Monday, December 31, 2012

Evil Editor Classics



Guess the Plot

A Felony of Birds

1. An ostenta- tion of peacocks flaunts their tailfeathers one too many times and gets whacked by a murder of crows. Even though a parliament of owls had recently outlawed hate crimes against flamboyant fowl, the crows are found not guilty after a deceit of lapwings perjure themselves at the trial.

2. After bird-crime investigator Rhoda Deerwalker breaks up a parrot smuggling ring in Wisconsin, she takes on her biggest case yet: bringing down a survivalist militia group devoted to weaponizing bird flu and killing millions. Can she make them sing like canaries, or will she be forced to eat crow?

3. Stu Slivovitz seemed to turn himself around in prison, ready to go straight after learning how to train falcons. Can he win parole before the screws figure out that he's trained his birds to hunt diamond merchants, or will he be convicted of . . . A Felony of Birds?

4. When a murder of crows and a tittering of magpies get into a turf war over Susie Wu's eucalyptus, the real winner is Susie's cat, Mittens.

5. Though indisputable scientific evidence has traced the spread of bird flu to an innocuous strain of Budgerigar, disbelieving little old ladies unite to form a cabal bent on discrediting those who have maligned their talkative avian companions. Their primary weapon: humiliating world leaders with floods of mail upbraiding them for neglecting to write thank-you notes to their grandmothers.

6. Mexican drug smugglers are on the decline . . . until they find a way to stuff their cocaine into birds. Now, a lone border guard has to unravel their plans, all while avoiding the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is on his case for shooting down endangered species.



Original Version

A Felony of Birds, 105k words, tells the story of Native American Fish and Wildlife investigator, Rhoda Deerwalker in three parts.

[Part One: The Early Years. Six year-old Rhoda feels sorry for her neighbor's $300,000 Spix's Macaw and sets it free in Manhattan. In February.

Part Two: The On-Her-Own Years. Tired of squirrels cleaning out her bird feeders every day, Rhoda takes sharpshooting lessons and scans the Internet for rodent recipes.

Part Three: Living in the Suburbs. When the world's last ivory-billed woodpecker flies over Rhoda's newly washed car, she decides that in the broad scheme of things, one more extinct species isn't that big a deal.]

Book one introduces the reader to those characters that tie the separate stories together. The first story follows the inexperienced rookie cop on her first big case— a parrot smuggling ring operating from a farmhouse in a small Wisconsin town. [Is it really cost-effective to transport the birds you smuggled across the Mexican border all the way to Wisconsin?] As Rhoda gets involved with the local people, politics, [parrots] and police, the desperate smugglers turn violent as they attempt to save their criminal enterprise. [Parrot smuggling is more dangerous than diamond smuggling, because parrots can repeat anything you say and their testimony is admissible in court.]

In book two, a newly promoted Rhoda is given responsibility for policing an immense wilderness area with a small staff of her own. A chance discovery of a number of dead birds leads Rhoda first to a survivalist militia camp deep in the woods and then to a clandestine laboratory devoted to weaponizing bird flu— a terrorist plot that comes within a hair of succeeding. Rhoda's impetuousness leads to the death of her friend [What frmend? Someone on her staff?] but succeeds in saving millions of lives. Rhoda is confused and takes a leave of absence from the service. [Rhoda is confused doesn't strike me as a satisfying ending. End with the millions of lives saved and start the next part with confused Rhoda.]

The third story follows a chastened Rhoda now returned to her childhood home on the reservation to think about her future. [Chastened in what way?] The presence of a casino has drastically altered life on the reservation. Corrupt indian [Indian] officials and a mob owned corporation have succeeded in stealing the money intended for the people. [The people had nothing. The casino was built, but thanks to corruption, the people still have nothing. So how has the presence of the casino drastically altered life on the reservation?] Rhoda joins a group of plotters in a desperate attempt to win the huge jackpot on [the] casino's progressive slot machine. The elaborate scheme falls victim to some unintended consequences but an equally unexpected ending puts things right. [We have our first entrant in the Vaguest Sentence of the Week competition.]

Rhoda Deerwalker is a fresh and engaging heroine. Readers are sure to find her back-story and present romantic entanglements realistic and interesting. [Better to describe the book than to gush over it. All authors think their stories and characters are fantabuloso. As most of them are wrong, editors pay no attention.] She is a complex and vulnerable woman, intelligent, brave and resourceful and in spite of a multitude of adventures, she never looses [loses] her humanity and her appeal. If this novel seems like something you would care to read, I would be happy to send you any or all of it.


Notes

An elaborate scheme to win a slot machine jackpot? Aren't there authorities they can call in if they know there's corruption?

I think if I get interested in Rhoda the bird detective, I'd rather keep reading about her ornithological exploits. Mob casino infiltration isn't a case for the fish and wildlife service's lead detective, whether she's on a leave of absence or not. The wildlife/birds gimmick is your hook, and you abandon it for a case any cop can handle.

Plus, foiling a plot that would have cost millions of lives is a major accomplishment. Making it the middle case and finishing with an attempt to win a slot machine jackpot is deflating. Book 1: parrot smugglers; Book 2: Eagle poisoners; Book 3: Bird flu terrorists.


Selected Comments

Anonymous said...A Felony of Birds, 105k words, tells the story of Native American Fish and Wildlife investigator, Rhoda Deerwalker in three parts.

Does it really, or is it telling three stories about Rhoda Deerwalker? From the query I get the impression of three distinct novellas with the same MC. It's not clear that there's a story arc running through all three "books" that tell the story of the MC.

Is there a uniting theme or thread that I'm just missing?


sylvia said...That's interesting, my WiP (which you all have seen parts of) suffers from exactly that problem: it's separate stories (which unite in the end to tell the first one). I have been trying to do a synopsis so that maybe I can get some help in trying to reduce it down but I'm not sure how.

I think this query, although it has faults, does a decent job of introducing the three stories of Rhoda (assuming that was intended).


Ello said...Consider ditching that last paragraph, it definitely does not win you any points. I think it is confusing to call them "books" as it almost sounds like you are talking about a trilogy. Instead of splitting it out into 3 stories like this for the query, why don't you summarize the entire story as one book with several plot elements told in 3 parts. Like anonymous said, you really need a unifying story arc even if it is as simple as an inexperienced cop turns into a veteran through blankety blank adventures. But I think you have a lot going on. Almost too much - especially since you are at 105K!


Robin S. said...I like the idea of the first two stories quite a bit - different and interesting. I know that linked short stories are published- maybe there are linked longer ones as well - (I just don't know).

But, could the second of your two stories simply follow on from the plot developed in the first, so that it becomes one?

The book may read differently than the query does- but I agree that the third section doesn't seem to "go" with the others. Does it connect in some way we don't see here?

And I agree the paragraph about Rhoda's personality traits should probably go - her personality can shine through from the profession she has chosen, and the decisions she makes, right?

EE, love your word: fantabuloso.


Anonymous said...If you want to write about crimes against animals, making your protagonist be an enforcer of laws protecting them is brilliant.

If you want to write about bioterrorists who intend to kill humans, wildlife protection doesn't seem to be the most apt expertise, especially in a world where the USA has something like 17 different secret agent networks dedicated to finding and squelching bioterrorists, etc. I'm guessing you found an unexpected connection to make that work.

But your underdeveloped description of the evil casino plot at the end makes it sound too incongruous. What's the connection to wildlife?

If there isn't one, maybe that plot belongs in a different book.


writtenwyrdd said...I agree with EE, the F and W agent is the hook for your story. Stick with it. You sound like you're talking about two books.
Taking down the terrorists would easily be a single book, and I think I might even read it. I just hope you avoid the bear gall bladder smuggling, which is big-business but disgusting to read about.


Sarah said...This looks to me like the story is about Rhoda's emotional growth through her first job, the loss of a friend because of her actions, and a return to the place of her childhood that isn't what it used to be.

Perhaps focusing on the emotional journey as your overarcing story might be helpful in the query instead of breaking it down into 3 parts.

I was confused by the 'books'. It does make it seem like a query for a series rather than a novel.

What I get from the query: In the beginning, we have an insecure Rhoda who is doing major OJT on the 'right' side of the law. Then for the second part, Rhoda's cockiness gets a friend killed. She becomes overwhelmed with guilt. This guilt drives her home and to some dubious activities on the 'left' side of the law. But maybe these activities serve a higher prupose for the good of the reservation?

Queries are hell!

2 comments:

AA said...

"a terrorist plot that comes within a hair of succeeding."

Shouldn't that be "a feather" of succeeding?

Anonymous said...

Just in case: if whatever is actually behind the World's Vaguest Sentence is something awesome that ties the three stories together and makes the third one really cool, a bigger deal than the second, and causes it to relate to birds, then PUT IT IN THE QUERY. Your agent or editor is NOT worried about "spoilers."