Thursday, April 07, 2011

Face-Lift 890

Guess the Plot

The Handcuff Kid

1. Sold into servitude by his foster father, Jack joins a traveling vaudeville show, performing as an escape artist. It's not a bad life, except for the fact that he never gets any applause because the audience is dead.

2. His name is Jeffy, he's eight, and his superpower is the ability to catch criminals by throwing magical handcuffs at them. His sidekick, Mittens, is a talking house cat.

3. He prowls the roughest part of town, a pair of handcuffs hanging from each of his belt loops. He moves so fast he can cuff half a dozen criminals before they can even fire their weapons. He's the non-violent crimefighting twelve-year-old known as . . . The Handcuff Kid.

4. Little Jack Ormond takes his police officer father's handcuffs to school for show and tell. When Jack busts an illegal crack smuggling and prostitution ring working from the school nurse's office, he becomes America's newest hero, the Handcuff Kid.

5. When Police Chief Roy Hansen gives his son plastic handcuffs for his eleventh birthday, he ignores the disapproval of his ultra-liberal neighbors. But when the same handcuffs are found on a murdered hooker in a seedy hotel room, the Chief begins to re-think the age-appropriateness of the toy.

6. As kids, the neighbor boys never wanted to play ball with Willie. He just wasn’t any good. But now they’re older and baseball games have turned into petty theft. When the neighborhood kids discover that Willie has a knack for unlocking locks, they suddenly want him to play.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am currently seeking representation and hoped my young adult novel might interest you. The Handcuff Kid [Coincidentally, that's what the ladies used to call Evil Editor back in my college days.] is the story of Jack Karr, juvenile delinquent extraordinaire, a foster kid whose one constant in life is his love and admiration of Harry Houdini.

Jack arrives at a new foster home only to discover that his foster father, a mad professor, has sold him into servitude in purgatory. [Isn't it about time we overhauled the screening process for foster parenting?] Under the evil eye of the Amazing Mussini, Jack becomes a member of a traveling vaudeville act [show] and, with a motley gang of kids, travels around purgatory entertaining the dead.

Having no thespian-like skills, Jack’s only act is to perform a few of the tricks of Houdini. All he wants to do is to get back to the land of the living, but the more dangerous the tricks he performs the more the dead like him, and Jack becomes the star of the show. [When you finally find your audience, and it's the dead, it's time to look for a new act.] In a daring escape attempt Jack risks his life to perform Houdini’s most perilous trick—the Chinese water torture cell. [The only thing worse than the Chinese water torture, in which you're strapped down and a drop of water is dripped on your forehead every few minutes until you go insane, is going to a vaudeville show and finding out the first act is some guy being subjected to the Chinese water torture.]

The story stresses ingenuity and resilience—a little man-made magic in tough times—just like [as] Houdini did throughout his life.

Interspersed between the chapters are one-page bits on the life of Houdini and his tricks. [Cool. Though possibly more cool to a middle-grader than YA.] The novel tops out at 54,000 words. Thanks for your time.



Not sure why the foster father is a mad professor; he sounds more evil than mad. If being trapped in purgatory is a tough sell you might consider putting the traveling vaudeville show somewhere in the mortal realm, like the Catskills. Being sold into servitude in the Catskills has to be as bad as being sold into servitude in Purgatory. And your audience is still pretty much dead people.


Anonymous said...

Gives a whole new meaning to touring with the Dead.

"...the more dangerous the tricks he performs the more the dead like him..."

I would think being dead would give you a very different perspective on danger and would make it somewhat less thrilling.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what EE said. Many interesting elements here and it could be very good. But I'm just not getting the Purgatory / Vaudeville situation. Using a 'well known' place to set your story but making fundamental things about the place inconsistent with what we 'know' raises a lot of questions about the aptness of the setting. Especially when it's a mythical place. 'Purgatory' comes with a lot of associated baggage and a whole cast of characters, not just a lot of moaning dead. Is this meant to be a Christian sort of Purgatory? Or is it meant to be a totally secular place? And if it is totally secular, how can Purgatory even exist? Why call it Purgatory if you're not using the whole mythical shebang? Or, if it is a Christian sort of Purgatory, why not make that more clear? And how can he get out? Does he wake up and it's all just a bad dream in the end, or what?

batgirl said...

Isn't this already published? It sounds very very familiar (did I read it on Absolute Write maybe?)

Evil Editor said...

As I mentioned on March 15 in the post titled Query Surge, (, several queries submitted in 2006 to the Miss Snark lottery (which lost the lottery) and which I critiqued briefly then, but not on this blog, were added to the query queue in order to get fake plots so we could weather a query drought.

This book was published under the title The Carnival of Lost Souls. The author failed to report the publication, thus missing out on the sales surge that comes whenever Evil Editor reports a success story.

Evil Editor said...

BTW, the bottom three titles currently in the query queue are the remaining extras. As the authors probably aren't still reading this blog, I'd prefer to get fake plots for the titles at the top of the queue.

batgirl said...

Ah, got it! That's what happens when I go offline for a week. I miss all the fast-breaking news.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

The fact that the story was already published and the author is unlikely to read any comments makes posting one a likely futile endeavor. But I like doing it anyway.

Purgatory as it exists in this story needs to be defined. It's not clear what the rules of Purgatory are, what Jack has to do to escape (if it's really just the fact that the audience of dead people likes his act holding him there, couldn't he just put on a lousy show and get kicked out?), or if getting sent to Purgatory is a pretty regular thing in this world. I don't get any sense that Hack was shocked or terrified by either learning that Purgatory is a real place or being sent there with the possibility of never being able to return. If we don't understand what Purgatory is, it might as well be any place that Jack can't easily escape from.

Since the remarkable abilities of the real Harry Houdini seems to be a major aspect of this story, I'm a little concerned that a real escape artist might be overshadowed by the fictional mad professor who can apparently communicate with the dead and send the living to Purgatory for fun and profit.

I like the actual publication title much better than the query title, as it clues potential readers in to the supernatural nature of the story in a way that the query title does not.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I don't personally have an issue with the Purgatory/performing for the dead thing because I enjoy the irony that Jack's greatest desire (returning to the land of the living) is in direct opposition to his actions (performing greater and greater death-defying stunts.) In fact, I found it pretty amusing.

I think this is the first time the story has been the GTP I wanted it to be. Well played, author. Well played.

150 said...

I said it back then and I'll say it again: I WOULD READ THIS.

Evil Editor said...

And now there's no reason you can't.