Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Face-Lift 705

This is an old Face-Lift. In reading through last year's stuff to prepare for end-of-year awards, I noticed that there were two with the same number, and rather than renumber everything from that point forward, I moved the extra post here to the end. No need to comment, though you're welcome to do so.

Guess the Plot

Prey for the Church

1. Gay people, rational thought, those who ask too many questions, gay people...

2. A devout Evangelical Protestant goes undercover at the census bureau and changes the choices for 'religion' on the form to 'Christian' and 'hell-bound heathen', only to find his plans thwarted by an angelically blonde Episcopalian data-entry clerk. Can they overcome their differences and find love amid the printouts?

3. In 1964 Jack Singleton discovers he can use a certain red telephone booth in London as a time-travel machine. Life is stimulatingly dangerous as he revisits different parts of the 20th century, but when a glitch propels him back to 1376, he stands amid the scattered fragments of his ruined booth and realizes he's in veeeeery deeeeeep s**t.

4. When Stevie and Bill find smelly old bones in the grass, they realize the haunted church is carnivorous!! It ate a dog! They flee to safety, and don't cross the street again until it occurs to them that perhaps they can be rid of cruel teenager Jack McDaniels, if they can only convince him to stray too close and become . . . prey for the church!!

5. When attendance falls at Pineview's Sunday school, the Reverend Mackenzie takes action, sending his elite squad into the streets and playgrounds of the surrounding countryside to bring lost sheep of ages 4-12 back into the fold.

6. Three priests have been shot in the head, and the beloved bishop is the chief suspect. It's up to one intrepid reporter, with the help of a handsome butler and a band of Euro-brats, to solve the case before the Pope finds out what's going on.

Original Version

Re: Pederasty, the Catholic Church and Murder in PREY FOR THE CHURCH, a mystery novel by ______________

Dear Ms. ______________:

Chaz Kennedy quit the Boston Globe because she wanted to change things, not write about them. [Way too vague. The only specific is the Globe, and she no longer works there. I'm much more interested in her future plans than her previous job. What does she want to change? Does she have a new job lined up? Compare that to this: Chaz Kennedy quit the Boston Globe and joined Greenpeace because she wanted to sink Norwegian whaling vessels.]

Sailing along the Charles River in her tiny sailboat on the first day of her vacation, after putting away a bunch of nasty perps who sold pets to labs, [She quit the Globe to become Ace Ventura, Pet Detective?] Chaz enjoys the perfect weather that Boston serves up in June. When a big boat's wake throws her overboard, she surfaces nose to nose with a floater in priest's clothing. A bullet hole in the white bloated forehead doesn't help. [Doesn't help what?]

Meanwhile, a beautiful Indian activist is attacked in her hotel. Boston's premier defense attorney wants to hire Chaz to find out who and why. Chaz insists her vacation is more important than another job, until the police arrest her great uncle, the much beloved Bishop Kennedy, for murder when he is found giving the last rites two more priests with bullet holes in their foreheads. [Was the much beloved bishop holding the holy oil in one hand and the murder weapon in the other? What makes them think he shot them?]

Indian activists out to avenge the children abused by priests in Church run boarding schools, a wacko Internet cult of religious conservative vigilantes and elements within the Church itself, all have reason to want her uncle, the bishop dead. [However, he's still alive, so it's a little early to be thinking about who killed him.]

When he disappears from his jail cell before Chaz bails him out, [I know Massachusetts is easy on criminals, but do they really grant bail to people they believe shot three priests in the head?] [Although admittedly the bishop isn't a flight risk like a cardinal would be. Ba dum ching.] she is led on a frantic search that leads to a bizarre religio-military execution scene. [Nothing says vacation from hell like bizarre religio-military execution scene.]

Because widespread pederasty in the Catholic Church and the efforts to cover it up are still in the headlines, I thought this would be a good time to sell my work. [Anytime is a good time to sell your work if you're successful.]

Here are a few more elements to my story.

· The beautiful Native American (Canadian) comes to town to demand an apology from Boston's Cardinal, but the sniper's rifle hidden under her bed indicates another agenda. [It indicates she may soon be involved in a bizarre religio-military execution scene.]

· The elaborate Internet cult of priest abuse survivors runs its own bank and sets about wreaking private vengeance on abuser priests with money it gets from exploiting former abuse victims. [They are the former abuse victims.] [Whattaya mean, "wreaking vengeance"? Shooting them in the foreheads?]

· People suspect that the now dead Archbishop, [Bullet hole in the forehead?] her uncle's former boss, knew of the abuse. But his vile notebooks of the crimes were never found. [How do we know they're vile?] As his executor, Chaz's uncle, Bishop Kennedy, may have them. [Check the drawer in his bedside table.]

· That diary is worth a fortune to those eager to cash in on the Church's perfidy, but also to the Church, to prevent its publication. [By "that diary," singular, do you mean "his vile notebooks," plural?]

· The Big Dig, a massive public works project, forces Chaz and the villains to use water routes around the city, adding a new dimension to chases. [The dimension of water.] [Travel by boat is new only when measured against the age of the universe.]

· Defense attorney Erskine Villard III, his handsome French butler, and his band of Euro-brats give Chaz a hand. [Careful, this is turning into a comedy.] [If it's a comedy, change the title to: Who is Killing the Great Pederast Priests of Boston?] [Although your title is pretty funny too.]

Naturally, [Naturally?] there are a number of murders, chases on land and sea, and an intro to a cool new series character, Chaz Kennedy, brave, gun slinging, computer savvy, intrepid and sexy.

I was raised in Boston with priests and nuns in my family. [Sounds like a fun household.

Father O'Hara: What's that on the television, boy?

Author: Charlie's Angels, Father.

Father O'Malley: Turn it off and drop your pants. Sister Catherine, bring us our whips.]

I have read a great deal on the subject of pederast priests. I am angered and saddened by the situation that still unfolds in the news, yet know from my research that it's been known a long time.

I have made my living as a journalist, humorist, and radio news reporter and radio talk show host, on the air in Los Angeles, and nationally, as a commentator on the daily business show, Marketplace.

I hope you will consider representing me, uniquely qualified as I am to cover this explosive material.



What is Chaz, a freelance reporter? A private detective? The fact she just "put away some perps" makes me think cop. But a cop wouldn't have vacation coming already. How long ago did she quit the Globe?

Your murder suspects seem to be Indian activists out to avenge the children abused by priests in Church-run boarding schools, a wacko Internet cult of religious conservative vigilantes and elements within the Church itself. Have you considered making it one abused person, the cult leader, and one misguided person out to avenge the Church for its damaged reputation? Wouldn't it feel more personal with individual suspects instead of conspiracies?

You make it sound like nonfiction, like you're blowing the lid off a scandal, when you talk about actual pederast priests and call your material "explosive." It's a novel. The subject may be somewhat timely, but the editor/agent knows this without being told.

It's too long. We don't need the weather in June or the lab animals. We don't need the list of other elements. Only the vile notebooks are interesting, but as the archbishop wasn't even mentioned in the plot summary, maybe they aren't that important. I'd start with something like:
When investigative reporter Chaz Kennedy falls overboard while sailing on the Charles River, she surfaces nose to nose with a floater in priest's clothing. The bullet hole in his forehead suggests that this was more than just a baptism gone bad. And when the cops find Chaz's great uncle, Bishop Kennedy, administering last rites to two more priests who've been shot in the head--and arrest the bishop for murder--Chaz cuts her vacation short and starts a big dig into the evidence.
Then work in the motive: they were all pederast priests. And a few suspects. That's plenty for a murder mystery query.


Mother (Re)produces. said...

This might seem picky, but 'Indian Activist' had me picturing the Tamil Tigers. I agree that 'native american' is rather clunky (and a stupid term, imo.) Perhaps you could just tell us what tribe? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Damn. I was gunning for GTP #2

Evil Editor said...

'native american' is rather clunky

Even clunkier is Native American (Canadian).

writtenwyrdd said...

I believe the Canadians call the Indians/Native Americans "First Nation", EE. (I live on the Canadian border.)

The folks I knew/know who were Indian said they didn't care what you called them--Native American, Indian, it didn't matter. What they preferred however is their tribal name.


This query is rather complicated. I suggest you streamline it down to the main plot.

Rick Daley said...

When I first read "Indian" the first thing that ran through my mind* was "Thank you for calling technical support. My nave is Dave."

Then I read the additional elements and knew you meant THAT kind of Indian.

I think you should start with a good hook, try to get the reader's attention with the first sentence.

Also, include a word count and identify the type of work in your query. Is this a mystery or a thriller?

Keep in mind that the publishing world moves slow, and if you get an agent now, and if the agent is successful in selling your work right away, it could still be eighteen months before it goes into print. The headlines then might be different. You want to make sure your story has some staying power, and it's not just riding on the coat-tails of the evening news.

"the bishop isn't a flight risk like a cardinal would be."

I have to be careful reading this blog. I was taking a drink of ginger ale and started laughing so hard it almost shot out my nose, and with ginger ale that really burns.

*My mind is like a steel trap. It's rusty and illegal in 37 states.

Anonymous said...

The query is really complicated sounding as currently presented. Try EE's suggestions to streamline it down to the main point. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling that this is a case of good book/terrible query. Just give us three paragraphs about the protagonist, antagonist, and what they're doing to each other. Cut out the list extra elements and discussion of timeliness. Like I said about the query that defined "cryptozoology" the other week, nobody who has to be told about pedophile priests in the news will be interested in the book anyway.

Nobody wants to read a screed disguised as a novel. Try not to make it sound like one.

(I love Marketplace! That's really cool.)

none said...

I love GTP #3.

Greenpeace don't sink ships, EE. They leave that to the French.

At times, this query feels a bit too light-hearted for a book about such a grave, sensitive issue. Be careful of being perceived as flippant.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I have an idea for simplifying the ever-present Native-American (or Canadian) Indian thing. Possibly leave it out of the query. I'm guessing the activist's heritage plays a part in the book, but just calling her an activist is probably enough for the query.

I, too, was thrown off by the perps who sold pets to labs. Besides not necessarily needing to be in the query, it brought forth some questions: do you mean actual pets - animals that belonged to people that were stolen and sold to labs? Or potential pets, like mice who could have been given to little Timmy, if not for L'oreal's need to test mascara? If it's the latter, I'm confused, because last time I swung by PETAs site, a buttload of companies were still testing on animals - legally.

Xenith said...

There seems to be a trend (in those blogs that deal with How To Write A Query) to include less and less of the actual plot in the query.

So the usual advice was something like "beginning-middle-end (and make sure it's the end, don't leave it in suspense) in 250 words" and then "where does it start and what happens in no more than 3 paragraphs" and now "one paragraph hook".

Has anyone else noticed this?

Evil Editor said...

Not me, but then this is the only blog I read.

talpianna said...

Writtenwyrd is correct; my Canadian friends on dictionary.com.forum use First Nation(s).

one misguided person out to avenge the Church for it's damaged reputation?

For shame, EE! Go to your room.

As for the query, and especially the claim to be "uniquely qualified" to deal with the subject: surely the actual victims of pederast priests are more qualified? This reminds me all too much of all those fake "memoirs" that have been recently exposed. I think you need to concentrate more on plot and character and less on theme and moral lessons.

Anonymous said...

Chaz Kennedy falls overboard while sailing on the Charles River, she surfaces nose to nose with a floater in priest's clothing.

Well, of course, the biggest risk when falling into the Charles is coming nose to nose with a floater. Though they're not usually in costume.

Adam Heine said...

The Big Dig, a massive public works project, forces Chaz and the villains to use water routes around the city, adding a new dimension to chases.

Are you really trying to say that chase scenes on the water are fresh and original?

This is not a selling point. Don't say this. At all.

Dave Fragments said...

It's not that the query has to be short and tell less, it's that it has to sell the book to an agent in a specific form.

Nathan Bransford over on his blog counted the queries received over the three-day presidential holiday weekend. 105 queries.
He asked for partials on two queries.

Now that is tough odds.

A query has to bring the story to the agent's mind and make the agent want to read more. And it has to do it on one side of a piece of paper. That's why the critiques ask for less. It can't be two pages and succeed.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

I wondered if I should mention the chase scenes on the water. Now that Adam has, I'll just add that it also struck me as a bit gimicky. An artificial way to help drive the plot.

EB said...

The biggest risk when falling into the Charles is coming face to face with the Charles River Whitefish, a genus which includes both ribbed and lubricated species.

Having lived in Boston throughout most of the Big Dig and its attendant traffic snarls, I never once thought to use the waterways as a means of alternate transport. Duck boats and sculls aside, you're rather limited in where the river takes you. This bit reminds me of "Knightboat" from the Simpsons. "There's always a channel, or a canal, or a fjord."

batgirl said...

Chiming in with the risk of this sounding more flippant than action-packed, considering the topic.
The business with the petnappers sounds like backstory - I get that it's there to establish Chaz's gangbusting cred, but it takes up valuable space. Does this query really fit on one page?

Canadian newspapers usually say 'First Nations' or 'native'. If that helps.

Steve Wright said...

I think this one contains far too much information, to the point where the detail actually obscures the outline of the plot.

Also, some of the detail makes the story look unconvincing - the protagonist's finding of the body, the way it turns out to be linked to the attack on the activist - it's an unlikely looking chain of coincidences.

Also, some of the tone does come across as shrill - like 150 said, however important the message of your book might be, people want to read a novel, not a tirade.

Since everyone and his dog seems to be fulminating about paedophile priests, this is going to be a tough market to get into, so I think you need to clean this query up as much as possible.

(Personally, I'm not sure the Catholics are worse than anyone else when it comes to abuse. Any large organization contains a vast number of spineless managers whose reaction to any sort of scandal is to cover it up, pretend it didn't happen, and hope it goes away. My old school covered for an abusing teacher for years, and nobody involved was Catholic at all.)