Query: Death's Catalyst

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Brian_H
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Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Brian_H » June 27th, 2012, 9:38 am

EDIT: Latest revisions will be posted here, so people don't have to pick through the thread to find it. Thanks again for everyone's help!

Ben Caruso has seen his share of corpses during twelve years as a Chicago police detective, but when he discovers the viciously pared nine year old boy is his son, Ben crumbles.

DEATH’S CATALYST is a crime novel of 72,000 words. It follows Ben as he tries to beat (the self-proclaimed) Death’s Catalyst at his own game. Ben grows tired of watching the system mishandle the evidence. His colleagues are making too many mistakes, and mistakes lead to disaster. To have any chance of catching this madman Ben must break some rules. Skirting protocol graduates to blatant disregard for the law. Pleas for temperance go unheeded; someone will pay for his son’s death. His family and friends can only watch as Ben descends a progressively steeper slope into the depths of corruption and malfeasance.

This is exactly what the killer is looking for - an unwitting accomplice. The Catalyst leads Ben toward murdering the next victim. Other mourning vigilantes have already been duped into committing murders. Murders that look suspiciously like Ben may have been involved. Ben’s peers are all too happy to connect the dots. Every cop in the greater Chicago area is hunting Ben, anxious to minimize a scandal.

Ben is running out of time. The pieces aren’t coming together. He has to take more risks. Risks lead to mistakes. Mistakes lead to disaster.

Question: I am trying to use someting I read in the shark tank. I am starting with longer sentances and ending with short ones to give a sense of ungency, or quicken pace to the reading. To me the ending reads faster, but I KNOW I'm trying to make it read faster. Did the pace quicken at the end for any of you? Thank you for all of your help.
Last edited by Brian_H on July 13th, 2012, 10:48 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Elsinora
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Elsinora » June 27th, 2012, 11:55 am

It sounds like you have an interesting plot here, but it isn't coming through as well as it could. I would suggest you ditch the rhetorical question and open with something like this:

Promising young detective Ben Lastname has never doubted the justice system--until his own son becomes the case. Convinced the police are mishandling the clues to the boy's murder, the grieving Ben decides to track the killer himself.

Then follow up on that opening with plot. We have Ben's goal: he wants to catch the killer. How, specifically, does he pursue that goal? What are the obstacles to him reaching that goal? What big choice, if any, will Ben have to make? A query shouldn't be an "and then this happened, and then that happened" synopsis, but it shouldn't be vague, either. Specific details are what will distinguish your story from all the other crime novels coming through an agent's inbox.

Have you read through the Query Shark archives at all? If not, I highly recommend it. I learned a lot about formatting queries from the Shark.

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Brian_H
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Brian_H » June 27th, 2012, 1:38 pm

All excellent suggestions, thank you. Heading over to the shark right now.
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Brian_H
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Brian_H » June 28th, 2012, 10:58 am

@ Elsinora

Wow, thank you for showing me the shark tank. I pretty much spent all night reading and revising. I have a few more days worth of catching up to do (at least) but I wanted to share with you, and anyone else, how much of an improvement I think it has already made.

If anyone else has not yet visited the link above, you really should. It's very helpful.

---Still working on this, posting more to show progress----

Dear agentname,
Please accept the following query for your review.

Ben Caruso has seen his share of dead bodies during his twelve years as a Chicago police detective. When he discovers the nine year old boy sliced up like a Virginia ham is his son, Ben’s world begins to fall apart.

Death’s Catalyst is a crime novel of 72,000 words. It follows Ben as he tries to beat a serial killer, the self-proclaimed Death’s Catalyst, at his own game; part of which is leaving clues with each new victim for the police to track (the other part is tricking mourning family members into killing the next victim). Ben grows tired of watching from the sidelines as the system mishandles the clues the murderer is leaving. He decides that to have any chance of catching this madman he has to go outside of the law. Someone has to pay for his son’s death, at any cost. This resolution begins Ben's gradual transformation from good cop to reckless vigilante.

Ben’s need for revenge blinds him to the simple truth: the closer he gets to the killer, the further he gets from himself. His family and friends can only watch as he descends a progressively steeper slope into the depths of corruption and malfeasance. People around Ben continue to die, and his actions only incriminate him further. As events spiral out of control, it becomes increasingly more difficult for his peers not to suspect Ben might actually be Death's Catalyst.

By the time Ben finally stands face to face with his son’s killer, it’s no longer clear which one of them is the bigger monster.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,

---I know, long way to go. But would you agree it's moving in the right direction?---
It always seems impossible until it's done.

Elsinora
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Elsinora » June 29th, 2012, 12:05 am

Definitely moving in the right direction! :) Be sure to post again when you've finished slogging through the archives--it took me ages to read them all.

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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by merrymuhsman » July 1st, 2012, 8:48 pm

I agree with what another poster said. It sounds like you have an interesting plot, but it's still not coming through. I think what you have to ask yourself is what makes this special? What makes your story unique from the other crime stories out there? Knowing he's a cop and he's going outside the law, what actually does he do to try to find the killer? How are those things that he's doing different? Also, the part about people dying around Ben intrigued me. Perhaps you can be more specific. Does this killer make things even more personal? Also, how does he trick mourning family members into killing the next victim and how does this play into Ben's descent?

I think if you took those interesting statements from your query and made them personal to Ben and the story, it might read better.

Good luck. I know these queries are difficult.

Merry

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Brian_H
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Brian_H » July 2nd, 2012, 3:26 pm

@Merry

Gosh, those are all great tips, but I'm not sure how to go about providing a lot of detail without making my query too long. I've tried to trim out some stuff, and add some details where I can. (posted up top in original post). Does this give you a better sense of what is going on? In terms of getting specific about how Ben abandons the law, it really would be hard to cover that. He basically stops being a cop and stops following any rules in order to acheive his goal. Which is of course, exactly what the killer wants. To me, the emphasis is on that aspect. Not so much what Ben is doing that breaks the law, but that he's playing right into the killer's hand. Does that make sense? I tried rewriting that part to highlight that.

However, if it helps, I can list a few things. Maybe when you see the list it will help. Illegal search and seizure. performing background checks w/o probable cause (profiling). Breaking and Entering. Fleeing the scene of a crime. Ubstruction of Justice. Grand theft (auto). Conspiracy to commit murder. Murder.

Also, I you're not supposed to "hold back," but this isn't a synopsis, right? I mean how much detail can i really cram in here?
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by merrymuhsman » July 2nd, 2012, 5:16 pm

Hi Brian,

I saw your new version, and that was exactly what I was talking about. For me, your query got more specific, without giving too much away. As for whether or not it's too long, I'll let you be the judge. I think (from what I've read of others), you want it to have a certain rhythm and be smooth. Read it out loud. Does it sound the way you want it to? I recognize that sometimes too much feedback can muddy the waters. Personally, I like where you're going.

I just got done reading Harlan Coben's "No Second Chance," and your piece reminded me of the twists and turns Coben took in his work. (If you've never read the book, please do. It was fantastic all the way down to the last few pages, literally. I didn't see some of those twists coming.) I don't think you gave away too much, but it does show us the Ben's descent to the point of disaster. And I can see better how he's playing into the killer's hands. I think you accomplished a lot in your edit.

By the way, I love this line: A few mourning vigilantes are duped into committing murders that look suspiciously like Ben may have been involved. Ben’s “peers” are all too happy to connect the dots. His already frantic pace to catch his son’s killer must quicken. Chasing someone while on the run is risky. Risks lead to mistakes. Mistakes lead to disaster.

The only thing I didn't understand was this part:
This resolution is exactly what the killer looks for in all of his unwitting accomplices. The Catalyst can now lead Ben toward murdering the next victim. Fooling the cop into killing someone won’t be as easy as fooling his wife was. The conditions have to be perfect.

Mainly the part about fooling his wife. It stopped me, and I had to reread it. My suggestions would be to cut everything in that paragraph after the second sentence.

All in all Brian, it sounds like a great story. I mainly read fantasy, but if there's a good crime/mystery novel that intrigues me, I pick them up. Your piece sounds very intriguing. Great job!

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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by elbowpatch » July 2nd, 2012, 11:16 pm

Brian,

I sense there's a really good novel here, but the query doesn't convey it. Here are three suggestions

1) I assume the following: Death's Catalyst killed Ben's son. Death's Catalyst (DC) manipulated either Ben's wife or DC's wife into killing someone. DC, as his name implies, murders by manipulating others to commit the fell deed.

But these three key facts are not made clear in the query letter. Try to make them clear

2) You seem to be setting up a tension here between on the one hand Ben Caruso's meticulous and obsessive fear of making a mistake/annoyance at other's incompetence and on the other hand his need for speed. If that's the case make it more explicit.

3) If my assumption in #2 is correct, you may want to have one paragraph about the plot and the other about the tension between speed and getting things right.

Good luck.

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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by rstearns » July 3rd, 2012, 11:32 am

You've got a fantastic title! That should get readers' attention.

My querying is definitely not the best around, but might I suggest tightening up the wording slightly? For example, to increase the intensity you could say "Ben’s world fell apart," "watching the system mishandle the clues," (because I'd assume it's the murderer who's leaving them) and "To have any chance of" because I assume that Ben's the one deciding that.

Sounds exciting though! I'd read it.

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Brian_H
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Brian_H » July 3rd, 2012, 12:15 pm

those are excellent suggestions. I have a bad habit of inserting words that add no real value. i've incorporated your ideas into the latest version up top.

thank you
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Brian_H
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Brian_H » July 12th, 2012, 6:45 pm

Okay so in addition to making some minor changes in text, I also tried to manipulate the sentence structure to make the pace quicken at the end. All comments are of course welcome, but please let me know if it read faster toward the end for you.

Thanks!
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by LurkingVirologist » July 12th, 2012, 7:10 pm

Highlighted a few things in blue with comments in []. Red means take out.

"Ben Caruso has seen his share of corpses during his twelve years as a Chicago police detective, but when he discovers the nine year old boy sliced up like a Virginia ham[cavalier metaphor clashes with the information that it's his kid] is his son, his world falls apart [sounds passive].

DEATH’S CATALYST is a crime novel of 72,000 words. It follows Ben as he tries to beat a serial killer[I don't know if we need this descriptor - it's strongly implied], the self-proclaimed Death’s Catalyst, at his own game. Ben grows tired of watching the system mishandle the evidence. They’re [THE system seems singular, you switch to plural here - I'm not a grammar guy, but it seemed weird to me] making too many mistakes, and mistakes lead to disaster. To have any chance of catching this madman Ben has to go “rogue.” [Sarah Palin has officially killed this phrase] His family and friends can only watch[Presumably they've tried to help and it just hasn't worked, or he's got really shitty friends] as Ben descends a progressively steeper slope into the depths of corruption and malfeasance. Skirting protocol graduates to blatant disregard for the law. Pleas for temperance go unheeded; someone has to pay for his son’s death, at any cost[implied throughout the previous paragraph].

This resolution is exactly what the killer looks for in all of his unwitting accomplices [is looking for - an unwitting accomplice]. The Catalyst can now lead [leads - keep active tense] Ben toward murdering the next victim. A few mourning vigilantes are duped into committing murders that look suspiciously like Ben may have been involved. [rework this sentence into an active one, the content is good, it just feels jarring] Ben’s “peers”[scare-quotes? I don't get it] are all too happy to connect the dots. Every cop in the greater Chicago area is beating the bushes for Ben [alliteration - maybe unintentional? just sounds giggle-worthy when you say it out loud, especially in the moviefone voice]. They’re anxious to minimize a damaging[redundant - police scandals are by definition damaging] scandal.

Ben is running out of time. They’re going to scoop him up soon. [redundant - if he's running out of time, we know it's because the cops are closing in] The pieces aren't coming together. He has to take more risks. Risks lead to mistakes. Mistakes lead to disaster."

I think you've got an interesting query here, and an interesting novel. I like the idea of a killer manipulating the family of one of his victims into committing more murders. It's evocative of Se7en, but it sounds like your plot is pretty distinct, which is good. The feeling I get from your query is that as Ben descends further towards murder and mayhem, I'll be left wondering whether he'll be a broken bad-guy at the end. I think you could definitely tighten things up a bit more, and I like how you're working the query structure itself into a mimic of that spiral.
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Brian_H
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by Brian_H » July 13th, 2012, 10:58 am

@ Viro

Thank you, those are very goos suggestions and explanations. I have incorporated most if not all of them above.
I have a few replies to things you pointed out. Hopefully it will clear things up and you can help me fine-tune this further.

1. Can only watch - I rearranged the order in which this sentance appears. Hopefully now that it comes AFTER the line about please for temperance, it will imply that his friends have tried to reign him in.

2. "peers" - It was in quotes to suggest that the bumbling morons destoriyng his investigation are anything but Ben's peers. It was confusing though and not necessarily important to the query so I removed it.

3. My story's main character is a good cop (and the guy you are supposed to be rooting for) who starts to morph into someone you wouldn't necesarily like. Would that turn you off to reading the story? If the protagonist became an antagonist? Would you keep reading to find out if he reddems himself or gets lost to corruption, or would you just put it down?
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Re: Query: Death's Catalyst

Post by wilderness » July 13th, 2012, 2:56 pm

Hi Brian,

It's easier if you post the edited version in a new post (same thread) so we can view the progression of your query. You can always link to the latest version in the original post if you're worried we can't find it (but it's really not that hard to find anyway). Please stick to the forum convention -- there are reasons why it works :D (Query posting guidelines here, see notes from Quill: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=20)

Good start. I think the dynamic between the killer and Ben is very interesting. However, the query is lacking in specifics. Check out this blog post by Nathan on specificity: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03 ... eries.html

Instead of telling us that Ben breaks the rules, give examples. Show, don't tell.
Brian_H wrote:
Ben Caruso has seen his share of corpses during twelve years as a Chicago police detective, but when he discovers the viciously pared nine year old boy is his son, Ben crumbles.

DEATH’S CATALYST is a crime novel of 72,000 words. Query Shark says put this at the end. I think it's okay at the beginning too but I especially dislike it in the middle.


It follows Ben as he tries to beat (the self-proclaimed) Death’s Catalyst at his own game. Ben grows tired of watching the system mishandle the evidence.

Instead of "It follows Ben", just go with "Ben tries to beat..."
What is Death's Catalyst?


His colleagues are making too many mistakes, and mistakes lead to disaster. To have any chance of catching this madman Ben must break some rules. Skirting protocol graduates to blatant disregard for the law. Pleas for temperance go unheeded; someone will pay for his son’s death. Telling, not showing. His family and friends can only watch as Ben descends a progressively steeper slope into the depths of corruption and malfeasance.

This lacks specificity. What mistakes do his colleagues make? What rules does Ben break?


This is exactly what the killer is looking for - an unwitting accomplice. The Catalyst leads Ben toward murdering the next victim. Other mourning vigilantes have already been duped into committing murders. Murders that look suspiciously like Ben may have been involved. Ben’s peers are all too happy to connect the dots. Every cop in the greater Chicago area is hunting Ben, anxious to minimize a scandal.

Ben is running out of time. The pieces aren’t coming together. He has to take more risks. Risks lead to mistakes. Mistakes lead to disaster. Telling, not showing.

While I like the idea that the killer is manipulating Ben, this feels very synopsis heavy to me, but without a lot of specifics. I think you should try only to describe the first few chapters including the inciting event.

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