3rd SR Crapometer #43

Dear Miss Snark,

I would be pleased to submit my mystery, Bread for the Mourning, for your consideration. At 74,000 words, Bread for the Mourning is a fast-paced mystery, designed to be a quick read. (a quick read is not a selling point for me. besides, fast paced says it all, and better. And I'm not an advertising audience, you really only need to say the title once in a paragraph. I promise I'll remember it for at least five seconds)

Newspaper reporter and single mother Billie Miller doesn’t have the time or energy to deal with other peoples’ crises, but it’s her job: she covers crime in the nation’s fourth-largest city. In the late 1980s, Houston is awash in homicide, and Billie’s mood is circling the drain. Careening from one crime scene to another, Billie fears she is becoming inured to the misery she witnesses on a daily basis; she fears it will make her a bad mother; she fears she will never get laid again. When she investigates a murderous husband and a rogue cop, she fears one of them may kill her, instead of writing a letter to the editor.

Thomas Wilkerson was a brutal husband whose dead wife is no surprise, but the nightmarish death of their infant son and Billie’s discovery that Deborah Wilkerson is just the latest late wife, lift the story from the commonplace. An attraction to homicide investigator Scott Fletcher poses an ethical dilemma for Billie. Overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of her job, trying to balance the disparate parts of her life, Billie still cannot ignore complaints from a wealthy drug trafficker that narcotics officer Sam Dunning has been moonlighting, robbing drug merchants he investigates. The two storylines merge when Billie sets a trap to catch Dunning but is, herself, caught by Wilkerson. Rescued by Fletcher, Billie discovers she wants the officer, but needs her young son.

Bread for the Mourning is my first book, although I am no stranger to writing. In the 18 years I covered crime for Houston newspapers, I reported from at least 9,000 crime scenes. I had a true-crime story featured in the (redacted)

Below is the first page of Bread for the Mourning. Thank you for your time.


blah blah blah.
I've read this 1000 times. This is where "fresh and new" come in.
You've got nothing here that says you've turned a usual trope or motif inside out, on its ear, or even slightly askew. I'd read the pages in case you're a good enough writer that I'd want to stay in touch but this one isn't going to fly no matter how well written.

Chapter 1

She couldn't see them, but Billie Miller knew they were watching as she drove slowly down the quiet, tree-lined street: rich people, hiding in their three-story bricks, peeking through their custom draperies, their assholes so tight they could decorate cookies with them. In a fit of pique, Billie hiked half the big truck over a curb to defile a meticulously kept lawn.

Standing inside the open door of the truck, Billie savored the last wisp of air conditioning while she loaded her pockets with pager, cell phone, notebook, pen, cigarettes, lighter, gum, money. She clipped her press ID on her belt and turned to survey the scene.

The house surrounded by the yellow crime scene tape was meant to look like a Swiss chalet. There were hundreds like it in Houston, and Billie thought they all looked silly as hell sweltering in the semi-tropical summers. This one had a couple of palms and a huge bougainvillea in the front yard and, according to the scanner chatter, a dead woman in the kitchen.

Billie squinted and wrote down the plate number of a silver Volvo in the drive, the only civilian vehicle present. A couple of uniforms stood outside the front door, and the three patrol cars meant there were more inside. A Crime Scene Unit van was parked on the street, but homicide and the medical examiner’s office hadn't made it yet. Gene McBride, KHRC Radio's police reporter and Billie’s office partner, was in his truck gearing up to go live with the few details he had. Four or five TV cameramen had scattered door-to-door in hopes of finding a talkative neighbor or maid. Evan Gillespie, Billie's competition from the other paper, hadn't arrived yet.

A couple of houses down, one of the TV shooters called her name and waved, sparking more shouts and waves from others dotted around the neighborhood. Billie waved back, but didn’t call out. Some homicide scenes were loud, and it didn’t matter if the press was loud too. Others were quiet, like this one, and it felt wrong to be loud or happy to see one another.

Houston crime reporters didn’t enjoy death, exactly. But they were all friends and all in the same business. Sudden, violent death was the thing that brought them together, the way conventions bring together people in other businesses. DeathCon, Billie thought. Lately they had seen a lot of one another. She guessed it was one of those good news, bad news paradoxes.

It doesn't suck but it's a form letter rejection.
There's a reason everyone's yapping about Charlie Huston...he took the usual expectations of genre and turned them on their ear. I'm looking for good writing but I also have to bring something fresh to the table.


Bernita said...

Snorked over the "could decorate cookies with them" line.

Anonymous said...

I might have missed something because I just skimmed it, but... this takes place in the late 1980s, right? How the hell could you fit a late-80s model cell phone in your pocket?!!

class-factotum said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Catja (green_knight) said...

The premise reads like any of the thrillers that are steady fodder to voracious readers - nothing spectacular, no, but if it's fast-paced and well-written, why not?

I can see why it needs to be good. I can't see why it needs to have an outstanding premise.

class-factotum said...

Author -- Sorry for the snide comment I wrote last night. I've deleted it. I agree with Catja. Who cares if the premise isn't new? As long as it's a good, well-written story with a likeable protagonist, I'll take it!

The author said...

I appreciate all the comments, snide or not, and I appreciate this opportunity. Thanks to Miss Snark and those of you who commented. I'm afraid fresh and new may be out of my reach with this first attempt, but I will keep working at trying to write a decent mystery. Perhaps fresh and new may come with experience, who knows?

salty said...

writer - it read fine to me, quick and easy.

I don't care for most mainstream novels personally (I think they should all be cut by about 50 thou words), but this read as easily as any of them - be great for a plane flight, plus with your crime scene background I'd be interested in those types of details.

Good luck~

Anonymous said...

You have an strong writing voice. I like the opening page and would definitely continue reading. Your query letter, however, needs a rewrite. Start by chopping off the first paragraph and condense the rest.
This sentence makes me think that she's in danger from both Scott and Tom:
"When she investigates a murderous husband and a rogue cop, she fears one of them may kill her, instead of writing a letter to the editor."

If she's only in danger from Tom, you need to be clear about that.

Also, what's with the following:

"Rescued by Fletcher, Billie discovers she wants the officer, but needs her young son."

Does Scott not like kids? Is Billie actually thinking of abandoning her son to be with this guy? If so, then she is a bad mother. Which isn't bad dramatically, could be quite interesting, but you should clarify this point.

Finally, is there a significance to setting the story in 1980s Houston? Widespread corruption perhaps? Spiraling crime rate? If so, mention that.

Keep plugging. I like what you've done so far.