Novel Synopsis–The Situation with Phillip by Paul Elmo Keenan

All right, now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve completed the 50-word hook, the two-page synopsis, and the section on uniqueness. That leaves four smaller sections and the chapter outline. I should be able to ship this first proposal off to a potential agent tomorrow afternoon.

I’m posting the synopsis of the novel here. I can’t see how that can hurt, and I’d like to hear if you think it sounds like a book you’d like to read.

  • I”m copying and pasting this from a word file, so forgive me for the pagination problems. Those don’t exist in the copy I’ll be sending out.




The Situation with Phillip is this: Phillip is the 39th person that Jeffrey has kidnapped in the name of science. Jeffrey learns their habits, abducts them, holds them captive for a month—studying how their weight fluctuates given different stimuli, both positive and negative—and then he kills them, with special interest in how much weight they lose upon death.

Jeffrey’s study is based on Dr. Duncan MacDougall’s experiment, from 1901, which was designed to show that the human soul has weight. While MacDougall’s tests can’t be seen as anything but inconclusive—he only finished with four viable sets of data—they brought forth the notion that the soul weighs 21 grams, a fact that was the inspiration for the 2003 film 21 Grams.

Jeffrey thinks McDougal was on to something, but he believes it isn’t the actual soul that has weight; rather, Jeffrey is hoping to prove that it is actually the cumulative weight of life, added weight with fear and stress, lessened weight with comfort and pleasantness, that is lost upon death.

To help define this belief, Jeffrey’s scope of data was originally designed to include 32 people, four each from eight character groupings, each couple offsetting. The four pairs were introvert/extravert, doubtful/faithful, hateful/loving, and forgiving/begrudging. That was the original design, but Jeffrey is in his seventh year of data harvest, and seven years is a long time to look at humans and only see them in eight character types.

There are successful and struggling people, too, and that became a subset, because what factors could be more important than success and failure when it comes to the amassment of the stressors of life? Yes, the others were all specific character types, where success and failure rely more on external factors, but, still, thought he, what stresses us more than failure, and what lifts us up more than success? Besides, so much of what stresses us has nothing to do with our characters.

So, that went in, and time is long, and how often in his time out scouting did Jeffrey see people whose lives seemed to be totally dependent on how confident or timid they were? He was often reminded of Amanda Plummer’s “Lydia” in The Fisher King with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. He didn’t think he ever encountered someone who was that frightful in the face of mere existence, but he had seen some pretty fearful folks, and he wondered how heavy the stones were that that dude or lady was carrying around. But then you got into questions of whether or not the confident people he saw were literally confident, and that was all a whole mess he wasn’t sure he wanted to get into. Yes, he knew that data could have great potential, but he already increased the total from 32 to 40 with successful versus struggling, and another subset would jump it up to 48, and, man, what’s any of this to you anyway? You’re not the one doing the dirty work, Jeffrey is, and if there’s gonna be another subset created, he’ll make that decision, not you. If you want more say, you can ask how you can be of help; until then, stand back and let the professional work.

Thus, the requirements of the study are that Jeffrey now needs 40 sets of data, and maybe even 48. That doesn’t necessarily mean finishing with Phillip, who would be number 39, will leave him with only one set of data to collect. He has, you see, already delved into the confident/timid realm for one subject, but he did so realizing that he could use the study as doubtful/faithful, if the potential subset is decided against. The downside to that, however, is that he already has four studies of doubtful/faithful, which means it has no more use than it will if he doesn’t resign himself to at least six more studies.

Collecting one set of data every other month—the off months are his study months—an increase of six more would mean another year of this, and Jeffrey doesn’t know if he can do another year of this; sometimes he doesn’t know if he can do another day of it. He can’t believe that he’s considering an expansion of the study, or that he already expanded it at all, as he didn’t even want to do this and was resistant to it for nearly a year.

We find in time that Jeffrey wasn’t the creator of this study, nor was he the one who thought it should be embarked upon. He says that he has faith that he is answering a call from God, but we have to wonder if he even believes it, or if he’s just covering his butt because he knows he should have stuck up for what he believed, rather than agree to do something he knew shouldn’t be done.

Where Jeffrey’s faith is questionable, Phillip’s is not. A four-year incarceration two decades earlier and a long-odds victory over cancer have instilled in him the belief that God has more work for him to do, and, despite how crazy it might be for others to believe, he does a good job of believing that his God is going to deliver him. Still, in the 28th day of his captivity, with what looms to be fewer than 72 hours before it will be decided if he will live or die, he has to have his doubts that it might be God’s will that he will die here and do so never knowing why God felt it necessary.

He knows that others would find it crazy that he thinks God will deliver him, because, given Jeffrey’s track record—38 have come, and 38 have died—it seems that Phillip is going to have to have a hand in his liberation. Given that Jeffrey leaves him with nothing that could possibly be used as a weapon—his two best chances are a shoe and a balloon—we have to wonder what he could ever do to free himself.

It’s this faith that made Phillip such an attractive candidate for Jeffrey in the first place. They hadn’t become more than Sunday foyer acquaintances in the year and a half that they had been part of the same congregation, but Jeffrey had known from the first time he saw Phillip in the action of life, no more than cursorily, that the man had a level of self-assuredness and confidence only known to those of great faith. Jeffrey just knew that Phillip would blow the thing out of the water—the lowest amount weight lost had been 16 grams—maybe even getting in the single digits.

Still, there had been a rule against using people who were in any way familiar, so he had resigned himself that the study would just have to be complete without what Phillip could offer. He still had to wrestle with himself to keep him off limits, but enough time passed that he had 36 sets of data, rather than 30, and, the study being that much closer to completion, he took the risk.

And he’s so glad he did; he feels blessed to have spent these four weeks with Phillip, and he knows it will have a profound impact on him going forward. He even wonders if he’ll be able to do what he needs to do with Phillip when the time comes.

Armed with a remote that controls every aspect of Phillip’s existence, including the choker collar tazer, which keeps Phillip 100% subdued and which Jeffrey will use even without provocation, Jeffrey holds all the cards, but will that be enough in the face of the God in Whom Phillip puts his faith?


And then later…


So, at 3:26 PM on September 26th, I sent out my first novel proposal. Then, promptly at 8:11 PM that same evening, I got my first rejection. This may seem like bad news–and an acceptance would have been better, no doubt–but it’s actually excellent news on so many levels.

It’s excellent news because of how quickly the response was. A response coming this soon shows that potential agents aren’t so deluged with submissions that it takes them three months to get back to you. It’s also good news because the context of the 112 word–yes, I counted them–response showed that it was written to me, rather than just being a form rejection. Those facts are so promising.

The main thing I may have taken from it, however, was the reasons for the rejection. The potential agent enlightened me about why my proposal was being rejected, and it wasn’t because of the content or professionalism; rather, he just pointed out some aspects of the business that potential agents look for, things that I haven’t delved into, conferences and website chat rooms for example. In doing so, he essentially fulfilled one of the roles that I’m looking for in an agent, he showed me some of things that I need to do to become more viable.

Having begun the fourth draft yesterday evening, I will now thread that into these new avenues that need followed, which I will weave with this pleasantly growing blog and working and being a husband and father, which I will mix with…

Ultimately, perhaps the greatest positive here is this: You have to get the rejections out of the way to get to the acceptances.

The path ahead will be difficult, but I feel so blessed. Some people wake up with no drive and no requirement, meaningless lives lived out of focus. I just couldn’t roll like that; I have to roll like this.

And so I shall. Keep me in your warm thoughts, prayers if you’re so prone, and I will hold you similarly.

Be well, lovelies. Happy Monday.

4 Replies to “Novel Synopsis–The Situation with Phillip by Paul Elmo Keenan”

  1. Awesome news Paul. I’m very excited to read this and very proud of your steadfast dedication to your craft and how far you have come in your art. Business versus art is always the evil hurdle that those lucky or savy somehow find a way across. I’m sure you possess a little of both and will make it to the next race.

    1. Bill, you know how much that means coming from you, brother. I appreciate your stopping in to read and taking the time to respond. Love to all of them down there.

    1. I guarantee it, man, and it was advice I needed. I’ve used the crap out of that advice. I haven’t looked at the novel since, and I haven’t stopped working on it, not one day. Thanks, brother; your support is always so encouraging. Love you, man.

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