Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Face-Lift 274


Guess the Plot

Jumbie-mon

1. Lemme tell you mon, deh women be wakkin home let wun eev-nin, wen dat man's ghost joomped rite outta dem bushes en skaret em to death.

2. When mild-mannered Rhashan Turnbull smoken deh Jamaican weed, he behcomen superhero Joombie-mon, scoorge of deh Rastafarian crim'nools.

3. Agent Troy Davis dealen with deh Ebola-like virus, deh nuclear war, 'n' a fanat'cal coolt as he
racen deh clock to learnen the secret of . . . Joombie-mon!

4. When Bob becomen depressed wit his life as an insurance salesman, Marsha inspiren him teh flee his suboorban home 'n' try teh make it in Fairbanks, Alaska, as a Reggae droomer wit dreadlocks down to here 'n' awesome rhythm.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean a la Rastafari grooviness, circa 1974 -- featurin' deh ruthless cold war Russian spies, two oondercover George Booshes, a yoong Dick Cheney in disguise as one of Mick Jagger's groupies, Richard Nixon and a band known as deh "Jamaican Beatles."

6. Pikachu, Charizard, and all deh other Pokemon's bein' driven out of deh hearts of elementary schoolers by the Joombie-mon, who look'n like bad-assed, fire-breathin' Tele-tubbies, only worse. Wit millions in advertising dollars at stake, deh battle is on.


Original Version

Dear agent-extraordinaire,

Jumbie-mon is 123,000-word thriller that I thought you might like to review and consider for representation.

First an Ebola-like outbreak occurs on the little Caribbean island of St. John. Then eight thousand miles away, an eerily similar virus casts its deadly spell in Jammu and Muzaffarabad. Then two politicians, moderate and reasonable, are murdered in Srinagar and another disappears. Saber-rattling between India and Pakistan goes past saber-rattling and nuclear war threatens. [Here's the problem so far. You know that these places are in the same part of the world (except St. John), but the reader is thinking:

Why do these people always have to list every random thing that happens in their book? Where the hell is Jammu? Jamaica? Tanzania? Let's see, Muzaffarabad, isn't that what they called that sandwich I had in New Orleans that time? Srinagar? City in Trinidad and Tobago? Vinegar capital of Sri Lanka? Did he make up these names? Does this even take place on Earth?


For the purposes of the query, I say drop St. John and set the disease and murders and kidnaping in Kashmir, which people have heard of. Everything will have a common thread.] The State Department, distrustful of the timing, and armed with intelligence that links the outbreaks to the assignations, [What are the "assignations"?] is caught in the dilemma of all dilemmas: India is an ally, and the U.S. is determined to stand by its long-time friend, but Pakistan is necessary to the Afghan campaign, the war on terror, and the stabilization of yet another nuclear arsenal. [Actually, a nuclear war might solve all the problems at once.] But when Beijing weighs in, everything becomes even more complicated; if a conflict were to take place, China would side with Pakistan. [The Chinese. Those bastards just can't be trusted to always do what's in our best interest.]

With stakes so high that a misstep would likely plunge the region into the unthinkable, and the grim possibility of an internal intelligence leak, the State Department is forced to look to outside resources. Ames Macklin, [Anagram: mailmen sack.] a brash, but competent Undersecretary, handpicks six men and calls an emergency meeting. Their assignment: find an agent without ties to the CIA or traditional intelligence circles. This agent must be highly skilled, [At what? His own occupation, or at being an intelligence agent, even though he's never been one?] motivated to a fault, mobile, and fast thinking. His assignment: find Zulfikar Jinnah, the missing diplomat, and find him fast. [The plan is to send some guy who's never worked as an agent to Kashmir to search for this guy? Our entire military can't find bin Laden, but some guy off the street is gonna find Jinnah?]

The man they select is Troy Davis, a charismatic USAMRIID [(United States' Absurd Missions Resulting In International Disasters)] Doctor, who is already hot on the Caribbean outbreak. Watch as Davis, in a race with the clock, tries to learn who’s behind it all. Is it the Mauryan’s, a fanatical cult who are descendants of a bygone civilization? Or a South African Biotech firm who seems to be at all the right places at all the right times? Or is it Jenneke Quast, a disreputable weapons broker who this time has gone too far . . . Or, even a member of Macklin’s select committee? [Another list.] Throw into the mix a beautiful uber-environmentalist, a former flame with surprising connections, and a self-made millionaire with conflicting motivations. [I think we should all agree to hold our lists to three items, include no more than one list per query, and throw nothing "into the mix."] It all adds up to a series of sleepless nights, as the reader learns who’s really pulling the strings, and what the secret of Jumbie-mon really is. [The secret of what? If you want the reader of the query to be curious about the secret of Jumbie-mon, I strongly suggest you actually mention Jumbie-mon in the query. I Googled "Jumbie-mon" and came up with "a small place next to Donkey Diner in Coral Bay on Saint John. Interesting batik style hand painted clothing."

I Googled "Jumbie" and found these possibilities:

a stiltwalker (actually called moko jumbie)

Jumbie Bay--the only beach on St. John with an African name.

A ghost (Jumbies are said to possess humans during ceremonies called jumbie dances).

"Yo, I saw this beautiful uber-environmentalist and she gave me an instant Jumbie!" (From the Urban Dictionary).

Seems like your Jumbie-mon could be related to any of these, which means even an agent who researches the term won't know what you mean. And most editors won't put forth the effort Evil Editor did. They'll just say, "Jumbie-mon? Where did that come from? Who or what is Jumbie-mon, and why would I want to know its secret when it wasn't even worth mentioning up till now?"]

I’d be happy to send a copy of the manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

Focus the Kashmir paragraph on Kashmir so it doesn't sound like a list, drop the least interesting items from your list of suspects, and bring in Jumbie-mon earlier, or not at all. Then your only problem will be convincing us that the government would entrust this mission to Troy.

26 comments:

Marissa Doyle said...

Gosh. All it needs are some zombies, a ruthless vigilante sorcerer, and a homosexual duck or two to really ramp it up. :)

Author, it sounds like you've put a lot of work and research into this. The problem is you've tried to fit it all into a one page (ahem) query letter as well. The plot details don't make it more interesting--they just make it incredibly confusing. Can you rewrite the query from the USAMRIID doctor's viewpoint? It would give *someone* to connect to, because it's easier to care about(and sell a book about) a character and his journey than it is a lot of lists of obscure places and events.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I've been seeing numerous mystery & thriller queries in critique groups etc written by authors who apparently don't know much about the techniques and cultures of cops and spies so they declare the world-at-risk situation really calls for -- an amateur!!! This isn't the kind of premise that worked well for Agatha Christy and her Miss Marple sleuth. If you're proposing to write something that can compete as a sophisticated techno-terrorist-thriller, using an amateur hero to work around your ignorance of how the big boys do things won't really work. It sounds like you need to do a lot more research or maybe simplify the perils so they have a better match to the scope of your expertise.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This author should be compelled to read all 600-plus query hooks on Miss Snark's crapometer.

j.c.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

I had a very hard time following this. I do agree with Marissa: Try writing it from the doctor's POV. Give us something to relate to, to ground us to the story. His journey and struggle may be a good place to try that, assuming he's the main character of the story. I couldn't tell from this query though.

pjd said...

Gosh. All it needs are some zombies, a ruthless vigilante sorcerer, and a homosexual duck or two to really ramp it up.

That's assuming that Troy Davis, a.k.a. "All American Boy", is actually a brutal eunuch. If not, it needs one of those, too.

Seriously, to me this was utter overkill. After the first three sentences, I was thinking, "Hey, cool, this sounds like it could be really interesting." Then I hit the India and Pakistan thing, the threat of nuclear war, and by the end I found myself distracted and not even really paying much attention.

EE is correct: Too many lists. Is Troy Davis the main character? He's not mentioned until halfway through, but it sounds like the novel is about his hunt for... something. I'm not quite sure what.

I would also recommend having someone who knows about commas and apostrophes look this over before sending it off.

December Quinn said...

I'm sorry, after the first couple of sentences, I only read the bits before EE's comments so I knew what the jokes were about.

This isn't my thing at all, which is part of it. But I add my vote to the others who say Focus on the Doctor. The story is his, isn't it?

blogless_troll said...

I was really hoping for GTP#2. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Dude! You need to go here and read about the dreaded "kitchen sink plot" and other hazards:

http://www.sfwa.org/writing/turkeycity.html

Bernita said...

Is it correct to assume the Jumbie-mon is from the evil or lost spirit from the obeah tradition?
EE's points are all good.

Dave said...

I'm not ready to relegate the author to the steamy, sodden underworld of Turkey City. However...

What I think you write about is that a new biological weapon was tested in St Johns Island and the inventors (for reasons unknown) called it Jumbie-Mon after the cute and adorable rastafarian culture (which desperately needs underarm deodorant).

The doctor sent to St Johns to investigate it, discovers a connection to killings in Pakistan and India. And on further investigation in (where?) St Johns discoveres that it's a Red Chinese plot to take over the Indian Penisnsula.

GADS, who would want all that curry and spice under their thumbs? But then, I've been swept away by sacred cows and Gunga Din before...
It's got enough complications to work. At least it's not so simple that a James Bond pretender could figure it out.

All of this action has to take place around Jamaica and the Carribean because of the title Jumbie-Mon. Otherwise call it Slurpie-Mon and set it in India and Pakistan. Rasta's don't work in Kashmir, Kabul, Dehli, and Cooch Behar. Somehow I don't think Bengali men like voodoo and take up jerked pork on a St John's beach to improve their tans.

Sset the entire plot in St Johns. You can't have both locations with the name Jumbie-Mon.

author said...

The name comes from Jumbie Beach where the story begins and ends. Jumbie is also one of the obeah spirits, as bernita pointed out, which does play a minor role in the story. When I wrote this it was as a synopsis to help me stick to the storyline, I wondered how it would sound as a query, and you've given me an answer. The main character is Troy Davis, a former Army intelligence officer (no amateur) who is also a USAMRIID doctor. He is motivated by the Ebola disease which killed his father (also a Doctor).

It is also possible that I have two stories here and need to split them apart. One could be "The secret of Jumbie-mon" and the other could be "The Kashmiri Conundrum".

The Turkey City Lexicon makes for interesting reading. I did print it out. Thanks.

All comments are appreciated.

Rei said...

The State Department, distrustful of the timing, and armed with intelligence that links the outbreaks to the assignations, [What are the "assignations"?] is caught in the dilemma of all dilemmas: India is an ally, and the U.S. is determined to stand by its long-time friend, but Pakistan is necessary to the Afghan campaign, the war on terror, and the stabilization of yet another nuclear arsenal

Ok, you really need to back up and do some research. Pakistan has long been a US ally (since 1954 under Eisenhower, really), while India has historically had a more tense relationship with the US, and was more under the Soviet sphere of influence. Hence, most of Pakistan's combat aircraft begin with "F-", while most of India's combat aircraft begin with "MiG-". ;) It's not incredibly clear-cut -- the US really wanted to be allies with both against the Soviets, but the two nations kept fighting each other, making it near impossible. We did back off support from Pakistan twice: first under the Johnson administration, but by Nixon, we were supporting them again. Once again after their nuclear tests, but that passed as well.

But when Beijing weighs in, everything becomes even more complicated; if a conflict were to take place, China would side with Pakistan.

No, if a conflict were to take place, China would say, "Not our problem." There is tension between China and India, but China wants to get involved with a nuclear nation of nearly a billion people as much as it wants magma demons to rise up and give every citizen a colonoscopy.

The man they select is Troy Davis, a charismatic USAMRIID [(United States' Absurd Missions Resulting In International Disasters)] Doctor, who is already hot on the Caribbean outbreak.

Everyone's already prodded this premise enough, I don't think it's worth my time to stick another fork in it.

Watch as Davis, in a race with the clock, tries to learn who’s behind it all.

Is this an ad for a 1950s B horror flick? "Watch as Mark Driver fights off the zombie horde!"

Is it . . .

Once again, digging into your laundry lists would be beating a dead horse.

Anonymous said...

So do you really think finding out who started "it" all is really going to get India and Pakistan to back down? Look at Iraq.

Bush: I want the guys responsible for 9/11. Bomb Iraq!
Advisor: Uh. No links there, Chief.
Bush: So? I'm ready to play some war games. Bomb it anyway.

And Macklin: OK, you six were handpicked. Which of you forgot to check out Troy's past flames for possible connections? Uh-huh. The traitor agent. Thought so.

I must admit, though, author, you ARE ambitious. A deadly viral outbreak AND possible nuclear war. And no doubt that uber-environmentalist is screaming global warming warnings. Ah, but let's not forget, Troy's a doctor, so he probably prevents nuclear war AND comes up with a vaccine AND gets the girl in the end...

Anonymous said...

I feel like I'm watching (reading) yet another season of 24. Nothing terribly new - viruses and nukes about to be slung around, one person to stop it all. Perhaps you do have a new spin to it all, I'd just like to be able to see it more in the query.

-Mut

Robin S. said...

What about reworking to include less information, but keep the main points intact? Something like this...

Dear Agent,

(Intro paragraph- I’m still working on my own intro; I’m not going to attempt to give you any ideas on something I have yet to decide how to deal with myself.) So- next paragraph:

An Ebola-like outbreak occurs on the little Caribbean island of St. John. (I’m thinking this is where you might want to mention that Jumbie-mon is a “place next to Donkey Diner in Coral Bay on St. John”, if it is, and the importance of this place to the storyline.) Eight thousand miles away, an eerily similar virus casts its deadly spell in two other remote areas. (BTW- don’t know if these other places are remote – just choose your adjective without naming the affected areas, to keep the “lists” down.)

Quickly following the onset of these outbreaks, two moderate politicians are murdered and another disappears in a city in Kashmir, in the north of India. Kashmir shares a border with Pakistan. Both countries have long claimed rightful possession of this bordering territory. Ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan are driven past saber-rattling. Nuclear war threatens.

The U.S. State Department, armed with intelligence that links the outbreaks to the political murders and disapperance, is caught in a delicate dilemma. India is an ally; the U.S. is determined to stand by its long-time friend. At the same time, stable relations with Pakistan are integral to the ongoing Afghan campaign, the war on terror, and the stabilization of yet another nuclear arsenal.

The State Department also knows that when Beijing weighs in, it will weigh in on the side of Pakistan.

Faced with the grim probability of an internal intelligence leak, the State Department is forced to look to outside resources to pull the pieces of this puzzle together. Ames Macklin, a well-regarded Undersecretary of State, makes the decision to select a man who looks to be uniquely qualified to do just this -
Troy Davis, a USAMRIID doctor who is already fast on the trail of the origin of the Caribbean outbreak and highly motivated to pursue the truth. (I wouldn’t explain why – let the book explain it, in my opinion, but I defer to the expertise of EE.)

There is precious little time to find out the secret of Jumbie-mon, and how the answer to this secret unlocks the answers to ….

I’d be happy to send a copy of the manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Other notes:
Author, I thought I had a reasonable command of international geography, but I had to Google like holy hell to find my through the place names in your query. If there’s a way to keep your letter more suited for the geographically-subliterate (this group is, I’m guessing, what passes for the norm) - I think you’d be better off.

It sounds like you have a good idea for a book to me - but maybe a littkle more information that you need in the query.

EE - Ames Macklin [Anagram: mailmen sack.] Your brain works on another plane, doesn’t it? Good Lord, man, where do you find the time, much less the brain power? My kid had a “snow day” home from school today, so I stayed home with her, which is how I came up with the time to read through this query.

pacatrue said...

Wow, I get to disagree with most of the commenters. I think this novel sounds like a potentially fun bit of pop thriller stuff. No, I don't expect to learn a great deal about the human condition from it, but, if written well, I'd expect to stay up late for a couple nights to find out what happens.

That said, I do think that 1) the query needs to be re-written to make it a story about Troy, as many have mentioned; and 2) I have a hard time believing that Troy has any special expertise in solving potential nuclear wars between west/south asian nations, as many have mentioned. You can attempt to solve both of these at the same time by re-doing the query so that we discover what Troy is doing and why someone in the government would ever ask him to do anything.

The query reminds me a lot of Alan Folsom's The Day After Tomorrow. That thing ended up revolving around people trying to bring Hitler back to life, but it sure did turn the pages. I had the same thoughts reading The Firm back in the 80s. "This is all ludicrous; the characters are so superficial; but do NOT touch my book because I must know what happens!"

Here's a pet peeve. Does there HAVE to be a dad-dying connection? A lot of people can care about a horrible disease just from regular normal people dying from it. Similarly, does the beautiful uber-environmentalist have to have ties to his past? Maybe she's just beautiful and uber and that's enough. She doesn't also have to be someone from med school that dumped you just before that exam. These "ties to the past" connection is a pet peeve of mine in that many people seem to think that whatever their plot is just isn't compelling if all of the people didn't grow up on the same street together as children. It's insta-conflict. Just add and stir. Instead of making the uber-femme have ties to his past, make the uber-femme so freaking uber that all the readers want her desperately and break out in a sweat when her name is mentioned.

pacatrue said...

On another note, I love EE's comments on this one. Another highlight in the long list.

So I'm the only one who wondered if Jombie-mon was a type of smoothie?

acd said...

Does she have to be beautiful?

Dave said...

Jombie-Man is a Jamaican bologga made with pork and chicken offal and hot spices.
It is processed and aged, like fine wine or cheese, for two months in a smoker. It's wrinkled skin and dark red color are highly prized.
It has been known to move vast amounts of roughage in only a few hours.

merper said...

This sounds like triple X. Then again, Matt O'Reily is making oodles selling stuff like this, so maybe that's not too bad.

pacatrue said...

acd, this is a genre in which Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist. :)

Anonymous said...

this is a genre in which Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist.

As a female physicist, let me say that we're not half-bad. I have met gorgeous female physicists. They're as rare as gorgeous females in the general population, but they do exist.

Of course, most of us get more enjoyment out of solving differential equations than doing our hair and make-up, so we don't - how shall I say - present quite as well as we could.

E.S. Tesla said...

This is my genre, and I'd want to read the beginning here. If it's written well, the messy hook wouldn't keep me from wanting to read it.

Of course, this could be a mess in book form as well, there's no way to know. But I think if you simplify the query, focus on the who what where and why i should i care aspects, this could be good.

EE's comments were of course spot on, and I think you should consider changing the title. Jumbiedoodoo doesn't scream thriller, and you want something that screams wild genre fun instead of jamaican cook book. mm, hungry................

Anonymous said...

A more revealing title would help. "DaVinci Code" is instantly and brilliantly intriguing because of what we know about the always interesting DaVinci, his genius, his quirks. Your title refers to some vaugely cute possibly Jamaican thing we've never heard of so if I'm skimming titles in search of intrigue, I won't find this.

pjd said...

..."DaVinci Code" is instantly and brilliantly intriguing... Your title refers to some vaugely cute possibly Jamaican thing we've never heard of....

I have to disagree. I don't think "The DaVinci Code" is instantly or brilliantly anything. If you don't know what it's about at first hearing the title, to me it sounds like some boring art/math dissertation. It is, however, unmistakable after it gets some buzz. I think in this way, Jumbie-mon is similar. I actually like the title as long as the majority of the novel doesn't take place in Kashmir.

batgirl said...

A minor point, but a virus casting a deadly spell? That's either confusing or purple prose. A deadly virus is scary enough on its own, you don't need supernatural metaphors to heighten it.