Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Face-Lift 949

Guess the Plot

From the Diaries of Anna Butcher: Have a Great Summer

1. Mrs. Hoffman gives her first-year German students an assignment to be completed over summer vacation: translate into English the diaries kept by Holocaust victim Anna Butcher in Dachau.

2. When her best friend hooks up with her main crush, Anna is devastated. Life isn't worth living. Or at least it wouldn't be if it weren't almost time for . . . the annual summer mango festival!

3. A guide to making great sausage, scrapple, and mincemeat from roadkill you can pick up for nothing. Recipes presented in the form of humorous haiku.

4. On the eve of reconciling with her philandering husband, Anna Butcher sells his vintage guitar collection, quits her job, and hits the road in search of the perfect martini lounge.

5. A serial killer is hiding under the boardwalk, just up the beach, ten yards down from the ice cream stand. This is her story, in her own words. Don't order the Cherry Surprise.

6. After her junior year at Western High, Anna Butcher is ready for a summer of partying with her friends. Then her little brother Kirk scans all the pages of her diaries and posts them on the Internet. Maybe she can talk her parents into moving the family to Alaska.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Thirteen year old Anna Butcher leads a cursed life--- or, at least, that's what she believes. [Commas aren't needed around "at least." Actually, nothing after the dash would be needed if you inserted "believes she" after "Butcher."] Being a Butcher means relationships never work and [your clothes always smell like raw meat and] all the odds are stacked against you. [Leading a cursed life means the odds are stacked against you. So we already know the odds are stacked against her. Make that sentence more specific or dump it.] And just when things are looking up at the end of her eighth grade year and she begins to entertain the idea that maybe the curse doesn't exist, her best friend and life-long crush hook up at the Spring Fling. [Life-long crush? She's 13. Has she had this crush 13 years?]

Friendless [Her best friend was her only friend?] and heart-broken, Anna enters the summer before her ninth grade year anticipating nothing exciting except the annual Mango Festival and her dad's second wedding. But when her no-good cowboy boot wearing [boot-wearing] cousin from New Jersey, Rosalind, comes to town, Anna's summer goes from uneventful to frustratingly interesting. [In what way is Rosalind no-good?] Can all the chaos happening with Anna be mere coincidence, [I don't see this as chaos. Can you add a couple examples of frustratingly interesting chaotic incidents?] or is it the product of a curse put on her family long ago? [Was a curse put on her family? How was the curse worded?]

From the Diaries of Anna Butcher: Have a Great Summer is a contemporary middle grade story, complete at 42,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.



This is mostly setup. Once you set up the situation you need to tell us more about what happens than that Anna's cousin comes to town. And we need to know about the curse. Start with something like this:

According to Anna Butcher's grandmother, back in the 1600s a wronged Gypsy's dying words cursed the entire Butcher family and their descendants to never have a fulfilling relationship for eternity. So it comes as no surprise when Anna's best friend, Rosalita, hooks up with Anna's long-time crush. 8th grade can be such a drag.

With nothing to look forward to but her father's second wedding and the always-lame mango festival, could summer vacation be more horrible? Apparently so. Anna's cousin Elvira rolls into town and recruits Anna for an arson and murder spree.

Now you need to add a few sentences about how Anna deals with the chaos and how the curse is ultimately broken or disproved.

The title is unwieldy. Where do the diaries come in? Is it in diary form? Is Have a Great Summer supposed to be sarcasm? No will know that. They'll think it's about a great summer, and no one wants to read that. I recommend a simple title like My Shitty Summer, or Season of the Bitch.

Butcher is a lousy name. It makes people think of people getting butchered.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

In Alaska, of course, the name Butcher brings to mind the late Susan Butcher, legendary Iditarod musher, gone too soon. But I've never heard of anyone else by that name. It's odd, really. There are plenty of Bakers, Cooks, Fishers, Millers, Brewsters... when it comes to medieval food prep, only Butchers are left out.

So yeah. Another surname wd be less distracting, unless the story really is about arson and murder.

I'm not getting a sense of the story's focus. Is it:

1. Your common-or-garden contemporary middle school kvetch, ending with the realization that life isn't so bad after all?

2. A story about a family curse?

3. A story about a kid falling under the influence of a Bad Person but ultimately becoming a better person as a result?

4. A story about a girl whose so-called best friend steals her guy?

Find the story's focus and write the query from there.

Eric said...

I'm not sure which is worse: That the title made me expect a morbid first-person story of serial murder, or that I was disappointed that it turned out not to be.

As you present it, this looks like pretty standard middle-grade fare. We need to see what angle, element, twist, character or the like makes it stand out from the norm. I'm guessing that would be the Curse. What, specifically, is going on with that? What makes Anna believe there's supernatural foul play afoot rather than just ordinary teen angst?

Also, why should we care about what happens to Anna, aside from the fact that she's the main character? For instance, how's she responding to all these circumstances-- mopey, angsty, introspective, whiny, cynical? Some more specifics about her personality might be useful.

Evil Editor said...

Let's not forget Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files series about contemporary wizard/private investigator Harry Dresden.

Deserae M. said...

I like your query, EE, and I agree about the title. Something else would fit better. Maybe a one-worder, like CURSES!, will do the trick.

Thanks for your help, again, and thanks to all the particpating minions.

journeytogao said...

I had a similar reaction to Eric. I thought the title was hellaciously cool for the right book -- but this isn't the right book, or anyway it's not the right query. I'd like to see that Anna lives up to her name and her snark.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Why does she think her life is cursed?
Why don't relationships work if you are a Butcher?
And just when things are looking up at the end of her eighth grade year and she begins to entertain the idea that maybe the curse doesn't exist. WTF?
Why does she have a best friend then she's friendless in the next paragraph?

What does frustratingly interesting mean?

None of this bodes well for the story.

I'd go with his Bad Self suggestions and come again. Drop the set up and get to the point and tell us (me) clearly what is going on. You're blowing the chance to sell the book with this attempt.


Evil Editor said...

Why does she think her life is cursed?

A curse was placed on her family long ago.

Why don't relationships work if you are a Butcher?

See previous answer.

And just when things are looking up at the end of her eighth grade year and she begins to entertain the idea that maybe the curse doesn't exist. WTF?

She has two good relationships, with her best friend and her crush.

Why does she have a best friend then she's friendless in the next paragraph?

Her friend stole her crush.

What does frustratingly interesting mean?

Interesting but not in a good way.

Best I can do, but I'm sure when the query becomes more detailed it'll all be crystal clear.

vkw said...

The problem with the last name is that I read "When you are a butcher, things never work out."

What was really meant by "relationshps never work ou,"?

Is this all relationships, like family relationships, boss-employee relationships, neighbor relationships or is it more specific to romantic relationships?

Because if it is romantic interests then the tag could be "unlucky in love and unlucky in everything else is the Butcher curse."

The query is too vague and needs some details before we can help you with it.

Matthew MacNish said...

The biggest thing that's missing for me is a sense of what the conflict will be. I mean there is some mention of conflict, but it seems like all of it is from the backstory.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I think it'd be cool if the curse turned out to have been put on them by a magical ox slaughtered by the eponymous Butcher in the 13th century.

none said...

It doesn't strike me that there's any compelling reason for Anna to think she's cursed. Her parents' marriage fell apart? She can't be the only kid at her school that's happened to. And best friendships and crushes are always chopping and changing at her age. Plus, many kids have annoying relatives.

All those things together may feel like too much, but really...what is the thing that makes her think it's a curse rather than just bad luck, or life being its usual crappy self? Did she read about curses somewhere, or did some other kid suggest the idea to her?

none said...

Lol, I wouldn't think much of my magic if it didn't manage to prevent me being castrated then slaughtered.

The name Butcher doesn't actually bother me. It's common enough in my part of the world.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

One of those names we didn't bother to bring with us, I guess, like Featherstonehaugh, Smellie and Higginbotham.

It might've been a lady ox. And magicians get slaughtered all the time. I have read Harry Potter and know.

R.T. said...

The last name, "Butcher," threw me off b/c I thought she was actually a butcher and had to reread...

This sounds like those books I used to devour as a child.

I do want to hear more about the curse, though, and what happens.

Really good query; am impressed with EE's insightful improvements to it.

150 said...

I know a Higginbottom. For what it's worth.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Sure, but a Higginbotham?

People with certain last names seem to have either never committed any worthwhile crimes, or to have committed crimes so worthwhile that they were treated to a short rope instead of a long trip to America.

And/or they never held religious views so extreme they required a change of address.

(Y'know, of those two particular ancient influences on our Nation Today, I kinda prefer the former.)

none said...

A lady ox? Get thee to the dictionary!