Benjamin Sobieck
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Benjamin Sobieck's Discussions

Too Many Shortcuts? Mental Health in Crime Fiction
28 Replies

Started this discussion. Last reply by Martyn V. Halm Jul 14, 2013.

What a Novella Is and Isn't
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Started this discussion. Last reply by Jim Courter Jul 25, 2013.

CrimeSpace's IJ Parker Featured on Crime City Central Podcast
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Started this discussion. Last reply by I. J. Parker Dec 20, 2012.

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#249--revised once

Dear Query Shark,

A killer always runs home. It’s instinct. But investigator Dean Goodnight knows most of those homes are broken beyond fixing. Dean’s the only Choctaw Indian in the Oklahoma County Public Defender’s office. So when his latest client’s crime orphans a young Choctaw boy, when his girlfriend starts pushing for a family, Dean follows his own gut: he runs.

Whoa! There's WAY too much going on here. You've got the killer running, Dean knowing, kid being orphaned, girlfriend kvetching, and Dean running.

You're trying to connect the dots in a splatter pattern here and it's not pretty.

When Olympic divers are scored, the two highest and lowest scores are tossed out, and the score is created from those remaining.  When you dive into revisions here (oh, aren't I clever with the metaphors tonight!) toss aside the things that don't relate to the matters at hand.





Leaving the orphan with a C.P.S. volunteer named Becca Porter - caring for this kid’s not in the job description - Dean throws himself into the new case, looking for any evidence that might save his client’s life. To do so he’ll need to convince the victim’s sister, Aura Jefferson, to move past the anger haunting her since the murder.

At this point I don't know who's who or what's what.  Who's important here? So far you've named or mentioned seven people. That's classic character soup. 

He has his work cut out for him. Aura’s a proud black woman, a physical therapist who doesn’t take advice … she gives it. When Aura goes into a patient’s home, the goal is to teach him how to adapt to some devastating injury. So why is recovering from her own tragedy so difficult?

What? Now I'm lost. If this query came to me for consideration, I'd stop reading right here.

Her new borderline-bigot patient sure isn’t helping. Before he was paralyzed in a car crash, Cecil Porter dreamed of playing pro basketball, just like Aura’s brother did. Maybe this is why she tolerates the old man and his brother: “Big” Ben Porter, a charismatic huckster who’s got everyone in his pocket. Maybe even the district attorney prosecuting Dean’s client.

As Dean chases down leads, as Aura wrestles with the effects of prejudice and regret, as Ben tries to repair the damage Cecil’s accident has wrought on their relationship, Ben’s wife Becca Porter (Dean’s volunteer) uncovers a link between the orphan and her own traumatic upbringing.

Can these five strangers forget their differences, come together, and give this orphaned Choctaw boy a better future? Maybe. But first, they’ll each have to stop running from the past.

At 105,000 words, AMERICAN PRAYER is my first novel. It will appeal to fans of suspenseful, character-driven fiction such as Richard Price’s “Lush Life” or Colum McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin”.

Ok, here's the Wikepedia plot summary  for LUSH LIFE:  

On the way home from a night of drinking, three men—cafe manager Eric Cash, bartender Ike Marcus, and a friend of Marcus'—are accosted by two muggers. Marcus is shot and killed. NYPD Detective Matty Clark winds up investigating the crime, and keeping an eye on Ike's distraught father Billy, whose behavior becomes increasingly erratic. 

Cash is initially arrested for the crime, but later released when the accounts of other witnesses back up his own; his own behavior is affected as he has difficulty coping with the memory of the incident and the stresses of the police interrogation. Interwoven with the main plot are vignettes of the Lower East Side and the waves of immigrants that have come through there and lived in its tenements over the years.


There are a LOT of characters mentioned but we can keep them all straight and we know who the main guy is.  If you need to mention more than one or two characters in your query, this is the way to do it.
 


Thank you for your time and consideration.

This is not a buttoned down query. This is a ragbag of remnants.
Time to revise, restyle, and resend.



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

Dear Query Shark,

It’s 1994 in Oklahoma City: the Waco siege is over, the OJ Simpson trial isn’t.

When a single line appears at the top of a query it signals a log line or a hook.

This is neither. After reading the entire query the only thing this line tells me is the novel is set between April 19, 1993 and October 3, 1995. (More on this later.)

This is a classic example of why "Kill your darlings" (which begs to be a Raymond Chandler title) is good advice.  This opening line is a good sentence. It seems to glow with promise.

But, it doesn't work. It doesn't work because it doesn't illuminate the novel.  Thus it must die.

A good hook is not just an enticing sentence; it's an enticing sentence that illuminates the novel.




A young Choctaw boy named Caleb has just been orphaned by the criminal justice system, both parents jailed on separate murder and drug charges. Investigator Dean Goodnight’s job at the Public Defender’s office is to save the life of Caleb’s father at all costs. But the more Dean understands about this particular killer’s crime, the less he understands about himself - and his own Choctaw heritage.


Have you come across the phrase "character soup?"  This is getting close. Too many characters. Start with the main guy. Tell us what's at stake for him. When we see the choices he faces, it makes us care about him. Right now all you've got is set up.


Dean enlists four seemingly unrelated strangers into the investigation. There’s Aura Jefferson, the murder victim’s older sister and perhaps the angriest physical therapist in Payne County. Her borderline-bigot patient, Cecil Porter, who broke his spine in a car crash nearly fifty years ago. Cecil’s brother, “Big” Ben Porter, who’s not above bribing a few councilmen to bag the construction contract that will determine the city’s future. And Becca Porter, Ben’s wife, who discovers a link between the orphaned Choctaw boy Caleb and her own traumatic past.


And this is classic character soup. We still don't have an inkling of the plot. That's crucial in a query. You've told us who the characters are but not given us a reason to care what happens to them.

Together, these five people might just be able to offer Caleb a new kind of life. But they had better hurry. Because now it’s 1995. On April 19 a bomb is going to go off, and life will never be the same.


Again, this doesn't work. If the OKC bombing is the climax of the novel, you've got to get us interested in the people and events long before it happens. In fact, if it's the climax of the novel, it really has no place in the query. 

More on the log line at the start of the novel:  The OKC bombing occurred on 4/19/95 after Waco and before the OJ Simpson verdict, yes.  But those two events, and in fact the OKC bombing itself, are peripheral to the plot and thus should not be in a query letter.

I can hear you saying somewhat perplexedly "It's not peripheral, it's the climax of the plot - the bombing changed everything." In a novel something always happens that changes everything.  Whether it's the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the flood ravages of Superstorm Sandy, or the death of Old Yeller, something happens at the climax of a book to change the protagonist's world.

Unless the protagonist performed the world changing act (ie shot Old Yeller) the specific event is superfluous to the plot. Thus it isn't in the query.

In this case, the plot is what's at stake for the investigator if he doesn't help the kid. The plot doesn't depend on the OKC bombing; the world could change for a variety of reasons. It just happens to change this time because of the events of 4/19/95.  

The problem with using Waco and OJ and the OKC bombing here is that you're cloaking your query in buzzword events, rather than showing me what the book is about.  It's a crutch. And the interesting thing here is that it's a crutch you don't need.  You actually  have an interesting concept. You obviously can write.  What you haven't done is tell me what the book is about. That's a deal breaker in a query.

At 105,000 words, AMERICAN PRAYER is my first novel. It might appeal to fans of suspenseful, character-driven fiction such as Don DeLillo’s “Libra” or Colum McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin”.

It might isn't compelling. It will is the phrase you want here.

LIBRA was published in 1988. No matter how wonderful, it's not a book you'll use as a comp because it's 25 years old. Comp titles should always be new titles. New means within the last two years at best, five at most. 


Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is a great example of well-written query that doesn't work. A good query entices the reader to want more. Enticing means you tell us about the start of the book in a way that makes us want to read on.

This is all character set up, timeline and CNN headlines. 

There are LOTS of queries that fall in to this category: well-written but ineffective.

Take a look at the queries that got to YES. (There's a section on the left side of this blog with links to them.)  Watch how those queries enticed me to read more.


Revise.

Resend.

 

Benjamin Sobieck's Page

Latest Activity

Benjamin Sobieck posted a blog post

Donate to My Kidney Walk Team, Be a Character in My Next Maynard Soloman Story

Hear ye, hear ye: Here's how to appear as a character in the next e-book short story from the Maynard Soloman Funny Detective Storiesseries.As some folks know, I received a kidney transplant in 2010 from a living donor. The donor is happy and healthy, and, no, I won't shut up about it. Not because I crave some…See More
Aug 27, 2013
Stephen Seitz replied to Benjamin Sobieck's discussion New Rule: 100 Free = 1 Sold
"When "Secrets Can't Be Kept Forever" was offered as a free download on Kindle, I had 147 hits and have so far made one sale from it, as predicted. This is going to be harder than I thought."
Aug 23, 2013
Benjamin Sobieck replied to Dana King's discussion Who has experience with KDP?
"Then it doesn't sound like three months of exclusivity is worth it."
Aug 12, 2013
Benjamin Sobieck and Andrew Drummond are now friends
Aug 12, 2013

Profile Information

Hometown:
Minnesota
About Me:
By day, I'm an online editor for an international publisher of enthusiast titles. By night, I write.

I'm the author of crime thriller novel, "Cleansing Eden: The Celebrity Murders," the Maynard Soloman crime fiction short story humor series and many flash fiction works.

See all my titles on my Amazon author page.
I Am A:
Reader, Writer
Website:
http://www.CrimeFictionBook.com
Books And Authors I Like:
I will read anything by Elmore Leonard and Hunter S. Thompson. My favorites. Much of what I read comes from recommendations and authors I meet online.
Movies And TV Shows I Like:
Justified, true crime TV shows, cooking shows

Cleansing Eden - The Celebrity Murders

Cleansing Eden - The Celebrity Murders available for Kindle and in print exclusively through Amazon here.

Cleansing Eden is a highly suspenseful read. Benjamin Sobieck has an inventive way with words. He writes with a voice that's strong and uniquely his.” – Debbi Mack, New York Times bestselling author of the Sam McRae series

Cleansing Eden by Benjamin Sobieck is a gripping story about individuals who give up more and more of themselves over time, becoming the things they hate.” – Michelle Peden Vasquez, Life in Review

“Benjamin Sobieck has got mad skills when it comes to taking complex characters, fantastic crime, murder, drugs, and good vs. evil, rolling them up into one and spitting out a novel that will twist and grip you from beginning to end.” – Molly Edwards, Reviews by Molly

“Drugs. Murder. Charismatic demagogues. What else does a reader need? Ben Sobieck's first book, and a damn good one. He's going to write more. And they will be just as great to read.” – B.R. Stateham, crime author

It's time for brain-dead celebrities to get what they deserve.

After recruiting a drug-addled street rat to do his bidding, an eccentric inventor of designer drugs launches a campaign of violence and manipulation to cleanse the world of impure celebrities.

But as the street rat wakes up to what's really going on, he's not liking what he sees. He's torn between getting sober and the drug-fueled haze that keeps him killing celebrities.

As the body count rises, a decision needs to be made. Either way, someone's going to die.

* Includes bonus short story

Click here to buy the 5-star reviewed Cleansing Eden - The Celebrity Murders e-book from Amazon for the Kindle and in print.

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Benjamin Sobieck's Blog

Big News: Writer's Digest to Publish My Weapons E-Book

Posted on December 13, 2012 at 11:26pm — 4 Comments

Someecards Writer Humor

Posted on November 22, 2012 at 6:21am

How a Fictional Detective Made a Real-World Impact

Posted on November 8, 2012 at 11:00pm

Comment Wall (37 comments)

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At 4:05pm on July 6, 2011, Noir Nation said…

Hi Benjamin,  the discussion on the forum about social commentary in crime fiction has gotten quite a lot of responses.  This has inspired us at Noir Nation to add a new section to the first issue of Noir Nation wherein writers opine on the following question: Must crime noir have a moral point?  The word limit is 300 to 500 words. Include short bio, and photo. There is a $25 honoraria, payable on publication. Best five get published in Issue No. 1. Send to eddie@evegaonline.com

 

-- Eddie Vega, Noir Nation editor in chief
At 5:52am on June 28, 2011, Noir Nation said…
You just might find him or her in the first issue of Noir Nation, due out in September.
At 8:20am on June 13, 2011, I. J. Parker said…
Great!  Side-loaded?  Who knew?
At 1:07am on June 13, 2011, I. J. Parker said…
Thanks, Benjamin, for the link.  The book is doing amazingly well, publicity-wise. A lot of people willing to help.  You, too!  Thank you.
At 4:12am on May 21, 2011, Jennifer Chase said…

Hi Ben,  Would love to submit to your blog (great blog by the way :).  Let me know which ones.  I have some others I'm working on about fingerprints too.   -Jen (contact: jchase2000@aol.com)

 

At 1:11pm on April 27, 2011, Laura L. Cooper said…
Thanks for the invite.  BTW loved the cover and title for WHO WHACKED THE BLOGGER?  Good luck with the story!
At 3:52am on February 25, 2011, Dorte said…
Thanks for your mail. Will take a look at your website + stories later - have got the flu right now :(
At 3:09pm on September 14, 2010, Copper Smith said…
Remember Goofus's and Gallant?
Read all about Goofus's drift to the dark side in 'Always the bad example.'
At 4:22pm on June 23, 2010, Melissa Emerald said…
Now I see the problem. I can't read. But I never let that stop me from writing. Besides, in journalism, we all just looked at the photos. :-)

You wrote, "I asked a retired newspaper reporter (no, they don't all fall off the wagon before 40) how long articles should be. He answered, "Until it's done.""

"Until it's done" or "As many as it takes" used to be the word count for news stories. These days, what with short reader attention spans and the high cost of newsprint, short is in. Editors at the paper I used to work for generally liked a story to be between 8 and 14 inches ... unless it's a juicy one.

As far as books go, take a look at the links that I posted in your thread. I think those will be good guidelines for all of us. At least that's what this unpublished writer is shooting for. :-)
At 4:01pm on June 23, 2010, Melissa Emerald said…
Ah...I thought I read a post where you said you were a retired newspaper reporter ... something I rarely hear of. Most of my colleagues can't afford to retire. Even more sad, most of my colleagues (including me) are victims of newsroom downsizing.

BTW ... I'm jealous of that $42.71 401k you've got going there. I think mine has $22.50. On the up side, being much older than you means I don't need to make mine last as long. :-)
 
 
 

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