Monday, February 07, 2011

Face-Lift 867

Guess the Plot


1. Sharing their squalid apartment, all three dream of fame and glory. But when Hop Toit and Jump Toconclusions end up as cubicle slaves, is there any hope for Skip Tomylou?

2. His real name is Reinhardt Flimbergast IV, and he's an ogre in miniature, the terror of Mrs. Jones' fourth grade class. She's on the verge of burning her hair and joining the Peace Corps when she realizes the only viable alternative is to bring this juvenile despot-in-training down a peg. So she gives him that nickname. The rest is history.

3. Inspired by his two young daughters, Dr. Robert Bormann’s exercise regime is sweeping the nation. A dynamic combination of aerobic workout and youthful exuberance, the "Bormann workout" is unparalleled in converting couch potatoes to exercise enthusiasts. Don’t walk. Don’t jog. Skip.

4. A novel told through the journal entries of a ten-year-old who writes about everything--everything except her older sibling, who might literally kill her if she even tried. And yes, I know the meaning of "literally." Unfortunately, this means everything in the journal is drop-dead boring.

5. In the year 2113, a handsome rapscallion makes his fortune by stealing and then hopping between dimensions. When he makes a haul so huge he can end his life of crime, he realizes that means leaving behind the beautiful cop who's been on his tail -- and who might be the girl of his dreams.

6. Elaine has been cursed with a great infirmity from birth--she can't walk, she only skips. When she realizes only a modeling career can bring her happiness, she goes on a quest to revolutionize the catwalk world to accommodate her impairment.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Ten year old Brooke writes in her journal about almost everything. Brooke writes about how hard spelling tests are in fifth grade

[January 16

Faled anudder speling tessed. Fith grayed sux. If Caitlin wood lemme cheet offer payper Ide dew bedder. Sum frend.]

and about how angry she is at her former best friend Kaitlyn [Angry why?]. Brooke writes about everything except Leah.

Leah is Brooke’s big sister and Leah is sick. At least that’s what Brooke’s parents say. Brooke doesn’t know what kind of sickness makes you punch walls and refuse to get out of bed, but she knows she doesn’t want to make Leah mad. And last time Leah caught Brooke writing in her notebook about her Leah was really mad. ["Was really mad" is vague. See how much more interesting it is with some specificity: Last time she caught Brooke writing about her, Leah stripped her nude, coated her with honey and dropped her off in the middle of bear country.] Brooke doesn’t mind not writing about Leah though- she kind of likes getting to pretend that her sister doesn’t exist.

While Brooke continues trying to focus on school and her complicated relationships with her friends, Leah takes a turn for the worse. As insurance bills, [broken] dishes, and failed spelling tests pile up, Brooke is forced to stop pretending and start growing up. [I'm not crazy about consecutive long sentences with the same structure. While x, y. As z, q. You could drop the first sentence and insert "Leah takes a turn for the worse, and" after "pile up." This also puts the "stop pretending" sentence directly after the "likes to pretend" sentence, making it more clear what it is she has to stop pretending.]

SKIP is a middle grade novel told through Brooke’s journal entries. It is complete at 22,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Specifics that illustrate your points are more interesting than generalities.

If Brooke doesn't write about Leah in the journal, and the story is told through the journal entries... you see where I'm going with this?
It seems like Leah is in the query more than she's in the book. What's the plot? By "turn for the worse," do you mean Leah is dying, or becoming more uncontrollable?

The writing feels simplistic and plodding, even for a middle grade audience. For instance: "she kind of likes getting to pretend that her sister doesn’t exist" could be "she likes pretending her sister doesn't exist." "Continues trying to focus on school and her complicated relationships with her friends" could be "tries to focus on school and her complicated friendships."

Are there lots of misspelled words in the journal?

Note to evil minions: this was the last query in the queue. If you've been waiting for the perfect time to submit yours, now's it.


Anonymous said...

Ok, well, I'm not getting it. Maybe you were so excited about your innovative structure and all you skipped mention of the exciting plot. 'Not writing about' the drama queen in your story doesn't seem = to a book agents will be excited about.

Anonymous said...

If this is a fifth grader, how about "doctor bills" instead of "insurance bills"? (Insurance bills are always the same quarterly payment anyway.)

I guess Brooke's spelling is going to gradually improve over the course of the novel, since you say she's forced to grow up. I wonder how many American fifth graders will even notice.

vkw said...

I don't usually comment on queries for the middle school age audience - because that is not my interest.

However, I may be interested in this story. The idea of a child living with a sibling with a disability and coping with that is (to me) intriguing. I think there is a market for this. I'm more intrigue the disability is cognitive/emotional rather than physical.

That being said 1. I am wondering how the author deals with this in journal form when the MC can't/won't write about her sister; 2. a child writing a journal with poor spelling is a difficult sell. (children spell bad enough without having to read it in a book. An important purpose of a novel for this age group is to assist with the student learning to read and spell and write); 3. I'm worried about the disability and how it is depicted in the book. I would encourage the query to name the disability. If the disability is a developmental disability - then we have a problem with how the sibling was able to read the journal. If it is related to a brain injury or mental illness then we may have a problem with this child remaining in the home possibly endangering a younger sibling. In which case mom and dad have more things to worry about than insurance bills. (Knock, Knock "I'm here from child protective services . . . can I come in.")

And my last concern, the author wrote a query to "sound" youngish and maybe even childish. (I think, I hope). I don't think this is a good way to go about a professional letter. Voice can be added without it.

probably my way too many coppers - but I LOVE the subject matter. Kudos to the author for that.

Beth said...

I think the query needs to tell us exactly what's wrong with Leah. Otherwise, we don't know what's at stake, and if we don't know what's at stake, then we find it hard to care.

(Yet another two-syllable word verifiation ending with O: Gobso. EE--do you suppose you've inadvertently tapped into some unheretofore suspected conspiracy code, the unravelling of which could spell the doom of mankind, not to mention the end of all two-syllable words ending with a,e,i, or u?)

none said...

Ten-year-old Brooke fills her journal with how hard spelling tests are in fifth grade and exactly how angry she is with her former best friend.

She never mentions her big sister. Not only because Leah, who stays in bed all day and punches walls, threatened to punch her if she was ever mentioned again. But also because Brooke enjoys creating a world in which Leah doesn't exist.

When Leah takes a turn for the worse, and doctors' bills and dishes start piling up, Brooke finds it harder than ever to focus on her difficulties with tests and friendships.

Facing up to Leah's illness is scary, especially when nobody tells Brooke anything, but her home life and her journal life are moving so far apart that she must choose which she will inhabit.

Eh. Not entirely happy with that, esp given the opportunities for pronoun confusion. But I tried :).

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Wow, Buffy, I really liked the ending to your version of the query. It makes the stakes both unusual and intriguing.

Author, I could be enticed to read this, but I agree that the query needs a few tweaks. I'm guessing the spelling test mention isn't as big a deal as people think - spelling tests tend to include words above a person's reading/speaking level. But since it's causing such a stir (unless I'm wrong and the journal is full of misspellings), maybe "English tests" would work better for the query.

Chicory said...

Is the novel told entirely through journal entries, or is the journal just there to provide contrast between what Brooke is going through and what she chooses to write about?

Lauren K said...

Thanks so much for all the advice and comments.
I'm reworking both the query and parts of the novel right now. I plan to submit a new version of the query to Pheonix's blog in a week or two.
Thanks again for all the help. I really do appreciate it.

Eleanor said...

I am not querying anything these days but my sanity.

Great concept in today's query. My concerns with it have been stated by others so I'll only expand slightly:

- too wordy (try or try not, there is no 'continue to try'), which worries me because if the novel, which is already short-ish, is filled with padding words too, the actual story could be told in half the pages, making it un-salable in current form and, if properly edited down, too short to be a novel, even for MG readers.

-I don't get how the journal can reveal that Brooke's family life is falling apart if she never mentions the biggest problem, her sister, or the real-life strains that are forcing her retreat to the journal world.

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept. I too was wondering as I read the query how the story would be told and assumed there'd need to be some non-journal story otherwise we'd never know what she doesn't write about.

If this is done well, it will be interesting to see the contrast between what happens and what Brooke chooses to write about.

Lauren K said...

I'm realizing that I started my query at the wrong part of the story. lol. Brooke only avoids talking about Leah for the first third of the book. After that she begins to talk about her sister and also fills in some of the blanks on what was going on earlier in the book. It is told exclusively through journal entries but I didn't misspell any words. (At least not intentionally.)

Thanks again for all the help. I've submitted a revised version to Phoenix's blog. I believe it'll be up on Wednesday.

vkw said...

Wow Steve, that would be an interesting way to approach the story.

What if the story was told in alternating chapters where the child writes a journal entry which is totally devoid of any of the major things happening in her life.

Day one: Sister took a knife to mom and dad, they called the police and the ambulance came and took her away. She'll be back in a week.

Day one in the Journal. I flunked my spelling test today, again. My best friend hates me and I wish I had a boyfriend. Mom cried all night. My sister is still sick.

Anyway, I could see this being kind of cool but maybe too dark for a child's read. But that's not my genre or taste - so I don't know.

Stephen Prosapio said...

vkw -- are you writing anonymously as a sibling of mine?!?!? lol (kinda)

funny that I note similar threads running through our comments--even the comment you made long ago on my asylum novel (I think).

We should talk off thread sometime about a collaborative project easily split up. One writes the events of the day (or we alternate) and the other upon reading it writes the journal of the child?

I can't find you but through my links you can find me...

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I definitely agree that the query should state exactly what is wrong with Leah. Unless you have personal experience with it, writing about a person with a mental disorder requires a ton of research to make sure the story is an accurate and honest portrayal of how someone with this disorder might act, how that person's family might deal with the person's behavior, and what possibilities their might be for treatment of management.

I am concerned about the idea that Brooke feels somehow threatened by Leah to the point where she avoids writing about her in her (private?) journal, but their parents either aren't aware or haven't done anything to stop it. More specifics would probably help.

If Brooke starts writing about Leah a third of the way into the book, something must happen to make Brooke feel that she can write about Leah without having to worry about her sister getting mad. That should be in the query as well.

I would drop the bit about spelling tests being hard. I get that you're just trying to set up Brooke as an ordinary kid, but you don't want to give anyone even the slightest reading to believe that the whole book is going to look like the first few pages of Flowers for Algernon. Change it to any other kind of test and go on your merry way.