3rd SR Crapometer #70

Dear Miss Snark,

When her sister disappears as part of a government-sanctioned illegal medical experiment, a journalist must use her covert empathic abilities to find her. MindBlind is a 80,000 word thriller. (err...covert empathic abilities means we're in the SFF realm)

In a near future world in which hyper-empathy is considered a disease treatable with neuro-ablative surgery, closet empaths live hidden among the ‘Mind Blind’. Isabel Jepson is just such an empath. An investigative journalist, she has learned to successfully ‘pass,’ concealing her empathic skills, but she lives an isolated life. you're missing the obvioius. Why does she want to keep her empathic abilities. You've assumed having them is good. If they are "treatable" there must be a down side..what is it?

A gifted linguist treated for hyper-empathy as a child, Isabel’s older sister Kathryn is an emotionally scarred adult. (being a linguist will do that to you.) But she has something the government needs and is willing to experiment with her brain to obtain. Randall Parness, an agent for homeland security, kidnaps Kathryn in an effort to create the perfect spy--an empathic linguist he can control.

Isabel’s investigative instincts are not enough to locate her sister. She must rely on her empathic skills, risking disclosure to seek allies among mind blinds and other secret empaths to rescue Kathryn and expose the government’s plot.

The manuscript of MindBlind is available upon request. Thank you for your time and attention.


I'm looking closely at all cross genre stuff right now, so I'm going to overlook the beige query letter and get right to the pages.

"Izzi! I got the job! Call me!"

It always started out the same way. The same breathless excitement, the same certainty, the same glow in Kathryn's eyes. It was always the dream job or the perfect guy, finally the right alignment of the stars. But every one of her sister's bosses and boyfriends seemed to be named 'Shithead'. Kat was drawn into disastrous relationships the way some people were suckered into buying lottery tickets.

Isabel stabbed the skip button on the phone, letting the image fade from the display. Kat could damn well call her back this time. She needed a hot shower, a change of clothes, and a drink, but not necessarily in that order.

She hated interview days. Today’s had been as difficult as the ten that came before it, all put together. She should never have let Jared convince her to do this story.

Kicking off her sandals, Isabel collapsed on the sofa and reached for her wineglass. The shower could wait. She closed her eyes letting the alcohol ease the tightness in her throat and chest. That little girl had reminded her of Kat, had spoken in the same monotone that had stolen Kat's animated voice after each treatment. Isabel’s hand trembled and wine sloshed over the sides of the glass.

Remember, she'll be a little sleepy after, so she won't be able to play with you. We're counting on you Izzi--watch over Kat. She needs you. But she'll be all better soon.

She managed to put the glass down without shattering it. Damn Jared for insisting she take this story. She could just imagine his reaction if she called him now.

"Jared? That series on that new treatment protocol? Yeah. No can do. So sorry. Saw my sister nearly driven insane by it. And by the way, if they’d found out I was an empath, I would have been detained and forcibly treated along with her."

Oh, that would go over quite well.

Isabel stared across the coffee table at the glowing telephone display. Every few minutes it would chirp, reminding her of Kat’s stored message. Sighing, she reached for the phone. Hitting the button for audio only, she surrendered to the inevitable. “Call Kat.”

She poured another glass of chardonnay.

“Hi, this is Kat. Sorry you missed me. Leave a vid, voice, or text and I’ll get back to you!”

“Kat, it’s Izzi. I’ll be home all night.”

Isabel ended the connection, puzzled. Kat hated to miss a call and never turned her mobile off. Well, maybe she finally gave poor Kennett a break. He’d only been asking her out every week since forever. But it was probably too much to hope for; Kat seemed to have the same luck choosing companions as bosses.

Bosses. Jared. Shit. He was expecting her to check in about today’s interviews, but the less time she spent with him while she felt this vulnerable, the better. It was hard to banish the image of his capable hands kneading away the tension of her neck and shoulders. She shook her head.

The interviews needed to be transcribed and voice-stress analyzed but Isabel didn’t need a computer algorithm to tell her she’d heard the truth in that girl’s voice. A shudder washed over her followed by the despair she’d been struggling against all day.

backstory, action seen after the fact, tired heroine in first page.
the writing doesn't suck but I'm not caught up in the story at all. Give us something to chew on; reading this is like looking at pages of food when you're hungry. You also need to give some thought to explaining why empaths are considered dangerous. I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but you'll have to clue me in cause it's not obvious to me. My empathy as we all know is damn limited.


Katrina Stonoff said...

I'm fascinated by the idea of a culture that feels threatened by empaths and feels the need to "treat" them.

I would prefer a quicker beginning though. In this case, the author could start during the interview, where Izzi's watching this little girl and remembering her sister.

Anonymous said...

As a writer who's spent hours on a couch slugging back *whine* in just that sort of s&&&y mood I can relate--however, I read books about characters who are above that sort of thing.

Girl on a couch with pressures is humdrum.

Girl on a couch with a hot hunk nibbling her ear is... more interesting.

Girl OUT DOING SOMETHING INTERESTING related to the plot is what's NEEDED.

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea. I too want to better understand the background of why empaths are being treated--but can this be shown through action, not told in exposition? That's the trick isn't it. Anyway, I'm interested, and I hope to see more of this story someday!

My 2 cents said...

I really liked the query and I "got" the scenario right away, unlike Miss Snark (who rocks, however). But Miss Snark couldn't be more right about the fact that this is starting with a whole bunch of backstory. Start with the action.

Bernita said...

Is this empath as in relating to another's feelings?
Empath as in prosopopoeia?
Or empath as in The Next Generation, ie.a mind-reader?
It is important we understand the basis of these outer and inner conflicts, or we're left thinking "huh?"

Jeb said...

Query: needs focus and more information as Miss Snark commands.

Opening: You could jump from the first line of dialogue almost directly to this part:

Isabel ended the connection, puzzled. Kat hated to miss a call and never turned her mobile off.

with a transition about her many tries at calling Kat back since yesterday.

Then, immediately interrupt her worries about Kat's unusual absence and bad boss streak with a call from Izzy's own boss about her interviews with the kid etc.

By paragraph three, you'd have a double lot of pressure on this woman (sister missing, job in - slight - jeopardy) without her sitting around self-pitying.

Conversation, even by phone, makes more active reading than watching our heroine sit around thinking about conversations that should be, or once were.

The boss could 'naturally' bring up the issue of empath-surgery in context of the interview Izzy was supposed to report to him about, and Izzy could 'naturally' worry about whether to tell him she feels too close to the story because of her sister.

Wondering whether she'd tell him the history or not, and whether she'd tell him she thought her sister was missing and get that plot-line moving, would be enough impetus to get me to turn the page.

As it is, even though I'm curious about why empaths would need surgery (psychics, possibly, since they could theoretically pick up business secrets; but empaths just 'feel' things), I'd pass.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think katrina is spot on right :). That would be a much more dynamic scene.

This does however remind me more than a little of how telepaths are treated in Babylon 5.

MaryKaye said...

There's plenty of SF on the concept that being able to tell what people are feeling is just as threatening as being able to tell what they're thinking: I sense you're lying, I sense you don't love your wife, I sense you're lusting after that hot young legislative aide.... I don't think genre readers will have much trouble with this.

LJCohen said...

Self pity is gone. Reworked the opening to start with the interview.

While waiting for mine to show up on the crapometer, I read all the previous entries. Then I looked at my submission again. Then I wished I could redact my entry!

Amazing how much easier it is to see the flaws after getting beaten over the head with it. LOL.

My gratitude to Miss Snark and the Snarklings who commented.

Query needs more flesh on its bones too.

Anonymous said...

Just a note to the author- the term "mind blind" is very catchy! I thought you might be interested to know, though, that the term "mind blindness" is often used to describe Autism Spectrum Disorders and it's already made it into the lingo of the psychological sciences.

LJCohen said...

Anonymous--thank you. Yes, I know. Asperger's syndrome is no stranger to our family. There are some parallels to my vision of closet empaths and 'aspies' living in the neurotypical world.

The name was a deliberate choice.

Anonymous said...

Why does she want to keep her empathic abilities. You've assumed having them is good. If they are "treatable" there must be a down side..what is it?

To me this is akin to asking:

Why does he want to remain a homosexual? You've assumed being one is good. If they are "treatable" there must be a down side... what is it?

Rei said...

I'm not fascinated by the idea of a culture that feels threatened by empaths and feels the need to 'treat" them. The concept of "people with wonderful special abilities, but society is so jealous/threatened by them that they have to destroy them/eliminate their powers" was a cheesy trope to begin with. It makes "general society" out to be some sort of inhuman, unfeeling entity.

The only time that "general society" endorses such an unfeeling policy (be it slavery, ethnic cleansing, forced sterilization of the mentally handicapped, etc) is A) when they believe that those affected are only minimally capable of feeling/understanding what's going on in a "human" manner, B) the worst abuses are hidden from the general public, and C) society views the policy as essential to their way of life.

Are you going to present that here? Believably? I doubt it.

I should add that with all of the overuse of this style of plot, now it's a cliche, cheesy trope.

LJCohen said...

Rei--I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. I do believe I've dealt with this in a believable framework. In the novel, hyper-empathy is treated in childhood because for many of the affected children being that sensitive to ambient emotion is disabling.

I don't want to start an off topic ramble here, but I disagree with your thesis--in the real world, for example, children are diagnosed and medicated for all sorts of issues that are problematic because of society's definition of 'normal'. E.g., the recent explosion in the number of boys diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and treated with ritalin. Is there truly an 'epidemic' of ADD? Or have societal expectations of normal classroom behavior forced 'boy energy' to be a DSM category?

(Miss Snark--I apologise if this is too off topic)