Friday, May 21, 2010

Face-Lift 772

Guess the Plot

A House Divided

1. Conjoined twins Johnny and Billy have always found it amusing that the Mason-Dixon Line runs smack under the middle of their bedroom. But it isn't so funny the day the fateful news comes from Fort Sumter.

2. The Robertsons' messy divorce gets even messier when their lawyers convince them both to demand the house in the settlement. The situation is at a standstill -- until George buys the Acme M-3600 chainsaw.

3. As the end of the world draws nigh, miracles are on the rise. So when Jesus Reyes’ modest two-story colonial shows the ability to do long division, a skill long lost to the general populace, no one takes notice. How can they, with zombies wreaking havoc on the town?

4. Jeremy Thatchett is in love with his black servant in a world where the South won the Civil War, splitting up Jeremy's family. His two cousins live in the Republic of Texas and the North. And a mad scientist is plotting to destroy the world. Actually, he may have the right idea.

5. Cassi can't get into her own home, because she was turned into a vampire so she can't enter unless someone invites her, but her family is in a huge fight and no one will leave their bedroom and Cassi knows if she doesn't do something her parents will get a divorce, but what can she do if she can't get inside?

6. They've hired the divorce lawyers, they've filed the papers, they've split up their assets. But when Sue and Graham can't sell their house, they decide to do the next best thing - turn it into a duplex. Hilarity ensues.

Original Version

Your Evilness,

Growing up in a 21st-century Confederate States of America, Jeremy Thatchett believes that his only problems lie in his dwindling [deteriorating?] relationship with Alyshea, his colored servant and childhood friend. That is, until his free-wheeling cousin from an estranged Texan branch of the family appears to show him how wrong he is…

My first novel, A House Divided, is a YA alternate history about three cousins whose family was separated when the Confederacy won independence in the American Civil War. When Teresa, from the recently-reformed Republic of Texas, uncovers an out-of-place scientist’s apparent plot to destroy the world, ["Out-of-place" is a good description.] she hops borders and social boundaries to escape her pursuer [Who's pursuing her?] and enlist her cousins’ help.

Her presence forces Jeremy, already uncertain about his dictated place in Southern society, to come face-to-face with the social injustices that threaten [to] consume his beloved Alyshea. [What does Teresa's presence have to do with Jeremy's problem?

Teresa: Help, I'm your estranged cousin, and I'm on the run from a mad scientist who wants to destroy the world.

Jeremy: In that case, I have no choice but to address the social injustices threatening to consume this other woman, Alyshea.]

A civil rights rally gone horribly wrong sets them on the run as well. When they finally arrive in the US, their northern cousin Kyle, a recent high-school graduate already dedicated to his dream of flying in the US air force, must decide where his loyalties lie: with his family, or with the devious Benjamin Acker, an ally of Teresa’s mad scientist, who holds sway over Kyle’s entire future? [Teresa, in the Republic of Texas, uncovers a mad scientist's plot and runs to her cousin in the United States, only to find that his future is tied to the mad scientist's ally? Can you make that sound less like a billion-to-one coincidence?]

The recent success of other YA novels in this genre, [the genre of science fiction thriller/family saga/civil rights novel,] especially Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, inspired me and instilled the confidence that alternate history can work in teen-oriented fiction. Though my novel is less fantastical than his, [it's almost as ridiculous, and] I believe the strong teenage main characters and their struggle to realize themselves in a complicated world will resonate with readers.

A House Divided is complete at 75,000 words. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


Too many characters have been deemed important enough to make it into the query. Jeremy, Alyshea, Teresa, Kyle, Benjamin, the mad scientist. Cut two or three of them. The mad scientist plotting to destroy the world seems out of place in the query (if not the novel).

If a family is separated after the Civil War, and it's now the 21st century, it's hard to believe members of the separated families consider themselves cousins. My cousins are the children of my parents' siblings. Is that the relationship of your cousins? Because it feels like they're related only because they're descendants of the family that separated 150 years earlier.

Unless your Civil War lasted until the 21st century, I'd minimize that aspect of the query. Just say, In a world where the American Civil War was won by the South, and slavery has endured into the 21st century, three cousins . . . This should also guard against readers missing the 21st-century line and thinking the story is set in 1865.

It's not clear whether the main plot is the attempt to prevent the mad scientist from destroying the world, or Jeremy and Alyshea trying to make it in the Confederacy. Even if they're equal plot threads, you might want to focus on one of them in the query, as they don't blend together seamlessly. You also might focus the query on one character. It's easier to make us care about someone if you concentrate on that person.


writtenwyrdd said...

It appears there is so much plot the book sounds like it should be 400k long instead of 75k.

It's my sense that your letter fails you by giving us both too much AND too little in the way of information. There are too many characters and too many issues cited in the query. If your protagonist is the first cousin listed, Jeremy, then stick with his plot and avoid the subplots of the other cousins in your query.

Also, it isn't clear on how the three cousins' problems tie together...which might scare anyone receiving your query into thinking that if you cannot describe your plot, you cannot write a cohesive novel. So maybe cut most of that detail.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I agree with what writtenwyrdd wrote. I also agree with EE that it's hard to understand when this novel takes place because while you mention 21st century in your opening line, once you get into your description, I'm thinking Civil War proper. It took me until "civil rights rally" to stop, go back and reread what you'd written.

Unlike a lot of queries we see here, there is not enough set up for this story. Like EE suggested, "world build" in your opening lines and then ease into the conflict of the *lead* protaganist.

Or you could just write GTP #1. Whoever wrote that, it was hilarious!

M. G. E. said...

Yow, honestly, the plot just isn't working for me. I don't want to imagine a world where the US broke up and slavery still exists in some section of it, and I don't think many other readers would either.

Usually the problem is a protagonist that's offensive or boring, etc. In this case, it's the setting that's offensive.

Even if it was a well-written book I imagine you'd have a hard time even interesting a publisher.

_*rachel*_ said...

I don't have a clue what's going on in this query, except that the concept vaguely interests me. When you rewrite it, try to keep it from sounding like the Turkey City Lexicon's "Kitchen Sink" or "Tabloid Weird." In other words, it's hard to have both post-Civil War and a mad scientist.

I'd be pretty hesitant about comparing this to Leviathan. Leviathan is heavy on the steampunk and light on the alternate history; the impression this query gives is the opposite.

Try focusing on either Alyshea and Jeremy, which is more relevant to the setting, or the mad scientist thing, which sounds like it has more plot.

Evil Editor said...

In other words, it's hard to have both post-Civil War and a mad scientist.

Obviously the TV show The Wild Wild West was before your time. It was post Civil War and another mad scientist villain every few weeks.

_*rachel*_ said...

It was indeed before my time, which leads to the time-honored reply: what worked in the past isn't necessarily publishable today.

On the other hand, Star Trek did the same thing and, cheesy and lame as it could be, was nonetheless epic.

In the end, it comes down to the story. If the two parts work well together in the story, it'll stand. But we all know what happens if they end up being a house divided against itself.

Marissa Doyle said...

If this steampunk, then you're best off saying that up front--it will help the disparate plot elements fall into place a little better. If it isn't...then I don't know. I mistrust the plot because I think slavery would have ended even if the Confederacy had seceded, so your alternate history doesn't ring sufficiently true to make me willing to suspend disbelief. I also agree that it's unclear as to whom the main focus of the story falls--can you clarify that?

Joe G said...

I would generally not listen to M.G.E. I'm not sure how a setting could be offensive. Do you prefer all of your novels to be set in rainbow valleys? Novels are about conflict and the author of the query didn't shy away from introducing some of that into theirs. Were you offended by the bleakness of The Road?

Besides, alternate histories of the U.S. are actually quite popular genres (The Plot Against America is a recent example...), don't see why it couldn't work as YA.

That said I kind of have an idea of what's going on in this query but there is definitely a tone problem... I would take E.E.'s advice and spend less time trying to impress upon us the setting and alternate history gimmick and more time clarifying the plot. Get it out of the way up front and then tell what happens.

Also, you could probably avoid the phrase "mad scientist". Once you say that, we will be able to think of nothing else. I mean, you're envisioning a world where slavery has lasted well into the 21st century when it was already dying out world wide by the time of the civil war, but all we can think of is the mad scientist.

Last, do you really believe that slavery would still exist? That's really, really implausible... I mean, you're doing a pretty major historical rewrite. The world today would look nothing like the real world. Worst of all, it's a little irrelevant to modern audiences to ask them to imagine, "What if we had slaves and fell in love with one?" Easy enough to do in a world you could credibly imagine with slaves; nearly impossible in the modern world.

Sylvia said...

Hmm, interesting to see comments that the slavery aspect is unbelievable. I don't see why that would be.

This is a good intro to modern slavery:
Kevin Bales: How to combat modern slavery | Video on

Matt said...

Modern slavery exists (sweat shops, sex slaves, human trafficking, etc.) so I don't find that implausible.

75k is light for what's been described here. Better than 150k, I suppose.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

This seems like an interesting idea, but I'm confused what kind of book this is. Jeremy is dealing with slavery and civil rights. Teresa is fighting with a mad scientist who wants to destroy the world. Their cousin wants to join the air force. Three different plots, three different characters, three different genres.

You need to bring out the overarching plot that makes the connections between these characters logical and intuitive. If I understand this correctly, I think it's the mad scientist. Focus more on him - exactly what threat does he pose and how are our protagonists going to stop him?

Also, if this is an alternative 21st Century where the south won the war almost 150 years ago, wouldn't Teresa, Jeremy, and Kyle be very distant cousins by now?

Kelsey said...

In your alternate history the South forms a new country called the Confederate States of America, and then later later you reference the northern cousin wanting to join the US air force. Would the northern states still call themselves the *United* States of America if they'd lost the war? This doesn't seem logical.

In the same vein, if this is from the POV of someone who grew up in the CSA, I doubt he would think of the war as the "American Civil War." Civil means "occurring between citizens of the same country," which is not how history would view it in your alternate version.

I believe the South refused to call it the Civil War even in our own history and instead called it "The War between the States," although someone south of the Mason-Dixon line might correct me on that.