Saturday, August 2, 2008


Dear Query Shark:

First Born is a psychological thriller of 80,000 words.

Only the death of the first born child of each of the jurors who sent him to death row will appeased appease No Mercy Percy Kilbourne’s thirst for revenge after a technicality frees him.

Although G.W. Chism served as jury foreman, Kilbourne asks for the now successful defense lawyer to be his pro bono attorney when new evidence arises. Chism summons up the image of Kilbourne as the village idiot in court, a snuff-dipping redneck stuffed into a blue suit, incapable of a complete sentence. During jury deliberations Chism directed the jury to take three votes based on knowledge of trial error. The first vote finds Kilbourne guilty. Another finds him innocent. The third sends Kilbourne to death row.

Uhh...what? I can see six errors in legal procedure right off the bat. Like historical accuracy, mistakes of this kind are instant rejection.

Fifteen years later, after DEA April Sinclair uncovers evidence that forces a new trial, Chism is stunned when he arrives at the prison to discover that the once inarticulate Kilbourne is now a suave and cunning psychopath, with a degree in psychology. The killer has taken advantage of prison programs after a casual joke by a guard helps Kilbourne realize he is dyslexic, not the village idiot.

Once released, crafty Kilbourne arranges for Chism to meet April. The two fall in love and marry. He becomes the couple's new best friend, meddling into their affairs. He sneaks into their home where he replaces April’s birth control pills with aspirin.

This defies reason.

Kilbourne goes on a rampage, taunting Chism with clues from apparently unrelated multiple murder scenes from across the nation. It isn't until Chism’s wife tells him she’s pregnant that the pieces fall together.

Kilbourne is seeking his revenge through the murder of the first born of the jurors, and growing bolder with each death. April is kidnapped and held hostage as the child grows toward birth, and its immediate death. Chism discovers Kilbourne’s lair and they battle to Kilbourne’s fiery death. April and the child are saved.

I'm a journalist (People, Time, Life) and published author of four non-fiction books ranging from biography to true crime. One was a Literary Guild alternate selection, and another was a True Crime Book of the Month.

My published work includes:


Keep up the interesting work with your blog.

I look forward to hearing from you.

You might not be after this.

Leaving aside the question of whether anyone would behave in the way these charcters do (I vote no on that), the characters aren't personal or interesting. They're cardboard. The plot defies logic, and your legal procedure is rife with error.

Form rejection.


josh said...

This paragraph that begins
"Although G.W. Chism served as jury foreman, Kilbourne asks for the now successful defense lawyer to be his pro bono attorney when new evidence arises..."

Makes it sound like this Chism character is serving as both jury foreman and defense attorney at the same time. This is impossible. If you were trying to say Chism was once a jury foreman during Kilbourne's trial then became a defense attorney... that is still quite a leap. Otherwise, defense attorneys are nowhere near jurors during jury deliberation. The foreman is just a regular juror who is designated to try to organize the discussions on topic and lead/count the votes and, in many cases, read the verdict at the end of trial.

As for the rest of the plot, I also would never believe a serial killer would hook his lawyer up with someone, get them pregnant and then try to kill the baby. It's very, very far removed from reality.

Even the serial killer getting a degree in psychology is also very surreal. They have books, yes, and many research their own trials, but it's actually quite rare they uncover new evidence that's overlooked. Most defense attorneys are uninterested in what their incarcerated clients find out in law books because they're usually wrong or grasping at straws. To suggest that a killer who was basically illiterate could become highly intelligent with just library books is probably a weak premise at best.

talpianna said...

Isn't being a lawyer, police officer, or the like, or being closely related to one, grounds for automatic exclusion from a jury (challenge for cause)?

Southern Writer said...

Woo hoo! The Shark is feeding again.

My mama always told me if I couldn't say something nice, not to say anything at all.


Southern Writer said...

*tiptoes in* Sorry. Excuse me. I fogot to subscribe to the comments. *tiptoes out.*

benwah said...

In addition to the logic problems pointed out by the Shark and josh, something about this screams "Cape Fear." Kilbourne = Max Cady

beth said...

Is it me, or is this query inordinately long? I don't know as much about crime/legalities as the Shark, but part of me wonders if the inaccuracies reflect an unexplained part of the query or are really inaccurate. I think if this query were cut down to its absolute essentials without so many details, it might make more sense.

As it is, it raises questions (on characterization--not legality as I know nothing about it). For example, you mention that Kilbourne earns a psychology degree...but then only after realizes he dyslexic from a joke. I don't get it--how can someone earn a degree as advanced as this and not self-diagnose something as simple as dyslexia? ...OK, in re-reading your query, I think you mean that he became degree earning AFTER the joke about dyslexia...but still, it's a bit of a jump for me. birth control pills are TINY...and I think I'd notice the difference between a little bc pill and a much larger asprin. And they taste different. And they come in a pre-packaged thing that makes me pop them out one-by-one...I've never heard of bc pills coming in a bottle. So now, I'm asking myself: why is the girl too dumb to notice the different size/taste of the pills. If the they've been disguised to look like bc pills, then how did he get them into the little bubble-card thing?

This may all be explained well in the novel, but it's too trite in the query--cut the superfluous detail that raises questions such as these. Get straight to the point--I don't have to know how/why he earned a psychology degree...just that he did. I don't have to know that the pills were replaced with asprin (in fact, having them replaced with a placebo makes more sense).

Marian said...

The phrase "incapable of a complete sentence" threw me off at first because of the other meaning of "sentence". I thought the query was saying the killer couldn't serve a full sentence for some reason.

The deaths of the firstborn children of the rest of the jurors were also shoehorned into the end of the query, with more space given to the convoluted plot to get April and Chism married and preggers. (Digression: the name "Chism" makes me think of words like masochism).

I think the idea of an escaped killer targeting the firstborn children of a jury in revenge could work, but the story would have to be different. Maybe tie it in to the tenth plague of Egypt in some way?

Just_Me said...

This query is all over the place and nothing about the characters appeal to me. If I saw this on the back of a book in a store I'd pass.

talpianna said...

Beth: Did you hear what happened to the woman who got her birth control pills mixed up with her saccharin tablets?

She had the sweetest little baby...

Southern Writer said...

Blogger talpianna said...

Beth: Did you hear what happened to the woman who got her birth control pills mixed up with her saccharin tablets?

She had the sweetest little baby...

Aaaaw. That's a sweet joke.

_*Rachel*_ said...

I know I'm years late, but still.

Recheck the US Constitution over whether he can be brought to trial a second time. I seem to remember a not being held in jeopardy twice thing.

I think his name sounds ridiculous, and the plot sounds like the one episode of Monk where a guy's killing off a jury.

JQ Trotter said...

I'm years late on this one but just because someone is dyslexic doesn't mean they'd act like the village's idiot. I take offense to that.

Dyslexia, if left untreated, usually only gets in the way of one's ability to read properly and get a grasp on English's grammar. I'm lucky enough that my mother helped me overcome it when I was young. My dyslexic uncle (who wasn't so lucky) is still far from a village idiot. He just focused on other things, like math and science. Tom Cruise was dyslexic, he's an actor (a bit of a nutter but still), Sir Richard Branson, former president JFK, the list goes on and on. Dyslexia doesn't equal village idiot.

And, lastly, merely because this guy figured out he's dyslexic doesn't mean he can fix it. It's one of those things like learning a new language, if you don't do it while you're young it'll be much harder to do. I doubt that Kilbourne (stupid name, fyi) could learn to properly overcome dyslexia when he's an adult.

Shabaescaba1 said...

Even more years late here, but the leap here is huge in almost every area of this query. Keep trying! Thanks to the Shark for all these queries! I started reading from the #1 about six days ago. You wouldn't imagine how much this improved my query!