Friday, May 18, 2018

Pitch a classic, part 2: would you read this novel?

I’m still hard at work, practicing the query pitch techniques Annie Neugebauer brought to this spring’s Writers Guild of Texas workshop. Practice on multiple books to sharpen those skills, Neugebauer urged her audience, even on books by other authors. So, after trying my hand earlier this week at fitting the classic adventure tale, Tarzan of the Apes, into Neugebauer’s pitch format, I’m pitching a classic of a different sort, Anne of Green Gables. If you haven’t already read and loved it, would you read it based on this query?

Query pitch for Anne of Green Gables
Attention-grabber: An orphanage sends an adoptive family the wrong child. 
Essential premise: In 19th century Canada, adopted children serve as unpaid farm or household workers, less family members than indentured servants, with no emotional ties expected or wanted.
Protagonist: Anne Shirley
image: pixabay
Goal/motivation/obstacle/stakes: She longs for a stable home. Now 11-years-old, she was orphaned too young to remember her parents and has ping-ponged between orphanages and a series of uncaring, even abusive, foster parents. Elderly Matthew Cuthbert brings her home, lacking the heart to tell her that he and his spinster sister had actually requested a boy to help with their farm work. But Matthew’s sister, Marilla, is determined to send Anne back to the orphanage, a move that breaks Anne’s heart.
Antagonist: Marilla Cuthbert
Goal/motivation/obstacle/stakes: Marilla is determined to return Anne to the orphanage and secure the desired boy who will be able to spare her bachelor brother Matthew from the worst of their farm’s backbreaking labor. Although Matthew has opened his heart to Anne, he fears thwarting his overbearing sister's decisions openly. And despite her outward crustiness, Marilla fears keeping Anne will not only endanger her brother’s health but force her to recognize the emptiness of her own life.
Supporting character: Matthew Cuthbert
Motivation: Matthew’s severe shyness and social awkwardness have deprived him of much human interaction. Anne’s nonjudgmental acceptance offers him a last chance at surrogate fatherhood and selfless love.
Closing hook: Will Anne push Marilla to open her heart, even if it means risking her brother’s health and her own long-standing habits?
(Note: I was surprised to learn that this quintessentially Canadian novel was first published in 1908 by an American publisher, L.C. Page of Boston. Since I was unable to determine when the manuscript first reached them, I’ve picked an arbitrary date for author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s imaginary query letter. Also notice that Montgomery’s book was published using her initials, L.M. Montgomery, instead of her full name.)
2 January 1908

L. C. Page & Company
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Dear Sir,
It is a day 11-year-old Anne Shirley has waited for her entire life, the day she finds a real home instead of the series of orphanages and uncaring foster homes that have been her lot since the early death of her parents. Dropped off at a railway station like a piece of luggage, she occupies herself with daydreams about the place where her new family awaits. The shy, elderly farmer who met her seems sympathetic, and the name of his house, Green Gables, sets her imagination soaring.
Soaring, that is, until she enters the house, to be met by the farmer’s spinster sister with the inquiry, “Where is the boy?” To which the farmer can only answer, “There wasn’t any boy. There was only her.”
Anne Shirley stands aghast as her dreams fall apart at the realization. They do not want her. They want a boy to help with the farm work. Now she is about the lose her longed-for home because the orphanage has sent the wrong child. It is the most tragical thing that had ever happened to her. If only there were some way Marilla Cuthbert, the spinster sister who rules the house for her bachelor brother, can be persuaded to let Anne stay on trial, she will do anything in her power to make Green Gables her home. Anything, that is, except renounce her daydreaming habit.
Anne has immersed herself in daydreams to escape the bitter realities of her life. But will her imagination be up to the challenge of Marilla Cuthbert’s no-nonsense, workaday attitude, world of Marilla Cuthbert? And will the Cuthberts, brother and sister, be able to open their long-closed hearts to a child’s winsomeness?
During my long career as a schoolteacher in rural Canadian towns, Mr. Page, I have met many Annes. As a variation on the traditional of orphan stories, I believe Anne of Green Gables, a novel firmly based on people and situations I have encountered, will appeal to all ages. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,
L.M. Montgomery

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