Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Face-Lift 912

Guess the Plot

Camp Coyote

1. Katie's mom finds work at Coyote Ranch, Nevada's hottest new bordello/sex theme park. That means Katie, 13, gets to spend the summer across the highway at Camp Coyote. Sounds like a blast--until she discovers it's not a summer camp, it's a training center.

2. Cecil Coyote has impeccable taste in home decor, wine, and cuisine, and a fabulous wardrobe. And he's very quick with a witty put-down when judging at the annual road-runner cook-off. Or would be, if any of his colleagues could just catch one of those damned birds.

3. Coyotes aren't the problem; the werewolves can keep the coyote population down. No, the problem is that Jo Redfox's mother has vanished and the only person who can find her won't--unless Jo lets him screw her on the hood of her truck. Hey, that's life, at . . . Camp Coyote.

4. Fourteen year old Beth hates her parents for sending her to summer camp. And she hates them even more when insane camp leader 'Gizzard' informs the kids that only one of them will make it out of Camp Coyote alive.

5. When the coyotes who gave their beloved summer camp its name disappear, pint sized sleuths Harry, Maddie, and Alejandro know there's dirty work afoot. Still, they weren't expecting international jewel thieves.

6. The 100% true story* of Ennis Delaforte, who ran away from home at age ten and integrated himself into a family of coyotes, with whom he lived in urban Chicago for 16 months.

*Story not actually true.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Jo Redfox liked stargazing before she realized the Stars gazing back were alive. And giving her the finger.

Three months ago the fun in Jo’s life vanished with the dying Seer she called ‘Mom’. Every minute Jo spends searching, [Comma not needed.] is one more minute she misses in what is left of her mother’s life. [What's your point? She should stop searching?] [I can't tell if she's searching for the dying Seer who vanished, or for her real mother, who gave her up or ditched her long ago. If the person referred to as her mother is the same as "the dying Seer she called Mom," just call her mother both times instead of confusing us: The joy in Jo Redfox's life ended when her dying mother vanished. We don't need to know in the query that the Seer isn't Jo's biological mother. If she isn't.] So she has no time for eviction notices, or being arrested for failure to obey them.

John Casteel – aka the Asshole who had her (accidentally) [Explain that word or delete it.] evicted - wants to help. John is good at two things – finding what doesn’t want to be found. And what he wants to do with Jo on the hood of her truck. [I think most women would agree, if a guy claims to be a good lover, and insists on doing it on the hood of a truck, he's a liar and a loser.] [Once you declare there are two things, I expect both of them to be named in the same sentence unless you number them. Thus I'd change the period after "found" to a comma or semicolon.]

But Jo knows better than to hop into bed with the first hot guy to bail her out. [Bail her out of jail? There won't be a second and third guy to bail her out of jail, so why refer to John as the "first"?] First, he’s a Regular. [What is a Regular? Why is it capitalized? The impression I get is that he's a regular customer, and Jo's a prostitute. Possibly that's not what you're going for.] Second, her best friends are a lethal Werewolf Pack ["Lethal" is a word better applied to a werewolf bite than a werewolf pack. You want something like "ruthless" or "savage."] known as the Scythe. And Shifters from the sticks don’t like outsiders much.

Third, a Pre-Cog still has the advantage at Cosmic Hide and Seek, even over ex-marines. [The three items on that list are impressively consistent in their ambiguity.] Jo’d love to ease her worries on his military-honed body, but with the Stars above against her, she can’t take any chances. [What are her worries, and why would she love to ease them on the body of someone she considers an Asshole? And why was "Asshole" capitalized?] [Like screwing on the hood of a truck, capitalizing words that aren't normally capitalized gets old if you do it too much.]

Random post-its are Jo’s only clues to what happened to her mom. The first note said 'start here', the second 'stay put'. [Doesn't the person writing the notes know enough to capitalize the first word of a sentence?] [Why are the notes described as "random"? What's random about them? Did you mean "cryptic"? "Anonymous?" How does she know those notes have anything to do with her mother?] The third told her tall, dark and deadly lurked in her back yard.

Jo doesn’t scare easy so until she finds a note saying, “Goodbye” nothing’s stopping Jo from finding her mom.

Wait. Was the tall, dark and deadly on the last note plural?

Maybe John watching her back wouldn’t be so bad. [I'd rather have my best friends, the Scythe, watching my back than the Asshole.] [It would be amusing if the character were never named, and were referred to exclusively as the Asshole, in both the query and the book.]

CAMP COYOTE is a 120,000 word paranormal romance set in West Virginia's New River Gorge and my debut novel.

Thank you for your time.



I note that there's no mention of a camp or of coyotes in the query.

This many paragraphs on one page will be a problem if you're skipping lines between paragraphs. Try to get the body of the letter down to five paragraphs.

I don't know why the Asshole is in the query. You claim he's good at finding what doesn't want to be found, but there's no evidence that he's helping with the search.

I worry that I don't have the characters straight. I'm guessing the Seer and the Pre-Cog and the mother are all the same person? John, the Asshole, the Regular, the outsider and the ex-marine are all the same guy? Jo's best friends, the Werewolf Pack, the Scythe, and Shifters from the sticks all refer to the same characters? That's a dozen names for two individuals and one group.

Capitalizing "Seer" indicates that it's a special name for certain people. So we don't need another special name for the same people. In Minority Report "precog" isn't capitalized, and there are only three of them.

What are the Stars? Living Gods? Do they make an appearance in the book?

I find the whole thing unnecessarily confusing. I can appreciate the attempt to inject voice, but not at the expense of clarity. Part of the problem is the last sentence of each paragraph. Occasionally it's nice if the last sentence ties the ideas together, but all these last sentences leave me thinking, Huh?

Start over, dump the first paragraph, and focus on Jo's goals and problems. Her goal is to find her mother. Is there someone who doesn't want her to accomplish her goal? If so, who and why? If not, is there a villain? Is the villain forcing mom to foretell the future?


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

If this query were written in one of the Romance languages, then "tall, dark and deadly" could be plural. But in English only nouns can be plural.

Bear in mind we don't know anything about this world you've created. I found this very hard to follow, since I didn't know what the world's rules were. I couldn't tell what was going on.

Item: I've owned two trucks, a 1/2 ton ford and a 1/4 ton Nissan. I remember actually having to climb up onto the bumper to work on them, not that I ever worked on 'em in quite the way John prefers. What I'm trying to get at here is-- Just how tall is John?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Let me be more specific. This is a blow-by-blow of what you're telling us:

1. Stars are in some way animate and are giving Jo the finger.

2. Jo is searching for someone who is dying, whom she believes is her mother.

3. Her landlord evicted her, wants to unevict her, and wants to boink her. (I had a landlord like that once. I moved.) Said landlord is a Regular.

We have no idea what a Regular is.

4. Jo has friends who are werewolves. There're people called Shifters.

5. Capital Letters Take Over. Somebody's a Pre-Cog.

A person with pre-cognition? That I can figure out. What I can't figure out is whether the Pre-Cog is Jo, her mother, or the creepy landlord.

6. Jo wants to boink somebody. Must be the creepy landlord, since no other "he" has shown up.

7. Random post-it notes have dropped from the sky. They have warnings on them.

8. The quest to find Jo's mom is brought up for the first time since the beginning.

9. West Virginia. Now that I understand. I like West Virginia. Lovely scenery there. Also sheep.

Here's a tired old piece of advice I hope you'll take: Write a sentence about what your story is about. Twenty words maximum. Build the query upward from there.

none said...


Anonymous said...

You seem to be trying to build interest by plopping one new element after another in these short, terse paragraphs, but it reads to me as if you're taking random sentences from queries for about five different novels. This succession makes no sense to me at all:

But Jo knows better than to hop into bed with the first hot guy to bail her out. First, he’s a Regular. Second, her best friends are a lethal Werewolf Pack known as the Scythe. And Shifters from the sticks don’t like outsiders much.

Third, a Pre-Cog still has the advantage at Cosmic Hide and Seek, even over ex-marines.

Not one sentence makes any sense, on its own or in (the nonexistent) context.

Anonymous said...

Presumably John AKA "Asshole" is the romantic interest here. Hard to picture someone as the hero when he is called the Asshole by the main character, who thinks so little of her that he'd rather screw her on the hood of her truck (physically damned hard to do) versus taking her to his place. Of course, later the query seems to indicate that the idea wasn't that unappealing to her at all, but the way it is written now, it sounds coerced/forced, which is not good in a modern romance.

Agree with the general confusion as to the plot, and would also note that when I first started reading the query, it sounded like a young adult plot with a teenager. It wasn't until near the end that it became clear it was an adult's tale.

sarahhawthorne said...

This is like the Jabberwocky of queries, kind of charmingly nonsensical.

I do like your voice in the individual sentences, and I feel like there is a good plot waiting to be unearthed. Forget about werewolves, post-its, and accidental evictions and focus on the essentials:
1. Jo's mom is missing.
2. The hot guy whom Jo thinks is an asshole offers his people-finding expertise, and she can't afford to turn him down.
3. But Mom is a psychic who doesn't want to be found because there's some kind of stellar threat.

Dave Fragments said...

I have some experience selling stories that have unusual characters and elements.
This story has a) a mother seer, b) a sex maniac love interest, c) rude stars, d) pre-cogs (shades of Minority Report) e) werewolves, f) shifters, g) just plain hicks from the hills of West Virginny and finally h) ranch near the New River Gorge (which I've seen and visited)

Also, a romance, and the kitchen sink, a partridge in a pear tree and two maidens spanking. The only thing it is lacking is Silvio Berlusconi...

Sorry about having a little funny at your expense.

I'm not sure where to start with that many elements confronting me. That's the problem with the query.

I'm afraid to start a blurb with any of these lines:
a) Jo Redfox's life changes when she discovers that stars are living being.
b) Jo Redfox's fortune-teller mother is kidnapped and held hostage by ...

This is too much information all at once. At some point your characters have to be reduced to a simple formula like "Boy meets girl, boy falls in love, trouble ensues, boy falls out of love."

Anonymous said...

Agree with the gang. The opening line is great but it's not really followed up on in the body of the query. This is one of those rare examples of a query being TOO specific with information and not tying it together for us. I completely agree about trying to make the "voice" pop. It's the most annoying thing in the writing community today and highly overrated (IMO). Tell a great story and stay out of the way of it. I'm FINALLY getting around to reading the Harry Potter novels and you don't see people complaining about her lack of "voice" in the narrative (although that could be why 8 idiot publishers rejected it). Great story. Great world building. Great character development. Great dialogue. Focus on that and let the "voice" come.

150 said...

I'm drowning in proper nouns. You could take a huge step toward clarity just by assuming we all know what shapeshifters, humans, and psychics are, and calling them that.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I'm not going to be as negative as everyone else seems to be, because I think voice sells and good voice is what's missing from so many queries that we see. Yes, I think this query has issues. I also think the elements are there; they just need to be rearranged into a better narrative flow.

If you bring up stars in P1, they need to appear again. If the Post Its are clues, sprinkle them into the query the same as you sprinkle them throughout the book.

Foxes, wolves and coyotes all being mentioned didn't give me a good feel for the shifters in this world. Are they just wolfen? Is Jo human?

I too am also confused about the relationship the MC has with the Stars and about exactly who Mom is. My best guesses are incorporated in my suggested rewrite:

Jo Redfox liked stargazing before she realized the stars weren’t gazing back -- they were giving her the finger.

Three months ago the fun in Jo’s life vanished when the dying Seer she called Mom disappeared. The cryptic Post-Its that start showing up right after don’t seem all that helpful: “Start here,” the first one said. Exasperated and begrudging every minute not spent searching for her mother, Jo follows the notes, the stars, whatever might lead her to her mom. So when her asshole neighbor John Casteel gets her evicted, she doesn’t have time for being arrested for failing to obey those pesky eviction notices. Especially when the next note tells her: “Stay put.”

John never meant his offhand remarks to the landlord to get her evicted, though, and now wants to help. An ex-marine, John is good at two things: finding what doesn’t want to be found and doing what he wants to do so bad with Jo. But Jo’s smart enough not to hop into bed with the first hot guy to offer to bail her out of a jam – no matter how much she’d love to ease her worries on that honed bod of his. Partly because her best friends are a werewolf pack and John’s ... not. Shifters from the sticks don’t like outsiders much. But also because another note warns her that tall, dark and deadly is lurking in her backyard.

She figures that must mean John, until the note mysteriously changes and the tall, dark and deadly is now plural. Plus there’s that thing with the stars looking like they want to screw her over.

Maybe John watching her back wouldn’t be so bad after all.

CAMP COYOTE is a 120,000 word paranormal romance set in West Virginia's New River Gorge. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

Jo and John could get confusing.

Anonymous said...

As the author of this query, I just wanted to thank EE for the critique and the notes. It helps a lot to see what's broken.
I also want to give a heartfelt thanks to the commenters - really appreciate the advice and the help. I'm making notes to go back to the drawing board!
Thanks again - especially Phoenix Sullivan for the kind tone and suggested rewrite.
Thank you all so much. :)

batgirl said...

I'm guessing 'Regular' means normal human? Or 'mundane', as used in the SCA and sf fandom?

Anonymous said...

One other quick question - how do I keep it from feeling a YA query? I think it partially gets that tone because it's about Jo and her mom, but adult protaganists certainly have parents. So how to ensure this sounds like an adult story from the beginning without just inserting Jo's age?

none said...

Well, you could change the title. 'Camp Coyote' immediately sets up the idea that this is about kids at camp. Also, give Jo a job or some other adult responsibilities.

Evil Editor said...

Good suggestions. Also, you could put the last paragraph, in which you call it a paranormal romance, up front.

I'm not that sure why people who read about an ex-marine asshole who wants to do the main character on the hood of her truck are assuming it's YA.