3rd SR Crapometer #87

Dear Miss Snark,

For Swedish-American Gabby Marcus, the remote tropical paradise of the Seychelles is the haven where she escaped regrets and started afresh. After a fifteen year respite she has let her guard down, lulled into a feeling of safety that turns out to be as shaky as the history she invented for herself. In the midst of mounting protest against U.S. troop presence in the Indian Ocean, Gabby attracts the attention of an ingenious stalker, threatening everything and everyone close to her. As her world is shattered by fear and death, Gabby must confront the past she fought so hard to flee in order to face this lethal pursuer.

ZAP. blah blah blah. I've seen this one gazillion times and it was old five years ago.
Does the fact that she's Swedish have any relevance?

Perle Noir is a contemporary suspense of approximately 85,000 words in the tradition of Joy Fielding's women in peril. I am enclosing the first page. If that grab you, I would be happy to send the complete manuscript. Thank you very much for your time and attention.


Tuesday, June 29
A roar from the nearby stadium reached Gabby Marcus standing in line at Malik's. The stuffy air filling the hardware store made her throat close up. Sweat streamed down her back and further - a slight tickle down her thighs. The light fabric of the dress clung to her skin, but at least the print, bright flowers on dark background, made the wet patches less visible. Years of living in the Seychelles had taught her that much. Unless you are talking about Suzanne Somers I don't want to hear about thighs in the first paragraph ever. That's a new rule actually. No thighs, this high.

She pushed back a strand of blonde hair that kept falling in her eyes, and smiled at Malik scurrying past to get something for the customer he was attending to. As usual, he showed no signs of recognition.

Using the morning paper as a fan, Gabby scanned the store for familiar faces; acquaintances she would feel obliged to talk to. When she found nothing but the blank looks of strangers she relaxed, happy to enjoy her wait in silence. She hadn't expected the store to be this packed. Coming into Victoria on this late June afternoon for her weekly shopping, she had forgotten all about the Independence Day celebrations. The crowds she pushed past walking down Francis Rachel Street and the noise from the stadium tipped her off.

How could she have missed it? Ralista had talked about nothing else for the past week. With the passion only an eight-year old can muster, Ralista's eagerness increased as this all-important day drew closer. Gabby had showed appropriate god motherly interest, knowing that Shauna, her dearest friend and the child's actual mother, would do nothing of the kind. Yet, Gabby too had listened without hearing, questioned without registering the answer, and here she was, in the midst of a feast she didn't want to be a part of.

Gabby startled as Malik appeared by her side, a lilting Indian-English enquiry as to how he could be of help. With a smile she asked for a bucket of the white paint she got last time. Still he didn't smile back. Minutes later she was ready to leave.

Outside, the heat was even more pressing, making her wish she had been wise enough to wait with the groceries. The plastic handle cut into her palm, leaving lines that itched when she changed her grip. At least the bucket of paint helped to even the load.

Stepping onto the sizzling pavement, Gabby closed her eyes to the sunlight, stunned for a moment by the brightness as well as by the scene before her. A small group of demonstrators had gathered in front of the British High Commissioner's office, the building next to Malik's. The tall, dark glass construction looked out of place, a shining exception crammed between the low wooden houses dominating the rest of the street. The demonstrators' chant and the signs held high revealed their message to Gabby and anyone else who cared to stop and listen. Looking around there didn't seem to be that many.

Waiting to watch paint dry.
This one is a non starter for me.
There's nothing going on, and the premise of the novel is yesterday's news.
Form rejection.


xiqay said...

I'm not put off by the query as Miss Snark is. I think the setting is interesting and the story could be, too. I do wonder why the protagonist ran away and why she chose the Seychelles. I'm not hot on the stalker aspect. Still, I think the story could be interesting. [I wonder if "confront" is another one of those words that appears in a lot of queries.]

The title is "Perle Noir"? I'm already tired of Noir.

The opening paragraphs convey nothing more than tropical heat. While tropical heat is okay, it's not enough. No sense of the character and who she is (other than someone about to paint, someone who has a goddaughter she doesn't really listen to). No reason to like this character. No reason to keep reading.

I don't like the name Gabby (I'm old enough to remember my parents referring to Gabby Hayes, whoever that was, so the name means old-fashioned yuck to me).

I didn't care that she wore clothes to conceal her sweating. (She should be in traditional clothing, there's a reason people of regions where their styles, usually very pragmatic ones.)

There were some awkward constructions that I didn't like. e.g. looking for people and finding nothing but blank stares--should find no one, and you don't find blank stares.

I didn't like the sentence about being in the midst of a feast-she's not, she's in a hardware store. Feast implies food. Call it a festival, a celebration, an event, something other than feast.

Gabby startled--that phrase pulled me out of the story too. Malik startled Gabby, but even that makes little sense. Startled is too strong for the return to purpose after a mild reverie.

wishing she had been wise enough to wait with the groceries--I read that a few times. What does it mean? She left her groceries in toprical heat? She could hang out in the grocery store and buy paint at the same time? Oh, maybe wishing she hadn't shopped for groceries yet? totally unclear.

And the last sentence is a non-sequiter. It doesn't follow the talk of the signs content/message.

A tiny nit-pick-god-motherly should be hyphenated.

Although the query and story idea seem okay to me, this story so far would not interest me and convinces me to the contrary. I have no confidence in the writer's ability.


acd said...

I thought this was pretty competent. With a full-length query letter and a lot of submissions, I could see someone picking this up.

Anonymous said...

Author - I do have confidence in you. My guess is that this is your first novel. Miss Snark's complaints seem to be largely of the first-novel (rookie mistake) variety. So maybe all is not lost.

If the story has been told before, you need to come up with a unique take on it. For dog's sake, boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-again has been done a "gazillion" times - and it still works if we care about that particular boy and want him to win that particular girl. Get your query into that realm: focus on the characters. What makes Gabby so special that we want to know her, will want to be pulling for her? Get that in the query.

Then have a look at your opening again. Is there some stronger bit of action you can start with instead of this? What is about to happen with that demonstration? Start the story in the middle of the action, and you could have a completely different reaction from The Divine MS.

Good luck with this! Keep a stiff upper lip and all that!

Anonymous said...

What xiqay said.

With one exception: I like the image of looking around for people she knew, but finding "nothing but the blank looks of strangers."

Anonymous said...

"Gabby startled as Malik appeared by her side..."

I think that should have read 'started' rather than 'startled'. A dictionary would have caught that one, too.

Corn Dog said...

LOL - "No thighs, this high." A new snarkisn. Another keyboard ruint.

Jocasta said...

Well sorry for being such a details-oriented freak, but perle is a feminine word so the title should read Perle NoirE... apart from that, the story felt like a lot of déjà-vu and, as much as I love tropical heat, it's not enough to drag me into the story... but a bit of action at the beginning could entirely change my view on that...

RainSplats said...


Read the section on Elements of a sucessful story--the opening.

Every scene should move the story forward. If this opening moves the story forward, the reader can expect a very slow-moving story.

Every exciting element of the story is found only in the query.

Anonymous said...

I stopped reading when the protag pushed back a strand of blond hair.

I just SNAPPED. (It's a pre-coffee snap and I'm allowed to have one a day.)

This is the umpteenth submission where characters push back (or flip) blond, black, red, paradou etc. strands of hair.

Doesn't ANYONE use a Scrunchy, gels, pins, wear it short or bald?

I'm tired of hoards of characters with sheepdog do's running about, pushing back their ****ed strands because they don't know how to use grooming supplies.

Or perhaps the writers are dipping into a collective consciousness for the phrase. Whatever, I'm danged sick of seeing it everywhere, even in new books by writers who should know better.

As of NOW I'm officially declaring pushing back any color of hair as an overused descriptive device.

Now I'm getting that coffee before I go into a snit on anything else.

BuffySquirrel said...

anonymous #3, maybe you should have checked the dictionary before giving the thumbs-down to the author's use of "startled".

OED it say: startle 3. verb intrans. Start; undergo an involuntary movement caused by surprise, alarm, etc.; feel sudden astonishment, take fright, be shocked.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for the input. This is what we all came for, a reality check, and I was lucky enough to get that. Sadly for me, most of this makes me want to set fire to something - i.e. my ms...

Bernita said...

A writer can give a character any sort of hairdo/length they wish.
It's (1) the unnecessary explanation "that was falling into her eyes," and (2) telling us the colour in what is (mostly) a third person pov, and (3) a fairly useless and mindless detail.

Beth said...

Dear author--

Don't despair. I think you just started in the wrong place. What is your character's first obstacle to overcome in this story? What is the initial problem that confronts her? That's where you start. Set the scene while you go, but the Story takes precedence.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...


"anonymous #3, maybe you should have checked the dictionary before giving the thumbs-down to the author's use of "startled"."

Well, I just did.

And I still stay "startled" reads wrong in context. If the author had written 'started' or 'was startled', I wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.

As it was, I did - it reads like an error.

(Disclaimer: I'm English. Maybe 'startled' is used differently in the States. If so, mea culpa. But it reads weird in British English, that's for sure.)

Anonymous said...

Sadly for me, most of this makes me want to set fire to something - i.e. my ms...

Well, don't do that. People did have good things to say about your writing, just not the format of the story.

The writer's wake-up call is always unpleasant. Two days of woe-is-me and chocolate ice cream are completely justified. I speak from experience. ;-)

However, when you're done your ice cream, you do need to get back to writing. This manuscript doesn't need to be burned; it just needs editing. Your excerpt is waaaaaay better than my first "finished" draft of my WIP was, but I didn't burn my baby and neither should you (and for the record, I think my baby is way better now, and was definitely worth hanging onto).

This terrible awful evil snarking wot has left you (or rather your baby) in bleedy oozy ribbons will make the novel better, and will lead to you someday getting published. Keep at it. And enjoy your ice cream.

Kate Thornton said...

I like Gabby - short for Gabrielle or Gabriella. Gabby Hayes, incidentally, was George Hayes, a character actor in the 1950's known for portraying the sidekick in Westerns. Gabriella is the name of one of my favorite mytery writers, Gabriella Diamond. I also like the Seychelles as a setting - exotic and beautiful, sinister and strategic. The Swedish-American part may be significant and it adds to the exotic feel of the story.

I like the opening - I like descriptives and the sweat down the thighs is certainly something I can relate to. I like the scene to be thoroughly set, so I enjoyed reading. I like women-in-peril-in-exotic-locale stories, so I think I would read on. And I *really* like the hint of political intrigue, too (US presence in the Indian Ocean.)

tlh said...

Don't give up. There's an exotic setting here that makes me itch to read more about it.

You should definitely make your query more specific (I, for one, like to know who is doing what and why right up front). Right now, it's full of vague threats and mysterious presences -- you have to make it stand out because otherwise it appears to be a tired concept.

The sentence about mounting protests really stood out for the specificity, especially compared to the vagueness of the rest of that paragraph.

The excerpt seems to me to be the initial noodling around on a new piece, trying to figure out what's going on and who relates to who. No shame in that -- I think most of the first pages I've read have had this problem.

If you skim forward about ten or fifteen pages, I have no doubt you'll find the perfect moment your novel really begins.

Chop off everything before that (save it in a file, as you'll want to use bits of it later) and start from there.

But otherwise, chin up! Your stuff is quite readable, it just needs polishing. This is what SYW forums and critique groups are for.

Hair Rant Anonymous -- you cracked me up. I'm usually terrible at spotting cliches, but that's one of the few that makes me twitch. I think perhaps it's taken the place of the mirror.

Anonymous said...

I think it's hilarious that some of the people writing the comments and basically telling others that their writing is shit demonstrate their own glaring lack of facility with the language.

The people being critiqued need to realize that many of those who blast their work are in no way competent to do so.

Listen to Miss Snark. Take everything else with reservation.