Friday, April 16, 2010

Face-Lift 757


Guess the Plot

Embers

1. The story of Basil the Foolhardy, the world's least successful dragon slayer.

2. When Karla LeMerrick's job takes her across the globe, she assumes she has seen the last of her arrogant lover. But when he shows up on her doorstep in Istanbul, embers turn to flames. Will grease fire ensue?

3. Lenka Pelakova has a secret: by night she transforms into an enormous burning phoenix, engaging in fiery rampages that leave the town in embers. She'd like to rein in her bird side, but if she does, she'll have no defense against other strange women who can transform into other legendary birds.

4. David Taylor is a high school student, a vampire, and a pyromaniac. He plots a fiery death for his classmates, but a chance encounter with Lucy Ballentine sets his cold heart smoldering. Will Lucy fan his flames of desire or will the whole school end up . . . Embers?

5. Smokey the Bear's son Embers acts out his resentment of his father's pressure to follow in his footsteps by starting a series of forest fires. Eventually, Smokey realizes he must accept Embers and respect his choices. In a touching closing scene, father and son, arm in arm, contemplate the smoldering remains of Yosemite National Park.

6. When Hollywood dance club Embers is firebombed, killing dozens, Homicide Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: the name was a little too ironic, and if he doesn't bring home some blackened catfish from Gumbo Street, his wife will be burning mad.



Original Version

Dear Agent:

A machinist’s apprentice in the mountain town of Inavael, Lenka Pelakova has been hiding a secret from those around her: she transforms into an enormous, burning phoenix on a regular basis and paints the night sky with colour and beauty. [I guess that's okay, although the part about the sky being painted isn't a secret, so maybe the secret should be: she is the enormous burning phoenix that's been painting the night sky with colour and beauty.]

But her phoenix half is as cruel and vain as it is beautiful, and has begun to resent its subservience to a mere human. [I find it insulting that the word "human" is almost always preceded by the word "mere."] [Humans are second only to sharks on the food chain, and second only to squirrels in intelligence. And while we rank low in likability by other species, we do rate higher than ticks.] As it steadily asserts control over Lenka’s will, Lenka finds herself unable--and to her own horror, sometimes unwilling--to control her transformations and the phoenix’s subsequent fiery rampages. Realising she is a threat to everyone around her, Lenka hitches a ride with two merchants to the kingdom’s grand halls of learning in the hopes that the wizards there will be able to rein in the phoenix’s madness. [If your conscience is bothering you because you're a threat to everyone around you, maybe you shouldn't be asking a couple merchants to take you on a long journey.]

But it isn’t that easy. A strange woman tails Lenka’s every step, intent on bringing Lenka to justice for the death and sorrow she has unwillingly sown. She, too, can transform into a bird of legend-- [Foghorn Leghorn--] and is backed by another purpose, one stronger than Lenka could ever imagine…

…For the only way to release this woman’s dearest friend from undeath is to destroy the phoenix--and Lenka along with it. [Undeath? Is she a zombie? Vampire? Does getting released from undeath make you dead or alive?] [How come this woman knows what killing the phoenix will do for her friend, but Lenka could never imagine it?]

At 92,000 words, EMBERS is a fantasy novel with traces of steampunk. I am a student at the National University of Singapore studying chemical engineering.

Thank you for your consideration.


Notes

It's amazing what a high percentage of characters in this book are able to transform into birds of legend.

Most of this is the situation. Woman with split personality struggling to keep her other self, who happens to be an enormous burning bird, from becoming dominant. I assume the plot is mainly the part with the other woman and the wizards, so if we could have more of that while condensing the setup, we'd have a better idea of what happens in the book.

10 comments:

_*rachel*_ said...

Oh goodness, I actually snorted at "Foghorn Leghorn." I was ]this[ close to disrupting a quiet computer lab.

This isn't too bad a query, author, but it could be better.

---
A machinist’s apprentice [this made me think it was real-world for a while, but I figured it out when you got to the wizard part] in the mountain town of Inavael [sounds vaguely Scottish], Lenka Pelakova has been hiding a secret [[from those around her] delete]: she transforms into an enormous, burning phoenix on a regular basis and paints the night sky with colour and beauty. [rephrase the transformation into something less poetic, like "she's the phoenix who's lit up the sky every night for the past year"]

But her phoenix half is as cruel and vain as it is beautiful [I like that phrasing], and has begun to resent its [[subservience to a mere human] try "human half"]. As it steadily asserts control over Lenka’s [her] will, Lenka finds herself unable--and to her own horror, sometimes unwilling--to control her transformations and the phoenix’s subsequent fiery rampages. Realising [in the US, I think it's generally "Realizing"] she is a threat to everyone around her, Lenka hitches a ride with two merchants to the kingdom’s grand halls of learning in the hopes that the wizards there will be able to rein in the phoenix’s madness.

[[But it isn’t that easy. A strange woman tails Lenka’s every step, intent on bringing Lenka to justice for the death and sorrow she has unwillingly sown. She, too, can transform into a bird of legend--and is backed by another purpose, one stronger than Lenka could ever imagine…

…For the only way to release this woman’s dearest friend from undeath is to destroy the phoenix--and Lenka along with it.] rewrite this, and it wouldn't hurt to tell us more of what happens]

At 92,000 words, EMBERS is a fantasy novel with traces of steampunk [that's a good way to put the genre, I think]. I am a student at the National University of Singapore studying chemical engineering. [it's not particularly relevant to the query, but it's interesting to know and I might just leave it in]
---

Actually, that wasn't too bad; with a few revisions, it should do well.

Dave F. said...

I would like to know more about the story between the two women who can change into birds.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

This is good, but I think if you can trim it down a bit that would make it even better. I would cut those first three sentences down to:

Machinist’s apprentice Lenka Pelakova has a secret: (every Thursday) she transforms into an enormous, burning phoenix (that) paints the night sky with colour and beauty.

But her phoenix half is cruel and vain. As it steadily asserts control over Lenka’s will, Lenka finds herself unable--and sometimes (even) unwilling--to control the phoenix’s fiery rampages.


In the second half I love the dilemma you've got set up for your character, but I'd like to know more about how the mechanics work. Can the lady kill any phoenix or does it have to be Lenka? How will Lenka fight her off - by embracing her phoenix half or with the strength she gets from asserting her humanity? Does this all take place on the road to the wizards' or does she reach the halls and get training?

Bernita said...

"Foghorn Leghorn..."
It has begged to be said for years. Thank you, EE.
Now I can die in peace.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I think--I said I think--that any book with Foghorn Leghorn in it is bound to be a hit!

Sounds like a really cool story. There's something just not quite right about the query and I think (I said I think) I concur with the comments thus far about the query focusing too much on explaining the world building and not enough on the conflict.

Also, not to take your voice out of your query you have a lot of exteraneous words..."A machinist’s apprentice in the mountain town of Inavael" is that all necessary info for a query?


"But it isn’t that easy." - obviously. Not needed.

"But her phoenix half is as cruel and vain as it is beautiful, and has begun to resent its subservience to a mere human." - 24 words

"Her vain and cruel phoenix half resents its subservience to Lenka." - 10 words. Granted, its meaning is slightly changed but it goes to a more active verb and it shortens the query by 14 precious words.

I think one good revision and you'll have a winner here!

Lccorp2 said...

Hey, the author here. Maybe I should have waited for more comments and feedback before replying, but I've made some adjustments to the query and will post once other people have had a chance to comment on the original. EE's commentary did raise some good points, though, and I've followed his suggestions.

This query didn't do too badly, I think--in between submitting this version to EE and this Face-Lift, I've queried five agents and two out of four who responded asked for partials.

But yeah, thanks a lot. The main conflict from Lenka's point of view is whether she can get rid of or reconcile with the phoenix before her deeds catch up with her in the form of Valise (the mysterious woman). The external conflict does mostly come from Valise, I'll admit. It's one of the potential problems when you make antagonists too sympathetic and reasonable, I think--I've had a few betas ask why I didn't just make Valise the protagonist and switch the roles around.

There isn't really a snappy, easy-to-understand term that defines the state the friend is in (like vampire, ghoul, zombie, ghost) that wouldn't sound like ti came out of a D&D tie-in novel, so I decided to leave it in as a general state of undeath. I did throw in a line that stated that the phoenix was a symbol of life and rebirth, which should answer EE's concerns, though.

@Dave: Could you please clarify? Does this mean that you would pick up the book and browse through the first few pages if this were the book blurb, or that you want me to post the synopsis here, or...? I'm a bit confused.

Dave F. said...

When I read the first version of the query and came to the third paragraph I thought, there's much more to this story than just a raging bad bird possession and killing the internal demon. There's two stories going on here -- one internal and one external and I also thought that the external story propels the internal story.

It's like a drug addict or an alcoholc trying to stop the abuse. They have that internal struggle to overcome addiction and that can be an entire story all by itself. But you have added an extra dimension to the overall story. Now we have the police tracking down Mr Hyde who dissolves into Dr Jekyll. You are looking at the DR's internal struggle not to take the elixer while another heroine is searching for Jekyll to free her dead lover.

And both story lines resolve in the final act. I will guess that that the women end up embracing each other rather than killing each other (entirely nonsexual embrace there).

That makes me think that you have to move to the joint struggle between Valise who wants her "undead" back (she carries him in a valise) and (Rula) Lenska who wants to stop being take over by the phoenix.

Sorry for the cheap shots at the names.

Joe G said...

Usually, those who are as cruel and vain as they are beautiful are evil stepmothers! How about someone who's terribly vain but isn't beautiful? Then you have, at least, the comic factor

I like that her solution to being a danger to everyone in the small town she lives in is to move to a big city where there are even MORE people to endanger.

I kid, but I actually think it sounds like an interesting story. The strength of the query is that you demonstrate there is both an internal and external conflict, as others have pointed out, which implies to me that the story has dimensions. I don't think the query is perfect but I can see it interesting people.

Perhaps you could do one of those "Paragraph about Lenka and her goals, paragraph about the woman following her and her goals, they come together and this is what happens" dealios. Right now you're being a little coy with the details of the story, but I'm not ESPECIALLY in suspense about whether or not the mysterious woman succeeds in killing Lenka. She probably won't because Lenka's the heroine, and because you merely identify her as a mysterious woman with a nebulous goal.

If you set up a conflict between Lenka and Valise, I already know there's going to be more. Say a little about that more, maybe.

Phoenix said...

Well, heck, it's got a phoenix. Need I say more?

Except I couldn't help but think Jean Gray and the Dark Phoenix. Absolutely no reason you can't go there, too. Just sayin' that's my reflex comparison. Congrats on the requests for partials!

second only to squirrels in intelligence

That absolutely made my MONTH, EE.

pulp said...

Sorry, but I can't get over Valise. It's comical. "Oh, no, it's my archenemy Valise with her henchlings Briefcase and Lunchbucket!"