Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Face-Lift 633

Guess the Plot

Hound in Blood and Black

1. When 5th grader Sindy Snowden arrives for her second day at school everything is really freaky. She soon realizes that's because her teacher opened a portal to a cartoon world and was replaced by Huckleberry Hound.

2. Louie is the last werehound in Nashville. He spends most of his time listening to old Elvis tunes, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, brooding over the past. Except, of course, when the moon shines and he goes crazy chasing cats and rabbits. Which is exactly how he meets Elvira, Queen of the Night, a washed-up harlot with a kind heart, who thinks he has a future in show business.

3. Thirteen year old Gwendar has made a terrible mistake; he has insulted the dreaded High King Dreadmost. Dreadmost casts Gwendar into the royal kennel for punishment. There, Gwendar must fight amongst the hounds for his very survival. But Gwendar does more than survive, he rises to become leader of the pack.

4. Her nickname: Hound. Her occupation: zombie poacher. But on this futuristic Earth, zombies aren't killed; they're captured and pitted against each other in gladiatorial combat. When Hound gets bitten by a zombie, will she lose her humanity and be forced to fight other zombies for the entertainment of the rabble?

5. The Hound of the Baskervilles is not dead, merely in hiding. It's going to take all the wits of Dr. Watson's ten-year old descendant, Emma, to deal with this one - and where's Holmes when you really need him? Reincarnated as a rabbit! How is he going to survive this time?

6. When reporter Vali Thorres finds artist Luke Klaus's most vocal critic with his throat ripped out, he follows the blood to one of Klaus's paintings. Before he can call the police, both trail and body vanish. Thorres must find a way to restore Klaus's soul before the creatures he bargained with are unleashed.


Original Version

Dear Agent,

Kumari is a wrangler; a poacher [a puppet, a pirate, a poet,] and a gambler who catches zombies and fights them against one another as gladiators. All she wanted to do was live and die without becoming a monster. [As the rest of the query is in present tense, that sentence may as well be, too.] In a broken Earth populated by undead, slavers, drought and greed, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Kumari’s simple life changes from one of survival to something much more complicated [Can a life centered around capturing zombies and pitting them against other zombies in the arena really be called "simple"?] when she wins a girl in a risky gamble – a child-slave desperate to find something to live for in the world Kumari has forsaken – [What is the world Kumari has forsaken?] and is forced to kill her closet friend when he is bitten by an undead. [This wouldn't have happened if her friend had come out of the closet.] When running to a new city in hopes of escaping her pain causes more problems than it solves, Kumari faces the loss of the only thing worth living for when she is infected by a zombie bite: her humanity.

HOUND IN BLOOD AND BLACK, complete at approximately 100,000 words, is science fiction/horror. Kumari’s story explores a new kind of future where existing isn’t just about running from and killing zombies [like it is in most other books about the future], but fighting them against each other in gladiatorial combat – the only way left for mankind to prove to themselves that they aren’t the real monsters.

In January 2009, my short story Savage was published in Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror by Permuted Press. Recently, Savage was republished in the April 2009 issue of the Apex online magazine. [Now I've expanded it into this novel in hopes of milking it for yet another paycheck.]

Thank you for your consideration,

Author's note (not part of query): The title comes from the following: Kumari's nickname is Hound, black marks are the highest ranking matches for a wrangler to participate in, and the blood refers to how the zombies are prepped for combat (coated in human blood to make them fight each other). [Coated in whose human blood?] When Kumari becomes a gladiator herself, and fights the zombies in the pit, she's no exception. So Hound in Blood and Black refers to Kumari when she fights under black marks, painted in blood.


Notes

There's too much about the world and not enough about the story. No need to tell us it's a world in which zombies fight as gladiators in both the first and third paragraphs. Instead, give us more about the child-slave, who I assume is a major player.

When it takes almost as many words to explain your title as it does to summarize your plot, it's time to find a simpler title.

If the hound in the title is your main character, you might want to refer to her as "Hound" at least once in the query. Of course this action won't be necessary when you change the title to Zombie Gladiators of Lorkha Tau.

On the other hand, you will have to change your setting to Lorkha Tau.

Everyone knows vampire bites turn you into a vampire and zombies eat your brains. This is like writing a book in which sharks solve crimes and detectives eat surfers.

Do zombie fights take place in a coliseum, with wranglers just providing the zombies, or is it more like cockfighting, where the wrangler brings her zombie to some pit in the boondocks where people gamble on fights?

Do zombie gladiators need swords? Can't they just plod around waiting for their opponents' limbs to fall off?

32 comments:

Matt Heppe said...

Zombie novels have been done. Gladiator novels have been done.

But zombie-gladiators? Very cool. I'd read it.

Just need to put in the EE's edits.

jmartinlibrarian said...

You have a great hook (zombie gladiators? woo-hoo), but your query could benefit from some more oomph. Take the most exciting elements of your plot and the core conflicts and flesh them out more explicitly. C'mon, spill the beans! (Or perhaps in this case, spill the blood and brains)

Anonymous said...

A good title would be a marketing tool that entices potential readers to open your book. A misnomer title is not going to work so well for marketing. If it's about zombies, I would want the zombie fans to spot that from across the room. I suspect most zombie fans would pass on a book about costumed dogs, which is the image your title inspires. And likewise, people who love dogs in costume are not your usual zombie audience.

blogless troll said...

I agree. Zombie gladiators is a very cool idea. But setting it on a "broken Earth" kind of throws me. I'm guessing it's some future post-apocalyptic Earth, in which case "gladiators" sounds kind of strange since it brings up images of ancient Rome. I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but on a future broken Earth I'd still be expecting it to be Ultimate Fighting Champion Zombies or something like that. If it's an alternate version of Earth with a different history then OK, gladiators works.

Also, Zombie Jai-Alai would make a great sequel.

Matthew said...

I agree that the title is misleading.

Matthew said...

Regarding Blogless Troll's comment, I think the gladiator term is appropriate. Gladiators fight to the death whereas ufc guys go for submissions and knock outs. I am assuming these zombies fight to the death of course....

150 said...

Given the large numbers of people who think that cockfighting, bullfighting, and dogfighting strip us of our humanity, I have some trouble believing that a whole society would decide that former-human-fighting makes everyone more human.

Show us less setup and more plot. I'd probably read this.

Dominique said...

You're concept is interesting and unique.

I'm not sure that it's a semicolon you're looking for in the first sentence.

The first sentence of the second paragraph is long and has the potential to be awkward. Maybe you could break it up, which would allow you to provide more plot and character information, as well.

The last sentence in the second paragraph is not quite climactic.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I like Hound in Blood and Black as a title. It's unusual and it's got a nice rhythm.

Faceless Minion said...

I agree that it's a wonderful title but I don't think that it works well for this story. Something hinting at the zombie gladiators would get more attention from the target audience.

You might want more emphasis on how important her humanity is to her if that's the stakes.

The events listed don't give me a good sense of the story - Kumari saves someone, kills someone, runs away and becomes a zombie. (If her being a zombie gladiator is important enough to the plot to be the name of the book, it might be worth mentioning in the central part of the query.)

Robin S. said...

I like the title. I'm with Sarah.

I have never read a zombie anything other than what I read on this blog, and there's a damned decent shot I never will unless someone uncovers a Percy or a Woolf or a Lessing with zombies in it, so I have nothing to add other than - keep the title.

It sounds like you're educated that way - or at least have a 'Sound & Sense' kind of a rhythm to your prose.

Robin S. said...

ALTHOUGHif you combine non-zombied Welsh, I say again, yes, that's right, Welsh directorial brains and 45 British pounds, you get Cannes attention for zombies, and that's, as they say, a whole 'nother angsty thang...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1183689/British-zombie-movie-cost-just-45-make-set-surprise-hit-Cannes.html?ITO=1490

_*Rachel*_ said...

Yeah... a simple, quiet life hunting down zombies for the gladiator shows? She lives in the suburbs with her 1.7 kids, right? You know, you could make that pretty fun. A zombie has a go at her youngest, she goes from 2 kids to 1.7.

If you keep the title, you could work the explanation in; "She never knew she'd fight as a zombie, coated in blood, instead of as a zombie hunter in black.

I'm not a fan of zombie stuff, but you're tempting me.

BuffySquirrel said...

Can't help thinking zombies would make lousy gladiators. Wouldn't they always be trying to eat the audience or something?

But then "zombie" is one of my big turn-off concepts in the great and wonderful world of SFF, so maybe ignore me.

Anonymous said...

never read a zombie book and don't expect to, although I love SEAN OF THE DEAD, a movie which has zombies galore, but it is clearly a romantic comedy. that might be the origin of the zombie contagion theory, as people who get bit die and then stagger around trying to bite others, sort of like a variation on rabies.

Phoenix said...

Love the title, but I'm in the camp that thinks it doesn't quite seem to be working for the story this query is selling.

My immediate question when I read that Kumari kills her closest [or closet] friend when he's bitten is why doesn't she fight him instead? Or is it too disturbing for her to use people she knows? If so, I think you can take her action to the next level in the query.

And, really, can you kill a zombie? Aren't they already dead? What's the proper term for snuffing them? Anyone got an OED nearby?

And while we're on the subject of words, are zombies in this world a protected class? Is it really illegal to capture them as the word "poacher" seems to indicate? You can be a cattle wrangler without being a cattle rustler. Can you not be a zombie wrangler without being a zombie poacher?

And are the "slavers" what Kumari is? Is it really slavery if the victim isn't alive? I'm not coming down on either side of the fence on that question, but the moral issue of what Kumari is doing could be a kinda neat twist. But I'm thinking that question isn't debated in the ms since the query seems to shy away from any real questions of conscience.

Dave F. said...

The Zombies we all think about when we say zombie are directly related to George Romero and his three movies Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. That's back to 1968 for "Night"... not the remake. There were a few zombies before "Night" but nothing that caught on with the American Public.

I met people over the years who played zombies and I used to shop in the Mall that figures so prominently in Dawn of the Dead. When Dawn was shown in Pittsburgh, the empty parking lot of the Mall always got laughs and giggles. The lot was never empty.

The TV reporter Bill 'Chilly Billy' Cardille, did news, weather, sports, teen dance shows, HS B-Ball, Studio Wrestling (pro), and hosted "Chiller Theater" the Saturday night scary movie with "Terminal Stare" a blond Elvira, Norman the Castle Keeper (think Lurch lookalike) and Stefan (think Vern Troyer)... I met Cardille when I was in college and saw the "set" of Chiller Theater. Underwhelming fun because the blinking effects were only seen on TV, not in person.

But Night of the Living Dead is the source of all zombie culture.

BuffySquirrel said...

Some of "we" aren't members of the Great American Public. Hard to remember this, I know, Dave. Obviously very hard.

Dave F. said...

You kill a zombie by separating his head from his body.

As for this query, I have a question for the author -- Zombies attack human blood and watching zombie gladiators should be fairly horrific. Is this what your story is about? Or is your story about how Kumari finds her true humanity and rises above the sordid profession of zombie gladiator pimp?

I guess the question is the difference between an original and the sequels. It's like the original Aliens is about Ripley surviving the creature. The subsequent "aliens" were about the creatures. Halloween was the same - the original was about a teen surviving the madman. The sequels were about the madman.

Is your story about Kumari surviving to realize her humanity and learn something or about the horror of zombie gladiators and gory blood sport?

The book and movie "Silence of the Lambs" was more about Clarice than Hannibal. The sequels (especially the one with the pigs) were more about gut-wrenching exposed brains and Hannibal's antics.

Does your story about Kumari withstand the blood and guts action?

Dave F. said...

Jeepers Buffy, I've never met anyone from Transylvania and I've never traveled there but I do know about Vlad Tepes as Bram Stoker's archetypal Dracula. And gosh gollies, I've never met Shelley's family (mostly because they're dead) but I do know the Frankenstein archetype.

BTW - that was a lighthearted nostalgic post.

Adam Heine said...

Dave's right. The modern pop-culture zombie archetype comes from Night of the Living Dead. The idea of zombie contagion is as old as the archetype, and the concept of a zombie apocalypse is only slightly younger.

I don't have anything new to say about the query. I really like the idea. I really don't like the title. The query is okay, but not great (EE's comments are the same things I noticed; except for where he compares vampires to sharks).

Anonymous said...

"Author's note (not part of query): The title comes from the following: Kumari's nickname is Hound, black marks are the highest ranking matches for a wrangler to participate in, and the blood refers to how the zombies are prepped for combat (coated in human blood to make them fight each other). When Kumari becomes a gladiator herself, and fights the zombies in the pit, she's no exception. So Hound in Blood and Black refers to Kumari when she fights under black marks, painted in blood."

Author: When should I change my title?

Anon: When it takes a paragraph to explain why you chose said title. Another question you didn't ask, but something you should think about.

The fact that you described your title's origins suggests a level of attachment, which may or may not be healthy, but certainly will give the agent reason to ask, " How is this author going to react when the BIG TIME Publisher's marketing team decide to call it something like, Zombies Cuddle Kittens? Do I want that headache?"

Evil Editor said...

The author did NOT describe the origins of the title in the query. I thought I made that clear. Authors are asked by Evil Editor (See link in sidebar) to describe the origins of the title if it's not obvious from the query, so that EE can compose the actual Guess the Plot. I include that description after the query so that readers will know where I got my info, that I didn't just make it up.

BuffySquirrel said...

Yes, Dave, a light-hearted nostalgic post that managed a) to assume everyone reading was American and b) to make gross assumptions about culture. I have never seen Night of the Living Dead; my ideas of zombies come from the Fortean Times. So, la.

Adam Heine said...

EE said: "The author did NOT describe the origins of the title in the query. I thought I made that clear."

EE, as one of the minions who has made this mistake, I fear you might be clarifying this aspect of the Face-Lifts forever.

Sorry.

Anonymous said...

When I hear zombies, I think Haiti and voodoo (and NOTLD). At the risk of sounding snarky and/or out-of-sync with the times, I find your use of zombies to be gratuitous and the explanation for the gladiator-style combat (the only way left for mankind to prove to themselves that they aren’t the real monsters)sounds contrived.

How about revising the plot line and setting from a future world to GITMO and have the detainees sucumb to an infiltration of zombies? Kumari could be a gladiator sandal salesperson seeking a cheap source of labor in Cuba.

Not my type of reading material, but I might watch the movie when it comes out.

ril said...

Hmm. Interestingly, my idea of Zombies comes from riding the subway to work every morning. I guess influences are everywhere.

Steve said...

I quite like the title, and if it's explained in the book, that's fine by me. (Dunno what happens when the cover artist decides to go with a mix of swirly greys and moody blues, though, but never mind.)

Like 150, I'm not clear on how our essential humanity is asserted by watching zombies maul each other to bits.

Can't say I'm a fan of zombie stories, generally. They're not very articulate antagonists ... vampires, you can interview; werewolves, they moan about the horrors of the lycanthropic condition; zombies, you're lucky if you can get a "braaaains" out of them.

But the setting for this one sounds interesting.

Dave F. said...

Regardless of who has seen Night of the Living Dead or not seen it, part of my reminiscent post brought the second post about which is more important to the book -- the zombie fights or Kumari's salvation.

The query as it was presented is equal parts of the two. My subsequent questions were aimed at getting the author to present more of Kumari's development than the zombie aspects of the book in the rewrite of the query.

For example: Mary Shelly's Frankenstein is more about what it is to be human and not about piecing together body parts into an imitation of life.

Equally, BLADE RUNNER is again about what it means to be human and alive, and not about a dystopic future. The setting fascinates but also supports the mirror of human and not human.

To my mind, focusing on gladiator-like combat among zombies in the query is a mistake. The meaningful story is about Kumari and how she grows through her struggles.

I am afraid that gladiatorial combat is so at odds with standard view of zombies that a reader may not accept it. But that concern may only wrongly placed because of the way the query discusses the plot of the story.

batgirl said...

George Romero's Land of the Dead film had Asia Argento (Dario Argento's daughter) battling zombies in pit-fights, with bets made on the outcome.
By this movie (2005) the zombies (formerly called ghouls) were increasing in intelligence and dexterity, and learning to use tools.
-Barbara

Anonymous said...

Not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but in Resident Evil, all you have to do is be bitten by one of those zombies to be turned into one because the zombification is caused by a virus. So depending on how these zombies are made depends on if being bitten would make sense or not.

BuffySquirrel said...

Umm, no, zombies in fiction are never going to make sense.