Monday, January 21, 2013

Face-Lift 1096

Guess the Plot

Sir Celery and the Hornworm

1. Sir Celery stalks a killer hornworm in order to dig up some dirt. He'll have to pull some strings in order to produce the evidence he needs, though he risks soiling his own reputation. Meanwhile, the hornworm eats, shoots and leaves.

2. When a hungry hornworm spies Lady Tomato, he thinks he might not starve to death after all. But he didn't know the Knights of the Veggie Table used chemical warfare. Sir Celery to the rescue!

3. An elderly celery stalk undertakes a quest to rid the world of hornworm. He and his aid, a carrot, are mount their guinea pig chargers, Chipper and Daisy. The vegetable pair are armed with a fondue skewer and plastic cocktail swords. All goes well until Chipper’s and Daisy’s stomachs growl.

4. Sir Celery was disliked by the rest of the vegetables. He was stiff, stringy, and enjoyed peanut butter way too much for the rest of the garden denizens. Until the hornworms moved in, and Sir Celery was the only stalk with the backbone to take on the death-eaters in green-blooded battle. Also, tomatoes with relationship issues.

5. An aging singer, with the punk rock band Sir Celery and Mr. Hornworm, tries to make a last go of it on the road. There, he meets a young man who has his eye on music success. What lessons will the old singer share?

6. Scotland Yard Detective Jack Celery is knighted for service to the Queen. Now, with his trusty second, Sergeant Hornworm, they'll tackle their toughest case yet. Some fiend has been mutilating Post and Kellogg deliverymen. It’s history’s first cereal killer.

7. One writer bets another one hundred dollars he can stump EE and the minions with the most inane title ever. The minions are unimpressed.

8. Craft mezcal producer, Juan, cheapens his product by replacing the maguey worm with hornworm. All goes well until a drug cartel boss’s moll drops a celery stalk into her Margarita. The worm turns and attacks the celery. The moll pukes all over the boss’s fifty-thousand dollar antique loveseat. And pieces of Juan are strewn about Oaxaca.

Original Version

Dear EE,

Deep within The Garden a battle for survival rages.

The deadly hornworm has arrived and threatens to drain fair Lady Tomato of her very life. Valiant Sir Celery, a Knight of the Veggie Table, hears her cries and strives to save her. [Spoiler alert.] Quick-thinking and organic chemical warfare defeats the hornworm moments before Lady Tomato’s skin is pierced. [Thus saving her virtue.]

Sir Celery and the Hornworm (715 words) is a garden adventure (think “Veggie Tales meets Camelot”) for children aged 4-7. Non-fiction facts at the conclusion describe ways farmers use intercropping to organically protect against insect infestation and crop loss in age-appropriate terms. [You had me at Sir Celery. You lost me with intercropping.] [Now if the hornworm has his way with Lady Tomato, and the moral of the story is that the gardener should have used intercropping, okay.] The subject matter lends itself to development into a series [in which Sir Celery will take on such fearsome villains as mealy worms, earwigs, and an aphid named Anthony].

As an avid gardener and a former college biology teacher, I hope my vegetable heroes [such as Baron Broccoli, Captain Eggplant, and The Cucumber Kid] will nourish the nature-curious reader while fostering positive attitudes that facilitate [encourage] a healthy diet. [And not attitudes like, I'm not eating Sir Celery! Who else will take on the evil hornworms?!!] [Or the attitude that it's acceptable to use weapons of mass destruction against those who are just trying to avoid starvation.]

I am a member of SCBWI and received an Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest’s annual competition (2011). [The fact that they call it an Honorable Mention doesn't make it worth mentioning.] I had the pleasure of hearing your presentations at SCBWI Illinois’ Prairie Writer’s Day and appreciate the opportunity to submit this manuscript for your consideration. I hope Sir Celery suits your taste. Thank you very much for your time.



Cute. And it's a lazy agent who will refuse to look at a 715-word manuscript. Or at least to request sentences.

Is the intercropping appendix part of the 715 words? I'm inclined to advise leaving out the intercropping, at least from the query. You could still offer it as an optional addition with the manuscript. Although . . . Your goal (you say) is to promote a healthy diet. Or is it to encourage intercropping or to give advice on pest prevention?

Is there anything in the plot that suggests we should eat more celery? I ask only because when children's books feature talking bunnies and duckies with human names, it doesn't encourage kids to eat those animals.

We need an avid entomologist to write a book in which sweet naive Henry Hornworm is gassed by an army of evil celery stalks. Apparently whichever character gets a cute name is the one we side with.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This query is refreshingly different from other picture book queries we've seen.

EE's right, though: nail down your message if any, or better yet, leave it out. I personally found the intercropping interesting, but then I'm also an avid gardener. Few 5-year-olds, and few Manhattan-based book editors, share this interest, though.

In fact, I'm having trouble picturing the market for this, but that's probably why I'm not an agent.

I disagree with EE about your honorable mention; you should mention it if it's what you've got. Especially if it can be found somewhere online (in case they check). I used to mention an hm, when it was all I had to offer, till I looked at the bestowers' website and found they'd listed the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places but what I had was apparently an honorable NONmention.

BTW, writer, I've always heard that with a picture book one sends the complete manuscript with the query. But probably you've got inside info on what the particular agent wants from having attended his/her session.

Tk said...

The wordplay promises well for the manuscript and I enjoyed it. The lack of rhythm, however, does not - sentences one to five all have essentially the same rhythm.

(Sentence six is a wtf moment - perhaps leave the story to show that rather than trying to explain it.)

The rest of the query continues in the same (non)rhythm - it reads choppy. Perhaps devote an entire revision to that, since I imagine it's something a picture book editor would be keenly attuned to?

Sir Celery is a charming concept :)

Unknown said...

I understand your passion about this subject, but I'm not sure about the reason you've written this book. Teaching kids stuff is totally important and worthy, but is this the right venue for it? Not saying I'm against these farming practices, because as far as I know, I'm not, but I don't quite get it at the moment. I'd love to read it to find out what it's about, though, and I can't imagine an agent not reading all 715 words, just as EE said. Can I read it? I'm suddenly in the mood for discovery about intercropping. Totally curious here - which obviously means you've achieved your purpose with the query letter.

GTP #7 - I love you.

Anonymous said...

Definitely worth checking whether agents that would handle this want a query or the whole text. And have you got an illustrator--how does that work?

I'm concerned that a triumphalist, violent and sadistic Sir Celery would simply feed into the oppressive patriarchal paradigm that is still foisted on so many children, especially in trailer parks and red states. Why not a Queen Celery, who recognizes the inherent worth in the Hornworm and through patient reasoning brings him to a common consensus that he should leave the garden, or feast only on weeds?

It would also help if you made it clear that Anthony the Aphid is gay.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Cute! I've been away for a while and this was an excellent query to come back to. Very well written which bodes well for the MS. I'd request a partial (at least 20%!)

Hope it works out. I agree with EE to some extent that the hero of these stories isn't always the one children are encouraged to eat. Of course that can best be seen in one of my favorite children books "Everybody Poops"

All the best with this!

Unknown said...

Hi all! Author here...
Thanks very much for the critique and the humor, as well. Regarding the MS--it is standard to send it (all 715 words) with the query, and I plan to. I didn't send it here not knowing if it was the proper protocol.

The actual story is about 680 words, and the back page would hold the five short sentences on how (biologically) the story is relevant and even useful.

On intercropping--marigolds can be grown with tomatoes (and tobacco) to repel the hornworm/prevent its infestation. (Maid Marigold to the rescue!)

I've found kids like to play with their food--not by careful study, but I'm pretty sure the research would back me up--and if they can pretend celery is heroic (Sir Celery or King Cauliflower, and the like) they might have a more positive attitude about trying it.

If nothing else, I thought the concept was novel and had the opportunity to entertain and teach at the same time.

Evil Editor said...

Perhaps if Sir Celery specifically states his motivation: that kids are more likely to eat nutritional, vitamin-packed tomatoes if they aren't crawling with hornworms.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Veronica, it occurred to me after I posted that having Sir Celery rush to the rescue of the Tomato Lady may be a harder sell than if Lady Celery rushed to the rescue of Sir Tomato.

Anonymous, the publisher assigns the manuscript to an illustrator.

150 said...

That's all well and good, until kids start eating all your marigolds.

Just kidding, it sounds like you know what you're doing. Maybe try to make the non-story parts of your query sound more like your explanation in the comments. Good luck! :D

winschod said...

Thanks for sharing!