Monday, April 18, 2011

Face-Lift 895

Guess the Plot


1. It's a brilliant invention with a great design, animal trainer Pete Teasdale has the patent on it, and nobody is going to convince him that his chimps can't learn to use it. After all, if they're gonna wear clothes, the least they can do is get the wrinkles out.

2. Just when Xu-Thann thinks he has totally subdued the unruly masses with his great sword, Monkeyiron, along comes a usurper with an even longer sword: Apeiron.

3. Chester Dalton inherits the estate of a crazy uncle. He moves in, but OMG the place is haunted. Three seances and a paranormal investigator later Chester knows the cause: that statue out back. Apeiron is a cursed Egyptian relic stolen by his great-grandfather. It must returned to its tomb before the mummy horde wrap the rest of the Daltons.

4. Emily's never had a boyfriend. Her only "crush" has been Greek philosopher Anaximander, who coined the term "apeiron," which refers to the boundless, primordial mass from which everything originates. Can her friend Cho’s no-nonsense existentialism break through Emily's passion for pre-Socratic cosmology and help her determine if the growing numbness inside her is a normal part of being a teenager?

5. In a makeshift lab deep in the Congolese jungle, a genetic experiment goes wonderfully wrong. Super-intelligent chimps, bonobos and gorillas have learned to smelt metal and forge their own weapons. Will rapacious humanity get its comeuppance from . . . Apeiron?

6. While chasing her cat across a field, a sudden gust of wind lifts fifteen-year-old Marcy into the clouds, where she lands in the sky city of Apeiron. Can she stay in the bouncy land free of teenage troubles, or is she really just dead?

7. Lost for days in the Sahara desert, delirious Joe Flynn discovers proof that a band of baboons were forging iron fish hooks and cutlery two million years ago -- until a horde of space aliens destroyed their civilization. But will he live long enough to tell the world about it? And if he does, will anybody listen?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Emily Esburn buys her prom dress at the thrift store, takes the Jonas Brothers’ name in vain and has only ever admitted a crush on one person: an ancient Greek philosopher.

When she wakes up hungover in a creepy teacher’s house, Emily is mortified. [Are you sure you don't mean terrified?] She can’t bring herself to forgive Bonnie, the sort-of best friend who left her there. Despite her efforts to avoid Mr. Dubs, Emily realizes she has more in common with her teacher than she wants to admit; it’s hard to ignore the only other person [in the world] who shares her passion for pre-Socratic cosmology. As a strange and awkward relationship develops, Mr. Dubs may turn out to be Emily’s second official crush. Emily doesn’t know what to do about this. [The first sentence of this paragraph is giving a sinister impression. She wakes up hungover in the home of her philosophy teacher. Calling him "a creepy teacher" suggests she doesn't know him. Also, I'm not certain in sentence three that Mr. Dubs and the creepy teacher are the same character. Or if her efforts to avoid Mr. Dubs refers to that morning in his house, or to later when she's in school. How can she avoid him if she's in his class?]

Confused, Emily turns to Cho Park: an intimidating, brilliant classmate who seems like she has everything figured out. Cho’s no-nonsense existentialism [For those minions unfamiliar with philosophy, the chief no-nonsense existentialists were Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. You may be more familiar with the work of the nonsense existentialists, Lewis Carroll and Dr. Suess.] and forces Emily to reconsider her own beliefs, or troubling lack there-of. Emily struggles to determine if the growing numbnesss [numbnessssss] inside her is a normal part of being a teenager or something else altogether. [Does numbness actually grow, or does it just seem that way as energy and spirit wane? And would a fictional dialogue on this topic between Socrates and Wittgenstein be publishable in today's market?] Emily wants to figure out who she is and what she stands for, but the deeper she looks inside herself, the less she finds. [The meaning of that sentence may be clear to a professional philosopher, but to me it's as vague as the Sorites Paradox.]

Written as two thirds narrative and one third quirky, aphoristic journal entries, [Are you trying to get me to reject this book?] APEIRON is a 50000 word contemporary YA novel. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy [Aha. I knew there had to be a logical explanation for why the main character in a YA novel was obsessed with pre-Socratic cosmology. So this is autobiographical?] and APEIRON is my first novel. Thank you for your consideration,

[note for EE: Apeiron is a term used by the previously mentioned Greek philosopher, Anaximander. It refers to the boundless, primordial mass from which everything originates.]


There's too much philosophy and not enough plot. I can appreciate your attempt to find a use for your degree in philosophy, and I can appreciate injecting something about which you're knowledgeable into the story, especially if Emily's philosophical knowledge comes in handy the way Flavia de Luce's knowledge of chemistry helps her solve mysteries in the Alan Bradley novels (for instance, if Mr. Dubs gets murdered and Emily solves the crime through her knowledge of Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the tortoise). But this talk of cosmology and existentialism in the query doesn't convince us that the story itself is as fascinating as . . . philosophy.

Is there a romantic angle in this book with someone Emily's age? Her first crush with someone who's alive and not a creepy teacher? Does she continually reject boys because she could never love a Neoplatonist or a Skeptic, and then she finally meets a Phenomenologist and it's true love? I ask because even if Mr. Dubs weren't creepy, he'd still be pretty creepy.


Anonymous said...

Lolita meets Sophie's World?

Listen, I've been a (creepy) teacher, and one thing I can tell you is that a creepy teacher who has a student wake up hungover in his house is going to be a creepy former teacher, quicker than you can say "professional ethics".

The only plot element that emerges from the query is Emily's relationship with Mr. Dubs. Is that the main focus of the novel? If it is... well, rewrite the query to make that clear. I suppose Lolita from Lolita's POV could work.

Schoolgirl-digs-dead-white-male-philosophers probably can't work, as Sophie's World made abundantly clear.

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. Jonas.

150 said...

Don't stand so close to me!

This could work if it's brilliant. I hope it is. Try starting with the inciting incident ("When Emily wakes up hung over in a teacher's house") and then say what happens because of it, what comes of that (good and bad), and then what she has to decide between to go forward from there. You mentioned elsewhere online that it's character-driven. In this case, personal decisions and character changes can act as plot, but even then, try to show them through action. Good luck, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Confession: wrote some GTP for this with the assumption you had made the word up. Then stepped over to the computer to check that out and learned it might actually refer to some sort of Greek nonsense. Then decided, that's silly, nobody's going to pick up a book about something you need advanced degree in Classics or whatever to know it even exists, and went on writing GTP as if it was a nonsense word. Which it is. A more intelligible title might help. Foreign language titles are rarely the best choice. Especially dead ones. Also, less about philosophy. Or, possibly making Emily a college student, not high school.

Eric said...

Very interesting little rorschach test there: If you see "A-per-i-on," you're a Greek philosophy buff; if you see "Ape-iron," you're everybody else.

The Jonas Brothers will possibly be a rather dated pop-culture reference by the time this book sees print; considering your other cultural references are to Socrates and Anaximander, I'd suggest trimming them, at least from the book (and thus also from the query).

"No-nonsense" seems like an odd adjective to describe existentialism, but perhaps I haven't read enough Camus lately.

That's twiddling around, though, and the main thing is give us more plot. What happens to your character, and how does she resolve it?

Anonymous said...

Not sure if the author is aware, but Cho and Park are both last names. It's like naming someone Smith Johnson -- possible, but weird.

vkw said...

Oh my. I confess I have never, ever taken a philosophy class.

I know a lot about the history and symptoms of psychology.

So. . . . I think to myself, I wonder if there could a YA concerning some of the delimma's facing psychology . . . and decided: no, I don't even find them that interesting and I know teenagers couldn't care less.

We'll need a plot to be interested in the book because hinging everything on philosophy will make this book interesting to . . . well you and maybe someone else, somewhere.

But that isn't marketable.

Also not marketable, a love interest between a teacher and student. So if you go too far in that direction the story has to end with the teacher going to jail or losing their license.(You could make the teacher gay or married and then expound about how the philosphy deals with that reality bite.

Students don't pass out in creepy teacher's homes - if the teacher would like ot keep his/her job.

Teachers call parents to come pick up drunk student so they may keep their job.

Anonymous said...

EE provided a hint you should ponder before revising: the fiction of certain nonsensical existentialists is quite popular among readers of all ages. The fiction of their no-nonsense counterparts -- does it even exist???

These popular books can be read and enjoyed with or without a clue about their 'deeper' philosophical meanings, a quality that is critical to their success. That same quality might be the key to your book's success. Think 'audience size'. Commercial success requires a big one.

Anonymous said...

Eric-- I saw "apeiron" and actually saw a cluster of letters arranged in an unfamiliar manner.

So I googled it. What I found didn't sound nearly interesting enough for a GTP. So I went with "ape iron". Alas, mine was not one of the ape irons selected.

Vkw-- if a student is drunk at a teacher's house, she durn well better have arrived there drunk.

(During my first year teaching, we had to attend a training in which we were told various ways that teachers had lost their licenses. Most were obvious: having sex with students, serving alcohol to students. But one guy had lost his license for having (no-alcohol) parties at home to which not all students were invited. He was creating a teacher-led clique, and this was seen as harmful.)

Dave Fragments said...

Teacher's behavior aside (And well spoken about), when I read any of the assembled GTP's I usually pick one I think is particularly unlikely to be the real plot.

I had one course in Philosophy and I recognized Anaximander and more amazingly Camus and all that stuff. And I thought -- gee this really can't be the real plot.

So I'm wrong. The only 12 year old I have ever in my life been able to discuss real, honest to God philosophy was really and truly a IQ 167+ genius. He'd finished high school at the age of twelve and was taking the first year of Liberal Arts at the University of Pittsburgh. Carnegie Mellon University refused to accept him because he needed a high school to be a kid and grow up there. This kid and I could discuss mathematics and engineering and philosophy but turn your back on him and he would throw spitballs at Susie over there while the other HS kids wanted to play tonsil hockey with Susie.

Kids (no matter how gifted) will never pick this book up and say: "Oh, I always wanted to know Pre-Socratic philosophy." Not a chance in the world.

I have a theory that people are reading Harry Potter for the teen angst between Harry, Hermione, and Ron. That kids are reading TWILIGHT Saga because it involves Teen angst. That they are reading The Hunger Games because of teen angst. Also- Buffy, Friday Night Lights, 90210, ... need I go on?

Jo-Ann said...

Kudos for creating an adolescent character with interests outside the stereotypical mould.

There's a plot element there about E. discovering her identity which may be more engaging if the philosophy elements are toned-down. Yes, I know that's a contradiction (what is philosophy about if not about one's relationship to the universe? Then again, my knowledge of philosophy is limited to the Monty Python song - I once had it as a ring tone) but trust me, philosophy make's many people's eyelids feel heavy.

The teacher-student relationship could just be a crush from E's POV, with Mr Teacher keeping his hands visible every time he sees her.

@ Anonymous2:02 - Cho Park sounds like she's either from an Asian family who have Anglicised their last name, or has parents from both Anglo and Asian backgrounds, or an Anglo family who gave their kid a name from a different culture.

Evil Editor said...

There's nothing Anglicized about the last name Park, as it was a Korean surname long before England ever existed. Today 30 percent of Koreans have a last name of Kim, Lee, or Park.

Cho, according to two name sites is a Japanese first name that means Butterfly. Another site says it's a Japanese first name meaning Born at Dawn. I'm guessing it can also be a first name in China or Korea.

In the US names such as Marion and James are common as first or last names,; no reason to believe it's not the same elsewhere.

Jo-Ann said...

@ EE - that was gonna be my fourth option! ;)

batgirl said...

Well, Sophie's World did really, really well, apparently, and I found that relationship deeply creepy (until it all went meta and I stopped paying attention).
Author, is your book like Sophie's World in that it's an intro to philosophy with novelistic interpolations, or is it a novel whose characters happen to be into philosophy rather than Justin Bieber? Because the latter could be a terrific change of pace, and it's not as if novels about geeky kids don't have a market. They're the ones who read, after all.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Korea for 3+ years and knew many people surnamed Park or Cho, but none with a given name of Cho. Moreover, it's more common (I estimate 99%) for Koreans to have a two-syllable given name, such as Chung-hee, Doo-hwan, Tae-woo, etc. Cho Park sounds like something an overly witty or overly earnest set of parents would inflict on their kid -- which come to think of it may explain her plunge into no-nonsense existentialism.

But onward.

Those three descriptors of Emily in the first paragraph didn't cohere. Hence there was no hook -- more of a Huh?

But I'm one of the few who likes the idea of a novel about philosophy. Can YA readers be induced to enjoy quirky intellectual humor? Is this I Heart Huckabees in high school? (I admit I didn't understand half that movie, but I suspect it was funny.) Maybe Emily could be a young student-teacher instead of a high school girl, wrestling with some age-appropriate problem. I just hate to give up on the possibilities of a lite tome of intro philosophy as argued out by a couple of intense young geeks.

Anonymous said...

A few years back there was much fuss among Muggles over the name "Cho Chang". Cho isn't a first name anywhere that Chang is a last name. My brother came up with an explanation I liked: Perhaps Cho is a Wizarding World name. Like Regulus or Bellatrix.

I remember a Korean student of mine being astonished to learn that Park was an English surname.

Anonymous said...

From the author:

Thanks for the comments! I'm working on making the query less pretentious, more appealing and a better reflection of the novel.

@ Dave- the protagonist is 18, not 12.

@ Everyone who submitted 'Ape Iron'- I hadn't thought of that! Genius.

I know it's not a great query but it's a start. I wanted to make sure I could handle rejection and/ or ridicule without bursting into tears. Turns out I can.

Dave Fragments said...

Cho doesn't bother me as a first name. Primarily because the first opera I fell in love with as a teenager was Madame Butterfly who is Cho Cho San and that is the direct translation of the name.

Have any of the "name police" getting all nuts looked at kids names today? There are no rules. It's a free for all. Spelling and pronunciation and all that has just gone away. Think of Picabo Street, Gabourey Sidibe, Than Merrill, Boog Powell, and ODD and Even are also a first names.

Also, Katee Sackhoff, Tahmoh Penikett, Kandyse McClure

Anonymous said...

Author, just to let you know, I actually did write an encouraging comment, but it apparently got eaten.

batgirl said...

Dammit, I had a positive comment too (except not positive about Sophie's World because that book creeps me the heck out).
Or did I only dream I posted a comment, and when I woke I was a butterfly instead?

EE said...

Those comments are now posted. Don't know if I forgot to publish or if publishing from my iPad sometimes fails.

Dave Fragments said...

Author says: @ Dave- the protagonist is 18, not 12.

OK. My point was that in that high school group I was involved with, the 18 year olds talked dating and teen angst stuff while more or less shunning this 12 year old who could discuss philosophy.

Don't get me wrong, I think the philosophy driven discussions have a good chance to work but the initial approach to the novel will be teen angst, dating, and all that fills the world with Justin Biebers and Eminems and What EVER, like...

I'm not sure who your audience is but remember, no one sold the Narnia movies as moral essays on Christianity (which they are) and no one sold Harry Potter as an epic story of the power of family and friendship.

You query is trying to sell your novel to an agent.

150 said...

no one sold the Narnia movies as moral essays on Christianity (which they are) and no one sold Harry Potter as an epic story of the power of family and friendship

I'm pretty sure they did, Dave. And still do.

none said...

I can't help feeling that a teacher who phoned up the parents of a student to say she was passed at drunk at his house would lose his job AND possibly go to jail. Not exactly an incentive to dial.

In context, it reads like Emily regularly buys prom dresses at the thrift store. How many does she need?

Agree with EE that a new paragraph after 'left her there' would clear up confusion over whether she's dodging Dubs in his house or in general.

Someone needs to tell Emily that there isn't much inside anyone when they're eighteen....

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm late to the party, but great attitude and premise. I think the volume of comments here shows that this is bound to be a devicive type of novel...which cand work in your favor.

I actually like your opening lines, but the waking up hungover at a "creepy" teacher's house is beyond creepy without context. I know it's a controversial and uncomfortable topic, but an 18 year old HS student developing a crush on a teacher as she's ready to graduate provides ample opportunity for discomfort and conflict.

Good luck!