Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Critiques

March 5, 2008
As I mentioned earlier, I "won" a contest on the BookEnds blog based on the first 100 words of a novel. What I won was for them to read the first chapter and synopsis and comment on it. No more, no less. I took the opportunity to bring up a couple other issues in my cover letter, but that's not for the general public, and anyways is a moot point. Here is an edited version of their responses:

Thanks so much for participating in the contest and congratulations again.  Your excerpt was a clear stand out.  

We really enjoyed your lean prose.  It’s clear that you give a lot of thought to every sentence that goes on the page.  

That said, we thought the synopsis could’ve been fleshed out quite a bit more.  Introducing the characters in those short profiles just didn’t feel effective, and it isn’t until we get near the end of the synopsis that we begin to see that Parker Marks is probably the book’s protagonist.  We’d prefer to see a more narrative synopsis that helps us to understand who these characters are and what roles they play throughout the book.  We’d love it if you were also able to convey the tone and mood of the book a bit better.  We don’t get any sense of your voice from the synopsis.  

This all leads us to the chapter, itself.  Perhaps partly due to the brevity of the synopsis (or maybe not), it reads as if it’s describing a very different book from the one that’s opening with this first chapter.  While Samantha certainly catches our attention from the very first lines, her portrayal has an almost paranormal-like quality.  Maybe our judgment was somewhat  affected by the book’s title, too, but there’s definitely something about her that seems surreal.  While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to give a not-quite-human feel to a serial killer, something of her “unreal-ness” felt a bit over-the-top and ultimately not quite so menacing.  The atmosphere of the club also adds to this otherworldly feel.  In a way, it distances the reader.

None of this would concern us as much if the book were meant to be a paranormal thriller.  But since we gather from the synopsis that it’s more of a police procedural, we think it may be problematic.  Police procedurals are very much about “keeping it real.”  The readers of these books like authenticity.  We’re not sure they’d respond favorably to this opening chapter. 

Well, I thanked them for their time. Now it's probably time for me to 'fess up just a little bit about this story, which was called The Zombie Zoo. I wasn't working on it. The Zombie Zoo, or Dancing At The Zombie Zoo, is a novel I have been poking and prodding for about five years. I really like the first two chapters. Those have remained largely unchanged. I have tried to write it with a female lead character. I have changed the main character's name. I have changed the city from Detroit to a fictional Detroit and back again. I have started in on writing this damned thing about 5 different times. On the one hand, the story won't let me go; on the other hand, it just won't GO. I keep trying different approaches, but...

When BookEnds announced the contest and it was on mysteries, I thought back, curious to see what someone might think of the first 100 words of this police procedural that constantly gets stuck around page 70 or so. This time I wondered--because although the novel was dormant, it never seemed to be quite dead--if I could rewrite it as a forensic procedural ala "Bones" or "CSI" or "NCSI." So that's what my synopsis characterized.

And so in the couple weeks since that contest, I reworked those first chapters... yet again ... adding in characters, adding sections with new members of The Laser Squad, which is the nickname for the forensic squad in the novel.

And then BookEnds wrote their comments above and my first reaction, which often seems to be the truest reaction, was, "Oh thank God, now I don't feel obligated to work on this damned thing again."

Ahem. I wonder if there's a name for what's wrong with me.

I've got two ongoing projects. One is a flat-out espionage thriller that takes place almost entirely in Beijing. It's called China Fire and I've got maybe 190 pages done on it. It's a little stalled, but that's primarily because I'm working to finish some big nonfiction work. I'm also working on a YA novel called The Fortress of Diamonds. It's something of a fantasy adventure in an Indiana Jones sort of way, if Indiana Jones had a 16-year-old daughter named Jericho Miles. In other words, her archaeologist father's small plane disappeared and she's hunting for him. He was searching for the fabled "Fortress of Diamonds" and is being pursued by a bad guy who thinks he's a descendant of Vlad the Impaler. Yeah, well, anyway, that's the story and it's progressing.

And, as yesterday's post indicated, I've got a novel manuscript making the rounds. And a couple other things I'm considering to market further.

So for all that, I appreciate the BookEnds comments, which were worthwhile, should I dig in and attempt to finish The Zombie Zoo. They were worthwhile even if I didn't.

I'm inclined to think that no writing is wasted, at least in terms of how it improves you as a writer. On the other hand, I do think time is wasted, and often, so I'm sort of cautious about that.

Now, if I can just figure out where Jericho Miles and her friend Ashley McGreggor go from the Anasazi ruin by Montezuma's Well in Arizona. I think their next stop is Betatakin and then...

How about you? Any projects "that just won't let you go"?

Cheers,
Mark Terry

9 Comments:

OpenID eric-mayer said...

Actually I dislike police procedurals. An "unreal" one sounds much more enticing to me but I guess it's all about fitting stuff into predetermined slots. Sigh.

Of course it's great to be lectured on how to write a synopsis. So, now you need to be a master of the synopsis before you can have a book considered for publication let alone published? Not to mention that you need to get an A in query 101 too. Did I miss something? Is there a huge audience out there eager to read queries and synopses?

Don't tell me that an agent or an editor needs a query or a synopsis written to some minute specification or polished in any way to figure out whether a book sounds interesting. What is the point? I'm sure whatever you sent them described the proposed book in a perfectly understandable fashion. It didn't match their tastes. Probably most books ideas I'd have proposed to me wouldn't appeal to me either. We all have our own personal likes and dislikes. Why not just say so and be done with it?

Thank goodness Poisoned Pen Press didn't insist we mastered outlining before we wrote a book or else we'd never have got anything into print.

See, makes me madder than it makes you Mark! You are more suited to this than I am!

8:24 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Eric,
Actually, it did occur to me exactly what you're saying there about "how to write a synopsis." I know that the agents would suggest that everything you send at initial contact--query, pitch, synopsis, actual materials--should in some way "sell."

On the other hand, as I pointed out in my series on freelance writing for a living, I don't like that approach in my NF queries. In fact, I hate feeling like I'm being sold to. I really prefer to say, "here's what I've got, interested?" That isn't to say it's dull, it's just that I don't go into the sort of tone that sounds like:

It slices! It dices! Yes, it's the Serial Killer Novel! Crazed killer Samantha Black picks up men, enticing them with her sexuality! She's hot! She's smokin'! She's deadly!

Buy my novel and I'll throw in a free pair of Ginsu knifes! Order today!

I really hate that approach.

9:03 AM  
OpenID eric-mayer said...

Well, your approach sounds great to me. Like you, I hate being sold to. I hate the constant sell, sell sell we are bombarded with in our society. So why should I, particularly as a writer, when I'm doing what I really love doing, want to contribute to that crassness? And surely professionals aren't going to be bamboozled by the puffery.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

"I wonder if there's a name for what's wrong with me."
Ha!
I can tell you that; You're a writer!
I think we all have stuff like this laying around.
I think Bookends should do a thing about writing synopsis'. Writing these things is like ripping off fingernails one by one. I want to scream: just read the damn book!
You've got such a great start to that book I think you have to keep going...eventually. Its too good to leave behind.

4:28 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

LOL, yes, but I know I'll write it someday. I'm too stubborn not to. I finish everything.

That doesn't mean that the end product isn't completely different from what I started, or that I don't fear that the current WIP will be the one to make me eat my words, LOL.

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