Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Novel Pitch #11: CAGES

Title: Cages
Genre: Adult Fiction
Word Count: 88,000

“Childhood, like history, is immortal. And memories, even unconscious ones, follow us like shadows.” 

-Character of Diego Rivera, in Cages

Eighteen-year-old SABINE likes her life just the way it is—bohemian, simple, and relaxed—until the night she decides to steal someone else’s mail. This first reckless act turns Sabine’s life on its head and leads her to a bricked-off chamber where secrets are buried.

An uncovered manuscript opens in 1937 Spain on the eve of Hitler’s bombing of Guernica. In a schoolyard at recess two children are being bullied into an early marriage. Then the bombs drop.

Decades later four-year-old Sabine is left without her mother in a Paris artist salon amidst a dizzying array of eccentrics. Those who surround her all live in the same neighborhood where famous artists like Picasso and Rivera once lived. Although the modern characters are all hiding something, or from something, and each is searching, they come together in hopes that by helping Sabine find her mother they might recover some of their own personal losses.

Sabine wonders if the key to her mother’s disappearance could still be lying in the ruins of a bombed schoolyard in Guernica?

Cages is a mystery, a trio of interwoven tales that blend history with fiction, but, above all, it is an affirmation of the power of compassion to heal the wounds of war, bullying and other forms of stolen innocence. If childhood events have ever haunted you, this novel will challenge you to take another look at those wounds—and cages—and to start opening doors.

The Good: The opening line (after the quote) has a nice hook and sets up the premise well. I like the revised version much better; it reads more smoothly. 

Suggestions: I'm not a big fan of opening with a quote, so my first thought would be to cut it. If you keep it, though, I'd remove the citation. I'd also keep standard punctuation for your MC's name; with the all caps, I was wondering if it was an acronym for something. I recommend putting the name CAGES in all caps, though, since the italic formatting doesn't always transfer across email providers. 

I'm glad you revised, since some parts of the first version confused me.  This is much clearer and provides more of a sense of the narrative voice and what the three intertwining stories are. I suggest avoiding passive voice whenever possible, and I recommend that you stay in third person (i.e., lose all uses of "you" and "us"). In addition, I have a few problems with specific words, such as "two children" (I'd say "two teenagers" or "two sixteen-year-olds" or something to give a sense of exactly how inappropriate the pressure is). Watch the overuse of cliches (life on its head, etc.), and make sure you do more showing than telling (the phrase "reckless act" bothered me, for example). You caught many of the issues I had with the first version, including that manuscripts can be "dropped" or "closed" but they don't really "slam," and you cut the profanity from the query, which was another good move. 

The standalone sentence about "Sabine wonders..." gave me two issues: first, it should have a period, not a question mark, and having characters "wonder" or "feel" or "think" slows the writing and distances the reader from the action.  Consider: 

The key to Sabine's mother's disappearance might lie in the ruins of a bombed schoolyard in Guernica. 

BOTTOM LINE: VERY compelling premise, and the revised version lets that shine through, although it still needs some polishing. The complex plot, the intertwining stories, the emotional punch of loss and pain--as I'm reading through it, I have the thought, "If she's really done this well--if she's nailed it--this could be a masterpiece." 


dinawrite said...

I have lots to say, but THANK YOU so very much for the thought you put into your feedback. I am in Montreal on business and must go, but I will come back to this later tonight. I agree with lots and was shocked when I realized something...these kids who are being bullied into marriage are VERY young, it's an elementary school yard!!!! Gotta fix that!

Lisa said...

Sounds very promising. I would want to read this book.

Deniz Bevan said...

Welcome to Montreal, Dina! Hope you had a good visit [g]
I enjoy books like this so I'm compelled, even though I'm a wee bit confused, mainly about how the manuscript opens onto an event. Is this something Sabine reads about? But I'm sure the timing is clear enough in the novel itself, it's just hard to distill it to pitch level [g]

dinawrite said...

Thanks Lisa. And again, Kate!
Deniz, I just got back from a restaurant called Robins Des Bois (Robin Hood)on Rue St. Laurent - I heartily recommend it. Its social mission is very moving. We strangely intersect, in Montreal, and in two disturbing eras of Spanish history!

Now although I didn't want to go into it in the pitch, re. "the manuscript opens onto an event" -- the manuscript is introduced by Sabine with a letter she finds, but the event itself is told from the POV of Diego Rivera (excerpts from an unpublished journal he left his illegitimate daughter).

As for me, I will be polishing all weekend!! So appreciative of the feedback.

Good luck to one & all,

Deniz Bevan said...

Ah, I thought it might be something like that, Dina (the manuscript thing). It sounds very interesting!
And I'm glad you had a fun time in Montreal [g] Good thing you're not here now - it's going down to -20, plus wind chill this weekend...

Keisha Azzalea said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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