3rd SR Crapometer #66--partial for sure

Dear Agent, (snarl)

Wedge Vildesang hates witches - he lost his family to magic - but his boss, "The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz," needs a witch killerc aught. Wedge would rather let the assassin escape, but he's a loyal cop.
Helped along by Reg - a mixed-race Guard with a hidden connection to "Dubya's" and Oz's past - and a woman who may or may not be the dead witch's sister, Wedge will track the killer and a conspiracy that can change the precarious balance of power in Oz. He will find life in the Em even darker than he thought, his respected boss dirtier than any witch. Oz Noir is a
98,000-word fantasy-mystery of murder, intrigue, and dreams of empire coming
to a dark end.
Wedge and Reg survive to return in a sequel in progress.
First page included; hope it makes you want to represent me.



Ok, cross genre is hot so I'm ready to read. Of course setting this is Oz is derivative but I can probably get past that if it's good writing.

Oz Noir

Somebody'd bagged a witch, so I spent the day chasing the yellow line.

This Taller dame started it. Ain't that always the way? Nothing against 'em personal, but they're so damn big they can't help but cause more'n their fair share of trouble. Fiern, I even maybe got some Taller blood in me - Dad wasn't too sure. But Gram on the other side was pure
Munch, so I was only a little bigger than average.

The dead woman was a slumlord, kept the local Munch under her thumb. They supplied certain agricultural raw materials to the Em, and all problems got solved yesterday, or the W handed some troubleshooter his head. I was the new chief TS, and Dubya wanted me on the job, personally. So, he sent one of the new Guards down to find me in the castle's back garden.

Not too many folks went down there since that dead wyvernthe started to smell, and that was nine years ago. They pulled all the corpses out pretty fast, if there was a corpse. Some of 'em just disappeared. But the critter itself measured half the length of the curtain wall it crushed when it fell. Took 'em three weeks to clear the carcass. Had to cut it down to haulable pieces. City lost thirteen butchers, including old Therngild, who started in Bluetown with my old Dad, then made it up to Emperor's Victualler.

The blue maids society chattered for a week about it, how the man became a vegetarian, overnight. Got knifed by a little onion-girl down on the south side of town three weeks ago. For the record, it was pure self-defense - he was drunk and tried to slice a chunk off her to put on his supper. Kind of makes me glad Nerea's body was one of those that disappeared. She always liked Therngild.

The new Guard found me cleaning leaves and other trash from around Mathilda. She's off in a corner now, and the gardeners don't always get back there. Dubya marked the spot where we found her, then put symbols on all the walls, too. He just traced on the stone and it melted away, smoke hissing out of the trail his finger left. He said working with stone that way didn't
give him any expertise to help Mathilda, though. He studied her for most of Cold. Near as he could figure, Nerea shielded her from whatever magic that wyvernthe gave off as it died. So, Nerea disappeared, and Mathilda was solid stone. Dubya called her "marble," but I didn't understand why. She wasn't little and round, even if she was only three. Her Mama was a Taller, so the baby was big. She'd be 12 now.

"Hey runty, Dubya sent me to find the head troubleshooter," the messenger said. "He was supposed to be here. Where'd he go?"

I ignored him while I pulled the last small bits of leaves and weeds from around my daughter's feet.

"Yo, short stuff, I was talking to you. Get away from the ugly statue and look at me."

"Sorry Darlin'," I told Mattie. Then I grabbed my jacket off the bench and hung it over her face. Kids that age are impressionable - shouldn't see things like what I was about to do - might give 'em ideas.

He stood near to the top of the doorway - all Taller and no brain. Dubya didn't like it when I abused the new ones too much, so maybe only a few bruises where nobody would see. Then he tried to grab me. I put the first dagger through his right foot.

oh ya, this is damn good.
I'd read it all and ask for more.
I like the energy and the pacing.
I don't like the derivative world stuff, but if I loved this novel, I'd get past that.


Iago said...

Sorry. It just struck me as trite and trying to be too clever for its own good. Pale in comparison to Pratchett or Adams. Reminds me of some of the parodies I did back in high school - and when I read those now, I cringe.

Anonymous said...

Rule of thumb: if you write well, don't set your story in someone else's world. Although poor Oz has been the victim of some serious fanfic here lately....

I don't happen to like this style of writing, which I suppose is why I skimmed the first sentence of each successive paragraph and skipped the rest?

M. Takhallus. said...

I think the choice of Oz is brilliant. That's the marketing hook. And "Oz Noir" is a great title.

Back off the abbreviations in the first few graphs and feed them in slower, give us a chance to absorb them. I don't know that you want to use "dubya" it distracts.

Have you thought about going middle reader with this premise?

You know about Baum's little sideline in race-baiting and genocide-mongering right? His surviving relatives recently made an apology to the native american tribe great grandpa had suggested should be rubbed out.

Time's Ocean said...

At the risk of sounding negative (har!)...been done.

'Wicked' by Gregory Maguire

It still sells like crazy and is always on the Paperback Favorites table if not occasional stints as a Paperback Bestseller.

It might sell well during the initial release, but people have already read 'Wicked'. This'd be one I'd be scanning for return-to-publisher within two months.

(No 'fence intended, brave writer)

Anonymous said...

I found the dialect a chore to decipher and stopped reading after a couple paragraphs.

The other Cathy said...

Way too much jargon, even if you invented it yourself. Sprinkle it in a lot more gradually so we can absorb one word at a time.

Virginia Miss said...

I really liked the first three paragraphs, but then I got confused so I lost interest. Aside from the narrator and the dead witch, there were too many other names, too soon, people and/or things we're not meeting in a scene: Dubya, wyvernthe, therngild, nerea, matilda, blue maids, onion society, the guard.

Rick said...

Absolutely lose the "Dubya" - it's completely jarring outside of political commentary.

Michele said...

I love the idea, but (like others) found the opening a bit confusing.

If you introduce 2 0r 3 characters per scene, that makes it easier to follow. Some people can get away with more.... but it's tough!

overdog said...

I found it hard to follow and lost interest. Sorry.

Janie said...

Sorry. Dubya just turned me right off.

Anonymous said...

Oz Noir is a really interesting choice but I'm not sure it can sustain for an entire novel, unless it's a short novel. I say this because the things that make it so interesting -- in the beginning -- may wear out their welcome really fast. When Chandler gave us Marlowe, he was really writing modern-day stories of chivalry. Marlowe had a voice that'd follow plus we were led into a world that was gritty and seamy and thus attractive. Will we enter the underbelly of Oz? We're going to need to.

Yahzi said...

I think this sample is what is wrong with agents (and editors).

There's too much gimmickry in the opening page. I don't believe it can be sustained; worse, I don't think it can be topped. He's lost his wife and daughter to a magical beast. Is anything that is going to happen in this book worse than that? Is he going to resolve their murder (why no, it is made clear it was merely some kind of tragic accident, which will have no further impact on the story).

All this fact is there for is to make us feel for the character instantly. Sort of like, "Hi, I'm disabled, could I talk to you for a few minutes about XYZ charity?"

But I'm not blaming the writer - he did his job. He got the agent's attention.

Basically, agents read so much slush they want the whole story, every emotional high and action-packed sequence, in the first five pages. Then they ask for the partial, and they wonder why it doesn't work.

Then they get a sub from an established author - and because he is established, they trust him - they let him set up the action at the proper pace. And lo and behold - the partial and the full just get better and better.

Then they start snarky websites to snark about submissions.

To be fair to Miss Snark, she doesn't handle fantasy, so she wouldn't recognize that this particular Fantasy Noir has a tacky parody feel. For an excellent piece of Fantasy Noir that is thourghly original, take a look at Kristan Korn's "The Banished City," langushing over at Lulu.com because the query letter didn't say "Oz" and the first page didn't have a homcidal dwarf in it.

Anonymous said...

Struggled through the opening several times - only because it had passed the partial test and I wanted to spot the magical ingredient.

Liked the voice but found it confusing.

wv: jpgggt brain jiggled

Bill Peschel said...

Gotta lose the Dubya; that signals to me "political content" even if you don't mean it.

This also reminds me of Jasper Fforde's books.

But a good voice. You got talent, there.

Talia Mana said...

i was intrigued. i wasn't put off by the language other than the fact that fantasy is not a genre i read. i would read on

Jo Bourne said...

I'm pretty sure some of the Oz books are still in copyright ... any problem with this?

Anonymous said...

Yahzi said...
"I think this sample is what is wrong with agents (and editors)..."

Well said. If this crapometer has convinced me of anything, finally, it's that this business is so subjective it defies logic. And this obligation to work the bells and whistles from the very first page is downright... vulgar. But then, we live in a vulgar age.

I understand that given their time constraints, the agents have no choice really. Like you said, once the first book has sold well the author can take his time and set up the others with style. I have read many good books the first pages of which would certainly have failed this crapometer test.

To the writer of the entry: my comments are not meant to be critical of your work in particular, but of the system of selection used by agents. I'm in no way qualified to critique SFF.

one of the 356 said...

I'm stumped. Read it twice because the Snark liked it...but remain completely in the dark. Wtf?

xiqay said...

Miss Snark has very different taste than I have. I didn't want to work through all the Oz and Dubya and figure things out (course I haven't yet had my morning coffee). I would not keep reading-but congrats author on striking a responsive chord with the One Who Counts.

M. Takhallus. said...


Preach it, brother. (Or sister.)

My wife and I both write, used to write kids books as partners, now we're going into different areas. She's staying in kids for now, and recently sold a book (due out fall of '07, I think) that's a middle reader about an African refugee. It's written in blank verse. That's right, blank verse. Odds that an agent would have given it a serious look if her name was Jane Doe? Zero.

She sold it to (great big kid publisher,) didn't like the way they were handling it, yanked it and resold it to (other big publisher.) So she sold it twice.

It's a beautiful book, by the way, and her editor is in love with it. But it never would have been given a look if she wasn't already established. (And it's not a case of a publisher thinking her name has intrinsic value, this is a genre jump that would leave any lingering fans behind.)

That reality works to our advantage, but it doesn't work to the benefit of publishing in general. A system that squeezes out the newbies, and forces every first graph to be an explosion, a blood bath or a sex scene is not a good thing.

Read the first few pages of Harry Potter some time. Tell me where the big "kaboom!" opening is.

BJ Nemeth said...

I like the premise (a detective novel set in the Wizard of Oz), but the writing lost me. There were way too many slang words and abbreviations.

Is he investigating Dorothy? There are a few clues to imply that, but there are so many other things mentioned that I'm not sure.

If this book parallels the action of "The Wizard of Oz," you need to make that crystal clear from the start. If the book takes place in Oz at a different time, that would also need to be crystal clear.

The name "Dubya" is EXTREMELY distracting. If you're not making political commentary, change that immediately. If you ARE making political commentary, don't be so freaking obvious about it, and change it immediately!

This one is interesting because the Snarklings, for the most part, seem to disagree with Miss Snark's positive assessment. Unfortunatley, I side with the Snarklings on this one.

I like the concept, but it seems to me that the entire novel would have to be rewritten just to be comprehensible. I've read your query and first page several times, and am still utterly confused. (And I consider myself more familiar with the world of Oz than most readers.)

I want to like this, but I don't. Sorry!

Diana Peterfreund said...

The writer had me here: "But Gram on the other side was pure
Munch, so I was only a little bigger than average."


I agree with those that said that the jargon needs to be sprinkled in a little more slowly, though, or you're going to lose people. Dubya didn't bother me at all.

Also,a s for what explodes on the 1st page of Harry Potter, it's "The Boy Who Lived." It has an epic fairy tale feel. An amazing opening.

McKoala said...

I'm sorry, more confusion here, but, to be fair, this isn't a genre that I read, so that may be why it works for Miss S and leaves me lost.

I think that the voice is good, although I'd struggle to read a whole book of it.

wonderer said...

SF/F reader here to disagree with MS (eek!) and agree with the snarklings. I like the fantasy/noir concept, but I am not caught by the writing. I agree with the other comments - too many new terms at once, and "Dubya" doesn't work (plus it dates the novel). But I do like the voice.

The letter is full of sentences that are packed with too many ideas. Chop them up a bit.

The first scene really starts at "The new Guard found me cleaning leaves...". The rest is backstory - which just as much a no-no in fantasy as in any other genre. A little of it can come out as Wedge is talking to (yelling at?) the newbie; the rest can wait. Wedge's life history and motivations don't need to be put out there right at the beginning. Leave us curious about why his daughter is stone.

#66 said...

Hey! Fforde, Pratchett and Adams in the same mention as me - and one of them favorably! And Mis Snark likes me. She really, really likes me!

Thanks for the comments, all. The jargon/slang issue was something I worried about, so now I know that a number of readers had trouble. The general negative reaction to "Dubya" is duly noted, as well.

Didn't know about LFB's racism - learn something new and unpleasant every day.

Yahzi's comments also showed me a weakness in the query letter - something I need to make clearer, but I'll have at least 100 more words to do that, I think.

Thanks again - hope you'll all give it a shot if I ever get published.

Rei said...

The derivative words were too much for me. Sorry.

Yahzi said...

#66 wrote: "a weakness in the query letter - something I need to make clearer,"

I assume you're going to tie the tragedy to the rest of the story. Be careful, though: you don't want to confuse your agent with too much plot! :D

(In case it wasn't clear the first time, I admire your ability to get their attention.)

I'm getting close thinking that we should write one set of five pages for the agent, and then, when they ask for a partial, submit a different set.

In other words, treat the query letter and first submission as purely marketing tools to sell the book (but not, of course, in such a way that it is obvious that we are trying to sell the book, because then the agents get offended that we think we can manipulate them. Which would be fine... if we didn't have to manipulate them to get their attention. :D )

For instance, comparing my own fantasy novel to other recent breakthrough novels, I noticed that I lack all mention of child rape in the first five pages. No wonder my query letter is batting 1 (half-hearted) partial for 15 rejections.

Ski said...

I bet you'll sell this way before I sell anything of mine - but - this is creepy. It's like you put A Clock Work Orange and the Wizard of Oz in a blender and this was the result. I wish everyone here success, even you, but bleackhhh!


Anonymous said...

The reason that Fforde's and Pratchett's novels work is that while their characters may be creatures of fantasy, they are show acting like real cops or bureaucrats and are confronted by the same problems real cops/civil servants have. Cut most of the jargon out. Look to Raymond Chandler and Robert Parker here for telling a lot with a little description. Introduce only what jargon you need. And start the story sooner. Show him in the Wizard's office getting the assignment. I like the "OZ noir" concept, but would recommend setting it after Dorothy's return to Kansas. You have an interesting set up here and I look forward to seeing the rest of the story.