Sunday, July 09, 2006

Face-Lift 107

Guess the Plot

Sister of Mercy

1. Hard-boiled assassin Vera Masters is given the assignment of her career, only to discover her estranged brother Hal is the target. Will she take the job, or work to save the sibling Dad always liked best?

2. Malicia plots to destroy her twin sister, Mercy, who always gets the best grades, the cutest boys, and the biggest slice of pie.

3. A Canadian nurse vacationing with her husband in Brazil, meets José, a career criminal who committed his first murder at the age of six. They have a profound effect on each other, and have an affair.

4. When Heather's sister joined a convent seven years ago, Heather joined a whorehouse. Now the two of them have joined forces, running a strip club to raise money for orphans in Yugoslavia.

5. When serial killer "Angel of Death" terrorizes a city, only one superhero has a prayer of stopping the carnage: Sister of Mercy, with her bullet-proof wimple and her Rosary of Doom.

6. "Mercy," a jaded transvestite cabaret singer, meets his estranged sister, who persuades him (her) to join her at the convent. But will she keep her brother's secret when the favor of Mother Superior is at stake?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Sister of Mercy is a story of jealousy and infidelity in Rio de Janeiro in the aftermath of 9/11. During Christmas of 2001, a Montreal couple go on vacation in Rio with their two children. At Copacabana beach, Chantal sees her husband, Robert, flirting with a young woman at a distance and does a slow burn. A few days later, she meets a taxi driver, José, at the same beach. After her rendezvous with José at his place, [She goes 5000 miles for a vacation with her husband and two children, and then slips away from them for a rendezvous with a cab driver?] Chantal (who’s a nurse) helps the taxi driver's mother, a midwife, deliver a baby in one of the favelas of Rio. The experience changes her profoundly as she sees how people live in one of Rio’s shantytowns.

Though Carnival in Rio isn't until the day before Ash Wednesday, the people of Rio are already preparing for it around Christmas. The narration is in first-person but shifts between the three major characters: Chantal, José and Robert. [How did that sentence get in here?] Though Chantal, age 34, and her husband, Robert, 47, are French-Canadian, Chantal communicates with the taxi driver, José, age about 23, in English. [Is that important? Are their ages important? Is anything in this paragraph important?] As a participant in the war between police and Rio's street children in 1987, José is suffering from post-traumatic stress, much like Vietnam war veterans. He first committed murder at the age of six, [She goes 5000 miles for a vacation with her husband and two children, and then slips away from them for a rendezvous with a murderer?] when he shot a grocer in a robbery. [Gimme all the candy, or I'll let you have it.][Important or not, the sentences in that paragraph have little or no connection to each other.]

The story is mostly a series of flashbacks. For instance, Chantal and Robert both relate meeting each other in his composition class at an unamed Montreal university in the autumn of 1988 while José relates details of his childhood in a favela. A turning point for José is when he catches his best friend and his girlfriend in bed together. He gives up a life of crime as a malandro and drives his father's taxi instead. His girlfriend, Rita, hits him over the head with a frying pan and knocks him out, but Rita and Gilberto give José another opportunity to kill them when they appear to try and make peace about six months later. They have become born-again Christians and want to get married, but they ask José for his blessing; he gives it to them and turns away from murder. [You just said he gave up a life of crime when he caught them in bed six months ago. Apparently that didn't include turning away from murder?] [Chapter 4. My name is José. It all started in a small shanty in Rio. When I was four, Mama said I was old enough to be on my own. I got a job at La Tiendita but when I was six, I shot my supervisor for looking at me the wrong way, and they fired me. I blew the place up a week later. By the time I was nine I was known as the Cocaine Kingpin of Ipanema. That was the year I caught Rita in bed with Gilberto. I was gonna kill her, but I decided the time was right to go straight. And it all would have been perfect, if she hadn't come into my life. The most beautiful woman in three hemispheres. Chantal. Too much woman for that wuss she was married to. I had to have her. But one week with her wasn't enough, and she wouldn't stay behind when her family left. So I drove my cab all the way to Canada to find her. We were meant to be, Chantal and José.]

This novel is also about how technology has affected our lives. José ends up living in Toronto with another Canadian woman, Donna, who sponsors him as a permanent resident. However, José has a short-term affair with Chantal in Montreal before she breaks it off, communicating through text messages on their cell phones. ("Hiroshima, mon amour" means that the rendezvous is off; the longitude and latitude of Montreal means that it's on.) [That's how technology has affected our lives? It allows you to text-message your lover in code to set up a secret rendezvous?] [The point of text-messaging in "code" is that other people might read the text message, right? So which would make the reader more suspicious that something's going on: a message that reads Meeting canceled, or a message that reads, Hiroshima, mon amour?]


Why mention that the story takes place in the aftermath of 9/11, if you're never going to mention how 9/11 is relevant?

Why mention that people are preparing for Carnival if you're never going to mention how Carnival is relevant? The query should have the most important stuff.

What's the novel about? It seems, insofar as José ends up in Canada, that it's a novel about him and Chantal. Or is it about Chantal's changes as a result of her experience in Rio? Either way, if it's "mostly" a series of flashbacks, and the flashbacks all go back to a time before Chantal went to Rio, then I don't see how it can hold together as a novel. There wouldn't be enough interaction between the main characters. Plus I don't buy Chantal getting involved with José. As for the query, I recommend dropping the last three paragraphs and concentrating on what's important--which would not include the frying pan incident or the text messaging codes.


Anonymous said...

I hate flashbacks. Most of the people I know hate flashbacks. I think a novel that is mostly flashbacks would have to be beyond very, very, very good to not get tossed across the room. -JTC

Anonymous said...

Reading this took me back to a day in 1978 when I was going through the attic and found my "Big Book of Flashbacks". I remember thinking then about that day in '73 when my Uncle Issac gave me that book. It was wrapped in a copy of the Whitehaven Times date 4th April 1968 -- that cool spring day when Uncle Isaac first took me to the history museum and...

Sorry... When was I...?

Unknown said...

You lost me at "Copacabana Beach..."

Seriously, this query needs a lot of work. Setting aside the negative selling aspect of writing via flashbacks, what is the story all about? I couldn't tell. How long is it? What market are you targeting? Where's the GMC and why would I want to read this?

Stacia said...

Ugh. Get rid of the flashbacks. Make the first third of the book Jose's story. The second the story of the dull married couple (hopefully they're more interesting than as depicted.) The last the tale of Jose, the slutty wife, and their text messages, and whatever the climactic finale of the book is where They All Learn Important Lessons.

In fact, retitle the book Jose, the Slutty Wife, and Their Text Messages. I'd give that title a second look.

Anonymous said...

December quinn:

Thanks for the laugh! Love the alternative title...


Bernita said...

"I would love to read # 5," she said wistfully.

Lightsmith said...

I'm intrigued by many of the individual elements mentioned in this query, but reading the query as a whole is like going to a formal dinner expecting to find the table laid out with platters of exquisitely prepared gourmet food, but instead finding a table full of delicious ingredients that still need to be chopped, skinned, sauteed, or baked. The inedible bits are still attached. There are even live chickens clawing their way across the table. Also, the similes that have been drawn out for far too wait, that's me.

Regarding whether Chantal would ditch her husband to have a fling with a murderous taxi driver, this could work if presented in the right way. It needs to be explained why Chantal is doing this (for example, her husband is boring--he's Canadian, for crying out loud--whereas Jose has testosterone oozing out of his pores). Also, Jose presumably doesn't mention those pesky murders until he's already got Chantal hooked.

While I believe that some of the writers who submit queries to this blog should give up writing immediately, I don't feel that's the case with this writer. S/he just needs to learn how to focus a story.

Luna said...

I had flashbacks once, but I got better.

Anonymous said...

Altar boy,

Boring? BORING????!!!!

Well, okay, we're boring.

-a Canadian, far too polite to be irate

Anonymous said...

Moi, I say ditch the first person & *especially* the 3 first person POVs! *And* the flashbacks! And the rambling all over everywhere. Yes, it happens in real life -- but that's one of the ways that novel improve on reality. :-)

Kathleen said...

give José another opportunity to kill them

you know, I never thought of every personal interaction as yet another opportunity to kill someone, but in a way it is so true.

"Joanne came in today to buy her usual cup of coffee, thus giving me another opportunity to kill her."

Really puts a new perspective on things.

Stacia said...

LOL Kathleen!

Thanks, spooks. :-)