Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Query Revision 22

[Public Service Announcement: Yahoo Mail is randomly sending multiple copies of emails out, so profuse apologies to those of you on the receiving end. I would email you guys separately but that might add another flood of emails to your inboxes. It appears to be a known issue with the Yahoo servers and this behavior has resolved itself in the past within a few days.]

Face-Lift 773 - Genevieve: Return to Aefre

Destin is nothing special, just another body among the living, content with the simplistic life he leads.

Being comfortable was never an issue, until he was attacked by a hooded figure wielding flaming spheres and interrogated by a detective about his possession of a letter and strange remedy book. The book is the source of his new trouble land abilities of magic now his forced companion. Over concerns for Destin's safety, the detective thrusts Destin into another realm, the magical one.

The land of Aefre is a land of dreams with bugs no longer an issue, cars nonexistent, and the means to live well within every person's grasp. As Destin explores Aefre he encounters a world that is free of the obsessing nature of money and offers a life of time spent in the pursuit of dragons, dwarves, and knowledge.

When Destin's book is revealed as more than just a method of entertainment but a mythical potions text, he is set with the task of defending the book from a power hungry individual, and ultimately the protection of Aefre.

Phalon is a collector of magical items, intent on increasing his own power any way that he can. Lying, stealing, and killing are nothing in the pursuit of greatness and when he finds that Destin has the book he desperately wants, chase ensures. But he never expects to be thwarted by someone devoid of natural magical talent. Destin perseveres using the powers of the book to defend himself and his friends from Phalon's goons, though he is provided with warnings that to harness these powers could bring disastrous repercussions.

Destin continues to forge an existence in Aefre through romantic relations, friendships, and acquiring a home in an attempt at normalcy while he waits for Phalon's next move. The final attack by a band of Phalon's thieves leaves Destin ready to end the cat and mouse chase. He extends an offer to Phalon for a one-on-one duel in an upcoming Wizard Tournament, not knowing if his challenge will solve his problems and if he can keep his possession a secret from the rest of the realm in the process.

Genevieve: Return to Aefre is a contemporary fantasy of 88,000 words. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

You've introduced the antagonist in your revision, which helps the reader better understand the stakes, so that's excellent. However, the query is a bit long and wordy. The good news is that the wordiness makes it easy to edit down. The bad news is that it's missing a hook -- something unique that distinquishes the story from other fantasy novels. Something to make it pop out of the slush pile. What's the unique take on convention that will compel a reader to grab this book up rather than the next one on the shelf?

Here's my revision suggestion for cutting away some of the chaff and getting to the kernel of your story:

Destin is a simple man, just another body among the living -- until he's attacked by a hooded figure wielding flaming spheres. As if that weren't enough, a detective's started snooping around, asking about a certain letter and the strange home-remedy book Destin's recently discovered. A book that confers an array of disturbing and potent magical powers on Destin. To keep him safe, the detective thrusts him into Aefre, a magical realm.

At first, Aefre appears idyllic: It's peaceful, technology-free and money-free, with plenty of time to spend in the pursuit of dragons, dwarves, and knowledge. Time even for a home and a bit of romance. But this Eden, too, has a serpent. Power-mad Phalon is a collector -- and consumer -- of all things magical. And he's willing to lie, steal or kill in pursuit of greatness. Destin's book, a mythical potions text, draws Phalon's interest and fuels his greed. He and his goons hunt Destin, determined to take the book's power for his own and make Aefre his.

Using the book's powers, Destin thwarts Phalon's band of thieves. Phalon, himself, though, isn't so easily defeated. Destin challenges him to public one-on-one combat in an upcoming Wizard Tournament, determined to put an end to Phalon's bid for supremacy. But Phalon's magic is strong, and to counter it means Destin will have to draw even more power from the book, an act that threatens disastrous repercussions for him and for the realm he desperately wants to save.

GENEVIEVE: RETURN TO AEFRE is a contemporary fantasy of 88,000 words. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Queue Update

This week's schedule:
Tues - Query: Genevieve: Return to Aefre
Wed - Query: Zulaire
Thurs - Synopsis #3: Garlic

We have two three more synopses in the queue after that. So ...
2 Sep - Heartsouls
9 Sep - The Miranda Contract
16 Sep - The Goddess Candidate

If you want your synopsis in the crit queue, please review the guidelines here. We'll do synopses again, but once September is over, we'll all need a little break. Especially as it seems we have the same wonderful, masochistic people participating in the comments. Don't want to burn them out too soon!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

High Anxiety


Where Loki is my happy-go-lucky dog who rolls with the punches and holds no grudges, and Angel is my mellow girl taking life as it comes, Ginger is the poster child for the psychological scars even a short time of abuse and neglect can imprint throughout a lifetime.



I was living in a suburban area outside of Dallas 7 years ago when a very dear but very old Doberman of mine died leaving my American Pointer, Bailey, without canine companionship. An alpha dog, Bailey really needed another dog around to worship her, so we went to the local shelter and chose a timid, 6-month-old shepherd mix to join our little pack.

Bailey
It was clear from the outset that Ginger had self-esteem issues. She had no confidence and was frightened of everything. The first thing she did when we got home was gather up all the toys and hoard them. She had no interest in playing with them -- in fact, I don't believe she even understood the concept of play -- she simply needed them as reinforcement she had some control over her environment. She continues this behavior even today. Where the other dogs gobble down treats immediately, Ginger will carry a treat around with her for hours, owning it and protecting it.

On our first walks through the neighborhood Ginger stayed in a state of near-panic. She would cringe at the sound of an air conditioner starting up 100 feet away. Cars, people and dogs all frightened her. She hated taking walks, but if I tried leaving her at home when Bailey and I went out, she'd howl and cry the entire time we were gone. Separation anxiety was strong in her. I knew there were drugs that could take some of the edge off, but I wanted to see how much we could accomplish naturally. So I set out to build her confidence as much as possible by encouraging her to try new things and praising her for even the smallest attempts on her part.

From the first, Ginger accepted me and Bailey. But any other person, any other dog she was suspicious of. Winning her trust, even today, is almost impossible. My dad interacted with her nearly every day for 4 years and she would still bark at him each time she saw him. He was quite patient with her but she refused to be won over. The best she managed was to cautiously accept a treat or a small pat from him before quickly retreating.

Part of her issues, I think, have to do with gender. She's more distrustful of men, although she's only slightly more accepting of women. She barks at everyone, the one behavior I haven't been able to influence in the slightest. While she's never tried to bite, I'm careful to never put her in a situation where she feels cornered or threatened by a stranger.

She still suffers separation anxiety, although it's more under control now. However, I can't leave her outside when I go off to see a neighbor or drive to town because she'll try to follow me. Thunderstorms terrify her. She also has the occasional epileptic seizure brought on by anxiety. Thankfully, the seizures happen only once every couple of months or so.

What most breaks my heart is that other than her barking -- which comes from a place of fear and insecurity, not aggression -- she's a really good dog who tries her best to do what's asked of her; yet after 7 years, she still behaves like she's afraid she's about to do something wrong and get beaten for it. If I ask her to stay still for a nail trim or a brushing or I try to roll her over or make her lie down, I see the panic in her eyes. Her entire body stiffens. The innate fear that something truly bad is about to happen is so palpable in her no amount of petting or soothing words can make her comfortable, even though I've barely ever raised my voice to her, let alone my hand.

Part of it is that in a wild pack she would naturally be the delta (most submissive) dog, the "whipping boy" that gets kicked around and takes all the abuse, so in a way she's wired to expect that. I've tried to elevate her role by encouraging her to do small things such as walk beside me instead of behind me, by putting her food down first, and by giving her special privileges the other dogs don't get -- to no avail. With her, nature seems to be winning over nurture.

I often wonder how it must be to live in such a state of anxiety and fear. I prize few moments more than those when Ginger simply relaxes with me. Mostly that happens in the early morning when I reach over on the bed and wake her up by rubbing her belly. She'll roll onto her back and let her body go limp, enjoying the feeling of security and contentment. I touch her and kiss her often throughout the day, and she always responds with a return kiss and a tail wag -- but she's always just a thought away from cowering in fear at anything out of the routine.

Loki and Ginger (Angel in background)
I credit Loki for helping her learn how to enjoy life beyond me. Ginger idolized Bailey, but they didn't really play much together. Where Bailey loved to chase balls and Frisbees and lived to please me, Ginger stood on the sidelines and watched. When Loki came along, he and Bailey became good buds and exhausted themselves playing together. When we lost Bailey, Loki refocused all his energy onto Ginger and forced her to learn how to race and chase and play-fight through persistence, his own brand of exuberance and his patented optimism.

Whether they happen to our real kids or our fur-babies, neuroses and other conditions such as autism or ADHD are often as exasperating and frustrating for the caregiver as for the caree. Seven years ago I was sure it would take only weeks -- maybe a few months at most -- for love and patience and constant encouragement to completely cure Ginger of her anxieties. The hard reality is, no matter how good my intentions, I'm not a miracle worker. I can only provide her the safest environment possible to deal with her persistent condition, encourage her to push her boundaries, and rejoice with her in small progresses as she makes them. The rest is out of my hands.

That I can't save the world or every animal in need, that I can't even save every one of the few I cross paths with, is the most hurtful, damning lesson I've ever had to learn.

Still, in its way, it's also the most freeing counsel I've ever received.

For me, someone for whom failure has never been an option, it's the great truth that drives me to try the impossible, that gives me permission to fail, and that still allows me to respect myself in the morning.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Synopsis 2: Beauty for Ashes

The query that goes with this synopsis can be found here.

This one clocks in at EXACTLY 1000 words. :o) 

My comments/edits follow. Yours are especially welcome!

Jonathan Douglas had a beautiful young wife, a new baby, and a faith in God he thought couldn’t be shaken. When a desperate phone call sends him racing home, he arrives to find the air filled with smoke and ash, while neighbors and firemen surround his smoldering house. The deaths of his wife and infant daughter end life as he knows it.

John rebels against God and begins a downward spiral into depression. Haunted by vivid nightmares, John turns to alcohol for escape. He eventually makes his way to Las Vegas where he alternately gives himself over to despair, and fights off the pain with drink. The Lord pleads with him to return to God, but he defiantly pushes away the beseeching call of Christ, determined to never let go of what happened.

April considers herself strong and independent. As a child, she lived under a burden of secrets, watching her mother jump from one abusive relationship to another while she hid and waited for help that never came. Now an adult, April doesn’t recognize the verbal abuse that’s crept into her own relationship. But when her boyfriend turns physically violent, April refuses to be a victim.

She takes off. , and melts into the crowds of Vegas, fighting to start over. After living out of her car and serving drinks to sweaty, boorish men, April lands an apartment and roommate. But rent money slips through her fingers when she accuses her supervisor of attempted rape and is promptly fired. The job market is dry and she is out of time to make the rent. Her desperation to keep that new roof over her head causes her to rethink the unsavory offer for her “services” she’d recently received at a nightclub. John meanwhile decides to end his life. He meets April in the hotel bar while he is basking in his memories one last time. She reminds him so much of his deceased wife that he throws himself into the paid fantasy. He wakes up the next morning to a shattered illusion and profound shame. Falling to his knees, he finds the Lord waiting with open arms.

In search of a new start, John plants himself in southern California and begins to put down roots. There he meets Jenni.

Jenni’s conversion came as an adolescent struggling with the impending divorce of her parents and a budding habit of self-mutilation. Now, between college and her job at Just Juice, Jenni performs sign language with the worship team at church. She isn’t looking for romance when she meets John, but he captures her heart. John’s life experience causes her to wonder how they can relate to one another. But she and John are flooded by peace that God has brought them together.

John is amazed by God’s grace and the second chance at love. But sin always has consequences. His days of hard living catch up with him when a very pregnant April appears on his doorstep claiming he is the father.

April was working in an office when she discovered she was pregnant. But severe morning sickness leading to too many missed days cost her the job. Abortion was her only option. No way could she support a child when she couldn’t even support herself. But once at the clinic, she can’t bring herself to go through with the procedure. With no insurance, or support on her decision to keep the baby, April sets out to find John.

John knows that to follow Christ he cannot hide the truth of his past. He must surrender his pride, endure the gossip, and risk his relationship with Jenni. When he breaks the news to her, he isn’t surprised she needs some space.

Jenni wrestles with her roiling emotions over the devastating news. She fights to hold onto her faith under these unthinkable circumstances, and in one desperate moment is tempted by her own past of self-mutilation. Instead, she looks to Christ to hold her together. She knows the Lord is asking her to forgive and to show His love… even to April.

April feels guilty for damaging John’s relationship with his new fiancĂ©. He’s taken her to doctor appointments and given her a place to stay. He’s a different man than the tortured soul she met in Vegas, always talking about God’s love. April had never spared a thought on God; she’d done her best to rely only on herself. So when her medical evaluations uncover that she has leukemia, she decides it must be divine punishment. She feels it’s what she deserves, but agonizes over the risk to the baby. However, when Jenni extends the hand of friendship, April realizes she’s not as alone as she thought.

Though Jenni’s pain threatens to tear her apart, her heart softens toward April, whom she begins to see through God’s eyes. Both Jenni and John share the message of God’s love and grace with April, and she opens up to the possibility that He does love her. In the face of her declining health, April turns to Christ for comfort, courage, and the unconditional love she’s never known.

April’s uncontrolled fever necessitates an early C-section, and it’s a bittersweet time.. Seeing John cradle baby David, Jenni feels the familiar pang of insecurity as well as happiness for John at becoming a father again. David is small but healthy, and he squirms his way into Jenni’s heart despite the thorny situation.

Grave circumstances mar the celebration- April is dying. In the days before her death she’s found salvation and joy. She is ready to let go. She asks John to raise their son in the knowledge of God, and Jenni to be a mother to him in her absence. After April passes away, Jenni reflects on God’s sovereignty in working all things together for good. She has a new son, the love of a man she adores, the knowledge that April is safely in the arms of God, and a much stronger faith in the Lord.

Comments

I think you've brought some very good storytelling to the synopsis. Now the trick is finding what to cut to shorten it a bit. I've done a quick edit below to bring it to 910 words. I think there are a few places you can go with a stronger verb or noun choice and cut out a few adverbs and adjectives to help with the wordcount. I'm sure others will weigh in with their thoughts as well.

While your cuts between characters are overall pretty smooth, I was just a bit bothered that the synopsis leads with John, then morphs into a story about John and April, then into a story about John and Jenni, then into one about April and Jenni, and winds up focused on Jenni. I understand you have three main characters, each of whom undergoes a transformation, but spotlighted this way, it seems to leave John at a loose end. I revised the end a bit to put the focus on John and Jenni as a couple.

Jonathan Douglas had a beautiful young wife, a new baby, and a faith in God he thought couldn’t be shaken. When a desperate phone call sends him racing home, he arrives to finds the air filled with smoke and ash, while neighbors and firemen surround only the his smoldering remains of his house. The deaths of his wife and infant daughter end life as he knows it.

John rebels against God and begins a downward spirals into depression. Haunted by vivid nightmares, John he turns to alcohol for to escape the memories and the pain. He Eventually he makes his way to Las Vegas where he alternately gives himself over to despair, and fights off the pain with drink. The Lord pleads with him to return to God, but he defiantly pushes away the beseeching call of Christ, determined to never let go of what happened.

April considers herself strong and independent [the next two sentences seem to undermine this claim]. As a child, April she lived under a burden of secrets, watcheding her mother jump from one abusive relationship to another while she hid and waited for help that never came. Now an adult, April doesn’t recognize the verbal abuse that’s crept into her own relationship. But when her boyfriend turns physically violent, April remembers her mother's pain and refuses to be a victim.

She takes off. , and melts into the crowds of Vegas, fighting to start over. After weeks/months of living out of her car and serving drinks to sweaty, boorish men, April lands an apartment and roommate. But when her supervisor tries to rape her and she files a report, she's promptly fired. rent money slips through her fingers when she accuses her supervisor of attempted rape and is promptly fired. With the job market is dry and she is out of time to make the no money for the rent, Her desperation to keep that new roof over her head causes her to rethink an the unsavory offer for her “services” she’d recently received at a nightclub. [The abrupt seque here is confusing. Is it John who propositioned her? The "meanwhile" in the next sentence makes me think no.] Not entirely sure she'll follow through, she heads for a crowded bar.

John meanwhile has decideds to end his life and is having a last toast to his memories when . He meets April shows up in the hotel bar while he is basking in his memories one last time. She reminds him so much of his deceased wife that he throws himself willingly into the paid fantasy. He wakes up the next morning to a shattered illusion and profound shame. Falling to his knees, he finds the Lord waiting with open arms.

In search of a new start, John plants himself in moves to southern California and begins to put down roots. There where he soon meets Jenni.

Jenni’s conversion came as an adolescent struggling with the impending divorce of her parents and a budding habit of self-mutilation. Now, in between job and college and her job at Just Juice, Jenni performs sign language with the worship team at church. She isn’t looking for romance when she meets John, and his life experiences are alien to her; still but he captures her heart and she knows from the peace she feels  . John’s life experience causes her to wonder how they can relate to one another. But she and John are flooded by peace that God has brought them together.

John is amazed by God’s grace and the second chance at love. But sin always has consequences. His days of hard living catch up with him when a very pregnant April appears on his doorstep claiming he is the father.

After her night with John, April was had found working in an office. when she discovered she was pregnant. But severe morning sickness leading to too many missed days cost her the job. Abortion was her only option. No way could she support a child when she couldn’t even support herself. Abortion seemed her only option. But once at the clinic, she couldn't can’t bring herself to go through with it the procedure. With no insurance, or other support on her decision to keep the baby, April sets out to find John.

John knows that to follow Christ he cannot hide the truth of his past. He must surrender his pride, endure the gossip, and risk his relationship with Jenni. When he breaks the news to her, he isn’t surprised she needs some space.

Jenni wrestles with her roiling emotions over the devastating news. She fights to hold onto her faith under these unthinkable circumstances, and in one desperate moment is tempted by her own past of self-mutilation. Instead, she looks to Christ, to hold her together. She knowings the Lord is asking wants her to forgive and to show His love… even to April.

April feels guilty for damaging John’s relationship with his new fiancĂ©. After all, he’s taken her to doctor appointments and given her a place to stay. He’s a different man than the tortured soul she met in Vegas, always talking about God’s love. April had never spared a thought on God; she’d done her best to rely only on herself. So when her medical evaluations uncover that she has leukemia, she decides it must be divine punishment. She feels it’s what she deserves, but agonizes over the risk to the baby, However, and when Jenni extends the hand of friendship, April realizes she’s not as alone as she thought.

Though pained beyond bearing, Jenni’s pain threatens to tear her apart, her heart softens toward April, whom she begins to see April through God’s eyes, and her heart softens. Both With Jenni and John sharinge the message of God’s love and grace, with April, and she opens up to the possibility that He does care love her. In the face of her declining health, April turns to Christ for comfort, courage, and the unconditional love she’s never known.

When April’s baby is born early via uncontrolled fever necessitates an early C-section, and it’s a bittersweet time. Seeing John cradle baby David, Jenni feels the familiar pang of insecurity seeing John cradle April's baby; but she's also as well as happyiness for him John at becoming a father again. David is Small but healthy, baby David and he squirms his way into Jenni’s heart despite the thorny situation.

Grave circumstances mar the celebration- April, though, is dying. Having In the days before her death she’s found salvation and joy, she is ready to let go. She asks only that John to raise their son in the knowledge of God, and Jenni to be a mother to him in her absence.

John and Jenni accept the [onus] April places on them, understanding that it is by  
After April passes away, Jenni reflects on God’s sovereignty in working all things together for good. She has With a new son to love, the love of a man she adores, the knowledge that April is safely in the arms of God, and a much stronger faith in the Lord, they look forward to a marriage blessed through love.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Of Sample Synopses and New Barns

I'll have a new synopsis up for critique later tomorrow or Thursday. I've only received 5, and 1 a week seems to give everyone time to have a look and leave some good, thorough comments. I'm still happy to post a couple more if you have one to send over.

Meanwhile, I thought it only fair to share a couple of mine. For a short time, I'll leave up my synopses for Sector C and Cameliard Rising. Just click the links at the top of the page to access them. The initial blurbs about the novels are basically my queries and I've added the synopses at the end of each page.

Sector C is a plot-driven contemporary thriller-ish work. Cameliard Rising is historical women's fiction with strong romantic elements. You'll notice the synopses are quite different in voice and structure, just as the actual novels are. The synopses certainly aren't perfect, but they have proven serviceable, and may give you ideas how to structure your own based on the kind of story you've written. And, yes, they run about 900 words each. Sigh. I tried.

For those of you who come here to read about what's happening on the farm, good news: The new barn is done and the new fencing is up!

Here is how the barn looked while it was under construction:


And here's the finished barn:


Even though I only meant it as a "summer barn," it feels a bit smaller on the inside than I expected (it's 16x24 with a 10-foot overhang in the front). But what bothers me is that the crew didn't square the barn with the house, which is directly in front of it. It isn't off by much (the photos are from my porch), but it's enough to be noticeable. Still, it's a barn! And it's cute! And I have two new pastures for new friends. In time. Meanwhile, the barn is plenty big for the four little horses who will enjoy it for now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Second Chances

Look at that sweet face. Isn't she an angel? Admit it. In fact, her name is Angel. And a more ruthless killer you've never met.

Okay, maybe that last is a bit of an exaggeration. But mice, rabbits, squirrels ... if she can catch them, she kills them. And eats them. What very nearly got her sent to doggy prison, though, was chickens. My chickens.

Let me back up. Angel was one of those strays that saw the flashing neon sign I must have at the end of my drive that reads SUCKER Lives Here Homeless Animals Welcome Here. I found her by my porch 4 years ago patiently waiting for a handout. I obliged. She stayed.

I did my due diligence trying to find her owner. While we waited, I introduced her to the dogs, the cat, the guineas and the chickens. She was calm and fairly disinterested. I wanted to make sure she stayed that way so I kept her bowl filled with tasty food and treats.

A couple of days after she arrived, I found a half-eaten chicken. With coyotes and other dogs in the area, I had no real proof as to what had killed it. A few days later, I caught her red-snouted, with her muzzle buried in one of the birds. I gave her the benefit of the doubt -- after all, she'd been on her own for awhile, having to forage for herself. How else had she survived? But I also gave her the what-for and laid down the rules of the house. She seemed to be an intelligent dog; I was sure she understood.

Oh she understood all right, which led to me discovering another trait of hers: sneak thievery. When she thought I wasn't looking, she went after another chicken. I was watching from a window, though, and gave her an immediate correction. When she tried it a second time, I knew we had a real problem.

How do you teach an adult animal (Angel was about a year old) not to kill? I was pretty good at teaching dogs to sit and come and shake hands, but this was not anything I'd tackled before. One neighbor, a dog breeder, suggested the albatross cure -- tie a dead chicken to Angel's collar and let her live with it for a couple of weeks. Maybe the old Mariner learned something by it, but I felt it was a bit extreme and not a little barbaric.

What I came up with was to keep her inside and only take her out on a leash for a couple of weeks. I made sure she saw the other dogs coming and going without a leash. I'd walk her by the chickens a couple of times a day and tell her what pretty birds they were. If she made a move, no matter how innocent, toward them, I corrected her with a tug on the leash and a stern "No."

I wasn't sure she would make the association -- it really was pretty tenuous -- but she did. Perfectly. The fact it didn't stop her from killing other small prey or prevent her other thieving ways convinced me she had gotten the message exactly as intended. So much so that it wasn't long before I trusted her implicitly around the chickens. In fact, if I want to leave a dog outside to protect them when I go into town, I generally choose Angel. It always amazes me what a little patience and understanding can accomplish.

Angel is sweet yet very independent. She has a calm, easy-going personality and a Southern-lady sensibility. Very litttle ruffles her fur unless it's Loki insisting she play when she doesn't want to. One thing, though, can always excite her: A pack of howling coyotes. She pricks her ears and whines and paces toward them, clearly torn as to where she belongs. Remember how the howl of the wolves affected Buck in The Call of the Wild? It's those glimpses in Angel that I see when she's chowing down on a rabbit or mouse she's caught or when she's listening to the coyotes that I remember tame is only a breath away from wild.

She may not kill chickens any longer and she may love to be brushed, choose to lie on a soft blanket under a fan getting regular tummy rubs, and wait expectantly for her nightly dessert coffee, but that doesn't mean she isn't still a wild lady at heart. I would not be surprised to one day discover she's run off to join the coyotes just like Buck followed his Call. And you know what? I might just join her.

Angel's song, I think, has to be "The Cry of the Wild Goose:"
My heart knows what the wild goose knows,
And I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?
A wanderin' fool or a heart at rest?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Synopsis 1: Alamandine's Song

OK, we're not waiting all the way over till September to look at synopses. Sorry.

This synopsis comes from the author of this query. She says: This is my "Short Synopsis" which comes in at a page and a half. I'm having a crazy hard time getting the love story in there (since it isn't really plot important in this one, but is crazy important in the next) and it feels rushed and dumb to me....HELP!"

I clocked it at 555 words, so YAY and Kudos for that! My detailed comments are below, but remember, one person shouting in the wind is just a crazy lady; several persons shouting are a lobby group. Come shout with me. Please.

Alamandine “MANDI” Croach (POV) chose her college because that was where her (very human) father taught before he died. Her mother left her a high-end jewelry store in Philadelphia, so that is where she lives and works. She accepts the existence of faeries because nothing else explains her aunt's abilities and eccentricities or the gorgeous messenger that literally pops in and out of her life.

She should have known something was up when the messenger, Hayune, shows up late one night demanding to have a serious conversation with her Aunt Merelda. As usual, Mandi leaves knowing nothing. Hayune shows up while Mandi is in the throes of some seriously overdue post-coital bliss, and drags her off- claiming there is a family emergency.

But not a part of her family that she knows anything about. Her mother isn't dead. She was forced back to Faelyn, the land of the faeries, to reign as Queen when Mandi was three. Her son, the Prince, has been kidnapped. Mandi doesn't think any of this should involve her, but it does. The monarchy is carried by the female line, and despite her mix breed heritage, and lack of obvious power, she is the only daughter.

Some don't like it. Especially the King, who hates Mandi on principle. They want the Prince to take the throne. Then there is Morgan, the woman who would have been Queen if Mandi's mother had not returned. There is a push to put her on the throne, but it will be much easier if both the heirs are out of the way.

Still wanting nothing to do with it, Mandi is tricked into doing a favor for a member of the Court. For her trouble, she receives several gifts: the dagger she was sent to retrieve, access to her powers, and the true memory of her father's death.

A naiad enchanted him, then drowned him. The naiad left Mandi with parting words that make it clear that his death is part of a larger scheme.

Mandi is sure that the kidnapping, and murder are connected. Finding the Prince will lead her father's killer. No one else has been able to find him, but knowing who she is looking for, and having the inside scoop from a guard that no one else would think to ask gives her the advantage. She also has the help of Hayune, but when things get messy he disappears on her.

She finds the Prince, and kills the naiad, but not before the naiad rambles on about her “master”- a shadowy male figure behind the plot. Mandi trusts no one in Faelyn, so she keeps him in the human realm for safe keeping. They are attacked by two guys who are obviously being controlled by magical means.

They survive the attack and return to Faelyn. The Prince sings Mandi's Song; convincing her mother that Mandi is worthy of contending for the crown, but that comes with a catch. The King, who doesn't like Mandi any better, even if she did save his son, has only one power- choosing the next king.

This book ends with Mandi faced with the fact that the life she has finally taken control of is once again taken out of her hands. I am currently writing the second novel and have an outline for the third.


Comments

Alamandine “MANDI” Croach (POV) chose her college because that was where her (very human) father taught before he died. Her mother – gone now for twenty-some years -- left her a high-end jewelry store in Philadelphia, so that is where she lives and works with her mother's eccentric sister. She accepts the existence of faeries because nothing else explains her aunt's abilities and eccentricities or Hayune, the gorgeous messenger that literally pops in and out of her life.

She should have known something was up when the messenger, Hayune, shows pops up at the shop late one night demanding [why demanding?] to have a serious conversation with her Aunt Merelda. As usual, Mandi leaves [odd to have her leaving here] knowing nothing. Hayune shows up [is this some time later? As written, it sounds like this is the same visit where Mandi just left] while Mandi is in the throes [word choice? 'throes' sounds like she's still in the middle of it] of some seriously overdue post-coital bliss, and drags her off - claiming there is a family emergency [here's a great place to intro some of the romance and maybe some of the humor the query says is in the story]. Figures, just as things are heating up between her and [whoever], leave it to some freaking faery to turn on the fire hose.

And the family he's dragging her off to? There's serious drama there she doesn't want to get involved with. But not a part of her family that she knows anything about. Turns out her mother isn't dead after all. She was forced back to Faelyn, the land of the faery land (just south of and on the next existential plane over from Philly), to reign as Queen when Mandi was three. Her son, the Prince -- some half-brother Mandi didn't know existed -- has been kidnapped. Mandi doesn't think any of this should involve her, but it does. And to top it all off, the monarchy is carried by the female line; despite her mix-breed heritage and lack of obvious power, she Mandi is the only daughter. [I'm confused – sad about the prince, but what's the worry if her mom isn't dead and she's been the heir all along? Why is Mandi brought back now?]

Some don't like it. Especially the King, who hates Mandi on principle. [Does he really not have another motive? Jealousy? Hates half-breeds? Wants his own flesh and blood to ascend the throne?] They want the Prince to take the throne. [But if it's the female lineage, why wouldn't Merelda be next in line if Mandi's mom dies?] Then there is Morgan [why Morgan over Merelda?], the woman who would have been Queen if Mandi's mother had not returned. There is a push to put her on the throne, but it will be much easier if both the heirs need to be out of the way first.

Still wanting nothing to do with it, Mandi is tricked into doing a favor [probably won't take any more words to be specific – in fact, if it's something like "murdering Morgan" that's even one less word. To be granted all those gifts, it's got to be something big and important enough to recount in the synopsis.] for a member of the Court. For her trouble, she receives several gifts: the dagger she was sent to retrieve [huh? That's the favor – to find a dagger that's then returned to her? If it's magical, you probably want to say so. And you might indicate in the sentence before that the Court member is sympathetic to her claim to the throne and wanting to ensure she's equipped to take it if that's the reason they got her to do the favor], access to her powers [what are faery powers? Empathy? Seeing the future? Magic?], and the true memory of her father's death: A naiad enchanted him, then drowned him. [does it matter that he was enchanted first, especially when we're not told how?] He was drowned by a naiad. A The naiad who left Mandi with a few parting words that make it clear that his death is part of a larger scheme. The same scheme the prince's kidnapping is tied to. [Tie the two crimes together a little quicker.]

Mandi is sure that the kidnapping and murder are connected. Finding the Prince will lead to her father's killer. No one else has been able to find him the prince, but knowing who she is looking for, and having the inside scoop from a guard that no one else would think to ask [this is unclear; why would she think to ask him? And why would a guard not step forward if s/he has info that could lead to the kidnapped prince?] and a clue from a guard who swears he saw the river change course to the north the night the prince went missing gives her the advantage. She also has the help of Hayune, but when things get messy he disappears on her. [Unless Hayune is a deus ex machina later in the story, this can be left out.]

She finds the Prince, and kills the naiad [with the dagger? It's still on the mantel in the drawing room – either use it or lose it], but not before the naiad rambles on [word choice? Would a naiad ramble on in the face of death?] hints that the real godfather behind the plot is still out there. about her “master”- a shadowy male figure [does the naiad really make him sound like a shadowy male figure during her ramblings?] behind the plot. Mandi Trusting no one in Faelyn, so she keeps him in Mandi flees with the prince to the human realm for safe keeping, where they are promptly attacked by two guys hit men/wise guys [consider your word choices carefully for conveying the feel of the story. Your query hints at a "mob" feel, right?] who are obviously being controlled by magical means.

They survive the attack and, finally realizing just how long a reach and deep a plot the faery mobster has developed, Mandi returns to Faelyn. The Prince sings Mandi's Song; [not necessary; I know you're trying to tie in the title, but the original definition of 'song' is 'story' (like in "The Song of Roland") so I don't think you need to bring up it's a real song in the synopsis] convincing her mother that Mandi is worthy of contending for the crown [her mother wasn't convinced before? And does the crown have to be won? I thought it simply passed through the maternal line. And we don't get anything of how Mandi feels about the crown. She's back in Faelyn but does that mean she's ready to accept the crown whether her mother approves or not?], but that comes with a catch. The King, who doesn't like Mandi any better, even if she did save his son, [I'm still thinking the king's motivations aren't well-grounded enough. Would he be pissed that some half-breed was able to find the prince when a whole legion of faery guards couldn't? Is he pissed that it won't be his son ascending the throne now?] has only one power in the regency - choosing the next king. And Mandi is pretty sure it won't be the sweet barrister in Philly she's been missing more than any royal faery princess has a right to.

This book ends with Mandi Faced with the fact that the life she has finally taken control of is once again taken out of her hands, Mandi [does what? Resigns herself to an arranged marriage while desperately searching for a loophole? Vows that it's time for tradition to change? I think to finish off Mandi's growth arc, we need to know where she's left emotionally in the story and what her next planned move will be.] . I am currently writing the second novel and have an outline for the third.

I think you've got most of the plot elements down fine. Now you just need to add a little voice to it through a few different word choices and make sure the ending feels wrapped up in the synopsis. If the love interest doesn't play a huge role here, you don't need to play it up. I don't think readers looking for a romance are going to sit still through book one if there isn't much romance in it, so no need to try to sell the love interest in subsequent books here. You can pitch this one as urban fantasy with romantic elements.

Another thing you might think about doing is giving us a couple of more sentences when Mandi returns to the human realm so we're reminded why this can be considered urban fantasy rather than just contemporary fantasy. And you've got a couple of characters at a bit of a loose end: Merelda and Morgan. Maybe they ARE at a loose end at the end of the book, but if not, maybe a sentence each to close their loops would be good, too. And one last observation: the shadowy master seems to disappear once Mandi's back in Faelyn. Perhaps a hint at the end that maybe she isn't safe from him still?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Penguin's Odd But Welcome Query Opportunity

This is one of those rare posts where I feel is a disclaimer is in order at the outset:

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly my own. They may or may not have any basis in fact and are purely speculative in nature. They are not to be construed as directives or advice.
Okay, now that my, um, bases, are covered, here goes...

Quietly and with no fanfare that I can find, Penguin UK has opened itself (themself if you're British) to accepting unsolicited queries for a limited time. You can query it/them directly -- by email no less! -- through October. No mention as to genre limitations or that you have to live in the UK. It appears submissions are wide open. Go here for details.


Coincidentally, Penguin celebrated its 75th anniversary on 30 July and began its trial period of accepting unagented submissions on 1 August. But why? And why do it so relatively secretively? (If you can find an official announcement from the company, please let me know. All I've been able to find is a tweet here and a blog announcement there.)

Here's my thought (refer back to the disclaimer, please): I'm betting Penguin is tinkering with starting up a digital imprint. Most of you know Dorchester, in a last gasp effort, recently switched to an all-digital model, leaving a number of authors out in the virtual cold. Now I am not at all suggesting that Penguin is having trouble the way Dorchester was. I think Penguin is simply a forward-looking company ready to embrace a digital economy.

You'll note Penguin appeared to jump right in bed earlier this year with Mac and the iBook. It's already played around with a few "enhanced" titles. What more natural progression than to do what Harlequin did and spin off an e-press of its own? And, like Harlequin's Carina Press, the backing would be there to take any deserving electronic title down the traditional print route as well. Plus, Penguin UK has a job posting for a digital marketer. Is the timing really coincidental? And is it not telling that it's asking for subs by email rather than trying to limit the number of queries, especially from authors outside the UK, by using snail mail?

So why not work with the agented slushpile it already has? Likely because it is not ready to announce a new model, especially on the heels of the Dorchester disaster. And because agents are looking for the more favorable contracts print publishing traditionally delivers. It would be a wily move: Lure in thousands of unsuspecting, unagented authors and hope the cream that rises is willing to take the digital plunge with them.

If Penguin UK is contemplating a digital imprint, I have one plea: That it price the e-books in line with other e-press offerings. The digital versions of its print books are quite high by those standards and I have a feeling the reading public isn't going to flock to a high-priced store front when they can get reading satisfaction cheaper elsewhere.

So, should you take the chance and query them? If you're not trying to pick up a UK-based agent, what harm is there in testing the waters? After all, it may be just an odd experiment on Penguin's part and they may indeed be looking for mss to print traditionally. If you ARE trying to pick up a UK-based agent and Penguin UK rejects you, you'll need to come clean with an agent that you submitted to Penguin UK. By that time, Penguin may have fessed up to why it's accepting submissions and an agent may still be able to submit work there on your behalf. I truly don't see any downside.

Except one.

You'll note Penguin asks for a covering letter and a synopsis. I can't imagine Penguin not accepting a fabulously crafted US-style query letter as the covering letter. But you can't substitute the synopsis. A synopsis is a synopsis wherever you may be in the world.

Just another reason to get your synopsis honed. There are 5 in the queue and slots available for 3 more. Since a few came quickly, I'll post out the first one for us to crit later this week.

And yes, I took my own (legally non)advice and submitted my current ms to Penguin UK this past weekend. I sent a US-style query letter, a synopsis and the first 5 pages. I'll also send along a submission package for another work later this week.

I just hope Penguin has hired in a LOT of interns to scrub the amount of slush it's sure to receive...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

Karen, my close friend and coworker (who actually lives half a continent away -- such are the wonders of telecommuting), suggested this month's theme when she asked when I was going to write something about my dogs. So, with the oppressive heat settled in -- 109 F (43 C) on Thursday -- drought conditions, and Sirius, the Dog Star, rising in the east, what better time to introduce you to the dogs at Rainbow's End?

There seems to be a misguided belief by those living in the city that dogs abandoned in a rural area have somehow been dropped off in doggy Eden. That they will be free to run and play and that generous country folk will take them in. I'd like to introduce those city folk to the coyotes, wild hogs and bobcats that hunt the countryside. Or to the wily prey that laugh at the dogs who have never been taught to survive. Or to the neighbors with shotguns out to protect their livestock.

Sure, there are kind-hearted folk to be found. People who will take in strays even though the number of animals they already have is straining the limits of their abilities and their budgets. The lucky ones find cramped quarters and a daily dollop of dry food. The unlucky ones are spotlighted on the news when the authorities raid their compounds.

Even I can't handle every animal that comes around. A few months ago I had to take a litter of beagle/bassett-mix pups one of my dad's caregivers found and brought to me to the county animal shelter. These seemingly sweet, adorable pups were actually little devils in disguise. Faced with five unexpected dogs, I plopped them in the only place I could -- the pen with Lucy and Rowdy, the two pygmy goats. The cute puppies immediately turned into a precision hunting machine, their clumsy puppy bodies transformed into something resembling the wild cats of the Serengeti Plains and their attack as coordinated as the Blue Angels' aerial maneuvers.

The goats, however, have attitude and horns, and the pups learned pretty quick not to mess with them. Still, things went downhill from there. Some of the pups dug under the fence and escaped into the pasture where they found some chickens to harrass. A couple wriggled through the gate into the backyard and attacked the ducks. It was a Keystone Cops moment chasing them all down. Had I been prepared for them and had proper fencing and facilities, it all might have ended differently. As it was, I had little choice but to either turn them loose farther down the road or take them to the shelter. I hoped their Houdini impersonation was what put them on the road in the first place and their family would turn up to claim them. Unfortunately, what could only be their mother turned up instead in the classifieds a couple of days later as a free dog needing a home.

Still, the occasional dumped stray does find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Three years ago, a 4-month-old brindle-and-white mix with a hint of pit bull and precociously cocky behavior wandered in off the road. He was skinny and hungry and I offered him a handout. Three years later he's still asking me for handouts. I named him Loki, after that trickster of a god.

It was clear from the outset this little dynamo had ambition. I already had four dogs and by rights the interloper should have been at the bottom of the pack. But he was an alpha male (though not an intact one for long) and he knew it. Three of the other dogs -- all betas by nature -- knew it, too, and they deferred to him. The fourth, though, was Bailey, an American Pointer mix, who had ruled as alpha queen for four years. Like Loki, Bailey always wanted to be top dog, but she'd had to wait a few years for the then-reigning king, a Doberman named Lance, to die before she could ascend the throne. And like Bailey, Prince Loki had to wait his turn as well. I'm still not convinced Bailey wasn't cleverly assassinated.

To me, Loki is the epitomy of a country dog. More than one person has told me he reminds them of Chance from The Incredible Journey. He's annoyingly full of energy and always ready to play, and too friendly for his own good -- he'd leave without a thought if someone opened a car door for him. He regularly goes off to visit an 8-year-old neighbor girl who absolutely adores him, goes fishing with another neighbor's family, and goes swimming in their pond. He gets along with the chickens and ducks and cats.  He plays tag with a neighbor's calves -- he chases them, they chase him, and they all know it's a game. He kisses the horses on their noses. He hangs inside during the heat of the day, and he sleeps on the bed with me.

But he's also quick to defend his extended family. Whether it's a rogue coyote hunting in the daylight or a neighbor's bull that's broken through the fence, if it comes on the property, Loki is after it. It never occurs to him that, tough as he thinks he is, he is, after all, only a 40-pound dog.

What I admire most about him is his boundless optimism. Each day means an opportunity for new friends, new fun and new adventures. His glass is never half full -- it's always full. Such a positive outlook exhausts me sometimes, but I never fail to be seduced by it. If I'm mad or sad at life, I have only to look at Loki to be reminded that there's joy just in living. That it isn't circumstance itself that defeats us, but how we respond to it. And that we should always hold to the hope that this time we may finally catch that squirrel that's been teasing us so mercilessly.

Next week: a killer is rehabilitated and gets a second chance at happiness.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Location, Location, Location

I'm a big believer in allowing things that are alive to stay that way. Not everyone holds that same view, I realize, especially out in the countryside where my little farm is. Routinely I hear neighbors shooting at coyotes, snapping turtles, snakes, and wild hogs. Sometimes even stray dogs. I'm certainly not naive enough to think I can influence the behavior of those around me; all I can do is manage what happens on the 27-acre microcosm that I pretend to have some say over.

And what happens is this: Until an animal proves they are not just troublemakers but repeat offenders, I hold no grudges. We're all in this together, trying to survive. I've lost very dear furred and feathered friends to coyotes and owls and hawks. But we're also not overrun with mice and rats and rabbits because of those same predators. They simply don't discriminate. So I do what I can to protect my beasties in what ways I can while giving them as much freedom as possible to live relatively happy lives.

That doesn't mean I don't take an active part in trying to control the environment. Potential predators are often shepherded along through my relocation services. I've run after a number of coyotes myself and sent the dogs after several more to chase them off the property. I've broken up fights between my chickens and hawks and sent the hawks on their way. I've grabbed my trusty rake and big storage bins and moved a few nonpoisonous snakes from Point A to Point B, especially when there were young chicks or ducklings at Point A.

I did once have a crisis of conscience when I found a large rattlesnake in my backyard. With my ducks. And my dogs. When I first saw it, I didn't know it was a rattler, and I stepped back in the house and grabbed a broom and a bin to capture it. When it coiled up and raised its head in the classic pre-strike pose, I still didn't catch on because it was the first (and so far only) rattler I've seen on the property. Only when it raised its tail and shook the tip of it did I recognize it for what it was. I looked from the 4-foot snake to the 5-foot broom and decided I needed heavier artillery. For a moment, I did consider killing it. Even if it struck in self-defense, it was a big snake with plenty of venom to kill a curious duck or do serious neural damage to a 40-pound dog trying to intimidate it.

I took a deep breath and the moment of irrational panic passed. Just because this was the first time I had seen the snake didn't mean it hadn't been hanging around for awhile -- and nothing bad had happened so far. I stepped back in the house and picked up a 6-foot metal pipe and locked the dogs inside. The only plan I had was to encourage the snake to leave the yard as far from the house as possible. Beyond that, planwise, I had nothing. Luckily, the rattler was simply a creature that wanted nothing more than to be left alone to go about its business of eating small prey. I expected it to attack the pipe. It didn't. I expected it to resist being moved. It didn't. Although it did move toward the house instead of away from it, which had more to do I suspect with my lack of snake wrangling skills than any motive on its part. It disappeared through the chainlink fence and slithered under my wraparound porch.

For a couple of days after, I kept the cats inside, watched the dogs, wore shoes, and was especially careful where I stepped. But I never saw the snake again.

Oh, Snap

I was reminded of all this a few days ago when I saw a turtle crossing the front lawn. While we have our share of red-earred sliders and box turtles that hang out in the ponds and creeks, this was no big, slow, shy guy that ducks his head and feet into his shell at your approach and lets you pick him up without a fuss. No, no. This was a snapping turtle.

Snapping turtles are not made like other turtles. For one, theirs is a small shell; too small for them to pull their head and feet into. For another, these guys have sharp claws and a wicked beaked mouth with a bite like a pit bull. They're quick and they're aggressive. I have never met one yet that allowed itself to be herded easily into my relocation bin. They lunge at me and attack the rake handle, leaving gouges in the wood from their bite. Did I mention they also hiss?

This one was no different. After a bit of a pole dance to get it into the bin, I carried it off to an unused back pasture and released it there, away from my dogs and fowl. And this time I snapped a couple of pictures. For a size perspective, that's an 18-gallon bin the turtle is in. This is actually a young-ish turtle and one of the smaller ones I've relocated. It will likely wander back up to the house when its almost twice this size and we'll go through the whole process again.


Yes, it's possible it will wander toward one of the neighbors instead and that shotgun pop I hear will mean it won't ever wander this way again. That makes me sad. But at least I know I've given it a chance that others wouldn't have. What it makes of that chance is out of my hands. I accept that. It's part of the price I pay for living in a place where I have the tremendously fulfilling opportunity to interact with nature and to relocate all the creatures that I do. As I said earlier, we're all in this together. That's something I never forget.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Query Revision 21

Face-Lift 484: Zulaire

Dear Benevolent Editor,

Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane is thinking about how to spend his retirement bonus when HQ assigns him one last mission: rescue a civilian woman stranded on a planet on the verge of violent civil war. Someone has pulled some serious strings to get her plucked out of the hot zone by Deverane and his team.

Andrianda Markriss isn’t about to pack up and leave Zulaire just because of Deverane’s orders, though. Deverane’s never met anyone so hard-headed—or so appealing. Just as he manages to persuade her to leave with him, rebel fighters infiltrate the village to brutalize and massacre everyone.

Andi, Deverane, his team, and two young natives manage to escape the slaughter. The weary group are themselves forced to hike through dense forest and enemy territory to get to the relative safety of the capital. On their frantic journey through the mountains they discover evidence that Zulaire’s so-called civil war is part of a larger plot in a terrifying alien race's attempt to subjugate the entire Sector.

Deverane, busily falling in love with Andi, fights his way across half of Zulaire, trying to protect her from rebel fighters and the dangers of the planet’s formidable wilderness. His only hope: that he can get his people to the capital in time to stop the planet from being consumed in a massive bloodbath that would destroy all of Zulaire, and maybe take the rest of the Sector with it.

Complete at 80,000 words, "Zulaire" is a science fiction romance novel. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
An Author

Comments

I think this query starts out strong then loses just a bit of ground at the end.

My first question is whether this is truly an SF romance OR is it SF with romantic elements? Why is that important? Because if it's a romance, it gives short shift to Andi and the romance and completely ignores any dark moment between them. It's interesting to see a romance focused more on the hero than the heroine, but the genre is really geared more to the woman's story and you don't want to stray too far away from the conventions. As a reader, I think I'd be more forgiving if you called it romantic elements.

There's redundancy between the third and fourth 'graphs that can be edited out that would leave room for maybe a little more about Andi and the relationship before you bow out of the query. There's mention of a hike, a journey and fighting across half of Zulaire. The terrain is dense forest, mountains and formidable wilderness. They're trying to get to the capital twice. The Sector is threatened twice. I think all of that can be tightened to single mentions each of the journey, the terrain, the capital and the Sector. I also wasn't entirely clear how the small team was going to influence the war if they got to the capital.

Maybe reorganize it along the lines of:

Andi, Deverane, and his team escape the slaughter, but they've lost [mode of travel] and communications. Faced with no other choice but to flee, Andi [something here about the circumstances helping A&D's relationship along and maybe why Andi finds Dev appealing/irritating/however she feels about him since we don't really get her side of things in the query.] Busily falling in love with Andi, Deverane fights his way across half of Zulaire, trying to protect her from rebel fighters and the dangers of the planet itself.

On their frantic journey through the wilderness they discover evidence that Zulaire’s civil war is actually part of an alien race's larger plot to subjugate the entire Sector. Their only hope: get to the capital with their secret in time to stop the massive bloodbath about to destroy all of Zulaire -- and beyond.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

#SynopsisWin

So what's the formula for the perfect synopsis, you may well ask (and someone did, hence this post).

 That's easy. It's the one that gets your manuscript read. Duh.

 Like with queries, there are hundreds of sites that outline how to write a synopsis along with any number of examples. And there is a LOT of conflicting advice. Single space or double space? Capitalize character names on first mention or not? Repeat phrases from your query or not?

 A few agents post details about the format they want to see. It goes without saying you follow those guidelines when they're given. For the majority, though, the most specific they get may be "short". So here are some main highlights of what I think the general formula is (and which may or may not conflict with what anyone else has to say because, as agents are quick to remind us, this is a very subjective business).
  • Focus on the main characters. Mention secondary characters only as their storylines influence the actions of your MCs.
     
  • Focus on the main plot. Mention subplots only as they influence the resolution of the main plot.
     
  • Do not blatantly come out and say what your themes are. The actions of your MCs and the words you choose to describe what's happening should all inform the reader of those themes.
     
  • Even if your story bounces around in time and space, tell it as straightforwardly as possible. The synopsis is the place to enlighten, not confuse, the reader.
     
  • Double-spaced and 500-800 words is safe territory.
     
  • Stay away from gimmicks, such as having your MC tell the story in his/her own words.
     
  • Use third-person POV.
     
  • Use present tense.
     
  • Think informational writing style. You can let some of your voice creep in, but keep it clear and precise. Don't let the writing get in the way of the reader figuring out what your story is about.
     
  • On the other hand, remember that informational writing does NOT mean boring writing. Infuse some emotion into the synopsis. Bring your storytelling skills to the table. Nothing is more yawn-inducing than a 3-page list of events: this happens and then this happens and then this happens. Show the characters reacting to circumstances and how those reactions drive the plot to its inevitable conclusion.
     
  • Keep the tone of the synopsis in line with the tone of the book. If the story is light and funny, be sure you choose details that demonstrate the situational or characterizational humor. If it's horror, use appropriate dark images and language to set the mood.
     
  • If the story is genre, include the conventions that make it so. For romance, include the h/h's first meeting, first kiss or sexual encounter, and the dark moment. For thrillers, include the tension-inducing "ticking clock". For mystery, include a few of the red herrings. This is the place to convince readers you know the conventions and have followed them appropriately.
     
  • An agent isn't reading for pleasure -- they are evaluating a product. For them, it isn't just about the destination but about the entire journey from Point A to Point B. To properly evaluate, they need to know where and what Point B is. Tell them.
     
  • Give away the ending.
     
  • Give away the ending.
     
  • Give away the ending. (Got it?)
A synopsis is nothing more than a way to demonstrate to agents that your story hangs together from beginning to end. That your characters make believable choices and have believable reactions. And that the plot doesn't suffer from "aliens showing up in chapter 14" syndrome to resolve things. If the synopsis does that, and does it in clear, easy-to-follow language, then it's going to do its job -- which is to get the agent to read the manuscript itself.

UPDATE:
So far, there are 3 4 5 synopses in the queue for critting. I may post a couple of them out a little early depending on how many query revisions come in, what the weather's like in Belgium, or how well the stock market is doing. So be prepared!

Also, remember that you don't have to have your novel completed before you write a practice query or synopsis for it. In fact, writing those tools beforehand can help you focus better on the novel. Unless, of course, you're the ultimate pantster and have no idea what's going to happen in the story until you sit down that day and write it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Call For Synopses

September is Synopsis Month!

We hates writing them. We hates reading them. We hates critiquing them. They are evil, evil, evil.

But. They are a necessary evil.

Do YOU have a synopsis you'd like critted? Let's take a month and get all that evil out of our systems at once, shall we?

I'll do a detailed critique of the first 8 synopses that are emailed to me at phoenixsullivan @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces, of course). You may start sending them at any time.

Here are the guidelines to follow, please:

  • 1000 words or less (firm). Seems most agents ask for a 1-2 page synopsis, if single-spaced or 3-5 pages double-spaced. The sweet spot is 500-800 words. Your goal is to send a fabulous synopsis in that word range. My goal, if you take every word of the allowable 1000, is to help you pare it down. Or to cheer you if you come in under 500 words.
  • Yes, they'll be posted publicly.
  • I will post them in the order they are received every 3 or 4 days throughout September. The limit is to keep us all sane. As soon as I receive 8, I'll post to let you know we hit the quota (or by August 31, whichever comes first) and give you the order they'll appear.
  • I will keep you anonymous on the blog, if you want. Just let me know.
  • I will email you a couple of days before your synopsis goes up to warn you.
  • MOST IMPORTANT: If you have a synopsis being critted, you agree to offer thoughtful comments on at least one other synopsis during the month. Scout's Honor.
If you don't submit a synopsis and you come by to comment, you will have our (that's my and the synopsizers') undying gratitude.

And, of course, we (that's me and the commenters) are all secretly hoping that there won't be anywhere near 8 synopses submitted. Because, as mentioned earlier, we all hates reading them and critting them. Yet, it must be done.

I'll still post out any query revisions that come in, too.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guest Post: Bibi Continued

Part Two: Ayudhya

The guest house is unlike any I have seen at the beach resorts I frequent when I can escape my two jobs on holidays both schools recognize. "Tony's" is Thai style but with a difference. The inner courtroom of the lobby has trees, plants and is open air. The fans blow on us as we drink coffee with the strength that I think will give me super powers if I finish it.

My two teacher friends have booked a room at Tony's; they will share a room. I have opted for a room down the street. The room they share looks like a loft. Utterly NYC. Raw cement, some aging brick looking suspiciously like some of the "ruin" bricks we have seen, burnt orange walls and a tranquil Bhudda face smiles from over the bed.

As we chat over our industrial strength coffee we notice a Bhuddist nun, head shaved, dressed in white, chatting on a white cell phone. My friend bangs my other friend in the ribs. This nun, followed by a man, is the most famous nun in Thailand. She runs a retreat for women who have suffered abuse. Women go to heal themselves and their lives.

A woman's face is much more interesting cleared of make-up and without hair to frame it. The nun is tall and regal. Authority in soft folds of white give her an element of tranquility and patience. She looks to be an understanding woman. I have the urge to talk to her but she is whisked away into a waiting car. The man following her stays in the lobby.

The nun was a Thai super model. She had it all. The publicity, the income, the looks, and then made the right decisions to hit the big time in Asia. My friend fills me in. The man who was following the nun comes over to our table. He introduces himself. He's Tony; the nun is his sister.

Tony tells us he lived for a long time in Texas. His guesthouse is under renovations and he's recycling wood, tiles, and bricks and asks us if we'd like to see his apartment. Bottom, our waiter, refills the coffee and after the caffeine reinforcement we tour the owner's living quarters. Very trendy, very interesting and very unusual. The open kitchen is upstairs where the bedroom should be. The bedroom is where the living room should be. The great vat that overpowers the room will be moved out later that day. It is like a soy fermenting pot but huge. Brick floor, walls, old teak, wall hangings and more. A little girl runs screaming through the place and out to the lobby when she sees us "farang". She's playing it up, hands up over head as she shrieks in mock terror peeling away from us with her mother hot on her heels. She might be three.

That is how a couple of nights away can recharge you. The unexpected, the delightful and insightful can happen all at once. The odd thing is how karma works. The night before we left my friend had a nasty encounter with her boyfriend. I told her it was no accident that nun was in the lobby.

Best from Thailand,
Bibi

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Guest Post: Bibi

You've seen her in the comments and maybe read a couple of her queries; now it's time to meet this rather brave North American ex-pat who today lives in Thailand. Bibi has been kind enough to agree to give us a glimpse into her life -- and since she doesn't have her own blog yet, I invited her to share it with us here. And now, may I present Bibi!

PART ONE

Back in Canada six years ago, I was raring to go for a BIG change. Maybe it was the dreaded/dreadful mid-life crisis that hit me, maybe it was wanting to see if it was possible to start over in a new land with no safety net, maybe it was the lure of the mystery of the Middle Kingdom; whatever it was, I went to China and worked for four grand years. It wasn't an urge to hit the Asian trail that sent me scurrying off to Thailand, it was the Olympic Games. That may sound odd but the pre-Olympic madness and frenzy was intense and unnerving in ways that are hard to understand unless you were living there at that point in time.

I have a rare week off and it is time to explore some of Thailand that doesn't include sand.

I'm in Ayudhya, the ancient capital of Thailand. I'm standing in front of a wall. It is a big gray wall and it is alive.The wall moves and starts turning. I don't move. I wait to see what the wall does. The wall completes the turn and I am eye to eye with the biggest animal I have ever seen. I can see the elephant with both eyes, she can see me with one eye or the other. I have to stand a lot farther away from her for her to see me with both eyes. Her trunk comes toward me. She lowers her head to get a look at me. Her soft liquid brown eye focuses on me. She sniffs me through her trunk and puts her head down. I scratch her ear, then with the other hand I rub her lowered head. She leans into her scratch, with a gentleness that astounds me. The tip of her trunk touches my shoulder, light as a baby's kiss. I want to believe the largest land animal on the planet with the power to haul teak logs is enjoying some connection with me.

Ayudhya resembles a woman long past her prime. The ruins left from the Burmese assault on the capital are thin, skeletal. Perimeter walls stand, smashed Bhudda statues are still in place from the carnage. The walls have deep cracked lines running down them, a once stunning beauty who lost to war first then time.

This ruin was the crematorium for two brothers, both Princes who wanted to be King so fiercely they fought each other in battle and both died from dreadful wounds. The youngest third brother found himself in the unusual position of having to cremate his siblings and he became King. He started to build the crematorium in 1432. Columbus would hit the New World sixty years later. There were no Europeans in North America when the battle of the two Princes was fought, if history books can be believed.

Elephants were the war machines, the weapons of mass destruction in those times. Elephants, like the ruins, have fallen into neglect over the hundreds of years it took for Siam to become Thailand. It is looking much better for the elephants than it is for the ruins. (The ruins have assorted groups fighting over them for a variety of reasons.)

Street beggar elephants are being purchased through donations, and lucky elephants and their mahouts get to live a decent life at a reserve similar to the one I am visiting today where the work is easy, the food is plentiful and the elephants are instruments of mass enjoyment.

Trivia Teaser: Where did the expression "white elephant" come from?
Siam. When a white elephant was found it was captured and given to the King as a gift.
Best regards from Thailand,
Bibi

Catch Part Two tomorrow!  - Phoenix