Monday, August 28, 2006

Face-Lift 170


Guess the Plot

Lent

1. Father Joseph put his green chasuble away and took out the purple one. Today he would give up his shameful vices, at least for forty days. A strange feeling of peace came over him - no more drinking, no more gambling, no more loaning money to Sister Grevillia.

2. Sophie Filch hiked up her skirt and smiled at her new boss. She tossed her messy curls and leaned over so he could get a better look down her blouse. But Mr. Wincher was not amused. She was just on loan from the Accounting Department, for crying out loud.

3. Over the years, Michael's neighbor George has borrowed his snow shovel, his socket wrench, his bathroom scale, his mailbox and his first edition of Grapes of Wrath, forever promising to return them "next Tuesday". Finally, this Wednesday, Michael is going over to lend George a bullet, no return necessary.

4. Marla gives up everything for Lent - until she discovers charismatic Father Jake. But Father Jake isn't really available for a relationship, he's just on loan from the Church.

5. Joanne is the kind of woman who has anything anyone needs and she's always willing to let others borrow. One day Beelzebub knocks on her door with a smile and a proposition. He wants to borrow Joanne's soul for the afternoon.

6. An engaging literary novel in which Jed, Sarah, and Paul struggle through Lent. Whale attempts to swim across bay, too.


Original Version

Dear Ms. Agent:

From forty days in the wilderness, through temptation, miracles, homecoming, betrayal, denial, crucifixion, descent into Hell, and resurrection, Lent is a heavy time. [You left out root canals, having your flesh eaten by zombies, and Adam Sandler movies.] Lent is a pilgrimage from detachment to ultimate engagement with fate. The 108,000-word Southern-tinged literary novel, "Lent," pieces together disparate episodes of four characters' lives as they make it through one Lenten period, struggling through the constant choice between detachment and engagement, discovering the importance of their context in time, in place, and in each other. [That's two "detachments" and two "engagements" in two sentences. And I had no idea what you were talking about either time.] [I certainly hope there won't be an engagement or a detachment in the next sentence.]

Jed is a directionless young grocery store security guard in Mobile, Alabama, who confronts his father's suicide and untangles the knot of detachment [Isn't Detachment a better title for a literary novel than Lent?] at the core of his middle-class upbringing. Paul is a blue-blooded banker boy in the same town, who faces conflicting loyalties between his corrupted upper-crust family and his desire to bring dignity to himself and the family name. Sarah is the orphaned young woman from across Mobile Bay whom Paul has married, [No, no, to whom Paul is engaged.] and who has sought refuge from her new high-society world by working as a checkout girl in the grocery store guarded by Jed. [No self-respecting blue-blooded banker boy lets his wife work as a grocery store checkout girl.] Whale is an aging-hippie, ex-con, paranoid schizophrenic[, lactose intolerant, toad-licking Republican,] whose mysterious quest to swim across Mobile Bay brings resolution for all of the characters in the novel. [That's it? Does anything happen in the book?] [Do you have any idea how hard it is to put together the real plot for Guess the Plot, when you tell me little more than the characters' names?]

I began my writing career in 1988 as a weekly education columnist for the "Selma Times-Journal" in Selma, Alabama. I graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, in 1994 with a B.A. in creative writing and theater. I earned four awards for poetry published in Spring Hill's literary magazine, "The Motley." After teaching and taking classes in the English M.A. program at the University of Alabama, I worked two years as a magazine copy editor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For the next eight years, I attended law school at Tulane University and practiced law in New Orleans, publishing numerous articles in law reviews and [on] bar [napkins.] journals. In June 2005, [What is this, your credits, or your autobiography?] I took a year's sabbatical from my practice to write "Lent." I have begun work on two other novel-length projects, both drawing from my experiences during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Enclosed with this query is the chapter synopsis for "Lent," and a SASE. I would like to send the "Lent" manuscript for your review, and look forward to further discussion of this project.

Yours very truly,


Notes

Okay, you're enclosing a synopsis, but I would still like to see more about the plot in the letter. What is it about this Lenten period that's so significant? You could (should) trim the last two paragraphs down to something like this:

My writing has appeared in literary magazines and law reviews. I've taught in the English M.A. program at the University of Alabama, and worked two years as a magazine copy editor. I wrote Lent during a sabbatical from my law practice, and have since begun work on two novel-length projects, each drawing on my experiences in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Enclosed with this query is a chapter synopsis for Lent, and a SASE. Thank you.

That gives you about eight extra lines to tell us about your story. If you need more, trim the paragraph about your characters. Most of what's there can be worked into the synopsis. All novels have characters. It's your story that makes your novel unique.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I liked #5! I was afraid it was #6.

xiqay said...

I guessed the correct plot. But I am shattered that it's not fake plot # 5. I'm disengaging. detaching from this blog in protest. (Well, that, and it's lunchtime.)

Author, The first sentence--ah, Jesus may have spent 40 days in the desert and experienced all that (according to biblical accounts), but was that "Lent?" Isn't "Lent" a season on the Roman Catholic church calendar, to allow people to imitate Jesus' trials and attain some purification through penance and meditation? And is the grammar of that first sentence correct? Something about it bothered me.

I thought the line about your legal career meant you spent 8 years in law school (haha). Oh yeah, you added that word "work."

EE, love your humor [lactose-intolerant, toad-licking Republican!]

December Quinn said...

I know when I think "Deep South", I think "Catholic".

I believe his family would be "corrupt", not "corrupted".

Dave said...

There is a fine tradition out there of inspiring novels about the common man struggling through daily crisis and finding meaning (or even God) in their lives. They're nt action oriented bu rather character oriented. If this novel is one of those, then its got a great start. However, it is the internal struggle that results in the spiritual transformation and I think that you need to work on that a little.

I agree with others, the title doesn't work.

And a blue blood grocery checkout girl is tough to pull off. Hard work. But I like novels like this. Reminds me of Tannhauser.

Guess the plot - unfortunately, I met those proests in #1 and #4 ...

Brenda Bradshaw said...

I thought for sure it'd be #4. I'd HOPED for #5. I may have to write that one. Kudos to the creator.

Virginia Miss said...

Author, consider cutting the first few sentences of your query, they don't seem to add anything, in fact they gave me the wrong impression, didn't fit with the interesting characters. I think you'd want the prospective editor/agent to get to the good stuff sooner.
The title didn't bother me.
Good luck.

swampytad said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments, and EE for your suggested revisions. I spent a year living with these characters and developing and revising, as dave suggested, a very character-driven work. When it came time to write that query letter, though, I was clearly in the woods; in the weeds, even. I wanted to capture the character-driven nature of the plot, but ended up trying to pack so much of the plot into the character descriptions that I lost sight of it. It exists. I just need to unpack it now. The first step is in the crucial paring down of the bio (your shorter form, EE, is really fantastic) and getting rid of the attempt to discuss the larger engagement/detachment theme, so that I have space to tease out the plot and still give a sense of the characters. A good bit of work ahead of me to get this right. So, as I said, thank you to all of you.

ello said...

I definitely think you should cut the first few lines of the first paragraph also. The title does not work for me. Made me think it would be mandatory reading at Sunday school - big big yawn. Titles are really really important. If it isn't catchy or gives a false sense, then you will lose readers.

Your novel premise sounds like they have some very interesting characters, but where is the plot? Where is the conflict? I'm sure it is there since you wrote over 100,000 words, but you failed to include it in your query. To me it would be more important to read about the conflicts that the characters would be involved in rather than just character bios.

And I agree with EE that your last paragraph was your resume smushed into the end of your query letter. Definitely detracts from your letter because it provides too much extraneous information that a person reading it would think "Hmmmmm, if the author thinks this is relevant in the terribly important query letter, then what other extraneous and irrelevant information might be floating around in their novel?"