Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Random Query Trend: Fire

I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but I have read four partials in the last month that open with the protagonist watching their house burn down.

Well, I do know one thing to make of this: I'm checking the smoke detectors when I get home.

UPDATE 12:15: Um. Make that five.






51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well it is a HOT topic

Susan said...

Perhaps there's an online writers' workshop for pyromaniacs that just wrapped things up for the year?

Or, I'd guess that several people were inspired to begin novels, by the devastating wildfires that were on the news last year.

It IS odd that they all land on your desk within a month.

What genre, out of curiosity --romance, mystery...?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Good one!


Susan-

It was a mix of genres, which makes it all the more puzzling.

Dan said...

At least they're partials and not queries that start with: 'represent my book or watch YOUR house burn down.'

More trends please!

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

You mentioned fire, and I immediately thought of The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. It begins with a car fire from an accident instead of a house fire, but it is fire nonetheless.

You mentioned this novel on the blog, Nathan, a couple of months ago, and I have to thank you. I LOVED it. The reviews by readers on Amazon are mixed, but I found it to be the most captivating, intruiging novel I've read in a long time. A very original love story with memorable characters, and I loved the narrator. Thanks for posting on it!

C.J. said...

my advice: if one of them starts with "It was a pleasure to burn," represent that one... it's gonna be big.

clindsay said...

I had two queries in one week that began with self-immolation.

Ew.

Anonymous said...

I actually have a short story in a fire themed book that was released this month called BACKDRAFT, by Cleis Press. But it's erotic romance about firemen, so caution.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

That's certainly more interesting than the trend an agent (or possibly someone judging a book prize, I forget) complained about - novels which opened with the protagonists having hangovers.

I suppose it would be more coincidental if such coincidences never occurred....

Carley said...

Great minds think alike? Besides, it seems like things come in droves...I'm sure you've noticed the way we have been inundated by vampires, for starters!

Sam Hranac said...

Any of them based on Tom Waits' "Frank's Wild Years"? Great story just begging for a continuation.

JES said...

Colleen (12:54) - That just burns me up!

ORION said...

Hey, where there's smoke...
I guess it's spreading like wildfire...

ORION said...

No.
Wait.
Alien Space Monkey Arsonists.
Looking for husbands.
In Jimmy Choos.

nymeria87 said...

Seriously, this must be national fire week. Yes, I do have a fire scene in my novel, but it's really just a tiny, minor one and guess what happens: our house caught fire the night when I was writing it.

Psychic powers? No, but electrical burns are nasty. It completely destroyed one room upstairs and gave me some first-hand-experience in 'how it feels to watch your house burn'. But really, I fail to appreciate the merit of such first-hand experiences, thank you very much.

No more fires, please!

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

It's just that time of year. Leo. Yep, it's a fire sign.

There was a fireman up on a roof in our village today smoking out bees from under the corner tiling.

Not romantic. Guess the Jimmy Choos were missing...

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

When the random query trend starts being "fire and ice" - I will be nervous!

Here's my novel's **based on a true story** fire scene: In a Russian village back in the early 1700s, a Jewish man decided to build a synagogue directly across from the village church. He also converted a sea captain (hard to imagine Russia had sea captains in the 1700s, but I guess they did), to Judaism.

Most unfortunately, a Russian officer was passing through the village, took offense at the synagogue facing the church, and made sure the Empress in Saint Petersburg found out about it.

End result: Synagogue torn down, and both the synagogue builder and the sea captain were burnt at the stake in St. Petersburg.

I mean, people usually equate Russia with cold, but that's not always the case...

Anyway, I went to a garden party today, and received 3 books of poetry...tied with green string! It's nice to forget about one's novel revision (15 pages to go! yeah!) for a few hours at least...

P.S. Erik I got your email, just still thinking through a response!

Wanda B.

beckylevine said...

Oh, I remember that scene from Laura Ingalls Wilder's The First Four Years. They could be emulating a worse writer... :)

Maris Bosquet said...

Having the protagonist put out the fire like Gulliver would be a twist--er, twisted...

Nicholas Tam said...

Victorian gothic sequels. They're totally Victorian gothic sequels.

Elyssa Papa said...

Or maybe they're all watching Beavis and Butthead reruns or the movie???

kai said...

Ah, must be summer in California!

Kai

Marva said...

I'd better add a fire to my WIP. After all, I wouldn't want to go against the trend. Let's see? Vampire hottie who burns houses. That ought to cover the current publishing wowzas.

Bethanne said...

smoke really is trendy...Roberts had her Blue Smoke out a few years ago and this year Lowell is following it with Blue Smoke and Murder. Too many people worry about someone else already writing the story they are writing. Or they read a title or a book that is just like the story they are writing... I find that silly.

It's like my hubby always says, "stop saying what I'm going to say a second before I say it!"

seriously, this comment is a little off topic... oh right, fire queries. Strange.

Scott said...

Could it be connected to the Olympic Torch? Probably just a lot of fires in the news this month. Most odd.

I have a scene in my current story where a character's intention of setting a fire is thwarted by a measuring cup full of icing water.

Writing it was a piece of cake.

Okay, I'll stop.

Chumplet said...

Wasn't there a popular book released recently that involved burning down an agent's house?

Don't worry, it was probably just another nightmare.

My latest book has a barn fire, but I swear I didn't mention it in a query.

... or did I?

gingerkenney said...

But if it's a partial, surely you requested it, yes? Does this mean you're attracted to the idea of a protagonist starting his or her life over again?

Adaora A. said...

LOL!

Could it have anything to do with the smoke evacuation we had to do - thanks to faulty air conditioning - at the retail store I work in? Are we rubbing off on you? Or rather, are the people querying you looking up to my work place?

Anonymous said...

Not too long ago a film called "Thinbgs We Lost In the Fire" came out. Maybe that inspired some people.

Jill Corcoran said...

One month after we moved into our house, our neighbor's house burnt down to the ground on Mother's Day. Not good.
Hey, I think I hear a story brewing...I'll send it to you as soon as I get it down on paper :)

Bernita said...

Funny thing, about the time your partial people would have been working on their WIP, so was I; and I considered putting in a house burning scene as a side effect of paranatural activity.

Ulysses said...

My house burned down in '77 (I was 11). I did not enjoy the experience.

I've always found it odd how often patterns show up in coincidences. I'm not sure if it's a manifestation of chaos theory, or proof that Jung's collective unconscious may be more than just an explanation for archetypes.

AR said...

One of my more interesting ancestors is said to have had an incredible singing voice. The night before she was to take a boat to Europe to study opera, her house burned down and she lost everything. In those days that meant the end of a dream; she never became an opera singer. The family had a few sporadic instances of musical genius across the generations afterward but it's pretty diluted by now.

I will never write that story into a novel because I'm too lazy to do research for a historical novel. Unless my charaters talked just the way they did in that time and place I would despise myself.

But if I did, I wonder...would the novel open with the house burning down or end with it burning down?

Whirlochre said...

Let me guess — the fire woke the MC from a dream where he/she was stuck in traffic.

If there really has been a spate of fires in the real world, it's no surprise to find this mirrored in fiction. As a plot device goes, it's more interesting than opening a tin of soup, I suppose.

Has the fire theme begun to make it onto the bookshelves in unusual numbers?

Nanci Block said...

It's the art imitating life imitating art circle. Two things popped into my head: Last year's wildfires and the season 3 finale of Weeds.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Dear Mr. Agent,

After barely surviving a devastating burrow-fire, Little Bunny Foo-Foo goes hopping through the forest.


.... If the trend is in adult lit, can picture books be far behind? =)

Anonymous said...

Maybe, if someone wasn't under the deluge of wonderful queries and partials, maybe they would see this as a sign that they need to have a Plucked From The Headlines First Line Contest (PFTHFLC?)

That way, all the redundancies will be exposed and people will shelve their derivative projects. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

I just sent in an article for the magazine I write for concerning "dryer fires." I interviewed the local fire chief and was amazed at how many fires start by lint igniting. Not just in the trap, but behind the dryer and in the barrel.

My parent's house caught fire on Memorial Day. It is still standing but won't be livable for at least a year.

This has been a Public Service Announcement.

Coll

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Project Runway has the answer -

Re: "I will never write that story into a novel because I'm too lazy to do research for a historical novel. Unless my charaters talked just the way they did in that time and place I would despise myself."

It's like with clothing - retro is okay, retro touches, a retro feel - but you don't want to design a piece of clothing that is EXACTLY like what they wore way back when.

So with dialogue in a historical novel (or with historical passages), you are giving the impression or illusion of historical accuracy - your reader also is, as you say, "lazy" (i.e., reading for entertainment), and they don't want to have to struggle either.

Less is More, Illusion is All.

Just my two cents worth.

Wanda B.

Amber said...

And then there was the lady in the news today who burnt her house down while trying to kill a cockaroach.

(She sprayed the Raid directly into an electrial outlet. Ouch.)

Tracy A. Ward said...

Hey Nathan!

Are these queries coming from Houston? If so, here's your answer. http://www.firefighterscalendar.org or google Houston Firefighters 2008 Calendar.

Steppe said...

The literary gatekeepers slowly cow towed to lowest common denominator. There are decent writers out there that refuse to include a rape, robbery or homicide in the first three pages. Therefore; they are left with burning a house down or stealing a secret treasure. It's the fast buck mentality of eating the seed corn and killing ones own industry. The publishing business is bereft of "phenomena" because they just happen mysteriously, not by some numbered formula.

AR said...

Wanda, I don't doubt you know what you're talking about and you have what I think is a good idea.

Perhaps I feel a certain responsibility for all those people who get all of their ideas about our world from entertainment.

I recall reading an article about writing sci/fi and futuristic stories. The author basically said that a sneeze is a sneeze; even if the futuristic language would have a different word for it than English does, you're writing in English, and the English word 'sneeze' will adequately represent that futuristic word without having to make up some ridiculous term like "shkebarkanoozle" just to give a futuristic feel to the piece.

So I guess some of the same would apply, backwards. Our word, if it refers to the same thing, can adequately represent the historical expression.

The problem, practically, is that words don't change by accident. They do so as a result of philosophical changes and I think to choose the right word you have to know about those changes.

Take the word 'sex.' For a long time, English-speakers would have said things like "the act of marriage" or "knowing one another" or "lying together;" or in a more scientific setting, "copulation."

If you didn't know better, you could use the word 'sex' in a historical novel and assume that it adequately represents whatever they would have been saying. The problem is that 'sex' brings up different connotations to us than their expressions did to them. When people from our culture's past spoke of the act of marriage, they spoke of a mystery; often even a sacrament. When they spoke of copulation, they spoke of an everyday sort of act with certain reproductive effects in view.

When we say 'sex,' certain ideas come to mind which are, whether we know it or not, Fruedian, and thus innapropriate for any era before the Victorian. It calls up the idea of an urge that is very basic, in a society in which the basic things are more "real" than the higher things. Nothing could be further from the loftily mysterious "act of marriage" in which two people have become one, which someone would have had in mind before that time.

So I guess I feel that its a very daunting task to try to represent yesterday's people, with the worldview they would have had, in today's language. I think it would require work not unlike translation, which means a thorough knowledge of the sources and uses of two langauges. For every book you write, no less.

Of course, sometimes the 'historical' just means that someone has chosen to limit their characters as to technology and so forth, in order to make their plot work. Such a person might get away with essentially contemporary characters in a historical setting.

But speaking of what I would ask of myself, I couldn't do that. I'm more of a history reader than a historical fiction reader, I guess.

(Though I love Lorna Doone.)

Jolie said...

Note to self: no fire stories.

So how many of these fictional fires turned out to be arson?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "If you didn't know better, you could use the word 'sex' in a historical novel and assume that it adequately represents whatever they would have been saying."

No, I wouldn't use the word 'sex' in a historical novel...I remember back in high school an English teacher practically going on a rant about how "making love" as a phrase had been reduced to merely meaning sexual intercourse...(of course back then a high school teacher wouldn't say "having sex," she would say "sexual intercourse") - so, I don't know, I read a lot of old stuff, history, fiction, poetry, so I'm just not too worried about it, in my own writing...my, ahem, "historical figure" is actually quatrolingual (is that a word? Speaks four languages, French, English, German and Russian), so I am more concerned about getting this across in a way that isn't tedious/pretentious etc...a minimum of non-English words...

Oh well, if you don't feel comfortable writing about the fire that ended the opera career, I guess you don't...still, if you change your mind, you have my vote of confidence.

AR said...

It sounds like you really know what you are doing, Wanda. I hope that you didn't take my comments as a criticism of your work, as I was using 'you' in a general sense. Meaning, something more like 'me.'

You're right, the fire/opera story is a great idea for a novel. Maybe someday. Right now I'm working on a comedy of manners. With a futuristic setting, no less. It's harder for people to check up on you that way. ;)

AR said...

Oh yes, and good luck with your quatrolingual character! (If it's not a word it should be.)

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Hi AR:

RE: "Right now I'm working on a comedy of manners. With a futuristic setting, no less."

This sounds good - I've never heard of a combination comedy of manners/futuristic setting - maybe there's a whole subgenre of sci-fi involving that - but maybe not? Haven't heard of it - but I'll have to ask my friend the sci-fi expert/novelist (she's the one that introduced me to Octavia Butler's work, and sci-fi in general).

Anyway, keep writing and if you get it published let us know!

Wanda B.

AR said...

Well, that sounds like a really cool friend to have! Let me know if she has anything interesting to say about the comedy of manners/futuristic thing. BTW my story is not "real" sci-fi as I'm more interested in cultural futures. The scientific future is merely convenient to the plot, so I borrow almost entirely from existing conventions.

Thanks; you too!

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

"cultural futures" - sounds like something you trade, like wheat futures...and make money off of...

I'll ask my friend about comedy of manners / futuristic next time I talk to her.

Wanda B.

AR said...

Yeah, maybe not the best choice of words. How would I say it, then...cultural futurism? That sounds like a philosophy. The future of culture is much plainer but sounds more like a science than I really wanted to imply... Well, you get the idea.

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