Friday, June 11, 2010

Face-Lift 782

Guess the Plot

Jesus, Mo and Cheese Puffs

1. Jesus is a Puerto Rican immigrant living in New York. Mo is his neighbor and drinking buddy. Together they have a dream to transform the snack food industry.

2. Mo and his wife Flo pack the car with Cheese Puffs and head for sunny California so Flo can get plastic surgery from a TV doctor. Along the way they meet Angel, a homeless woman who tells them about Jesus. Will Angel renew their faith, or will they give her some Cheese Puffs and tell her to get lost?

3. Jesus and Mo are middle grade Vampyres without a care in the world . . . until their school cafeteria, trying to meet strict new healthy lunch regulations, adds garlic to the Cheese Puffs. Hilarity ensues.

4. Being Jesus means you can hate but you can't show it. Mo is God's relative but God smat him and threw him into the cheese puffs. Jesus goes back to woodworking, which he likes very much. The puffs, 12 of them, wander the desert until it rains. They melt, Jesus stays a carpenter and Mo becomes Moses.

5. Mo smokes one bowl too many, sending him on an epic crusade for Cheese Puffs. When he opens the bag of cheesy airy goodness and discovers a puff in the likeness of Christ the Savior, a moral dilemma ensues as he considers whether to sell it on eBay.

6. When Jesus Christ appears at Mo's door seeking a bed for the night, Mo is only too happy to oblige. If this doesn't get him into heaven, nothing will. But Mo regrets his hospitality the next morning when he wakes to find Jesus gone and the entire bag of Cheese Puffs eaten.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When Flo Brown wins $40,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket it’s vanity that propels her to agree to a cross country trip with her husband Mo. [If it's Mo's idea to take the trip, one wonders if it's Mo who's the vain one.] In no time at all, Flo packs, and is ready to go. She and Mo plan to drive from Indiana to California so she can have one of those “TV doctors" do plastic surgery on her mangled eye. It’s with this premise in mind that she and Mo pile in the car along with extra bags of cheese puffs. [Be specific: Is she looking to hire Dr. Taub on House, or the doctors on Nip & Tuck? Are they packing regular cheese puffs or the crunchy kind?]

From the get-go, their trip is anything but ordinary. Their first stop is at a bitty gas station where the clerk directs them to a favored diner. There they meet a young family with twin toddlers and a broken-down car. Mo, having been a mechanic in Vietnam offers to help. Flo goes with Kendy, the mother of the twins and her toddlers [The twins are the toddlers. Just say Flo goes with Kendy and her kids to the park. ] to the park. What Flo doesn’t know is Kendy is Mo’s granddaughter, but at this point, neither Flo nor Mo knows she exists. [So far you haven't backed up the claim that the trip is anything but ordinary. The granddaughter bit is unusual (in fact, it sounds like a one in a trillion chance), but no one knows it, and it's never mentioned again. Gas station, diner, park? Very ordinary.]

As they make their way across the highways and byways, they stumble upon a variety of situations and people that continue to stretch them in ways they couldn’t predict.

The novel weaves together both touching and funny moments. A young boy, Joey, lives with his grandparents. His mother still hasn’t come home, and it’s been six months. Joey is a Boy Scout, and when Flo and Mo hear about someone stealing their money from the plant sale, Mo agrees to help Joey’s grandpa build chicken and rabbit cages to sell instead. Joey is happy that Flo visited with his grandmother and made her smile. He tells Flo he was scared because his grandma seemed so sad lately and he feared she might want to leave too. [Touching and funny moments may work in the novel, but in the query they're boring. Normally I tell writers to be specific, but if your best specifics are diners and plant sales and chicken cages, I recommend being general until you get to the important stuff.]

In Hooker, Oklahoma, [the most popular truck stop on the Interstate,] they stumble into [Two stumbles are at least one to many.] a wake when all they wanted to do was stop at the store and buy needle and thread. The spirited shop owner, Lettie Jean, eventually lets on that the wake isn’t for a person but High Henry, a Clydesdale horse who held the honor of uniting a town.

They meet a homeless couple at the farmer market in Pasadena, Angel and Jostlin’ Jack. Flo is appalled at their hardscrabble life, but Angel assures Flo she’s happy. Angel teaches Flo about trust, faith and how to “wear the world like a loose garment.” Flo runs into Angel again at a church, and it’s after this meeting Flo wonders if Angel might actually be a real angel.

Mo and Flo discover that the trip has changed them in ways they never imagined. Flo accepts her struggle with vanity and realizes the only limitations she has are the ones she puts on herself. Mo lets go of his bitterness toward Flo's God and makes peace with losing their only son, Jimmy, who died at seventeen from complications of Down's Syndrome.

Complete at 52,000 words, the novel is available for immediate review. This is the fourth book I have written; the first three are full-length women's commercial fiction novels. I am an RN, but also have a BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. I am a member of RWA and ACFW. I would appreciate your consideration for representation. [We don't need to know about books you've written that weren't published, or about your education.]


I can see vanity being behind getting a face lift or a nose job, but do you have to be vain to get surgery on a mangled eye?

There's too much detail for a query. It should fit on one page. It also feels like a list of things that happen. Start with something like:

When Flo Brown wins $40,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket, it’s vanity that propels her on a cross country trip with her husband Mo. She and Mo plan to drive from Indiana to California so she can have one of those “TV doctors" do plastic surgery on her mangled eye. As they make their way across the west, they stop now and then to help strangers in need, never realizing what a positive impact they're having.

Then skip down to the homeless couple, which is where your real story begins.

Usually when people are traveling cross-country they zip off the highway, gas up, grab some food, and hit the road. It seems odd that Mo and Flo meet and interact with so many people. Also, is Pasadena their destination? I assumed LA/Hollywood, but if it's one of those, stopping off in Pasadena seems odd, when it's fifteen minutes from their final destination.

Mo: Finally, after three days, we're almost there. Ten more miles.

Flo: Pull over at the next exit. I wanna go to a farmers market and talk to some homeless people.

If it's intended for the Christian book market, say so.


Dave Fragments said...

[the most popular truck stop on the Interstate,]

There was a truck stop - rest area in Pennsylvania that police described as "close Encounters of the Third Kind" for the variety of antics discovered going on in it, including a naked man handcuffed to a tree.

This query is about a road trip story. Treat it as a road trip story. Mo and Flo have a humdrum and sad life until the lottery ticket and a chance to tour the countryside on their way to California. But their journey is far from dull. Make is spicy and exciting. Hey, even Christians want to read silly antics and odd happenings on the road to an epiphany.

Joe G said...

Why are Jesus and the cheesy puffs in the title? Maybe I missed him, but they didn't find Jesus in Albuquerque. The cheesy puffs don't seem to have anything to do with anything. Couldn't you come up with a cleverer snack name than cheesy puffs? South Park already did that joke.

Just speak the queen's English. Don't "it's vanity that propels her" me. Just say "Her vanity propels her". There were some other instances but I don't feel like looking. Just be careful with the weird sounding phrases. Think, "Does this sentence convey what I mean to say clearly?"

This book doesn't really sound like my thing but I think you probably have a story there if you can tighten things up and make them feel less "And then... and then... and then..."

My one big suggestion is that in road trip stories, there's usually some sort of ticking time bomb or sense of fulfillment... a husband and wife desperate to rekindle the magic and get away from the rush of their lives get more than they've bargained for (because there's a volcano! Or the natives are cannibals! They get left behind! etc)... a wacky family has to make it to the baby beauty pageant in time... you put your revelation at the end of what the point of the road trip was, and it was a surprise, but I do wonder if you've made me feel that "Will she make it to the surgeon in CA in time?!" is enough. Honestly, you just include that kind of stuff to reassure the potential reader/buyer that the story moves with a sense of urgency.

Also, the husband doesn't seem to have much to do. He comes off flat. I also laughed at the whole "mechanic in Vietnam" thing... what does he do now? Those are the kind of details that bog down your query.

150 said...

Jesus and Mo is a comic strip.

angela robbins said...

EE, you crack me up.

I agree with both Dave F and Joe G. I liked the title, however; it's quirky.

By the way, Joe G, thanks for putting "Dude, Where's My Car?" in my head for the rest of the day! (and then, and then, and then, and then...)

J.M. said...

So the story is about 1) Flo getting over her vanity, and 2) Mo getting over his loss of faith. The second one showed up awfully late in the query.

Stephen Prosapio said...

This query left me longing for more books about vampires.

Eric said...

Flo, Mo, and Joey? Tweeness alert!

The title would be absolutely perfect for #6. Doesn't work for me here. It also way-too-strongly reminded me of that (atheist-themed) webcomic 150 mentions.

If the big surprise at the end is that the eccentric elderly person turns out to be an angel, you might not want to signal it with a big flashing sign that says "Hey look, her name is Angel! Get it?" (You also might want to come up with a different big surprise. How often has this been done now?)

"...the only limitations she has are the ones she puts on herself." So she mangled her own eye?

EE is right: Give us the broad strokes of your outline and the heart of your story. The details are probably fun vignettes in the book, but in outline form in a query, they're boring us to death!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Quirky characters and a road trip is workable and fun. It sounds like you have a good handle on your characters and show a growth arc in your MCs. There's also voice in this query.

But it doesn't quite work for me. Why? Because aside from High Henry, the characters and events don't feel quirky enough. Even Flo And Mo feel flat. Hopefully this is simply the fault of the query, because that can be easily fixed. Just give us the high points of the quirks and then show us a strong correlation among all the events and the life lessons Mo and Flo learn. Don't do it in a preachy way, but do tie things a bit better so the reader isn't asking where the acceptance in themselves comes from.

Two things worry me and both could just be the fault of tackling a query in general. EE's pointed out you're choosing the wrong details to highlight, making the query feel simultaneously plodding and flighty. Which makes me wonder how much rambling there's going to be in a short 52,000 words.

I don't particularly love your exact title, but I do like the quirk of it, especially the juxtaposition of Jesus and cheese puffs. It's a title that tells me instantly what general kind of story to expect.

Redstarsix said...

I love Joe G's ticking time bomb suggestion.

What if they found an old lottery ticket and had to rush across the country to claim the prize before the ticket expires?

M. G. E. said...

"Mo" and "Flo." I'm not fond of rhyming MC names >_> Distracts.

Overall, I'm left with the impression that this is an attempt at writing the great American novel :P Or that it's meant to be literary.

I probably think that because the plot seems to be primarily a device for exploration of character.

As for the query itself, it's clear there's a lot of fat on the back-end. It almost seemed to ramble.

Here's a question: do you know what this story is -really- about, what's really going on here? There seems to be lacking that sense of unified theme. Perhaps it's in your book, but it's not coming across in the query.

Lastly, I'll repeat the oft' heard advice that a query is not a synopsis and its goal is to intrigue the agent into requesting pages. This query swings a bit too much into that synopsistic tendency.

Joanna Hoyt said...

This sounds like a story I might enjoy. And I don't think it needs a 'ticking time bomb'; it's not a thriller, it's a story about people, their brokenness, their goodness, the unexpected connections between them. (The Mitford books didn't have time bombs either...) The lessons-learned part sounds flat in the query but might be excellent in the story, and since I never learned how to write a good query I can't give any advice on how to put depth and nuance into one.

Bernita said...

The encounters these two have might well be charming and inspirational but I really loathe the claim that fixing a mangled eye is vanity.

_*rachel*_ said...

Your books sounds pretty episodic--which can be a legitimate choice. It also sounds kind of fun. But in the query, you can't go into as much detail. Pare it down and try to find an overarching plot. Do any of the people they run into show up at the end, too? If so, they might be the ones worth mentioning in the query.

Anonymous said...

"Jesus, Mo and cheese puffs!" sounds like something my mom would exclaim after stubbing a toe.

Anonymous said...

According to Urban Dictionary, "mo" is "short for homo, which is short for homosexual," and "cheese puff" is "to place one's mouth over the butthole and blow a short, powerful blast of air into the anus."

Yup. Inspirational all right.

batgirl said...

There's a reason I never look anything up on Urban Dictionary.

I kind of like the title. But I agree the synopsis is way too rambly. And just think, the story would never have happened if the US had decent health care!