Monday, November 27, 2023

Face-Lift 1442

Guess the Plot


1. Phebe, Feebee, Pheebe, Pheobe, Phoebe, ... how is it spelled? Heidi would really like to remember how to spell her soon to be sister-in-law's name before her wedding.

2. Phoebe wants to escape from jail. Gigi wants to escape from her body. These SoCal sisters move in together and share each other's loneliness. They draw straws to determine which one will be the title character of their depressing memoir. Phoebe loses. 

3. The woes of an oboe-playing coed poet, Phoebe Roe, who doe-see-does in open-toed shoes with a foe named Joe who spiked her sloe gin with aloe at a noel hoe-down.

4. Astronomer Phoebe Moore studies the outer planets. She worries about the planetarium where her boyfriend works getting shut down. And that he has yet to take a hint from Saturn about a certain circular object. 

5. A genetically-modified woman who now possesses bee pheromones, giving her the ability to control bees, battles Anthony, a similarly-modified man who commands hordes of ants to do his bidding.

6. Heartthrob of the last decade, Phoebe Beck-Joeck, moves to Alaska to run a B&B. With moose and polar bears her only companions, blah, blah, blah, starry night sky, blah, blah, blah, cold winters, blah, blah, militant Greenpeace group hot-fighting global warming, blah, blah, blah, blah. Literary fiction.

Original Version

I am seeking representation for Phoebe, an 84k word literary fiction novel. 

Phoebe and Gigi are second generation Vietnamese-Americans living in 2019 Southern California, who are coping with the deep loneliness and melancholy that is their late-twenties. Eight months ago, Phoebe dropped out of her doctorate program and needed to be bailed out of jail. [Getting out of jail wasn't nearly as emancipating as getting out of her doctorate program.] The only person left in the world who could help was Gigi, who, at the time, was pregnant and hiding it. 

This novel starts at their point of reconnection, then pulls Phoebe back into her buried past to dissect her broken relationships while Gigi is stuck in the minutia of her newfound motherhood, grappling with her discarded ambitions. In her court-mandated therapy sessions, Phoebe is forced to recall the events of her life that lead [led] to her arrest while Gigi is trapped at home and using her mind to escape her body. [Did you say your novel was literary fiction, or your query letter?]

Adoptive sisters turned best friends, they must once again live under the same roof. They keep secrets from each other in order to hide the shame of who they think they should be [Who do they think they should be, and why does this bring them shame? Maybe the shame of who they have become?] and do everything to avoid burdening the other. But as their dissatisfaction grows to a peak, they begin to confront how their choices in life were impacted by [rooted in?] their mothers’ unknowable history. [I don't see how their mothers' histories affected their choices if those histories are unknowable. Is it the fact that they're unknowable that affected their choices? Even that seems odd. I choose to quit grad school and commit a crime because I know nothing about my mother?]

This story is experimental in form, including multiple timelines, dual perspectives, and information revealed through letters. [Those items don't strike me as experimental in a novel.] It takes place so deep inside the minds of its two narrators that the lines between perception, trauma, memory and reality are constantly blurred. [Quite a graphic description of the setting. Most authors just say: It takes place in New Jersey.] Some graphic depictions of sexual encounters and sexual assault are also present for the sake [purpose] of exploring their psychological impact. [If you don't mention them, you won't feel the need to explain why they're there.] [I'm not sure this paragraph is doing much for you. Perhaps a paragraph reporting something specific and crucial that happens in the book would be better.]

Phoebe is the type of book that opens discussions on the shared and intergenerational trauma of first-born daughters, how the men they hope to love influence the outcomes of their lives, and the ill-defined transition between girlhood and motherhood. The ideal reader for this story is someone interested in examining the complex morality between love, family, and female friendship. [If the only people who came to my blog were "the ideal readers for" my blog, there wouldn't be enough of us for a game of chess.]

There is nothing currently on the market just like Phoebe, [unless there is, which I doubt,] but this novel would sit on the shelf somewhere between Milk Fed by Melissa Broder, for its dreamy, sexual prose and psychological musings, and Banyan Moon by Thao Thai, for its reflection of [on?] strained relationships between mothers and daughters. [It will sit on the shelf somewhere between those books only if your last name falls alphabetically between Broder and Thai.] Though similar in premise to Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho, this is a novel of two best friends coming back together rather than a short story collection of their separation. [You have enough comp titles already, no need to also point out how your book differs from some other book with a similar premise.] [Also, italicize all the titles in this paragraph, including your own.]

Thank you for your time and consideration,


You have a way with words, but your words need more specificity, and need to demonstrate that you have a story. Even if your book is mostly psychological musings and reflections on strained relationships, you could provide some concrete information. For instance, what did Phoebe do that got her arrested? Is Gigi pregnant by someone who sexually assaulted her? What goal is Phoebe hoping to accomplish? What's her plan to succeed? 

Does anything happen in the present, or are all the events reported in letters and therapy sessions and conversations?  Just starting the book with Phoebe's crime and arrest and court case might give the book more immediacy. Showing us is usually preferable to telling it to a therapist while we listen in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey author, congratulations on finishing your book.

A few things that might help:
Maybe rearrange the information so the characters' relationship to each other is introduced where they are.
Give an explicit example or two of the choice(s) they made/are making/will make that impact their circumstances.
Give a better hint at what all the self-examination is leading towards.

Good Luck