Saturday, October 07, 2006

Face-Lift 210


Guess the Plot

Less than Mighty

1. When Herbert swings the hammer at the State Fair, he not only doesn't ring the bell, he gets his money back.

2. During two weeks in drug rehab, Mediocre Mouse comes to realize that he does not need to live up to his older brother's reputation in order to find true love.

3. After six years in the superhero academy, Mortimer Minniman is finally ready to receive his superpower. But a clerical error leaves him with something less than he was hoping for, and now he must fight crime as... Minty Man.

4. When ER physician Dragan Sakic proves that several recent "deaths from natural causes" were actually poisonings, the cops immediately assume (mainly because of his scary-sounding name) that Sakic must be the killer.

5. When strongman circus performer Mighty Mike Murphy is crushed during his elephant bench press act, dung shoveler Lester Wilson feels, for the first time in his life, it’s better to be Les than Mighty.

6. Detective Mike Portis is staring down the nasty end of a 12-gauge shotgun, laughing his ass off. Having to deal with gun-wielding thugs is part of Detective Portis’s job. But being strapped with a rookie who just pissed his pants is going to make life real tough or real short.


Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil ,

I am seeking representation for Less Than Mighty, a 90,000-word mystery, distinctive in its use of natural poisons for murder.

Less Than Mighty is the story of Dragan Sakic, a troubled emergency room physician whose faint memory of his childhood molestation eats away at him when he agrees to have a baby with his partner, Nina Jensen. His world begins to fall apart when he exposes, with the help of Chester Davis, homicide detective, that the death of Salt Lake City’s District Attorney was not of natural causes. [He was poisoned. By three of his eleven wives.] In providing an ailing investigation impetus by revealing more suspicious deaths for what they really are—elaborate poisonings—Dragan draws the wrath of those lurking in its shadow. When Nina is found near death, and evidence discovered at their home implicates Dragan in the DA’s murder, [Nina killed the DA, planted the evidence, and made it look like she'd been attacked, thinking this would throw suspicion off of her, not realizing that this would actually make her the number one suspect, simply because it's been done in thousands of mystery novels already.] [Of course a character named Nina betrayed the main character on 24, so I recommend you either change her name or change the plot.] [Thinking Dragan was also the name of a 24 villain, the one played by Dennis Hopper, I Googled the name. Turns out the villain was Victor Drazen. But here's the interesting part: Googling Dragan turned up Dragan Milicic, a mathematician from . . . Salt Lake City, and author of numerous E-prints, including Twisted Harish-Chandra sheaves and Whittaker Modules: The non-degenerate case. I don't think it's much of a stretch to guess that you based Dragan Sakic on Dragan Milicic, who gave you an "F" in math, and who you've been slowly poisoning ever since you became his pharmacist, just like the pharmacist on Desperate Housewives poisoned Bree's husband.] [Actual dialogue from Desperate Housewives:

Felicia: "You know, I know a store you would love. It specializes in antique jewelry. It's in Salt Lake City. Have you ever been to Salt Lake City?"
Edie: "No, I try to steer clear of Utah. It's a little too . . . conservative for me."


The Salt Lake City/Desperate Housewives/Dragan Sakic connection comes full circle; I believe I've made my case.] [Dragan Milicic: if you Google your name and find this article, I beg you, switch pharmacies.]

he becomes the prime suspect of the investigation, and in Nina’s attack. [An ER doctor had the motive and opportunity to poison the DA? And after getting away with it, was stupid enough to demonstrate that the death was from poisoning?] Framed for murders he did not commit, and faced with the loss of the person most dear to him, Dragan is thrust into a shady world of power, revenge and religious zealotry where only the rousing of an unfathomable betrayal buried deep in the recesses of his mind can set him free.

I am a pharmacist [Aha! So you admit you're a pharmacist!] with over ten years as a certified specialist in poison information. [Then maybe you can tell me what to take for this rank acid-gas I've been experiencing lately. Or is it a coincidence that rank acid-gas is an anagram for Dragan Sakic? Why else would you use such a ridiculous name?] The full manuscript of Less Than Mighty is available upon request. An SASE is enclosed for your reply. Thank you.


Notes

I'd turn that long paragraph into two paragraphs.

The language is a bit over-dramatic in places (Dragan is thrust into a shady world of power, revenge and religious zealotry where only the rousing of an unfathomable betrayal buried deep in the recesses of his mind . . . ; Dragan draws the wrath of those lurking in its shadow).

You might consider leaving out the molestation and giving us more about the natural poisons. No need to go into detail, but a couple sentences about the method would help. It's a mystery, after all, and if the poison is what makes it distinctive, as you claim, and if that's your area of expertise, it's a strong selling point.

32 comments:

Rei said...

The sentences are long and awkward. Your first plot-related sentence is 37 words. And it doesn't end there.

Anonymous said...

The Salt Lake City/Desperate Housewives/Dragan Sakic connection comes full circle; I believe I've made my case.

That was awesome. I am still giggling my head off. Someone needs to write a mystery series starring EE as the sleuth.

whoever said...

So you admit you're a pharmacist! LOL, LOL and LOL some more. EE, you are too funny. Did I mention you made me LOL?

December Quinn said...

I agree with Anon. It just keeps getting better on EE's blog.


As for the query...not bad. I agree you need to tighten up and give us more info on why the ER doc is an expert on natural poisons (most of the ER docs I know are too busy drinking in their off hours to study such things, and don't tend to deal with too many natural poisoning cases at work)--maybe he studied them when planning to kill his molestor?


I won't comment on the use of "partner" to describe his girlfriend, as I know it's become standard (though immensely irritating).

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't get what's meant here by "natural poisons". As opposed to synthetic ones? What's so distinctive about poisoning the victim in a murder mystery? Poisons have been used for thousands of years. I think the distinctiveness needs to be explained more clearly (at least to me).

(as for the acid gas, EE, quit eating brimstone)

dancinghorse said...

Wow. All I caught were the "ER" echoes (Goran Visnic as the hunky Croatian MD whose partner Abby gets pregnant and...).

I bow to the master.

Anonymous said...

EE! ROFL!

You were in top form tonight, sir.

Author, I think you're trying to pack too much information in at the expense of clear, smooth language. Try shorter sentences, to start.

It sounds like an interesting plot, though.

Dave said...

I humbly request that whoever wrote this find the nearest corner and GO STAND IN IT:

5. When strongman circus performer Mighty Mike Murphy is crushed during his elephant bench press act, dung shoveler Lester Wilson feels, for the first time in his life, it’s better to be Les than Mighty.

arghh....

HawkOwl said...

I have to say, sentences like "in providing an ailing investigation impetus by revealing more suspicious deaths for what they really are — elaborate poisonings —Dragan draws the wrath of those lurking in its shadow" are way too much work for my leisure reading. I shouldn't have to read something twice unless it's an advanced accounting text.

And it may be distinctive to use natural poisons for murder, but White Oleander did it before you. And that was a damn distinctive book. Insofar that it was good, which isn't the majority.

That being said, except for the fact that I don't like mysteries and your writing isn't entertaining (which may not hold true in the novel), there is no evidence of serious suckage in your query. In fact it's hard to tell whether we're in for suckage or brilliance. If I were an agent and I read mysteries, I'd look at the chapters and synopsis.

Anonymous said...

This is from the author:

Great, absolutely great, "guess the plot" submissions. Funny as hell Evil commentary. I shred a few abdominal fibers cracking up.

Guilty as charged on the melodrama. I needed to hear that. All the other critical tidbits of info offered were well received. The main problem I encountered trying to put this thang together was word economy, while providing as much Plot and Conflict as possible (I'm a Miss Snark fan, too). Not all editors/agents give EE's leeway on wordcount. This critique got some ideas brewing, which is why it's such a great service to all writer wannabees.

Thanks for the input everyone.

BTW, EE, Nina didn't do it and I'm not a fan of ER. House on the other hand... ;-)

Evil Editor said...

BTW, EE, Nina didn't do it

Glad to see you took my advice and changed the plot.

Anonymous said...

It's me, that vacillating author again:

EE, first of all, LOL, on the heeded advice and plot change. And I guess there must be a secondly in here somewhere. Oh yeah, it's not to say that Nina isn't used as a red herring to further the illusion that she's not the guilty one. How distinctive is that? That's for the gal who doesn't like reading things twice. ;-)

Right. The only way my work could be classified as brilliant is if I used up a rucksack worth of those fluorescent lime green highlighters before submitting it for eval. But I'm slowly siphoning out some of that "suckability" factor. One inch an hour; two feet a day. So, I'm somewhere approaching brillilility and that's why I'm here. That and to lose my lisp.

EE, if you drop by again, did you have a problem with the verbosity of the sentences? I thought I packed a lot of gusto (which is also my favorite post-coital line). If you answer, I'll fill your prescription for that ailing stomach as soon as I'm done with that concoction for the dern mathematician. ;-)

Thanks again.

Evil Editor said...

I wasn't as bothered by the length of the sentences as some, but

The third sentence of the plot paragraph bothered me because the "its" comes so long after "investigation," I had to read it again to see what "its" referred to. I'd start off something like:

Less Than Mighty is the story of Dragan Sakic, a troubled emergency room physician whose world begins to fall apart when he proves that the death of Salt Lake City’s District Attorney was murder. In providing an ailing investigation impetus by revealing more suspicious deaths for what they really are—elaborate poisonings—Sakic makes himselfa target.

Also, I'd cut that last sentence off at "zealotry," not to shorten it, but to tone it down.

magz said...

Totally 1 for the book EE, from the plot guesses through your comments
This
Was
Brilliant!

Author? I'm in with the gang that the story sounds just dandy, but the query sounds a a bit .. stilted. Long sentences dont bother me, big words are fun, but perhaps you could just make it a wee bit snappier, cozier, more intimate?
Read it out loud; to your friends, your kids, your dog, your tape recorder. I'm betting that your speaking style is much like your comments here, much more accessible and charming. Good job !

HawkOwl said...

Ah, so you can write something entertaining. :) Good luck with the novel. :)

Steph_J said...

This title doesn’t work for me, but the concept of the story does. I would like to know what kind of new natural poison was used to kill people. I also like the name of your main character, and the style of your writing. I think most people know that if a physician wanted to kill a few people, they would simply walk out of the hospital with a bag full of needles, syringes, and a few vials of KCl. I’m curious as to why they think Dragan would go to the extra trouble of elaborate poisonings.

Salt Lake City, childhood molestation, and religious zealotry, makes me wonder if the story is going to involve covering up a scandal in the Mormon Church. This in turn, makes me wonder how someone with a Slavic name came to be raised a Mormon.

If Dragan’s molestation has anything to do with religious scandals, I have no problem with an author pointing out that there are always a few bad apples in every barrel, just so long as they don’t trash the whole barrel because of the few. I tend to lose interest in stories that paint religions with broad (negative) strokes.

Anonymous said...

Pesky author here:

I'll take a double bladed mezzaluna to the recesses of Dragan's mind. Thank you, EE.

Magz, don't think it didn't sound stilted to my ears, because it did. I'm still jiggling fingers in them ear canals from time to time. Maybe there's a way of cramming a whole bunch of interesting Plot and Conflict in a limited number of words without sounding hokey. I don't know--I haven't figured in out --but I have a better idea now. I'd always thought it was the purpose of the synopsis and the first three chapters to showcase the writing and voice and tone and other fun stuff like that. Oh, well...

hawkowl, thanks for being a good sport. :-)

Thank you all. Time to move on...

Anonymous said...

Okay, I lied. Persistent author here:

I hope some of you will drop by to offer up some commentary. How's this version?

I am seeking representation for Less Than Mighty, a 90,000-word mystery, distinctive in its use of natural poisons for murder.

Less Than Mighty is the story of Dragan Sakic, a troubled emergency room physician whose world begins to fall apart when he proves that the death of Salt Lake City’s District Attorney was murder.

No more than remedies when taken separately, the three substances mimic a heart attack when combined. The medical examiner is about to sign the death certificate when Dragan notices a mathematical anomaly in the DA’s laboratory values. “These numbers make no sense,” he tells the detective. “If what happened to the DA were a Babushka, we’re still a doll short of proving murder.” A tiered poisoning. Dragan fits the pieces together and comes to the sole logical conclusion; only the DA could have murdered himself. Why?

In providing an ailing investigation impetus by revealing more suspicious deaths for what they really are—elaborate poisonings—Dragan makes himself a target. When his girlfriend Nina is found near death, and evidence discovered at their home implicates Dragan in the DA’s murder, he becomes the prime suspect of the investigation, and in Nina’s attack. Framed for murders he did not commit, and faced with the loss of the person most dear to him, Dragan is thrust into a shady world of betrayal, revenge and religious zealotry.

I am a pharmacist with over ten years as a certified specialist in poison information. The full manuscript of Less Than Mighty is available upon request. An SASE is enclosed for your reply. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Here's an unofficial critique of the new version from someone who should be off working on her own writing (but I got a good response on my own query last week, so maybe I'm not an idiot):

1st paragraph: "...90,000 word mystery in which natural remedies, harmless when taken separately, become deadly poisons in the hands of the killer."

2nd paragraph: fine.

3rd paragraph: skip to "The medical examiner is about to sign...anomaly in the DA's laboratory values." Skip to "Dragan fits the pieces together..."

next paragraph: "Dragan soon uncovers other suspicious deaths for what they really are -- elaborate poisonings. When his girlfriend Nina..." and the rest seems okay to me.

I think the content is fine, you just have some awkward sentences in there. Good luck!

Evil Editor said...

I recommend dropping the third paragraph, which is confusing, and tacking something like this onto the second paragraph:

The medical examiner is about to sign the death certificate when Dragan points out that three substances found in the DA's body, no more than natural remedies when taken separately, mimic a heart attack when combined. A tiered poisoning?

Maybe change "more" to "additional" in the next sentence.

HawkOwl said...

Insofar that I work with two coroners, I have to wonder why the emergency room doctor is doing such things as bloodwork in a heart attack. It's for the coroner to decide whether an autopsy is needed, not for the doctor.

Dave said...

The paragraph with the word "Babushka" in it is no good, no good at all.

And this sentence "In providing an ailing investigation impetus by revealing" barks like my feet after a 16 hour day. Say something like: "By Exposing several deaths as murder by poison rather than accident..."

"Tiered poisoning" might work in the book --- your writing has a very literary flare to it --- but it doesn't work in the query letter where you need to write simple declarative sentences.

Don't get me wrong, a literary flare is good, I wish I had one. I am cursed with a technical background and naturally write simple declarative sentences all the time.

Dave said...

and before I go, Scott Turow's antithero in "Presumed Innocent" is named Rusty Sabich and and is a countryman with Dragan

Anonymous said...

It's that haunting author again:

Y'all have been a great help, y'hear. I'm fixin' to go make the changes. Yee haw. Don't ask me why I'm writing with a drawl, I'm a damn Canuck, maudi tabernac!

I'm saddened by the lack of enthusiam for my nestling dolls. They were the whole book. Just kidding.

anonymous that ain't me, I'm sure I can smoothen the prose with what you offered. Thanks for taking the time.

EE, I guess the second paragraph of your latest post addresses what you suggested in the third paragraph of your Notes section. It gives more on the poison aspect. I'll make it so, Jean Luc.

Hawkowl...it's a little complicated to explain here and I tend to get longwinded, so I'll just say that the coroner screwed up (they do that, especially when the victim has a medical history of heart problems and they keel over from a heart attack. Nothing really suspicious there). Dragan is dragged into the investigation by the detective (the detective has his reasons for thinking this is a murder and there is a reason why Dragan is chosen to be the guy to review the medical dossiers). It's all part of a convoluted plot, similar to the way I'm addressing your doubts.

Dave...don't insult my critique group. I do not have literary flare. I've got an itch in a cumbersome spot, but that's about it. Every single instance I've attempted to be flary...flaming...have flare, papers got strewn across my critiquers living rooms and hands shot up in the air. I'm as drab and technical as you are. Just kidding. Remember, I'm a pharmacist--not that there's anything wrong with that--so you know where I come from.

The style of my WIP is actually dumbed down to the average reader--simple prose, simple style--like most pieces of schlock out there. Plus, I can't keep my flare up all that long! Whoa, did I set myself up for ridicule here.

Darn tootin'. My time is up. I bid y'all thanks and goodbye for now.

Anonymous said...

The "partner" thing annoys the hell out of me too. -JTC

Anonymous said...

Cheese 'n' rice, I totally missed steph j's post. Sorry about that pal.

I'm not married to the title either, to be perfectly honest. I'm leaning towards calling it Natural Selection. I have this cool guy in the book who's a poisoner profiler (based on this equally cool dude I know who developed the profile for the folks in Quantico whom I don't know) and the term "selected" comes up way too often, I bet, when talking about the victims. And all the poisons, as you know, originate from natural sources, from nature. I'll let my agent decide, when I get one of them, or I'll go with mini-mini-moe.

Actually, motive should be the most obvious factor pointing to Dragan, but that only comes up in the denoument as a twist. All along the way the cops are having difficulty pinning the crimes to Dragan (which he didn't commit, even though I said what I said just previously abouve). He was framed. Bad people left bogus clues at Dragan's home.

No cover-up with the Mormon church or anything like that. But there are good and bad Mormon apples in the book. The lead detective is Mormon, and to be different, has no wives (well, anyone who knows about the Mormons know that polygamy is prohibited, but it's still packs a good laugh). And he's a good guy. Chuckles all the time. The bad guys are from a radical Mormon sect, without any standing in the community. Hopefully that comes out. Salt Lake is not as homogeneous as you may think.

Anonymous said...

Insofar that I work with two coroners...

Keeping them supplied?

You've left a few bodies in your wake round here, that's for sure!

;-)

HawkOwl said...

That's nice, but since that the guy (presumable) died in hospital within 24 hours of being admitted, the body belongs to the coroner, and neither the detective nor the ER doctor have the authority to decide on more tests. If they think there is something the matter with it they would tell the coroner, who would then decide what tests to do. The ER doctor would not be doing bloodwork on the client, especially after the coroner has arrived. If the coroner shows up, makes up his mind, and THEN the detective has time to convince the ER doctor to do blood work, and the doctor has time to draw and RUN the blood work between the time of the coroner's decision and the time the coroner signs the death certificate, there is something really screwed up with your timeline.

There is also no reason there would be a detective there at all, for a death in hospital from a heart attack, unless the coroner called him, as it's the coroner's job to decide whether an investigation is needed.

Either the doctor needs to know there is something wrong before the coroner gets there, or the detective needs to get the body afterwards despite the coroner's decision to the contrary, which would probably be a fairly intricate process.

Anonymous said...

Um, Hawkowl, I think it's FICTION. Accuracy is all very well, but plausibility is the main thing, and I'm willing to believe the author's done that in the book -- he/she doesn't need to defend it in the query.

HawkOwl said...

12:35: Good for you. You can choose to think it's plausible, and I can choose not to.

Anonymous said...

Pestiferous author here:

Thanks anonymous. From which anonymous clan do you originate from?

Hawkowl, those are good points, but based on the wrong premise. I've worked both with, not for, the Salt Lake Medical Examiner's office and the one in Austin, Texas. My secret's out now. I'm familiar with how it works. Salt Lake also has a toxicologist, and Toxicology office, which works "independently" of the coroner (they are the lab that actually did the bloodwork on Elvis, believe it or not. Bloodwork might be pushing it, it was more like sauce. The secret McRecipe). So it depends, you see.

In my story, a full autopsy was not necessary. The death did not meet any of the criteria needed by the ME to perform one. There was no suspicion of foul play, the victim had been seen by his doctor two days prior and he died during a party in his honor, in his own back yard. And some back yard it was. You'll have to read the book to see how picturesque it was. Oh, what a yard, I tell you. A quick autopsy was perform as a favor to the police chief, some old guy with greying hair who is more verbose than I am. Call Ripley's. So, Chester, my detective, who has some hidden reason to believe the DA was murdered (the reason is told on page 147, 18th paragraph, second sentence, you know I'm pulling your leg now) gets the autopsy report from the coroner with the blood test he had ordered, plus the typical toxicology screen (which reports squat really, unless the victim did illicit drugs, and the DA was a good boy Mormon. Not much in the tox screen, but just enough in the other bloodwork for Dragan to figure something out, blah, blah, blah. So, it's the detective who gets the paperwork from the ME, who himself ordered the labwork, and then Chester brought it to Dragan.

Hope that clears things up. Take care.

HawkOwl said...

"Oh! I Seeeeeee! So everything is wrapped up in a neat little pack-age!"

LOL

I hope your query gets your synopsis read. There a lot more to it than can go into a one-page letter.

Good luck. :)