3rd SR Crapometer #74

Dear Miss Snark,

After the suspicious death of an old classmate, Michelle Hendrickson and Brianne Roberts rediscover an old friendship in their rural hometown. But, before the casket has even been buried, Michelle’s husband is murdered, Brianne's fiancĂ© is kidnapped, and the two women find themselves in a desperate race for the truth. (the truth about what?)

The emergence of an old flame and an unexpected pregnancy complicate matters as Michelle and Brianne try to unravel a deadly mystery. (what mystery?) When clues lead them to a major international crime, they realize that they are in extreme peril, and that they don't know whom they can trust with their lives.

"Murderer Among the Mourners", a 103,000-word commercial fiction, combines emotional human drama with fast-paced suspense. The book is a collaboration between myself and Minnie Mouse. Both of us have worked as staff writers for The Jefferson Star newspaper. At your request, I would be happy to send the complete manuscript of "Murderer Among the Mourners" for your consideration. I look forward to your opinion.


well, my opinion is that you need to focus that query letter with a few more specifics.

Chapter 1

His leather gloves made a soft, creaking noise as he clenched his fists. It and the low murmur of the car’s engine were the only sounds to pierce the night. The winter’s cold was barely held off by the car’s heater, which he periodically turned off and on. He couldn’t get too warm and risk falling asleep, but when his teeth started chattering, he cranked it up a few notches. While unhappy about his present task, he knew his loyalty would be rewarded. The phone on the passenger seat next to him vibrated.

“Yeah?” he demanded gruffly, careful to keep his voice down.

“Are you done yet?”

“Not yet.”

“What’s the problem?”

“She hasn’t been home.”

“Well, hurry up.”

There was nothing to say, so he hung up, sighing loudly and rolling his eyes. He had to wait for the woman to show up. Obviously, the show couldn’t go on without her. Since there was nothing to do but wait, he spread out the photos on the seat next to him and again studied his assignment.

She was a young woman, unmarried but seriously dating a man a few years older. Her job wasn’t exciting; she was barely above an entry-level receptionist. She spent some of her spare time volunteering for different non-profit programs; her way of giving something back. She lived in a small two-bedroom rental house on the verge of a rough neighborhood, rough, for a city with barely 50,000 people lying amidst a sea of farmland and religious zealots.

She had plenty of friends, but only a handful she saw regularly. From his first inspection of her life, he could detect no discernible routine. He had come to observe that she truly lived moment to moment in a swirl of chaos and what she must have thought was fun. But, he kept watching her and waiting. Then he found it. Her social life ebbed and flowed with the holidays, paydays, and possibly her monthly cycle or at least days when she felt too fat.

He managed to pick out activities she did on a regular basis. Tonight she was at a community education class learning how to tango. It was one of her many attempts at connecting with other young women while “improving herself,” as if learning to cook Thai and belly dancing were some unknown, hidden secrets to success.

He never considered what lay before him as anything but a job. Even as he got to know the most intimate details of her life, he never accepted her as a person. She was a task to cross off his list. He was still pretty new to the profession, and could still push it out of his mind as just another day at the office. It was hard to discern what gave him the mercenary quality necessary for his chosen line of work. Perhaps it was his military background, owning his own business in a cutthroat market, or even his upbringing as a child. Whatever it was, he was precise, detached, and efficient.

He closed his eyes and was considering a short nap when he heard another car approaching. He looked down the street, straining his eyes to see if it was her. She had been due home for a couple of hours. He hadn’t been too worried because she sometimes went out with friends after one of her classes. As the car lights approached, he watched carefully.

oh yawn yawn yawn.
We're not only waiting for the action to start, you're telling us about things while we do.
This is your idea of fast paced suspense? Blow something up, then we'll talk.


Anonymous said...

You talk about thriller and suspense. So why are you calling it commercial fiction? Just say what it is. If they try to unmask the killer --> mystery.
If they try to outrun him --> thriller.

Nowhere does something as vague commercial fiction come in.

Bernita said...

POV problems.

desert snarkling said...

Didn't this also run through Evil Editor? And isn't it almost identical, even though he pretty much had the same comments Miss Snark did?

If you're going to look for critiques, the least you could do is do something with them.

Anonymous said...

Start the ACTION as late as possible, exit as soon as you can.

He's a hit man, his target a young woman--that's all we need to know to get things moving.

Tease all you like with hints of what's in the future, but at this point I've no reason to read more. Who, what, where, when, how can be dropped in later.

Try reading some of Lawrence Block's "Keller" books to see how his pet sociopath works.

However, if this hit man ain't your protage, move on to the hit. In a suspense opening we want dessert first.

Author said...

Yes, I did send my query letter through Evil Editor, and I thought I'd try one of his "fixed" query's here to see what kind of response it gets.

But that said I have worked on the story after my critique at Evil Editors. My story went through at least two major changes after it. I'll be the first to admit this is still a work in progress. But I do work on it, and I will continue to work on it after this critique.

And yeah, it should probably be a thriller/suspense instead of commercial fiction. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

What bernita said--POV problems. Whose head are we in here?
- Her job wasn’t exciting
- her way of giving something back
- her many attempts at connecting with other young women while “improving herself,”

Jeb said...

Query: Michelle has a dead classmate, a murdered husband, a kidnapped friend/friend's fiancee, AND she's pregnant? Somebody's been memorizing Harlequin 'high concept' lists.

Pretty much the last thing a newly widowed, newly pregnant woman would be doing by choice would be poking around after international crime. She'd be alternately crying, barfing, falling asleep at odd moments, and sitting on hold with her husband's insurance company or the funeral parlour or the probate lawyer trying to sort out her suddenly tangled finances.

So I really don't buy this main character's emotional resilience in the face of all this disaster. You'd lose the attention of hypothetical Agent Me in paragraph 2 of the query.

Opening: if the hit man is not going to be a main character with a story arc of his own, then what you've got here is a prologue relabeled as Chapter One. And prologues from the seldom-to-be-heard-from-again killer's point of view were creaking with age five years ago. Even worse, it's a BORING scene of a hit man sitting in his car thinking about taking a nap. Maybe Donald Westlake could make that funny or interesting, but few mere mortals have his skill.

Now you've lost hypothetical Agent Me-Two (who is male and therefore overlooked the effect of pregnancy hormones and widowhood on the emotions) at the end of the second line of stereotyped dialogue.

Sorry. I've already spent more time on this than I suspect any real agent/editor would.

Jo Bourne said...

Hi Anon --

When you're building an atmosphere of suspense and danger, you need to be both concise and specific.

So look at this passage, grabbed at random ...

"There was nothing to say, so he hung up, sighing loudly and rolling his eyes. He had to wait for the woman to show up. Obviously, the show couldn’t go on without her. Since there was nothing to do but wait, he spread out the photos on the seat next to him and again studied his assignment."

See the repetition here ...

-- He had to wait
-- the show couldn’t go on
-- there was nothing to do but wait

So -- going for specificity.

"Nothing to do but wait. He dealt the six photos out on the grimy blue vinyl of the passenger seat. His assignment."


BuffySquirrel said...

This is far more information than the guy needs to kill this woman. Putting the info-dump into his head doesn't make it less of an info-dump. Also, too much tell, tell, tell...

It wouldn't surprise me if this guy doesn't appear again, so get on with the action already.

McKoala said...

You might not like to hear this, but I was put off by the very first sentence: 'His leather gloves made a soft, creaking noise as he clenched his fists.' Too many words, and no punch. 'His leather gloves creaked as he clenched his fists'.

Anonymous said...

Actually the first thing that pulled me out of the story was the car engine running - you explain that it's cold out, but surely he'd have to keep the engine off so that people don't look his way? Noise = attention.

But I agree with the others who said that if you skip to the action sooner, I'd keep reading.

Stacy said...

1. The waiting is boring. This is not the character to use to give us background info. He's here to do a job, let him get on with it.

2. The Mills & Boon style exposition (see how old I am!) is boring. Even if the POV was the woman's, I wouldn't be particularly interested in lengthy descriptions of what has been established as a boring life.

3. If this character is a hard-boiled mercenary, he should sound like one. Right now, he sounds like one of those modern pansies who care about women's feelings and read self-help books. A real mercenary would laugh at this guy, and then shoot him. Or maybe the other way round.

Rei said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I trudged through the work, up to "She was a young woman..." I then realized that you were about to spend paragraphs "telling", and stopped.

Oh, and the word is "queries", not "query's". You really should have possessives down cold by now if you want to write.