Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Face-Lift 1040

Guess the Plot

Appalachian Trail

1. Hank always wanted to go on the great American road trip after high school. But all he could afford was a bike ride up the mountains of Tennessee.

2. 101 recipes featuring nuts and berries. Also, up-to-date hiking maps.

3. Divyanga Singh is working toward his Masters in Computer Science. To relax, he spends his weekends coding “Appalachian Trail,” a sequel to the cult classic computer game “Oregon Trail.” When Appalachian Trail becomes a hit on campus, Div suddenly becomes very popular with the ladies. But what will he tell his parents, busy arranging a marriage for him back in Delhi?

4. Biff Hardcastle’s Eagle Scout troop is hiking the Shenandoahs from Otter Creek to Humpback Rocks. Little do they know that Tara Lustig’s Girl Scouts are hiking from Humpback Rocks to Otter Creek. Will everyone be prepared when they meet on the... Appalachian Trail?

5. They thought it was just an 80's era computer game meant to teach them American history. But when an electric surge sucks Mikey, Diego, and Kim into the past, they'll be glad they learned so much about geography, the importance of proper supplies, and dysentery.

6. Hiking the Appalachian Trail was supposed to help Nate forget about his tragic past. Instead he keeps running into other hikers who are also trying to forget their tragic pasts and who insist on evaluating and reevaluating their tragic pasts and comparing them with Nate's tragic past.

Original Version

Nate Townsend is hiking the Appalachian Trail, but not for adventure or challenge -- he’s walking to escape. With each mile, he steps further away from the people and tragic cascade of events that took away his wife and young daughter, and yet the memories continue to torment him. [I can't tell if the tragic cascade of events was Nate's affair with a Bulgarian dockworker, after which his wife left him, taking their daughter, or if it was Nate refusing to carry out a hit on Carlo Gambino's wife and daughter, after which Nate's mob boss had Nate's wife and daughter killed. Or something else entirely.] As he crosses paths with other hikers and townspeople, each carrying their own humorous quirks and emotional scars, [Apparently no one hikes this trail for adventure or challenge. A therapist could set up a practice on the Appalachian Trail and retire young.] Nate is forced to reevaluate his flight and confront his past trauma. [Question for discussion: Do you have to evaluate your flight before you can reevaluate it?] Through a series of flashbacks, the cause of his tortured pilgrimage is revealed. [If only one or two of these flashbacks were in the query.] With the help of one very special woman who joins his journey, Nate must make a climactic decision about his trail’s end. [What are his choices?]

I would love for you to represent my first novel, APPALACHIAN TRAIL, a 98,000-word work of commercial fiction.

A native Southerner recently relocated to New York City, I honed my writing skills for 15 years [while trying to find my way off the Appalachian Trail.] as a newspaper reporter and editor, including at The Oak Ridger (Tenn.), Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal, Florence (S.C.) Daily News.

I thank you for considering representing APPALACHIAN TRAIL and I look forward to your response.


One could get the impression you're trying to be as vague as possible. All these phrases refer to the same thing: tragic cascade of events, memories, his past trauma, the cause of his tortured pilgrimage. How about just telling us what happened so we can sympathize with (or blame) the guy?

This sounds like literary fiction. If it were commercial fiction you wouldn't have so much trouble coming up with a few intriguing plot points.

Here's how I think the book goes: Nate gets on the Trail in Georgia and soon encounters Boston Bill, who's hiking south to forget the tragic juggling accident that cost him his left leg. In North Carolina Nate runs into Lou, who has Tourette's Syndrome and is hiking to forget his one great love, his ventriloquist's dummy. Somehow this forces Nate to reevaluate his flight, whatever that means. Then in Virginia he meets Alison, and she convinces him to hike north to New York, exit the Trail, and become a novelist.

If you don't want me to think that's what happens, you need to provide more specifics about what does happen.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yeah, too vague. And the title suggests a guide book. And it will be a long, long time before the Appalachian Trail ceases to be a code word for married South Carolina governors who are getting a little on the side.

150 said...

A high concept can sell itself on just the title: "Zombie Strippers" or "Snakes on a Plane." For stories without a high concept, like this one, the query must reflect what makes it worth reading. Does it closely, cleverly observe its subject? Does it describe something most readers don't know about or don't have access to? Is it insightful? Is it wrenching? Is the language beautiful?

Whatever makes this ordinary story worth reading about, the query has to have the same quality. Insight, novelty, beauty. Anything. Otherwise I'll assume the book lacks it too.

Ambee said...

Specific details would make the query more interesting. I too want to know what the tragedy was and what exactly happens on the trail. Are all the "challenges" meeting other people? Is there a thunderstorm or a washed-out trail? Does the MC heal by the end or what? It's a good setup for events to happen, but I'd like to know what those events are.

Glad to see I wasn't the only one who thought "Oregon Trail." :)

Anonymous said...

So Nate's wife and daughter are gone. Nate decides to hike to forget his tragic loss. he meets others on the trail that describe their own losses to him and this forces him to confront his pain?

And, the really big compelling part of this story is that the reader finds out about how he loses his family through a series of flashbacks?

So your query could be -

Overwhelmed with pain when his wife leaves him for the pirate One-Arm, One-Eye Louis and takes their daughter with them, Nate tries to escape by hiking the mysterious Appalachian Trail. (see how you get the word pirate into the first paragraph?)

Little does he know there is no escape for on his pilgramage to forget he encouters, Charlie. The young, strangely mysterious bohemian is overcoming the anguish of being a serial killer and the fear that Det. Zack Martinez is hot on his trail. Charlie's story reminds Nate of the time he cursed his wife for totalling the family car while she was at the hospital getting stitched up.

Nate shares a meal on the first night with Madeline, a shy 16 year old girl who can't but help spill her guts about the sexual abuse and her secret crush on her best friend forever, Amy. She leaves him with a warning, 'you can't run from your own heart', which reminds Nate of the time he watched the Super Bowl rather than play with his precious three-year old who now calls a pirate, "dad".

Distraught to the point of suicide, Nate is saved when he meets Caroline, a mother who has lost her family when her ex-husband absconds with their children to a foreign country after marrying her sister. With his new friend's help and tortured memories, Nate must decide whether to hunt down the pirate that has stolen his life or start a new life with Caroline after rescuing her family from war-torn Iran.

(try to get pirate, serial killer, detective, abuse and secret affair in the query. and see how you have a series potential now without even having said it?)


Anonymous said...

I dunno, Anon 2:40. I'm not a fan of loading a query down with story complications in hopes that one or two might snag the agent's interest. Better to keep it simple: who's the protag, what's his goal, who stands in the way, what are the stakes? (Which, I think we all agree, the original query lacks.)

khazar-khum said...

Why is he hiking the trail?

Is it something he promised his wife & kid they'd do one summer, but work always got in the way & now he's doing it as a memorial?

Is he using it to run away from his old life? Or does he just want to meet new people & hang with hippie chicks?

Do the wife and kid tie into the trail because they were attacked, killed and eaten by kudzu & cicadas while hiking it? Was it were-cicadas? Nasty buggers, those.

Dave Fragments said...

I hate to say this but it needs to be said about the title.

Hiking the "Appalachian Trail" is a euphemism for the dirty deed thanks to one Governor Sanford (who wasn't hiking at all).

Xiexie said...

The title's as vague as the query. I still don't know who Nate is or really what he's about.

No Bull Steve said...

First -- this sounds suspiciously similar to a film that came out two years ago called The Way with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estavaz "A father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the "El camino de Santiago," and decides to take the pilgrimage himself."

Then again as others have already noted, this query is vague enough to resemble just about anything. As we say often here -- be makes it more interesting.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Dave, it needed to be said so I already said it.