Friday, July 18, 2008

Face-Lift 544


Guess the Plot

The Only Way

1. Evey wakes up one morning realizing she must escape her fifteen-year marriage to her psychiatrist husband. It just so happens he's also the best-selling author of The Only Way: a misogynist's guide to keeping your wife in line. Can Evey escape without bloodshed?

2. Psychiatrist David Justin is summoned to the White House. The president's eight years are nearly up, power in Congress will soon shift to the other side of the aisle, and the existence of 70,000 detainees being held in secret prisons around the globe will come out. There's only one way to salvage any of the president's reputation: brainwash all 70,000. But is Justin up to the task?

3. There's a right way. There’s a wrong way. And then there’s Chance Harney’s way. If feisty newcomer Sasha McDougal wants to make it in the world of kickboxing, she’ll have to submit to Chance’s dictates. But Sasha’s never been very good at that obedience thing. Maybe it’s time for the hunky coach to learn a thing or two about submission.

4. In Carla's world, there's no right way and wrong way--there's only Papa's way. He decides what she does, where she goes, who she is. When Carla meets Tom, an impulsive young man with a wicked sense of humor and a dangerously seductive smile, she begins to think that maybe Papa's way isn't the only way. Wonder what Papa's going to think about this.

5. When an editor tells Kiki the only way she'll ever be published is if she sells her soul to the devil in exchange for some talent, she does just that. Years later, after she hits the New York Times Bestseller List, Satan comes to collect, and Kiki realizes that maybe it wasn't worth it. She makes another deal. Now the only way she can save her soul is to write a book good enough to make Satan himself cry.

6. Deedee's friends always said the only way a man could get her attention was if Mister Right tasered her. When her PETA protest gets a little out of control, John, a rookie police officer, does just that. This starts up an unlikely relationship. Deedee and John have nothing in common other than an intense attraction to one another. Can they overcome their differences to find true love?


Original Version

Dear Agent,

When Dr. David Justin agrees to become Director of the Arcadia Operation it’s to help out in the War on Terror, not to become a victim of it.

Justin, now at the reins of a desperate organization, [Why is the organization desperate?] is charged with “recovering” information from detainees before additional lives are lost. During a late-night meeting at the White House, Justin is shocked to learn more than 70,000 individuals (not just the 22 at the Arcadia Operation) are being held captive in secret prisons around the globe. And the President is runing out of time. His eight years are almost up and power in Congress is shifting to the other side of the aisle. [What are the consequences if the president runs out of time? We need to know this if we're to have any sense of the danger.]

In THE ONLY WAY psychiatrist David Justin struggles with his conscience and battles powerful government forces to save his new family after he is recruited by the CIA to brainwash detainees in secret American prisons around the globe. [Amazing. You've somehow managed to have two first sentences.] [The first first sentence would be stronger if it ended: . . . not to become its next victim. But even then it's not accurate. He was already director of Arcadia when the CIA recruited him to brainwash detainees, which is what puts him in danger of becoming a victim of the war on terror, which probably doesn't happen anyway. The second first sentence has too much information. We're bored by struggles with conscience, Justin's family, and vague powerful government forces. Keep the hot-button terms: secret prisons, brainwashing, the CIA. In THE ONLY WAY, psychiatrist David Justin takes on the CIA after he is recruited to brainwash detainees in secret American prisons. If he in fact doesn't take on the CIA in your book, that was the old version of the book. In the new version, which you'll be writing after you send out the query, so that if someone asks for the manuscript you have something to submit that matches the query, he takes on the CIA.] [Now, if your second first sentence becomes your first sentence, your first first sentence can be the first sentence of the second paragraph. Though not exactly. Something like:

Justin, Director of the Arcadia Operation, is summoned to a late-night meeting at the White House, where he is shocked to learn that more than 70,000 individuals (not just the 22 at the Arcadia Operation) are being held captive in secret prisons around the globe. The CIA want Justin to "recover" information from the detainees in hopes of saving American lives. And so on.]
Complete at 92,000 words my sometimes humorous thriller THE ONLY WAY follows Dr. Justin through the painful experience of deciding what role he is willing to play in a distasteful, yet threatening situation. When, exactly, will the good doctor finally say: this far…no farther? [More importantly, when will the person reading your query say: this far…no farther?] And what will happen when he does?

My work will appeal to those who enjoy the entangled hero suspense of Brad Thor and Vince Flynn. Currently I write a humor column, published monthly in a local magazine, and am working on a new manuscript. Thank you for your time and for your consideration.

Best regards,


Notes

I don't get a sense of why the situation is threatening. Is it threatening to the country because a new president won't understand the danger? Or threatening to the president because he doesn't want the new regime revealing that he's been holding so many people prisoner?

No need to call it "sometimes humorous" unless you give a hint of what's funny about it.

Let's see, 70,000 prisoners at 22 per prison, that's almost 3200 secret prisons. Keeping 3200 prisons secret is no easy task.

Who is threatening Justin's family? Why?

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

1} There's no point mentioning you have the humor writing gig if you're going to keep the name of the paper a secret. Which presumably you do here on this blog as a career-saving device, but you will be sure to include it in the actual query, right?

2} Given the 1-2 years it takes to publish a book, I fear it's too late for this project to make it into bookstores while the material is still timely and relevant. Perhaps you could serialize the story for your regular publisher so it can see ink while it is still fresh?

Megoblocks said...

As for the funny, one guy being recruited to extract information from 70000 is a little absurd. But other than that (and that was a stretch) I agree with EE, I'm not sure where the humor is.

Dave F. said...

This sets up an interesting premise but it doesn't say anything about the novel beyond that.

EE catches part of this. What are the consequences of holding this many prisoners? In reality, the consequences might be international war crimes trials for torture and illegal detention.

A president can't be impeached after he leaves office. A president can't be sued for official duties and can't be prosecuted for official business. There are constitutional barriers to that.

So we need to know more about the novel. What is the jeopardy? (besides my most-beloved game show)
What threat does David Justin have to deal with?
What is the tangled political situation that he is thrown into?
And How does he solve it?

As I read the query, it sounds a little too much of a polemic. Unless you want to go the way of partisan authors like Emmett Tyrell, Laura Ingraham, Al Franken, Markos Molitsas (spelling), and others.
Personally, I think you should make the novel play to both sides of the political spectrum and gain more readers.

Instead of "add a zombie cow" you might add some loose nukes and paranoid CIA types with (a) delusions of taking over the world or (b) starting the apocalyptic final war.

writtenwyrdd said...

This is humor? I must have missed something in that query!

Seriously, besides what EE says, I found myself feeling like I'd already read your book--which doesn't make me very enthusiastic. I'm sure it has some great stuff, but it doesn't feel like it from reading this letter. Part of the problem is that I've never heard of the authors your work is similar to; and the query letter is more about set up than giving a feel for what happens. The questions you end with in particular give this impression.

A couple other things. I find the number 70,000 is hard to ignore, too. As in it makes me not believe your book.

And, if this is humor, I think some of it needs to show in the query. Say, some absurd situations. Killing an enemy with a stuffed Marlin is an example from Carl Hiassen's work. If you open the letter with something like that to hook the reader, it might work better for you, because you would have their interest and also have shown what sort of book you have. Telling us it is humor is not the same as showing.

pjd said...

I am not sure what's going on here.

People seem to assume that the "brainwashing" involved is to save the reputation of the administration. But in reading it again, I wonder if it's because American lives are at stake and Justin needs to extract information from the detainees before another "spectacular" occurs. There's some implication that power shifting to the other side of the aisle means a kinder, gentler administration is going to come in and make America like a theme park for terrorists.

Is Justin put in charge of the operation to get information out of 70,000 prisoners, or just the 22 at his facility? If he's in charge, why is he battling powerful government forces? What forces? What type of battle?

And why is his conscience giving him problems?

I have to infer a lot. Upon reading this several times, I think Justin signed on as a gung-ho American wanting to keep the country safe from terror. But he quickly gets pushed to use torture to extract information. Then he's put in charge of torturing 70,000 prisoners, and he starts to wonder about how guilty they all could be. And he is pushed to use worse and worse methods, with the President demanding more information to use to create victories in the war on terror to pull the balance of power back to his side before the election. So Justin has pressure from the President, but he has a conscience. Is that about it?

I had to work way too hard to come up with that summary, and I'm not even sure it's right. And I still don't know any of the details, like whether his family is whisked off to one of those secret prisons or targeted by terrorists or what.

And ditto other comments on the humor aspect. Focus. If it's "sometimes humorous," then it's "sometimes not thrilling." Remember, 90% lean beef is 10% fat.

Anonymous said...

regarding anonymous (1st post)
1. Right.
2.I had a sinking feeling.

70,000 Prisoners:
a.There's 70,000 in many different prisons across the globe.

b. My MC is supposed to lead the brainwashing expedition not do it all himself.

c. Some prisons contain 1000s, some 22.

Humor:
I spend most of my time writing humor, and some seeped into an otherwise serious thriller. couldn't help myself. Many good points made about this.

Bring it on people! I need to hear your ideas! And, yes I will identify myself...later.
-the writer

pacatrue said...

Ditto on humor. The entire query sounds like a thriller and so I can only imagine a few jokes along the way, but that doesn't need to be in the query. After all, when people sum up a Shakespearian tragedy, they don't usually comment upon the drunken gatekeeper in Act III. Is the one guy versus 70,000 a clue to the tongue-in-cheek nature?

Anyway, unless the market is already saturated or it's too late, I'd imagine there is a market for a good thriller on this topic.

Anonymous said...

It shouldn't be real hard to hide 70,000 people. Hitler hid 6,000,000 pretty well.

Are these people being interrogated, tortured, and then killed?

And the humor is in which part of the story? Dark humor, like in GoodFellas, is great once you lose yourself in the story.

Why is David a Psychiatrist? Is he the Intel-op Commander? Is the President feeling guilty about his badboy ways?

Spoiler Alert: All of the prisoners have to be killed and buried in secret graves, along with everyone else who knows about the secret prisons- including Dave Justin.

You missed your mark by about 6 years with this story.

-not the writer
Well, actually I am a writer. Just not THE WRITER.

Anonymous said...

"There's 70,000 in many different prisons across the globe."

You're missing the point. Just because there are 70K prisoners throughout the globe it doesn't logically follow that there are 70K prisoners "in secret prisons" or in secret prisons that belong to the US. With a specific (and large) figure like that, you need a bit of explanation, or leave the figure out of the query, I'd say. A reference to thousands might be sufficient in the query.

Anonymous said...

Bring it on people! I need to hear your ideas! And, yes I will identify myself...later.
-the writer


My *assumption* after the first reading (especially considering the 70000 number), was that the 'humor' would come in the form of Bush-bashing.

If that's the case, anonymous 11:24 may have a good point about the timing of this story.

--Bill H.

wendy said...

No Bush bashing here. All the main characters in the book are struggling to remain the "good people" they think they are.

This book does not take a stand on the war or anything else except the importance of writing your own story in life and what happens when you don't. Clearly, a message the author herself has been missing as a friend of mine, Kiki, pointed out to me earlier today.

Anyway, I've come to the conclusion that first novels are a lot like pancakes - you usually burn the first one.

Moving on. Thanks everyone. I will definitely use the comments you have shared. And, I'll float this book in a second choice market while I get busy on my novel. I am grateful for your input and tomorrow I will start again. Oh, and BTW pjd...Bingo.

"I think Justin signed on as a gung-ho American wanting to keep the country safe from terror. But he quickly gets pushed to use torture to extract information. Then he's put in charge of torturing 70,000 prisoners, and he starts to wonder about how guilty they all could be. And he is pushed to use worse and worse methods, with the President demanding more information to use to create victories in the war on terror to pull the balance of power back to his side before the election. So Justin has pressure from the President, but he has a conscience. Is that about it?"


Thanks again, you guys are the best. (I'm going to go drink heavily now. ;)

pjd said...

I'm going to go drink heavily now. ;)

This is why it's always best to have your query appear on a Friday...

wendy said...

I guess eeeeeevil isnt so evil afer all.

lyl

freddie said...

According to my calculations, it would take Justin more than 63 years to brainwash or torture 70,000 people if he tortured 3 people a day, And that's if he works 365 days a year. I didn't calculate leap years, though.

I'd take down the number to something more realistic, or give this man some help.

I'm wondering if I'm doing something dangerous by calculating things where Dave can stray across my comment. ; )

Evil Editor said...

I'd take down the number to something more realistic, or give this man some help.

The author declared, at 3:27,

My MC is supposed to lead the brainwashing expedition not do it all himself.

ril said...

...if he tortured 3 people a day...

Slacker.

freddie said...

The author declared, at 3:27,

My MC is supposed to lead the brainwashing expedition not do it all himself.


Oops. Sorry, Wendy!

BuffySquirrel said...

Yes, but Hitler had advantages, including complete control of the media.

Julie Weathers said...

1. I don't read political agenda books even when it's pointed at idiots I despise. So I'm not going to be much help here.

2. The premise is so far fetched I doubt any agent would read it. It's kind of like saying the president gave dicktation 30 times a day instead of paying any attention to the growing terror threat.

3. If you are going to write any novel that has a current affairs theme, you need to write it very quickly and have a platform. By the time it gets to print, the public will be on to the next news item. Even if you say, "Oh, it isn't about Bush, it's about my fictional president." The premise is very thinly veiled and it's not going to fly.

4. As a matter of curiosity, how many different books do you have going at once? I would find one you love and stick with it. Trust me, by the time you get through the re-writes you will hate it. Better to at least be in love with it as long as you can.

I usually keep two projects going at once. The backup is strictly for when I am so disgusted with the main project I am tempted to throw it away. I fiddly with the backup for a bit and then like magic, whatever was bugging me about the main one works itself out in the back of my brain. Then I can take my aha and get back to work.

Even then, I try very hard not to switch projects. It's too easy to fall in love with the new one and stop working on the old one.

Kind of like falling in love with a bright, shiny guy when all you notice about your husband is how he belches and leaves his socks on the floor. The new guy does too, you just don't know him well enough yet.

Maybe I'm completely off base here and you just have one project. I admit I haven't been very focused lately.

Long story short, you got some excellent advice here. Run with it.

wendy said...

As a matter of curiosity, how many different books do you have going at once?

I have one novel and have started another terrorist kind of book that I am going to put away for awhile (maybe forever). I'm not sure I want to get "married" to this type of writing if I ever do get published, and I think I should try to write something I find more interesting. Through the EE process I've come to realise that just because you can write a solid (and it is even if the query sucked) novel that's commercially marketable doesn't necessarily mean you should.

So, somewhat more to the point of your question:

After I write something and between edits I let the big work "rest".

During those periods of time I write other things, short stories, kid stuff, really anything BUT what my main work is about.

So that's my story and I'm stickin' to it. You'll see something different from me soon...I hope.

akabrady said...

If you don't want to abandon everything altogether you could work in some changes, which to my mind would make it more interesting and less "Hey I heard this on the news and thought, I'll write a book about it."

1. Screw the current president. Or, in other words don't worry about him let him work out his term and go on golf vacations for the rest of his life.

2. The new Prez finds out about the "detainees" and instead of doing an expose, he thinks the first guy was right!

3. Your MC (sorry names to me are as water molecules, in one end, out the middle.) thought that the new Prez would change things and was holding out for the revelation. But when it doesn't come, and he still has to "get information" from the prisoners he has an even harder decision.

To me this is A LOT more interesting. It's not dependent on the real Prez leaving office since you concentrate on the new guy. And it's not a story that we've heard six billion times on re-news (reruns + news).

Remember a novel is fiction. It doesn't have to be real. And I, for one, prefer it that way.