Thursday, August 07, 2014

Face-Lift 1214

Guess the Plot

Cry for Mercy

1. Mercy Martin sacrificed everything to pay her fiance Paul's way through medical school. Then he dumped her for a nursing school freshman. But don't cry for Mercy; she's bought a Glock and pretty soon Paul's the one who'll be crying for mercy.

2. After Mercy is kidnapped, raped and tortured and nine other people are murdered, she decides that the killer is the cop investigating the crimes. No one's likely to believe her so she must solve the case herself. But can she survive a rigged death match and bring in her quarry before the Afghan War veteran trying to avenge his slain grandma does?

3. It's been 10 years since Percy Jackson came on the scene. Now he's married and has two children, but he can't fight anymore. He threw his back out in that last battle. His daughter Mercy knows about his past and is ready to take on the Gods herself. But whens she picks up a bazooka and trips as she heads out the door, it's time for Percy to . . . Cry for Mercy.

4. Mercy Jones thought yesterday was bad when the bank repossessed his truck. Then his girlfriend left him after she shot his dog. Everyone thinks he's a callous, red-eyed SOB because he won't cry, so they heap crap on him. He can't cry--no lacrimal glands. So Mercy goes on a mission to find that perfect country record to play backwards. Then everything will be right in the world. Or will it?

5. No one knows how Mercy Lewis died, but some say her ghost can be seen wandering the track around the abandoned sex toy emporium after hours. When young, attractive and well-endowed ghost hunter Longley Hardcastle steps into town hoping to disprove the existence of this spook, he instead finds himself confronted by something he doesn't understand, but is irresistibly attracted to. But what happens when the best sex of your life is with someone already dead? Either way, Longley can't constrain his orgasmic cries...for Mercy!

6. Mercy was a lock to be next year's prom queen, so when her dad announces that they're moving across the country and she'll be attending a new school full of strangers, she's heartbroken. Will she spend her senior year frantically making friends in hopes of realizing her dream, or will she wallow in self-pity and blame her father for the miserable rest of her life?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for CRY FOR MERCY, a [an] 80000-word Commercial [commercial] fiction [novel] set in NYC where fifteen-year[-]old prostitute Mercy has carved out a nest [niche?] for herself and her tight-knit street family of three boys. Too bad, there is a contract on her life, and Mercy is kidnapped, raped and tortured. [Does the person doing this know there's a contract on her life? If so, why not just kill her and collect?] She manages to buy her way out of the death trap, [If you'll untie me and let me go I'll give you all my money. Just hand me my purse over there.] but her street family isn’t so fortunate. The boys are murdered one by one, and the killer is not done yet: six more people die in a seemingly senseless killing spree. [Then an elementary school is bombed and an Ebola outbreak kills millions in this upbeat romcom.] Mercy is the only one who can tie the murders together and guess the killer’s identity. [If the killer is the person who kidnapped, raped and tortured her, why is it a guess? Was he wearing a goalie mask during all this?] Unfortunately, she can’t go to [the] police, for the killer is a cop in charge of the investigation. [Also, the police prefer actual evidence to a guess.]

Mercy is not the only one with the clues to [the] killer’s identity. [You just said she was the only one, two sentences ago.] An Afghan War vet with PTSD seeks to avenge his slain grandmother. However, he’s not interested in helping Mercy to crack the nefarious plot, but uses her as a bait to get to the killer cop. Outmatched and outnumbered, Mercy either has to flee and start from scratch in a new city or defend her hard-earned place on the Streets [streets] of New York. [She's fifteen. You talk like she's spent the last decade establishing her current position.]

The killer cop is not waiting for anyone to make a move. He nurtures [Has? Holds? Harbors?] a secret worth millions, and he’s not gonna let a little ho derail his beautiful plan. In the rigged death match, Mercy will either avenge her boys or fall down the latest victim. [What a drag to buy your way out of a death trap only to land in a rigged death match.]

Thanks for your time and consideration.



So killing a bunch of street people and some guy's grandmother is part of the cop's beautiful plan that will bring him millions? If you want us to buy that, you'd better tell us what the cop's "secret worth millions" is.

Fifteen is kind of young to have a contract on your life. Is it the cop who wants her dead, or someone else?

Readers are more likely to root for a young prostitute who's trying to start from scratch in another field than one who's trying to avoid starting from scratch by defending her hard-earned turf.

I mean, I have as much sympathy as the next guy for someone who's been raped and tortured, has contract killers after her, had her street family murdered, and is being used as bait to lure a serial killer, but can you give me a reason to like her?

The errors may be minor, but this many in a one-page letter will suggest to the reader that the manuscript has a similar density.


IMHO said...

The query describes a 15-year old prostitute 'defending her hard-earned place on the streets.' Sounds like the book presents street life as an achievement, or an adventure -- which is icky. A fifteen-year-old doesn't have to fight very hard to be a prostitute in NYC, sadly. Fighting to survive, that's different. What is Mercy really fighting for? Right now she reads as a two-dimensional fantasy character. Not sure that's what you wanted.

Final paragraph, you refer to "the rigged death match." Huh? What rigged death match? That concept comes out of nowhere.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Is "commercial fiction" a genre? Is there such a thing as non-commercial fiction, books people do not want to sell?

Mercy is coming across as a very passive protagonist. It's understandably hard to do a lot while you're being raped and tortured, but the only thing she really does in the entire query is to somehow buy her way out of being raped and tortured to death (with the vast riches she's amassed as a teenage prostitute caring for three younger kids?). Beyond that, she's either being used as bait by the veteran or lucky enough to be the one person (or one of two people) who was in the right places to get the information that reveals the killer. What does Mercy actually do over the course of the story? What decisions does she make?

If Mercy's best quality and raison d'ĂȘtre is taking care of these boys, why doesn't she gather them up and make tracks for someplace else as soon as the first one winds up dead, or even after she is raped and tortured and narrowly escapes death. I don't buy that her place in street society is so valuable and hard won that exposing herself and her family to fatal risk is a better option than moving elsewhere and starting over.

It's hard to know without having the whole story, but it seems like it would make more sense if Mercy comes back from her abduction and finds all three boys have been murdered while she was being held captive and unable to protect them. This could work well if the boys are the real target and the kidnapping was just to get Mercy out of the way and leave them unprotected, but either way, it makes mercy seem more competent than if she somehow lets her three charges get killed one after another.

How is what the veteran is doing at odds with what a Mercy wants to do? It seems like they're working towards the same goal of getting revenge on the killer cop. Does she want to figure out why he killed her boys and the other victims and expose the killer cop while the vet just wants blood? The second to last paragraph seems to suggest that, but the last only talks about mercy wanting to avenge the boys.

Much as I think running away to live somewhere else is a viable option and would have been more so much earlier in the story, it's clear that Mercy doesn't do that. Drop that sentence. You already have an "either she'll A or she'll B" sentence in the last paragraph.

While I doubt it was your intention to write an upbeat comedy, this is coming across very, very grim, to the point where I wonder why I would read something so depressing. You have child prostitution, torture, child rape, child murder, octogenarian murder, PTSD, and a serial killer cop. Any excitement you might get from the mystery of why the cop killed all these people and whether Mercy and the veteran will be able to kill and/or bring him to justice is getting bogged down by the number of tragedies and it's stretching my credibility.

If Mercy's goal is to kill the bad cop and avenge her boys, won't she have to leave town and start over anyway? If she kills a cop, the police will be hunting her down. And even if she can provide unassailable proof that he's guilty, she's still a prostitute, and probably not one the other cops are likely to look the other way for.

I'd start fresh. Focus on actions that Mercy takes to achieve her goal of exposing the killer or skills she has that will help her do it. Make the bad things that happen feel like a connected series of events rather than a string of tragedies with some completely inscrutable meaning behind them that somehow adds up to money for the killer cop. Get detailed. Ditch vague language about death traps and tell us what Mercy is really up against.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Everything everyone else said, plus rape as a plot device is really tricky.

SB said...

Everything's pretty much been covered, I think. Personally, I had the most problem with her choice being between running away to start over and holding onto her "place on the streets", whatever that is, especially since her makeshift family's already dead by that time. I really don't see how a place on the streets is anything to fight for, since people usually end up there when they've hit the rock bottom point in their life and the only way to go is up.

Victor Bondar said...

I wanna thank our evil editor and everybody who read the query. I appreciate the comments. Back to the drawing board for me. Too bad I can't repost, for you guys rock!

Evil Editor said...

You can post a revised query here as a comment. I'll alert the minions when it's there and you should get some feedback.

Victor Bondar said...

That's great! Let me work on it. Thanks.

Cil said...

Hi Author,

It is good to see you back. The problem I had with the query echoes what others have said. I don't have a feel for the story or the character. The story could be '15 year old prostitute gets brutally raped and tortured and is trying to find a way to get justice when she can't turn to the cops because she is considered a criminal by them and untrustworthy.' That in itself is a story. The other story is, 'young homeless girl tries to bring a corrupt cop/ serial killer to justice who is killing her family and friends.' That is a whole story by itself. From how this reads it feels like there is just too much nastiness. Also if I were her I would let the veteran kill the cop and be done with it.

The other problem is I can't tell how things are related. Are the rape, price on her head and serial killing cop related?

I hope this helps

Victor Bondar said...

Thanks for reading, everyone. Here is the revised version based on your comments. All crits are welcomed.

I am seeking representation for CRY FOR MERCY, an 80000-word commercial novel set in NYC where fifteen-year-old prostitute Mercy has carved out a niche for herself and her tight-knit street family of three boys. Mercy plans to get married on her 16th birthday to solidify her newly-found family life. Then she’ll be able to rescue her younger brother from a foster care and bring him to New York.

But no one is immune to the brutality of the Streets, and Mercy is abducted, raped and tortured. There is a contract on her life, but she pays off the kidnapper to get out of the death trap. Her street family isn’t so fortunate. The boys were murdered one by one while she was kidnapped, and the killer isn't done yet: six more people die in a seemingly senseless killing spree.

Mercy’s dreams are crashed, her husband-to-be - perished. She knows she is next, but she's hazy about the killer's identity and motives. Mercy puts her heart into investigation and digs up an Afghan War vet with PTSD who seeks to avenge his slain grandmother. However, he’s not interested in helping Mercy to crack the nefarious plot. He's after revenge, not justice, and uses Mercy as bait to get to the killer.

The killer is not waiting for anyone to make a move. He nurtures a scheme worth millions, and he’s not gonna let a little ho derail his beautiful plan. Overmatched and outnumbered, Mercy must break free from the trammels of the Streets and upspring to a life of complete unknown lest she falls down the latest victim.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I still feel like you're not giving Mercy much to do but suffer, suffer, and suffer some more. In the first query, at least, she had figured out the identity of the serial killer, even if we didn't know how. Now the only thing Mercy actually does in the query is dig up a veteran with PTSD who uses her as bait and has no clear connection to the rest of the story.

I'm not sure Mercy's plan to become a teenage bride is quite the goal beyond protecting her life as a prostitute EE and the minions were looking for. Rescuing her brother is a good goal, but given that Mercy would be asking for custody of her brother as a newly married sixteen-year-old who may or may not still be working as a prostitute, I'm not convinced child protective services would think this is a good idea. And given everything that happens to Mercy and her family, I think he's far safer in foster care.

Proofreading is still needed:

- "...rescue her younger brother from a foster care" Should be "from foster care" or "from a foster home."

- "Streets" does not need to be capitalized.

- "Mercy's dreams are crashed" I think you mean "crushed."

- "Her husband-to-be - perished" This is very awkward when paired with the rest of the sentence. "Slain," "murdered," or even just "dead" would work a bit better.

- " helping Mercy to crack the nefarious plot." "To" is unnecessary.

- "He nurtures a scheme worth millions...." "Nurtures" is still a very awkward word choice. Anything EE suggested in the first go round would be better, or just rewrite the sentence completely.

- I'm not even going to going to address the individual problems with the last sentence. Delete it, unless you need it as an example of what not to write in the future.

I'm left with a ton of questions and very few answers. What, if anything, is the connection between Mercy being abducted raped, and tortured and having a price on her head and the murder of her street family? How does Mercy know she's next on the killer's hit list if she doesn't understand his motives? Why does Mercy's investigation turn up the Afghan war vet? (I know there' same connection because of the previous draft, but it's not in here.) Why does Mercy want justice while the vet only wants revenge? How does he use Mercy as bait for the killer, or know that it will work? Why is Mercy outmatched and outnumbered?

I still don't know what commercial fiction is.

A lot of very, very sad things happen to your character, and now you've added a fiancé who also dies. This is tricky for your story, and not just because it means you have to treat a lot of very serious issues - such as rape, torture, and child prostitution - with respect and realism. It also runs the risk of becoming unbelievable or even comical because so much bad stuff is being heaped upon your main character. I'm finding it hard to believe that Mercy isn't catatonic from trauma and grief after being kidnapped, raped, tortured, and nearly killed, then coming home to find her husband-to-be and three boys all dead.

One really tragic event on its own can be crushing, but too many can become so much background noise. Tragedy only works if you care about the characters and right now, I don't. Mercy is too passive to be interesting and all of the other characters die before I know anything about them.

SB said...

Comments on the new version...

I still can't understand what "carved out a niche for herself" means in the context of being a homeless teenage prostitute. That just doesn't sound like a place anyone would intentionally be, and "carved out a niche" implies a degree of intentionality and choice, IMO.

Ten seconds of research tells me that for someone to get married in New York at 16, they require the consent of both parents. Since she's living on the streets, this doesn't seem possible. Also, who's she planning to marry? This line raises that question but doesn't really answer it. Does she want to marry one of the boys? Is he older? Her age? Does she love him or is he just convenient? If she thinks of him as a brother rather than being in love with him, what kind of marriage are they expecting to have? How does he feel about her being a prostitute? Is he part of her group at all? If it's one of the boys, how do the other two feel about it? Does she even know who she plans to marry? Does she plan to continue being a prostitute after she's married? If she wants to marry to save her brother, does she intend to take the street boys with her? Does she really believe the foster system people will hand a kid over to the care of a 16-year-old prostitute just because she's married?

Why is there a contract out on her? Why would someone stop to rape her and then let her pay him off instead of just cashing in on the bounty? What could a street kid pay a kidnapper off with at all, let alone that's more valuable than whatever price is on her head?

Is the killing spree senseless? Because shortly before that part you said she has a price on her head and, while she was able to get out of it, her family wasn't so lucky (which implies they were also killed because of a price on their heads). If they were killed for that reason and subsequent killings were senseless, why does she think they're connected?

I don't even understand what the last sentence is saying.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I agree with what Ink & Pixel and SB said about the new version.

It's beginning to seem like the problem may be with the story rather than with the query.

Since any sex between a person over age 19 and a 15-year-old is legally rape in New York, Mercy's presumably being raped several times a night. Everyone she knows is killed. She's kidnapped, tortured, and raped again. And she seems to have no dream of escaping from this horror show. She can't dream of "rescuing" her brother when she's unable to rescue herself. You've given Mercy and us no hope. If your belief is that life on the streets is an acceptable goal for Mercy, then your belief isn't going to mesh with the beliefs of the vast majority of readers, so you've got a "squid in the mouth" problem.

Also, foster parents in New York must be over age 21, even if they are related to the child, so Mercy's goal is unattainable for six years.

This looks like a trunk novel. 80,000 of the million words you must write before you're ready for publication.

If you want to rescue it, to rework it thoroughly-- the manuscript, not the query-- I'd advise taking these steps:

- Decide on a realistic goal for Mercy, one readers can accept.

- Give a believable motive to your villain, something beyond making Mercy's life hell.

- Research research research. Everything. Rape, child prostitution, applicable laws.

- Read everything you write aloud so that you can begin to catch the errors.

By the way, "commercial fiction" means fiction with a wide appeal, as opposed to literary or small press. It includes many genres. Mysteries, fantasy, romance etc are all commercial fiction.

IMHO said...

I gently suggest that this query has a fatal flaw -- the main character is a fifteen-year-old working prostitute. This is really difficult territory. You (and your readers) can't ignore that her existence depends on selling herself to strange adults. Even if the sex is not described explicitly, I'm guessing many potential readers will be reluctant to buy a book that depends so heavily on child rape(s), and that agents & publishers will feel likewise.

Brutal books can be done. Last Exit to Brooklyn, for example. But that was about adults, and wasn't mainstream crime/thriller.

I could see 'Mercy' potentially working if the main character was someone else -- a detective, the vet with PTSD, almost anyone else -- so that the narrative wasn't from Mercy's viewpoint, and instead gave some perspective on her situation.

Or maybe it's just me.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yeah... And there's Sold by Patricia McCormick, a YA novel about child prostitution. It was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Grim as hell. Wish I could unread it. And that was even with the character's ultimate goal being to save herself from prostitution.

Basically, a novel about a child prostitute is an issue novel.

If there are explicit sex scenes... yeah, ouch.

The plot in this query sounds not unlike the 1984 movie Angel ("Honor Student by day, Hollywood hooker by night!") here:

A lot has changed in 30 years. But even back then there were laws, and you'll notice the actress who played 15-year-old Angel was actually an adult.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I feel like the problem is less that the protagonist is a fifteen-year-old prosititute - though that does present some challenges - and more that the fact that the protagonist is a fifteen-year-old prostitute seems to have no bearing on the story whatsoever.

Like ARC said, once you introduce the idea of child prostitution, it's very hard to make the story about anything else and still have it feel like you're treating the subject matter seriously and respectfully. This story is about a girl trying to solve the murder of her slain family and bring a murderous cop to justice.

I don't get the sense from the query that the story would change much or at all if Mercy had some other profession that put her on the wrong side of the law. Ditto to the rape and torture. It actually makes a lot more sense for the kidnappers to try and kill Mercy, particularly if they are aware that there's a price on her head, and for Mercy to escape rather than buying her way out.

Having such dark and serious elements as secondary plots on your story is making the main plot of tracking down the killer cop feel almost trivial by comparison. I'm not left wondering "Will Mercy be able to bring the serial killer to justice?" as much as "Why hasn't Mercy jumped off a bridge in sheer despair?"

SB said...

AR, do you know, would it even be legal for a book with this setup to include explicit scenes? I wouldn't think that it would even be legal in America to publish a book depicting explicit sex between a minor and an adult, even if it was portrayed as a negative thing and not romanticized/eroticized.

Victor Bondar said...

Thanks for reading, everyone. I see that some of you have a vivid imagination, trying to write a book based on other people's query. Smile. I don't attempt to squeeze the full arc of my story into a query. You can always ask more questions than a query would answer, but I do see where I fall short this time.

In terms of marriage in New York, one can get married at 14 with a permission of both parents or a guardian and a court order by a judge. At 16, all Mercy needs is a guardian's approval. Once she's an emancipated minor, she can be a legal guardian for her brother which has nothing to do with foster care.

Thanks for your input, everyone. And thanks for the edit, Ink & Pixel.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

SB, yes, it would probably be legal even if eroticized. I remember a fairly well-known author self-pubbed a book some years back that included some disturbing scenes involving children. He wasn't arrested. Child pornography pretty much means images.

But the question is legally and ethically dicey enough that I doubt any publisher would want to be involved.

Cheruktab, the likelihood that a 16-year-old would be given preference to foster parents in re legal guardianship of her brother is approximately zero.

SB is correct about the age of marriage in New York State.

You could address almost every issue people have raised, other than the overall bleakness and the language errors, by making your protagonist a few years older.

SB said...

So she can get married at 16 with a guardian's approval. But it doesn't sound like she has a guardian. And she can't become an emancipated minor without a parent/guardian allowing it or getting married. Google tells me that in order to qualify for emancipation, a minor must have her own job. I doubt the court would count prostitution. So she can't get emancipated until she marries and she can't get married at that age unless she's got permission--or, presumably, is emancipated. Which is supposed to happen first?

I think my main point here is that you throw that out in the query like the person reading it is just supposed to accept it, whereas I think most people's natural reaction would be to go, "Wait, that's not how it works." And her entire goal (or at least her plan to achieve it) doesn't make sense.

Unknown said...

Add me to the list of people who, if reading this query as a book blurb for example, would be incredibly turned off by treating child prostitution (even just prostituion generally) as a no-big-deal secondary issue that doesn't seem to affect the MC emotionally. Regardless of your intentions or what the actual manuscript reads like, if all people have to work off is this 250-word segment you want to hook them, not alienate them.

Remember some questions raised in a query are more equal than others.

Questions that occur to the reader like: "I wonder what happens next? How could a teen street rat bring down a downful kingpin? Will her brother be alright?" are good kinds of questions, ones that lead the reader to forking over cash to find out the answers.

Questions like: "What judge in their right mind would possibly award custody to a 16-year-old newlywed child prostitute? How has she not collapsed under the weight of all this grief? Why on ever does she want to STAY on the streets?" are questions that prompt the reader to put your book down and instead look for a different book with a better plot. Even if it's all explained perfectly in your story.

Good luck and keep writing.

Unknown said...

Haha except by "downful kingpin" I meant "powerful kingpin." Sheesh.

Cil said...

Author I think the main problem is that we don't relate to Mercy or her problems. This is not because we don't see them, but because there are so many that we can't relate and don't understand the choices she is making.

Alaska might be right and it might need more work. If that isn't the case you have to show us that and make us understand what the story is. I am still a little confused at what this is about. As the others said it seems like her being a child prostitute is periphery to the story. Show us the story and nothing that brings us needless questions and then we won't jump to the wrong conclusions. As it stands everyone is having the same problems.

Victor Bondar said...

All good points, guys. She doesn't enjoy being a prostitute. I'll definately mention her trying to get out.
Thanks again.