Sunday, April 13, 2008

#3-with revisions

FinePrint Literary Management
Attn: Janet Reid

Dear Ms Reid,

Please find detailed below a brief synopsis of a crime fiction novel of approximately 80 000 words. Set in South Africa, its style could be compared with Deon Meyer’s writing, as both attempt to explore the violence and darkness associated with the continent whilst ensuring the
redemptive qualities of humour and humanity add indispensable balance.

First, a query letter is not the place for a synopsis, brief or not. You want a hook here. A hook answers the question "why do I want to read this?"

The answer to that question is never ever "because I want to explore the darkness and violence associated with Africa while ensuring the redemptive qualities of humor and humanity adds indispensable balance" because, for starters, I don't know what that means.


This sounds like a masters thesis or some pretentious literary review.

Specifics are your friend in query letters.



A NECESSARY VIOLENCE is set in a modern South Africa crippled by an incompetent, overworked and often, corrupt, legal system. Jake van Zyl and his partner Sipho Mkwena are senior investigating officers of the beleaguered crime-fighting unit, the Scorpions.

About to be disbanded by the government after a series of high profile arrests, the Scorpions continue to follow the money and unravel corruption and organised crime while they can. Jake’s current case is to monitor the influx of funds and support from the British National Party (a right wing political organisation) to a conglomerate of white farmers, determined to
protect themselves from violent farm murders by self arming and defence.

The situation is problematic due to the fact that Jake’s family farm, now managed by his younger brother, is part of the group and his loyalties are divided. It is further complicated when under surveillance, an attractive English woman named Kate, inexplicably murders the leader of the BNP’s bodyguard, Mark Chapman. When questioned she confesses he was her ex-lover and she was on the run because she witnessed his role in a horrific hate crime in the UK. Believing he had found her and was determined to silence her, she was forced to take his life in self-defence.

You've now introduced four characters and three places, and two situations. Yes, I'm confused.

In reality, Mark was murdered by a shadowy figure called, ‘the spider,” who had orchestrated a scenario where it appeared Kate shot her ex in self-defence. A woman, whose childhood obligations to a rural community resulted in her rebirth as an assassin, is selectively called upon by a small group of tribal elders to defend the weak or punish the wicked in
the absence of state justice. Only one woman, who is given the task of communicating the instructions of the elders to the spider, knows her identity. In this case, to protect Kate, a dedicated teacher in a small rural school and now accepted as one of their own, from certain death.

Because you're giving such a brief look at this, with no context or emotional resonance this has tipped over into caricature. When I read this I think "a kindergarten teacher moonlighting as an assassin." I know that's not what you mean, but that's how it sounds here.

Unable to accept that Kate murdered Mark, despite a verdict of self-defence and her return to England, Jake investigates further and discovers by chance, a series of violent murders related to Lize du Preez, Kate’s appointed lawyer. Half legend, half fact, a story unfolds of a white warrior woman whose unorthodox and brutal retribution finally catches up with her. Despite being revered by many as an avenging angel and his own mixed feelings regarding her swift justice, he is forced to approach Kate and convince her to work with the Scorpions as a witness
against Lize who has been officially classified as a serial killer. Regardless of her conflicting emotions, she finally agrees when they receive news of an habitual child rapist burnt to death in his shack. Unfortunately in this case, so was his 6yr old victim.

Lize is arrested and released, but the pressure mounts as Kate is secretly brought back to South Africa in order to testify. She is placed into protective custody when it becomes clear someone in the Scorpions is helping 'the Spider’. Drawn into a intense, personal relationship with
Kate, Jake places her at his family farm in the NW Province when a vicious local farm murder takes place, heightening tension and alienating Jake
further from the justice system he has sworn to uphold.

The murdered farmer was part of a consortium represented by Lize’s legal firm and she is summoned to an emergency meeting in the NW Province. At the same time, she is approached by the elders and given the instruction to avenge this crime by dispatching the murderers who have been identified by the local community.

Lize finally starts to lose control as her roles converge and a desperate hunt for Kate begins. Both women, once allies, enter a fight for their lives. Only one can survive as this story builds to its shocking
conclusion.

I am a British citizen who has settled permanently in South Africa. Although this is my first fiction novel, I have developed and had published educational material for the adult literacy market and am a high school English teacher, specialising in creative writing and literature.

fiction novel is a phrase that draws an instant rejection. I'd stop reading here if I'd made it past paragraph three.

I thank you for your time in considering my submission and would love to forward you either sample chapters or the completed manuscript in case of further interest.

Yours sincerely

-------------------------

Revision #1

A Necessary Violence is a crime fiction novel that asks the question, do we still call it murder when the victims deserve to die?

Set in South Africa, its style could be compared to Deon Meyer and readers who enjoy intelligent suspense with dark humour, will keep turning the page.

Jake van Zyl is a senior investigating officer of the Scorpions, an elite South African crime fighting unit, which has garnered many political enemies with its high profile arrests and is now facing dissolution.

Whilst investigating international money transfers from a right wing supremacist group, he vanZyl crosses paths with Kate Gardener a murder suspect who killed her abusive partner, but was acquited with a verdict of self-defence.

Intrigued and unsettled by aspects of the case, Jake investigates further and soon discovers a series of 'self-defence' murders linked to Kate's lawyer, Lize du Preez.

Why is he intrigued and unsettled by a case of someone killing an abusive spouse? Seems pretty run of the mill to me. You'll need to be specific here for it to make sense. And does this have anything to do with the Scorpions and their high-profile arrests and imminent disbanding? If it doesn't, you'll need to take that out. When I read a query I assume everything you tell me is a key ingredient in the narrative or plot.

Lize is more than a lawyer. Damaged by a violent childhood, she has assumed the role of unofficial defender and avenger of the most vulnerable in society. Those who have been failed by an increasingly overburdened and incompetent legal system.

Is Lize the main character? You've introduced her after vanZyle, Kate Gardner, and the Scorpions. That makes her seem like a supporting role, and yet the rest of the query is about her.

Linked to a tribal group of elders, who alternatively shield and use her to protect their people, Lize begins to tip from protector, into a darker, more insidious tool of revenge.

Jake vanZyl, discovering both a pattern and accelaration of incidents, realises he needs to stop this serial killer, now known as 'the spider'. However, this intention is compromised by his own disullusion at the corruption within the justice system, and his own moral boundaries become dangerously skewed with ever riskier personal choices.

Wait, wait. Serial killer? The Spider? Lize is a serial killer known as the spider? Sorche Fairbank coined a great phrase this weekend at Muse in Marketplaces Agent Idol. She said anything more than five names in a query is "name soup" and I agree. Focus on two people. Protagonist, antagonist. If Lize is a serial killer of abusers, you say "needs to stop Lize who is killing abusers" so it's clear.

Needing Kate to cement his case, and needing an excuse to see her again, Jake arranges for her recall from England to work with the Scorpions as a witness. Regardless of her own conflicting emotions and loyalty regarding Lize , she finally agrees when they receive news of an habitual child rapist burnt to death in his shack. Unfortunately for 'the spider', in this case, so was his 6yr old victim.

Why the HELL would she agree to do anything against the person who got her acquitted of murder?

Lize is arrested but released, mainly due to the uncomfortable politics involved in charging a white woman working with traditional leaders as a serial killer/vigilante and popular opinion appears to applaud her swift and brutal methods.However this decision forces Kate into protective custody when it becomes clear that someone in the Scorpions is helping the spider locate and remove the state's only witness.

Ok, we've know crossed over into a long list of events almost synopsis length. A query isn't the place for a synopsis. This needs to be pared down to essentials.

Drawn into an intense, personal relationship with Kate, Jake places her at his family farm when a vicious local farm murder takes place, heightening tension and alienating Jake further from the justice system he has sworn to uphold.

The murdered farmer was part of a consortium represented by Lize's legal firm and she is summoned to an emergency meeting with her clients. At the same time, she is approached by the elders and given the instruction to avenge the crime by dispatching the murderers and sending a clear message from the local community in response to the brutality of the crime.

Lize finally starts to lose control as her roles converge and a desperate hunt for Kate begins. Both women, once allies, enter a fight for their lives. Only one can survive as this story builds to its shocking conclusion.

I am a British citizen who has settled permanently in South Africa. Although this is my first novel, I have developed and had published educational material for the adult literacy market. I am a high school English teacher, specialising in creative writing and literature.

Thank you for your time in considering my submission. I would love to forward you either sample chapters or the completed manuscript for further consideration.


Too long, too many characters. All that excess conceals any details you might have that would make this stand out. Back to the sculpture studio for some chisel work.

2 comments:

Stijn said...

Janet said she'd stop reading at 'fiction novel' near the end. The phrase 'crime fiction novel' at the start isn't doing it for me either. Crime novels come in many different genres and it pays to be more specific.

BuffySquirrel said...

An influx of funds and support from the BNP? Doesn't sound like a tough case.