Monday, November 29, 2010

Face-Lift 845

To Have a Revolution

1. Or not to have one -- that is the question for Ingrid Paddington, college freshman. She has terrifying quantities of homework due soon, but the world is in an awful state and her new boyfriend makes revolution sound like the best time ever.

2. One man's valiant attempt to conjugate a verb: I have a revolution, you have a revolution, he/she/it has a revolution...

3. In order to get medicine that will slow his sister's zombification, Ion agrees to help Nadia and her team of Romanian revolutionaries by killing the government's dragon. But what Ion doesn't know (because Nadia "forgot" to mention it) is that killing the dragon may zombify him.

4. First, you need a motivated populace (or friends like Joey and Vik). Next, a way to throw off the secret police (easy - your tattle-tale brother has the hots for easily bribed Missy Smith). Last, a decoder ring - but the despised leader has banned Cracker Jack, so we're stuck.

5. It’s not the king's fault an earthquake left most of his people homeless and hungry. Or that his son gambled away the emergency fund. Or that his queen insists that fabulous-looking royalty keeps morale up. Or that his daughter’s lavish coming-of-age party was planned months ago, and canceling would break her heart. So why are the peasants sharpening the guillotine blade?

6. Emo twins Jared and Jason are convinced that being 15 in Mountain View is the worst possible fate. To destroy the hopelessness of the Silicon Valley, they foment a revolution at elite Berkeley Academy. Only one problem--the teachers are more into the revolution thing than the kids.

Original Version

Dear EE & Minions,

In an alternate communist Romania filled with dangerous magic, a magically gifted youth must use the abilities he fears to overthrow the government--and the power secretly controlling it.

Over the past few months, Ion Popescu has watched his sister begin to transform into a strigoi, the zombie-like creatures that people become when they use magic objects. [Watch me pull a rabbit out of my ha-- Braaaiiinns!] Ion can’t stop the transformation, but he can delay the inevitable. Determined to prolong her human life as long as possible, he seeks out black market contacts who will give him medicine to slow the transformation in exchange for magic talismans. But although he trades talismans, he wouldn’t dream of using them. [Why would anyone use them? Is there any advantage to becoming a strigoi?] [Is that pronounced strig oy or strig wah? The good thing about just calling them zombies is that everyone knows how to pronounce zombie.] So why do his market contacts, his best friend, and a mysterious girl all suddenly seem to think he’s using the talismans himself? [Possibly because he's now buying underwear in extra large.]

The mysterious girl is Nadia Luca, a member of a conspiracy of revolutionaries plotting to overthrow the government. She believes that Ion has skill, an innate magic ability that enables him to use some talismans safely. She’s been looking for someone like Ion: someone with enough skill to use the talisman weapon the revolutionaries have acquired. The weapon is strong enough to kill the dragon that the government is secretly using to transform and control the strigoi army--thus overthrowing the government, freeing the strigoi, and stopping the transformations for good. But what Nadia doesn’t tell Ion is that the revolutionaries have their own plans for the strigoi army. She also doesn’t tell him that even with his skill, using the talisman weapon could very well mean Ion will end up as part of the strigoi army himself. [That's it? What about Dracula? You've set the novel in Romania and Dracula's not in it? That's like setting your novel in Gotham City and not including Batman. You have a zombie army instead of a vampire army? Is that what the revolutionaries want the zombie army for? To take on Dracula's vampire army? If so, may I suggest a title change? Zombies VS. Vampires: War of the Undead.]

To Have a Revolution is a fantasy novel set in an alternate version of 1989 Romania and complete at 75,000 words.

I am a freelance writer and have published nonfiction articles in various print and online magazines. I lived in Romania for a year in 2004 and am proficient in Romanian. This is my first novel.

Thanks for your time and consideration.



You start by saying people transform into zombie-like creatures when they use magic objects. This suggests that it's common knowledge that using magic zombiates you. But at the end you make the point that Nadia didn't tell Ion that he might zombiate if he used their magic talisman. Shouldn't he know this without being told?

Nadia is the one who believes Ion has an innate ability to use magic without zombing. If Ion believed that, he wouldn't be so afraid of using magic. Yet at the end, it seems Ion is willing to use magic, while Nadia has decided Ion might zomb. They've both changed their positions?

I can see Nadia changing her position if she discovers she was wrong about Ion having used talismans, but Ion? If Ion's sister is zombomorphing, I would think it would be doubly hard to convince him that he has an innate ability to not zombomorph, as "innate" means inherited, congenital.

The question of why everyone suddenly thinks Ion is using talismans is worth answering in the query, as it seems to explain why Ion is in demand.


Anonymous said...

I became confused in the second paragraph and it got worse in the third. The first four sentences of the third paragraph are long and they pile explanation on explanation-- is all of it necessary?

Try compressing it into one brief sentence.

Anonymous said...

If I were Ion, I'd ask why it's a secret that the government is using a dragon to control the strigoi army? If the revolutionaries know about it, why haven't they exposed the whole scheme? (The answer, I guess, is that the revolutionaries have their own plans for the strigoi, but if Ion has any of the curiosity or brains one expects in a protagonist, he'll walk right away from the revolutionaries.)

Anonymous said...

What EE said. This story seems out of place in 1989 Romania. Maybe you can clarify the connection, or change the geographic names and set it in a more imaginary time/place, which is where it seems to belong.

Also, I'm assuming you are pitching a story written in English, so expertise in Romanian won't be critical to your success. You can leave that info for later, giving more space to tell us about the story.

vkw said...

Well, hmmm. I understood it. I'm not sure I'd read it the way the query is written. It's toooo technical. I have no desire to learn about a mysterious revolutionary woman, the MC, the dragon, your world, the dragon or the zombies. Does parts fall off? Do they hunger for brains.

The wording could be tighten up a lot.
In an alternate communist Romania filled with dangerous magic, a magically gifted youth must use the abilities he fears to overthrow the government--and the power secretly controlling it.

In a Romania filled with dangerous magic, a gifted youth must overthrow the government to save his sister.

Ion, a fifteen-year old peasant, stands hopelessly by while his sister slowly transforms into a zombie, an infliction caused by using magical objects. In order to slow down infliction, he seeks medicine from the black market in exchange for magical talismans.

His contact Nadia believes because he has (something) that he is gifted and can use the amulets safely. She realizes that Ion may be their best chance of overthrowing the government, if she can convince him to use an ultra powerful amulet. This weapon is used to control a dragon that controls the zombie army.

She forgets to mention that the revolutionaries are planning to use the zombies for (XXXXXX).

Above is a start of wording it down. I have a plot problem that is no doubt explained in the book but not in the query. The government has a top-secret dragon that makes the zombie army - and only Nadia knows this? Really? Actually Nadia knows a lot of secrets. She knows the revolutionaries' plans, she knows the government's plans, she knows Ion is gifted, she knows that even gifted he may be turned into a zombie, (which I am assuming is okay, anyway since they are all going to be freed. I wonder why Ion doesn't realize this since his sister was inflicted) and she has the top secret weapon.

This book should be about Nadia. Ion doesn't seem smart enough to be a MC.


Phoenix Sullivan said...

As a personal preference, I like seeing action in queries for stories that seem to be centered on action, like this one. Build excitement. Where this one fell flat for me was in being told about everything that's going on in the world and slowing the pace even further by repeating things already said.

For example:

* Ion "can delay the inevitable" followed immediately by "determined to prolong her human life as long as possible" followed in the same sentence by "slow the transformation"

* "in exchange for magic talismans" followed immediately by "he trades talismans"

* "Ion has skill, an innate magic ability that enables him to use some talismans safely" followed immediately by "someone like Ion: someone with enough skill to use the talisman weapon"

Trust the reader to retain information for 250 words. Say it once, well, and then move on.

There's probably more stuff in your story you could highlight, but here's my cut at how to rearrange what you've given us:

As a consequence of using a forbidden magical object, Ion P's beloved sister is turning into a zombie-like strigoi. He can't stop the transformation, but he knows black market traders who can delay it: medicine in exchange for powerful talismans that only a few skilled people can use. For an entrepreneur like him, acquiring the talismans is the easy part; what proves difficult is convincing his market contacts, his best friend and a mysterious young woman that he isn't a user himself.

The woman, Nadia Luca, knows only skilled [mages] can handle the caliber of talismans Ion's been seen with. She's been looking for someone with Ion's presumed skill and entrepreneurial spirit to wield a recently crafted talisman weapon strong enough to kill [Weapon X] -- a dragon the government is using to control its amassing strigoi army.

By itself, a revolution in the making wouldn't be enough to turn Ion's head, but coupled with a promise to stop further strigoi transformations, it convinces him to try to use the talisman. He knows failure will turn him into a part of the strigoi army himself. What he doesn't know is that if he succeeds, the revolutionaries secret plan for that army -- and him -- is more horrifying than anything the highly unimaginative Romanian government could ever dream up.

Anonymous said...

The dragon could be Dracula.

_*rachel*_ said...

The bad news: This current version confuses me, mostly in the third paragraph, and I don't understand how people don't get the hint about not using magic.

The good news: This is interesting and unique, and I really want to read it now.

In the first paragraph, try saying, "In an alternate 1989 communist Romania...." Because of the dragon and not knowing the time period right away, my mind kept trying to revert to medieval times.

I hope your revisions do well; I like it.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Rachel. This is interesting and all the points made about clearing up the confusion need to be adressed, but I'd rather you have a great story and then have to refine the query than something we've seen a thousand times.

Remember Author, this isn't a technical manual. The query can even take some liberties with chronology if we need information earlier in the query than its revealed in the book to make the plot make sense. You don't need to go A to B to C in explaining each next action. Good luck with this!

Min Yin said...

According to, "Dracula" is ultimately derived from "dragon" (Latin "draco"). Coincidence?

none said...

Line up, line up! Get your genre credentials here!

Okay, who doesn't know that Jonathan Harker is the protagonist/antagonist/epistolarian in Dracula? Who thinks it's big news that Dracul means dragon? Who doesn't know that Frankenstein *isn't* the name of the monster? Who can't spell Hobbit?

Now off you go and get at least three genre classics from the library, or download them onto your Nook, or whatever you kids are doing today, and don't come back until you've read them.


What is Ion's sister achieving by using magic? You'd think it'd have to be something pretty damn good to be worth risking zombiehood, but we don't see any evidence that she achieves anything. As the sister seems to be a maguffin, maybe the query should concentrate on Tachyon. I mean Ion.

Anonymous said...

If the dragon = Dracula that would be so crucial to the plot description, the author should mention it in the query. This dragon is described as a dragon, there's no mention of vampires. Dragon myths were popular with the classical/medieval crowd. Dracula was a more recent invention. Rowling used the Roman/Greek and medieval mythology, which is why the Harry Potter dragons in Romania were big lizard things that had nothing to do with Dracula. I see no reason to assume this dragon = Dracula. If it is, the author should make that clear to potential agents, even if it is handled as a 'shocking truth' revealed late in the book.

lisa c. baker said...

Author here. This is my first time getting critiqued, but I love you guys. Seriously. How did I write before I discovered this blog? Oh, yeah, I sucked and didn't know it. Now at least I know it. :)

Ok, with that out of the way, yes, dracul means dragon, and the dragon is connected to dracula. Maybe I should point this out more in the query?--would that make the setting feel like it fits better?

Secondly, strigoi are actually creatures in Romanian folklore. It's sometimes translated zombies, but it's actually usually translated vampires. I didn't say vampires because for some reason I thought it would be cool to set it in Romanian and NOT have vampires. Don't ask why--random authorial madness, I suppose. Actually I wanted them to be more like dragons and I was going to call them zmei, but one of my early readers told me that was utterly unpronouncable (duh! I should have noticed that!). So...yeah. I'll have to think about that. But thanks for pointing out my madness, EE. Like Gotham City without Batman. LOL! Good thing I put my coffee down before I read that...

I will be back on Phoenix's site with a revision for sure, but it will probably take a while. I'm still working on the revision of the book, and I wanted to attempt the query partly as an exercise to find the plot holes in my premise. You have all helped a LOT with that, so I'll be trying to fix the book first before I come back with another query.

(I love how minions always say things like, "this is no doubt explained in the book." Your faith is encouraging, but it's not explained in the book. I'm just an idiot. I'll go work on that now. :) )

And Rachel, thanks so much for calling it "interesting and unique!" You give me hope. The original version of this book was set in a random fantasy world, and it was the most stereotypical farm-boy-saves-the-world story imaginable. It was also my first novel I actually finished, so whatever. I figured if I could revise it I could revise anything...I like the new version a lot better but obviously I still have a lot of work to do!

Oh, and Phoenix, your revision of the query is amazing. It will definitely form the base for my revision.

lisa c. baker said...

Also, Phoenix, thanks for the brilliant query revision--that will definitely form the base for my rewrite! And Rachel, thanks so much for the encouragement. "Unique" is what I was aiming for. You give me hope. :)

Word verification on my last comment was "oushief": the sound BuffySquirrel makes on realizing that minions don't know basic genre information.

_*rachel*_ said...

"Zmei" is completely pronounceable. Your readers may not know how to pronounce it, but it is pronounceable.

Then again, I have a username without vowels that I also insist is phonologically sound....

Anonymous said...

A little late to the party, but just wanted to add: That's not how you spell Ian.

lisa c. baker said...

It's the Romanian spelling. :)

Anonymous said...

No wonder it sounded like a medieval fantasy plopped incongruously into 1989! Which doesn't seem to be a helpful setting because the sensibilities are still medieval, you apparently aren't using 1989 technology or political realities. If you aren't using the particulars of the 1989 situation you can just call it an alternative Romania and leave it at that. It's fiction, it doesn't have to fit on the real calendar. Calling it 1989 just causes confusion, especially for those of us who can remember that far back.

lisa c. baker said...

Oh, wow, I totally forgot to mention in my query the fact that the revolution is the overthrow of Ceausescu and the communist regime, didn't I? That might help to mention that...*slaps head.* Yeah, I'll be back with a revision...sometime next year...!