Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Face-Lift 839

Guess the Plot

Given the Shaft

1. At the Feast of Thibault, worthy squires are presented with swords to mark their ascension to knighthood. Those who fail to measure up are instead drafted as spearmen. Can Horatio, who has dreamed of knighthood his whole life, cope with the humiliation of being . . . Given the Shaft?

2. When Annie Templeton's fiancé leaves her at the altar in 1860s Colorado, he at least leaves her with a consolation prize -- the deed to his gold mine. But is there something hidden in the depths of the mine that he didn't want to deal with?

3. Inch-high aliens land on Miss Shaft's lawn right after she fertilized it. When half the crew dies they declare interstellar war - not realizing she's known locally as 'the crazy cat-lady'.

4. When a woman is killed in an elevator shaft, and the police won't investigate, it's up to student Jordan Bale to solve the case. But it won't be easy when she also must deal with a stalker, a murderer, her rapist, her abusive boyfriend, and that fact that she's flunking math.

5. Marlene was livid when all her no-good husband Bert left her in his will was a played-out silver mine in Nevada. She's even more livid when she sells it to Bert's first wife, Lily, for a song, and learns two months later that a vein of platinum has been discovered in it. When the devil offers to arrange for an irregularity in the sales agreement to come to light, she's mighty tempted.

6. After making the classic mistake of shagging her boss before collecting adequate blackmail material to keep her job afterward, unemployed Nora starts digging. The dirt involves three national governments, the fate of her boss's ex-wife, a LOT of dairy products and . . . running for her life.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Jordan Bale is an alienated college student who stumbles into the world of detecting by way of an administrative conspiracy, the murder of her favorite professor, and a serial rapist targeting campus. And one of these criminals is stalking her. With her personal life in shambles, Jordan must solve these crimes before she becomes the next victim.

It all started when a student was killed in an elevator shaft in her dorm and campus police appear to avoid investigating. [That sentence starts in past tense and switches to present. No reason to use past tense at all when the rest of the query is in present.] Jordan takes the story to the school’s newspaper, embarrassing a university that will do anything to protect its reputation. [Did you notice how I didn't say anything at the end of the previous sentence about the phrasing "campus police appear to avoid investigating"? That was me appearing to avoid criticizing. What you want to say is the police refuse to investigate or the police are too quick to call it an accident or the police are too busy busting kids for smoking weed to care about murder. Even if it's not exactly what happens in the book, it's better to state it simply than correctly.] [Also, when there's a dead person, I'm not sure the real police can be kept out of the mix.] When her favorite professor – the only person who saw Jordan as more than just one of Ohio State’s fifty thousand students – is murdered less than a week later, Jordan is determined to find justice. Even if it entails breaking into her professor’s office and stealing her research to look for clues. Then the Columbus Police Department starts turning away rape victims.

[Rape victim: I was raped.

Police desk sergeant: Take a hike, lady.]

[You need to show a connection between the Columbus Police turning away rape victims and the murders. Or leave the rape victims out of the query, which is probably best. You already have two murders, and you don't want the query to be just a list of crimes. Presumably the Columbus police are investigating the professor's murder, so focus on what Jordan can do that they can't.] Throw in an emotionally abusive boyfriend, her first academic failure, and the inability to solve one single case – could Jordan’s life get any worse? Yes. Now she must solve her own rape, as well.

[Jordan: I was raped.

Police desk sergeant: Come back when you've solved the case and we'll talk.]

Given the Shaft is an 80,000-word mystery that could be expanded into a series [in which Jordan once again is unable to solve one single case and the police do nothing]. I was named an up-and-coming star of flash fiction by the 6S Review, and my short stories have appeared in 6S2, MicroHorror, Blink Ink, FlashShot, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, and Long Story Short.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


It's not clear whether the student was found dead in an elevator shaft, having died after plummeting to the bottom, in which case she may or may not have been pushed, or whether she was found in the shaft with a bullet in her head.

Maybe you should come up with a fictional university. Ohio State may not want you publicizing the fact that they'll do anything to protect their reputation. Or the enormous number of murders and rapes that take place on their campus.

It's not clear why Jordan takes a major interest in the elevator shaft death. I would think her major focus/goal (at least until she becomes a victim) would be on solving her professor's murder case. I'd focus the query on that, and just mention the serial rapist as one of the complications (instead of her inability to solve a single case, which isn't a big selling point for a mystery).

I would start the query: When her favorite professor is murdered, Jordan Bale is determined to do what the police apparently can't: solve the case. Then tell us what she does and what obstacles make her task difficult and how she plans to deal with these obstacles.


Anonymous said...

Agree on fictional university. Jhumpa Lahiri mentions colleges by name, but they are tangential to the story, usually just details. When Zadie Smith wanted to delve into the ways a university deals with multiculturalsim and affirmative action, she created a fictional private college because it was a bit like watching sausage being made, and there was no way the school, with all of its political impulses and loyalties, was going to come out looking good.

Your story is, in part, about how the school deals with something; the school is not a detail.

I can't imagine Ohio State being okay with this depiction, especially when rape is so common on campuses. All you need is for this image to stick on prospective parents' heads and it's just as easy to go to Penn State.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine the Columbus police dept being okay with that depiction, either, so maybe you need a fictional city as well, like Ed McBain's Isola.

Anonymous said...

No suspension of belief here. Agatha Christy and Conan Doyle had an advantage over the modern mystery writer -- police in those days knew nothing the average housewife didn't know and any evil rumor was acceptable as evidence. That's no longer true. Modern police have oodles of techniques and procedures your average undergrad chick has no access to or knowledge of. So modern readers are skeptical when a bright teen can supposedly replace the whole police department's major crimes unit.

You forgot to give us an exciting reason for the police do nothing. It can't just be plausible, it has to be interesting, because that's your real mystery. Although, if the protagonist can't solve a crime either, we must ask -- so what's your genre, rom-com???

mb said...

I want to write #2.

Dave Fragments said...

In my experience, no University wants this type of notoriety in a book. I could write a few thousand words on how they do that. Create a university. Populate it with devious officials with fake names.

Remember, in real life, university officials aren't evil they are just overly protective in rotten ways. they can justify hiding the existence of a rapist because it might harm the University's reputation. And it's not only the University officials that have a long reach, the faithful alumni go along too.

Eric said...

Why is the title "Given the Shaft"? Oh, I see, first there was the elevator shaft murder and then there were the.... oh. Yeah, maybe you might want to change that. (Unless you were going on purpose for a tasteless triple entendre, in which case, enjoy the letters.)

If the university will "do anything to protect its reputation," why don't they block their own newspaper from running a damaging story?

150 said...

1) You titled a story about rape "Given the Shaft"? That won't earn you any friends.

2) This sounds just a leetle too similar to the third season of Veronica Mars.

3) Limit your pub creds to either paying markets or very, very selective ones. Or ones that are selective at all.

Lauren K said...

The first thing the query made me think of was the TV show Veronica Mars. That's not a bad thing, but just be aware that people might think that.
I'm really confused on why the police aren't investigating and are turning away victims. I think you need to either explain why they
re doing this or just say that they haven't been able to make progress on the crimes.

vkw said...

Eric, I'm not worried about the university newspaper part - do you want to get something published in a university newspaper? It's easy, tell them the administration doesn't want something published. They'll scream Freedom of the Press all they way to the local newspaper and broadcast media. Best just to let the university newspaper publish a story - no one reads it anyway.

But to the query. . you gave us a list of all these awful things happening to this college student. This girl has some bad juju cast on her.

That is my concern so many rotten things happen to her that it becomes unbelievable! No way can she have a student killed in her dorm, an abusive boyfriend, a professor killed, and be raped all in the same semester.

Now I do have a MC that has a bunch of rotten things happen to her but she always overcomes one problem before the next thing happens.

I would take one or two of the bad things away, give her an indifferent boyfriend who plays video games all the time and just comes over when he wants to "sleep" and let her get away from the rapist.

But, now really onto your query, you told us nothing about your student other than she is a victim. You told us nothing about the antagonist - is there one or two or is just the ineffective campus security cops. (By the way, on most campus they are usually "real" cops not mall security). I think they would call in the real local police in these situations, however.

I disagree with "too high tech". In small communities, the police departments don't have the resources that Miami CSI does. No Caruso either. In my state, our crime lab is the "state crime lab unit", meaning a mobile unit that drives up from the capital to investigate crime scenes. Our unattended deaths get sent to another state for an autopsy.

so move University of Crime to a small state and make the campus size about 10,000 and you'll solve a couple plot problems and not tick off 50,000 ohio state students (let's don't mention the number of alumi that won't appreciate defamation either).


Joe G said...

I can't believe there wasn't one tasteless gay joke fake query. Not even one! I mean, I got so excited when I saw this query title, sure I was going to see the next great gay coming of age work of fiction...

At any rate, the title has to go. It's kind of lame. How does one solve their own rape? I don't understand. Did she get date raped? Seems pretty clear cut. Rape seems an awfully serious place to take a novel with a pun for a title. Frankly, the plot sounds a little silly in the ways others have pointed out. You should tell us in the query what it is she's fighting against besides a world where she's constantly finding people in elevator shafts and getting raped. Tell us a little bit about why the college is so desperate to cover this up and then we might be more willing to believe it.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I think you need to play up your heroine more. So far all we know is that she's alienated, ignored, abused, raped, and she "can't solve one single case." You've got to give us some idea of Jordan's abilities are and her personal journey through this. Is this a revenge story or a tale of a woman finding her voice? Give us something to make us want to spend 80,000 words with this girl.

Also, it's one thing to play down an ongoing pattern of sexual assaults but it's quite another to hide the presence of a single attacker on campus. Unless there's a reason these campus officials have their heads in the sand, it seems to me that they'd be doing everything in their power to try and find this guy as quickly and quietly as possible.

And I concur with Eric on the title. Unless this is Chuck Palahniuk-level black comedy, "Given the Shaft" seems a bit... ick.

Zachary Gole said...

I want to write #2.

#2 was mine, and I have no plans for it... if you want it, you're welcome to it.

Stephen Prosapio said...

"Did you notice how I didn't say anything at the end of the previous sentence about the phrasing "campus police appear to avoid investigating"?"

--- muahahahhaa! I actually DID notice you seem to not be saying anything about that and I was shocked.

I had an issue first with this line: "With her personal life in shambles, Jordan must solve these crimes before she becomes the next victim."

Later in the query you mention her boyfriend (and her rape???) but early on you act like these unconnected outside events = her personal life being in turmoil. Doesn't compute for me.

Title is offensive considering the rape element of the novel.

I pretty much agree with most others' comments. This has potential but seems to have an *awefully* lot going on for 80k words.

Stephen Prosapio said...

BTW -- I as well LOVE GTP #2.

lots of potential there!

none said...

While it's commonplace enough for the police to 'no-crime' date rapes and the like, serial rapists are usually taken very seriously. After all, they might rape a cop's wife one day. So I'm having difficulty believing the victims of stranger rape would be turned away.

Anonymous said...

That fact-stuffed first paragraph isn't working for me. Jordan's alienation and shambulous personal life have no apparent relation to the crime wave. "Stumbles into the word of detecting" is awkward.

Also, these coverups are unbelievable. Don't these police departments take pride in anything? Who tosses them a bone every time they ignore a serial rapist?

"Could Jordan’s life get any worse?" you ask. Murder and rape victims lying around, and I'm supposed to care about Jordan's quality of life? I don't even know who she is.

_*rachel*_ said...

I'm hesitant about this premise. When a student dies -in- the dorms, there's no way it's getting hushed up. When you've got that many people in one place, it's hard to keep things quiet.

Yes, there are things like this I've heard of universities hushing up. But as a student, I hear about suicides, murders, accidents, and rapes, either through the newspaper or word of mouth.

Besides me not being big on mysteries, I wouldn't want to read this story. There was a girl raped nearby last week, and they haven't caught him yet--it's too close to home. (Yes, I'm being careful.)

Ditch the title. Don't worry if you end up with an unsatisfying title; it'll be better than this one.

Mr Baskerville said...

I, too, don't understand what 'solve her own rape' means. And while I'm sure you treat this crime seriously in the actual novel, I get the impression from this query that rape is just one of a list of things your character has to deal with. Perhaps you could focus on the main crime she has to solve, either the murder or the rape, and leave the others out of the query?

Dave Fragments said...

When a student dies -in- the dorms, there's no way it's getting hushed up. When you've got that many people in one place, it's hard to keep things quiet.

Gee Whizzies, no it's not hard to hush it up. No one wants to talk about it because it hurts, they lost a friend. College kids do not gossip about the dead. They shut up. Then there is the family that people don't want to hurt any further.

The most talked about collegiate death I know of was a kid who jumped out a third story window on drugs. It wasn't suicide. Another fellow (Brother in alpha phi omega) committed suicide over the summer. I knew him rather well and had no idea. Not a damn clue. And that is reason #2. The living don't know the reason. We feel guilty.

There were two or three nervous breakdowns a year but again, no one spoke about that. At least not in 1970 and I suspect that even now, nervous breakdowns are stigmatizing. Odd was that the breakdowns were women, the suicides men.

#3 is hardest to even explain. A fellow I was in a club with and took to my house once, died of accidental hanging, in a wedding dress, a month before his wedding. And only a dozen people on campus knew the circumstances. The official cause was "death by misadventure" and that's what I told anyone that asked. It was the truth.

Suicide is shameful.

Rape is shameful, too. It takes raw courage to even make the accusation.

If you went back to the three local newspapers and the college paper, you would find nothing about these events.

And to tell the truth, at a university where half the people were brighter than me and half of those at the genius level, what anyone else did occupied my mind for less than minutes.

Any hint from a person in authority that "something" didn't help your advancement and "something" was forgotten in seconds. Hey I was paying $4000 plus a year back then and I worked hard to get grades.

M. G. E. said...

The title is a "tasteless triple entendre", truly :P

Yeah, ditch the title. It's suggestive in a gross way, especially since your character, apparently, ends up raped herself :\

Beyond that, what is this, Nancy Drew goes to college? Not sure a can buy college student solving hardcore rape/murder.

You need a far more plausible reason for her to do this than just it's her favorite college professor, and I don't think her getting raped is the answer.

You'd have to go to great lengths; her father is batman! Or at least a chief of police or something, and she's been reading his AJ books from college since she was old enough to dog-ear a page. Maybe she wants to be a detective, this would be a feather in her cap.

You have it listed as a mystery, wouldn't it be crime fiction?

none said...

'Solve her own rape' surely means finding the man who raped her. Serial rapes are usually stranger rapes, although increasingly rapists are establishing slight connections with their prospective victims. Because DNA testing has made them so much easier to find, they're relying now on the 'he said she said' defences more and more.

Sylvia said...

"And one of these criminals is stalking her. "

This felt really clunky. Do you mean: "One of these criminals is stalking her and she doesn't know which" which highlights the conflict tying the three very different problems together?

I'm uncomfortable with the sexually evocative title of "Given the Shaft" as the name of a novel about sexual assault.

In general, it feels rather listy and I'm not getting any connection to the main character. I'd go so far as to say I'd be more interested if she can solve it all if LESS is wrong, not more.