Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Face-Lift 963


Guess the Plot

Death in Living Color

1. When a murder investigation leads to the Navajo Reservation, U.S. Marshall Graham Gray runs afoul of the tribal medicine man who predicted the murder with a sand painting. Things go from suspicious to spine-tingling when the medicine man uses the same technique to craft a painting of Gray's . . . death in living color.

2. When the body of beloved 50's sitcom star Lucy McGillicuddy is found in the charred husk of her Hollywood home, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, she was dead from a gunshot wound before the fire started, and two, redheads are really hot.

3. Tor Vlandingham loves “Death in Living Color!”— the newest reality TV show. But, when Tor finds himself trapped in a taxi with the next contestant, the idea of gladiators battling surprised civilians no longer seems so funny.

4. Thelma Foad, J.C. Dix's first client at his new law practice, hires him to recover a pornography film. Sounds intriguing, especially if he gets to see the film. But the next thing he knows, he's a murder suspect and gangsters are after him. Maybe he shoulda gone into corporate law.

5. Brenda thought she had a mouse problem so Dave set up a trap and his video camera, intending to film the carnage. In the morning the cheese is gone but where's the mouse? Dave checks the video and OMG, he killed an elf! Two other elves dragged the dead guy and the cheese away.

6. Justine wants to be a makeup artist for the movies. Thanks to the recession the only job she can find is preparing the dead for open casket events at the funeral parlor. Dullsville. Until she learns she must also subdue zombies and make them presentable. And who knew vampires could be so seductive!!??


Original Version

Dear Mr. Rubie:

I notice that you represent both military fiction and crime fiction. [Thus I thought you might be interested in my novel Saving Private Poirot.] Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, called my short story Dancing in Mozambique (EQMM July, 2010) “… a harrowing portrait of war waged by mercenaries and the greed and pitilessness it breeds. I think it’s one of the best mysteries of the year…”

I am an ex-Special Forces Engineer Sergeant (Green Beret Explosives Expert), hold a BA in Journalism/Mass Communications from the Walter Cronkite School, and have sold fiction to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine ["...Mozambique"] and Boy’s Life, ["Bobby Disarms an IED with Just a Scout Knife and a Merit Badge"] as well as other magazines and anthologies.

Following a suggestion, in a very kind letter from Dean Koontz, I have shifted my writing focus from short stories to novels. [If Koontz spent half as much time revising his crap as he spends writing letters to random authors, he'd be Stephen King.] I now seek representation for my completed novel-length manuscript “Death in Living Color,” an 80,000-word mystery that mixes a veteran’s experiences into the mystery. [Change the second "mystery" to "plot" or "story."]

As America sends troops to the Korean Conflict, badly scarred WWII veteran Captain J.C. Dix moves to Scottsdale, Arizona to practice a nobler form of justice [Nobler than what?] —only to discover the dusty desert town needs another lawyer like it needs central heating. When Thelma Foad, wife of a powerful community leader, walks into Dix’s adobe law office, things seem to be looking up. But, Foad (who knows Dix won the Medal of Honor) doesn’t seek legal help. Instead, she hires him to recover an illicit pornographic film of her younger sister. [If I'm looking for someone to recover a porn film, I definitely want someone who's won the Medal of Honor.] Soon, Dix is threatened by gangsters, and implicated in theft and murder. With the County Sheriff threatening arrest, Dix struggles to keep from being disbarred, only to have a librarian-looking woman show up—begging him to investigate her over-sexed sister. [Is he a lawyer or a private eye? Not that either one would turn down a job investigating an over-sexed sister.] Learning that an anonymous benefactor sent the two clients to him, Dix worries he’s being used as a pawn. As the gangsters close in, he races to solve the case, [What is the case?] and unmask the mystery man. [The mystery man? You mean the anonymous benefactor? That's the case he's racing to solve, to find out who sent him his other two cases? Has he made any headway on the cases he's actually been hired to solve, the ones he'll get paid for? Or is he just trying to solve his own little mystery?] Before it’s over, he’ll need all the skills he learned in combat—as well as the Tommy Gun locked in his office—to fight for his life, and save the woman he’s come to love. [Which woman has he come to love? My guess is the librarian-looking woman. But usually when you love someone you call her by her name or sweetheart, rather than librarian-looking woman.] [Although, librarian-looking woman is starting to grow on me. In fact, I think you should call Thelma Foad "powerful community leader's wife-looking woman." It's a bit wordy, but trust me, if your name is Thelma Foad, you'd rather be called powerful community leader's wife-looking woman.]

I am a student of World War II, a Scottsdale native with connections to the historical society (though I don’t let historical minutia [minutiae] clog up the storyline), and I blog with several other successful authors at: http://www.sleuthsayers.org

Following your website instructions, I pasted the first five pages of my manuscript below. I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,


Notes

This needs to be shortened. The Koontz sentence can go. You might open with: I am seeking representation for "Death in Living Color,” an 80,000-word mystery in which a WWII veteran sets up a law practice in Scottsdale, AZ, and soon finds himself entangled with gangsters and implicated in murder.

You don't need a bio at the beginning and the end. I'd combine the bio/credits into one paragraph at the end, something like:

I am an ex-Special Forces Engineer Sergeant (Green Beret Explosives Expert), hold a BA in Journalism/Mass Communications from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, and have sold fiction to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM, called my short story "Dancing in Mozambique" (July, 2010) “one of the best mysteries of the year…”).

That leaves us with the plot. I can do without Korean Conflict, nobler form of justice, adobe, Medal of Honor. Focus on Dix from beginning to end. And use paragraphs.


In 1950, badly scarred WWII veteran J.C. Dix moves to Scottsdale, Arizona to practice law—only to discover the dusty desert town needs another lawyer like it needs central heating. When Thelma Foad walks into Dix’s law office, things seem to be looking up. But Foad doesn’t seek legal help. She hires him to recover a pornographic film of her younger sister.

Now we need two short paragraphs that explain how recovering the film involves Dix in murder. (If the two are unrelated, drop Foad and the porn from the query. Murder is the focus of a mystery novel.) Who was murdered, and why is Dix a suspect? Frame job? Wrong place at the right time? What happened?

As it's not a romance, we may not need librarian-looking woman in the query. Basically, Dix sets up shop and suddenly his life goes kablooey and he has to solve a mystery or else . . . he'll land on death row? Gangsters will kill him? What's at stake? Do include that he'll need his combat skills to get through this.

14 comments:

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

As Barack Obama remarked to me the other day, if you're going to engage in name-dropping, have a point. The dropping of Mr. Koontz's name: pointless. It tells us nothing but that you wrote to the guy and he didn't blow you off-- or he blew you off very politely.

The dropping of Ms. Hutchings's name: much pointier. A compliment like that you can use.

The first three grafs, and the beginning of the fourth, had me expecting a military thriller. Then suddenly the story's set in Scottsdale, AZ, WTF?

Far too much of this query is your creds and your bio. I don't think it's important what your degree is in or where it's from. If the military aspect of the story is huge (but it sounds like it's not) then your military experience is relevant. Otherwise not.

You've really only got one graf about your story, and the opening to that graf is misleading-- the Korean War is not important to your story AFAICT. Once you cut all the bio stuff, you'll have more room to expand on your story.

I think oversexed is one word. Further comment on the over-sexed sister I will leave to Buffy Squirrel.

Anonymous said...

=I am an ex-Special Forces Engineer Sergeant (Green Beret Explosives Expert), hold a BA in Journalism/Mass Communications from the Walter Cronkite School...= The author sounds WAY more interesting than his novel does! What about writing a series about a detective who used to be an explosives expert??

Anonymous said...

What they said. Sounds like it might be a good story, but the plot description is sketchy and scattered because you were too busy blabbing about you. Also, I wondered which decade this is set in. 1950s?

dev_lena said...

I like the line about central heating.

What I don't understand is why so many people turn to the protagonist apparently for services that are not listed on his office sign. The connection between knowing about his Medal of Honor and asking him to retrieve a pornographic film is lost on me, for example, and may need to be more explicit. I also found the jump from “benefactor” to “gangsters” to the “mystery man” more abrupt than intriguing.

This is clearly action-packed, but it would help to see some evidence that the story is as logical and comprehensible as it is exciting.

Oh, and for the military fiction part - because the early paragraphs seem to be all about that - is there something more on that in the story than the MC's background?

Matthew MacNish said...

The long paragraph has to go. Even without EEs comments added the length just hurts my eyes.

vkw said...

I liked this plot. Sure the query could be a bit tighter. I would definately drop the sleuth falls in love part and Koontz thought I should continue writing part. I think all authors think others should write. I have a theory about that but . . . not for now.

All sleuths fall in the love, marry, and divorce. Their exes go on to marry doctors and they start drinking heavily.

Since we already know THAT is going to happen, we don't need to know it in the query. (I'm kidding, no need to be mean to me today).

Actually we don't need the dame because the author didn't even tell us who she was, meaning she ain't all that important.

vkw

Evil Editor said...

Also, I wondered which decade this is set in. 1950s?

Korean War (25 June 1950 – armistice signed 27 July 1953)

BuffySquirrel said...

Ay'm sorry, a librarian-looking woman? Does she have books stuck in her hair?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

That's it, Buffy? You're going after the librarian-looking woman?

Dang. I thought you'd be all over the oversexed sister like green on a frog.

BuffySquirrel said...

Sisters are not in my line--oversexed or otherwise!

You're right, of course. How could I miss that?

How much sex is too much for your sister, exactly?

Anonymous said...

I'd charge through the archives to get a feel for what a query requires.

Three paragraphs, one line about you. Very specialized. I'd like to read the revision after you're finished working it over.

Anonymous said...

So, there are two sisters, one over-sexed, the other over-photographed while performing sex-related acts? If so, that's one sister too many. (You're over-sistered, as it were.)

150 said...

I just got hung up on Foad. This is why you always Google your character names.

BuffySquirrel said...

I always thought being oversexed was confined to the US military.