9.06.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #76-cooked

Dear Miss Snark:

I’ve finished a 62,000-word novel entitled "Wing Nuts," set in Summer Harbor, Maine. The mayor’s decided to castrate the seagulls in town to revitalize its pier – fewer birds, less mess – and news of the curious Bob Barkering (wtf?) attracts attention nationwide. Assigned to the story is Lanie Drew, a young writer from the local paper. She’s eccentric, addicted to antacids and loathes Republicans. Still, she’s dating one. Soon there’s death, lust and a decapitated seagull surgeon. When Lanie unwittingly discovers the town’s superhero underground, she and the wannabe heroes race to solve the gull-related murders. Lanie’s own neck isn’t safe.
(You're trying too hard here)

As an award-winning writer at the ---- newspaper, I’ve loaned her some qualities (we’re both dashing, drive Jettas.) (these two clauses don't relate to each other at all) I write on everything from the paper industry to retail, and have been recognized for several feature stories and investigative reports.

"Wing Nuts" is chick lit, humor, mystery and strange phenomenon (like a boy who talks to asparagus).There's nothing I hate more than a string of adjectives tellling me what a book IS. Tell me where it goes on the shelf, and "classics" isn't an option. It’s quirky in a tube top. I like that a lot. I hope to use this unconventional coastal town in a second novel.

Thanks so much for your time.

Best,

I'd probably read this but if you got me at the end of a long day when chipper is Barbi's pet squirrel and all I want to do is reach for my sidearm, you've got a problem. Cute and zippy works best in moderation.

"Wing Nuts"

My garbage man and I have super powers.

I’m well aware most people coming out with such a ridiculous declaration are highly suspect or plain insane. Capital that: INSANE.

I’m not out of my mind, best I can tell, though it’s a bit like asking a dentist to fill his own tooth.

Maybe I’m not the best judge.

Since the unlikely discovery, I’ve been tormented by this bird-obsessed lunatic. He’s behind a slew of murders in town, gruesome, seemingly random.

Signs point to one more victim.

Me. (Last. It’s almost insulting.)

Won’t happen if I nail him first, the prick.

But you need back story. (oh dear dog no. ZAP)

I’m Lanie Drew, up to now quite happy in my chosen profession – dashing female reporter – with what I can only describe as an unhealthy addiction to antacids. I’m a former junior bobsled champion.

Very former. I don’t want to talk about it.

My age and one mildly disfiguring baked potato incident are also off limits. Mystery’s sake.

Home is a modest sublet apartment in teeny Summer Harbor, Maine: Last American home of the sardine. (It’s a jingle.)

There’s always the threat of the original renter moving back, keeping me in an unorganized state. Still, it’s been three years. Unpacking my CD collection wouldn’t be entirely out of bounds.

One neighbor’s an ugly drunk; his breaking a beer bottle against our paint-peeled Victorian the first clue.

The other is a grandmother type, a wild knitter. She crafted a blue cover for her mailbox the same week she moved in. Her entire wardrobe consists of small colored loops with peeks of pink flesh.

Despite the venerable New England tradition, we don’t potluck.

My occasional boyfriend’s name is Gary. He’s shorter than me. That’s why it’s occasional. Plus, he’s Republican.

On Mondays, best pal Ruby and I take a pottery class. I hate, hate it. However, it’s humbling and offsets the aforementioned, but not discussed, bobsled ability.

Once a month we badminton – love that.

I live alone with a pair of goldfish, Dazzle and Voodoo, whose loyalty is open to question. Were they not contained in a 10-gallon tank atop my bookshelf, they would undoubtably bolt.

I enjoy late ‘80s music, they don’t.

Up to now they have rebuffed my every attempt at synchronized swim lessons. I bought a video on it and everything. Stubborn.

Potentially mad and at least troubling:

Since June, I’ve been able to twist my body into whatever shape and size I pick.

I’m a completely fake perfect size 4, the agony.

So it’s altogether creepy, with perks, like dating Vin Diesel. (Not that I would. Too goon.)

That pivotal Tuesday started like any other.

Daz and Voodoo were restless. Mr. McCartney, the flaming drunk, was sprawled on the front lawn, several inches of pale, unpleasantness exposed. He’d passed out taking a piss on the old lady’s K-car. That was his thing.

No matter. I was late for an assignment.

I tossed on a lavender top and gray trousers, coaxed my hair into something long and soft – promptly tucked behind both ears – mascared, then tried best I could on the way to the car to avert my eyes from the spectacle in the grass.

My aging gold Volkswagen Jetta, a graduation gift, drove the 15 minutes to the other side of town, toward the neglected pier, where hundreds of seagulls bird-swore sharp, angry squawks at every empty-handed passerby.


This is a query letter on some form of amphetimine.
I'm going to just say no.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, and truly, thanks for looking at it. (And probably right on the agent-thinking mark given the generic rejections I'm collecting.) So, tone it down? I'm pitching right now to agents who work in humor and mysteries, should I try a different market?
Writers, any of your thoughts would be appreciated. This forum is such a cool thing.
Best, Author

Anonymous said...

Bob Barker does "The Price Is Right" and always ends with something public service announcement to "have your pet spayed or neutered.

tlh said...

Well, I was intrigued, and this is not at all the sort of thing I would normally find interesting or read.

At the word "backstory" I cringed, but I didn't stop reading until about halfway down. The thing is, it starts out peppy but ends up being more of a hyper laundry list. Each little fact is amusing in and of itself, but one after another, it's exhausting.

The thing is, funny has to be moderated with heart. The heroine comes off as perceptive and smart, with a wry sense of humor, but there're no chinks in the armor of funny for me to identify with. Does that make any sense at all?

And... I don't know about you, but I'd make some serious lifestyle changes if I could suddenly be a size 4. And freak out. Unless developing superpowers is just one of those things that might happen in that universe.

I like your voice, I like the superhero aspect, and if there were real substance behind the funny, I'd definitely pick this one up.

Anonymous said...

WOW! reminds me of a schizophrenic off 'meds' doing a jigsaw puzzle!

Writerious said...

They're neutering seagulls?

Um...

Since birds of both sexes carry their cajones internally, thus requiring abdominal surgery to do said neutering, and birds are somewhat delicate creatures especially under stress, you do realize how difficult and wildly expensive this would be, and how high the mortality rate of the "patients" would be?

Getting people to participate in trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs for feral cats is difficult enough. For seagulls? Lostsa luck.

Anonymous said...

The query had zip but didn't make a great deal of sense. The excerpt had even more zip and made even less sense. Is there a plot? I see no plot. I see blithering insanity pretending to be cute, and I have no patience for it.

Author, you have to give the reader some faith that you're capable of delivering a story. I didn't see any indication that you could. Based on this, I'd say forget pitching to agents; the book still needs work. Get out your editting razor and start slicing out fluff until the substance begins to show through.

Anonymous said...

Neutering seagulls? How did the mayor get taxpayers to agree to that, esp. in a small town in Maine? We're notoriously cheap, we New England small town folk.

I do like the character. I'd prefer to see her one-line zingers woven into an opening action scene, though, even if it's just the drive to the pier. I'd even prefer to see her leaving from work or working as a journalist. I want to know more about Lanie. I can find out about her neighbors, her pet, and her best pal later in the book.

If you do decide to leave the line w/the word phenomenon in your query, I'd go with the plural phenomena.

Best wishes,
Christina, an avid mystery reader

Inkwolf said...

Well, I really loved your first sentence. :D

After that, it felt sort of choppy. Too many short sentences consecutively, I thought.

I also found the concept of castrating seagulls unlikely...and wondered if you chose that plot point just so you could use the funky title. :p Since it doesn't seem to have much to do with the actual meat of the story, you may want to rethink gull-gelding in favor of something less unlikely. (How do you tell a male seagull from a female, anyway?)

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Janet Evanovich always give Stephanie Plum's backstory at the beginning of every single Plum novel? Is this one of those exceptions because Janet can do anything she wants?
S.

otterb said...

I found the query letter confusing, and I'm not sure I liked what I understood of it. But I really enjoyed your character's voice; even the "need backstory" line didn't bother me because I thought of it as in character for a reporter. But I do think the frazzled ends need to be woven into something that moves forward.

Anonymous said...

In the Pacific Northwest we need to control the number of Canadian geese. Because our winters are mild (compared to other places in the U.S.) the geese stay year 'round. The amount of poop causes contamination of parks, lakes and streams. There were two options: 1) spray the nests of eggs with something that causes the eggs to stop developing, or 2) the geese are fed food that contains 'birth control' ingredients. Spraying the nests seemed to be best. It makes more sense than trying to perform surgery on hundreds of thousands of birds. Finding most of the nests is the most difficult part.

Frainstorm said...

The first sentence had me, but then it felt like the whole thing was a cheerleader captain talking to the incoming cheerleader freshman she was assigned to.

Instead of all the one-line zingers that seem fit for a personals ad in the back of the independent weekly in Maine, you might work those in as the story goes. That way, we can get to know the character first, like her, and better appreciate her sense of humor.

But take all that with the caveat that I'm not the target audience. Good luck with it.

Anonymous said...

Do your homework. Gulls are protected by the migratory bird act, you can't mess with them like that without facing severe federal penalties. And they have internal gonads, not dangling testicles. So you'd have to do major surgery, not "castration". Which no veterinarian who wanted to keep his license would do at all and even a crooked one would charge a couple hundred per bird. The most idiotic maniac would figure out to break the eggs in the nest.

Anonymous said...

I felt like I was listening to a stand-up comic, flinging one-liners at me. At first it was cute, then it became irritating.

Phaidra Johnson said...

Doesn't Janet Evanovich always give Stephanie Plum's backstory at the beginning of every single Plum novel? Is this one of those exceptions because Janet can do anything she wants?

Yeah, pretty much. She's gotten away with "could of," too. (That one grated on my nerves). It's not a good idea to learn how to write from the long time NYT bestsellers. They can get away with a lot of stuff that would pretty much guarantee a form rejection for the rest of us.

thraesja said...

How attached are you to the name Lanie Drew? I couldn't get Nancy out of my head the entire time, and it was driving me nuts. Pick a new name, or at least change the last syllable of her first one.

Liked the voice, but she does indeed come off as a bit too manic.

I'm sure you can come up with some way to salvage your shithawk control idea. Drug them, poison the eggs, whatever. Just try to make it cost-effective, or explain how the mayor can get away with such an insane and badly planned pier improvement project. More research, m'dear. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I thought your premise was interesting, but I need to agree with Miss Snark. This was just too over the top. Try SLOWING down and not pelting the reader over the head with every zany character trait of your MC at once. She sounds very funny, but using this method, you're going to lose a lot of agents/readers. As she said, You're trying TOO hard.

JRBrown said...

Query letter:
The bizzareness of it all almost overwhelmed the fact that you seem to have a viable plot down there somewhere. I'd clean out some of the "quirky" details and expand on the storyline.

Seagull castration seems an unlikely move for reasons expressed by prior posters.

Sample:
Too weird, too many one-liners. Quirky needs a fair porportion of normal to work well. Save some of the zingers for later. Ditto with the backstory: too much, too soon. Get the story started first.

Also, having two shocking relevations on page 1 (my garbageman and I both have superpowers AND he's trying to kill me) is a little much. Perhaps the murder plot can be postponed to page 2.

I'd consider cutting from "Maybe I’m not the best judge." directly to "Since June, I’ve been able to twist my body into whatever shape and size I pick."

Clarice Snarkling said...

I think you threw too much at us in your first page. Give us some time to take it all in! If this were in print, I feel like I'd have to keep turning back to the first page to recall Lanie's backstory. Reveal it to us a little at a time. Have it come about more organically. The list of Lanie's quirks made me like her, but it also made me think that you used up a lot of your best material on page one.

I'm definitely intrigued by the premise, though. Good luck with it.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous feedback, I really appreciate it. I've been waffling with the last name for the same reasons (shades of Nancy Drew.) I covered a story in Maine 8 years ago about a lakeside town that wanted to spay/neuter its ducks and brought in a scientiest to talk about the details, so it's actually done. I think it stuck in the back of my brain as a plot idea, back then. The actualy slicing and dicing is a bit central to the plot.
And so interesting about the peppy cheerleader comments; something it's hard to see in your own writing.
I'll definitely be working more on the opening before I think of sending it out some more.
Thanks all,
Author

McKoala said...

I'd rather see the story moving and figure out the back story as I go along.

angieg said...

I'm a huge fan of quirky mysteries. The one thing you have to remember when writing one is that a little goofiness goes a long way.

I like your voice and your humor, but we need more story. Everything sparkles, but there's nothing to hold it together. It's the difference between accenting your outfit with a funky piece of jewelry vs. going out wearing every piece of jewelry own. Tone it down and you could do well in this genre.

kathie said...

Hey, I have to say I like your style. Maybe too much of the short, snappy stuff--chop some then intermingle longer sentences. But I liked it! I get it.

crikey said...

So is it only in Australia that 'wing nuts' is a slang term for pubic hair?

thraesja said...

Never heard that use before. Heard it used for crazy people (He emailed the FBI lewd pictures of Hoover? What a wing nut!), and for actual, y'know, wing nuts. And if the author can logistically keep her pier plan, then I think it's a great title.
Pubic hair. Interesting. Perhaps if it ever gets marketed in Australia they'll pull a Sorcerer's Stone switcheroo.

Ski said...

I will read just about anything as long as it isn't contrived. I mean I've even watched C-SPAN for over an hour, but sometimes you just have to draw the line.

You probably have a great story but you have missed the point of telling it. Every word has to be real. The first thing we all do when we pick up something to read is figure out if it is real or if it's fake. You've given yourself more room than you'd have given another writer. Clever isn't a substitute for real, although real can be clever - the danger is confusing the two. I hope you aren't offended by what I've said. It was meant to be constructive. I wish you success.

Rgds..........Ski

Capt. Bizarre said...

I stopped reading here. Way before the whole seagull castration thing that gets mentioned up-thread. Not that I don’t like seagulls – I do. I just never thought about them as long-term characters, and yes, I’ve read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. It just seems to me that if you were going to concentrate on dying birds, you’d pay a lot more attention to their wings than their nuts. Or, assuming you were a Mormon, listening to the new Battlestar Galactica wingnuts. [Notice: In no case should your protagonist start TELLING the story.]


[From here, you’ve got lots of ‘splaining to do, Lucy. But, keep in mind that your protagonist KNOWS the story, your readers don’t – and it is neither’s fault. Also, you should keep at least one portion of your readership on the edge of their chairs at all times. [Read one of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ novels for a near-perfect example. The writing is simple, and sophomoric, and predictable, and (did I say simple?) and yet, damned near perfect, where thrillers are concerned.

Ooh, someone’s going to bite my ass for this one… Thankfully, I've invested in Butt-Chew(tm) the skidmark of the future.

Manic Mom said...

I laughed at the "Bob Barkering." He's always saying neuter your pets.