Monday, July 05, 2010

Face-Lift 791

Guess the plot

The Zookeeper's Machine

1. Hannie's always playing pranks, so when she claims the neighbor kid was kidnapped by gorillas, no one believes her. She discovers the city's zookeeper is behind it all; he has a machine that swaps human brainwaves with animal brainwaves. Can she stop him before he makes her a porcupine? Also, a guitar-playing snake.

2. Demetrius Nash's machine has made his zoo the biggest tourist attraction on earth. Eleroos, kangaphants, giroceroses, rhinaffes -- put two animals in, mix'n'match comes out! But his plan to make the perfect woman backfires. Tiffani/Amber is one angry 12-foot beyotch who locks him in a cage, feeds him Monkey Chow, and occasionally stomps the snot out of him.

3. Zookeeper Sam Torrance's mother was mauled by an angry rogue gorilla, and ever since he has been hatching his plan for revenge. Can Sam maneuver a gorilla into his torture device, or will it be Sam who ends up in . . . The Zookeeper's Machine?

4. It is the year 2085, and thanks to man-made pollution, all wildlife is extinct. Zookeeper Paul Britton isn't ready to give up the family business. He builds robots that look and act like tigers, lions, and bears. But when the robots begin killing the tourists, Britton is faced with a choice: destroy his beloved machines . . . or become a machine himself!

5. John James loves everything about his job in the Elephant House except cleaning up those enormous poops. After years of hobby tinkering, he finally comes up with a design for a giant pooper scooper that he knows will work. But the US Government will do anything to prevent the invention from being manufactured.

6. Rumors swirl about activities in the heavily-guarded underground bunker near the San Diego Zoo. Is it really a DNA repository--or is it a factory to replicate extinct animals? Also, an escaped smilodon.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Hannie Bunker is not looking forward to spending her summer with her aunt in Philadelphia. She hates the idea of wasting three whole months doing chores for a crazy old lady. And, worse than that, she'll be stuck with Noah, the geeky next-door neighbor boy, as her tag along.

Hannie amuses herself by playing tricks on Noah--the dork will fall for anything. When her aunt finds out about the pranks, Hannie is in big trouble. She vows [promises] to change her reputation and be the bestest friend a twelve-year old loser could ask for (lucky for her, Noah's expectations aren't too high, anyway). But when an opportunity to scare the heebie-jeebies out of Noah arises, [I believe you give someone the heebie-jeebies. What you scare out of someone is the crap. Or the wits.] Hannie can't help herself. She could really use the laugh.

Instead of her prank going as planned, Hannie witnesses Noah's kidnapping. His captors? A pair of Western lowland gorillas. [Never recruit gorillas to play a part in a practical joke. They always think they have a better way.] She tries to get help, but she's cried wolf (or maybe gorilla?) too many times in the past and nobody believes her story. [The whole point of crying gorilla instead of wolf was that she knew the chances of an actual gorilla showing up in Philadelphia was nil. No doubt when she saw Noah being carried off by gorillas she was thinking, Dammit, why didn't I cry wolf all those other times?] She is blamed for the boy's disappearance. ["Who, me?!! No, it was . . . two western lowland gorillas! Yeah, that's it."] Determined to prove she isn't lying (and hey, she sorta likes Noah after all), Hannie sets out on a mission to track down the child-snatching primates. [What's her plan, to negotiate the release of the hostage?] She ends up discovering a series of child kidnappings that can all be traced back to Philadelphia's newest zookeeper, Bernard Crumpton. Oh, and he uses a nifty machine to steal brainwaves from his victims and manipulate his zoo animals. Hannie must find a way to destroy the machine and rescue the prisoners before the evil zookeeper can put her brainwaves into the mind of a porcupine. She makes a few friends along the way, including a puzzle-solving tarantula and a guitar-playing rattlesnake. [That sentence isn't needed. In fact it totally dilutes the threat you've built up to.]

My adventurous middle grade novel, THE ZOOKEEPER'S MACHINE, is 39,500 words. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


You can call your book an adventure novel, but it's up to us to decide whether it's adventurous.

I would like a better explanation of what the machine does. If Hannie's brain waves were put in a porcupine, would her consciousness be there? Would the porcupine's consciousness be in Hannie? Has this already been done to all the other kidnapped kids?

You could shorten the first two paragraphs a bit:

Hannie Bunker is miserable. She's stuck spending the summer with her crazy aunt in Philadelphia, and the worst part is that Noah, the geeky next-door neighbor boy, follows her everywhere.

Hannie amuses herself by playing tricks on Noah--the dork will fall for anything. When her aunt finds out about the pranks, Hannie promises to change her ways and be the bestest friend a twelve-year old loser could ask for (luckily, Noah's expectations aren't too high). But when an opportunity to give Noah the heebie-jeebies arises, Hannie can't resist.

That leaves you some extra room to tell us about Hannie's plan.

You might also tell us how the prank was supposed to work before the gorillas went and spoiled everything.


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Wow, someone really should write GTP #6.

Oh, that's right -- I already have! (Now if that someone could just sell it...)

Author, you have a delightful, if somewhat inconsistent, voice. I'm with EE, though, in that the first two paragraphs seems like too much appetizer and you've shorted the entree. The brain mix-up sounds like it could be a really fun MG story -- much more fun than Hannie playing pranks on a neighbor.

A nit, but "Western lowland gorillas" seems MUCH too specific for the rest of the voice. "Gorillas" -- or even "real gorillas" if that's the point you want to get across -- should be fine.

And "bestest" makes Hannie seem very young.

How old IS Hannie? The voice makes me think 10 or 11, but she's playing pranks on a 12-year-old, so that makes me think she's 12 or 13, which seems just a tad old for this story.

Hence the inconsistency in voice I'm feeling here.

Amy said...

Actually, the first few paragraphs of this really drew me in. I liked the voice and the setup, but then I felt the story took a turn into bizarro-ville when the gorillas turned up. And then we have an evil zookeeper, and a brainwave-stealing machine, and I was all WTF?! So maybe there needs to be a hint earlier on in the query that this story is the fanciful/wacky type.

Another issue is that I found Hannie really unlikeable, the way she mistreats the poor kid who lives next door just to amuse herself. I was hoping to see some indication in the query of character growth for her.

Dave Fragments said...

If this were an adult story you would have to answer the question of where the human bodies go after the mad zookeeper tweaks their brainwaves. If Noah's brainwaves are in the Gorilla's body then is the gorilla in his body or is his body brainless?

The story of the boy who cried wolf is not about the joke but about the aftermath when the sheep are scattered and lost.

In your case the story is about how Hanna avoids being a porcupine and defeats the mad zookeeper.

Anonymous said...

I liked the tormenting of Noah.
You've got conflict, guilt - and GORILLAS!
Bizarro, but original.
Isn't she a little young to trace kidnappings?
There's excess clutter (crying wolf doesn't work for me btw).
Reads like the zookeeper knows about Hannie from the start.
Para 3 - too much stuff.
Could she find out about the other kidnappings when she gets to the zoo? The snake can tell her.

If she's blamed for Noah's disappearance she's put in juv detention awaiting a psych assessment. (She escapes and her search begins for Noah which would lengthen the ms.)

I changed Hannie to Hinnie in my brain, chuckles ensued.

Looking forward to seeing the revision at chez Phoenix when you're ready.

vkw said...

I thought the query was pretty good, myself. And, at first, I was interested then the story went south.

It reminded me of a Scooby Do episode - like that can't happen unless it is kid's show, then everything is possible and nothing has to be even plausible.

My number one question is this, actually two: if the mad scientist/zookeeper has a machine that can put the brain waves of a human into an animal and then can manipulate the animal to do his bidding - why would he want to? Exactly what is the purpose of this. And, why use the brain of a 12 year old dork? I would totally go after an easily controled sociopath, an adult socipath.

And, why was Hannie blamed for her friend's disappearance? Yeah, maybe at first, but in about fours hours and she doesn't confess and he doesn't show, the parents are going to be calling 911.

But it was mildly entertaining. I think it would be okay for a young, young audience.

Jayme A. said...

Author here...thanks for all the comments. Oh, how I do wish I could answer all the questions...but it seems impossible to explain every twist and turn in a query letter.

The zookeeper is using the brainwaves of exceptionally talented kids to create exceptionally talented animals to make millions at his zoo...hence the mention of a guitar-playing rattlesnake, although I do see how that seems to come out of nowhere in the end of the query. And the bodies of the kids are kept in a comatose state, in a secret lab underground the zoo. Most of the story takes place at the zoo, with my MC stumbling upon hidden underground tunnels. As I write this, I'm thinking why the hell didn't I put it in the query.

Hannie is a bit of a troublemaker, maybe a little like Tom Sawyer. I can see how my query makes her seem unlikeable. And she does have a very close relationship to the zookeeper from the start, she just doesn't realize it until later. Do I cram this info in, or just wait for someone to read the synopsis?

I've got a lot of work to do. Thanks again!

Phoenix said...

As I write this, I'm thinking why the hell didn't I put it in the query.

Hehe. But that's what this site is all about -- helping you to work out just that kind of thing. Figuring out what can stay and what can go. It's a terrific proving ground.

Here's one suggestion for turning the focus onto the action/plot. You'll want to inject plenty of your own voice into your version, of course.

Ten-year-old Hannie Bunker is miserable. She's stuck spending the summer in Philadelphia with her crazy aunt and 11-year-old Noah, the geeky next-door neighbor who tags after her everywhere. For a bright girl like her, the only thing that makes the days bearable is tormenting the little dork. Thinking up new tricks to play keeps her busy until one of her pranks puts him alone on a street outside the zoo -- and Hannie sees a pair of very big and very real gorillas kidnap him.

Following them back to the zoo (because, hey, she sorta likes the little twerp after all), Hannie stumbles on a secret operation being run by the new zookeeper. He's Bernard Crumpton, her 4th-grade biology teacher who got fired when an experiment blew up the science wing. Underneath the zoo she discovers a maze of hidden tunnels and in the middle of them, Crumpy's secret lab where a bunch of kids are stretched out on metal tables and wearing weird helmets.

Turns out Crumpola's invented a nifty machine that's stealing brainwaves from the kids and putting them into the zoo animals. He dreams of making millions by having visitors pay extra to see exceptionally talented animals -- like a tarantula that solves Sudoku puzzles lightning-fast or a rattlesnake that plays a mean guitar -- being secretly manipulated by the minds of the kidnapped kids.

It's up to Hannie to work with the animals to destroy the machine and rescue the comatose kids before Crummy Crumpton can capture her and put her brainwaves into something like a porcupine or, ewww, maybe even a slimy slug.

THE ZOOKEEPER'S MACHINE is a 40,000-word middle-grade adventure. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

Bibi said...

There was a book about a kid kept comotose whose mind was sent out to take over people's minds and kill them. He crashed an airplane by taking over the pilot's mind. D. Koontz? Very similar. Dean didn't have guitar playing snakes though. Guess he didn't think it through