9.08.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #93--a partial for sure

Dear Miss Snark,


GRAVE MATTERS is the tale of two events: the world's most perfect wedding, and the world's most imperfect grave robbery.

It's 1977. Lesley Meier wants to make sure her sister Amy has the wedding of her dreams. Meanwhile, her uncle Leo needs to get out of debt, and if he accomplishes one small task, he's home free.

Leo, an unsuccessful conman, flees Miami (with a loan shark enforcer following all too close behind) arriving in Parkersburg, West Virginia in time to attend Amy's wedding. He hopes that the "Wedding That Ate Parkersburg" will provide an opportunity for him to recoup his stake. If nothing else, it's a place to hide. Then his sister April makes Leo an offer he can't refuse. If he can get their father's body moved from the wrong graveyard in Parkersburg to the right graveyard in Miami, April will pay off his debts.

Good thing Leo isn't above a little small time crime.
Too bad grave robbery is a felony.
Lesley already has to juggle her neurotic mother, snobbish in-laws, a lovesick student Rabbi, matchmaking relatives, and 300 wedding guests. That, plus the blundering Leo, two double-crossing ex-football players, a furious Rabbi, the loan-shark enforcer, and one newly unearthed casket equals a wedding that no one will ever forget.

Growing up Jewish in West Virginia gave me plenty of material for this 90,000 word novel. I've since moved to Minnesota, where I have completed several plays and screenplays. Unfortunately, my great-grandfather is still buried in the wrong cemetery, and the last time I checked, my mother's cousins were still planning to move it... one way or another.

Let me know if you want to read more.

Thank you for your time,
A. Snarkling


Now THAT is a query letter.
Remember how I told you I didn't like one word adjectives to describe character?
Well, if you do it like this, I do.



____________

"Amy! The last time I saw you, you were only a curly haired tot, trying to eat a jellyfish! And now, look at you, a bride!"

Lesley had only seconds to register a yellow and blue plaid sport coat before she was yanked off the door stoop and pulled into a bear hug. Her nose banged against a stringy chest, registering first pain, then the odor of cigar smoke a la Aqua Velva. "I'm Lesley," she said into the coat's depths.

The arms released her instantly. Lesley stepped back and nearly fell over a suitcase that had mysteriously sailed over the threshold, Greyhound tags still fluttering in the wake.

"Ah, er, Lesley! Last time I saw you, you were only a curly haired tot... frolicking in the ocean. And now, look at you... um... all grown up!" The man looked her up and down, from frizzy ponytail to battered clogs, then took out a cigar and stuck it in his mouth.

Lesley squinted into the morning sun and tried to figure out which one of the three hundred wedding guests had just arrived, exactly one week before the ceremony. Oi! Had she put the wrong date on the invitation? Her mother would platz when she learned that Lesley had screwed things up again! She already owned the reputation of being her family's worst prodigal since... "Uncle Leo?"

"That's me." Leo ran his pinkies across pomaded hair.

This? This was the infamous Uncle Leo? Wasn't he supposed to be some kind of criminal? "Tanta April says you never leave Miami."

Her uncle let out a barking laugh. "My beloved niece is getting married! Of course I want to be here. As soon as I got the invite, I hopped a bus, and here I am!" He lit the cigar, flicked the match into her mother's Rhododendrons, and stepped past her into the house. "Ah my childhood abode. It gets me, right here." After placing his hand over his heart, he glanced back at her. "Hmph. I could have sworn you were the one who ate the jellyfish."

"I was." Lesley quickly kicked the match under the garden chips and followed the trail of ash into the house, where Tanta April was emphatically greeting her long lost brother.

"Migulgl zol er vern in a henglayhter, by tog zol er hengen, un bay nakht zol er brenen!" If the Angel of Death wore a purple muumuu and threatened to guillotine his victims with a whisk, he would be Tanta April.

Uncle Leo ducked under the flapping whisk. "Did she just call me a chandelier?"

"Yeah. Hang by day and burn by night." Lesley was impressed. The worst Tanta April had ever wished upon her was a bellybutton plague.


If only to find out what a bellybutton plague is, I'd read this.

64 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Chili Palmer, the enforcer from Miami, chasing after Leo? :) Of course, that Leo went to Vegas instead of Parkersburg. :) Sounds fun and interesting, even if it made me think of Get Shorty.

Writerious said...

I like it. It's like Daniel Pinkwater, only more so.

Let us all know when it gets published.

Phaidra Johnson said...

I like this. It has everything I look for when I'm scanning through books at the local B&N.

Sam said...

Loved it - the jellyfish, the aunt, and the premise. Really good!

Anonymous said...

Forget the partial. I'd go for a full. I'm in total agreement with Miss Snark: stellar query, fine writing.

writtenwyrdd said...

Terriffic stuff. Can't find anything to kvetch about. Love the way you paint the picture without any noticeable brush strokes.

Michele said...

That was hillarious! Love it.

The Unpretentious Writer said...

I like the description of Uncle Leo...very 'status quo', meaning everyone either has an uncle like Leo or know someone who does and can immediately identify. How Leslie interracts with him shows us more of her character right up front.

thraesja said...

My only quibble is having both Oi! and platz in rapid succession in paragraph 5. It pulled me out of the action a bit thinking "Gee, I wonder if she's trying to go for Jewish?" Maybe take out the Oi here, and leave the platz. Or at least separate them a bit more.
Looks like a great start. Tanta April reminds me of my Tante Lena, except her weapon was a spatula, and her muumuu was blue.

xiqay said...

Uncle Leo is a character and Lesley has been compared to him as a prodigal... There are some stock elements, but enough that's different to keep me totally engrossed.
Love this!

Love everything about it, even the (Yiddish?) that I don't understand.

Get this published fast. I'm standing in line to read it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big Elmore Leonard fan myself, anon. I'm not saying this is Leonard-ish, though. I like it and would read it for sure. -JTC

inge said...

I want to read this, and I don't even like weddings.

Bonnie Shimko said...

I love this. Makes me want to be an agent (if I didn't have to wade through all the icky stuff to get to something like this - I'd rather clean a public restroom bare-handed than do that!).

This reminds me of a Belle Appleman story. Dorothy & Sidney Rosen (Death & Blintzes, Death & Strudel).

Virginia Miss said...

Great query! I particularly love that introductory sentence and that bio paragraph.

Grave matters sounds like a lot of fun. The jellyfish bit made what could have been ordinary into something special. And Tanta April is priceless!

A quibbly suggestion: when april greets her brother, delete the adverb "emphatically" -- I think the upcoming translation would be funnier that way.

I was a bit confused why Leo greets Amy as the jellyfish eater, then it's Lesley. Did both girls do it?

Termagant 2 said...

Yes, request the full & then have fun reading. This sounds like a hoot.

And I have it on the authority of my imagination: bellybutton plague is none other than a surfeit of omphalic lint.

T2

lottery ticket said...

I'm guessing "bellybutton plague" is a reference to "may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your bellybutton".
Loved this query. Particularly loved the close of the letter. Way to go!

boudin man said...

This "great" query letter looks suspiciously like a one page "synopsis." ummmmm.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks for the nice comments and suggestions. I never received my number --I thought my entry got lost in cyberspace. So this was a great pre-coffee wake up.

My draft as a whole is not in a state where I would feel comfortable sending out queries (I'm still in the process of turning a completed screenplay into a book -- Hollywood wasn't interested, the project is too expensive to take a risk on an unknown writer), but it's motivating to know that I'm on the right track.

Tante Sonia said...

Vat's mit de funny spelling already? Ve write oy und plutz.

TMack said...

Ditto for me on this story. It's not the type of story I'm usually drawn too, but I'm always open to funny. The characterizations are funny already and with the overview of the plot complications, I have high expectations. This one could make a great movie, if the rest of the story delivers.

Nice moniker too.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

Frickin' money.

Inkwolf said...

I read mainly for fun and light entertainment, which means that the 'adult' books I read are few and far between, and I generally have to be satisifed with YA/J books between the newest Stephanie Plums & Agatha Raisins.

This is one I would read in a flash! And I hope you get it published! It's funny, it's succinct, and it promises a wild, suspenseful and crazy plot--everything I dream of finding in a novel.

Someone recruit this writer! Hurry!

Anonymous said...

Boudin Man commented: This "great" query looks suspiciously like a one page "synopsis". Ummm...

Duh.

Yes, exactly. End of lesson, class.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Yes!

Oh hooray, Miss Snark! A find, a veritable find: someone who knows how to tell a story, and tell it well.

Write on, author. You've got it.

archer said...

I liked this right away.

Miss Snark's post headings are spoilers. Part of the fun is to see if I agree with her or not.

~Nancy said...

I loved this! The humor is spot on without the author trying too hard.

The query also piqued my interest.

So...when's the book coming out? :-)

~JerseyGirl

srchamberlain said...

Unfortunately, my great-grandfather is still buried in the wrong cemetery, and the last time I checked, my mother's cousins were still planning to move it... one way or another.

This is just the right way to include personal details in a cover letter.

Thank you, Author, whoever you are, for being one of the few Crapometer entrants who obviously took some time to perfect this submission before sending it along.

LJCohen said...

Loved this! Reminds me (in voice) of Carl Hiaason's work.

Would definitely buy this to read.

Dave said...

I would really like to know if this writer or his/her parents knew my Mother or the people that worked at UJA in real life back then (no Mom's not Jewish)...
The circumstances fit the real situation.

Ix Meix K said...

I dunno. I thought the query was great, but I'm not so enamored of the writing. The characters seem stock, the writing choppy, and the dialogue--the author's trying too hard. If I picked this up, I'd put it down right away. Wacky Jewish relatives are not my cup of tea.

Nonetheless, that's my personal preference. This is still better than 90% of the Crapometer, and judging by other people's reactions, it's good as is.

koshereditor said...

I loved this, but it hit upon a huge pet peeve of mine. "Oi" is what British punks say. "Oy" is what Jewish grandmothers say. Even non-words have standardized spellings.

Chumplet said...

The timing is good - Michael Vex's bestseller Born To Kvetch is just coming out in paperback. No better time to lace a novel with a little Yiddish. (I'm plugging - he's my friend's brother, although I'd never met him, and I'm not Jewish, but I want to read the book.

Anonymous said...

I HAVE TO READ THIS!

Anonymous said...

The 'oi' pulled me out, too - seemed the one cliche part.
The rest, however, was FANTASTIC. I want to read this.

Anonymous said...

virginia miss: I was a bit confused why Leo greets Amy as the jellyfish eater, then it's Lesley. Did both girls do it?

I thought the point was that Uncle Leo didn't remember which of the girls it was.

magz said...

BRILLIANT!!
Now I know why Miss Snark does what she does.
Thank you for this Oh Author, I'm betting MS breaks all her own rules about signing an author for this.
You've hit the .05 percentile of Perfect. Yer gonna get famous.

nir said...

I don't like wedding stories but this one I'd read in a flash!

Adrian said...

Ugh. Partial? Really? I may as well give up writing now. Miss Snark eviscerates the ones I love and wants partials from ones that I don't care for.

There were aspects of the query that I liked, but I had to read it three times--twice aloud--to follow it the plot description. Four characters in two short paragraphs with visually similar names (Leo/Lesley and Amy/April). Both of the A-people are sisters of L-people. Furthermore, I assumed Lesley was a man, which made the sample even more confusing, especially since it starts out with a misidentification.

Why move the body? How did it end up in the "wrong" cemetary? What makes it the wrong cemetary?

Once I grokked the premise, I liked it.

But the characters seemed like stereotypes. The dialogue didn't ring true (or funny) to me.

I immediately pictured Amy--er, Lesley--in a bridal gown based on Leo's first speech. Add the misidentification to that, and I feel confused and cheated from the first paragraph.

Just lit cigarettes don't leave a "trail of ash". Smoke, sure, but not ash. And how do you guillotine with a whisk?

Sorry, didn't work for me at all.

Anonymous said...

Pull out the oi or oy!), put any non-English in italics (that may have been a formatting glitch), and I want to read the rest, too!

YAY!

Ryan Field said...

This was very good. But once again, like many other things I've read in the crapometer contest, it just doesn't follow the format of what "they" preach a query letter to be. "They", being the so-called experts, who have written and published books about writing query letters. Where's the three to five sentence blurb? This, though I throughly liked it, read more like a one page synopsis. It's a dream query letter, literally, but I doubt I'd take a chance following the format.

If this crapometer contest has taught me anything it's that agents, for whatever reason, are not on the same page.

To the person who wrote this: I loved it, would read the book and hope you get the representation you deserve. This is what the standard query should be!

Ryan Field said...

This "great" query letter looks suspiciously like a one page "synopsis." ummmmm.

Thank you, Boudin Man, I agree and have always been told "don't send a synopsis as a query letter."

I'm surprised no one else has mentioned this.

Rei said...

I have to agree with ix meix k. The query was great, but in the writing... nothing is happening. Why is this "nothing happening" writing great? Just because of the jellyfish? Or is it that the query alone was good enough that, because the writing had few technical flaws, the fact that nothing is happening is overshadowed?

Bernita said...

It does promise fun.

J. E. Patterson said...

If I read this first page in a bookstore, I'd buy it.

Another MN writer said...

How fun! It's always nice to see great writing.

One question I have: Why don't they just disinter the father and have him moved? In my experience, if you need someone moved to another cemetery you get the funeral homes and gravediggers involved and Voila -- off you go.

I'm No. 50 on here -- the daughter of a gravedigger. My dad did a few disinterments, all completely on the up-and-up.

Hope you're enjoying the lit scene in Minnesota!

desert snarkling said...

Okay, this is fabulous. I'd keep reading.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Boudin Man commented: This "great" query looks suspiciously like a one page "synopsis". Ummm...

Duh.

Yes, exactly. End of lesson, class.

Why so snide? Just yesterday, a one page synopsis equaled a poor query letter. Today, it's the poodle's pink tam. WTF?

ILoveFridays said...

I LOVED THIS.

I'm supposed to be working right now, but work can wait.

A. Snarkling: What's the translation of "Migulgl zol er vern in a henglayhter"? I got "by tog zol er hengen, un bay nakht zol er brenen!" as it followed below--not that I could sound out the Yiddish.

I agree with koshereditor. Although the writing is really quite good, I think your transliteration needs work. When I pick up a book like BORN TO KVETCH, I understand the Yiddish without looking at a translation. Not so much here.

Good luck & Mazel Tov!

Jeb said...

Very entertaining, Author.

There's a soupcon of Westlake about Uncle Leo's plot thread (never a bad thing) that would make me turn the page even if Leslie grated on my nerves(and she doesn't).

ello said...

Even though I personally wasn't particularly interested in the story or the first page, I did recognize that the query letter was well written. However, I thought the first page was sort of average and I'm not a big fan of foreign language phrases in my reading as it disturbs my concentration. I can't tell from Miss. Snark's comment whether she would keep reading cause it was good or cause she hoped it would get better. I think the author can definitely write, but this first page didn't grab me at all.

Devon Kellogg said...

It's great to see a query like this. There's so many examples of how NOT to do it, but few that show you how.

Dkxws said...

Nonny said:

Boudin Man commented: This "great" query looks suspiciously like a one page "synopsis". Ummm...

Duh.

Yes, exactly. End of lesson, class.


Sigh. The problem with amateurs trying to be snarky is they trip over their own feet.

To spell it out, painfully clearly: Boudin Man was commenting on the fact that Miss Snark has specifically stated that a query letter should not look like a synopsis. In your haste to post a witticism, you apparently missed the point.

Leave the snarking to the professionals.

Anonymous said...

"Why don't they just disinter the father and have him moved?"
Heh. Spoken like a native Midwesterner.

(And are "ebhogz"-- my verification word-- something people hunt in low tide?)

Anonymous said...

I thought of "Get Shorty," too, because of Leo and the vig chase.

srchamberlain said...

To spell it out, painfully clearly: Boudin Man was commenting on the fact that Miss Snark has specifically stated that a query letter should not look like a synopsis. In your haste to post a witticism, you apparently missed the point.

In my haste to post a witticism, I maintain that this wasn't a one-page synopsis because the query letter was 1) much shorter than a page; 2) didn't reveal anything like the whole of the plot; and 3) didn't contain an ending. If one puts no plot information at all in a query letter, Miss Snark would undoubtedly reply, "WTF?", or perhaps something more delicate. And she'd be right.

McKoala said...

I thought I'd comented on this already. Maybe my comment's in the same spot in cyberspace as the author's entry number. Anyway, I like it! I'm a bit confused, but it's fun and I'm in for the ride.

Anonymous said...

Why is this "nothing happening" writing great?

This is JMO, but I don't care whether a book starts with something happening. I care whether it starts by grabbing me. It can grab me by setting something on fire, by introducing a great premise, by having wonderful writing, or simply by dunking me into the middle of a world that interests me.

This one dunked me into the middle of a world that interested me. I know from the query letter that stuff IS gonna happen, and the writing has a sense of movement, so I'm perfectly willing to wait for a while before the main action starts.

I agree with thraesja that you might want to be careful not to force the Jewish flavour - at the moment it reads as just a touch contrived. It's a small thing, but one to keep an eye on.

one of the 359 said...

I'd starve if I were an agent because this would be a "thank you not for me." Cute and all...but, yanno (tm/pp) CUTE. I think what I'm trying to say is I can't find anything interesting about the heroine in the query or in the page--except the clogs. Loved those.

It's the story, people said...

This "great" query letter looks suspiciously like a one page "synopsis." ummmmm.

Thank you, Boudin Man, I agree and have always been told "don't send a synopsis as a query letter."

I'm surprised no one else has mentioned this.


You can write the damn thing in crayon on a sheet of toilet paper and get published if you write well enough. It's just that most of us aren't good enough to get away with that.

The reason this one works and the earlier one didn't was simple: this one is a great letter.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, srchamberlain, for clarifying your comment on my "duh"...

Perhaps I should have said about the use of synopses in queries: This is a synopsis written well, since I do assume that the good readers here are interested in writing well. A synopsis, as you surely appreciate, is not simply what's called a Peter Rabbit recital, that is: "And then Peter Rabbit...And then Peter Rabbit... And next he ...." It's a 50-words-or-less omigod-what-happens-next advertisement for the book. It's your whole point, summarized. And this author instinctively delivers - as so many posters have recognized. Easy to prescribe. Tough to do. It's what good storytelling - and writing - is all about.

Thanks for your gracious clarification.

With best regards,
Anonymous Above

Ryan Field said...

It's the story people said....

You can write the damn thing in crayon on a sheet of toilet paper and get published if you write well enough. It's just that most of us aren't good enough to get away with that.

The point wasn't about writing skill; it was about the format of a query letter verses a synopsis. Everything about this letter was excellent, in theory. But in practice it reads more like a synopsis than a query. And, if writing well were the only factor involved in selling books...well, I won't mention names or titles...there would be a lot more choices for us as readers.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't read like a synopsis at all to me. It tells us there are two storylines, then sets them both up. Period.

A synopsis is a bare-bones telling of the complete plot, including the end.

It's a query, people.

Poet with a Day Job said...

Am I reading the same thing you are all reading? I'm totally bored - but I also didn't like "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" nor "Everything is Illuminated" while everyone else on the planet did so, maybe it's a personal problem. I do not think there is anything wrong with the writing per say (everything seems to be the way it should be in order for this to be a "good" story) yet, it's just not compelling.

I'll take that query letter though...

On Second Thought said...

This one bothered me. I did what Miss Snark does on submissions. I set it aside and went back to see if I still liked it.

Nope.

The stereotypes are overwhelming. The writer doesn't seem to understand that there are real people behind his /her characterizations. As a result, s/he ends up with cartoons.

A young woman is not going to use the Yiddish terms of her mother's or grandmother's generation: "Oi! [...]Her mother would platz when she learned that Lesley had screwed things up again!" It's also way too cute.

The sister of the bride to be would not react the way she does to her sleazy uncle. She sounds too childish. (Is this writer a man? Who has had no life experience and whose observations are from sitcoms?)

And, why would Leo not understand what his sister April is saying? ("Did she just call me a chandelier?" is funny on the first quick read, but stupid on the second.)

The name April is not Jewish. AT least not in my world.