Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Face-Lift 992

Guess the Plot

Alchemist's Fire

1. Azmir, the youngest alchemist in the Guild, has invented a flame that can melt anything - even the enchanted ice of the frozen Northlands. With visions of fame and fortune in his head, he goes north, but the Cult of the Eternal Ice have other ideas for him. Can Azmir escape their icy clutches?

2. While Burton, an alchemist-in-training, is trying to turn tap water into root beer, he gets distracted by a beautiful girl outside his window. He mixes the wrong ingredients -- a fire ensues. The girl, who happens to be a volunteer firefighter, comes to the rescue. Burton discovers the girl is an alchemist too. A different kind of fire ensues.

3. In an alternate universe alchemists did discover the secret of changing lead into gold, as well as how to be immortal. This caused two problems; gold is so plentiful it's worthless, and now they need to find a way for people to die. The mythical Alchemist’s Fire is the answer to both and Te’vii sets out to find it, at the young age of 562.

4. Stan just wants to pass chemistry, but lab partner Ali turns cafeteria meatloaf into food and produces an elixir which revives the pickled bio-lab frogs. Being along for the ride (and the grade) seems great--until Ali starts brewing love potion to sell to the seniors, and men in black suits show up.

5. Changing lead into gold is nothing. Changing young into old is where it's at. If his map to the Fountain of Youth is legit, Troy figures he'll have all the gold he needs soon enough.

6. After decades of work, alchemist Isaac Smithson succeeds in changing lead to gold. The townspeople immediately burn down his laboratory and Smithson must flee to keep from being burned as a witch. Gotta love the Middle Ages.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Professor Martin is happy to keep his research on the South Pacific theoretical until a former student, Troy Aldridge, pops up with a map to the Fountain of Youth. Troy convinces Professor Martin to join his expedition with a little inadvertent help from the Imperial Mining Company (whose thugs keep trying to set Professor Martin on fire). [If your thugs keep trying to set someone on fire, and failing, you need smarter thugs.]

They track down the Fountain of Youth near the Solomon Islands, [What's near the Solomon Islands is the Pacific Ocean.] but their plans of bringing home bathtub-fulls [bathtubs full] of the stuff are thwarted [Wouldn't it have been more efficient to bring barrels than bathtubs? Just in case they hit some rough seas?] when the the elixir of youth cannot be moved. [It sounds like you're saying it's impossible to fill a jug with the elixir and take it somewhere else. Are you trying to say the elixir loses its effectiveness if it's taken from the Fountain?] It turns out that they’ll need the spongy marrow of Death to transport it. [Did someone tell them they needed the spongy marrow of Death, or were they sitting around trying to figure out how to get the elixir onto their ship and . . .

Crewman: Well, we've tried vats and and jugs and bathtubs and Tupperware bowls; I guess if people want to drink the elixir they're just gonna have to come to the Fountain.

Captain: Not so fast. We still haven't tried the spongy marrow of Death.]

Their crew, who was all for finding the Fountain of Youth, is less excited about heading to the Isle of Death. Before they even set out, the first mate betrays the expedition to the Imperial Mining Company.

[First Mate: Hello, Imperial Mining Company? I'm phoning to inform you that we are embarking on a mission to the Isle of Death in search of spongy marrow.

Receptionist: And you'd like us to send a few miners to help with the project? Let me connect you with the spongy marrow mining manager.]

Now, with the Imperial Mining Company calling every ship east of Calcutta to chase them down, Troy and Professor Martin are racing to figure out how to transport the elixir of youth (the marrow almost worked).

[Captain: Damn. Spongy marrow of Death didn't work.

Crewman: But it almost worked, sir. Perhaps we should try the bouncy quintessence of Oblivion?]

But that might be exactly what the Imperial Mining Company wants: get them to do the dirty work and then swoop in and steal the results.

Alchemist’s Fire is a 65,000-word fantasy. I have written a couple of technical books published by O’Reilly [Bill O'Reilly? Wait, did you ghost-write Spongy Marrow of Death in the No Spin Zone?]: Book1, Book2, and Book3.

Thank you!


Why are we spending so much time on the spongy marrow of Death if it doesn't work any better than the bathtubs? Granted, the phrase "spongy marrow of Death" is a big selling point (I was prepared to request the manuscript if it had actually worked), but it takes more than clever word choice to sell a book.

Even if the spongy marrow of Death had worked, who would want to drink something that's been transported in the spongy marrow of Death? I'd be afraid it was going to kill me instead of make me young.

Does anyone use the elixir? What happens?

Why were thugs trying to set Martin on fire? Is that the fire from the title? Who's the alchemist?

Make it clear what happens when they try to put the elixir in bathtubs.

If they eventually get the elixir on board, I suggest dropping the spongy marrow of Death and skipping to the part where the mining company tries to chase them down and snatch their bathtubs transport medium. If they don't get the elixir on board, what is the result of finding the Fountain? Nothing?

What will happen to life as we know it if the miners get the elixir?

Why is this a fantasy? Just because they locate the Fountain of Youth?

Start over and focus the query on one character. What's his goal, what's his plan, what's his biggest problem, what's at stake, what happens?


150 said...

I don't get a good impression of the setting: modern times?

Anonymous said...

What EE said. Sounds like it might be a fun Lemony Snicket sort of story, although maybe it's meant to be dark and serious. Which is your intention? Is the book meant for adults or youth? It seems a bit short for the adult market, but it might be ideal for the middle graders.

Also, I'm not clear on how they know it's an elixir of youth. Plus I can't tell if key things take place on a mysterious island or not. Is the elixir some kind of special seawater -- that stuff burbling up from deep hot springs, for instance? Spongy marrow of death is a novel phrase but either it's fancy talk for some random old bones or else it's something else that is peculiar to the story. So you've got two mystery substances. I have no idea how/where they try to get either one, whether they are meant to be 'real' things, or what inspired the belief in them. Is the whole foray meant to be a crazy silly romp, or real and sensible in the world of the book?

Mother (Re)produces. said...

I don't have much to add to EE's breakdown, except that it sounds intriguing.

The one thing I will add, though, since Professor Martin is our protag, I would like to have more of a sense of who he is. His voice and personality aren't really coming through and I find myself hoping he's quite a character, but that's not coming out in the query.

Querier said...

Thank you for the critique!

I'll redo it and try to focus more on Professor Martin.

It seems like I need to add more detail about what was happening and why. (I was trying to avoid the trap you've talked about where doctors/lawyers/etc write in a boringly-specific way. But I think I went too far in the other direction.)

I wasn't sure if you were being being sarcastic: is O'Reilly not that well known outside of tech circles? It's probably the most well-respected tech publisher, so I assumed agents would know it... maybe not?

@Anonymous: it is intended to be humorous. I was debating putting "humorous fantasy" as the genre, but it's not like Terry Prachett. Maybe I should anyway, though.

@150: Whoops, I'll have to make that clearer. It's set in the 1870s.

Evil Editor said...

Whether an editor of fantasy will care about O'Reilly is hard to say, though it won't hurt to briefly mention one of your tech books (Have you got one with a more interesting title than Book 1?).

How does the first mate, on an expedition near the Solomon Islands in the 1870s, contact the Imperial Mining Company?

150 said...

@Querier - That's why I asked; we have professors and ships and mining companies and all that today, but I had a feeling.

Leave out the "humorous" and just make the query letter funny to match the tone of the book.

Rashad Pharaon said...

I would suggest this... "Troy convinces Professor Martin to join his expedition and they set off for the Solomon Islands.." something along those lines. I think it's too early to introduce the "inadvertent help from the mining company" (why is it inadvertent? and why are they trying to set him on fire of all things?). Maybe it's just me but--too much too soon--and I would avoid using the parentheses. Just solidify the line.

I really like your premise. I can see how this could be a fun and fast-paced novel full of chases and occasional comic mishaps.

One more thing, if this indeed is a funny story, have you thought about changing the name "Isle of Death" to something more comic? i.e. Isle of Croaking Spirits, etc.

Just a suggestion. Thank you for sharing your query.

sarahhawthorne said...

1870? I too thought this was set in the present or near future. Maybe because "Troy" is a popular name today, but was much less common (though admittedly not unheard of) before the 1950s/60s.

I would say that it's not that you need to add more plot details, but that you need to add more character details to make us root for Professor Martin. Something like:

In 1873, James Martin, gentleman scholar and geology expert, has always been happy to do his adventuring through the pages of his beloved books. But that's before a disgraced former student shows up on his doorstep with a map which he swears will lead them to the Fountain of Youth. Before Martin knows it, he's been shanghaied onto a clipper ship to the New World.

But Martin's expedition is not the only team after the mythical drought. The Imperial Mining Company is hard on their track and will stop at nothing to steal the prize - especially not slitting the throat of an inconvenient academic. If Martin wants to survive, he'll have to face down a mutinous crew, take on dangers natural and supernatural, and become the swashbuckling hero he's always wanted to be.

Rashad Pharaon said...

I LOVE the reworked query posted by commenter Sarah Hawthorne above. Great flow.

Khazar-khum said...

If there is a Fountain of Youth, why not build a huge resort at the site (spa in 1870's terminology) and charge a mint to visit?

Heather Marsten said...

I think there is a lot of promise in the story, but I do wonder what will work - too bad Spongy Marrow of Death didn't work, the initials are great SMOD - you could have the SMOD Squad - could turn into a series :)

There are a lot of fascinating "research" going on - but maybe too many projects - the fire and the SMOD and the elixir - they would have to work together somehow or else maybe two books.

I do like the idea of the water to root beer (although wine might be more intoxicating), and then getting distracted - hope he doesn't get burned in the relationship.

Have a blessed day.

Querier said...

@Evil Editor: I was just maintaining my secret identity.

Imperial Mining Co was sort of an alternate-universe East India Trading Co: they're all over the place.

@150: ouch, I was trying to make it funny! :-P

@Rashad: thank you, good ideas.

@Sarahhawthorne: wow. I totally agree with Rashad, that is an _awesome_ query!

none said...

So it's not a sequel to Atlanta Nights, then?

Can I just say I find these captcha words worse than the previous ones?

none said...

By the time I'd got the captcha words right, my comment had been deleted anyway.


KJ said...

I am totes going to steal the premise outlined in Option 1 *evil grin*