Friday, December 03, 2010

Face-Lift 847

Guess the Plot

The Torturer's Daughter

1. The guys are always excited when they see the whips and leather at Laurie's house--until her 6'8" dad comes out, handcuffs in hand. Will Laurie ever get a date her dad doesn't put to death in the torture chamber?

2. When Allie, the Royal Torturer's daughter, disappears from her prep school, there's only one man the King can turn to: Cocks Magnum, Private Eye.

3. Willwithers is no ordinary high school. Drug-free and gang-free, it boasts perfectly-behaved students and the highest test scores in the state. Sure, the school's methods are controversial. Among other things, it employs a torturer. And 10th grader Kenedy Kipling, pretty but dateless, can tell you it sucks to be . . . The Torturer's Daughter.

4. When her BFF Heather phones one night, Becca assumes it's to talk about the cute new boy at school. But no, it's to complain to Becca that her mother has just tortured Heather's parents to death. Who knew having a mother who's an infamous torturer would bring so much friction into her friendships?

5. Alva Hood is tired of being an outcast. It's not her fault her dad tortures fellow citizens for a living. And she hates her nickname - The Iron Maiden. Can Alva reinvent herself as an image consultant to social lepers, and prove that she's more than just . . . The Torturer's Daughter?

6. All the other girls study embroidery, but Camilla must learn to use instruments of torture. Her mother died after birthing just one child so it's her fate to learn the family business: torturing the enemies of her uncle, the King. Unless . . . she can join forces with that cute guy in Dungeon #9, murder Uncle Harry, and take the crown.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When her best friend Heather calls in the middle of the night, Becca assumes it's the usual drama. Wrong. Heather's parents have been arrested as dissidents - and Becca's mother, the regime's most infamous torturer, has already executed them for their crimes against the state. [Hi Becca. Your mother just tortured my parents to death. Oh, and do you understand the math homework?]

To stop Heather from getting herself killed trying to prove her parents' innocence, Becca hunts for proof of their guilt. [Brilliant. Your mother offs your friend's parents, so to smooth things over you try to prove her parents were treasonous subversives.] But she finds more than she bargained for - she discovers evidence that the government is scripting dissident confessions in order to keep the population in constant fear, and her mother is at the center of it all.

Becca doesn't know what to believe anymore, or who to trust. Can she reconcile the mom she's always known with the cold-blooded killer she learns more about every day? [Wait a minute, Mom, you're telling me you're Borgo, the Disemboweler?] [I should have suspected you were an infamous torturer. I mean, other kids get grounded; I get the rack.] Is the cute new boy at school spying for the secret police, or does he have an agenda all his own? [Or--and this may seem far-fetched--did his family just move into the school district?] What is Heather's grief turning her into? [Either delete that question or answer it, preferably the former.] And how can Becca continue to live silently in a world where lives are sacrificed every day to feed propaganda and lies? [I don't know what is meant by "to feed propaganda and lies." Do you mean to feed the people propaganda and lies? To feed the propaganda machine?] [Not sure I'd call the lives "sacrificed" if the people are just being murdered; usually a life is sacrificed for a good cause. It seems that what's happening is that lives are being taken to terrorize the people.]

When Becca risks her life to save a dissident, she learns that her mom isn't the only one with secrets... and the plot she uncovers will threaten the lives of the people she loves most. For Becca, it's no longer just a choice between risking execution and ignoring the regime's crimes; she has to decide whose life to save and whose to sacrifice. [Whoa, you guys are planning to kill all the torturers? That's my mom you're talking about. She didn't even enjoy torturing innocent people! She wore her iPod with the Vienna Boys Choir turned up full just so she wouldn't hear the screaming!]

THE TORTURER'S DAUGHTER is a dystopian young adult novel. It is complete at 63,000 words.

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



This reads pretty well, though it could use a few tweaks. Make sure you mention that the book should appeal to all those readers who liked The Hunger Games but thought it wasn't bleak enough.

I think you need to make it clear whether Becca knows her mother is a torturer. If she doesn't, maybe sentence 3 could read: Heather says her parents have been arrested as dissidents--and claims that the torturer who executed them was Becca's mother!

If Becca knows her mom's a torturer, but thinks she tortures only people who deserve it, I assume there's a mother/daughter scene in which the rebellious teen screams, "Why is it that every time I make a new friend you have to go and torture her parents? You're killing my social life."


Anonymous said...

I could use a few details. If this is supposed to be America some decades hence, the Statue of Liberty would have been melted down to obtain scarce copper. A detail like that. And surely Heather's call to Becca was bugged.

And does every YA novel have to have "the usual drama" and "the cute new boy at school"? I won't complain about triteness if that's the case.

Anonymous said...

I think this is fairly well done. At first I liked the line about the usual drama, but then if this is the kind of regime you describe, I feel like the kids would be hip to it and their "normal" wouldn't be say, Weston, MA normal.

I do not like the title. The whole Blank's Daughter has been done to death. Plus, unlike Hunger Games, which sounds intriguing, your title may put people off, as it sounds kind of gross.

Joe G said...

How about just "Tortured"? It has that spooky "Twilight" feel that's so popular in YA now.

You spend a lot of time talking about the choices that the main character must make at the expense of telling us much about the plot, and the dystopian America of the future plot has been done to death so it's probably not enough of a hook. You could probably mention more of what happens in the book.

Anonymous said...

she discovers evidence that the government is scripting dissident confessions in order to keep the population in constant fear

Since that's what repressive regimes have always done, it's not much of a discovery, even for a kid. How'd she get out of seventh grade without reading Animal Farm?

she learns that her mom isn't the only one with secrets

And there, again. Both of these make Becca sound not-too-bright. People who live in repressive regimes are generally aware they live in repressive regimes. When things-are-whispered-in-the-dead- of-night -and-people-disappear, it casts a pall on society. Even teenagers notice. The idea of Becca as unaware or unconcerned that her mom's a torturer, too-- this protag is not winning my heart and mind here.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm sorry. I have to hurt a few feelings here. I was appalled by The Hunger Games and thought it was ghastly. I'm offended by the idea that the heroine's mother (not even her father) is the regime's chief torturer. The regime sanctions deadly torture? This is one dystopic society I don't need and I don't know what lesson any teen could learn from it that they can't learn from reading history.

I think this is the sad continuation of slasher movies and what is now affectionately called "torture porn" like Hostel and Saw. Let's watch people kill each other like animals. Or, hi My Mommy tortures dissidents and gets them to confess their sins. They just named an entire prison wing for her and it has its own cemetery attached.

Wonderful uplifting storytelling.

Why on earth would anyone let a teen read this? I am not prudish, nor am I over-protective. But I can't in all honesty say that I would give this story to a teen or recommend it to a teen.

Sorry. That's just the way I feel.

Anonymous said...

DaveF, I like the idea of social responsibility among YA authors. But a stroll through the Teen section at my local B and N indicates that YA has become a grisly place and that it's not always the bad guys doing the grisling.

Now I'm just hoping we can hold the line at Middle Grades.

vkw said...

I am total agreement with Dave on this one. I believe that Young Adult books should not be only grisly messes or torture porn.

(I do, however, like the symbolism that a teenager sees her mom as a torturer. This is developmentally appropriate and that was my first thought when I started reading the query. Also appropriate is the need to side with the dissidents (her peers) in conflict with the need to side/cling to her mother and her mother's beliefs and to protect the family unit from outside destruction. It's okay for a teenager to attack the family from the inside.)

But, I don't think that was the author's attempt. Here is my number one problem with the query - the novel is dark and it starts out with a phone call. It was hard for me to emotionally shift from such a ho-hum beginning to a dystopian/despairing world.

I would start out grabbing the reader by the throat.

Something like "Becca awakens in the middle of the night to learn her best friend's parents have been beaten to death, skinned alive . . . " She's not surprise to learn that it was her mother who did it either.

Becca's friend is convinced that her parents' did nothing wrong and is determined to prove their innocence. Becca knows with absolute certainty that her mother, the govenment's number one torturer, couldn't be wrong. To save her friend from being arrested for treason/civil unrest/, thus being sentenced to death like her parents, Becca strikes out to find the evidence needed to prove their guilt.

none said...

Torturers torture; executioners execute. People sometimes die under torture but it's not usually the desired outcome, nor the torturer's role.

Presumably the torture is to force the victims to sign the fabricated confessions, after which they are executed to ensure they can't recant. So far, so Nineteen-Eighty-Four.

I would've thought that Becca's best chance for effecting change would be to try to influence her mother, rather than wandering around saving random dissidents from her.

Matt said...

I think some of you might be overreacting. It's only 63K -- not much room for extensive torture scenes given the plot described. And torture doesn't have to be grisly.

Chicory said...

I don't think this query sounds like gore for gore's sake (though the book could go there, I suppose.) I do agree that there's a bit of mood whiplash though.

Anonymous said...

DaveF, I agree, but I've run out of rant for now.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I thought this was pretty strong. I liked the Hunger Games, and it seems like this is right in line with that kind of dystopian vision. I love the idea that your own mother is the bad guy.

I would suggest a couple tweaks:

- First, if Becca's mom is the "region's most infamous torturer," why is Becca confused to learn her mother is a "cold blooded killer" a paragraph later? I'm sure Becca's mom has a lovely euphemistic title, such as "Chief Investigator" or "Extreme Conversational Expert"; perhaps you should use that and leave out the word "torturer" all together.

- I agree with arhooley that a little more detail as to what kind of world this is would be helpful. Just a phrase or two to set the scene i.e. "In Cassia's world, the the Officials decide everything from what you wear to who you marry" or "Ever since the districts were crushed in a brutal uprising, the Capitol has kept its people in line with an iron fist." Something to give us an idea what kind of dystopia this is.

Unrepentant Escapist said...

Gristly books are being gobbled up in the teen market right now because teens are being handed a world that's getting bleaker. Their economic prosperity has been outsourced, their friends are signing up for wars that seem to have no end in sight, and news reports tell them that swine flu or school shootings or a terrorist attacks can destroy your life at any time, and there's nothing you can do to protect yourself, because even anti-bacterial soap leads to world destruction. And the solution to everything seems to be an endless parade of practice drills where the teachers lock them in class rooms, because that's the solution to everything. Keep the children locked up and "safe" so they can go to an overpriced college and end up with a degree that entitles them to 80 years of white collar slavery if they’re lucky.

Kids are aware of this. At least in my community, we had bomb threats called into our elementary school every other month, and this was about as suburban as you can get (western Oregon, city pop 50,000 people). Only threats of violence, except for Kip Kinkle in the neighboring city, so while there wasn't much actual gore, there wasn't a lot of faith in humanity either. Yet on the other hand, all the adults around you are constantly saying that these are the best years of your life. Though I don’t know how anyone could ever think being locked in a box by a bunch of people who treat you like daycare charges is supposed to be great. Dark fantasy puts all these problems in a blender and turns them into metaphors. I find it to be very uplifting, as even in the darkest worlds, the protagonists are usually capable of changing things for the better.
I probably shouldn’t have gone into this, because it’s beside the point. DaveF, you have the right to whatever opinion you want. I hated Saw and Hostel, too, for the reasons you've described. I'm not offended by your sentiment, I'm offended by your choice of forum. I have no doubt you can debate the old chicken versus the egg conundrum--is violence/fear media the cause or the consequence of our social woes?--but this isn’t the place. Casually dismissing an aspiring author's entire book -- something you haven't even read -- as torture porn is not helpful. I feel like it's our job not to be choosing the author's content but to help them shape that content into the best possible form.
On the query itself:
I really like the idea here, because you have the space to play around with contrasts. The relationship between a loving mother and a daughter who loves her but hates what she's doing could be really powerful. I suspect there’ve been a lot of times in history where children have had to deal with this very revelation. Looking for proof of guilt instead of innocence is a nice twist.

The biggest problem I see is that I don't get much sense of setting. Your query tells us there are telephones, and the names sound present-day (even slightly old-fashioned, as Heather was big when I was in school but not so much now). If the names had been Latin American, I would have assumed this is Chile under Pinochet, or something else set in the relatively near future/past, until I got to the last line.

I’d like to see more about the antagonists. Like someone else said, all regimes torture confessions out of dissidents and have secret intel services. I feel like I have a better handle on the cute boy. But since dystopias depend so much on setting (and most of them have subplots involving cute boys), I recommend focusing on what makes your dictatorship unique. This is especially important since agents like Jenny Bent are saying editors are getting a little tired of post-apocalpytic stories (much to DaveF’s delight, I’m sure).

The title does seem a little Middle Grade. I like "Tortured," though I can see how it could also end up being perceived as a really bad pun. This is a solid query, I just want more specifics.

Confused by Heather said...

I don't understand how the girls could be friends in the first place. A dissident's daughter wouldn't let her anywhere near a torturer's daughter, I'd think. Also, once Heather found out who had killed her parents, isn't she much more likely to hate Becca instantly and never want to contact her again? I'm sure the book covers this but it might be worthwhile to include the explanation in the query.

Anonymous Author said...

People who think the world is getting bleaker, or more violent, haven't read their history.

The world's never been anything but.

Compared to earlier ages we have it easy, at least here in the US, and I haven't noticed many teenagers evincing an interest in anywhere else.

Listen, I've seen horrible things happen. It doesn't make me want to go out and read about torture. Quite the opposite to be honest.

Anonymous said...

Unrepentant, we do address subject matter sometimes on this forum. If it's inappropriate to do so, I suppose our host will tell us to knock it off. I think it's appropriate in some sense, because some agents won't handle bleak subject matter -- no less an agent than Jeff Kleinman has said of no less a work than The Lovely Bones, "I so could put it down that I actually threw it out the window. I didn't even want it in the house with me." Now re-read DaveF's post. It is not "casual."

I also agree with Anonymous Author, and I'll state: both a history lesson and a more rigorous reading of the news would be in order.

Evil Editor said...

I post all comments that aren't too mean-spirited. It is worth noting, however, that when the query appears here, in almost all cases the book has been completed. No one's going to rewrite their book just because some stranger commenting on a blog doesn't like the subject matter. I can't think of any subject or tone that hasn't been successfully used in a book.

People want to know what's not working in their query letter. If the query makes the plot sound cliche or contrived or ridiculous, we should point that out. It's up to the author to decide whether the actual plot really is cliche or contrived or ridiculous.

Joe G said...

This query generated some interesting conversation, huh? Personally, I like books that may have a bleak and cynical view of the world, but present us with protagonists who just keep moving on no matter how terrible things get. Sadly, things don't always end happily for them. Even young adults recognize that this is the fact of life. We keep going until we can't anymore, and tough stories present us with a metaphor for our own struggles.

I don't think it's necessarily akin to, as Dave said, torture porn like Saw where the idea is just to watch people get chopped up.

Jayme A. said...

Dave F, most teens don't read books to learn lessons. Nor do they want to read history books. In fact, I remember skipping out on my sophomore history class to read Harry Potter. And I still got a D+ in Mr. Edmundson's class!

Maybe one reason dark dystopia (like The Hunger Games) is so popular is that it puts the reader's problems into perspective. Take a 19-year old college girl: "Wow, getting rejected for a VIctoria's Secret credit card isn't so bad, after all. At least I don't have to live in a place called District 12. How uncool is that?" Or maybe dystopian worlds are just entertaining. Fun doesn't have to equal rainbows and lollipops, you know. Although there is something wonderful about cuddling up with a tootsie roll pop and a twisted, dystopian YA novel.

Anywho, to the author: I like your query and the premise to your novel sounds pretty interesting. I think the title will catch interest while your novel is on submission. It can always be changed later if an agent/publisher has a problem with it. Good luck!

Unrepentant Escapist said...

@ anon author. You're right. That's a good point. I certainly wouldn't want to give up my air-conditioned/heated house for a hutch in the desert. But when I was a teenager, it felt like the world was getting bleaker, probably because the blinders of childhood had started to fall away. But knowing that a lot of other people suffer/have suffered/will suffer didn't exactly make me feel better.

@ arhooley. Maybe. I just don't see how you can judge whether or not a book is "torture porn" based on a short query that contains no graphic descriptions of torture whatsoever. That seems to me like a rush to judgment.

none said...

Eh, I didn't like Hunger Games because I didn't believe someone with that background would behave in that way.

Given that the dissidents aren't really dissidents, I don't see why Becca and Heather can't be friends. The plausibility or otherwise the phone call depends on its content, and the nature of their friendship, seems to me.

Anonymous said...

@ arhooley. Maybe. I just don't see how you can judge whether or not a book is "torture porn" based on a short query that contains no graphic descriptions of torture whatsoever. That seems to me like a rush to judgment.

What? I didn't say a word about "torture porn."

Unrepentant Escapist said...

@ arhooley: Sorry, I meant that in response to your response to "re-read DaveF's post. It is not "'casual.'" IE, I still think it felt casual.

_*rachel*_ said...

I could use a little more info on setting; I wasn't sure when or where this was, which made names like Heather (and things like teen drama phone calls) hard to reconcile with what I originally envisioned as medieval-type torture. It's probably make my googly-eyed reaction to this cool down a bit, too--though this does sound like a really interesting book.

"And how can Becca continue to live silently in a world where lives are sacrificed every day to feed propaganda and lies?" --She's got to tell them the truth: Soylent Green is people!

I agree with AlaskaRavensClaw--that's normal for this sort of government; it shouldn't be news.

For me--excepting torture porn, which I avoid like the plague--the worse the situation is, the more fulfilling it is when the protagonist rises above it. It's why I hated 1984 and loved Speak and The Hunger Games.

Please, somebody write GTP 6.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

PSA: I noticed one UK agency that is open to submissions for only very short windows of time (current window is thru Dec) is specifically looking for YA dystopian.

Zeno Agency

Phoenix Sullivan said...

In case that link isn't linking:

M. G. E. said...

So, it's like Twilight set in Castro's Cuba in the early days, and Che Guevara is her mother :P

It's not a bad premise, but I would be suspicious that I'd run into a thinly veiled didactic political agenda showing through when the pages showed up.

Also, proving her friend's parents actually were guilty, that's a switch... >_> I mean, even if you succeeded, does that make your friend feel better <_<

Anonymous said...

Eh, I didn't like Hunger Games because I didn't believe someone with that background would behave in that way.

I so wish this weren't an old post so I could ask BuffySquirrel what she meant here. Buff? Any chance you're still listening? What do you mean by "that way" (specifically)?