Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Face-Lift 1437

Guess the Plot

Jacob's Monster

1. His friends all have puppies and kittens, but Jacob has . . . well, he doesn't know what it is. What he does know is that at the rate it's growing, they're gonna need a much bigger house.

2. When a massive iron door appears in his house, 13-year-old Jacob is tempted to open it, releasing the monster imprisoned behind it. Sure, it could turn out bad, but let's face it: that monster can't be any worse than Jacob's father.

3. Jacob found a monster under his bed. He fed it dust bunnies, liver, spinach, and his homework. He convinced it to do his chores and go to school in his place while he hid in his closet and played video games. That was three years ago, and Jacob just beat level 86452.

4. Jacob never tidied under the bed or in the closet; Why should he? No one ever went there anyway. But when a game of hide and seek ends up with two of his friends missing for good, can he come up with an explanation that their parents will buy?

5. It starts with a graveyard, but involves more earthly clay than mortal. And lightning is dangerous, so Jacob makes do with the house current and a few dozen stripped wires. Does he get life? This isn't a philosophy text. He does get lots of death though. Lots and lots.

6. All hell breaks loose--literally--on Bring Your Pet to School Day, when 7-year-old Jacob brings in his monster: an actual demon from the bowels of hell.

Original Version

Dear [Agent],

I hope you’re doing well. [Who are you writing to, your aunt? The agent is doing well enough that she's decided to slog into her pile of query letters for the first time in months, a rare window of opportunity for you. Get going.]

Like most children of addicts, 13-year-old Jacob learned early on how to monitor his alcoholic father’s moods and shape his life around them. Jacob's father was an everyday monster wearing a beloved face.

Jacob’s life changed in the summer of ‘74 when his grandfather died and the house violently shook, revealing a massive iron door covered in strange symbols and an unfamiliar language. [It didn't take long for the genre to go from litfic to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider sequel.] Something sinister lay behind the door, a hateful thing that saw into Jacob’s heart and offered him what he truly desired, a way to have power over his life in exchange for its freedom. 

Driven by anger fueled by feeling powerless in his life, Jacob was a ripe target. And [But] while tempted to drink of forbidden things, [What things are forbidden?] he had an unsettling feeling that to give entry would be to give up everything he was. [On the other hand, he would have what he truly desired, and what he was was a powerless kid with a drunk for a father, so he said, "Screw it," and opened the door.] [Right?]  [The last three sentences have included "Something sinister," "hateful thing," "forbidden things," and "everything he was." The word "thing" is vague, and adding a descriptor to it doesn't make it much more specific. Also, two consecutive sentences have the words "power over his life" and "powerless in his life." Either is sufficient to convey the idea.]

Quickly the stakes rose when he heard the monster make the same offer to his father and Jacob knew it would be just a matter of time before his father, in the bottom of a can [bottle?] and soaked with rage about the unfairness of life, would accept. [A matter of time? It wouldn't take any time.

Jacob's Monster: Open the iron door, and I'll give you a pint of tequila.

Jacob's father: Deal.

Armed with vague clues in a box of artifacts left to him by his grandfather, he sets out to find a way to stop the monster and save his family. [At last we've switched to the present tense, the default for query letter plot summaries. I can see the paragraph that starts "Like most children of addicts" in past tense, but I'd change the rest to present.] [Also, is the monster just a threat to Jacob's family? To the town? To the whole world?] [Does Jacob's family consist of more than him and his father?] Jacob finds unlikely allies in a bully, the unusual new kid at school, a librarian, and a rabbi. [These are not the people you recruit to take on a monster. You need a wizard, a computer expert (preferably in a wheelchair), a giant, and . . . ok, the unusual new kid at school.]

The story culminates with a desperate journey into a world inspired by Dante’s Inferno [or at least what I know about Dante's Inferno from watching Supernatural.] and an epic confrontation with the monster to save the soul of his father. [His father, the everyday monster soaked with rage who made Jacob's life miserable is now a sympathetic character?]

I’m currently seeking representation for my debut Adult Horror novel,  [Wait, this is for adults? Your main character is 13. While plenty of adults have read and enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I'm pretty sure they were marketed to agents and editors as kids' books.] Jacob’s Monster, a novel of a little over (86,500 words), the first in a planned series following the protagonist over his life.  [Book 2 will feature Jacob at the age of 14, going on 15.] Inspired by a lifetime of experience with my alcoholic father, it combines the emotional grit of the film STAND BY ME, a STRANGER THINGS vibe, and a dose of the supernatural. 

I live and write in Phoenix, Arizona where I live with my wife, son, and daughter. I’ve been working on my writing for the last 33 years, sidetracked by many things but always hearing the voices of my characters, begging for their stories to be told. 

Thank you for your consideration,


I'm imagining myself at the age of 13 battling Godzilla. It doesn't go well for me.
Then I add a librarian and a rabbi. Same result. Maybe we need more information about what those artifacts do. 

Are you sure you don't have two books here, a memoir and a middle grade horror/adventure? Neither of which is quite long enough to interest an agent, but when combined, just might?


Anonymous said...

Hi author, congratulations on finishing your book.

It looks like about 2/3 of this query is focused on the setup (what the MC wants, what he's up against). You probably want to half that length and see if you can fit it into a single paragraph. (e.g. After a mild earthquake, thirteen-year-old Jacob discovers an imprisoned monster that makes him an offer.... He refuses. His abusive alcoholic father doesn't.)

Other things that might help: Info about what Jacob's plan is. Examples of which direction his vague clues are leading. What help his allies are going to be. Something unexpected coming up that changes things. (e.g.: with char a's help Jacob follows clue q to a Dante-esque hell where he finds out/does z, involving him in problem x)

The usual advice is to end the plot section with an example of a choice or tough-spot the character must face as a bit of a cliff hanger.

Also, if this novel really is for adults, you might want a bit more indicating what makes it not YA/upper middle grade.

Hope this helps. Good Luck.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate the time that went into it.

And to everyone else, my wife and I loved the ideas inspired by the title.