Dear Miss Snark,
I am seeking representation for MY NOVEL, a 113,000-word commercial/political novel set in South America that deals with schizophrenia, genetically modified soy and child trafficking.
(I've stopped reading right here. Novels may deal with issues and illuminate things but I want to know about the people, and the story. And I gotta tell you genetically modified soy is not high on my list of things to care about)
When Kerri Mansfield promises her bed-ridden sister-in-law, April, that she will fly to Brazil to find April's two missing foster children, it quickly becomes clear that she's in over her head.
Kerri hadn't known about Brazil's desperately impoverished slums, drug rings, or police death squads, but through them she finds a young woman who saw what happened to the children. Targeted by the police because of her involvement in the Candelaria massacre, Catarina's life on the street has landed her in prison, a problem easily overcome with the right bribe.
She tells Kerri the children are being held at a soybean plantation in the Amazon until they can be moved to their new home; a mining brothel in the region. Unknown to Kerri, the plantation owner, Amando Pascoal, has a rich deal to sell his genetically modified soy to the French government.
To protect their relationship with Amando, the French government sends in one of their finest officers. Kerri's ex-husband.
Now Kerri must try to convince the man she left five years ago to help her save the children, but it won't be easy. Vince has put her life at risk to further his career in the past, leaving wounds that aren't easy to fix. It doesn't help when Catarina steals and sells the medicine Vince needs to manage his schizophrenia.
If you'd care to read more I will happily send you the next 750 words. Thank you.
I'd stop reading here. This is melodrama, the stuff of soap opera. You have way too much going on here for any kind of focused narrative. Part of that comes from trying to tell us too much about the plot. You just need to hit the highlights.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Friday, February 16, 2001
I hate paying bribes. You have to be subtle and a sweet talker, neither of which come naturally to me. Probably why I was paying three times more for a human life than the next person. And now I had raised the guard's suspicion.
"This is a lot of money." He eyed me, thumbing through the large wad of bills I'd passed him and I could tell he was thinking of upping the price. "For half this amount you could pay to have someone kill her."
He could probably give me a referral to the best of Brazil's death squads, if he wasn't on one himself.
"I don't want her dead," I held his gaze, "right away."
His lip curled back into a smile. Now we were getting somewhere.
"Wait here." The guard stood and disappeared through the only door in the cramped room.
I slumped, wondering if he'd locked me in. Kicking my heel against his desk I tried to picture what incarceration was like at the Penitenciaria Feminia de Butantan. The clock on the wall ticked off the minutes. Speaking Portuguese at the level of a three-year-old had probably cost me half the bribe. I hadn't spoken Portuguese since I lived in Angola five years ago and although I picked up languages fairly easily we'd barely been in Brazil a week. I would really be screwed if Catarina couldn't speak English.
Nudging some papers around on the desk, a drawing of a candle wrapped in barbed wire caught my attention. Amnesty International's logo. I glanced to the door while I slid my fingers across the desk and grabbed the report. If Amnesty had visited the prison, conditions couldn't be good. My eyes caught the words batidas, feidas de gunshot and tropas de choque. Beatings, gunshot wounds and shock troops, I translated as the door opened.
I shot from the chair, covering the paper and trying to control the flush I felt spreading upward from my neck.
The guard barreled in. "Here's the menina da rua."
He took one look at me and narrowed his eyes.
I cleared my throat, "Uh."
Catarina edged into view and I eyed her strange outfit. The Penitenciaria Feminia de Butantan must not provide uniforms for prisoners. She was all feathers, sparkles, and sixteen-year-old attitude. In some small way she reminded me of Hello Kitty.
She flicked her gaze over me as I crossed the room and grabbed her arm, pushing her through the door. "Come on."
The guard eyed me, but let us pass. My bribe had been enough to get her released, but offered no permanent immunity from the polícia. They could take her back at any time.
I herded her down the hall to the exit, trying to not to run.
she's in prison in feathers and sparkles?
surely, surely they'd be bedraggled? water stained? smashed? askew? Even if she arrived in prison five seconds ago, she didn't go there directly from her boudoir is my guess.
This doesn't bring me into the prison with the narrator. It's like listening to her talk about it afterwards-we're removed from the action.
This is why the cover letter is crucial. With a better cover letter, I'd probably read a couple more pages to see if things improve. I've got no confidence in the plot so I'm probably not going to invest much time reading the pages, so once the flowers and sparkles come out without any further description, I'm pretty much done.
You get about 10 seconds of attention. It's not fair, but it's the reality of 100 queries a week.