love. You probably don't need to set up questions that answer themselves in the query. Just be straightforward about what happens. You actually did a good job of being fairly straightforward the first time, it's just a matter of what details you pick to include.

$50,000 isn't really THAT much money...

Last, there's not much mystery in a story where a guy is supposed to be dead but when they look in the casket, there's no body. He's alive, everybody knows it, that's why Jonah comes to town.

Elizabeth Janette said...

Hi Joe,
Here's the issue. The casket is empty because the body was cremated but it is a case of mistaken identity. ID with the wrong body kind of deal, hence why no one knows Eli is alive until midway through the book. The loan shark is the cause of the threats against Maya. Lily is kidnapped by Eli's loan shark who is hoping the ransom will be paid. Hope that clears up some of the storyline issues.

GutterBall said...

"Two People Fall In Love: Complications Ensue"

Joe G, would you be terribly upset if I stole this title? I'm seriously. I could make it work.


It's like that line in the second Pirates movie where Cap' Jack says, "Complications arose, ensued, were overcome."

Stephen Prosapio said...

I didn't get the Jonah Hill reference, but I did get a bit caught up on the idiot savant. Way too close of a name unless you're going for that.

Joe G said...

Go for it, Gutterball. I'd read that book :P I'm hoping Stephen King writes "Scary Town".

Enew, that makes SO much more sense. That isn't clear from the query at all.

Aren't bodies usually displayed and then cremated?

Honestly, I would leave out the open casket entirely... it's just bogging down the query. Say "Jonah arrives in town to investigate the apparent death of Eli so and so," and then you get to the falling in love with the widow and child, she's menaced by a loan shark who Eli owes money to, it turns out Eli is really still alive, both Jonah and Eli vie for her hand in amore, the kid gets kidnapped, one will live, the other will die.

Although that last bit is a little soap opera-ish.

I wouldn't worry about people making the association with Jonah Hill... he's not that big a celebrity.

batgirl said...

Excuse me, I just have to fangirl Joe G for that first post. I think he's just posted the NYT Bestsellers list for the last several years. Now I don't have to read any of them!