Sunday, April 29, 2007
Guess the Plot
The Magic Gameboard
1. After his parents die horribly, little Jimmy Carlson uses his expertise at Clue to solve the crime. It was the maid with the knife in the parlor. Jimmy won't feel safe until she goes directly to jail without passing Go.
2. A Monopoly board. Paper money. Loaded dice. When John challenged his big brother to a game, he didn't know what real bankruptcy meant. Now his family is destitute, and Sorry won't cut it. Maybe a game of Easy Money can save them.
3. Tommy thinks his birthday present, a holographic gameboard with over 150 games, is pretty lame. Then his real estate agent father wins at Monopoly and has a record month, and his overweight mother successfully removes the bread basket during a game of Operation and loses thirty pounds. But chaos ensues when Tommy tries to persuade prom queen Cindy Givens to join him in a game of Twister, and she instead opts for Hungry Hungry Hippos.
4. When Steve and Andy, ten-year-old friends, find a Checkerboard in an abandoned house, they Risk reading the rhyme on the back. The board magically whisks them to 16th-century Belgium. Boggles their minds.
5. Calvin's latest role-playing game turns him from a nerd to a handsome warrior prince who has exciting battles and tavern brawls and beautiful women at his beck and call. Naturally he wants to disappear into his game board forever. Can his nerdy friends convince him his real Life is worth living?
6. When the Greenbriar twins buy the cracked, old gameboard from the flea market, they expect a jolly time. Instead, they are sucked into a world where they are Chess pieces . . . and survival is not guaranteed.
Dear Evil Editor,
It is with great fear and trepidation that I ask for your query help after the last email I sent. But my need to know what works/doesn't work with my query outweighs that fear! Please help! I have 3 questions:
1) I'm writing middle-grade historical fiction, focusing on artists. I've completed one book, and have started another. Books about particular artists are a niche (for MG). Should I mention in the query that I'm writing stand-alone books about artists that take place in their time period? Or just focus on the one book that I have? [Mentioning it is fine, but you should still focus on the current book.]
2) My 'hook' did well in Miss Snark's crap-o-meter. But it's the first two paragraphs of my book (a kid writing his will). Should I include this 'hook' in the body of my letter, even when agents ask for pages with the query? [If the query letter is better with the hook, use it. However, the agent will see the hook when reading your pages, so if the query is okay without it, don't strive to work it in.]
3) Back in October at a conference, Michelle Poploff (Delacorte) asked for a full ms when I finished. I was told that I shouldn't say this in a query to an agent, and I think I read this somewhere. But I think it's a selling point. What should I do? [For starters, you should send a full ms to Michelle Poploff. If you already did, and she said Thanks, but no thanks, it's no longer a selling point, if it ever was. Wait a minute, that Michelle Poploff? She's a sweetie, but a real pushover. She'd ask for a full ms from her plumber. In fact, at a conference, anyone will ask for a full ms if they think it'll get rid of you.] Below is the query I'm working on now (without the hook from Miss Snark's crap-o-meter). I will copy the 'hook' below the query. Thanks so much!!
I loved your biography on the Publisher's Marketplace. It has an energy and humor which compelled me to write to you. [Is this a query letter or a fan letter?] My middle-grade novel, The Magic Gameboard, takes best friends, Steve and Andy, to 1560 Belgium in search of Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel. [Allow me to suggest a more appropriate title: The Sadistic Gameboard from the Depths of Hell.]
Steve is a ten-year-old boy who enjoys writing stories, watching the History Channel, and riding horses. He's not very good at reading cursive or cleaning his room. Andy, Steve's best friend, collects tools, reads National Geographic magazines, is fascinated by Zambia, [A ten-year-old? If you want it to be believable, change Zambia to Zambonis.] and is very good at reading cursive and cleaning his room. Steve and Andy's friendship goes beyond Chalk-Walk, Slurp-N-Kick, and Fried Pumpkin Poops. [So far, this is a list of lists. How about elaborating on something?] Their bond stems from an alienation each one feels from his father. Steve's father is overly critical and emotionally distant. Andy's father is an alcoholic. [Amazing. That last list had only one item on it.]
The Magic Gameboard begins with Steve and Andy exploring the Kruger House - an old, abandoned house in the woods. There they find a checkerboard with a mysterious rhyme and carvings on the opposite side. Steve convinces Andy to follow the directions of the rhyme, and both friends are whisked back to the year 1560. [Those three sentences are the best part of the query. You're connecting ideas. Much more interesting than just listing ideas. And better writing. Agents do judge your writing ability when they read your letter.] During their adventure in Belgium, they encounter teenage bullies, kind-hearted peasants, bed-bugs, the plague, and eclectic artists. They learn how to mix paints and make gesso. Their bravery, friendship, ingenuity...and getting painted into Bruegel's masterpiece Children at Play, [Are you sure you don't mean Bruegel's masterpiece Children's Games? I can't find any reference to Children at Play. It's not gonna look good if your big climax is based on a painting that doesn't exist. Maybe it depends on who translates the title from Flemish, the language they speak in Phlegm. (It's a lot like Dutch, but at the end of each noun you make a hacking noise like you're coughing up a phlegmball.)] eventually brings them safely back home.
Michelle Poploff from Delacorte has requested a full ms. [But I'd much rather send it to you.]
I have a Master's degree in education, and am a member of SCBWI as well as Publisher's Marketplace. I belong to an online critique group, and avidly read Newbery books. I am learning about art, one [obscure] artist at a time.
I am currently working on Justin's Turn, which takes the main characters to 1425 Italy where they meet Renaissance artist Masaccio Giovanni. [My goal is to cover all the important artists no one's ever heard of.] Each middle grade novel stands alone.
I have copied below the first ten pages per your website instructions, and will be happy to send the full manuscript at your request.
Thank you for your time, and best wishes for your continued success.
I, Steven Morgan Carter, being able to read and write, would like to give my stuff away if I die. After what happened earlier, I had to be sure the right things would be done. Just in case.
My little brother, Justin, can have any of my toys he wants. Mom can have my clothes, school pictures, and story notebook. Dad can have my dictionaries. Andy, my best friend and the only one who understands Doorstep, can have him. And the red wagon we pull him around in. Pieter can have his checker board back, even though he’s been dead for five hundred years. I’ll tell you how to find him in a minute.
For those unfamiliar with obscure artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder is considered the greatest of the 16th-century Flemish genre masters. Which is saying a lot, as this was the same time period in which Pieter Bruegel the Younger worked.
The hook is better than the query. I suggest opening with the hook followed by something like So begins the last will and testament of ten-year old Steve . . . And get rid of some of the lists. Anyone can list stuff.
So if it's Pieter's checkerboard they find, as the will claims, what are they going to find that whisks them to Giovanni? Masaccio's pasta strainer? Is there a different relic for each artist, or does Bruegel's checkerboard whisk you to any artist?
Dad would rather have Steve's baseball cards than his dictionaries.
Okay, minions, no need to send comments claiming anyone with any culture would be familiar with the works of Bruegel and Giovanni. I happen to know the author stole those names from a new pizza bagel chain.
Michelle Poploff requesting your manuscript is far less impressive than Miss Snark liking your hook. But don't brag about that either.