Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Face-Lift 1202

Guess the Plot

Pretty Bird

1. His basketball playing career over, Larry Bird returns home to Indiana where he philosophizes on love, life, and what to do about Lance Stephenson.

2. When two twelve-year-old boys break into a pet store at night and release all the dogs from their cages, they think no one will suspect them. But they didn't count on Chester the parrot repeating everything they said in the store. To the cops.

3. Carmen the toucan pines for her home and family in the Amazon rainforest from her cage in the suburbs, shedding her feathers with stress. Ruby the Siamese has no ambition other than to open the cage and get a snack. Timmy doesn't care what happens as long as he can harass Ruby. Can Carmen manipulate the four-legged ones and secure her release before the human on-sells her to the taxidermist?

4. A parrot is loose in Elsa's luxury apartment building. It flies into the ritzy steak house next door, lands on someone's shoulder, and poops on the floor. Everyone watches the parrot get stabbed to death by a masked man in black. It's the Pretty Bird killer again!

5. When Pretty Bird shows up in the village, Hungry Crow is entranced. But before he even has one date with her, she's murdered. With no detective skills, Hungry Crow's only hope of solving the crime is to get a shaman to bring Pretty Bird back to life so he can ask her who murdered her.

6. She was a pretty bird; most birds were. But there was more to life than just being pretty. What about fulfillment, and romance? What about that studly cock next door? With him at her side she’d be the top biddy in the barnyard. And that ain’t chicken feed…

Original Version

When Pretty Bird came to the village, all the people loved her. The young men tried to woo her with gifts of game, corn, [Pretty Bird, I brought you this dead moose and 3 ears of corn. Now will you date me?] jewelry or moccassins, [moccasins] but she ignored them. Instead she remained a modest, quiet [boring] young woman who seemed to keep to herself. ["Seemed" meaning she wasn't really keeping to herself?]

Black Elk, a hunter, and Hungry Crow, a young man, both have eyes for her. [I suspect everyone in the tribe does some hunting, and "a young man" tells us nothing new, as you've already said it was the young men who were wooing her, so drop the descriptors.] One night Black Elk meets with her and an affair starts. But while he is off hunting, someone murders Pretty Bird. [I see no reason the first paragraph needs to be in past tense. For that matter, I see no reason we can't dump the first paragraph and open: Black Elk and Hungry Crow both have eyes for Pretty Bird, the modest, quiet woman who just moved into their village.]

Hungry Crow wants to find out who killed the beautiful young woman, so he follows eagles, visions and the Road to see a cacique, a shaman-chief, who can help. He is given the things [A less-vague word like "spells" or "talismans" would be better than "things." Or you could be truly specific and say The cacique gives him a buffalo ear, an eagle feather and some corn, along with instructions on how to restore....] necessary to restore Pretty Bird to life. Will this bring him love--or will he unleash a great horror? [If our goal is to sell books, I recommend unleashing the great horror.]

Drawing from archeology, Puebloean folklore, and my own experiences in the Southwest, "Pretty Bird: A Tale of Mesa Verde" is a novella. It will appeal to those with an interest in our Southwestern heritage.

Sample chapters are attached. Thank you!

Note--the people of Mesa Verde were the ancestors of the people living in various Pueblos today. They do not call themselves 'Anasazi', because that means 'ancient enemy'. The Navaho who drove them from their lands call them that, and unfortunately archeology does, too. Modern Pueblo Indians find the word insulting. [Whether that's a note to EE or part of the query, it feels weird insofar as the term "Anasazi" hasn't been mentioned.] [Also, there must be a reason spellcheck has twice let you get away with spelling archaeology without the second "a," but I'd go with the more common (in the US, at least) spelling.]


Where did Pretty Bird come from? She just shows up alone one day, moves in, and ignores everyone? Did such things happen in this culture?

If it were Black Elk trying to find out who killed Pretty Bird, then we would have a potential suspect in Hungry Crow. But with Hungry Crow investigating the murder that was committed while Black Elk was off hunting, we have nothing. Why isn't Black Elk the one trying to solve the murder? He's the one who finally won Pretty Bird's heart. Or was it just a one-night stand?

"Hungry Crow" sounds like an insulting name. Not as insulting as "Anasazi," but still...

On the other hand, Hungry Crow sounds like the main character. Do we even need Black Elk in the query? We could just open: When Hungry Crow's latest crush Pretty Bird is murdered, he consults a shaman, who shows him how to bring his true love back to life but also warns him that she could come back as a fire-breathing wolverine.

If you don't want to go the horror route, you could make this the start of a mystery series with Hungry Crow as your detective. He solves crimes with his amazing tracking skills. And he has a French sidekick named Hercule Pueblo.

What we need is more plot details. Does Hungry Crow try the shaman's method? What goes wrong? What does he do about it? Is someone trying to obstruct the "investigation"? Did anyone have a motive for murdering Pretty Bird?


Sarah Laurenson said...

Hercule Pueblo series! Forget Hungry Crow, Pretty Bird, etc. Go for the Agatha Christie ripoff.

There's not a lot to go on here. I'm not sure if this is a romance, an amateur gumshoe story, horror as in Re-Animator with the dead cat brought back to life to terrorize everyone.

Would love to see the updated version with more info.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I know "Navaho" is an alternate spelling that was frequently used in the past, but do you want to run the risk that the person you're querying won't know that?

As I was reading this I kept thinking "Running Bear/Loved Little White Dove/With a love/Big as the sky-y-y!" Which is to say the names scream Stereotype City. You may have taken care to avoid stereotyping, but the names make it sound like you haven't.

Black Elk was an Oglala Lakota, way the hell north of where the Anasazi hung out, and considerably more recent.

If you're asserting that the people in your story (presumably the Anasazi) don't call themselves "Anasazi", then let's go whole hog and assume they also don't name their children Hungry Crow or Pretty Bird, just like today's parents don't name a kid Warrior Maiden Child of the Dwellers in the Wide Field even if the name might mean that.

Sue Harrison's books are a good example of an author reconstructing a hypothetical extinct language complete with names.

Are you thinking market on this? Novellas are a tough sell. There might be an e-book market of some kind. An agent's not going to look at a novella.

Jane said...

What Alaska said. Also, I don't get a sense of the setting's time period. During the historical pueblo time? Modern descendants of pueblo peoples? (For example I could see early 20th century as being in keeping with what you've described.)

It's really hard to write in a culture that is historical and other to our own (tell me abput it - I'm doing it now!) but you want to probably avoid the false exoticism if names like Hungry Crow. That said I think the would be a fascinating setting! Good luck!

khazarkhum said...

Author here. LOVE the alts!

AR & Jane Don't get the vapors. All the names are real Pueblo names. I suppose I could use some actual names, but that quickly gets into other issues, like spelling with the Latin alphabet. There's a reason they're usually translated.

It's set @ 1200 in Mesa Verde.

I see I left some critical components out of the inquiry. You would think that, after all these years here, I'd know better. Anyway, two critical things: Black Elk's wife finds out he's having an affair, and Pretty Bird is a witch.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Hi author. It looks like your main problem is that the query is too short, which is not the worst problem to have. You don't mention a word count, but I assume that there's more to the story than what you've related here.

Hungry Crow is your main character, but right now we don't know much about him beyond that he was one of several young men interested in Pretty Bird and he happens to be the guy trying to solve the mystery of her murder. Flesh him out more. Why should we be interested in following him as opposed to any other character in the story? What makes him uniquely qualified to solve the mystery of Pretty Bird's murder?

If this is a mystery with supernatural elements, you need to lay that out in the query. Right now, it seems highly likely that Black Elk's wife is the killer since she is the only character you mention other than the victim, the detective, and Black Elk, who you say was out hunting at the time of the murder. Who are the other suspects? What makes this murder hard to solve, to the point where our detective's only option is to raise the victim from the dead and ask her whodunit? Even if the murder is just an excuse to get to the supernatural elements, you still need to make it clear why Hungry Crow can't solve the crime without resorting to visions and raising the dead.

I assume you've done your research on this, but I have to ask: was extramarital sex a big deal in 13th century Meda Verde culture?

I'm not really getting a sense of what the bulk of your story is about. If it's mainly about Hungry Crow journeying to find the shaman, who then presents him with the option of bringing Pretty bird back to life at the risk of bringing an undead horror into the world, then Hungry Crow's journey needs to be fleshed out. If it's really about Hungry Crow deciding to bring Pretty bird back to life and dealing with the aftermath of his decision, then you need to go into depth on that part. Right now, this sounds like enough material for a short story. You need to show that there's enough for a novella.

I'd drop the line about the book appealing to people who are interested in our Southwestern heritage. Those people are just as likely to pick up a nonfiction book about the culture and time period, if not more. The appeal of your book should be that it's a great story, with the Southwestern culture aspects as a bonus.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Write the names rather than the translations. Believe me, it'll sound better. Work out the spelling.

/exit whistling "Running Bear/Loved Little White Dove"

InkAndPixelClub said...

Addendum, related to the need to show why it falls to Hungry Crow to solve Pretty Bird's murder:

Pretty Bird: Hello, everyone. I am a modest, quiet newcomer to your village.
Villagers: We all love you, Pretty Bird!
Pretty Bird: Oh dear, I seem to have been murdered. Will you please solve this mystery and bring my killer to justice?
Villagers: Well, um, yeah. So you see, we all "love" you, but we don't exactly "love you love you," you know? Like, not enough to check around and see who might have had the reason and the means to murder you. Sorry about that being dead thing. Good luck with that.

khazarkhum said...

Ink, some good ideas there.

This started as an answer on a archaeology website, then took on a life of its own. It was a way to explain how a woman's skull ended up with a blade shoved through the forehead. Incredibly, there were people at that site who could not fathom how such a thing might come to be without any sort of historical record.

Supernatural elements are in it from the very start, which needs to be emphasized.

For the names, it might be best to give the Indian name first, and then the translation. From that point the translation can be used. We do that in real life all the time. Otherwise I'd be about to talk to my niece, She Who Remains Standing and her brother, Handsome.

debhoag said...

I received emails from people named Wood, Forrest, Wellman and Longbow, just today. I think we tend to overlook the derivations of names we're familiar with, just because we're used to hearing them. And then there's Evil, of course. I live in the southwest, and there's a fair amount of Native folks from all over that work for IHS who have names similar to the ones used here, rather than in Lakota or Cheyenne or Blackfoot. I don't see it as inapropo, myself. Or, at least, I wouldn't, if my spellcheck recognized it, lol