Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Face-Lift 921

Guess the Plot 

  The After Burn 

 1. Jacob can make fire with rhymes. Of course, not rhyming can be difficult, so he frequently burns stuff down. Like his bedroom. Evicted by his parents, his life in ashes, Jacob tries to forge a new life on the red-hot anvil of his incendiary past. 

 2. Horribly scarred in a welding accident, former beauty queen Arlia Parker must choose between spending her settlement money on reconstructive plastic surgery or building a home for some pitiful orphans. 

 3. Firefighter Lou Chance is almost killed due to a faulty suit. Now he is angry and disfigured, his melted suit clinging to his skin, a painful reminder of the accident that ruined his life. So he becomes a serial arsonist. But is he getting revenge or just burning bridges? 

 4. Steve thinks he's a total stud when he scores with the hottest girl in his dorm. But a few days later it feels like there's a 400-degree jalapeno cactus in his shorts - and his girlfriend returns from study abroad next week. Can the campus clinic cure . . . the after burn? 

5. Can a top-notch jet jockey eat Jack-in-the-Box at 3:00 am, without suffering acid reflux so bad it knocks him off the flight list? That’s the bet Jim “Night Train” Snakewood staked his life savings on. If he wins, he can buy his mom that cruise she’s literally dying to take. But, if he loses, his squadron commander will eat him a new one—and we ain’t talking cheeseburgers here! 

 6. Jack can't believe his luck: the Fairy Queen wants him to impregnate her and save the species! It's a night of bliss with an incredible queen. Only one thing--why are they building a huge bonfire with his name on it next door? 

  Original Version 

 Dear [Agent Name], When Jacob learns to burn, fire consumes his family ties, fire sweeps the stages of all his crimes, fire eats flesh off his best friend's hand, the blaze atoning the betrayal. Fire forges a throne under the hot city lights. [If this were an actual submission to Evil Editor, fire would now be consuming the query letter.] 

He reigns as smoldering king of Opi Eight, his safe place, his club-scene circus where he drowns the flames in drinks and dramas. It's all a fine time until the soured love of estranged friends and family send [sends] him to burn again. [I'm hoping that eventually we'll reach a paragraph that sounds like a reasonable way to start a business letter.] The After Burn is told from the perspective of Jacob Ravensway, a young man able to make fire with rhymes and his mind: a talent that appears every other generation on his mother's side. 

As a child, Jacob's mother resorts to wild abuse and discourages his hot skills. His father is indifferent. Jacob's not sure what his sister thinks; Nina has problems of her own. At sixteen, when he sets fire to his bedroom, Jacob is sent away from home to reside at Bristol Place, a house he inherits from his dead grandmother. [Does she die after he moves there?] [Is she his grandmother on his mother's side? Because this place won't last a day with two pyro-poets in residence.] He finds a new family in three homeless youth he befriends, and they make a home of the old, drafty place, funding their lives with petty theft, and eventually a criminal enterprise that ends in blood and bullets. 

 His life in ashes, Jacob begins again as the proprietor of a bar where he juggles bottles, broads, and the bomb of his incindiary [sp.] history. The faces of his criminal youth resurface, [Apparently the blood and bullets were their bullets and someone else's blood.] and in the ensuing immolation, there arises a chance for love refined in fire. At 70,000 words, The After Burn is an urban-fantasy/suspense novel about a young man forging a new life on the red-hot anvil of his past. 

The book is written to appeal to young adult and adult audiences 17 and older. A full version of the manuscript is available at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration. 

 Very Best Regards, 


 You've made the book sound like literary fiction instead of urban fantasy/suspense. By which I imply not that this would be a good query if the book were literary fiction, but that a query for an urban fantasy should tell us what happens in the book. (This element may, of course, be dispensed with in literary fiction, where it's a given that nothing happens.) 

 Start over. Resist peppering the query with words like smoldering, ashes, anvil, bomb, forge, flames, incendiary, immolation. Summarize the plot using language you would use if a stranger in a bar asked you what your book's about. And I don't mean a stranger with cloven hooves drinking flaming absinthe shots. 

 First the set-up. Jacob starts fires. Always intentionally, i.e. he's in control of his power? Or accidentally when he happens to say things that rhyme? He burns his bedroom, parents throw him out. What horrible thing happens next because he starts a fire? Who's this love interest? How does he plan to resolve his problem in order to make a life for himself? Does he become a superhero, using his power for good like The Human Torch? 

 This is more of an outline: Jacob lives with parents until he is sent to his grandmother's, then he hooks up with some homeless kids, then he opens a bar, then he meets his true love and lives happily ever after until the night he asks her to make him a mai tai and she bursts into flames. 

Focus on the main story line. Presumably this involves Jacob's redemption, which is barely mentioned in the query. We're not going to want to read about Jacob if all we know about is his arson and other crimes. Make us care about him. Urban fantasy nowadays is all about female MC's with kick-ass attitude. You may want to call this dark fantasy. Like the query letter, the book should be written in clear prose. If it sounds anything like the first two paragraphs of the query, you have a lot of work ahead of you.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

What he said.

Remember that a query's job is not to impress but to inform.

150 said...

Can you just tell us what happens, in chronological order?

Anonymous said...

All I got out of that query was there's fire in this book. Tell us what happens.

Eric said...

Please don't ever think it's the query's job to impress the editor with your powerful, impassioned prose. It only ever looks purple.

Even Thomas Traherne would have queried for Centuries of Meditations by saying, "This is a book of religious poems about finding God in nature..."

Anonymous said...

Story sounds kind of cool. Just get rid of things like, "Fire forges a throne under the hot city lights" and tell the (cool) story.

Anonymous said...

So... this guy's a rapper? And he uses his power as part the show?

Anonymous said...

I'm having trouble pinning down your audience and intentions with this query. I'm getting "Palahniuk for high-schoolers," which could be a problem since high school kids can read Palahniuk anyway.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The After Burn is told from the perspective of Jacob Ravensway, a young man able to make fire with rhymes and his mind: a talent that appears every other generation on his mother's side.

Never send a semi-colon to do a comma's job.

As a child, Jacob's mother resorts to wild abuse and discourages his hot skills.

If Jacob's mother is a child, then we wouldn't necessarily expect great parenting skills. But if he's 16, surely she's no longer a child.

Evil Editor said...

I coulda sworn that was a colon doing a dash's job.

Good catch on the mother. In a couple days I'll add your comment in blue to the query, thus stealing the credit.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Ah, you're right; a colon.

none said...

The blaze has to atone FOR the betrayal. Gotta have that pesky conjunction.

Jacob's mother wasn't also a child when she was discouraging him, was she? 'As a child' refers to her, not Jacob.

'homeless youth' should be 'homeless youths'. If this is meant to be litfic, you've already failed to convince that you have the grasp of language needed to write in that line. Still, an utterly unlikeable protag seems to be a requirement for litfic, so you're all right there.

Anonymous said...

Was that a high colonic nit-pick?

batgirl said...

Even for litfic, this is overwritten. Is the book written in the same style?
Nothing wrong with highly-coloured language, but it has more effect if it's saved for intense moments and not slathered over the whole story.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhhhhh man. I get here late and AlaskaRC gets to scoop me on what I caught.

"As a child, Jacob's mother resorts to wild abuse" (proof was my copy and paste)

Anyway at risk of sounding like a kiss up...what EE said. He smoked this query. He's en fuego. He's hotter than a red hot chili pepper on a grill.

Wow. Yeah don't try to over write and be cute. The opening lines did hook me and I imagined something more literary/commercial....then you not only lost me, you give little real sense of this being fantasy until several paragraphs in...when it's already too late.

Good luck!