Thursday, January 22, 2009

Face-Lift 594


Guess the Plot

Stop the Presses

1. Tom took a night job in the press room of Trinity News to make a few bucks for college. But now the extra printing work the paper took on to cover its costs has Tom wondering what he's gotten into . . . and how much longer he'll be alive.

2. The disappearance of the socialite daughter of millionaire California vintner Loren Charles is linked to the suspiciously high cholesterol content of this year's Charbono, giving new meaning to the wine's description as "full bodied."

3. How will we communicate after the Zombie Apocalypse? Everyone laughed at Gerald Kilpatrick for keeping the presses from the last days of the New York Times, but with Zombies on the prowl no one's laughing now.

4. When Miriam the media medium comes to stay at Halloween Hotel things get out of hand. Her powers are put to the test as the hotel is forced to close its doors with thirteen unlucky guests trapped inside. Crockery flies in the restaurant, towels flap along corridors and there is a sinister gathering of trouser presses in the lobby, where they snap shut on unwary guests.

5. Reporter Lottie Stuart's first assignment wasn't supposed to involve finding a corpse. Was it an accident? Or premeditated murder? Lottie will dig up the truth, or she's not the best sophomore reporter in the history of her school newspaper.

6. When the Herald goes out of business, it has a bigger effect on Sunnydale than just a couple hundred lost jobs, especially when a serial killer begins stalking the residents, and no one can get up-to-date news or check the obituaries to see who the most recent victim was.



Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

College sophomore Lottie Stuart doesn't want to make the headlines—she wants to write them. She just enrolled at a new college, just got hired at the school newspaper and nearly tripped over a dead body while on her first assignment. Now she's got a front-page story and a sneaking suspicion the student's death wasn't just another drinking binge gone bad.

Life gets more complicated when the dead boy's popular best friend [Now that's what I call a bff.] asks her out [Does she go out with him? If so, I'd say: . . . when she starts dating the dead boy's best friend. If not, leave him out of the query.] and she's welcomed into a clique of Southern sorority belles. [When southern sorority girls welcome you into their clique, it's time to look for a new college, because you'll never live down whatever it is they're up to.] She also discovers the most infuriating person she's ever met is her sexy, enigmatic editor, Jack.

The police rule the student's death an accident, but Lottie can't leave it alone. As she digs deeper into the dead boy's past and befriends those who knew him best, one name keeps popping up: the Sigma Society, a shadowy group that could be responsible for a recent rash of campus crime.

Soon Lottie is sneaking into frat houses, [Sophomore women don't have to sneak into frat houses. They have an open invitation.] breaking into secret passageways, coaxing information from her Greek friends and trying to avoid detection by the Sigmas, who are bent on covering up a murder and its ties to a 50-year-old hate crime. Lottie has big decisions to make: does she pursue the truth and risk alienating her newfound friends (and her newfound social status) or ignore the warning signs and let the Sigmas get away with murder? [She decides to compromise: pursue the story, but not till after the big mixer next Saturday at Alpha Beta House,]

STOP THE PRESSES is a 91,000-word YA suspense novel set on the campus of a prestigious private college in the deep South.

I'm a 26-year-old journalist (and recovering sorority girl). I work for a mid-sized daily newspaper. This is my first novel.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,


Notes

This is okay as it is, but possibly we can improve it. The first sentence is catchy, but it seems odd to start by saying Lottie doesn't want to make headlines. That's true of the vast majority of people. It's like saying Baseball player Bob Johnson doesn't want to die in a car wreck; he wants to hit a home run. This might be just as catchy:

Sophomore journalism student Lottie Stuart just enrolled at a new college, just got hired at the school newspaper . . . and just tripped over a dead body. Now she's got a front-page story and a sneaking suspicion the student's death was more than another drinking binge gone bad.

I'm not sure we need paragraph 2 at all. You can bring Jack in in paragraph 3:

The police rule the student's death an accident, but Lottie can't leave it alone, even when Jack, her sexy--but infuriating--editor advises her to drop it.
And if we need to know about the sorority, you can change "her Greek friends" in paragraph 4 to "her sorority sisters." I'm assuming that's who you meant by her Greek friends; if not, we don't need the sorority in the query.

Dumping paragraph 2 gives it a stronger narrative flow. Why interrupt the main plot by introducing some other characters and then immediately dropping them?

I assume college sophomores are old enough to star in books for adults, so is this YA because of something other than Lottie's age?

Why would pursuing the story alienate her friends? Are they in the Sigma Society?

19 comments:

Wes said...

Nice job. Interesting premise. The story has potential. Your background should give you great insight, and you can write about what you know. EE's comments are on the money, as usual.........as always. Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

sounds like a fun story.

BuffySquirrel said...

Greek friends completely threw me. Apart from that, it's okay, but nothing about it stands out. Been there, read that. What makes this particular reporter-won't-drop-story story special?

Dave F. said...

Good Query.

However, I don't think that your second paragraph improves or informs the query. I think you need to reword it.
The dead man's best friend gets her into the social scene and we don't know if that is good or bad. Is he involved? Is he part of the Sigma Society.
And her new enigmatic editor is named in the query for what reason? Why should we care?

Steve Stubbs said...

I liked the story line and I think it will sell, but there were a few things that jumped out at me. Why is she tripping over dead bodies? Doesn't she watch what she is doing? When I lived in New York City I did not trip over all the drunks. I just stepped over them as I skipped along to my cushy, high paying job, contemptuously oblivious to their plight. Everybody did. If any of them were dead I did not want to know about it. She might discover a body but tripping over it implies a certain lack of class that would keep her from being accepted by the debutantes is the way I see it.

Something else that jarred me was the bit about this being a fifty year old hate crime. I am aware that people hate each other, but for crying out loud are you saying nobody has noticed the body for fifty years and your character actually trips over it? How about a week old hate crime? And it better be in the dead of winter or someone would notice the smell.

Leave the fifty years part out. Nobody cares what happened fifty years ago unless they are celebrating their fiftieth birthday.

The general story line is great, though. It sounds like a Nancy Drew thriller.

December/Stacia said...

I agree with EE's changes, but really like this! It has the potential to be a real hoot, I think. Good luck!

BuffySquirrel said...

Umm, no, the body she trips over isn't fifty years dead. The hate crime with which the current murder is connected is fifty years old.

As for your contention that nobody cares about fifty-year-old events, is that "nobody" or "nobody I know"?

Evil Editor said...

Also, she doesn't trip over the body. Though it's better if she does.

chelsea said...

I'm glad you guys corrected Steve's little confusions. Most people who aren't narcissistic sociopaths care a great deal about fifty-year-old events, and they also can tell the difference between literal and figurative writing. :)

The one thing I can add to the comments is that the last descriptive line felt a little off-putting:

... does she pursue the truth and risk alienating her newfound friends (and her newfound social status) or ignore the warning signs and let the Sigmas get away with murder?

If all she's worried about is alienating her friends, she seems really shallow. I mean . . . Is social status worth letting people get away with hate crimes? Certain characters would think so (Jessica Wakefield?) but Lottie sounds better than that.

Maybe consider upping the stakes to something like: Does she pursue the truth and risk losing her LIFE, etc. etc.

BuffySquirrel said...

Also, I don't think you can alienate a status. Yes, the pedantic sqrl strikes again!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good story. I'm not sure why it's YA, though. I think it may be easier to sell it as an adult novel. Of course, that's something your agent/editor can decide later.

Jennifer said...

I like this.

As for why YA, it sounds like YA. I would have read something like this when I was in high school, but not later than that-- even with the hate crime, which I think is a great way to give the book some weight. But the POV character seems to have concerns that I'm not sure would resonate with an adult reader.

I'm thinking of Tom Wolfe's "I am Charlotte Simmons" which I read around age 30 and it was a struggle to get through. Of course, that may be in part to Wolfe's coming across as an old man guessing what college is really like. When I think of that book, all I can think of is his phrase, "loamy loamy loins."

And for whoever said make it a recent hate crime, are you kidding? 50 years ago, people often looked the other way when someone was murdered, especially for race. A lot of times they didn't even have to cover it up --think lynching. A recent hate crime is much more likely to be investigated/solved. So not sure what the objection there is.

Joanna said...

--The first sentence is catchy, but it seems odd to start by saying Lottie doesn't want to make headlines. That's true of the vast majority of people.--

Mmm. I guess that puts me in the megalomaniacal minority. I took the first sentence to mean that Lottie's fairly modest and observant.

Evil Editor said...

"Make the headlines" is an idiom meaning to become important news and be reported in the newspapers and on the television and radio. (Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms). If you're one of the few in entertainment or politics, making the headlines is good for your career. Otherwise it probably means you murdered someone or got murdered.

Anonymous said...

Otherwise it probably means you murdered someone or got murdered.

Or know how to operate a typesetting machine and offset press...

AC said...

Thank you all for your comments so far. I really, really appreciate them.

Chelsea--thanks for pointing out the shallowness in that line. I read it and you're absolutely right. Also thanks (and thanks EE) for clearing up Steve's confusion ;)

About the confusing opening line: I meant it in the way Joanna took it--that lots of girls want to be famous but Lottie's a more behind-the-scenes kind of person. Is there a way to make that more clear?

Also, I'm chucking the second paragraph--thanks EE!

I really appreciate any comments on the YA v. adult thing. I've struggled with that. I think the narrative voice is more YA but of course Lottie is on the older end of that spectrum. I've read a few YA books with college-age protagonists but they're definitely not common.

Jennifer--I had the EXACT same reaction to "I Am Charlotte Simmons."

Evil Editor said...

About the confusing opening line: I meant it in the way Joanna took it--that lots of girls want to be famous but Lottie's a more behind-the-scenes kind of person.

Unless she has a fear of fame (i.e. she waffles about pursuing the case because she's afraid she'll become famous if she cracks it), we don't need to know in the query that Lottie has no dream of being famous. It doesn't seem important. Jump right into the plot.

Chris Eldin said...

I really like this. It's catchy, and I think definitely YA.
Good luck, author!!

(although EE's line about girls not needing invites to frat houses cracked me up!!_

batgirl said...

Steve's taking the persona a little over the top, I think. Contemptuous and oblivious people never refer to themselves as contemptuous or oblivious. I'm undecided whether 'cushy job' rings true or is another too-sarcastic touch. Wouldn't someone in that position believe that he had worked hard and deserved the perks of his well-earned position? It depends whether you're going for realism or a rather heavy-handed satire, of course.