Saturday, June 30, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Out of the Ice

1. Everything's hopping as Uvik and Druge inspire their fellow Greenlanders to play steel drums and reggae dance. The glaciers are melting and these citizens of the north must prepare to trade their dog sleds for surf boards. But will Rimba look as good in a bikini as she does in her seal parka? And what to do with all that mud?

2. In the late sixties, South African diamond mines produced millions of dollars of jewelry-grade stones. Ikthe N'kumbi, destitute, black and little more than a slave to the Rockwell Mining Company has a plan to escape his condition and cross the border into Mozambique a wealthy man. The only thing standing in his way is Rockwell's obsessive security, including an X-Ray machine and a team of inspectors with rubber gloves.

3. St. Angel, Quebec. Marc Bedard and his cousin Abel find a wooden box painted with strange writing in the pond ice where they play hockey. What will they unleash when it is opened?

4. When Chad Davies, lead singer of boy band, The Ice, breaks away in search of a solo career and commences his debut with the single "Girl, Just You" he doesn't expect success or people to hail him as a musical genius. Oddly, he gets both. And also a new horde of fans that breathe new life into the term "fanatical," including the conductor of an acclaimed symphony orchestra who begins to stalk Chad and make threats should Chad refuse a joint recording venture.

5. Dr. Norvitch and his colleague, Dr Gannen, have finally done the impossible: they've resurrected a baby wooly mammoth frozen in Siberia. Now they must protect their find from the government. Also, an autistic boy who speaks mammoth.

6. Anthropologist Dana West must become a detective when she finds herself at odds with the U.S. Navy and the government of Iceland. What is the deadly secret they don't want Dana to discover? Also, a police psychic.

Original Version

I hope you will consider my literary mystery set in Iceland, Out of the Ice, for publication. The novel emanates [Toss the thesaurus immediately.] from my three years of anthropological fieldwork in Iceland [When it dawns on you that you've just blown three years digging up Iceland and have nothing to show for it but a few bones, you have no choice but to write a novel.] and experience as a journalist and science writer. It is about 87,000 words.

What anthropologists do is unravel secrets, but for Dana West in Iceland, the mystery surrounding a human body found by a reindeer hunting guide in the melting ice of the great glacier, Vatnajokull, is most impenetrable. [Is that a reindeer who's also a hunting guide or a guide for reindeer hunters? I seem to recall reindeer being declared an endangered species in Iceland, so I hope it's the former.]

It may provide a definitive clue why the medieval Greenlanders disappeared, colleague Richard Eakin, lichenologist, tells her. [I'm no lichenologist, but I'm pretty sure anyone living in Greenland in medieval times either froze to death or caught the first boat south.] But that doesn't explain why the Icelandic government and the US Navy are hiding the frozen corpse. Or why a notorious medical anthropological sleuth has approached Dana for Iceland information. [Editorial tip: When you've got a character who's a notorious medical anthropological sleuth, don't bury him in paragraph 3.] [In fact, dump Dana West from the book and make the notorious medical anthropological sleuth the main character. Why? Because when this book hits it big and you decide to write another anthropological mystery, this one set on a dig in Turkey, you're not going to want a main character whose only experience is as a field worker in Iceland. You're going to want a notorious medical anthropological sleuth.] But it may be her ticket for a journey into the heart of Icelandic society.

Eakin warns her that a larger storm is coming and then he vanishes. Dana follows Eakin's path in Iceland with help from his research assistant, Ragnar, [If that was supposed to be a palindrome, you screwed up.] and a police psychic, Asta. [Apparently you just don't grasp the concept of the palindrome.] [Lichenologist, notorious medical anthropological sleuth, police psychic . . . does anyone in Iceland have a normal occupation?] Finally, a death on board an Icelandic fishing boat points her toward Eakin's location in Iceland.

[Ship captain: One of my crew members died.

Dana: That can mean only one thing: The lichenologist is in Seyðisfjörður.]

There she learns the significance of the body from the ice and why Eakin wanted her to have a role is in finding that out.

Dana is a naïve, but well-intended [intentioned?] person—acting at the insistent demand of a respected scholarly figure—who discovers (along with why Eakin disappeared) realities under the realities (such as why the romantic heart never replaced the intellectual liver in Iceland). [Get rid of that sentence before you're accused of causing editors' heads to explode.] As a detective, she is led around Hrobin's barn [You say that as if we all know what Hrobin's barn is.] by Asta, Ragnar, and Yngvar, the Reykjavik police chief. [If you can't walk around a barn without three people to guide you, I suggest investing in a good GPS.] Nothing is ever what it seems in the actions that take place in the darkest days of winter, December 1-25 in this northern corner of the planet. [I've never read the line "Nothing is ever what it seems" in a query and found myself unable to easily prove the author wrong.] [How many corners does the planet have?]

As she gradually discovers the deadly secret they are concealing (the body is infectious with a fifteenth century smallpox virus for which there is no vaccine), Dana becomes more and more of an insider there, something she achieves as a detective rather than as an anthropologist. [She's gradually morphing into a notorious medical anthropological sleuth.] This work tries to do for Iceland what Susanna Kaysen's Far Afield did for the Faroe Islands in presenting a picture of the present day country. [Am I showing my ignorance if I admit that not only have I never heard of that author or that book, I've never heard of the Faroe Islands?] I note that you have published one novel on medieval Iceland, Saga, by Jeff Janoda and I am hoping you will also be interested in a novel on the country today (Some people claim nothing has changed, but I would not go that far...) I think Out of the Ice would be popular with suspense/mystery fans who like exotic settings, book club readers, and the ever-growing number of Icelandophiles. [The number is now up to 23.]

I am an anthropologist who has published articles on my work in Iceland ________. My work there was supported by a Fulbright-Hays research grant and the Arctic Institute of North America. I have a doctorate in anthropology from SUNY, Stony Brook and I also have a graduate degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley. I have done public health research at Brown University, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of the Health Sciences of the Uniformed Services in Bethesda, Maryland. [If you're applying for a job, you're hired.]

I worked as a science writer for The American Museum of Natural History and Scholastic Magazines (New York, New York) and Science Service (Washington, DC). I was a newspaper reporter for The Record in Bergen County, New Jersey.

I have a short story, "Hibernal Onding" in the online journal, A Long Story Short, August 2008. It will be print published in The Taj Mahal Review, December 2008 (with slight revision).

I thank you your attention and look forward to hearing from you.


This is too long; it needs to fit on one page. Most of your credits can go. You've worked as an anthropologist in Iceland, and have a graduate degree in public health. Those are your credentials. If you're also a notorious sleuth, you can add that.

Get rid of the psychic and the police chief and Hrobin's barn. Dana is the first scientist to examine the frozen guy. The government and the navy take him away before she's done with him, and she wants to know why. Teaming up with Eakin, she discovers that the body had smallpox.

Is that the mystery? Is there a murder? Who are the bad guys? We need bad guys and danger. Is the navy risking the release of the smallpox? Is it up to Dana to prevent this? What are these things that aren't as they seem?

Of course you did call it a "literary" mystery, but if you can get us unsophisticated mystery fans to want to read the book (which means you need to convince us there's an exciting mystery) you'll sell more copies than if your audience is just Icelandophiles.

Selected Comments

writtenwyrdd said...I have to second EE's comments. We need to be intrigued by the story, not your experiences or the characters. If this is a mystery, the query should state what the problem is your character has to solve.

benwah said...I'm puzzled as to how the body is discovered to have smallpox (unless it's quite well preserved and the lesions are visible). I wouldn't think it routine to test several hundred year old remains for such things.

Dave F. said...This is not so much mystery as thriller. The government and the military wants the smallpox as a weapon. Think of sending on of those "smart bombs" off and having it spray weaponized virulent smallpox on an unsuspecting town. People would die right and left and cause chaos. That's a first class terror weapon. And that is the obvious reason they whisk the body away.

Jennifer said...Benwah, if the person had smallpox, isn't it likely that he died from it? So if the body has been frozen and is only visible now because of the melting ice (is there a global warming element, too?) would the sores be preserved?

This query was hard to follow (and the copious, though hilarious, comments from EE didn't make it easier for me!) I am sure the query does not do the story justice. Right now it sounds interesting but convoluted.

I assume the MC becomes more proactive and that is part of the story, but right now she reads as dull and mousy to me.

Some of the writing needs tightening. Things like "What anthropologists do is unravel secrets..." Why not just, "Anthropologists unravel secrets, but..."

BuffySquirrel said...Being cautious about pathogens is a routine part of archaeological work. I remember a case here in the UK when it was decided not to proceed with a dig because of a risk of plague. So testing the body for smallpox doesn't seem that unreasonable to me.

150 said...Honestly? If an ancient corpse turns up with smallpox, I WANT my government to spring into action, contain it, and hide it from our enemies. So I sort of fail to see where they're acting improperly here.

talpianna said...
Smallpox virus is preserved at both the CDC and, no doubt, Fort Detrick; and bubonic plague is still endemic in certain places (notably among the Kaibab squirrels on one rim of the Grand Canyon); so neither one is incurable. I know a smallpox vaccine exists, and plague is actually quite curable--the tricky part is diagnosing it, since it's so rarely seen.
[Lichenologist, notorious medical anthropological sleuth, police psychic . . . does anyone in Iceland have a normal occupation?]

My Icelandic friend Sirry is a medical records clerk. Happy now, EE?

Overall, this is MUCH too complicated, especially for a fairly short book. You need to lose a lot of the characters and simplify the plotline.

And take a sauna.

Elissa M said...Don't give up, author. Submitting here was a good idea. Learn from EE and the minions.

wendy said...Enough already! I believe you. You're an expert! I love your story! The idea that a "a notorious medical anthropological sleuth" may play a major role along with a setting I know almost nothing about with a bit of death and possibly impending world destruction thrown in lights up all my nerd buttons.

(And yes, I am enthralled with the space program you couldn't already guess that.)

And I'm with Dave. Turn this into a thriller and sign me up for a copy. Btw, you're trying way too hard with your query, but the story looks great. Good luck!

Whirlochre said...I'm guessing anthropological fieldwork demands a degree of academic writing and I detect something of that style in your query — esp para 2.
So, in addition to shortening this considerably, I think you have to watch out for that formal tone getting in the way of the fiction.

writtenwyrdd said...On the argument of what the disease should/shouldn't be, I just have to say that for the query it may be better to leave the specifics out except for the fact that the body is carrying a germ/virus that can cause massive havoc. (Because you can see that some folks might pick at that point based on the posts here.) I'm sure the author has it all explained in the story itself.

BuffySquirrel said...Pick at things? Us? You must be confusing us with some other set of Evil Minions!

Phoenix said...Late to this and not sure if you're still checking here, author, but I'm in agreement with pretty much all the advice you've been given. (With the exception of nixing anything about the smallpox - just rewrite it more clearly, I think. It's a query, not a dissertation on virology.)

Based on what you've given us, this is how I would rewrite it to concentrate more on the story and less on your credentials (although the cred 'graph here is still, I think, a bit long).

Anthropologists unravel secrets -- it's what they're trained to do. But freshman researcher Dana West is having a tough time deciphering the mystery surrounding a human body found in the melting ice of Iceland's Vatnajokull glacier.

One minute Dana and her academic colleagues are examining the frozen body in hopes of discovering why medieval Greenlanders vanished from the area; the next, officials from the Icelandic government and the US Navy are flashing credentials and carting the corpse away. But that's only the beginning. Soon after a colleague, Richard Eakin, passes her a cryptic warning about an escalating government cover-up, he disappears.

Dana's search for the missing Eakin pits her against the Reykjavik police chief and her own university president as she battles Icelandic bureacracy for information. Then a suspicious death on board a fishing boat points her toward Eakin's whereabouts and reveals a deadly secret. The body from the glacier is carrying a 15th-century smallpox virus -- a virulent strain for which there's no vaccine. Can Dana trust the government to contain an outbreak or should she warn the populace? And has she herself been infected?

A gritty and realistic view of present-day Iceland in the vein of Susanna Kaysen's depiction of the Faroe Islands in Far Afield, OUT OF THE ICE is a mystery suspense, complete at 87,000 words.

In addition to a doctorate in anthropology and a graduate degree in public health, I have three years of anthropological field experience in Iceland. I've been employed as a science writer for The American Museum of Natural History and Scholastic Magazines and as a newspaper reporter for The Record in Bergen County, New Jersey. My short story, "Hibernal Onding" appears in the December 2008 issue of the The Taj Mahal Review.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to sending you more of OUT OF THE ICE.

Anonymous said...Wow! EE and his minions are the greatest! Now all I have to do is get those bad guys up and running so you will read the book!

1 comment:

Dai Alanye said...

All these comments are dying for a comment.

1. "Hrobin's barn." There's an English saying, "All around Robinhood's barn," meaning "all over the place."
2. Greenlanders. Greenland was settled from Iceland during the Medieval Warm Period, when it was warmer than today. The Europeans remained there for a few hundred years until the Little Ice Age drove them away. During this period Lief Ericsson