3rd SR Crapometer #96

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a fan of the character-driven novels of your clients Author A and Author B. I hope that you will represent me for Mysterious Paris, a literary novel of approximately 65,000 words. (well you've avoided the cliche error of saying your book is like A or B--good). "Literary novel" isn't what you mean. It's a novel or it's literary fiction. However, I'm basically skimming here so don't panic)

Manon Roberts can't ask her mother for career advice after graduating college. Her only connection with her dead mother is through the mysteries her mother wrote, set in Paris. The novel opens in New York City at the opera on the eve of Manon's trip to Paris. When Manon meets Thierry, a young wealthy jet-setter, they are attracted, but repulsed by differing attitudes on fate and self-determination. Their paths cross through a series of chance encounters, until they finally hook up at a Buddhist service. "hook up at a Buddhist service" oh dear dog. The sequel to "If You Meet the Buddha In the Road, Kill Him" is now clear: "If You Meet the Buddha In the Road, Fuck Him".

In Paris, Manon receives shocking information about her mother's past. She feels betrayed, and wants to learn what happened to her mother. It is her mother's books that reveal the clues to unlock the mystery. Meanwhile, Thierry is frantically trying to break off his little sister’s relationship with a motorcycle-riding thug. (In Paris, they ride Vespas. Even the thugs) Manon and Thierry's investigations take them to hidden tunnels in an old Parisian cemetery, where they must act quickly to prevent an even worse calamity. In the end, Thierry is left in charge of his sister Isabelle, and can no longer travel the world. He offers Manon a job to help him expand his art collection. Is it just the late hour of the day, or does that not make sense on any level?

Although this is my first novel, I have worked many years as a technical writer. The National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, ran a series of interviews with me while I wrote the first draft of Mysterious Paris. (if they ran a series of interviews with you, that's someone else writing the article. That's not a pub credit for you no matter what. And it's meaningless for judging how you write.)

Please find enclosed the first page of my novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Inspector Jardin followed the sound of the distant footsteps. He was on the tail of the murderer, Louis-Robert, and did not want to lose his man.

Earlier, he had caught a glimpse of Louis-Robert entering the cemetery, recognizing him by his muddy red hair and royal blue coat. But Jardin lost him in the labyrinth of headstones and sculptures and was now closing in slowly. Crunch. He could hear Louis-Robert’s quick step on the gravel path. Jardin always wore sensible rubber soled shoes to avoid being heard.

A door creaked open. The steps disappeared. Jardin approached the mausoleum, a large low building with moss growing in stone crevices. The door swung shut. He followed inside. Flickering light from memorial candles broke the darkness of the corridor. He heard the sharp step of Louis-Robert.

Jardin rounded the corner with care, but the villain seemed to have disappeared once more. Impossible. This corridor ended with nothing but stone walls and monuments.

As Jardin passed the Monument to the Dead of Bartholomew, he paused. He looked at the edges of a door-sized block of stone. Only the size of the block revealed its purpose. An angel, carved in bas-relief decorated the door. In front, stone hands folded in prayer. Jardin wrapped his fingers around the stone hand. He traced the firm ridges. He pressed harder against the unyielding stone. The hands started to twist. Ingenious! This must be the knob! As Jardin pushed the door open into the monument, a musty odor of mildew and dust escaped. Stairs lead down into the darkness.

oh..it's the book. How clever.
Say so in the cover letter. Do you open each chapter with something from the dead mother's books? Say so.

A sudden and overpowering whiff of perfume transported Manon Roberts from the Parisian cemetery back to the Lincoln Center Opera House. (There is no such thing as the Lincoln Center Opera House. If you've been to the Met, you've been to the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. . If you've been to City Opera, you've also been to Lincoln Center. Getting this kind of detail wrong makes me CRAZY.) She twisted in her seat to let a gray-haired lady pass, her loose black velvet tunic brushing Manon's hand. Manon looked down at Jardin Catches a Murderer, not wanting to follow her friend Rosie, who couldn't sit still during intermission. While she held the book in one hand, she played with her necklace and read the familiar words. The jarring mix of melodies and scales, played by musicians preparing for the second act prevented concentration. Manon looked down, and down, and down towards the stage. She couldn't see the musicians, half-below the stage. (yes, you can, even from the nose bleed seats, in both opera houses.)

Manon and Rosie came to Massenet's "Manon" to put them in the mood for their upcoming trip to Paris. Manon loved the drama and the tragedy. She first read of the story in French class and dreamed of a passionate love that would last forever. She hoped for excitement; she wanted great things to happen. But she didn't know how to start.

I hate this device of opening a book within a book. It's the literary equivilent of a dream sequence. Combined with the lack of plot, the error in detail, this is a form rejection.


McKoala said...

I love the idea of following clues via her mother's books, but I found this awkward in places. The logic of the story outlined in the query was really hard to follow.

I don't see a real difference in style between the fiction novel - hey this has to be the right place to use that expression! - and the real novel. Also when you go to Manon there's nothing happening. She's sitting down, reading a book, looking at some musicians who aren't even playing and her friend's gone to the toilet!

But this I like: 'She hoped for excitement; she wanted great things to happen. But she didn't know how to start.' And, like I say, I like the idea. Rewrite?

Anonymous said...

Is it just the late hour of the day, or does that not make sense on any level?

No, it doesn't make much sense. I don't see a plot here, unless it's hiding under the deliberately vague word "calamity". The author should rewrite the query and be specific about what happens in the book.

She hoped for excitement; she wanted great things to happen. But she didn't know how to start.

Ditto for the author? There's nothing resembling a plot in the first page, either.

Nice enough writing, however. More substance is what's needed.

Dave said...

Aside from the physical layout of The MET and Lincoln Center, I have a question for the author about opera.

Specifically, the French and the Italian Manon.

MANON (1884) is opera comique by Massenet
MANON LESCAUT (1893) by Puccini is the Italian version of L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost.
MANON LESCAUT by Auber is from the same french manuscript and is the French Manon.

The author better know how these his or her story is related to. If it isn't related, then why use the names? I can't square the writing with the opera.

By the way - Massennet's Manon is comedy not drama.

If I wanted to evoke Paris, then I would use La Boheme or La Traviata.

pookel said...

If the querier had called it a "literary fiction novel," you'd have jumped on him for "fiction novel." So what is he supposed to call it?

Anonymous said...

Got to generally agree with Miss Snark there, BO-ring....Sorry, but it is. And Louis-Robert? Please! Yes, the French do combine names, but it can't be just any two that you feel like!

Alex said...

call it a "fiction-novelistic literary word-sack"

Anonymous said...

Author says:

Painful, but helpful. In the query, I guess I should stick with one of the intertwined plotlines, and give more detail.

Seems that the novel itself needs serious revision. Maybe I need to drop the first 25%, which is mostly set-up for the action-filled remainder. Or give Thierry POV chapters, as he is facing crisis from the start.

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning not to care whatever for the Crapometer. Earlier Miss Snark reveals knowledge of Tubular Bells. Does she listen to Mike Oldfield? And now, the intimate knowledge of the opera houses of The City.

Perhaps I should set aside my writing and dedicate my time to the worship of Miss Snark. Surely the heartbreak would be nearly the same.

The Unpretentious Writer said...

It always seems to go back to Paris...am I the only one who thinks that's overdone? Why not another European city?

Very interesting.

xiqay said...

I understand Miss Snark's opinion. Here's mine (fwiw-and without looking at the other snarklings' views).

I sort of liked this opening, despite opening with the dead mother's book. I'm not sure I would have understood that set-up from the pages, though, without the query explanation.

Also, the sentences "The door swung shut. He followed inside." pulled me out of the story as I tried to figure out how Jardin follows through a closed door.

Two sets of stairs--seemed repetitive and boring. And then when it's followed in the opera house by looking down, down, down toward the stage, I'm imagining more stairs. Ack.

I didn't like the names Manon or Louis-Robert.

I love mysteries (although this is tagged as a literary novel, it starts out sounding like a mystery novel), so I'd read on for now.


Anonymous said...

Even in sensible rubber soled shoes you will make crunchy noises on gravel. Try it.

The steps disappeared?

I guess this means the detective ceased hearing them.

And oh, hey--I ceased reading at that point, too.

I suppose this is set in Paris because it's where that bleeping-awful Dan Brown book is set and the writer can read THAT one for research, right?

I'm on a name-bashing kick and with good reason, names are important.

You have some chick named Manon and I think "of the Spring" even if I've not read the thing. That's marketing for you.

You have some hero named Thierry and I go "You're kidding, what the bleep are you thinking??"

Had the same prob with a workshoper who named her suave James Bondish hero "Mongo." It was a fun evening trying to explain Mel Brooks beat her to that one.

Best thing to do--read books, good ones, that were written at least 50 years ago so you're not following an current trend that's dead. (Clues in Mom's old books, clues in Da Vinci paintings--kind of a giveaway. If you're seeing books in this vein on the racks they were bought 2 years ago when the trend was still kicking.)

Well-written novels will hold up over time. My Conan Doyle and C.S. Forester's are still fresh, capable of teaching me much.

Now dump that Brown **** into a donation box and hit the library stacks.

hisstoryman, Hunter of Da Snark said...

I just wanted to say thank you for creating this site. I am an aspiring writer, who isn't?, and have found your comments helpful, motivating, and very amusing.

Your snark is appreciated. It does not seek to insult the writer but simply tells it like it is. One day, if I gather the courage, I may attempt to place myself in your line of fire.

Congrats on a great site.

blaironaleash said...

Pookel said, 'If the querier had called it a "literary fiction novel," you'd have jumped on him for "fiction novel." So what is he supposed to call it?

Yuh, me too. Miss? Miss? You've lost me now...

Anonymous said...

There are a dozen little complaints I could make about the writing in the opening paragraphs - but if the 'book within a book' is supposed to be a cliche-ridden pulp pot-boiler, then I guess they're intentional.

That's taking a big chance though - people might well read the first three paragraphs and think 'this is bad writing'.

I think the book-within-a-book idea could work well, but I don't think it's the best way to begin the first chapter.

Sam said...

I rather like the idea of starting each chapter with a paragraph from the mystery book, as long as by the end the mystery is solved and it ties in somehow with the story.
And personally I find Paris a fascinating place to set a book - even after the Da Vinci Code nearly ruined it for me.

Dhewco said...

At the risk of offending Miss Snark, I think what she meant was that it was either 'literary fiction' or a 'novel of literary fiction'...not a 'literary novel'.

That's what I believe she meant.

I'm sure she'll correct me if I'm wrong.

Bernita said...

I rather like the book-within-a-book device, but it takes skill with structure - among other things.

Catja (green_knight) said...

The book-within-a-book problem could be easily overcome if the chapter starts with the heroine, who opens her book and begins to read, is interrupted - I like the idea, just not the execution.

Also, paperback novels are large enough to be unwieldy. If she's at the opera, does she really have a large-enough handbag or pockets to take a book?

Lastly, I'm a certified readaholic, but even I would not go as far as to take a book to the opera to read in intervalls. I might _write_ - but not plan to read.

Anonymous said...

Cary Grant would NEVER have played anyone named "Thierry" unless it was part of a disguise he quickly discards.