Thursday, November 19, 2020

Guillermo Del Toro did it . . . by Catriona

Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

Too easy.

I have actually pitched the worst idea ever. Below is a straight copy/paste from a file called "Additional series":

Idea 1    Doris Day meets X-Files.
Genre    urban fantasy / mystery
Time      1950
Place     California
Tone      medium-boiled/funny
Protag   tba
Like       Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, Dana Cameron’s Fangborn

Book  1. Protag comes to town on trail of deserting spouse and learns the secret while searching for husband

Book 2. Small-town vs. big threat. Progress threatens the secret.           

Book 3. Protag discovers own history while protecting secret and outcome of Bk 2

So what's wrong with this pitch? Where do I start? You can't say "protagonist TBA". And you can't refer to "the secret" multiple times without saying what it is. The worst of that is I knew what the secret was; I just didn't tell the publisher I was pitching to. I kept it, if you like, secret. Also, "progress" is hopelessly vague. I meant a new factory and subdivisions to house its workers bankrolled by a philanthropist. Why didn't I say so? No clue. I also knew what the mysterious protagonist's own history was. But I wasn't willing to share.

If I had my time over again, I'd have said this:

Idea 1    Doris Day meets the X-Files
Genre    urban fantasy / mystery
Time      1950
Place     Smalltown, USA. A snug and settled little town near a flooded valley which has been recently been dammed. Most people work at the water purification centre.
Tone     Schlock horror under a veneer of cozy
Protag   Della Marr. Doris Day-esque sunny character with a secret.
Like      Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, Dana Cameron’s Fangborn, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Book  1. Della comes to town searching for her runaway husband. She settles into an apparently cosy town, but after a spate of killings, she discovers its secret - the flooded lake is home to aquatic aliens - and must decide whether to join the effort to protect them or blow the story. Discovering her pregnancy, she decides on a quiet life.

Book 2. The idyllic image projected by the town attracts a philanthropic entrepreneur whose operation threatens to uncover the secret of the lake. When the entrepreneur is killed, unwelcome national attention is focussed on the town. Ongoing sub-plot involving Della's attempts to find her deserted spouse. A small-town single mother in 1951 is not an easy row to hoe. 

Book 3. The lake people are no longer happy to live constrained by the dam. The town is split between a trusting desire to go public and a paranoid desire to quash the uprising by any means. When a young lake female is killed the town splits into warring factions. Della discovers that her husband is not human. He lives in the lake and their daughter wants to go and live her aquatic life too.

This is a better pitch, because it's got more information in it. (Although wth is the name of the town, right?) Unfortunately the extra information only makes it clearer that the idea itself smells like the love child of Roquefort and halitosis. I think I kept it short to save my blushes. 

By the way, the other idea I pitched at the same time - the one that got accepted - was "Scottish marriage counsellor in California, lives in a motel, solves crimes with misfit sidekicks".  But I had my moments with that too. When I pitched it to a Hollywood person - Lifetime, I think. Maybe Hallmark? - his only response was that it was "real specific". I still don't know whether that was a bouquet or a brickbat.

Maybe my easiest-ever sell was "Gently-born lady detective (1922) rackets about Scotland on cases with shell-shocked sidekick. Dalmatians, butlers, etc". Book fourteen mined from that rich seam comes out in the US next week. As pitches go it's "real unspecific". Maybe that's why it's still afloat. 

If you can bring yourself to read anything written by someone who once pitched Della Marr, there are buy links here.


cassey said...
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James W. Ziskin said...

Sold! I like the aquatic aliens. The gently born detective (1922) and the Scottish marriage counselor,.. keep plugging away. Maybe someone will bite... ;-)

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