Friday, September 30, 2011

Face-Lift 957

Guess the Plot

Half Truths and Bursting Bubbles on Kao San Road

1. I wanted this book about my quirky heroine Kayley to reflect how funny and quirky she is so I gave it this long quirky title.

2. When Soon Kim, owner of Koreatown's only gay bar "Bursting Bubbles", is found dead in a bathtub full of Merlot, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: Kim didn't shoot himself; and it's a cheap Merlot, so no great loss.

3. Lost in the countryside on a road littered with old memoirs and novels, Minnie Jones suddenly realizes -- OMG, the lair of Evil Editor must be near! If only she can find it, she'll be able to submit all those manuscripts locked in her trunk! But night is coming, and so is a hurricane.

4. Julie's uncle dies in Bangkok, leaving her his journal. She heads for Thailand and quickly makes some friends and gets married and meets her uncle's ghost. Then an accident puts her in a coma. Her husband isn't sure he wants her to wake up because he's been having wild sex with one of her new friends. Also, metaphysical swimming.

5. Freshly graduated from college but lacking goals and prospects, Rob backpacks off to Thailand. Buddhism, betel, cheap whores, many bowls of cow intestine stew, crooked pols, and an innocent schoolgirl ensue.

6. The blacktop paver has lied about the quality of his materials, and the new surface on Kao San Road bubbles in the heat of a Bangkok summer. It gives a whole new meaning to "stuck in traffic," and half the Thai population can't get out of Krungthep. Can Dorphy, a drug addict from Boulder, Colorado, avert a revolution and save the monarchy?

7. On his death bed, Kao San tells his nephew he hid the treasure he looted from a wax museum near the road he built across Thailand. Awa's frenemy Han overhears and it becomes a race -- interrupted by moguls, mongols, and mongrels. Hey, maybe that should be my title.

Original Version

Dear Evil,

My new novel is complete at 90,000 words. Absurdist fiction is the closest genre I can come to.

A young woman receives her uncle’s journal after his death in Bangkok. Julie is curious why he left it to her and wants to fill in missing blanks [The blanks aren't missing; she wants to fill them with whatever is missing.] by travelling to Thailand to poke around. She wasn’t close to him but she has the feeling there’s more involved than the pages of a journal. [More involved in what?]

Fresh to Bangkok [Nice phrasing. Setting a novel in Bangkok does present numerous opportunities for laughs, as would setting it in Intercourse, PA or Dickshooter, ID or any of these towns.] she makes friends with three women backpacking around Asia. [Asia's a pretty big place to backpack around. Maybe they should be Backpacking in Bangkok. Maybe that should be the title.] [Of course, three women backpacking in Bangkok wouldn't last a day without being kidnapped and forced into the sex trade.] She also meets a man she marries in short order [who turns out to be a short-order cook]. While sleeping one night Julie has the crap scared out of her by her uncle’s ghost. [I once had the crap scared out of me while sleeping. The maid was not amused.] An accident puts her in a coma after the haunting.

Julie doesn’t remember the journal, her husband, friends or the ghost as she enjoys a metaphysical swim around her hospital room watching people watch her body that is plugged into monitors. Her short term memory is gone when she rejoins her body and comes around. Her husband was engaging in wild sex with one of her friends finding relations exceptionally enjoyable as Julie was getting her melon smacked on a sidewalk. His guilt robs him of any residual afterglow. His partner of that moment, Julie’s friend, [You told us his partner was her friend two sentences ago.] is mortified and satisfied at once. [Which came first, the mortification or the satisfaction?]

The women and husband hope Julie’s memory returns but dread the moment when it does. Julie meets a man who looks like her uncle. He’s carrying an old journal. Like hers. [Hers? Meaning her uncle's?] He introduces himself as her ghost. [Her ghost? Or her uncle's ghost?]

Half Truths and Bursting Bubbles on Kao San Road is an earthy story of changing lives and circumstances in a land where nothing runs quite right or as expected.



Tell us specifically what's in the journal that sends Julie to Thailand to poke around. That's a pretty big undertaking just because he left you a journal.

I assume Julie didn't know her husband was involved with her friend, so why is everyone dreading the return of her memory? What is it they don't want her to remember?

This falls apart early. The journal is interesting. Something in the journal compels Julie to go to Thailand. If you tell us what, then you can focus the rest of the query on whatever her uncle wants from her, whether it be to solve his murder or discover that he's her father or kill his business partner or submit his journal to a literary agent.

Instead of a cohesive plot you give us a list of things that happen, and we can't tell which are important. Is the journal just a gimmick to get Julie to Bangkok so the real plot can involve her, or is the journal the main focus of the book?


journeytogao said...

When Julie got married "in short order," this stopped having a plot and became episodic. I'm not sure, but I think even absurdist fiction needs a plot. Is this Julie's story, or some sort of ensemble? Why tell us how the husband and girlfriend enjoyed their tryst?

Some of the writing needs work. "Absurdist fiction is the closest genre I can come to" means to me that's all you can read or write; maybe it's the best way you can identify or describe it? EE got "missing blanks"; same for "residual afterglow." You may be trying for something, but that mix of prissy ("finding relations exceptionally enjoyable") and slang ("melon smacked") doesn't work for me. Do you mean that Julie has lost her short-term memory or her recent memory? I know someone who had an accident that deprived her of her short-term memory, and she vividly remembers her life before her accident but now forgets everything virtually as it happens.

The book may very well be funny and cool. Perhaps you're having a hard time describing it, as seems to happen every time someone brings absurdist fiction here.

Khazar-khum said...

The journal seems to be a Maguffin.

Why does Julie get married? Why doesn't her husband have a name? Does it matter? Or is he just 'husband' and interchangeable with anyone else who comes along?

'Absurdist fiction' to me means a book full of precious pretension, devoid of plot but containing many 'quirky & fun' characters. It is exceedingly difficult to do well. From this query I can't tell if you've succeeded.

journeytogao said...

Since K-K and I are converging on something, I'll ask: how DOES a writer pitch absurdist fiction in a business letter? Has anyone ever seen this done effectively?

Anonymous said...

Ok, well, if you're writing for fun, congratulations, you've got a book!

If you're writing for fame and profit, it might be helpful to minimize the dreamy fog stuff and focus on things of a more concrete and sinister nature. Like this scandalous dude she's married to. If you can't make your plot hang together in a 100,000 word narrative, it's ok to work with smaller chunks and wrangle them into short stories.

This description sounds like you had a lot of ideas for episodes of a novel but then you connected them with some sort of squishy amorphous material and we don't know why.

Khazar-khum said...

I'm trying to think how you pitch this, too.

"I'm seeking representation for my Absurdist Fiction novel, ....

When Julie receives a Journal from her late uncle in Bangkok, she has no idea that such a simple thing will launch her on a series of adventures...

and then start outlining her story. It sounds like she's trying to find herself as she searches for her uncle, but the amnesia intervenes.

To be honest, I can't recall a story that successfully utilized amnesia as a plot point. Too many generations of lazy TV writers have ruined it.

Xiexie said...

You had me until you started to list events. There was a narrative there and then it just became a random jumble.

I wish we had an Absurdist Fiction agent here to shed some light on this. By the end I was just confused.

Evil Editor said...

It's still a business letter to someone who is in business to make money. I don't see that you need to alter your query format a great deal except to spend some of the space you usually devote to plot to describing the MC's situation.

The Wikipedia article on absurdist fiction lists the following as examples. (If there's something on this list that no one who's interested in the topic has read, I could add it to the book chat list and we could all practice writing queries for it after the chat.)

Paul Auster - The New York Trilogy
Edward Albee - The American Dream
Samuel Beckett - Waiting for Godot
Albert Camus - The Stranger, The Plague, The Fall
Nikolai Gogol - The Nose
M. John Harrison - Light
Joseph Heller - Catch-22
Rhys Hughes - The Postmodern Mariner
Eugène Ionesco - The Bald Soprano, Rhinoceros
Franz Kafka - The Metamorphosis
Harold Pinter - The Birthday Party
Tom Robbins - Still Life with Woodpecker
Tom Stoppard - Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Patrick Süskind - Perfume
Kurt Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I suspect that like so much in this business, "absurdist" is something you have to let others say about your book.

Anonymous is right. You have to have a plot.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Hm. From that wikipedia list, absurdist fiction is

1. written by males, mostly dead

2. often fairly short

3. read when the reader is between the ages of 15 and 23.

4. thought at the time (by the reader) to be very deep, but seldom remembered with warmth afterward

So I was right... something you have to wait and let other people say about your work after it's published. Possibly long after.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Thanks so much for your comments. I appreciate the direct questions and your thoughts.

As ever Evil, thanks for the steerage.

The journal does have more purpose than getting the mc to Bgk. The husband and backbacker dread the mc's memory return because they have to fess up to their shenanigan's while the m.c. was getting a concussion. Right thing to do but the mc doesn't remember either one of them. What they did is as surprising to her as being told she has a husband.

The ghost is her cousin, kind of. Illigit son of an uncle by marriage. Through him she gets the memory thing going and figures out what her uncle was trying to tell her.

He was trying to tell her his son who was raised on the far side of the planet has a lot in common with her, his favorite little girl years before and hopes they connect. (They do.)

Appreciate the technical problems pointed out.

Dear Evil, the names of those cities, thanks for the hoots.

Thank you all for the thought you put into the comments.


none said...

Catch-22 isn't absurdist. It's a masterful depiction of what we now call PTSD.

iago said...

1. written by males, mostly dead.

Which in itsslf is either impressive, or absurd.

Perhaps they channel through a medium.

Anonymous said...

Beg to differ dear Buffy, Catch 22 satirizes beaurocracy.

Reading is subjective, a story can be about whatever you choose. So if you feel it's ptsd, so be it. The characters were in the war making the "post" part a little out of whack.

none said...

The fact that they were still in the war doesn't mean they hadn't already experienced trauma. In fact, it's absurd to suggest the disorder waits patiently for the end of hostilities.

Yossarian's trauma is thinking he's helping the guy whose name escapes me, then discovering that he had a fatal stomach wound all along. That's the part of his life that he keeps reliving in snatches.

No doubt the novel is satirical. It is not however absurdist.

none said...

Snowden, that was his name. Gah. Took me hours to recover that.

Anonymous said...

Certainly not absurdist. We are in agreement.

Author said...

Dear Agent:

Half Truths and Bursting Bubbles on Kao San Road is an absurdist novel complete at 90,000 words.

Julie stumbles into a few predicaments in Bangkok when she collects an inheritance from a relative she barely remembers. Her inheritance consists of a journal and money. She gets the money if she figures out a secret in the journal. The old man’s practical jokes are legendary in her family. Julie sets off to uncover the secret. She doesn’t get very far.

Julie wakes up in the hospital with a concussion she got while being robbed and meets a husband she doesn’t remember marrying. She spots her great uncle outside her room but he’s forty years younger than he should be. An old journal sticks out of his pocket. She’d like to resume her coma but there’s something rather pressing she has to do if she can remember what it is.

Julie doesn’t know this distant relative is working out the secret in his journal so he can collect the cash. The two have been put in the finest practical joke the old man ever pulled. Julie’s memory comes back in slivers as she finds nothing runs as expected or as it should in The Land of Smiles.

I have an advertising background and teach English in Thailand.


Evil, if you are writing absurdist, should the query be written in absurdist or kept as a business letter in conventional form?


Wilkins MacQueen

PS Minions: It takes time for Julie and her distant cousin to realize they are each the secret in the other's diary.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Everything in graf 2 could be said in one sentence.

In graf 3, I like the husband she doesn't remember marrying, but is the great uncle the dead guy? If so, add "dead".

I think what you said in the PS belongs in the query.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mac,

Your PS needs to be in the query - I didn't know the great uncle was not the relative who died (or is he?) (or is he even dead?) and the husband is the cousin (or is he?).

However EE answers your last question, I feel you could still do a final pass that puts in some voice. This feels very much in the "getting the facts straight" stage with its short declarative sentences.

I still am intrigued by the book idea. Luck!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for re-reading and commenting. Julie's "dead uncle" is actually the son of the dead uncle's sister.That's what was done way back when. This freed the sister to return home, dignity intact. The old guy raised him and hoped one day he and Julie would meet. He tried to arrange that through his will with a little financial enticement, his last laugh as he left the planet.

Julie and her younger relative connect and work it out in time as Julie's head heals and her memory returns.

Thanks so much.


PS Julie and her hubby divorce because he's been a naughty boy with her friend with an unusual body part while Julie was getting a whack on the head.

Thanks again all.


Anonymous said...

Alaska RC and Anon, I put the line in the query that it took time for Julie and her great uncle's look alike (his nephew) to realize they were each the secret in the others journal then canned it as a "spoiler". I'll reconsider.

As Phoenix advises, go with the gut. So thanks for helping me. Not quite there but babies, I am working on it.

Thanks,great feed back.