Thursday, June 21, 2007
Guess the Plot
1. Okay, straw, wood, even bricks had already been used. But the Fourth Little Pig had a new idea. Let's see that wolf blow this one down!
2. Their lives have been ruined by violence, shattered marriages and prison. But these three men haven't forgotten the pact they made long ago as teenagers: to one day live out their fantasy of endless water fights in . . . The Waterhouse.
3. Not content with his 800-square-foot master bathroom, lottery winner Sven Olafsson decides to build a two-story, seven-room outhouse. Now he enjoys directing his guests there when they ask for the water closet.
4. How can young architect Colleen Tiblet convince land developers that water is a viable home building material? She has experimented with all sorts of ecology-friendly substances, and water is the best solution to global warming. But when Colleen actually constructs a house made of water, she is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.
5. The gas heater's drenched, the ceiling lights are zapping everyone within three blocks, and Bob Jameson is starting to think maybe a house made entirely of waterbeds filled with green Jell-O and '63 Red Burgundy wasn't such a bright idea after all.
6. Fabulous Twinky Waterhouse, sorority "princess," always uses the royal "we" in conversations on campus and is soooo popular--until her hometown nemesis arrives and blabs about "The Waterhouse" and her scandalous past. That's when Twinky realizes: Angel Jackson must die.
Jimmy Timberlake is the idealist, Marcus Gayle, the arrogant misogynist, and Copper, Marcus’s younger brother, lost, looking for a role model. [Together they form the supervillain organization known as . . . The Cult of Injustice.] As young teenagers, they form a pact: the first one to make a million dollars will purchase The Waterhouse, a place to live out their adolescent fantasy of endless water fights.
But much happens between water fights and adulthood -- shattered marriages, violence, and sexual abuse. As Timberlake deals with the death of his mother, and a difficult decision about putting down his mother’s ill horse, Copper tries to define himself as a DJ in Colorado, coming to grips with his older brother’s violence and his own guilt over a rape he witnessed his brother commit and did nothing about. Marcus, who’s in and out of jail, continues his ritual abuse of women with little respect for his wife and child. Finally, in an attempt to find himself, Marcus attends a Promise-Keepers rally, but ends up twisting their message until it fits his own destructive views of manhood. [This is a list of events connected to each other only by the fact that each happens to one of the Cult of Injustice. We need more than an outline, we need the connections.]
Since receiving my Ph.D. in creative writing from [That's it? You're done with the plot? That's a few events, but what happens? Do these guys still know each other as adults? Does Jimmy make a million dollars by inventing the Super Soaker Water Bazooka and buy the Waterhouse, only to discover Copper drowned while failing to save Marcus from being eaten by sharks? What ties this together after they're adults?] Oklahoma State University, I have published sections of this novel-in-stories in The Florida Review, Puerto del Sol, The Baltimore Review, Oxford Magazine, Weber Studies: Voices and Viewpoints of the Contemporary West, Midland Review, Unbound, The Jabberwock Review, and Moonshine Review. The manuscript itself placed in the top 25 out of 423 manuscripts in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship in 2001. [The query would be more impressive if James Earl Jones were reading it aloud.]
Follow these young men’s lives as they weave together through failed relationships, death, jail, adopted children, ritualistic basketball games, and life-affirming love on their journey to manhood and The Waterhouse. [Another list of stuff, mostly depressing. I need a better reason to follow these men's lives than the prospect of seeing them have a water fight in chapter 28.]
Enclosed for your consideration are three sample chapters (stories) and a synopsis. Thank you for your consideration.
Take out the shattered marriages, jail, rape, ritual abuse, death, and horse, and you've got a great middle grade book. Seriously. The mean and sinister neighbor, Mr. Grimball, goes on vacation. The Cult of Injustice break into his house and have water fights for two weeks. Squirt guns, hoses, water balloons. The carpeting, floorboards and walls are all waterlogged and rotting away. Eventually Grimball comes home, opens his front door, and whoooosh! Washed down the street on a tidal wave of his possessions.
Which came first? The novel or the stories? If the agent thinks you wrote a bunch of stories, realized novels sell better, and tacked the opening with the teenagers onto the front to connect the characters, she's not going to be optimistic. Is there a connection that runs through the entire book? Do the story/chapters include all three men, or have they gone their separate ways?
I would limit my credits to the two or three most impressive, and call them excerpts, rather than stories/chapters. If you want to offer this as a novel you may have to rewrite the book to give it the feel of a novel rather than a collection of stories. And if you've already done so, just rewrite the query to give that impression by concentrating on the thread that unites the whole book. Possibly this will mean sticking with one main character (the most likable one) and how his life is affected by the others.