Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Query 35: Redux

Trial of the Heart
(Also appeared on Evil Editor's site, Face-Lift 843. But we saw it here first.)

Emily Hennas can ease the suffering of the man responsible for killing her family—trouble is, she buried her compassion alongside her children.

After a drunk driver, Conway Duke, kills her husband and two children, Emily has to rebuild a life for her surviving son. She begins to believe getting closure and moving on are possible, until she receives a request from the killer. He is terminally ill and wants Emily to support a plea bargain that would keep him out of jail to die at home surrounded by his loved ones. To sweeten the deal he says he will reject medical intervention that could ease his suffering and prolong his life.

Emily's path was clear when ‘life in prison’ was the only outcome, a small comfort knowing Duke had to live every day with the devastation he’d caused. But Emily doesn’t view his death as closure – or fair. When anger and bitterness threaten to consume her new life, Emily questions what closure really means and if finding justice is worth sacrificing her humanity. She knows without a resolution, she will never be able to move on, but can she forgive the unforgivable and live with the choice: justice or mercy.

TRIAL OF THE HEART, a work of women’s fiction, is complete at 87,000 words. As a child survivor of a drunken driving accident, I am familiar with the dilemma between punishment vs. forgiveness and the emotional journey of recovery.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comments

I think this version is much, much closer -- almost there! You've really tightened the focus down to what Emily's choice is. You'll probably get differences of opinion on this, but I would like to see maybe one sentence here that touches on either the things like hoarding that have intruded on her life and are consequences beyond just the devastating heartbreak she's faced because of what Duke has done, OR that touches on the things she's tentatively exploring, like new friendships with her neighbor, to help her move on. Just a hint that the story, being women's fiction, has just a little more complexity than the theme of justice vs mercy.

Emily Hennas can ease the suffering of the man responsible for killing her family—trouble is, she buried her compassion alongside her children.

I would go with the conditional "could" instead of "can" here.

After a drunk driver, Conway Duke, kills her husband and two children, Emily has to rebuild a life for her surviving son. She's just starting begins to believe getting closure and moving on are possible, until when she receives a request from the killer. He is terminally ill and wants Emily to support a plea bargain that would keep him out of jail to die at home surrounded by his loved ones. To sweeten the deal he says he will reject medical intervention that could ease his suffering and prolong his life.

I had a strong reaction to that last sentence. Personally, I would delete it. But that might just be because of how I'm reading it in light of the rest of the dilemma. I hope others weigh in because I'm certain this sentiment could go either way with readers.

Maybe give us a timeframe here? Do doctors think Duke has 6 weeks, 6 months or 2 years to live?

Also, I think telling us how old Duke is would be helpful here (Conway Duke, 32)(or whatever -- I don't think I've seen his age). You've also hinted he's a family man. Would this color Emily's thinking? Does he have a wife and kids? If so, then layering her dilemma could only help your theme. If the reader sees him as sympathetic and remorseful (if he is) rather than just plea bargaining to stay out of jail, it will make Emily's struggle even more profound in the query reader's mind.

Emily's path was clear when ‘life in prison’ was the only outcome, -- a small comfort knowing Duke had would have to live every day with the devastation he’d caused. But Emily doesn’t view his death as closure – or fair. When anger and bitterness threaten to consume her new life, Emily questions what closure really means and if finding justice is worth sacrificing her humanity. She knows without a resolution, she will never be able to move on, but can she forgive the unforgivable and live with the choice: justice or mercy.

I don't know enough about the legal system, but I wondered about life in prison being the only outcome. Seems many convictions carry just a few years. How could she be certain of a life sentence before she knew the guy was terminal? Maybe just "time in prison (a long, long time if there was truly in justice in the world)"

TRIAL OF THE HEART, a work of women’s fiction, is complete at 87,000 words. As a child survivor of a drunken driving accident, I am familiar with the dilemma between punishment vs. forgiveness and the emotional journey of recovery.

A good example of a personal tidbit that's relevant and doesn't scream: I've been there so obviously I'm the only one who can write realistically about this.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

7 comments:

Slush said...

-To sweeten the deal he says he will reject medical intervention that could ease his suffering and prolong his life.-

I like this sentence because it helps influence the weight and emotion behind Emily's decision. Though I wonder if the word "sweeten" is the best choice.

Maybe something like: If she agrees, Duke will reject medical intervention that could ease his suffering and prolong his life.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I don't care much for the first paragraph, but I also don't feel strongly about removing it. And it's not this particular one - it's the idea of having a summary and then diving into the action.

I like the tense changes, Phoenix offered.

I like that sentence and the harsh reality of "sweeten" makes it seem he's offering a bargain that he knows the price he's paying. He's showing what he's willing to give up to get the dying at home.

I like the idea of knowing a bit more about him, but more importantly I want more on her. The hoarding really fits well with that. Show me a little more on what the consequences have been for her. Otherwise, it feels a bit light on breadth.

Overall, this is really tight and smooth. Good pacing and a great show of the main conflict. I think it would do the job as is, but a little more can't hurt for sure.

Stephen Prosapio said...

I love this version. Time constraints and I had to skim Phoenix's comments and wanted to say something quickly.

I *strongly* disagree with switching can to could. "Could" may be technically proper, but it's wrong in context of the present tense of Emily's decision because of the "but" used later on.

Could/but = decision made. she ain't gonna do it

Can/but = decision still not made. decision hangs in the balance...THAT is what you want.

Great job author. I'm sure you'll get some reads from this query. Good luck!

vkw said...

This is a much, much better query and I agree you are almost there.

I have a few plot problems, (or it may be the way the query is written).

First, Emily is coming off a bit harsh. I understand losing her husband and children is devastating, but I am wondering if knowing the man is dying isn't enough alone to soften most hearts.

I think you need something else to explain why Emily is so cold-hearted. The hoarding part before sparked my interest, and I wanted to know more about that. The developing friendship sounded cliche.

Conway giving up even pain medications makes the situation even worse. I understand Conway agreeing not to get a liver transplant but not even pain pills? Emily would deny him this? I don't like Emily now, knowing this. I feel sorry for Conway.

My understanding is most drunk drivers get charged with manslaughter which seldom means they get more than a few years in prison. The only exception to this, (I would think), would be a serial drunk driver who killed before.

Terminal ill criminals seldom go to prison mostly because we like to believe and promote the idea we are humane. Also, we don't like paying for expensive health care for our criminals or anyone else for that matter.

Emily shouldn't have that much say in Conway's sentence. The judge will do what he/she wants to do and will follow the letter of the law. Another idea would be if Conway's sentence was being commuted by the governor but the governor will not agree to the commute if Emily does not.

But, this is a much, much better query.

vkw

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for the comments. Queries are an intersting animal in that they are constantly evolving and opinions vary widely. When I try to soften Emily, I'm told it's too melodramatic. When I introduce the hoarding, I'm told it distracts from the core plot.

What to do, what to do ...

To address vkw's comments. The story isn't really how much time Conway Duke serves, it's the emotional closure Emily will receive (or what she thinks she'll receive) when justice is served. However, justice is subjective and sometimes what we think we want, isn't what we need (if that makes sense).

kay said...

Wow...this one gave me goosebumps.

I'd drop or change the sweeten sentence. He's not selling her a house and throwing in air conditioning he's asking her to make a decision she has to live with long after he's gone.

I agree layering information about his family would be a good addition, especially if his children are close in age to the ones she buried.

I think it's a great premise and the subtle punch that you're a survivor makes me want to buy the book now.

Good luck

flibgibbet said...

The revised version is better, and more illuminating regarding the actual choice/s Emily faces.

I'd eliminate the first para tho, it's redundant. The first sentence of the second para is your HOOK.

I'd also set up Emily's second fall right after "surving son". As in, just when life is getting back to semi-normal (the killer is facing serious jail time, her son is doing well in therapy....) she gets a letter requesting a plea deal. This would make Emily more sympathetic, and make her ultimate choice more profound.

I also think you're under-utilizing the complication of the surviving son. She's now solely responsible for his future happiness, and whatever choice she makes, will profoundly effect him. As is, you're focusing only on HER emotional well-being, and no one loves a navel-gazer, no matter their tragic backstory.

I also wonder if the "contract" Duke is offering is enforcable. How could she be sure that he keeps up his end of the bargain?

Finally, I'm not sure her choice comes down to justice vs. mercy. It sounds like vengeance or punishment vs. mercy to me. Perhaps you mean moral justice?

Would still love to read this story. Hope you can make it work.