Friday, October 13, 2006

Face-Lift 214


Guess the Plot

Bookwyrms

1. When a mysterious organization destroys the library's oldest books, their magical power is released in the form of dragons. Now, only two resourceful library assistants can prevent the destruction of the town.

2. Brothers Jimmie and Joey DiMarco's exterminating business takes a turn for the worse when Jimmie decides to re-paint the truck. Now they're cruising the city streets looking to zap Bookwyrms, Slivverfish and Cockreaches.

3. The inaugural night of the Bonnington Readers Circle turns bitter and bloody when they realize they have seventeen different editions of Jane Eyre but not a dictionary among them.

4. The SF/F genre is under attack by escapees from an unpublished 600-page ms., and only mild-mannered annelid specialist and Robert Jordan fanatic Sherman Splink can save the day.

5. Ellenore thought the old book she found in the attic wasn't good for anything but propping up her wobbly table. But when she tore out some pages to make it fit, she freed a dozen dragons, and now she must find a way to contain them--or risk losing her damage deposit.

6. A young wyzyrd is thwarted in hys studyes when every magyckal tome in the lybrary is dyvoured by a plague of fyre-breathing parisytes.


Original Version

Dear Agent-name-spelled-right,

Magic is back, and man, is it ticked!

Library assistant Lynne Shorter doesn't expect anyone at her small university to succeed in harnessing magic. [Something more like, "No one could have predicted that someone at tiny XYZ University would be the first to harness magic," would be a better start. Who would care about a library assistant's opinion on this subject?] [It's like saying, Chicago plumber Joe "Ball-cock" Jacobi never expected anyone from Illinois to discover a huge fissure in the surface of Uranus.] Twelve years ago magic rolled back into our mundane world, [What caused this?] and so far no one has discovered how to exploit this new and dangerous resource. Lynne finds enough challenge in repairing magically-endowed books [Explain.] and enough amusement watching the new faculties of magical studies squabble for funding. When she's saddled with training Ken Hautala, a sullen darkmage-wannabe, it's just another bump on her road to retirement. [I wouldn't think of a library assistant as being on the road to retirement. Either she's young, and on the road to something better, or she's old and took the job to get off the road to retirement.] [What is Lynne training Ken in? Darkmageness, or library assistantship? I assume the latter, but it isn't clear.]

But Ken discovers that a mysterious organisation--conspiring with the university's ambitious president--plans to destroy the library's oldest books and harvest the released power. [In order to . . . ?] Lynne and Ken become reluctant allies [Why are they reluctant to be allies?] in a campus crusade to save the books. The organisation's scheme goes badly wrong, and the freed magic manifests as dragons. [Apparently the crusade to save the books didn't go so well?] Annoyed dragons. [You know your story is either predictable or nuts when it's the same as one of the fake Guess the Plots.] Can two library assistants save their town from the dragons--and save the dragons from the bureaucrats? [I would expect the dragons to need saving from hunters or the military; bureaucrats are easily disposed of with standard fire-breathing.]

BOOKWYRMS is a 75,000 word modern fantasy. SASE is included. Thank you for your time and consideration.

yours,


Notes

If magic rolled in twelve years ago and no one knows how to use it, how is it manifested? Are dragons, talking mailboxes and flying broomsticks now commonplace? Is David Copperfield now waiting tables? Tell us what's different since magic got here so we have a sense of why it's dangerous. And why it's considered a resource despite being dangerous.

The first sentence implies that someone at the university succeeds in harnessing magic. Who? Lynne and Ken? The Organization? Ken discovered the plot, but it's not clear why Ken and Lynne are the only ones who can stop the dragons from destroying the town. Isn't this a job for the Head Librarian?

It sounds like a kids' book. Which isn't a bad thing, but if it's for adults, you don't want to give the wrong impression.

I won't go so far as to say the sentences could all be rearranged without changing the meaning, but there needs to be better transition between them. Right now it sounds like a list of mildly related plot points. Answering a few of my questions would help solve this problem.

10 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

This sounds like a fairly interesting idea to start from, but as EE mentions, there are a FEW questions to which we need the answers.

bunnygirl said...

I wouldn't think of a library assistant as being on the road to retirement.

I work in a state university, and believe me, after a certain point, the state retirement benefits are the only reason we stay!

bureaucrats are easily disposed of with standard fire-breathing

Oh, if only it were true!

As for the query itself, I found it a little confusing for the same reasons already noted. Also, perhaps because I work at a state university, I just can't wrap my brain around the notion of magical doings, mystical drama and... university bureaucrats.

I say they should sic Internal Audit on the dragons, and tell the Budget Office to withhold the dragons' funding for no really good reason until the final month of the fiscal year.

That'll fix 'em!

Anonymous said...

I liked the story idea; I thought that if dealt with humourously, it could be a fun book.

The query itself left me a bit flat, although I didn't think it was so bad. There could still be a fun story in the book itself. If you answer EE's questions, and keep your light and punchy tone, I think this could become an effective query letter.

HawkOwl said...

There is a lot of potential for irony and bathos in this concept, but the query seems pedestrian and uninspired. I'd look at the sample chapters and see if the writing keeps me interested.

Dave said...

The last exciting librarian anyone ever put to the screen (big or small) was Anthony Head in Buffy.

acd said...

I agree that the query needs clarification, but I think I'd buy this based on the back cover and title.

word ver: faihubic = a great fantasy name, backwards and forwards

shelby said...

Love the title. I think the concept is good but the query could be touched up. One thing that stood out to me, though, was the phrase "campus crusade." I'd avoid this because there's a strongly evangelical Christian organization called "Campus Crusade for Christ" and it sounds like a knockoff. Unless it's deliberate.

verification word: cxgfcku--hahahahaaha!

HawkOwl said...

OMG. "Campus Crusade for Christ." Egad, that takes me back... LOL

Anonymous said...

Below is the first draft of the query, which I didn't like because of the backstory issue, but maybe that isn't as much of a problem as the confusion issue:

Magic is back, and man, is it ticked!

Twelve years ago, magic rolled back into our mundane world. After the first weeks of chaos, it settled into its former strongholds of ancient stones, trees, and books. Humanity set itself to discovering how to exploit this new and dangerous resource. So far no one has succeeded; magic wakes only to protect itself, never at anyone's bidding.

Library assistant Lynne Shorter doesn't expect anyone at her small university to harness magic. She has enough challenge repairing magically-endowed books and enough amusement watching the new faculties of magical studies compete for funding. When she's saddled with training Ken Hautala, a sullen darkmage-wannabe, it's just another bump on her road to retirement. But Ken discovers that a mysterious foundation plans to destroy the library's oldest books to harvest the released power, and Lynne and Ken become reluctant allies in a campaign to save the books.

The foundation's scheme goes badly wrong, and the freed magic embodies itself as dragons. Annoyed dragons. Can two library assistants save their town from the dragons--and save the dragons from the bureaucrats?

BOOKWYRMS is a 75,000 word modern fantasy. SASE is included. Thank you for your time and consideration.

***************
The problem of confusing terminology - okay, a library assistant in a university library isn't the student shelving books. It's all the staff. It's as permananent and full-time a position as dental assistant (who don't work their way up to be dentists).
A Librarian is not staff but 'professional', has a LibSci degree, and has a wimpy Professional Association instead of a union.
Library assistants in some other contexts (say, community colleges) may be called library technicians, but that probably suggests someone who takes care of the computers.

I realise that nobody cares about all this, that to the greater world anyone who works in a library is 'a librarian' and that there's no room for such wankery in a query.
I work at a university library, but mentioning one's job seems an extremely lame thing to do in a query letter, unless drawing on one's experience as an international jewel thief or surrogate mother.

Anonymous said...

First, speaking as another library assistant, I say that you simply hafta write this book. The query was a bit shaky [I agree with EE's comments, your revised query is better], but I'm already down for copy :-) You might want to play up the satrical angle a bit. To me, the most interesting thing about the query is not the fantasy per se, but the potential Terry Pratchettesque send-up of the bureaucracy.