3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 7

Dear Miss Snark,

I am seeking representation for my novel, THE BONES BENEATH (80,000 fantasy/romance). I am writing to you because I love (Killer Yapp Buries the Bone).

Fifty years ago Frank Hartman watched Gert Murphy walk out of his life. It’s a loss he never got over -- not even after he died. Doomed to haunt the Connecticut farm on which he grew up, Frank has plenty of time to ponder his mistakes, but little power to change them.

When Frank's niece Andie shows up with Gert, the executor of his estate, Frank sees an opportunity for redemption. But Andie has problems of her own. She’s torn between two men who offer very different futures: Neal, a cosmopolitan lover who promises escape from her small-town past but is fuzzy on the concept of commitment; and Cort, who has nursed a crush on Andie for years but is firmly rooted in rural Connecticut. Andie must choose which path to take while also settling the fate of the 150-year-old farm. As Frank and Gert both vie to influence her, Andie’s decision could bring peace to the Murphy family, or tear it apart forever.

As a staff reporter and then a freelancer in Connecticut, I've watched as the public has gone from ignoring the plight of family farms to seeing them as a valuable resource, both in terms of open space and the diversity they bring to the agricultural industry. In THE BONES BENEATH, the land is an ever-present character.

I’ve enclosed the first page. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

uh...is Gert dead too?
Frank's a ghost?
ok...a trifle Ghost and Mrs Muir-ish but what the heck, why not.


Nina sees the man first. It’s a warm summer day, the kind where, when I was alive, you’d have found me down the creek. Fishing, I’d have said if anyone asked, though the only thing worth catching there was a long, cool breeze.

There’s no such breeze in the attic today -- not even the ghost of one. A dry heat radiates from the wooden beams above me, although the floor itself is cool, squeaking slightly under the movement of my rocking chair. The wide, solid boards, the angular shape of the room, the boxes and trunks that fill the dark corners, all put me in mind of a ship, as if I’m taking some kind of voyage up here instead of just passing time.

Beside me, Nina lifts her head, and her ears prick forward.

“What is it, girl?” I ask. She looks at me mournfully. Nina wishes she could speak. (this is a pov shift) Instead, she barks once and glances at the window.

A swatch of lace curtain blocks our view. In our 40 years together, Clara must have tatted enough lace to cover every window in the house and more. If she’d lived, I would have had a lace-lined coffin. But of course Clara passed before me.

Nina barks again, impatient. Through the patterns in the lace I see something moving. “All right,” I say. “Hold your horses.” I think of the breeze down the creek, and the curtain flaps sideways and stays there.

The fellow’s young. I see that right away. He parks his red truck and steps out wearing faded jeans, hiking boots, a white tee- shirt. He stands in the drive, shades his eyes, and gazes up at the house.

Even if I close my eyes, I still see what he does: the arbor to the right of the house, plump concord grapes ripening in the sun; the fieldstone steps, laid by my grandfather and carved with his initials; the shady patio, where Clara used to bring me lemonade. And the house itself, rising out of the Connecticut ground at the edge of the woods, its white facade peeling a little but still proud after 200 years.

The boy -- for that’s what he truly is -- passes a hand along his jaw. He stands still, taking in the house and the valley spread below. I look at Nina.

“Doesn’t look like a thief,” I say, and she whines in agreement.

“Still, best to make sure.” Nina stands, shakes herself, and trots toward the door, where she sits and looks back at me.

“I’m coming, I’m coming.” These days, it’s easier for me just to think of the place I’m going and find myself there, but Nina finds it disconcerting, and so, I suppose, do I. Instead I raise myself from the chair and follow along behind her, and the two of us make our way downstairs.

ok, you've got a first person POV ghost story. The query letter makes Andie seem like the main character. That's a very very tough narrative challenge. You've set Frank up as having no power to change things...so how is he going to get resolution to anything? He's going to be acted upon..the passive recipient. That's a HUGE narrative challenge.

This is probably a form rejection letter cause how you've structured this doesn't seem to serve the story you want to tell. I could be wrong, dog knows I've been wrong before, but because there's no compelling start, and I think you've set yourself up for a big splat, I'm probably not going to read beyond the pages you send.


Anonymous said...

I don't know...if the POV swaps back and forth from Frank to 3rd person, I think you might have something. I find this appealing.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Miss Snark,

While I don't disagree with what you've said, I think the least compelling aspect of the query is that it is very boring -- and the plot "synopsis"-thingy seems to promise only more cliche-ridden tedium.

Has this writer never heard of a hook?

Also, the POV switching is unforgivable.

Cheeseburger Brown

-c- said...

I'm a little suprised by Miss Snark's comments. Frank is narrating the story, and because he's a ghost he can be a nearly omnicient narrator (he can see what others see) as well as bring his own issues into it. He does not need to be the main character, but of course his issues need to be key issues. But I see no reason why it wouldn't work.

You can't even talk about this without comparing it to The Lovely Bones, because it is exactly the same sort of structure. But as I understand it, *almost* everyone in publishing had the same reaction as Miss Snark to that book too, and were very surprised that it was so successful.

But that book opened with a murder. This book opens with a guy in a rocker watching someone come up the driveway. Beautiful writing. But the only hook you have up front is that your narrator is dead. This is not fresh anymore.

I think you need an additional hook. Not a big ole murder or anything, but just something to compell the reader to need to know what's going to happen next, other than, "hmm, is that guy a thief or not." The dead guy really doesn't care too much, so why should we?

Anonymous said...

POV was unforgivable, I agree. You didn't even tell us there was a dog, then suddenly you open up and something named Nina's barking at us. We're thinking (or atleast I was) Who the f*ck is that? At least tell us in the letter that the lonely old dead guy has only a dog for company...(which raises the question, how is she fed?)

Anonymous said...

The minor pov problem is easily fixed by "I think she wishes she could talk," "she looks disconcerted," etc. It's really no big deal.

The writing is very good, the imagery is right on, and this doesn't need an immediate action or conflict.

What's with everybody needing an "action fix" in the first page anyway?

Anonymous said...

I liked it. I'm surprised so many didn't. I'd read this.

Bella Stander said...

I agree with c. Also, is the dog dead or alive? And if alive, as anon #2 asked, how does she get fed? And if the dead guy can't affect anything, how can he make the rocker creak? Also, if the dog can hear and see him, then he CAN affect the living through her--but then this would be more like a "Lassie" episode than THE LOVELY BONES. (And yeah, watch out for that POV shift.)

If the dead grandfather is the narrator, you have to indicate that in your query. I had the same WTF reaction upon reading the opening grafs of the story. I admire your descriptions, but agree that you have to set up some tension at the start.

The cosmopolitan commitment-phobe vs true-blue farmboy trope could use some jazzing up. It was a theme in Trollope's THE WAY WE LIVE NOW 130 years ago (for those who care: the triangles of Ruby Ruggles, Sir Felix Carbury and miller John Crumb; also Hetta Carbury, Paul Montagu and cousin Roger Carbury) and any number of other books since.

Also, I don't think it's a great idea to indicate in the query that the book is a soapbox for the preservation of CT family farms. Zzzz.

Janet Black said...

I was intrigued by the query letter. I write genre so there was no confusion for me - but there are several Point-Of-View shift problems in the first page. Whenever you mention an emotion for another character (or dog) you've changed POV. You can say the bark sounded impatient. You can say someone's expression looked as though they wanted something, but you cannot say it WAS. We'd have to be in their mind to know that. That's POV shifting. A no-no. Otherwise, not bad. Not horrible. Needs a bit of work. Good luck with it.

Anonymous said...

Who was the main character? The idea of this story sounded intriguing, and some of the writing is good, but I was too busy trying to figure out who was doing the talking.

Marss said...

I'd read more of this because the writing is compelling. The personality of the ghost comes through clearly: probably would have had a lace coffin, ghost of a breeze, being disconcerted by his acquired power to transport himself telepathically. I like this ghost.

The structure is challenging but could produce a great story, if handled right. At this point I'd excuse the POV wobbles in case the ghost has powers we have yet to learn. Either way, those things can be fixed if the story is as strong as the writing.

A Lovely Bones comparison does comes to mind initially, but this is a ghost story; LB isn't. The difference would need to be made clear in the query.

Anonymous said...

Oh, NIna was a dog. Well hot me over the head because I had no idea. And the guy was a ghost. I must be really slow because I had no clue about any of this.

Gerb said...

I found it appealing, too, though I do see the problems pointed out by Miss Snark and the other posters. The writing is very nice, however. A little tweaking and this might be a fun read.

McKoala said...

I agree with the POV shift and that it's a slow start. But it's an intriguing start (I like channeling the breeze and I'm thinking he will have other ingenious ways of making things happen) and I like the writing. Can you fix the POV?

One thing in the query - Gert - male or female?!

Anonymous said...

Thanks all, for the useful feedback and for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your help in making this better. The novel shifts between three different POVs: first person Frank (the ghost) and third-person Andie and Gert.

And yes, Nina is a live dog, and I do answer how she gets fed a few pages in -- just not on the first page!

Virginia Miss said...

I agree with Bella that it's a mistake to bring up a cause in a query. Also, in the query, I got confused with the shift from Frank to Andie:

"When Frank's niece Andie shows up with Gert, the executor of his estate, Frank sees an opportunity for redemption. But Andie has problems of her own."

There seems to be something missing between those two sentences; all we've had up to then is Frank/Gert, after you mention redemption you switch over to Andie's rather run-of-the-mill-sounding love triangle.

In the sentence "Nina wishes she could speak." I didn't take that as a POV switch so much as Frank's interpretation of his dog's behavior.

I found Miss Snark's comment about the structure not serving the story interesting -- not something I would have thought about. Just one more example of how educational this crapometer has been for me.

Janet Black said...

author said: The novel shifts between three different POVs: first person Frank (the ghost) and third-person Andie and Gert."
Okay, but it's not okay to switch viewpoint within the same scene.

That should only be done with chapter breaks (or at least separate scenes). It's tricky and even the pros seldom tackle it.

Ashni said...

POV shift? Frank is talking to us. He thinks he knows his dog's mind. I say things like, "My cat wishes she was human" all the time, and no one accuses me of anything worse than anthropomorphism.

I liked it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Virginia Miss -- that's a good point about the jump in the query. And Ashni, that's exactly how I meant "Nina wishes she could speak." It's Frank commenting on his dog, along the lines of Miss Snark saying "Killer Yap hates milk bones."

Jo Bourne said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jo Bourne said...

Jo Bourne said...
>>>What's with everybody needing an "action fix" in the first page anyway? <<<

I don't think an opening needs 'action' in the sense of --

The green Chevy jumped the center line, flipped twice, burst into flame, skidded ten feet, slammed directly into our station wagon and killed everyone inside -- Me, Hank, Caroline and the guinea pig in the back seat.
Don't ask why there was a guinea pig in the back seat. It's a long story.

That's action.
But you can do the same thing with ...

I woke up slowly. Too slowly. I had plenty of time to realize I wasn't alone in bed.
Hank was next to me, of course, on the right. Caroline was on the left. The guniea pig was nibbling at the soles of my feet.
Don't ask why there was a guinea pig in the bed. It's a long story.

which doesn't have any 'action' in that sense.

So it's not 'things going on' that opens your action and provides your hook. It's the sentences that crook a finger and say 'just around the corner ... on the next page ... I'll tell you everything ... cummon ... just a little further."

An opening asks questions, instead of answering them. It entices. It teases.

Y'know those ice cream stores where they give you this bitty spoonful of blueberrycheesecakestrudelpraline ice cream ...?

It's supposed to be like that.

Anonymous said...

Lovely writing. Intriguing story. I'm very surprised this was a form rejection.

wonderer said...

In terms of genre, this is a paranormal romance, not a fantasy/romance. They're very different.

I agree, the query needs to be punched up. But I really liked the sample page. The pacing was leisurely but not boring; the amount of detail was just right; and Frank's character comes across strongly. Miss Snark has a good point - how is Frank going to be an active character? - but the strength of the writing would have drawn me onwards to find out.

As for the comment trail, Jo Bourne gives a good illustration of the two kinds of action. Thanks!

wonder said...

Gah, forgot to mention: Gert and Cort? The similarity of the names is confusing, especially if they're of opposite genders.

wonderer said...

Argh. That's me, above: Wonderer. Must have left my brain in bed this morning.

zerilian said...

OMG! I read only the query and I'm dancing about. Not for the author - for Miss Snark. She knows of the Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

If I didn't love you before, I would be a newly devoted snarkling.

Instead, I'll just dance about.

authorhere said...

Thank you again Wonderer, Jo Bourne, and everyone else who took the time to comment. You all are great, and I really appreciate your help in becoming a better writer.

Scott MacHaffie said...

If it were me, I would have crossed out the first sentence or moved it later. I like the second sentence as an opening better.

Other than that minor quibble, I think the opening page looks fine.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was great; I hope it getspublished so I can read the rest.