Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Face-Lift 873

Guess the Plot

Book’em Brooker

1. Sam Brooker, postal worker, wants to break into the librarian trade. Through a series of misunderstandings he ends up running an underground gambling ring. Also, tickets to the policemen's ball.

2. Hard-bitten cop Ed "Bookem" Brooker faces his most hackneyed, cliche-filled case yet when the corpse of the local millionaire's son turns up in a meat locker. Sassy redheaded reporter Francie Wilkes shows up every third chapter in high heels and a tight skirt.

3. Norm Brooker's encyclopedic knowledge of Hawaii Five-O fails to impress his friends or the girl he secretly loves. When Norm's hometown is hit by a rash of crimes that mirror classic episodes of his favorite show, will Norm finally get his chance to shine? Or will he find that real crime fighting isn't as easy as his TV heroes made it look?

4. Cheerleader Chrissy is failing science. When Mr Thompkins assigns them a CSI project, she knows just who to get as her partner--nerdy Danny Brooker. But rival Stacey is angling for him as well, and she's offering to date him, too! Oh, it is SO on!

5. Make the coffee, Brooker. Fetch us some donuts, Brooker. File our reports, Brooker. Sexism is one thing, but can sharp-eyed Vivian Brooker overcome the emotional frailty inherent to her gender long enough to capture a serial killer--before she becomes his next victim?

6. Book'em, Brooker. Sharpen my pencil, Brooker. Hoover the cells, polish the handcuffs, Brooker. Sexism is one thing, but can sharp-eyed Valerie Brooker turn her reputation as a 'dumb blonde' to her advantage while she gathers evidence to book her obviously crooked captain?

7. Shy but brilliant forensics student Jill Pender has a secret: an imaginary friend, hard boiled detective Buck Brooker who has gotten her through every course with honors. But joining the police means taking a psych exam. Can she give up her secret weapon? But perhaps more importantly: will Brooker let her go?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

In 1973, Vivian Brooker is the first policewoman in the Cedar Falls Police Department. Chauvinistic officers in the squad are licking their chops anticipating [expecting] “Helen Reddy” to faint under the emotion [Emotional] strain of the gritty job. [Has anyone actually fainted since Victorian England?] Eager to hasten her dismissal, the officers play practical jokes and heap grunt work on her. Vivian is assigned the coffee making, donut fetching, and paperwork filing office tasks, which she must perform between freeing her desk drawers of jock straps and porn magazines. [I don't see how assigning her tasks that don't involve the emotional strain of the gritty job will hasten her dismissal. She's not gonna get fired for making bad coffee.] [Also, is it possible for a place called Cedar Falls to have so much major crime that police work is gritty?] [Also, is "gritty" the word you want? When it doesn't mean sandy, it means courageous, resolute. I get the impression you were going for tough and demanding.] [Finally, there was no Internet in 1973, so no cop would have been willing to sacrifice his porn mags just for a practical joke.]

Her first taste of criminal activity, a bank robbery in progress, leads to disaster when she is taken hostage at gun point. Vivian surprises her fellow officers by keeping a cool head and convincing the robber to free her and surrender. [So it didn't lead to disaster.] Emboldened by her demonstration of her insight into a criminal’s mind, [Most cops would have simply assumed the bank robber wanted to get away with the eighty grand he just stole, but Vivian realized he wanted to surrender and spend ten to twenty years in a prison cell with a big-armed guy named Bubba.] Vivian tells the Police Captain [of] her passion for detective work.

The Police Captain arranges for her to review a few cold case files with a veteran detective. But after days of studying the gruesome details of the victims of the Ulrich Park Murderer, Vivian’s emotion [Emotional!] stability begins to unravel. She starts making careless mistakes: misfiling papers at work, [bringing the captain a honey-dipped donut instead of a cruller,] forgetting her badge at home. She longs to retreat into the security of a strong man’s arms rather than her empty apartment. [In short, she realizes that her passion isn't for detective work, it's for Jim Rockford.]

Vivian wonders if the chauvinistic officers are right; maybe her emotional [I see my nagging finally got through to you.] frailty is inherent to her gender and a determent [detriment?] to the police force. After she receives a threatening phone call from a man claiming to be the Ulrich Park Murderer, she decides to turn in her badge.

The Police Captain convinces her to stay on the squad while the team uses her as bait to lure the murderer into a trap. But can she depend on the same men who wanted her off the police force to protect her life? [Of course she can. You think they wanna go back to making their own coffee?]

“Book’em Brooker”, a novel complete at 80,000 words, is an account of a woman’s discovery of her strengths and weaknesses, and her journey to appreciate the strengths of the men around her.

Thanks for your consideration.


So, the heroine of the book unravels when she studies the details of gory crimes, longs to retreat into the security of a strong man’s arms, wonders if her emotional frailty is inherent to her gender, and turns in her badge when she gets a threatening phone call? Who's your target audience? Chauvinistic men who want to see her fail? She doesn't sound like the kind of woman one envisions at the vanguard of the women's rights movement.

Any halfway decent detective would realize there's no way the actual Ulrich Park Murderer is gonna be phoning her. Even if he's a cop, is he really gonna be worried that she'll solve a case the department couldn't?

If your word choice and usage aren't spot-on, it will be assumed this is a problem in the book. Is it?


Anonymous said...


Ink and Pixel Club said...

I'm almost hesitant to say anything because I have so little interest in reading this book. Maybe the idea is that because it's 1973, even Vivian doesn't have the confidence that she's cut out for this line of work because society tells her women aren't capable of it, though I checked and the TV series "Police Woman" came out just one year after this story takes place. If the story was about Vivian overcoming a societal prejudice so deep that even she's starting to believe it, maybe I could get behind it. But all I'm seeing is a police officer who can't handle a murder investigation (wouldn't she have been exposed to similarly gruesome details while she was still in training?) and wishes some big strong man would come along to protect her from all of this. I get very little sense that the CFPD changes over the course of this story. Instead I'm told that it's Vivian who learns not only her strengths, but also her weaknesses, and comes to appreciate the strengths of the men around her - most of whom are immature chauvinistic jerks so far as we know, but not their weaknesses. So Vivian has strengths and weaknesses, but the men around her have only strengths which Vivian must learn to appreciate?

Advice? Rework Vivian. Make her a real person who has actually studied to be a pollice officer and isn't going to be completely overwhelmed by her first real case. The bit where she convinces the bank robber to release her and turn himself in has potential. If there was a description of how she did it, we could get an idea of her strengths rather than her many, many weaknesses. It's fine to have Vivian be something other than the perfect feminist role model, someone who doubts herself at times and feels alone and isolated and feels overwhelmed on occasion. Nut make it clear that she is capable and strong as well. Right now, all I'm hearing is "I'm just a helpless little girl who cannot handle that gritty reality of police work in Cedar Falls!"

Anonymous said...

You can save some words in your first paragraph. In 1973, Vivian Brooker is the first policewoman in the Cedar Falls Police Department. Chauvinistic officers play practical jokes and heap grunt work on her, hoping to hasten “Helen Reddy's” collapse under the emotional strain of the job. She finds herself making coffee, fetching donuts, and filing paperwork -- in between freeing her desk drawers of jock straps and porn magazines.

Usually I constrain my remarks to the query, the novel presumably having been written and therefore being a lost cause, but I can't resist telling you why else I'd reject this query:

Yo, what's this about "emotional stability" being tied to filing papers correctly and remembering your badge? Real cops supposedly beat their spouses, drink, and lose sleep. I'm supposed to turn pages like mad to see whether Vivian shows up in a wrinkled blouse next?

And I'm sorry, but Vivian simply sounds too dumb for me to care about her. She gets a phone call from a criminal (as if no cop has ever had to talk to one of those), and decides to turn in her badge? That's like a doctor having to sew up a wound and turning in her license. To make matters worse, Vivian suspects all women are this weak-headed. Ugh, maybe that's the sort of thinking you'd indulge in if you actually feared that a bunch of fellow cops would deliberately let you die while you're working a case just because they don't want you around the office.

On which side of the Atlantic are the agents who will receive this? On my side, the comma goes inside the quotation marks. "Book'em Brooker," etc. But why is this story called "Book'em Brooker" anyway? "Breakdown Brooker" is more like it.

Dave Fragments said...

Jsmes MacArthur, the son of Helen Hayes, starred for years on the original HAWAII 5-O as DANNO WILLIAMS and each episode would contain the phrase "Book'em Danno" ...

The phrase was revived in the current remake of Hawaii 5-O.

Anonymous said...

One suspects this manuscript has been in a trunk 40 years. We like to think it was written at a time when it could have impressed people as believable and timely, but was not publishable then because the literary industry was as frowning and rejecting to un-suicidal women writers as the police were to women who aspired to be officers. But that was the also heyday of Nancy Drew, who was not a wimp. And Agatha Christie certainly had a lot of success with her various detectives including old Miss Marple, who was also not a wimp.

Perhaps you could revise the wimpiness out of this and resubmit.

batgirl said...

It sounds as if the author has an agenda, and given that publishing is dominated by women in many of the decision-making positions, it may not be an agenda that appeals to anyone but Real Women (tm).

On the other hand, the harassment described in the query is pretty mild compared to what has been reported by women in both fire and police departments in recent years - so that aspect might make the book timely.
There's a potential strong tension in whether cop-solidarity will triumph over cop-misogyny - but that makes the male characters the protagonists, because the big character moment will be theirs.
Maybe the story would work if one of the male cops were the main character?

batgirl said...

Oh, and whoever wrote GTP #7? Pleeeeease write this story! I want to read it!

none said...

I think you need to recognise that while your novel may be set in 1973, you are (HELLO!) trying to sell it in 2011.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Also, if anyone other than EE wrote plot #6, I think we may have been had.

vkw said...

I don't know what to say. I'm flabbergasted.

Here's the problem with the novel, women may have moments of doubt and think, "rather than getting my medical degree and having to face this child dying in my care, I should of married a rich man," but they don't walk out of the ER.

Furthermore, the catalyst for the MC being made a detective is weak. Vivian may have talked her way out of a hostage situation but still she was taken hostage - that's bad. One would think that having a gun to your head would be a worse experience than seeing old crime photos by the way.

Furthermore in order to make detective in a small town one must put in the time to earn a promotion. You don't get the promotion because you did a really good job one day, (except for that kidnapping problem). And, these days, education is usually necessary for the detective badge.

But your novel is in 1973 - in the middle of the second-wave feminist movement. Vivian apparently only wants the job and not the work. She must have only read half the pamphlet.

The story needs to be revamped.


Anonymous said...

It's not just that publishing is dominated by women.

Women buy more books than men, and women read more books than men. Women are more likely to be the ones choosing and ordering books for schools and libraries.

In short, writers would do well to remember that from query letter to sale to cuddle-up-and-read, it's never gonna be the right time to write Man To Man.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I'm not sure if the problem here is with the query or the manuscript, but I'll say this: if your set-up is the chauvinist cops think Vivian's going to break down emotionally due to the grittiness of the job, then that is exactly what Vivian cannot do.

She can (and should) struggle with her emotions and with the burden of being the first woman in the police department, but she can't just give up to the point where the chief has to talk her into staying. Because if Vivian doesn't want to succeed, then why should an audience root for her?

Anonymous said...

I think the idea is that sexual harrassment could force her to quit, so I get that part of the query. But I cannot help but feel the urge to vommit with the whole wanting to retreat to the arms of a strong man thing.


At first this reminded me of a certain SCOTUS justice who could only get a job as a legal secretary after she'd graduated (Stanford)law school in two years and made Law Review.

The difference? No man's arms, no falling apart. Just a strong woman who paid some truly sucky dues.

flibgibbet said...

In the query, you set us up for a heroic MC, but then turn her into a coward who is clearly out of her league. She turns tail, would prefer a man take care of her, and the other officers are supposed to trust that she's got THEIR back?

Moreover, you're asking the wrong question: "But can she depend on the same men who wanted her off the police force to protect her life?", when you should be asking "Can she find the inner strength to prove that she's worthy".

As written, what cop in their right mind would want this person as a partner, regardless of their sex?

I'm sure this isn't what you meant to convey. I assume you meant to tell a story about how difficult it was in 70's for women to be taken seriously, and how much more effort it required to prove that women were up for the challenge.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Ok. Trying to be objective here.

I've seen a male firefighter, among others, faint when an itty-bitty syringe-full of blood was drawn from his dog [and while that WAS a long time ago, it was since the days of Victorian England].

So Vivian may be perfectly capable in other areas but have a weak stomach when it comes to gruesomeness.

But can't detectives choose to specialize? Couldn't Vivian specialize in white-collar crime rather than murder? Or become a hostage negotiator? Wouldn't she research those options before hanging it up? Wouldn't she find out why men choose to go into those specialties before declaring herself "emotionally frail"?

I'd also say it takes MORE courage to be bait for a known murderer than to be someone holding a weapon on the other side of the trap.

The level of hazing she's getting doesn't lead me to think that the male officers, when working a high-profile trap where their own conduct will be scrutinized and success might well mean THEY get a shot at detective grade, will let her die. There seems to be a reverse assumption that the chauvinistic cops are dicks who can't distinguish between stupid, inappropriate hazing and flat-out manslaughter.

I don't see either side coming off well here. Who is the target audience? If it's a "woman's discovery," I'm hazarding it's meant to be women's fiction, but the events this query sets up are not going to fly in that category/genre today.

If it really isn't retro-fiction, then the query needs to be torn down and rebuilt to indicate that.

Rivka said...

"Her journey to appreciate the strengths of the men around her."

That's my biggest problem right there. Her journey should be to trust in her own strength and ability, not in the men around her. If, by the end of all this, she's left with the mistaken notion that only men have what it takes, then why the HELL would I read this?

not normally anonymous said...

Books less likely to receive a publishing deal than this one:

"Hit me Hurt me!" -- a YA novel about Jill, an abused teen who realizes she deserves the scorn of her parents and submits to their abuse.

"Castration Can be Fun!" -- Saleem's third strike getting caught publically masturbating is punishable by...well, ya know. But Burt consoles him with reminders that at least he'll be able to pee sitting down.

See where I'm going with this? As I've said in my writing groups, you CAN write whatever you want. If you want your writing to get published however, you need an audience and a book that will sell to that audience. Unfortunately I seen none for this story idea.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

To be followed by the sequel, "Call it, Johnson!" about a young black med student who realizes his true calling is to serve a kindly white master.

I'm sort of confused here (color me female). Where's the part about Vivian realizing her purpose in life is to sire the child of the strongest (read: most sexist) man on the force? Kinda dropped the ball there, IMO.

I think I'm done here.

Anonymous said...

Another book that will not be published:

"Floating basket, sinking basket," - a youth book explaining the necessary evil of drowning kittens.

This could be fun.

Anonymous said...

Greetings from the writer of the crappy query “Book’em Brooker.” Thanks for your critiques. I extend extra gratitude for those who picked through it to find something redemptive. Your efforts were heroic.

I’ve taken a few watered down online writing classes where the critical feedback was limited to, “Nice try.” Or, if someone was really bold, “Keep practicing.” I was starving for some ruthless honesty. And indeed I got some. I’m feeling like I just finished licking the plates clean at the honestly buffet.

In reference to unanimous repugnance for the craven protagonist Vivian Brooker: it’s not her fault. I was concerned that I’d paint her as a one-dimensional, I’m-here-kick-your-sexist-butt-and-take-over-the-world character. I mistakenly dialed her flaws up with such force that I twisted the knob right off the console. I feel compelled to explain her lopsided characterization in case someone had a hellish vision of her turning up in self-published land beckoning women to vote away their right to vote.

Thanks for the smackdown. I had it coming.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Ink and Pix,
I swear by my entire collection of Lustiges Taschenbuchs (which is mighty,) that it was a total coincidence.

Khazar-khum said...

It sounds like there's a male cop we're not hearing about, one who she does care for and who helps her. Or maybe I'm thinking of a different book.

Anonymous said...

Hey Author, Your rebuttal has excellent writing in it! Really really good stuff. If you could get that energy and talent into the query, well hello for going.

I'd update the date. The Book 'em Booker - new title please. Kill cliches. Make her a kick ass oh yeah, well let me shove you in your locker for two days. If the guys on the force are terrible, she can have a near rape stopped my Mr. Whoever at the right moment.
I spent my whole life not fetching crullers for anyone with testicles. So can she. (We all got our own.) She can say nah, I don't eat hydrogenated food.
Make her real, she needs more authentic reasons d'etre.

VKW - can I tease you? Should have not of. I know you were tired.

And take note of my comment to VKW - the errors were leaping off the page in word use/spelling.

Please redo/resubmit. Your rebutt was terrific. Time to kick some query ass.

Anonymous said...

Dated. Weak mc, but the plot scares me. Why set it in the 70's? Killing the query with the year and Helen Reddy.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Author! You came! I'm so glad to hear the query misrepresented Vivian. Apologies if my previous comment had a bit too much snark. I look forward to reading the rewrite.

I think you could revamp the "arms of a strong man" thing into something like this:

"In the midst of the Women's Movement, Vivian wonders if actualizing her strength means letting go of her desire for companionship and a loving embrace."

I have to disagree with one of the later Anonamati: writing in a near-rape just so some guy can save her is not my opinion of a fix here. In fact, the ick-factor on that is through the roof.

Oh, and for the record, the day when I tire of the "I’m-here-kick-your-sexist-butt-and-take-over-the-world character" is the day that sexism ceases to exist. So. Bring it on :)

Anonymous said...

Author, your response shows considerable humor, wit, and skill. I'd love to see your voice in fiction -- or even non-fiction.

150 said...

Count me among those looking forward to a rewrite!

Anonymous said...

I should of married

Oh my God, are you serious? Ack. Grammar 101, stat.