3rd SR Crapometer #34

September 1, 2006

Dear Ms. Snark, (been reading the blog very long, bucko?)

Thirty-three years ago, the Parish government banished a woman for claiming to have a virgin birth. When Krylyr, her supposedly messianic son, became a terrorist and started a holy war against the fundamentalist government, life in the endless city got worse. Now, two women from Krylyr’s past have uncovered a weapon they believe will cripple the Parish. Only Krylyr can help pull it off. Unfortunately, there’s a problem: Krylyr got himself killed. Nobody said this would be easy. Fortunately, someone’s dug him up from his grave and whether he’s a vampire or a clone (and even if he is) or just plain resurrected, he’s breathing, and it looks like he might have one more good deed in him.

Enclosed is the first page (less than 751 words) of my manuscript “ABC,” a dark science-fiction/fantasy novel. Last year, it was awarded the grand prize in a contest from XPublishing. Set in the far-flung future, the story contains approximately 70, 000 words. I am sending this query letter to you because I know the publishing industry is a difficult one and I believe you can help me sell my work.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. By day I work as a technical writer on top-secret classified projects (so much so, sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m writing about) for an aerospace company. By night, I’m a member of the Writer’s Club of Y, a professional workshop for writers.

Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to hearing back from you.


David Thompson

Chapter 1 -- Cast Down

Hunger howled in the pit of Father Nor’s stomach, an unquenchable appetite food could not satisfy. He glared at the teenage girl clinging to his leg as the emptiness filled his gut, sinking like a stone in a bottomless well. The girl’s fingers dug into Nor’s calf while her other hand protected the swelling belly beneath her habit. She had the audacity to meet Nor’s gaze and it infuriated him. (I'd stop right here--this kind of over wrought writing is instant rejection. I can fix almost anything from bad syntax, lousy pacing, and copy editor's nightmares but I cannot fix your sensibility. If this is what you're writing, and you think it's good, there's nothing for me to work with)

“Please, Father Nor,” cried the girl, “I swear to you on Christ’s name! I’m telling you the truth!”

He pushed her away with his boot, knocking her back onto the cobbled floor. A Magistrate stepped from the shadows lining the chamber’s walls, his dark shadow armor glinting like polished obsidian. The Magistrate grabbed fistfuls of her red hair with dark gloves and tore her from the ground. Tears streamed down her face, smearing the grime on her pale cheeks. Then the Magistrate plunged the girl’s head into a marble basin of water. His regulator’s hiss echoed in the dimly-lit room, bouncing off the drab stone walls and piercing the cold silence.

Nor tugged at the bleached white collar around his neck, watched as bubbles rippled around her hair. Imagined the water entering her lungs. “Whore of Babylon!” he said. “How dare this adulterous bride of Christ swear by His name after betraying the Parish in heat and lust, for the pleasures of the flesh?”

The other members of the Holy Twelve, their faces made spectral by the torch light filling the room, stared on silently. She flailed beneath the surface. Water spilled across the floor, pooled where the Fathers stood. Holy water. After a few moments, the gurgling stopped.

The aroma of spiced chicken drifted into the room. Nor licked his lips and nodded to the Magistrate. The Sister’s face came up.

The Magistrate pulled her back by her scalp again. Below the brim of his conquistador-style helm, her trembling face reflected in his mirrored orange faceplate.

A web of blood laced her forehead where hair had been ripped from their roots.

“There can still be absolution,” Nor told her, forcing himself to sound smooth and pleasant. “All the Holy Twelve ask is that you give us the name of the man who fathered the child, so he may repent, too.”

“Already have,” she wept. “There was no father.”

The Magistrate’s fist smashed her jaw, splattering blood. He snapped back her hair so she toppled to the floor.

Nor examined his fingernails, picked at an isolated speck of dirt.

Wailing, she was lifted off the ground and submerged again, pressed down by the holy hands of the Magistrate. Clumps of red hair floated to the ground. Crimson filled the water like an angry cloud, refusing to dissolve.

“You have heard the words out of her mouth. What say you now?” Nor asked.


Anonymous said...

I know Miss Snark doesn't agent Sci Fi/Fantasy, so I can understand her comments. This reads to me as pretty typical for the genre. It's not the kind of fantasy that appeals to me, as I'm not really into sword & sorcery, which this seems to me to be, so I can't comment fairly on it myself.
Good luck, author!

Adrian said...

I the cover letter could use some work, but I don't agree that the writing is that bad. It's just a different style. In this case, I think it's more a matter of taste than an issue of good or bad. It's not my style, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are fantasy readers who would enjoy it.

My advice to the author is to fix up the query letter and keep submitting.

Anonymous said...

As an editor I'm not sure where to begin.

As a reader I'll save my editor side the trouble with the assurance that I will not read any more. Though this has an audience, I'm not in it.

Way too over the top, giving me a mental picture of the Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition crowd with Gary Oldman and Kenneth Brannegh thrown in to help chew the scenery.

I would suggest the writer read more widely than the current crop of work-for-hire D&D books that crowd their section of the bookstore like unsold Big Macs.

Writer--simplify, simplify, simplify.

"the emptiness filled his gut, sinking like a stone in a bottomless well"

HOW can emptiness sink anything, dude?

Anonymous said...

The style may not be to everyone's taste, but I think it suits the subject matter just fine. I don't usually read this genre, but I'd read on based on what I've seen here.

It sounds like campy, baroque fun.

dancinghorse said...

I do read, write, and edit fantasy, and Miss Snark is on the money. While there is a certain type of dark fantasy or fantasy romance that does go over the top with the writing, said writing has to hit the notes spot on. Even then, the plot and characters have to offer something in some way above and beyond the usual--worldbuilding so good it wows the agent and editor, characters so well drawn ditto, or a magical system unusual or clever enough to keep the reader reading even through infelicities of style or character. Or, failing all of that, try to clone your models so well that the models' audience will think you're just about as good as the real thing.

It's a tough market out there right now, and many subgenres of fantasy are struggling, including this one. Ask yourself what you can do that is new or different, and how you can present it in such a way that it wakes up the jaded agent or editor and makes him or her take notice.

And meanwhile, pare down the prose a bit--over the top is not necessarily bad, but try to aim more toward Lord Foul than Snidely Whiplash.

tqlmxl said...

I *do* read the genre, and I assure you, this is not a typical example. If this is what previous commenters believe is representative of SFF, no wonder they don't read it.

It's a large market, and I'm sure there are a *few* books in SFF actually being published that may be in the same league as this (and maybe even a dozen people reading them), but Miss Snark is right -- it's badly overwrought. Chewing the scenery indeed. I did notice that the writing settles down & improves slightly after the first paragraph, which contains the bulk of the "cheese" factor in this sample.

Termagant 2 said...

This WAS supposed to be funny, right? I, too, instantly began to channel M Python.

Please say it was tongue in cheek.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I do read in this genre and NO, NO, NO!!! This is NOT normal for science fiction or fantasy - not for any part of it. This is NOT a matter of differing tastes; Miss Snark is correct that this is desperately overwrought.

Now to be more constructive:

Erm, Author? Your query letter makes you sound a little insane. That last paragraph in particular. Eek.

Also, Krylyr is a terrible name; when I try to read it, my brain sees it as K-(sound of gravel crusher).

The plot outlined in the query sounded like it could be pretty cool, however. My interest was definitely piqued and I was looking forward to reading the excerpt at that point.

Obviously, you lost me with the writing itself. It's so outrageous that it reads like satire. I'd suggest you take a few months away from this manuscript, and use that time to really study the craft of writing. Read library books on the subject, study recent books published in the same genre - just try to absorb a lot about how to write well.

Then go back and read your work again. At that point, you'll probably start to see what things need to be toned down and made more subtle.

Also, Nor's rampaging hunger and the smell of fried chicken really stood out as weird in this excerpt. So weird that I was really wondering if this query was actually a joke.

*delicately raises an eyebrow*

pookel said...

Ditto previous commenter who said this is NOT typical of the genre, neither SF/F or H. It makes me wonder if the author is in the same camp of people who don't usually read this stuff but thinks it's supposed to be done this way. It isn't.

wonderer said...

Ditto on pookel and the anon directly before pookel. This is not typical fantasy, despite what non-fans of the genre may think. Author, you can convey a sense of menace and evil using much sparser, less melodramatic writing than this. And the name Krylyr stopped me too - does it really need two y's?