Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Face-Lift 849

Guess the Plot

Flute Music

1. In the woodwind section of the New York Philharmonic, Dan is infatuated with first flautist Steve, and the masterful technique with which he wields his impressive instrument. Unfortunately, all Dan has is a piccolo.

2. The new boy at school, Hiro Yotosan, plays the flute and is from Japan. He'd like to ask out some of the girls . . . but he plays the flute. Can he talk the handsome football captain, Jock, into loving his kind of music?

3. An unfortunate piercing incident leaves Zeke's nether region horribly disfigured - or so he thinks. While seeking comfort and oblivion in the embrace of a lady of the night, Zeke discovers a unique use for "Little Zeke," and embarks on a quest to have his unusual instrument accepted in mainstream orchestral circles.

4. When Mala's environmentalist friend becomes the latest in a line of people murdered for trying to expose polluting practices at the mine, only one thing keeps her from falling into a state of depression: flute music.

5. Stoners Ralph and Earl go on a quest for dope and bring back finger paints, which is not pleasing to their girlfriends. Their second attempt results in the discovery of flute music, another unappreciated advance in the technology of man. Will these lovable losers ever get laid?

6. France, 1689. Young Charles Le Tour has been playing the flute with Master Le Normand since he was six. He's sixteen, writing his own compositions. With a Royal visit due in their town, can he convince M. Le Normand to let him play his own work for the King--or will he have to play the same Te Deums as everyone else?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Sixteen-year-old Mala's decision to take up cudgels on behalf of the environment gets the attention of the local mine owner. People who get his attention usually end up dead. [My research reveals that taking up cudgels is a British and Australian idiom. In the US, readers may assume Mala plans to use her cudgels for bludgeoning.] [I was going to declare "cudgel bludgeon" a great tongue twister, but personal experimentation reveals that it's not as tough as you'd think to say it five times fast. Thus I'll instead recommend "ski sash."]

When Mala's mother gets a job at the Calvert Mining Company, it's a chance at a new life, a chance to leave behind their old town and its bitter memories. [Their idea of a fresh start in life is to move to a mining town where people regularly and mysteriously end up dead? Maybe you should tell us what their life used to be like.]

A short time after they move into the new town, a fiery accident kills an EPA agent. Police close the case as a DUI. But Mala's environmentalist friend convinces her that her mother's boss, Mr. Calvert, murdered the agent to hide the fact that the mine failed to use proper safeguards to prevent pollution. Mala is torn between helping her friend get evidence and fear her mother would lose her job [working for a serial killer]. Then her friend's body is found in the mines, next to a stack of explosives. Police close that case as an accident too - that her friend, in the process of trying to blow up the mines, fell and hit her head. The police chief happens to be Mr. Calvert's close friend.

[Police chief: We found her in the mine; looks like she fell and hit her head.
Medical Examiner: Actually, it looks more like she was bludgeoned with a cudgel.
Police chief (glaring): Perhaps you didn't hear me?
ME: What was I thinking? I don't even know what a cudgel is.]

Bitter and angry, Mala takes on Aiyana's cause, [If you're going to name this character, name her when you introduce her. Then you won't have to keep calling her "friend."] determined to bring down the powerful mine owner. Brad, a junior in her school, offers to help. While warm feelings stir between them, a cold reality faces them. Mr. Calvert is not about to let a couple of teenagers stop him [Stop him . . . from not using proper safeguards? How about shut down the mine?] - and murder comes easy to him by now.

My YA novel FLUTE MUSIC, complete at 54,000 words, is available for your review.

[Note (not part of query): I decided on that title because Mala meets her friend through their love for flute music. When her friend dies, the flute keeps her from going into depression and focused on her goal.]
[I don't care who died; no one can stay sad for long with Jethro Tull's "Bourée" on the iPod.]


Few are aware that Jethro Tull's song "Bungle in the Jungle" was originally titled "Bludgeoned with a Cudgel."

I don't think the first paragraph is needed. Presumably Mom and Mala are unaware that Calvert murders everyone who gets his attention, so we don't need to know it up front. The murders will seem more shocking if we don't know they occur on a daily basis.

Possibly you could try opening with
Aiyana's death, then mention the other murders and put more time into the Mala/Brad part of the novel, which I assume is the main plot. Much of what's here (moving to town, EPA guy's "accident") is just setting up the situation.


Anonymous said...

The title of your book is like a tiny advertisement. It is supposed to help people who want to read books like yours realize they should spend their money on this, not that other stuff. Using some obscure detail in the book as your title might give potential agents an impression you don't really know what the book is about. Or maybe flute music is a huge giant wonderful part of the book, in which case you should rewrite the query to better convey that.

vkw said...

The title has to go. I thought the book would be about Jethro Tull. I think the title should be reserved for Jethro Tull. Flute music apparently to many people inspires sexual thoughts and bad jokes.

"taking up a cudgel for the environment" didn't have meaning for me and I am not sure that is what happened to Mala. It sounds like Mala decided to find out who killed her friend. The environemnt is just extra.

The story would have been more timely if the mine owner was violating safety regulations than environmental.

As for your query, not really my type of book so that is all I have to add today.


Evil Editor said...

Usually there's a back cover or some online information to help readers decide what kind of book it is. Did anyone know from the title what The Silence of the Lambs was about? Or The Catcher in the Rye? Or Gone with the Wind? That said, Aiyana could be introduced as Mala's fellow flute fanatic friend.

Joe G said...

You got the story across but the antagonist seems small and easily overcome. You immediately think, “Why is she so dumb as to not report a murder she has information about?” This sounds like a thriller or a horror novel for young adults, but the villain is revealed immediately in the story and then one wonders where the story is supposed to go from there since the conclusion is evident (defeat or be defeated). A similar story is Stephen King’s IT. The villain is introduced almost immediately and is present on every page, but he’s so freakin’ scary that you just keep chugging along to see how these kids could possibly defeat such a terrifying monster. This is helped by the fact that he makes you love the kids and both fear and love the monster. Also, Stephen King is an incredibly inventive writer. Or you think of Night of the Hunter, or 101 Dalmations, where the villain is extremely compelling and scary and you can’t imagine how he will be overcome. Or Harry Potter vs. Voldemort.

Right now, your villain is melodramatic (and killing comes easy to him now!). The query could do a better job of getting the basic plot of person vs. monster out of the way and suggest why we want to read about these characters, in this world, what’s unique here. What else happens in the story? Is it very closed? Does she end up in the mines for the most terrifying night of her life? Or is something bigger at stake? What’s the spin?

not normally anonymous said...

Is it just me or did we read essentially the same query a month ago, instead of a mine, an elevator. Instead of a flute, a serial rapist. "The Shaft" remember?

Anyway, I'm not digging this one at all (get it, mining/digging). First of all, do NOT use a word in the opening sentence that people are going to need to look up. Even looking it up I don't understand how you're using it. Or maybe this is a foreign submittal? If so, I apologize.

Next, the whole thing sounds contrived. Moving to a new town to work at a mining company just sounds dumb and unrelatable. If they had a horrendous life and this is a step up, let us see that so we can relate to the character otherwise we have no reason to like her.

And if they just moved to town, how does she already have a friend close enough that she'd believe (with no evidence apparently, just convincing) that her mom's employer is a mass murderer? People DO die in mines all the time of terrible but natural causes.

And 54k words is too short. Even for YA which this sounds nothing like.

not normally again said...

All respect, EE, the three titles you mention all don't necessarily mean anything, but like Water for Elephants and the DaVinci Code...they're alluring, interesting, and enticing. They make you want to know what the book is about.

"The Flute" does none of that. "Flute in a Mineshaft" "Flautist of Coal" there are a ton of potential "nonsensical" titles that would be interesting or alluring.

Evil Editor said...

Anonymous wasn't complaining that the title isn't alluring. He/she commented that "Using some obscure detail in the book as your title might give potential agents an impression you don't really know what the book is about."

Silence and Catcher use obscure details for the titles.

In any case, if the publisher doesn't like your title, there is no chance it will end up on your book, so don't sweat it.

flibgibbet said...

I'm having a hard time with the premise. As written, it strikes me as a cozy MG mystery, rather like a Nancy Drew.

Perhaps if you stated how these two teenagers plan to take down a corporate big wig and a police chief, I'd have a different opinion. As is, I just can't imagine a plausible outcome.

Anonymous said...

What's Mr. Calvert's first name? I think you should use it, even if Mala and her mom always call him Mister.

M. G. E. said...

Yeah, the title has no resonances with the rest of the plot, but that's why authors regularly get overruled by publishers in the end.

The plot needs to be shored up a bit, it's rather melodramatic right now and your protag seems TSTL, because an average person would just turn to the feds or flee town. So why doesn't she? Why is her life worth risking such that she has to do it all herself?

Different Anon said...

But even with the obscure detail, you kind of get an ominous feeling with Silence of the Lambs. I mean how would you silence a lamb?

Flute Music reminds me of junior high band.

none said...

Did reading the book tell anyone what Silence of the Lambs was about? I only saw the movie.

Eh, cudgels is seriously that obscure? Or do we have to use Janet & John language in our queries now?

There's no way to know what words the potential reader may know and which they won't. So I say respect the reader's ability to guess or work round an unfamiliar word, rather than trying to reduce your language to the lcd. Treat people as if they're idiots and idiots is what they'll be.

That said, I'm not feeling this query at all. There ought to be a bit more life in it--people are being horribly murdered and the environment polluted, but hey I've got my flute and that boy's

St0n3henge said...

LOVE Jethro Tull. Especially Bouree...

But seriously, author, it might be worth spending some time thinking up a better title, or else you'll be stuck with whatever the publisher picks. I can tell you no normal teenager will voluntarily pick up a book with the title "Flute Music."

And, yeah, it does sound a little Scooby Doo, except not quite as plausible. I expect it to end this way:

"Mr. Calvert! So there was no ghost! It was you bludgeoning people with a cudgel all along!"

"Yeah, and I would have gotten away with it, too- if it weren't for you darn kids!"

So you know THAT can't be good.

Is there a reason why the police won't help? Are they in on it? Is this mine operator "The Man Who Owns The Town?"

And why would the mine owner be so afraid of a teen girl he'd kill her? Certainly he could have just denied anything she brought up as evidence. What was it, a full confession he just left lying around?

There are too many holes in this flute for me.

Dave Fragments said...

I don't care what the title of the book is. It's nearly irrelevant to the query. This could be called "The McGurty Mine Strike" or "The Mine Shaft" or "Love's Giant Hole" and the query would read the same.

The query isn't describing the story. Instead it is confusing readers. This is a labor battle between a corrupt mine owner killing safety people, dissidents and organizers and the miners who are trying to make a living. It is a revenge story about a 16 year old seeking justice. I've been told about labor battles and they ain't pretty with teen love affairs between a any Brad and Janet. Damnit. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun). You have to describe how this teen love story fits into the downfall of a terrible mine owner.

Fix the query, keep the flute title.

Anonymous said...

For me, the plot just doesn't hold together. (I assume that since you mention the EPA you're in the USA, but my comments would be true in most modern English-speaking nations)

The "small town coverup" plot is a standard one, and it depends on the feeling of isolation - that the only source of justice is the town's police and if they won't help no-one else can. The protagonist also needs to feel she alone can or will solve this crime, and her need for justice must be greater than her fear. That amount of desire is hard to make believable now that her friend has died doing exactly what she now proposes to do. Why would Mala think she'd be any better at staying alive than her friend was?

But in fact she has many safe options. She can e-mail the state police, the FBI, the EPA, the national media and any number of other whistle-blowers, watchdogs and law enforcers. She can e-mail her friends who live in another town and so aren't affected by the corrupt police. Never mind if the villains catch her and shut down her internet access - once the word is out the isolation is lost. If she gets caught trying to send the very first e-mail she sounds TSTL.

Even though your target market is YA, your plot should hold together for adults. I can't believe that when one of their agents dies on the job the EPA says "Awww, Joe's dead. Too bad. Better drop that investigation." Even if they believe it's a DUI, the investigation isn't completed, so the file is merely assigned to somebody else. Plus, I bet they're a suspicious lot at the EPA (and they've seen "Silkwood") and the death has made them ramp up their investigation rather than abandon it.

The plot does sound Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew (and they do a lot of unbelievable things) until Aiyana dies. Now you have a headline like "Teenager dies from bump on head while trying to blow up mine" which is even less believable than "EPA agent's death is an accident" I think Aiyana's death would focus suspicion on the villains rather than dissipate it, so the motive for Mala to believe she's the only chance for justice to prevail is lost.

M. G. E. said...

@Buffysquirrel: "Did reading the book tell anyone what Silence of the Lambs was about? I only saw the movie."
- Well, in the movie they do explain it. I assume it's the same as the novel. Clarice explains she was raised on a farm and witnessed the slaughtering of the Spring lambs. They were screaming, and she tried to save one, but couldn't in the end.

That title is indeed quite creepy, and has resonances with the euphemism of "being silenced", ie: being killed or assassinating.

This title doesn't do anything like that. I think if you ever have to explain in a query why you chose a particular title, that's a good sign that it needs to be changed.

Your title is your first hook. Unfortunately, this title could be mistaken as a non-fiction book on chamber music, and that's not a good sign.

none said...

Hmm, sounds more like it was the Screaming of the Lambs that was at issue. But thanks :).

As for the idea that if you don't have a good title, you'll get stuck with the publisher's title...that's likely to happen anyway, so don't sweat it too much. Publishers have a little more experience than most authors in what titles sell to the target readers and what don't. Or at least, they think they do.

author said...

Thanks, everyone. I've got so much useful information to go on now to revise the entire query. I like honest feedback, even if it's brutal. It helps so much more and gives me the motivation to keep revising it and hopefully (fingers crossed) get it RIGHT (maybe in a few years).
Thanks, EE, for your totally unevil comments.

Evil Editor said...

The author did not explain the title in the query. I provided the explanation so that readers of this blog would know where I came up with the real plot in the Guess the Plot feature.

The book would not be mistaken for nonfiction in a bookstore because it would be shelved with other YA fiction, not with books about chamber music. It would not be mistaken for nonfiction by the agent reading the query because the agent doesn't care about the title. Besides, the title isn't revealed until after the book is described. Plus, the only book I've ever rejected solely because of the title was Getting Away with Pedophilia.

Quiz: Of those books you've never heard of on the following list, which are fiction and which are nonfiction?

The Gun
The March
Wicked River
The Last Boy
The Hamilton Case
Unaccustomed Earth
Magic for Beginners
A Ticket to the Circus
Hellhound on his Trail
The Warmth of Other Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns
The Financial Lives of the Poets
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Answers below. The books, by the way, were all on lists of the best books of the year recently, not lists of books whose titles could be fiction or nonfiction.

Disclaimer: This comment is in no way an attempt to defend Flute Music as the title.

Nonfiction: The Gun, Wicked River, The Last Boy, A Ticket to the Circus, Hellhound on his Trail,
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

none said...

Hmm, I thought I had heard of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Or at least seen it on sale in Waterstones.

Ah...Waterstones! *gets all nostalgic*

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:46 here. Commented on the title because i couldn't think of anything constructive to say about the rest of the query. Didn't mean to distract the discussion. Sorry.