Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Face-Lift 842

Guess the Plot

City of Monsters

1. Once it was a town of polite theatergoers, considerate restaurant patrons, attentive drivers and literate schoolchildren. Then the cell phone was invented and it became a . . . City of Monsters.

2. To Pastor Jeremiah, the big city represents all the wickedness and depravity of modern life. People flock to his thundering sermons, but he is not content with simply allowing small-towners to congratulate themselves on their virtue and so he resolves to redeem the . . . City of Monsters.

3. Monstro City: where four million monsters reside, wishing their human ruling family were all dead. When Prince Thomas learns his family faces eviction from the castle--and certain death--he sets out in his swamp monster disguise to collect back taxes from a dragon. Can he keep the royal family solvent? Also, a socially challenged zombie.

4. Exorcist Lynn Bourne moves to Hollywood to set up shop. It's sensible to offer her services in a place so inviting to unnatural behavior. But during one of her spirit cleansing séances, she becomes host to an ancient demon who impels her to start a career as a reality tv producer.

5. The trip to Mars was too long and totally horrid, but now that Nannette is back in New York, she wishes she was still on the red planet. Something went wrong on Earth: everyone looks and acts like Godzilla. Or maybe it's just that fashion and attitudes have changed. Whatever. She refuses to lumber around in a green reptile outfit, no matter how stylish.

6. Charlotte works in The City, London's financial district. Her co-workers seem unusually ruthless, but Charlotte suspects nothing particular- until Alicia in Investments forgets to tuck her tail in one Monday morning. Time for Charlotte to get out her union suit, wear her underpants on top and kick some monster-butt.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

In CITY OF MONSTERS, humans are the endangered species. [This leads the reader to assume City of Monsters is the title of the book. Which explains why all the fake plots are for City of Monsters. I'd put the book's title there; the series title can come below, exactly where you have it.]

Prince Thomas is frustrated at his over-protected life and his irrelevant education about long-dead monarchs. After all, when Thomas turns eighteen in three years, he will become the titular ruler of Monstro City’s four million monsters. Determined to learn more about the world beyond his protective walls, Thomas escapes his giant ant-built castle and enrolls at Monstro Central School. [The middle sentence interrupts the logical flow of ideas. I would arrange this info in two sentences: Prince Thomas, future ruler of Monstro City’s four million monsters, is frustrated at his over-protected life and his irrelevant education about long-dead monarchs. Determined to learn more about the world beyond the castle walls, he slips away and enrolls at Monstro Central School.]

Disguised as a swamp monster called PT, Thomas is threatened by mafia goblin students at his first class. He is also befriended by the outcast Dead Gang: a motherly mummy, rebellious vampire, socially-challenged zombie, joker giant spider and sarcastic goblin princess. Sweating beneath his costume, Thomas knows if the monsters discover his identity, he will spin on a kebab stick before he can scream for his ogre bodyguard. [Too many monsters. Condense to: Disguised as a swamp monster called PT, Thomas is befriended by the outcast Dead Gang: a motherly mummy, rebellious vampire, socially-challenged zombie . . . you get the idea. Of course, if these monsters knew his true identity, he'd be spinning on a kebab stick.]

Thomas learns his family faces imminent bankruptcy and eviction, meaning certain death. He formulates a desperate plan: crossing the Mythic Quarter to demand back-taxes from Kalthazar the dragon. First, he must convince the Dead Gang to aid rather than devour him, [He needs them to help him collect taxes, but he can't tell them who he is?] and survive a double period of Biology! [This last joke falls flat.]

DRAGONIUM is a 42,000 word modern fantasy for young adults and the first book of the CITY OF MONSTERS series.

An award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer, I have written over 2,000 articles for 50 plus magazines and newspapers, contributed to a dozen anthologies and appeared several times on Australian national TV. Before I became a children's author, I wrote for surf magazines in over 30 countries, including the major three in the US. Dubbed ‘surfing’s literary giant,’ I was paid to roam the world with the likes of nine-times world surfing champion, Kelly Slater (mainly because I couldn’t afford my own air tickets). [As impressive as all that is, one paragraph about you is plenty, and the next one is more relevant to what you're selling.]

In the last four years, I have had four children’s novels published in Australia, including Erasmus James and the Galactic Zapp Machine (Ibis Publishing) and Stinky Squad (Barrel Books). Every year, I tour over 100 schools with my popular author show. The rights for all my books are available for all territories outside Australia.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


It's not clear why the monsters would kill Thomas if they knew his identity. Work that in somewhere.

Why would four million monsters accept someone they want dead as their ruler?

This sounds like the kind of fare middle graders would love. What makes it YA?

The main plot seems to be collecting the taxes. Possibly we don't need to mention the school at all. Just say Thomas leaves the castle in his disguise and is befriended by the Dead Gang. When he decides he must cross the Mythic Quarter, he'll need help, so he calls upon his new friends. This would leave more space to explain why an endangered species is ruling the city, and how they're able to do so when they can't leave the castle.


Anonymous said...

Those are impressive credentials. I'd list all titles, publishers and dates (unless the dates are, like, 1960). In my experience, what publishers really want to know when considering a previously published author is sales figures. And they'll look those up.

I think the idea is really interesting, and I agree with all of EE's comments, but for me there's another problem, common in all struggle-to-get-or-hold-the-throne stories.

Is there a reason that Prince Thomas should win, other than that he thinks he should?

I can see a clear case for the City of Monsters being ruled by monsters.

Anonymous said...

Maybe its because the wind is blowing like crazy outside and distracting me, but my eyes were glazing over by the end of paragraph 1, so I skipped to near the end to see where we were going with this and decide whether to bother with the middle part, but that paragraph was inexplicably about surfing and airfares you couldn't afford and I thought WTF??? How does that follow?? Which would've meant the slush pile for you, if I was an agent's minion. The very last paragraph, in which you are publishing children's stories down under almost convinced me it would be worthwhile to go back and read the middle of the query, but then I noticed this is only the first of whatever length series and gave up.

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm agreeing with EE that there's nothing in here saying YA, and a lot saying MG...why do you think it's YA?

Anonymous said...

Author, as a writer of your experience knows, "after all" is a logical connector that explains the conclusion or decision or admonition or resolution just stated. E.g. "Don't count on him for any mercy. After all, he's an editor." But your "after all" doesn't explain anything. I can see why Thomas would be frustrated with his education, but his future as a titular ruler actually makes his education seem kind of reasonable rather than otherwise.

And yuck, what a lousy kingdom. The Central School has speciesist murderous gangs, the government is a moribund hereditary monarchy, the ruling family is bankrupt and means to stay afloat by levying a hard-working dragon instead of doing something productive. (This is the first time I've read a story in which the tax collector is the good guy.) I'm not really behind anyone here. I think the whole kingdom needs a good cleaning.

Dave Fragments said...

"Also, a socially challenged zombie."
had me giggling over my sandwich.

BUT -- (This is the first time I've read a story in which the tax collector is the good guy.)
-- leaves me incredulous. Surely you jest!

As for the query, I like this. It's high school trauma and teen angst with monsters.

If this is a fun comedy like Scott Pilgrim or JUNO or "I love you Beth Cooper." If it is, brighten up the query and make Prince Thomas fun.

If this is a more serious story like "Hunger Games" then make Prince Thomas into a teen hero like Katniss.

In either case, it is Prince Thomas the reader is going to fall in love with and keep reading.

vkw said...

arhooley, that is priceless: (This is the first time I've read a story in which the tax collector is the good guy.)

I'm almost interested in re-writing Robin Hood from the Sheriff's POV.

It could even be a writing excercise.

Author: I'm not interested in MG, and this does sound more MG than YA, right down to the 42,000 word count.

I'm kind of more interested in why an Australlian author is querying us Yankees than the story.

What if someone wrote an entire series on the concept of making the traditional bad guys the good guys? Suddenly, the vampires are bad again, werewolves eat people they don't fall in love with people, (like I will never fall in love with a cow), tax collectors are good, wolves are good, those that want to take over the world are awesome, indians are bad, oil companies are awesome, the aliens are good. . . . I foresee a series of . . . THREE.

150 said...

Googling "surfing's literary giant" brought me to...this blog. You know what they say: if you have to tell me what you are, you're probably not.

Better tell what award you've won, or I'll assume it's not one that counts.

You'll probably get page requests on creds alone, but it wouldn't hurt to make the query funnier.

Anonymous said...

Arhooley, you look so much like my former sister-in-law that I had to google your monicker to see if you were her. You're not, but you're very funny.

I'm kind of more interested in why an Australlian author is querying us Yankees than the story.

Vkw, my guess would be there are more of us, so that when we buy books we spend more money. The Brits like us for that too.

Stephen Prosapio said...

This *certainly* is not YA. Something must have been lost in the "translation" between continents. It's MG.

Impressive credentials. I have to say though that before seeing them I wasn't that impressed with the writing in the query. EE caught most of them and I thought the rewrite of the 3rd paragraph is brilliant.

Also consider editing "After all, when Thomas turns eighteen in three years, he will become the titular ruler of Monstro City’s four million monsters."

- First the "turns eighteen in three years" is awkward. "in three years when Thomas turns eighteen" is better but the "in three years" doesn't feel right here.

- Next, maybe it's used more in the UK but I wouldn't consider titular a term MG (or even YA) would be familiar with. Moreover, since PT is the MC of this story, expressing it that way is demeaning. I don't think Charles aspires to be the titular leader of England any more than college athletes aspire to someday be former professional athletes... better as "becomes King--albeit a powerless one--of...

Most other stuff is covered. I like the idea of the kid wearing a costume to get befriended by the monsters. Even better if he can forge a relationship with them as a human (which I imagine your last paragraph alludes to). Just don't think that because your MC is 15 that this is going to be a book read by 15/16/17/18/19 year olds in the US.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I know an Aussie who snagged a US agent for a novel set in Australia, so I don't find it odd at all that the author here is pitching Yanks.

Cue music for "It's a Small, Small World"...

I don't have much to add to the query discussion. What EE said and, yes, voice and situation as described in the query all point to MG. In fact, scaling the MC's age down a couple of years would seem to fit the age bracket better.

St0n3henge said...

I agree that this is MG, not YA.

none said...

It's at times like this that my brain wanders off in strange directions. How come none of these monsters can smell that he's not what he appears?

DC Green said...

Dear Evil Editor and minions

Man, this query writing caper is hard work! Typing over short distances, my brain and typing muscles always seem to tighten up and I gape in horror at my overloaded, awkward sentences. A good mauling was just what I needed!

The length, style and content of this story seemed to fall exactly between MG and YA, but I had the feeling the descriptive word ‘Tween’ had passed its use-by date. Still, MG clearly gets the vote here.

BuffySquirrel, the prince’s human smell is indeed a major plot point. PT daily douses himself in rancid seaweeed and offal to disguise his natural odour, then claims to have eaten human rissoles for breakfast when the more olfactory-enhanced monsters still become suspicious. Finally, when he is stabbed in a playground fight, the stench of human blood beneath his swamp monster suit cannot be denied and he is busted.

Yes, the tax collector quest (and the whole urban monster setting) was an attempt to subvert the standard medieval, sword-wielding tropes usually associated with dragons, elves and goblins. The story is written straight, but hopefully there are a lot of humorous set-pieces and dialogue in the novel (which clearly I have managed to avoid altogether in my query).

I thank you all for your alternately insightful, mirthful and thought-provoking feedback!