Monday, April 07, 2008

Face-Lift 510


Guess the Plot

Frederica and the Heir to the Underworld

1. Ever since Frederica began working for the sewage maintenance company she has harboured dreams of making it to the highest rank of sewage worker. If only she can beat her claustrophobia.

2. Frederica's sanctuary is the tree house in her back yard. So it's understandable that she is extremely upset when the Lord of the Underworld decides to use the tree house as his new headquarters. Hilarity ensues.

3. When Ellen flees her strait-laced family and meets a handsome stranger, she misunderstands his introduction, thinking him in the underwear business. When she discovers that he's actually the son of Satan, will she be pleased or disappointed?

4. Frederica Gates has a crush on Mario Viscioni, a stunningly handsome boy who sits next to her in Biology. But he's not like other kids--he has a chauffeur, and big men with guns escort him everywhere. Is he merely rich, or is he really a Mafia scion?

5. Frederica is a typical California teenager, so she's a little upset when her father shows up after a ten-year absence and takes her away from her school and friends. Lucky for Freddie her latest crush happens to be Polydegmon, Greek god of the underworld. Surely he'll rescue her. Also, insane crows.

6. There's a new kid at Grover Cleveland Middle School: Damien Shatan, a quiet, dark-eyed boy who never speaks to anyone. Frederica Collins, math whiz and new herself, decides to try and bring him out of his shell. What will happen when she discovers he isn't just different--he's actually from Hell?


Original Version

Dear Benevolent Editor,

Frederica Fitzgerald is a typical teenager with the usual boy troubles and problems with her parents. Ok, so she’s crushing on the heir of the Underworld- the Greek one with the dog- and most of her class mates wouldn’t know Hades from a hamburger. [That last part, after the dash, has nothing to do with why she's not really typical. Dump it.] Actually her dad’s not so normal either. [Actually, you never claimed her dad was normal.] After all, how many kids her age have a self-centered ancient god for a father?

“Frederica and the Heir to the Underworld” is a young adult urban fantasy set in the breezy sunshine of a SoCal spring and the fog-laden gloom of the Underworld. The novel is complete at 75K words.

The week before Freddy's sweet sixteen she’s nearly run over by a tall, dark dreamboat on a big white horse. [This guy.] Freddy can deal with the running over part- no harm done. It’s the rider- Mr. Sex Bomb himself- who turns out to be the real problem. From the moment he helps her butt up from the asphalt, Freddy’s got it bad for Polydegmon. [Anagram: Monopoly dog. The dog is one of the better Monopoly tokens, along with the race car and battleship. The hat, shoe, iron, cannon and thimble are for losers. At least I think that's supposed to be a cannon. Even blown up to the actual size of a cannon that thing's barrel couldn't hold anything bigger than a BB.] [My favorite Monopoly spaces:

5. B & O Railroad. When someone buys it you can taunt them for having BO.

4. Marvin Gardens. Is it a street or a guy's name?!

3. Water Works. It's funny because it's alliterative.

2. Chance. Much more intriguing than Community Chest because it has a big question mark on the board.

1. Jail. It's two spaces in one: You can be in jail, or just visiting!!] Freddy can get over his weird name (what kind of sadistic parents name their kid Polydegmon anyway?) and the way he dresses isn’t quite a deal-breaker (dude, togas went out of style a couple thousand years ago). No, Freddy’s real problem is that Polydegmon is as mysterious as he is good-looking, and wherever he goes trouble seems to follow: rabid dogs suddenly running around the suburbs, insane crows trying to peck Freddy and her friends to death at the local burger joint and other less than savory occurences.

Among these ongoing disasters, Freddy’s long lost and not so dear old dad- Cernunnos, the God of the Hunt- himself suddenly drops back into the picture for the first time in a decade. Cernunnos needs his daughter back, [Why?] and he doesn’t care about nitpicky things like school, friends, or ripping Freddy away from anything she’s ever cared about. When Daddy-dearest carries Freddy off to his otherworldly realm it falls to Polydegmon to help her escape, and stop all these stupid supernatural shenanigans from ruining both their lives.

A SASE for your reply has been included, and I look forward to sending you the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,


Notes

I'm not sure what makes this urban fantasy as opposed to plain old contemporary fantasy. While I expect the tone of an urban fantasy to have plenty of humor, the subject matter tends to be dark and edgy. The tone of the query is making this sound like a comedy. If it's a comedy, I'd call it a fantasy. If it's not, you might tone down the humor in the query a bit and show us the dark side.

While there's no lack of specificity here, we do slip into generality a few times: "and other less than savory occurrences" (note double "r") ; "from anything she’s ever cared about"; all these stupid supernatural shenanigans. Better to name a third unsavory occurrence than to say and other ones. Better to say ripping Freddie away from her favorite mall than "anything she cares about." What are all these shenanigans?

Why would Polly or Cernunnos cause crows to try to kill Freddie? Isn't Polly a little old for Freddie?

You might be better off starting with paragraph 3 (which can be two paragraphs), adding paragraph 2 to your closing, and dumping paragraph 1. You don't lose any key information, and you get to a better query length. It would open something like:

The week before Freddy's sweet sixteen she’s nearly run over by Mr. tall, dark and handsome on a big white horse. Freddy can deal with the running over part- no harm done. The problem is the rider: Polydegmon, Greek god of the Underworld.

From the moment . . .

23 comments:

Bernita said...

A very nice query.
Am a little uneasy with the mixture of mythologies.

writtenwyrdd said...

This query is okay, but as we all seem to do, it's heavy on backstory. I am concerned that you have two pantheons mentioned (Greek and Celtic). I don't have a problem with them overlapping, it's your fantasy world, you can make that work. But in the query, maybe not say her dad is cernunnos, just that he's an ancient god?

Anonymous said...

Nice concept for a YA novel.

Take EE's suggestions, and ditch most of the dashes. Why don't people write in sentences anymore? Sigh.

Nancy Beck said...

I was hoping it was this one; the insane crows got me. ;-)

This actually isn't bad. I think EE's take on it (to rearrange some of the paras, and lose the first one), is spot on.

And I'd also agree that this doesn't sound like urban fantasy to me; there's always some sort of dark element in an urban fantasy.

If there is something dark to this tale, I think it'd be a good idea to get that into the query.

Humor, to me, is always a plus in any story I read. :-)

Good luck!

Sarah Laurenson said...

Great voice! I'd read any pages you included.

I also think EE's suggestions will help a lot. Good job!

Dave F. said...

[EE you must have had a great news this morning. You're hot today - Monopoly pieces.]

In the first paragraph of the query, You start out sentences number 2,3, and 4 the same way:

2: OK, so she's crushing
3: Actually, her dad’s not so normal
4: After all, how many

Do you see the pattern? Unless you want to repeat this pattern deliberately (I have no clue as to why), change the structure.

And then you write this sentence which dances in my mind (well actually dance is too nice a word - anticipated is the nasty word): set in the breezy sunshine of a SoCal spring and the fog-laden gloom of the Underworld

How about making it different, really different: a gloomy California and a spring-like hades?

Nita said...

The query has a good voice. I think it could be shorter, and EE's paragraph switches are good.

Moth said...

Many thanks to everyone who likes my idea. I think it has some great potential too.

Thanks for all the helpful comments and thanks, EE, for continuing to be such an evil genius.

One of the biggest things I have trouble with is stream-lining my queries without making them too general, so if anyone has ideas for how to trim this and make it flow better please let me know. New version below.


Dear Benevolent Editor,

The week before Frederica Fitzgerald's sweet sixteen she’s nearly run over by a tall, dark dreamboat on a big white horse. Freddy can deal with the running over part- no harm done. The problem is the rider, Mr. Sex Bomb himself: Polydegmon, son of Hades and heir to the Greek Underworld.

Freddy can get over his weird name (what kind of sadistic parents name their kid Polydegmon anyway?) and the way he dresses isn’t quite a deal-breaker (dude, togas went out of style a couple thousand years ago). No, Freddy’s real problem is that Polydegmon is as mysterious as he is good-looking, and wherever he goes trouble seems to follow: rabid dogs suddenly running around the suburbs, insane crows trying to peck Freddy and her friends to death at the local burger joint and, worst of all, the Wild Hunt trolling Freddy’s hometown for their next bit of human game.

Among these ongoing disasters, Freddy’s long lost and not so dear old dad- Cernunnos, the God of the Hunt- himself suddenly drops back into the picture for the first time in a decade. Cernunnos is planning an alliance with the Greeks. He needs his daughter to become the happy new wife of Polydegmon’s brother and seal a peace deal with the Greek pantheon. Cernunnos doesn’t care about nitpicky things like school or friends, and he has no compunction at all about ripping Freddy away from her distraught mother and stepfather. When Daddy-dearest carries Freddy off to his otherworldly realm it falls to Polydegmon to help her escape, even if it means risking his own disinheritance and even if saving her means losing each other.

“Frederica and the Heir to the Underworld” is a young adult contemporary fantasy set in the breezy sunshine of a SoCal spring and the fog-laden gloom of the Underworld. The novel is complete at 75K words. A SASE for your reply has been included, and I look forward to sending you the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
Moth

Whirlochre said...

This has a lot going for it and if you prune it as indicated, it ought to be even better.

I, too, like the voice, but there are moments (generally in parentheses or after a dash) when you get a bit carried away with yourself.

As for the mixed pantheons, it's all myth and bluster anyhow so go ahead and synthesize away. Just be sure it hangs together with its own internal consistency.

So - this is a case of trimming a natty bonsai rather than pouring endless fertiliser on a no-hope weed, I think.

One of the better queries I've seen, this. Voice, plot, potential etc.

For the record, I most appreciate the aesthetic dinkiness of the iron.

Anonymous said...

"Many thanks to everyone who likes my idea. I think it has some great potential too."

Wait a second? Is this another query that was drafted before the book was written?

I'm really puzzled. Why are authors bothering with query letters before they even have a rough draft pounded out? This seems like a ridiculous misuse of your time.

I tinker with my query letters between revisions because that allows me to be productive and gain fresh eyes for further editing. But to write a query before you even have a novel fleshed out... what is the purpose of that?

Please, someone explain this to me.

Moth said...

Anon 12:10: By "potential" I meant potential to sell to a publisher and do well. I do have a draft and I'm revising.

Thanks for your concern over my time management, tho. :D

~Moth

Deborah B said...

I did notice that your query was all about the book, with nothing about you. Most of the "how to" books on queries insist on a paragraph with your writing experience, any other qualifications, etc.
EE, what do you think of a query letter without this?

Evil Editor said...

I like to know qualifications for nonfiction books. There are no required qualifications for writing fiction, except the ability to write well.

Your experience is worth mentioning only if it's impressive. Evil Editor is not easily impressed, and is more interested in the book you are trying to sell me than in the short story you sold someone else four years ago.

mb said...

Moth -- I see a lot of places you could trim. I'd cut the stuff in parentheses -- it's cute, but you've already said it, and you don't want to get TOO cute. The 3rd paragraph could use some tightening -- I think you could get Cernunnos's plot down to one sentence. In the last line of that paragraph, "even if saving her means losing each other" doesn't work grammatically. The other thing that bothered me there was that suddenly we're talking about what's at stake for Polydegmon, and what he does. Whose story is it? If it's Freddy's, then how does SHE act to make the plot resolve? What's at stake for HER? Especially for YA fiction, your synopsis should follow the POV character as much as possible.

I'm a big Rick Riordan fan, so this sounds appealing. You just need to clean it up a little.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Ok Moth. Love this story! Here's my suggestion for cutting it down.

The week before Frederica Fitzgerald's sweet sixteen she’s nearly run over by a tall, dark dreamboat on a big white horse. Freddy can deal with the running over part- no harm done. The problem is the rider, Mr. Sex Bomb himself: Polydegmon, son of Hades and heir to the Greek Underworld.

Freddy can get over his weird name (what kind of sadistic parents name their kid Polydegmon anyway?) and the way he dresses isn’t quite a deal-breaker (dude, togas went out of style thousands of years ago). No, Freddy’s real problem is that Polydegmon is as mysterious as he is good-looking, and wherever he goes trouble seems to follow: rabid dogs, insane crows and, worst of all, the Wild Hunt trolling for their next bit of human game.

Then Freddy’s long lost and not so dear old dad - Cernunnos, the God of the Hunt - drops in for the first time in a decade. Cernunnos needs his daughter to become the happy new wife of Polydegmon’s younger brother and seal a peace deal with the Greek pantheon. He doesn’t care about nitpicky things like school or friends, Freddy’s distraught mother and stepfather. When Daddy-dearest carries Freddy off to his otherworldly realm, it falls to Polydegmon to help her escape. But saving her carries some heavy consequences like losing each other and Polydegmon’s disinheritance.

Moth said...

Here's a new draft I wrote after getting some feedback. I want to see which version people prefer:

V.1: Dear Benevolent Editor,

{Insert personalization: “You’re so brilliant. Love your blog. Love the writers you rep like XYZ, etc.”} “Frederica and the Heir to the Underworld” is a young adult contemporary fantasy set in the breezy sunshine of a SoCal spring and the fog-laden gloom of the Underworld. The novel is complete at 90K words, and will appeal to fans of Holly Black and Melissa Marr.

The week before Frederica Fitzgerald's sweet sixteen she’s nearly run over by a hottie on a horse. Unfortunately, the hottie on the horse turns out to be Polydegmon, son of Hades and heir to the Greek Underworld.

Being near Polydegmon is enough to make Freddy tingle all the way to the tips of her toes, but she doesn’t know if being with Polydegmon is worth losing the only world she’s ever known. He’s got secrets he isn’t sharing, and trouble follows him closer than his own shadow: rabid dogs running around the suburbs, insane crows stalking Freddy’s every moment, and, worst of all, the Wild Hunt trolling her hometown for their next bit of human game.

Among these ongoing disasters, Freddy’s long lost and not so dear old dad- Cernunnos, Leader of the Wild Hunt- drops back into the picture for the first time in a decade. Cernunnos plans an alliance with the Olympians, and he needs his daughter to seal the peace by marrying Polydegmon’s brother. When Daddy-dearest carries Freddy off to his otherworldly realm, Polydegmon is the only one who will help her escape, despite the consequences: his own disinheritance and a war between the pantheons.

And never mind if they do escape it will mean Freddy can never see Polydegmon again.

A SASE for your reply has been included, and I look forward to sending you the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
Moth the Writer

OR

V.2:
Dear Benevolent Editor,

The week before Frederica Fitzgerald's sweet sixteen she’s nearly run over by a tall, dark dreamboat on a big white horse. Freddy can deal with the running over part- no harm done. The problem is the rider, Mr. Sex Bomb himself: Polydegmon, son of Hades and heir to the Greek Underworld.

Freddy can get over his weird name (what kind of sadistic parents name their kid Polydegmon?), and the way he dresses isn’t quite a deal-breaker (dude, togas went out of style a couple thousand years ago). Her real problem is Polydegmon is as mysterious as he is good-looking, and wherever he goes trouble seems to follow: rabid dogs running around the suburbs, insane crows stalking Freddy’s every moment, and, worst of all, the Wild Hunt trolling her hometown for their next bit of human game.

Among these ongoing disasters, Freddy’s long lost and not so dear old dad- Cernunnos, Leader of the Wild Hunt- drops back into the picture for the first time in a decade. Cernunnos plans an alliance with the Olympians, and he needs his daughter to seal the peace by marrying Polydegmon’s brother. Cernunnos doesn’t care about nitpicky things like school or friends, and he has no compunction at all about ripping Freddy away from her distraught mother and stepfather. When Daddy-dearest carries Freddy off to his otherworldly realm, Polydegmon is the only one who will help her escape, despite the consequences: his own disinheritance and a war between the pantheons.

And never mind if they do succeed it will mean Freddy can never see Polydegmon again.

“Frederica and the Heir to the Underworld” is a young adult contemporary fantasy set in the breezy sunshine of a SoCal spring and the fog-laden gloom of the Underworld. The novel is complete at 90K words, and will appeal to fans of Holly Black and Melissa Marr.

{Insert personalization: “You’re so brilliant. Love your blog. Love the writers your rep like XYZ, etc.”}

A SASE for your reply has been included, and I look forward to sending you the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
Moth the Writer

Phoenix said...

Hi Moth:

For a query with voice, I like to see the author dive right into it, so I immediately like v2 better that way. In your case, you don't have to tell the reader who your audience is or what the genre is right off -- you do it right by showing it. I personally use lots of dashes in my own writing, too. It's part of your style, so no need to hide them!

I love the first two paragraphs. The third could use a little tweaking, imo.

Change "Among these ongoing disasters," to simply "Then"

Change the last sentences of the 3rd 'graph so the focus stays on Freddy:

Cernunnos doesn’t care about nitpicky things like school or friends. And he has no compunction at all about ripping Freddy away from her distraught mother and stepfather and carrying her off to his otherworldly realm.

Still, Freddy knows Polydegmon wouldn't let a little thing like a war between the pantheons keep them apart, and her bad-boy godling doesn't disappoint -- even charging in on the horse.


I don't quite understand the not being able to see each other again bit, but maybe try:

The catch, of course: If she lets Polydegmon save her, she's never going to be able to see him again.

The close:

“Frederica and the Heir to the Underworld is a 90K-word young adult contemporary fantasy that will appeal to fans of Holly Black and Melissa Marr.

I would nix the personalization 'graph. It's meant to catch attention at the beginning, not gush at the end, I think. And your voice is strong enough here to not need to gush. By this time an agent knows whether your voice resonates or not. Just go for the close:

I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

Sincerely,


Go forth and query! I bet you get lots of requests.

Dave F. said...

I was going to say I prefer Version 2 in your rewrite but Phoenix did a much better job than I could. Groceries and hunger got the better of me, so I'm late. It's snowy out there.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Both of these are great! I also like v.2 better, except I would swap in the "Among these disasters" paragraph from v.1.

Phoenix already touched on the only other quibble I had: I strongly advise you to cut the "breezy sunshine/fog-laden gloom" clause. It's unnecessary - you've already done a great job of establishing the suburbia v. mythological dynamic.

Dominique said...

I heard a lot of voice in this query, which is always good. Definitely, there was an approachable and amusing quality. Personally, I would keep the items in the parentheses, because they fit well with the voice.

Moth said...

Thank you so much everyone for taking yet another crack at this. Especially Phoenix, your suggestions were awesome and have been incorporated.

Thanks again so much! :D
Moth

talpianna said...

One problem I see here: Cernunnos was originally the God of the Underworld himself, which confuses the issue. Unless you might want to make the background a struggle for rule of it?

CERNUNNOS: "The Horned One" is a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. He was worshipped all over Gaul, and his cult spread into Britain as well. Cernunnos is depicted with the antlers of a stag, sometimes carries a purse filled with coin. The Horned God is born at the winter solstice, marries the goddess at Beltane, and dies at the summer solstice. He alternates with the goddess of the moon in ruling over life and death, continuing the cycle of death, rebirth and reincarnation.
Paleolithic cave paintings found in France that depict a stag standing upright or a man dressed in stag costume seem to indicate that Cernunnos' origins date to those times. Romans sometimes portrayed him with three cranes flying above his head. Known to the Druids as Hu Gadarn. God of the underworld and astral planes. The consort of the great goddess. He was often depicted holding a bag of money, or accompanied by a ram-headed serpent and a stag. Most notably is the famous Gundestrup cauldron discovered in Denmark.

Wild Hunt
by Luke Goaman-Dodson
The Wild Hunt is a supernatural force that sweeps across the land at night. The actual object of the Hunt varies from place to place. In some areas it searches for anything that might be unforunate enough to be in its path. Others say it hunts evildoers.
The leader of the Hunt also varies. In Celtic Britain it is usually led by Cernunnos, the horned god. In Wales it is led by Gwyn ap Nudd, and sometimes Bran. After the Anglo-Saxons had settled in England, Cernunnos became Herne the Hunter.

The Wild Hunt also appears in Teutonic myth, its leader being Woden or Odin.

(Both citations from ENCYCLOPEDIA MYTHICA)

I also have a problem with Hades having a son: none of the myths give him offspring--after all, he's Death, in effect.

Quibbles aside, the plot and voice are very appealing, but I don't think your query has yet captured the appeal.

Phoenix said...

I also have a problem with Hades having a son

Tal, perhaps this is revisionist mythology?

Did people care that Xena hung out with Hercules, saw Troy fall, had a fling with Julius Caesar, and was crucified?

Deep breath there, sweetie. This doesn't claim to be history. Just fiction. Or have your snarky moles told you differently?