Monday, June 29, 2015

Feedback Request

Dear EE,

Thanks so much for the review. It’s enlightening (and unsettling) to see the assumptions I made for the reader in the name of brevity. Of course you would think Hayworth escaped with the girl that moment in the mail truck. Of course you would wonder why the girl didn’t just grab the money and jump on an airplane…and on. Some things still don’t work; the eight year old daughter (and grandparents) while crucial to the story are too complicated for the query. The search for the safe combination (and discovery of sex traffickers names and numbers along with policemen and politicians)—too complicated. Already it seems too long; I’m just hoping you will be good enough to tell me if the intro still sounds like “some far-fetched events contrived by the author just to get the characters together”.

THE MAILMAN (Working title, as there’s another story by that name I’ve learned). 64, 000 words. My background is advertising, not sex trafficking. (Yes, I’ve put attractive women in ads and commercials but they were always clothed.) I’ve researched sex trafficking quite thoroughly, with particular interest in the psychology that invades the girls’ minds—most of the time, but not always.

Ex-Marine MP Trevor Hayworth is subbing as a postal carrier in San Diego and struggling to make ends meet. While he’s delivering the mail, a pretty young woman begs him to come into the house, where she reveals massive bruises up and down her back. She says she was taken from her family in San Salvador seven years previously and sold to sex traffickers. Now she’s being kept in the house by a sex trafficking boss, who makes her wear an ankle monitor so he can watch her when he steps out. She noticed Hayworth’s Marine tattoo previously and hopes he is the one to help her escape and drive her to Tucson, where she’s learned her parents now live. [I'm getting the impression the mail is regularly delivered to the front door of this house. Are we in the 1950s? Isn't there a mailbox out by the street?]  Hayworth wants to call the police. Alarmed, she says she is illegal and they will send her back to San Salvador where she will die and, besides, her captor is friends with a top policeman and provides him with young girls. Then the girl’s captor walks in. 

The man orders Hayworth out of his house, insisting things are not what they seem. Hayworth finishes his route, all the while thinking about the girl’s back and her palpable fear and asking himself the question: “When are you going to learn you can’t fix things?” [It seems like he'd be asking himself, "How can you do nothing when this girl begged you for help?"]

Instead of going home after work, Hayworth drives to the girl’s house. Under the cover of darkness, he scrapes paint off a basement window and sees the girl naked and chained to a wall. [Which looks bad until he remembers that the captor said things are not what they seem.] He stops reminding himself he gave up playing hero and goes back to his pickup for tools.

Hours later, Hayworth and the [naked] girl are on the run, leaving behind a dead man, an empty safe, and their old lives. [As far as the girl is concerned, she left behind her old life seven years ago, not hours ago.] Chasing them are sex trafficking thugs, corrupt cops, and a newspaper reporter who moonlights as a contract killer. Everyone wants the money and no one wants them alive. 


Why doesn't the captor chain the girl in the basement when he steps out? The ankle bracelet won't keep her from running out to the street when she sees a taxi approaching and getting a ride to a shelter or  . . . Tucson.

Assuming the reporter is chasing her as a contract killer, who hired him? If the sex trafficking thugs hired him, why are they chasing her? Usually when you hire a contract killer it's because you don't want to be around when the killing takes place. As the contract killer knows about the money, was he told that the money was his fee? A smart contract killer isn't going to agree to terms that state he must kill someone in return for which he gets to keep whatever money she has on her. She might have ditched the money by the time he kills her, or he'd be worried there never was any money, and the thugs tricked him into doing their dirty work for nothing.  

If everything actually is as it seems, maybe the girl should yell to the mailman from a window, asking for help. Getting him to come into the house and showing him her bruises and ankle bracelet and the captor coming in and trying to sell the vague explanation that all is not as it seems, and then apparently hoping the mailman won't alert the authorities to what he's seen . . .

The first paragraph has too much info. Something like this would suffice, even if it's not exactly what happens:

While working as a postal carrier in San Diego, Ex-Marine MP Trevor Hayworth hears a woman calling to him from a second-story window. She begs him for rescue from the sex trafficker holding her captive. Before Trevor can respond, the girl is yanked away from the window and the shade is drawn.

Hayworth finishes his route, all the while thinking about the girl’s palpable fear . . .  


InkAndPixelClub said...

You've cleared up some questions and made the wise decision to leave the daughter out if there's no space to fully deal with her. And the focus is more on Trevor now, which is good, since the last draft had very little for him to do and spent far more time on the nameless, pretty sex trafficking victim. But this is still about 75% setup. I would guess that most of your story is about Trevor and the young woman trying to make it to Tuscon alive with a variety of bad guys chasing after them. We're still spending an awful lot of time at the house and now Trevor's so hesitant to get involved that he seems clueless.

I actually liked the "jump cut" from the captor walking in to Trevor and the woman on the run from the previous draft. It both avoided a description of exactly what happened when I can easily conncectthe dots myself and left me intrigued about exactly how it went down. I'd consider going back to that and skipping over the fact that Trevor took the word of a possible sex trafficker that everything was just fine over the accusations of a battered woman wearing an ankle bracelet or how Trevor manages to scrape paint off of glass quietly enough to avoid detection.

An agent or an editor is going to want to know more about your book than a potential reader. You can and probably should reveal a lot more about what happens on the drive to Tuscon and what will hopefully happen once they get there. (Reuniting the young woman with her family isn't going to do much good if she's still being targeted by a sex trafficking ring, corrupt cops, and reporter/contract killer.) if you've got some thrilling shootouts and car chases and other fun stuff in there, it should be in the query.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Oh, and EE, of the three houses I've lived in for a significant mount of time, only the current one has a mailbox near the street. One had a mailbox mounted on the house near the door and the other had a mail slot. Plus, I'm on a first name basis with my mailman since my us and orders a bunch of stuff by mail and a lot of it needs to be signed for. I imagine someone who places regular orders with Shackles 'R Us would get a similar amount of face time with the mailman.

Anonymous said...

Author, you solved the problem by answering our questions instead of not raising them in the first place. Now your query is even more disproportionately setup vs main story.

Trevor Hayworth, a former Marine with a humdrum new life as a postal carrier in San Diego, is dragged across a house door one afternoon by a girl who claims to be a Salvadoran sex slave -- then thrown right back out by a man who claims she's not. Convinced of the girl's truthfulness but heeding her plea not to turn her over to la migra, Trevor returns that evening and rescues her from a dungeon in the back of the house. In a flash, the two of them are off for Tucson, where the girl thinks her family is living.

Now, another paragraph or two for the rest?

P.S., do you mean "former Marine" rather than "ex-Marine"? Or did Trevor get an other-than-honorable discharge?

P.P.S., EE, mail comes right to my door in . . . San Diego.

SB said...

If the head cop is one of the sex traffickers' customers, I'd say that should be mentioned before the girl's fear that she'll be deported. It's a more immediate problem, because the cops could just choose not to deport her or report her to the INS or that problem could potentially be dealt with in some other way in the future. But having the cops be part of the problem pretty much stops that as an avenue of help right now.

Even if the traffickers get their mail through a slot, I'm led to wonder what mail they're getting so much of that they don't see this as a potential security threat. Would they maybe not just get a PO Box or something? Or maybe they're just not too bright.

And FWIW, I don't think I've ever lived in a place where mail came right to my door, so I totally understand EE's dubiousness at that.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree with anonymous. Avoid raising the questions in the query, rather than answering what we asked. The latter approach just leads to more questions.

I would expect a person in this woman's situation to yearn to go back to San Salvador. I've been there. It's not hell. They have lovely parks. People are friendly.

This story has me thinking of the Ariel Castro kidnappings. When one of those women was able to get to the door, she managed to attract the attention of a passerby. Although the two didn't share a common language and she probably couldn't see his tattoos if any, she still managed to get across that all was not well. He went and got someone else and the three of them kicked the damn door down. Trust and decisions didn't seem to enter into it; it was just a matter of how humans behave.

Your query is still showing some squid in the mouth. There's the notion that everyone (including people from countries where the US has intervened militarily) views the US Marines as heroes. That everyone would rather be in the US than back home. These things may be true for your particular character, but you'll want to avoid portraying them as universal truths, not for political or social reasons but because we discoverer character through a character's own choices, not through broad generalizations.

Evil Editor said...

BTW, if you Googled "squid in the mouth" and discovered that all the entries were about a Korean woman whose mouth was impregnated by a par-boiled squid she ate, you may want to try

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I was busting my head trying to figure out what the pregnant squid mouth lady had to do with writing. Thanks for clearing that up.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Huh. That is not what I thought "squid In the mouth" meant.

Author, you'll notice that both EE's rewrite and Anon's keep Trevor's initial interaction with the unnamed woman to the bare minimum. The more she says to him, the more potential there is for the reader to wonder things like why isn't the sex trafficking boss keeping the woman confined or why doesn't Trevor do something when he has a plethora of evidence supporting the woman's claims. If all she manages to tell him is "I'm in trouble, I need your help, don't call the police" before she's cut off, it makes sense that Trevor wouldn't be sure what's going on and the reader is only wondering the exact same things Trevor is.

There are very few options other than Trevor helping the woman that result in a move length story, so most readers will realize that Trevor is going to do exactly that by sentence two. So you want to get to the point where he does help her and on to what the reader doesn't already know as soon as possible.

SB said...

"There are very few options other than Trevor helping the woman that result in a move length story, so most readers will realize that Trevor is going to do exactly that by sentence two."

Haha, yeah, it's not like the next sentence would be, "So he went about his day and totally forgot about it," or "So he informed the police and let them handle it." Although I suppose it would be possible that he's actually on the bad guys' side and this is one of those books where the villain is the protagonist. Or he's a bad guy and the woman finds a way to save herself.

But yeah, the obvious assumption is that he's going to do what the woman asks. Kind of a call to adventure in a pretty literal sense. I agree that moving on from there quicker would probably be good.

InkAndPixelClub said...

@SB - The only other option I could come up with is if the woman shows up dead after trying to get Trevor to help her and Trevor ends up in the role of detective/avenger. Regardless of the other possible narratives, we all know Trevor gets involved or there's no story, so it behooves the query to get to the point where he does quickly.

alaskaRavenclaw said...

Anyway, the query wastes time explaining things that don't need to be explained, to wit: Why the woman asks for help and why the protagonist provides it.