First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

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SuCue
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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 22nd, 2010, 4:16 pm

I just realized that the humor in it could be described as "Seinfeldian" -- the era predates Seinfeld, but it kind of has the same vibe working for it. The characters hang out together, get caught up in ridiculous situations that center around their magazine and the shipping industry; gossip about and plot against people they don't like; have a storytelling competition based on the milieu of their office neighborhood during the late 80s (basically wall-to-wall homeless people doing and shouting bizarre things on the street every day); go out on bad dates and commiserate about it afterwards, etc.; attend a cheesy industry banquet where the publisher has a coke freak-out in the middle of a staid corporate speech, and on and on. There's enough of a narrative thread that everything holds together, though (at least, I think so.)

Other, similar types of plot structures would be like the movies "Sideways" or "High Fidelity" (both book and movie).

It reads very fast, a lot of the action is told in comical dialogue rather than narrative flow-- again, just like a TV series -- and the couple of people I showed it to finished the whole book in just a few days.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by wilderness » October 22nd, 2010, 4:40 pm

I agree -- you should definitely try to convey the TV episode analogy into the query. You'll have to get creative since emphasizing style over plot is not the norm for queries I've read before. Sounds like a fun read though! Good luck.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 22nd, 2010, 5:39 pm

Thanks wilderness. Would it be appropriate to mention High Fidelity in the query? I didn't set out consciously to copy Hornby, but I love the book and the movie, as well as "Sideways", and now that I think of it, my major character is kind of a female version of the main character in HF.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by wilderness » October 22nd, 2010, 6:31 pm

Sure. Agents often ask for comparisons, so if you have a similar style to High Fidelity you can definitely mention it. I would be specific about how they are similar, e.g. is written as many short vignettes or whatever.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 26th, 2010, 4:33 pm

Thanks very much again to everyone for their gracious help. Here's my second try:



Liz Foley is a naïve wanna-be journalist who got her J-School degree from the school of hard knocks. A young, single mom suffering from a broken heart, she’s managed to land her first real journalism job—at an obscure weekly trade magazine in San Francisco, circa 1987.

On Liz’s first day, coworkers tell her she’s a character in a T.V. sitcom they’re writing based on their workplace—and they want to cast dowdy Cissy Spacek in her role. (She holds out for the more babelicious Roseanna Arquette.)

So begins Liz’s memorable two years with Western Waste, the never-quite-realized sitcom her new friends say they will write and sell to Hollywood for millions – someday soon, whenever they get around it.

She battles for acceptance as the only female member of a high-testosterone organization called TITS. She bumbles into a relationship with a neurotic yuppie lawyer whose twin phobias are fat people and commitment. She deals with a unique cast of Seinfeldian colleagues, who range from a coke-snorting publisher fond of making incredibly awful speeches to a Wodinist IT banned word who writes Viking-themed show tunes in his spare time. Most of all, she observes and records the unusual habits, opinions, and adventures of her beloved boss, Derek, an unforgettable raconteur who serves up one-liners and Eighties pop cultural references with the comic aplomb of Rob in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. When Derek dies unexpectedly, years after Liz has moved on to a successful corporate career, she knows that the story of Western Waste must finally be written at last.

WESTERN WASTE is a 100,000 word work of comic fiction. It is told in episodic chapters—just like the T.V. sitcom Liz’s coworkers always say they will write—with a narrative thread that holds all the episodic action together.
Last edited by SuCue on October 27th, 2010, 2:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 27th, 2010, 11:53 am

Anyone?

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by Quill » October 27th, 2010, 3:50 pm

SuCue wrote:Thanks very much again to everyone for their gracious help. Here's my second try:



Liz Foley is a naïve wanna-be journalist who got her J-School degree from the school of hard knocks.
"Naive" and "school of hard knocks" seem contradictory terms. One would think one who has graduated from hard knocks would no longer be naive.

Also, "J-School" is somewhat obscure, causing me to stop and think, and seems a bit informal-sounding.
A young, single mom suffering from a broken heart,
I understand you wanting to paint a picture of her, but this comes off as a second description of the same character.
she’s managed to land her first real journalism job
Okay, this is the first action of the query. I'm thinking the above needs to be streamlined to allow this to float up closer to the top.
—at an obscure weekly trade magazine in San Francisco, circa 1987.
Vague. Which magazine? Which year precisely? I miss the part about the longshoremen and testosterone you had in the previous intro to this.
On Liz’s first day, coworkers tell her she’s a character in a T.V. sitcom they’re writing based on their workplace
This is interesting, but might be more so (WAS more so) when/if juxtaposed with the shipping and testosterone. Alone it comes off as mildly quirky, with a question of what else might be going to happen.

—and they want to cast dowdy Cissy Spacek in her role. (She holds out for the more babelicious Roseanna Arquette.)
Understand the voice you are trying to project, but I'd omit this. We need more plot before local color, so to speak.
So begins Liz’s memorable two years with Western Waste, the never-quite-realized sitcom her new friends say they will write and sell to Hollywood for millions – someday soon, whenever they get around it.
This is sounding like a wrap-up of your plot description. And though this might be a comedy/humor book, I still think we need a big grabber and a central conflict. Situational comedy won't carry a full-length book, I don't think, and I seem to remember more in there anyway, about sexism and a quest for a better job...
She battles for acceptance as the only female member of a high-testosterone organization called TITS.
Not enough info. What is TITS? Does this have anything to do with her job, or is this extracurricular?
She bumbles into a relationship with a neurotic yuppie lawyer whose twin phobias are fat people and commitment.
Is Liz fat?
She deals with a unique cast of Seinfeldian colleagues, who range from a coke-snorting publisher fond of making incredibly awful speeches to a Wodinist IT banned word who writes Viking-themed show tunes in his spare time.
She deals, she bumbles, she observes. This comes off a bit like intros to sitcom episodes rather than showing a character arc of actions and motivations for her. I appreciate that that's how the book is structured, and that fact should be made to come through, but again, the main character and her arc are what, I think, need to lead this query, to be the through-thread, as it were. As written she sounds like a supporting character in her own show. She is the main character of this book, right?
Most of all, she observes and records the unusual habits, opinions, and adventures of her beloved boss, Derek, an unforgettable raconteur who serves up one-liners and Eighties pop cultural references with the comic aplomb of Rob in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. When Derek dies unexpectedly, years after Liz has moved on to a successful corporate career, she knows that the story of Western Waste must finally be written at last.
Again, is the sitcom line the central theme of the book? Or is it Liz? Is the book a series of short stories, in effect? Or is it a novel simply arranged like that. It's coming off a bit like a gimmick. I would like to know if it is all played for laughs, or if there's some growth to the character, if there's some pathos as well as the episodic funny stuff.

Not sure you're quite getting your book across accurately yet.

Just some impressions from the peanut gallery.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 27th, 2010, 8:48 pm

Thanks Quill, your patience is much appreciated. There is a story arc, but it's kind of loose. Maybe an outline would help:

In the prologue, it's the present day, and Liz is a middle-aged corporate drone facing a pink slip from a job she doesn't even like; she's gotten laid off a lot in her corporate career. She meets an old boyfriend, Ian, and he makes a remark that brings her back to the only time she was ever really happy at work: as a junior editor for a small obscure trade publication in SF, circa 1987-1989.

Then we switch to the late 1980s (the time frame she remembers from the prologue.) Liz is working as a secretary and struggling to make ends meet. She's desperately in love with her young, single, handsome boss, but can't bring herself to tell him about it. Then she loses her job, and her young handsome boss gets engaged. She's devastated by both events.

She tries to find a job but can't for months, but as money is running out, she spies an ad for a junior editor with shipping experience, and calls an old friend about it. The old friend knows the editor-in-chief, and hand-delivers her resume to him. Then the old friend arranges for her to attend a dinner for local shipping editors and reporters called TITS (Transpacific Intermodal Transportation Scribes), which is basically just a group of male drinking buddies needing an excuse to drink on the corporate tab. She meets Derek, the boss for the position she applied for, and is at first intimidated by him -- he's huge, blustery, loud, comical, and very opionated. Derek ignores her throughout the dinner and Liz is scared that he's not interested in her resume. At the end of the dinner, however, he taps her on the shoulder and tells her that he does have her resume and will be giving her a call. She's overjoyed.

She interviews with Derek and his bumbling boss, Alan, and gets her first inkling about the unusual way Derek runs things at the shipping publication. (She overhears him apologizing to an important advertiser for an Arab shipping line for deliberately placing his ad next to an ad for an Israeli shipping line as a joke.) She worries she won't get the job and calls her wacky mother, who attends funerals as a hobby, for solace, but eventually she does get the job. Then on her first day, the coworkers tell her that working at the publication is just like being in a sitcom, which they call Western Waste, and they've already cast Cissy Spacek in her role (but she holds out for Roseanna Arquette!). She soon fits right in and even starts offering "casting" suggestions of her own (Chevy Chase as the bumbling Alan!) (Throughout the book they continuously argue about Western Waste and whom should play whom -- they spend so much time arguing about it that it never actually gets written.)

She starts attending industry events and witnesses Alan having a comical coke-freak-out, has more adventures with the unsual way that Derek runs the office, helps Derek rescue some stranded Third World seamen, participates in the important office game of telling competitive wino stories, and eventually lands a new boyfriend (the Ian from the prologue), whom she meets at a New Age self-help class run by a woman who's an expert in Pyramidology (popular at the time). But she can't really move her relationship with Ian forward because she's still in love with the old boss who's now married, and her job brings her into contact with him sometimes. Meanwhile the evil corporate overlord, Seymour Vase, has appointed Derek's worst enemy to be his boss, a slimy, no-talent rival publication columnist named Chubby Shires, and she and her coworkers plot to get rid of him behind Derek's back.

She finally writes her old boss a letter telling him how she feels, ending their friendship, in hopes of improving her relationship with Ian. Unfortunately, she meets the old boss shortly afterward at a shipping conference, is extremely embarassed about the things she wrote to him, and uses the unattractive Chubby Shires as a beard to avoid him. Chubby misinterprets and becomes smitten, and writes an embarassing column about Liz that her coworkers ridicule her about. Then there's a downturn in the industry and Seymour starts firing people, and Liz is scared that she'll be laid off, once again, and she's barely making it on her junior editor's salary anyways. In the meantime Derek is visibly sinking as Chubby does more and more outrageous things to him.

Derek sends Liz off to attend a press conference on a cursed vessel they all call The Death Ship, and she learns about a new job opening up in the P.R. department of the West Coast's largest shipping company. She secretly applies for the job, the boss for which is a fellow member of TITS called Solly Kopplewicz. Then the plot to get rid of Chubby works, sort of, but it backfires: he ends up leaving his job because he's landed a lucrative book contract thanks to the plot devised by Liz to get rid of him. She hopes fervently that Derek, who dreams of landing a book contract of his own, never finds out her role in advancing Chubby's career.

Then the 1989 earthquake hits and Liz is trapped in the city and can't reach her son, who's in the East Bay (the bridges and tunnels are all closed.) She finally makes it home after a harrowing experience, and she comes to realize that she needs to have a job located closer to her home so she can be closer to her son. She accepts the PR position from Solly because it's in the East Bay, and leaves Western Waste -- with a heavy heart, but with hope for the future as a successful, well-paid public relations executive married to Ian. Her coworkers and Derek, whom she's come to love as a sort-of-family, all turn out and give her a lavish going away party -- a final "cast" party for an important member of the Western Waste "cast." She hesitates at the last minute and thinks about running back to ask Derek for her old job back, but then talks herself out of it and leaves Western Waste forever, without looking back.

Then we switch back to the present day and there's an update on Liz's life since leaving the shipping publication. Her dreams have never quite come to fruition, and she never marries Ian or has the kind of life she expected when she quit the magazine, and her corporate career has been very disappointing. She's lost touch with every single one of her Western Waste colleagues. Then she learns that Derek is dead, at the age of 49, after sending out a joke email to some old TITS friends, and she feels guilty because she never even knew he was ill. She attends a memorial luncheon for him at one of the TITS' old watering holes and sees all the old TITS members again -- and they have exactly the same kind of conversation they would have had twenty years before, except that Derek isn't there. Bumbling Alan is there and he gives one of his ridiculous speeches, same as always.

After the memorial service, Liz takes a sentimental walk to her old Western Waste neighborhood in South of Market SF, and is shocked to find the place is gentrified and no longer infested with winos. (She's particularly disturbed about the lack of winos, as they were all important "characters" when she worked there.) Then she looks for her funky old building and finds out that it has been torn down and replaced by a huge, impersonal, corporate skyscraper. She had hoped to find something of Derek left in the old neighborhood and there's nothing.

The book ends with Liz realizing how much she loved Derek and vowing to finally write "Western Waste," the story her colleagues all said they would write, someday, sometime, whenever they got the time.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » October 28th, 2010, 6:15 pm

Anyone? I'm not looking for comments on the book's synopsis itself, just for suggestions on how to describe it.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by wilderness » October 30th, 2010, 2:04 pm

Hi Sue!

I don't think the "gimmick" of the TV show episode is a bad thing, I like gimmicks! In fact, I'm a sucker for them. They hold my attention. Here's my idea for a general frame to present it. I think it can be done in many ways, but I'm trying to mirror the style of your book.

Paragraph 1. Explain Liz starts a new job, and her co-workers think of themselves as a cast of a TV show called Western Waste.

Paragraph 2. "The One Where Liz dines with TITS" (or other sitcommy title) -- Then tell us briefly some of the funny TITS shenanigans. It should not feel like a synopsis, rather be told in a couple of short, funny lines if possible. Make us laugh!

Paragraph 3. "The One Where Liz Wins Wino Bingo" -

(Paragraphs 2-3 should be very short, one or two sentences each. Choose your funniest "episodes")

Paragraph 4: Wrap it up. "The One With The Earthquake" -- In the season finale, Liz decides whether to leave the cast to be closer to her family.

Paragraph 5 : WESTERN WASTE is a 100,000 word work of comic fiction. It is told in episodic chapters—just like the T.V. sitcom Liz’s coworkers always say they will write—with a narrative thread that holds all the episodic action together.

Keep the tone of the query funny and light, but try not to make it too inside-jokey --- the agent will have to think the premise for each "episode" sounds funny too. If you can make an agent laugh with your query, you're golden. :) Hope that helps!
Last edited by wilderness on October 30th, 2010, 2:22 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by wilderness » October 30th, 2010, 2:15 pm

You could even try to use a sitcom narrator type voice when you describe the episodes. Think Future Ted from How I Met Your Mother (don't know if you've seen it)

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by Quill » October 30th, 2010, 8:58 pm

Right, I shouldn't have said gimmick, I should have said high concept. And I agree, if that's where this book is at, then go for it. Play it up. Make the query show it.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » November 4th, 2010, 2:55 pm

Thanks guys, for taking the time to read all through that, and offer advice. I really appreciate it.

I will try again!

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One More Time -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by SuCue » November 19th, 2010, 7:21 pm

One more time--thanks everybody! I've thought long and hard on it. Here it is:

Young single mom Liz Foley has started a new job: junior editor at an obscure trade publication serving the San Francisco shipping industry. Her new co-workers claim they are really just characters in a T.V. sitcom called Western Waste, and invite her to join the cast.

Liz soon discovers that office life is very much like a sitcom, as she navigates her way through numerous wacky episodes while searching for true love and career success.

In “Meet Derek McSwane,” Liz dines with a hard-drinking, all-male clique of journalists known as TITS, and learns how to play a game called Wino Bingo. It’s a skill that’s essential for getting along with Liz’s eccentric new boss, Derek.

In “The Snout,” Liz watches her publisher give a bizarre speech to industry bigwigs while high on coke. Instead of being fired, he gets a lucrative promotion.

In “Zebra Love,” Liz discovers the true meaning of an office legend known as Zebra Love. It’s not a pretty sight.

In “The Impoundment,” Liz helps her boss execute a mission of mercy to rescue stranded Third World sailors—financed by the company expense account.

In “All Shook Up,” Liz must decide whether to leave the cast to be closer to her family, just as San Francisco is hit by an earthquake.

And in the finale, “The Last Snout,” the cast of Western Waste reunites for one last drinking session in honor of Derek, who has unexpectedly died.

WESTERN WASTE is a 100,000 word work of comic fiction set in the late 1980s. It is told primarily in episodic chapters—just like the T.V. sitcom that Liz’s co-workers envision—with a narrative thread that holds all the episodic action together.

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Re: First Query Description -- WESTERN WASTE

Post by androidblues » November 19th, 2010, 7:41 pm

Much better but I'd cut out Zebra Love. the Impoundment, and the Last Snout, to focus on the major conflict -- the Finale. I don't like that I know Derek dies right off the bat. This a great improvement over your other queries. at least to me. But hit with more query and less synopsis.
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