Monday, May 31, 2010

Face-Lift 777

Guess the Plot

Alamandine's Song

1. Alamandine has a beautiful soft voice. Unfortunately, the opera house only accepts singers who can be heard by those in back of the upper balconies. Can a creepy mask-wearing stalker teach her to scream loud enough to be heard?

2. When promising three-year-old filly Alamandine's Song disappears from her stall at Santa Anita, detective Zack Martinez knows two things: the filly didn't shoot the guard and drive herself away, and he'd better pick up some almond milk for his wife's new diet.

3. Alamandine is mute from birth, and also possesses a perfect ear for music. When a wandering mystic offers her the chance to finally sing, what price will she be willing to pay?

4. World cup fever has swept the world (except the US) and Brazilian playboy and superstar Alamandine is wild on and off the field. But the night before the big final he is visited by an angel who tells him he must mend his sinful ways and give up soccer to become a choir singer.

5. Alamandine never really could sing; she's mute. But one day she notices a song she's been composing at the back of her mind being played and sung, and realizes that the voice is her voice and the guitar is that of a handsome street performer. You can guess the rest.

6. Alamandine has nothing more important to worry about than what to wear to her tenth high school reunion--until she learns that her father was murdered, and goes on a quest to find his killer, armed with a sword forged by a dragon. When her quest is complete, her brother performs a song about it.

Original Version

I am seeking a publisher for a finished 92,000 word Urban Fantasy manuscript called Alamandine's Song. It is a story about a woman caught in the middle of Faery politics, and her learning that growing up doesn't stop at eighteen. [Boil this paragraph down to: Alamandine's Song is a 92,000-word Urban Fantasy about a woman caught up in the tangled web of Faery politics. And move it to the end of the query.]

At twenty seven, Alamandine “Mandi” Croach doesn't know a lot of things. She doesn't know that her mother is alive, that she has a younger brother, that her father's drowning was a murder, [I'm starting to think it would be faster to list what she does know.] or that she is in line for the Star Court's crown. She is about to find out, and with love and life on the line, she learns what being a Faery Princess really means. [Boil this paragraph down to: At twenty seven, Alamandine “Mandi” Croach doesn't know that she has a younger brother, that her father's drowning was a murder, or that she is in line for the Star Court's crown. She is about to get a crash course in what it means to be a Faery Princess.]

From her high school reunion to the fields of Faelyn, Mandi has to face her own demons as well as more than a few beings that are trying to kill her. [Not clear whether the beings who want to kill her are monsters or Fae or women at her reunion who've put on more weight than she has.] [That sentence can go somewhere else or away. It doesn't lead into the next one.] With help from her fairy guard, and armed with a blade forged for her by a dragon, she goes on a quest to find out who murdered her father. [If more than a few beings were trying to kill me, I think I'd put off finding out who killed my father for a while.] [Finding a murderer sounds more like an investigation than a quest with a sword. Quests are for epic fantasies.] When it becomes clear that her half-brother's kidnapping and her father's murder are connected, she decides that in the tangled web of politics that she finds herself in, having the prince might give her some leverage. [Not clear whether the prince is the brother she didn't know she had or the half-brother who was kidnapped.] [Also not clear whether "having the prince" means having him on her side or having him as a prisoner.] [Also not clear against whom she wants leverage. When you have a sword forged by a dragon, do you really need any more leverage?] [Get rid of "in the tangled web of politics that she finds herself in,"]

Adding to the action is a complicated love story, pitting Mandi's long time infatuation with her gorgeous, but distant, fairy guard against a new flame. Can Mandi trust her heart to someone she has known practically all her life, when she learns that he has been keeping secrets? [Is the fact that he's her fairy guard one of the secrets? Did she know he was her guard, in which case, what did she think he was guarding her against, or did she think he was this handsome guy who's been stalking her for twenty-five years?] Is the chance at love worth putting an innocent man in danger by getting him involved in politics he can know nothing about?

Thank you for your consideration.

Note from author (not part of query): The title comes from the faery tradition of having a person's story told by singing it. At the end of the book, her brother sings her song for the Court.


I see that we have Faery politics and Faery Princess. If this is the world of the Fae, isn't it spelled Faerie? And what about the fairy guard? Is the guard Fae? Or just a fairy?

It's not clear whether Mandi has always known she's Fae but didn't know what happened to her family, or whether she believes she's a normal human until she's twenty-seven. If the latter, it seems like if a guy you've known forever shows up one day and says, "Guess what, I'm your fairy guard, here's a sword forged for you by a dragon, let's go on a quest," that you would not take him seriously.

Either eliminate the high school reunion and the new flame, making this all about the quest, or give us a little more about the life Mandi is leaving behind.

Political intrigue, assassins, a murder investigation, seem like they belong in urban fantasy; fighting off beings with a sword forged by a dragon seems like it belongs in a different genre.

Mandi seeks her father's killer. Someone doesn't want her to find him. Focus on that. What's at stake? What happens if she succeeds, and what happens if she fails?


J.M. said...

I only recently found this blog and I've been reading through old posts. I can't get over how many Urban Fantasy novels center on some plain Jane who finds out that she's actually a supernatural being who must rush off to save her world/avenge a family member/ally with elves, dragons, faeries, trolls/decide whether to fall in love with a Mysterious Dark Man who claims to be helping her.

I don't know whether these are conventions or cliches, but I'll say this: if you want me to read Mandi's story, it will have to transcend those Cs in some way that is not evident in this query.

In other words, having read about a hundred Face Lifts (make that a hundred novels if I were a fan of this genre), I'd like a show of hands of people who *aren't* royal-supernaturals-without-knowing-it. Out of this vast population of unaware princesses, why should I care about Mandi?

Wood Words said...

I agree, lose the high school reunion ASAP. The dragon sword is a strange addition for an urban fantasy, as well. I would concentrate on the quest aspect of the plot, finding the bad guys and saving the brother, while avoiding her own murder. Being absolutely clear about the central conflict is a must. Also, that whole indecision between love interests is too vague for a query. Who exactly is the innocent man and where is he in the conflict/plot line?

I'm wondering how popular the urban fantasy genre is amongst editors. Do you roll your eyes and sigh heavily when you get queries? I've read many of the books and they are all starting to look the same to me.

Evil Editor said...

Urban fantasy is a hot genre, but it usually stars a kick-ass heroine with a lot of attitude who must deal with the paranormal (either because she IS paranormal, or has a job like detective, exorcist, bounty hunter) in an urban environment.

This query hasn't made it clear that the book is urban fantasy. Often the chosen one questing to save the world appears in epic fantasy/high fantasy.

LSimon said...

I'm actually going to be brave enough to step up and claim this.

@ arhooley- actually I think that this is far more a convention of YA fantasy, and really this story (IMHO ha ha) is turning that coming of age drama on its head, after all- how many 14 year olds actually get to "come of age" in real life? Nope, usually happens (for my contemporaries at least) at around 25-30.

But really...why would supes be interested in humans without some sort of reason (like a familial relationship)?

I also find that folks that don't read UF sneer at it- which I find very unattractive. Roll your eyes if you want, but as EE notes, there are a lot of us reading the stuff.

Most of the story actually happens in and around Philadelphia- I admit that my heroine does not start out kick ass( many people do you know wandering around the world are just kick ass and waiting for awesomeness to ensue?) but she learns, she adapts and she becomes the person she wants to be...because if she doesn't she's gonna get killed.

Elizabeth Janette said...

I think what the critters are trying to say is that based on your query, the novel doesn't stand out. It might be a fantastic book but your query doesn't prove it. Yet. Take the criticism with a grain of salt and look at your ms through someone else's eyes. Resist the urge to defend it. You just might find places where you can improve it and/or your query. Edit and then write a query that shows your writing awsomeness.

LSimon said...

I got no problems with critique of my writing...rape, pilliage and plunder that, my friends!

BUT Anybody that judges people for any choice that doesn't hurt others makes me want to hurl.
(Feel free to judge pedo's and axe murders all you like)

I see some points, but I'll not have people who don't have any clues about my genre generalizing or marginalizing who we are and what we do!

It is funny because I added the part about the HS reunion to give a glimpse of the fact that she is living a fairly normal existence...until all hell breaks loose.

Funny how "blade" gets translated to "sword"- it is actually a dagger- much more practical in an urban setting ( Can you see her getting on a SEPTA bus, sword sticking out of her backpack...)I'll have to be more specific about that.

( I had several other snarky remarks, but I'm keeping them to myself, I prefer to leave it to the professional)

Jeb said...

In an urban fantasy, that sword had better be invisible amongst its other powers. Cops don't play nice with people - Faerie princesses or not - who walk around with immense blades in their hands.

What I see is generic YA-ish fantasy despite the heroine's age, blendered with the Laurell K. Hamilton oeuvre and some poorly explicated (or downright unbelievable - even to someone who has read as much urban fantasy as I and is generally happy to suspend disbelief) plot elements.

If this novel has more distinctive features than the query shows, show me those in a revised query. That will impress me much more than you coming on the comments trail and dishing out information/attitude after the fact.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Deep breath, sweetie. Words said she reads UF and Arhooley has read a number of queries for UF, and both are simply making the point that IN THE QUERY you haven't given us a real hook -- the thing that makes your story stand out. I don't see anyone trying to marginalize YOU; I see them asking what makes your story marketable.

I happen to read and write historical fantasy (among other things). I pitched an agent who reps many of the SFF greats; she rolled her virtual eyes and asked me the same thing the minions are asking you: This sounds like a hundred other fantasy works -- what makes yours unique? It's a fair question. (I realized my story didn't HAVE a hook; I had to create one and rewrite my story to fit it.)

It isn't all about the order of the words on paper. Writing is voice, characters, plot and -- maybe above all -- marketability. A tired idea can be rendered marketable in the hands of a great storyteller. Since your query lacks focus and a crispness of language, we must look for the hook to see if that redeems what we see as a tired storyline.

Our job is to critique the effectiveness of your letter. And number one on that list is what about your query makes an agent want to read your story over the fifty other UF queries with good grammar and voice that are sitting in their inbox.

Take a very close look at those blue words after you've laughed and gotten over the sting of them. I see the word 'unclear' showing up a lot.

For example, you believe just the mention of the HS reunion will show us A's life is normal to this point. But as it's the only thing outside of Faelyn that is in the query, rather than grounding us, it seems out of place.

Also, what's the inciting incident that tips A to who she is? As depicted in the query, it seems to go from A knowing nothing at all to her knowing a lot and being targeted for some reason that's never made clear.

Take a couple of days to figure out what will sell your story, then try again, condensing where EE has shown you and filling in the details elsewhere. Make it so an agent just HAS to request those pages...

Chicory said...

Hi. :) This story sounds interesting, but from the query letter I had a feeling that it was epic fantasy, with all the talk of fairy court and fairy guardians. If you mentioned Philadelphia in the query, I think it'll help ground the story in the real world. Just a thought.

_*rachel*_ said...

Stop telling us all about her situation. Boil it all down to a sentence or two and use the rest to tell us more of what she does.

And there are a LOT of "ordinary girl finds out she's a special" stories. Admittedly, I've read, written, and enjoyed many. But you've got to make this different enough that I don't groan when I read it.

LSimon--you've got a point. It can take guts to speak up here. (If you could see my face right now, it would have a rather guilty expression.)

So, how does Alamandine get through metal detectors?

All hell breaking loose--is that literal or figurative? I'm guessing the latter, but in this genre that's not a given.

LSimon said...

My frustration: contradictory advice. EE says: Not sure this is UF at all. Yet I get pounced here for being: formulaic in my UF.

Shit don't add up.

Also, critique away, but be specific! If you are going to say that there are wholly unbelievable plot elements, you really should say: like the whole giant ten foot dragon sword (BTW It's a DAGGER people! 8 inches! Thoroughly hide- able :D )

Hows this:

Mandi Croach knew she was half faery, but it didn't mean much to her. Her parent's were still dead, and though she and her full-fae aunt ran a magical jewelry store in Philadelphia, she wasn't anything more than a Tufts educated checkout girl.

In a moment all that changes. It seems her aunt has been hiding a few things. Mom is alive, reigning as Queen of the Star Court and her son has been kidnapped. As more and more of the truth starts coming out, Mandi learns that her father didn't drowned, he was murdered.

As she gets closer to her father's murderer she begins to realize that the two crimes are connected, and that there are powerful forces in Faelyn that don't want her to succeed. If she is going to have any hope of going toe to toe with the King and Council and get her life back, she's going to need a bargaining chip, and the Prince looks pretty valuable.

Evil Editor said...

First of all, your comments are not coming from a team of experts who consult with one another. Use those that make sense, ignore those that don't. If a lot of commenters are saying the same thing, you may have a problem worth addressing.

The new version is 100% better, as should be obvious to you if you read them one after the other. Removing the reunion and the dragon cleared up some incongruities. Here it is with a few things that were bothersome cleaned up:

Mandi Croach knew she was half faery, but that didn't mean much to her. Her parents were dead, and though she and her full-fae aunt ran a magical jewelry store in Philadelphia, she was nothing more than a Tufts-educated checkout girl.

In a single moment all that changes. It seems her aunt has been hiding a few things: Mom is alive, reigning as Queen of the Star Court; her son, Prince Luke, has been kidnapped; and Mandi's father didn't drown--he was murdered.

As she pursues her father's murderer, Mandi realizes there are powerful forces in Faelyn that don't want her to succeed. If she is to have any hope of getting her life back, she'll need a bargaining chip--and the Prince may be the most valuable one.

It's not clear why Mandi needs a bargaining chip if her mother is the queen of the Star Court. Surely when the king was murdered, the queen was left with the power. Is it the queen who wants the truth hidden?

What is the life Mandi hopes to get back? Her life as a checkout girl?

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Absolutely agreed the new version is much, much better. Inciting incident and stakes are still unclear, though.

I was in a boring meeting tinkering with this as EE was doing his thing. I wouldn't have done a rewrite for something he was already doing otherwise.

In any case, my version throws in as examples stuff that probably isn't in your story and sounds very YA (sub 17 for 27 and prom night for reunion and, as Jeb says, it fits the conventions easily). But you seem to want to avoid YA, so grain of salt and all that.

Oh, and conventions ARE important to have; you just need to add a twist to them - no one is dinging you for being formulaic, just for not making it clear how you are adding something new to the formula.

Mandi Croach knew she was half faery, but it didn't mean much to her. At 27, she was resigned to running a magic store in Philadephia with the full-fae aunt who'd raised her. But when her aunt is beaten unconscious by fae folk for not revealing her whereabouts on the day of her high school reunion, Mandi realizes she isn't going to escape her heritage so easily.

Thrust abruptly into the fae's deadly political games, Mandi discovers there's a few secrets her aunt has been hiding. The mother she'd thought dead is alive and reigning as Queen of the Star Court in Faelyn. Her younger brother has been kidnapped. And it looks like her mortal father didn't drown but was murdered. If she can't figure out what fae faction is behind the crimes and coverups -- she could well end up their next victim.

In Faelyn, though, nothing is easy. From the pixie assassins determined to see that she doesn't succeed to the gorgeous fae guard determined to thwart her advances, Mandi is challenged at every turn. To stay alive in this unfamiliar world, she must learn to adapt to its rules and adopt new skills. If only school, her checkout job, or her aunt had prepared her for any of this.

Turns out being a faery princess really sucks some days.

Now, if it takes place in Philly, call it UF. If the majority of the story takes place in Faelyn, call it fantasy with mystery elements. My coupla cents.

Stephen Prosapio said...

"I'm starting to think it would be faster to list what she does know."

SOMEBODY isn't experiencing his Memorial Day afterglow. LOL

New version much much better and "more interesting."

Possible suggestion so that Philli isn't jarring in the query after "faerie" --

Philadelphia checkout girl Mandi Croach knew she was half faery, but it didn't mean much to her. She was more impressed that she'd graduated Tufts University.

or something like that.

Oh, and EE. I DO check with each and every minion before commenting. I don't listen to a thing they say, but I check in...

Bethany said...

Did anyone else pronounce "Faelyn" as "Failin'" in their head? If so, might want to rethink that name. Unless it's a parody, which it doesn't seem to be.

Stacia Kane said...

The rewrites are much, much better; now I understand what the story actually is, and is about.

When I hear "blade," I tend to think "sword" as well, especially when I hear it was forged by dragons. I somehow picture them having a hard time building small weapons. If it's a dagger, call it a dagger; it's best to avoid confusion by being clear.

While I see from your rewrite that you've taken it out, I'd caution against using adjectives to describe any element of your story. Telling us there's a "complicated love story" doesn't work as well as showing us a complicated love story, and this one doesn't seem that complicated; it's a love triangle, yes? Lots of people adore love triangles. If that's what yours is, just tell us that.

And while you're very brave to claim your query, may I suggest that when people give up their free time--even if it's only a few minutes--to help you, telling them that their advice isn't good enough and that they need to do better isn't the most gracious response?

As an aside...people are always going to have opinions. They're always going to marginalize whatever genre they don't happen to read and/or enjoy. (I personally don't feel anyone here did that, I'm just saying people will.)

There's nothing you or I or anyone else can do about it. They're entitled to their opinions. They're entitled to express them. You can make the point that it's all not the same through your work, and you can talk about the differences on your blog or whatever, but you can't force them to think the way you want them to think. Trying to do so will only cause problems.

People will generalize or marginalize others for any number of reasons. That's life. Just shrug and move on.

I certainly wish you the best of luck; I love the idea of the heroine working behind the counter at her aunt's store (actually, I think that's kind of an important point; she's a college graduate, why is she doing that? Familial loyalty? Has she been guilted into it? Did her Fae guard threaten to expose her as Fae at any other place she attempts to work? You don't have to mention it in the query--although if you can find a way that would be great, because I can't help wondering how/if that ties into the plot in general--but it's an interesting facet of her character).

And thanks for posting the query to begin with.

_*rachel*_ said...

This is definitely better. Do what Phoenix said, mess with it for a while (proofreading stuff, like whether the whole thing should be in the same tense or not), and then send it to Phoenix for her blog. It's like EE's, just fine-tuning the queries we've already mauled over here.

Jeb said...

The bare-bones, written-in-ire, revised query is much better than your first 'trying to be clever' one was. We can follow what you're talking about, we have some idea of the direction the story is taking, and Mandi working as a checkout girl in a family store - even if her aunt is full Fae - is a much clearer image for establishing 'normal' than throwing in a high school reunion was.

Good job. If the novel itself is at least equally clear and straightforward, I'd give it a few pages to hook me.

Oh, and you're the first person who caught on that all of us minions really do spend our days conferring behind the scenes to make sure our comments are as confusing as possible to the hapless newcomer. After all, we none of us have real lives or any real writing to do do on our own account. And we get paid huge sums of money for spending our free time looking at your deathless prose.

(I don't have Memorial Day afterglow either)

J.M. said...

The conversation has moved on a bit, but I'll post back in to say that IN THIS QUERY are indeed the key words in my post. If I had to read queries all day, this one wouldn't stand out to me.

I much prefer Version 2 because it tells me who Mandi is.

M. G. E. said...

The way it was originally it both seemed cliche (typical feminine power fantasy) and a great mishmash.

The new version, however, actually sounds pretty good. Saying she's "half-fae" was a good image. I immediately pictured an adorable, elfish-perhaps woman.

The rest made fairly good sense as well this time around.

I still prefer a closed fantasy world however. The most tired fantasy cliche of all is "X from our world discovers fantasy world Y." And I'm not sure it necessarily adds anything to the story.

LSimon said...

Well, I'm glad I'm getting the attention I deserve.

Minions are free to obfuscate each other's opinions, but to blatantly contradict His Holiness the Evil Editor? Pshaw! It is the action of a person who's temerity knows no bounds!

And I'm really not expecting experts, but I figure if we are all writers, (& why would you be here if you weren't?) then we should be able to communicate in clear, and helpful ways.

With all that said, I freely admit that I am a pain in the ass.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

We're all ass pains in our own ways around here ;o)

Keep it up and you'll soon be ready to join miniondom. You'll be emailed a secret password and skype account information along with the agenda for all upcoming face-lifts and new beginnings. Meetings run about an hour each and a transcript will be available for review. There are penalties in case you slip up and accidentally post a comment that agrees with that of another minion. Everyone is required to rotate into the "hot seat" once a month so we have someone to attack in the comments when we get bored with the people submitting actual work. Oh, we'll also need your bank account information as we require you to give up worldly possessions during initiation. I see you already recognize EE as His Holiness, so indoctination into full miniondom should only take a couple of weeks.


LSimon said...

Do I get to give up my first born child? Please? Pretty Please?

(For all those leveling guns- I have no first born children)

_*rachel*_ said...

About that initiation into minionhood: You'll soon receive an email from a Nigerian man about a sum of $10,000,000. Reply to him with the exact lyrics of "Jabberwock." When he replies saying "What the [expletive deleted]?" send him your bank account number in Morse Code.

Then buy a copy of How Not to Write a Novel and you're all set!