Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Face-Lift 1271

Guess the Plot

Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People

1. Sixteen-year-old Jenna James is leading a pack of teenagers hell-bent on getting out of their small town. There's only one problem. They can't get across the raging river ridiculously called Black Lick Creek. Then Jenna hatches a plan. They can break off branches from the trees and make a bridge. Only she doesn't realize those trees are magical people, and they don't take kindly to meddling kids breaking them. Bedlam ensues. Oh, and a praying mantis.

2. The Tarrant trio (father, son, and blonde, teenaged grandson) are taking a trip across country when they make a wrong turn off the I-10. They find themselves in a city that's populated with folks suffering from various mysterious, crippling symptoms. Then they discover that somehow they can't go back the way they came in and the town is NOT ON THE MAP -- but a cave with a water formation named Black Lick Creek is, and it seems to be the only way out of the town.

3. Undead backpackers converge on Hell Central to discover angels have split EVIL in two. Fiends line up along the creek, zombies team up in the City, every nightmare soul eager to battle to the death — or kiss and make up.

4. Carla, Dean and Lyle love to frolic down by Black Lick Creek, but when they aren't doing that they're a vigilante team of abused 10-year-olds out for revenge on their abusers and any abusers who would break the spirits of children.

5. The city of Black Lick Creek holds a writers convention. Unknown to the city fathers, Black Lick is also scheduled for the Semi-Millennium Demons' Convocation. Writers flock to the venue but due to a NYC snowstorm, few agents or editors are able to attend. The writers mistakenly sit in on Satan's black mass. Afterward, over drinks at the hotel bar, the writers decide it must have been Evil Editor's symposium.

6. ehosephat "Black Lick" Creek has been riding the wild canyonlands of the west for years, never staying in one place. In a side canyon of the Snake river, he runs into a town of...well, people, he guesses, even though so many are crippled and twisted it's a bit hard to tell. Can he help them secure their town from the raging flash floods? And will he be able to do so without having to marry all seven of the ugly, one-eyed Olsen sisters?

Original Version

Title - “Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People”

Manuscript completed - about 96k words - dark YA fiction with dreams and a psychic [Most people care as much about fictional characters' dreams as they do about real peoples' dreams.] 

I am an attorney with a background as an assistant prosecutor in juvenile court. In an earlier career I was a clinical psychologist. I have drawn on experiences in both careers to formulate my storyline [in which the main character ditches a promising and lucrative career as a clinical psychologist for a low-paying, dead-end career dealing with drug-dealing, crack-smoking punks]. Thank you for your consideration

Overview: [No need to label each section of a business letter.]

Suppose an abused child fights back. [Good for her.] Suppose three of them, each 10 years old, form an unbreakable pact to protect each other from the depredations heaped on them by the adults who should have loved, nurtured and kept them safe. [Yes. I like it. What are their super powers?] They are more than close friends. Their lives meld into one entity and one purpose - to love, protect and succor one another through all adversities. [Screw love and succor. If you want this to become a blockbuster movie they have to form a vigilante team, kill their own abusers, and then go after all abusers.] Carla, the ostensible leader of the threesome, began her life in a home of privilege but was suddenly placed in the care of a selfish aunt and predatory uncle. Dean was forced to murder his psychotic mother [Now that's what I'm talking about.] to keep her from murdering him. Lyle, a skinny, introverted genius, harbored an obsession for revenge against his two half-sisters twins for their false accusation of sexual abuse by his father leading to his death. [Lyle doesn't seem to belong. You said there were three abused children, but Lyle wasn't abused, and apparently his sisters weren't either, and Lyle didn't have depredations heaped on him by adults (or are the twin sisters adults?)] Seeing and experiencing life in a way that at times resembles combat, only two of them survive. [Yes but how many baddies did they take out before one of them succumbed?] 

First three sentences:

Chapter 1
God how they played! All three of them, ten years old, ran as hard as they could through the field, jumped the ditch, vaulted the fence and scooted down the loose rock bank to the creek. Elmer Gantry was drunk. [Yes he was, often. But what's he got to do with your book? Is Elmer Gantry preaching down by the creek? Is he one of your characters? If only you had provided four sentences.]


Three sentences? Anyone who wants a sample included with the letter will want at least three pages, possibly three chapters. Check their submission guidelines.

I'm sure both of your previous careers required you to write business letters at times, and they probably didn't begin:


Dear Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence,


I regret to inform you that your son Barry is a sociopathic delinquent.


Sincerely yours,

This is the first example of your writing the reader will see, so use sentences and paragraphs.

This is just a list of your characters and their backstories. What led to their forming a pact is interesting, but your story is what happens after that. You need to tell us that story, providing specific information about the trio's goals, obstacles, plans, setbacks, dilemmas. Summarize the story in about ten sentences that connect logically to the each other.

I'd put the part about your careers at the end rather than the beginning.


InkAndPixelClub said...

Yeah, there's just not enough here to get a sense of the story and the formatting isn't helping. Check out some of the previous Face-Lifts to get an idea of what a query letter generally looks like. Three or so paragraphs explaining your story, one with title, word count, genre, optional comps, and maybe a little relevant info about you, and a thank you for the reader's time. No first three sentences. The first three sentences you have may well work perfectly with the rest of the book, but they aren't so attention grabbing on their own to merit their inclusion here.

Like EE said, you've got setup, but not much that tells an editor or agent what the majority of your book will be about. We have three abused kids - or two abused kids and one otherwise traumatized kid - who are friends and have promised to support and take care of one another. At some point, one of them dies or fails to survive in a more metaphorical way. Somewhere in there is a psychic and some dreams. And Elmer Gantry. That's an awful lot of those 96,000 words left up to the editor's imagination and that's not a good thing. You want to demonstrate that you have a whole story that makes sense, which means describing more than just the backgrounds of the three kids with a hint of what happens to them thrown in.

Anonymous said...

Your other careers have probably given you plenty of writing practice and it shows, but I'd reword "to formulate my storyline" to something more poetic -- or better still, strike the sentence. It's evident where you got your storyline and it will moreso if, as EE advised, you put your career info at the end of the query. Also, I wonder what "his two half-sisters twins" means. Also, is it important for the purposes of the query that Carla is the "ostensible" leader? Save yourself four syllables and strike that.

We need a sense of what type of story this is. Is it an intense, intimate story of childhood friendship and human resilience in the face of unspeakable torment? Is it a story of violent passions and betrayals centering around a single, stunning scandal that "breaks" the city? Is it a semi-thriller about mysterious, horrific incidents that are finally traced to three little abuse victims?

To answer those questions and to address EE's note ("You need to tell us that story"), THIS must be expanded: "Seeing and experiencing life in a way that at times resembles combat, only two of them survive."

Anonymous said...

90K is too long for literary YA, which I'm guessing this is despite the psychic. Internet research shows recommended length at 60-80K. If this is paranormal/fantasy/horror you may have more leeway. Someone with better knowledge of YA subcategories would need to answer.

You can submit the first 150 words for review (to this site), search for 'New Beginning' for examples of what happens. From the first three sentences alone, sentence three doesn't belong.

Set up is all well and good, but what exactly happens in the book? Could you do your job well if all your clients said was "We were all friends, but stuff happened" and that's it? 'Cause that's all the info this letter is giving anyone who reads it.

If one of the children is more of a main character, focus on them and their story. If it really is about all three, it still may help to focus on one.

Brief story setup/background in three or fewer sentences. Current problem, how they're trying to deal with it, and what's getting in their way in three sentences. A sense of their plans and a general idea of where the whole thing is going in three sentences. Housekeeping details like title, genre, word count, relevant background/previous publications (if any) at the end in a single brief paragraph

Mr Baskerville said...

I agree with the previous posters. Maybe it will help you if you see what I get from the query.

It's a 96k word dark YA novel, in which 3 abused children form a strong bond where they...??? From what I understand, Carla's predatory uncle, Dean's psychotic mother, and Lyle's sisters' false allegations are all backstory.

Is this correct? If so, what happens in your novel? Are the kids surviving on the streets? Living in the same foster home? Who is the psychic?

A story where abused kids fight back and truimph sounds like an interesting plot.

Dottie D said...

I'm wondering why you are calling this YA if the three main characters are 10. 10 is really lower middle grade and this subject matter would be a bit disturbing for that age group in general. YA usually has readers aged about 13 or 14 and up, and kids generally want to read about someone older. so the mc for YA is usually 14 and older.

Perhaps reconsider the ages of the characters.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering about the target readership, too, but I'm guessing the three protagonists are teens for the body of the story? On the other hand, we just don't know, because there's not enough in that query to know what's actually happening, who's doing what.

Mister Furkles said...


First, I recommend you read the archives of Query Shark ( and pay special attention to the good queries.

Start the query with the setup, then the plot up to but not including how it ends. Include just a few words about your experience working with children. Confine the setup to no more than fifty words: be brief and trim. You only get 250 words so make sure each word contributes. No pleonasms.

The plot must include the choice the MC faces, the consequences of each, what the MC wants to accomplish, and who is preventing this.

Here is an example of trimming a phony setup by removing pleonasms and trimming (and I just made this up so it isn't very good):

As far as Henry Whorlow is concerned, his mom is just like everybody else's mother—apart from her personality and personal interests. Little does he is realize, nor do his family and family's friends know, that she is a central member of a long standing coven of witches. [47 words]

Henry thinks his mom is ordinary. She's a witch. [9 words]

Cut setup to the quick. Save voice for the plot paragraphs.

Take a couple of weeks, then revise and resubmit. We minions will just wait by our monitors until then.

St0n3henge said...

You could start with this, after the salutation:

"Three abused children, each 10 years old, form an unbreakable pact to protect each other from the depredations heaped on them by the adults who should have loved, nurtured and kept them safe. Carla, the ostensible leader, began her life in a home of privilege but was suddenly placed in the care of a selfish aunt and predatory uncle. Dean was forced to murder his psychotic mother to keep her from murdering him. Lyle, a skinny, introverted genius, harbors an obsession for revenge against his two half-sisters twins."

Then explain more of what happens and the fact that only two of them survive.

Then: “'Black Lick Creek and the City of Broken People' is dark YA fiction complete at 96k words. I am an attorney with a background as an assistant prosecutor in juvenile court."

Then sign off.