As with so many of my fellow authors, I HATE writing a synopsis. If a novel could be adequately encapsulated in a few pages --usually (at least, if based on the synopsis "examples" offered by "how-to" books on writing) excrutiatingly stripped of style and liveliness... well, then why did the writer go to the trouble of writing the flippin' story over several hundred m/s pages?
But, willy-nilly, a-synopsizin' we must go: publishers (prospective as well as already-acquire'd) demand 'em; foreign-rights marketers insist a synopsis is an essential overseas sales tool.
So what if a synopsis tends to give away the twists we incorporated to startle and entice a page-turn from the reader, they say-- and so we provide what is, in effect, a spoiler-digest for the kind of people who prefer to flip to the closing chapter "to see how it comes out."
Alas. And alack, even.
So, right-here-and-now, I'm advocating that we start a Movement: "TSIE," a hard-to-pronounce ("Tissie"?) acronym for "The Synopsis In Excerpts." It comes to three pages, not atypical for the "traditional" synopsis; if one's book is in fact readable, this signals competence in voice, dialogue, and narrative. It's likely also less boring than the cookbook-listing-of-ingredients a synopsis otherwise tends to offer.
Feel free to join in what I consider a liberating rebellion.
There is even precedent you can cite: the example below, from my latest: Fire Of The Prophet, acquired in a three-book deal by Diversion Books (New York), for release this spring.
-- Earl Merkel
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SYNOPSIS: Fire Of The Prophet
In the world of espionage and terrorism,
nothing is ever quite what you’d expect.
It’s always worse.
• • •
Such is the core theme of Fire Of The Prophet, a character-driven suspense-thriller set in an international medley of locales widely considered to be the most dangerous places in the world. Main characters include:
-- Beck Casey, an academic cum former intelligence operative and analyst reactivated to “contract” status;
-- Jeffrey Connor, a rising star at the FBI’s Counter-Terror Division (CTD);
-- Katie Casey, Beck’s daughter, who is romantically —and unexpectedly— linked with Connor; and
-- Fatíma Huntsman –the daughter of a Palestinean activist and an American woman– now radicalized as a terrorist and armed with a nuclear device in a mission aimed against her erstwhile American homeland.
In addition to a looming nuclear Armageddon, the following excerpted passages from Fire Of The Prophet illustrate some of the difficulties faced by this cast of characters, including:
1. Father-Boyfriend Interaction Can Be Awkward.
…Had Katie known what had transpired after she climbed the steps the night before, she might have revised her opinion, if not in a favorable way.
“I’ve been alive too long to believe in coincidences, Connor,” Beck had said, softly, though his voice was like brass.
“Who are you?” the younger man had demanded, and his voice was just as cold. “You’re not some semi-retired academic, like Katie says.”
“I’m the father of a young woman I love,” Beck murmured, and his low tone was one of a man who has killed other men. “How do you know my daughter?”
“CIA? NSA? I can make a telephone call, and I’ll know if you have fillings in your teeth.”
“Do it. You may enjoy your new posting in Missoula, Montana.”
For long seconds, the pair glared at each other; had they hackles, they would have been raised.
This gets us nowhere, Beck told himself, finally.
“Let’s try this, Agent Connor,” he said. “One question from me, one answer from you. Is your interest in my daughter personal or professional? In any way, professional?”
Connor’s eyes lost none of their intensity.
“Personal. My turn. Is Katie aware that you show up at top secret meetings in the White House, or did she intentionally lie to me about who her father is?”
“Katie is not a liar.”
“Mislead, then. Did she deliberately mislead me about you?”
Despite himself, despite the suspicious anger that still raged inside him, Beck was shocked to feel a minute hint of amusement begin to tug at his mind.
These were not the questions of a professional whose operation, whatever it might be, could be blown. These were the questions of a young man who was afraid; who feared that a woman –in fact, a woman about whom he cared, possibly deeply– had somehow betrayed his trust.
Beck’s next thought, hard on the heels of the first, startled him to his core.
These are the questions of a young man… in love? Sweet Lord, this kid loves Katie…
2. Family Reunions Can Be Problematic.
“Yes. To give birth to you and…” Marilyn’s voice trailed off, and her eyes closed.
“You can say his name, Mom,” Fatima murmured. “Sa’id. Me and Sa’id.”
It hurts, the voice in Marilyn’s mind screamed at her. It still hurts so badly.
She willed herself to say it.
“Yes. Sa’id. Your brother, who was too young to know better, who went to a land where thirteen-year-old boys die senselessly.” Her voice rose. “A bulldozer! Crushed by a machine, for no good reason! Just because his father told him to stand there and–“
“Sa’id had a reason, Mom. We both did. Father did, too.”
“Politics.” She spat the word as if it tasted of filth. “Macho, bullshit politics. For a patch of land no sane person would want, let alone fight over! But no– it was Ahmad’s ‘homeland,’ whatever that outdated concept means, so he takes his children there to–“
Her voice broke abruptly; she was suddenly aware of tears on her cheeks.
“I don’t want to fight, Teema.”
Fatíma smiled at the use of her childhood nickname. “Then we won’t, Mom.”
Marilyn felt a sense of relief, even as her tears continued to trickle.
One child, at least, was back in her home; the fact that mother and daughter had been able to breach the dark wall that had divided her from this only remaining offspring –that has to mean something, Marilyn told herself. Teema, after all, is flesh of my flesh… and it’s obvious that she’s become a strong woman. That had to come from me; it’s certainly not something she’d pick up among her father’s people. At least maybe I’ve given that to her…
“Penny for your thoughts, Mom?”
Marilyn smiled. “I’m just thinking that… well, I hope I’ve given you something –something valuable– in your life.”
Fatíma smiled at her again, and this time it was the full-strength version.
“Of course you have,” she said. “I have your last name, don’t I? And my American passport, thanks to you.”
She reached out and touched her mother’s arm.
“And Mom,” Fatíma said, “believe me. I’m very glad to have both.”
Marilyn was relieved– enough so to risk a small attempt at humor.
“How about your blue eyes? You used to be very upset that you inherited those. You wanted to look more like your father.”
This time, a laugh like a bell tinkling accompanied Fatíma’s grin.
“Oh, I changed my mind about all that,” she said. “Now I’m glad I look so much like you, Mom. It’s been very good for me…”
• • •
“Need anything from the kitchen, Mom?” Fatíma’s voice was slightly muffled by the sound of cupboard-rummaging.
Like when she was fourteen. Marilyn smiled. Before everything got crazy.
“I’m fine. Come back and let’s talk some more.”
She picked up the remote; no need to watch TV tonight.
Before she could press the red power button, her eye caught the image on the screen.
There, red-flagged and in stenciled font, were the words “Heroine Or Murderer?“ Superimposed was a gray-scaled image of a face.
The eyes were wrong, but it was unmistakably that of her daughter.
“Mind if we don’t watch television tonight?” Marilyn heard from behind her.
She turned, and for a brief moment saw her daughter, arm upraised and holding what looked to Marilyn incongruously like an Apache tomahawk.
Marilyn’s mind had only an instant to process this absurdity before the heavy meat-tenderizing mallet her daughter held smashed hard against her temple. A white-hot flash crossed her vision, and a sound like a bell dopplered down along the range of her hearing.
Marilyn fell to the carpeted floor, on the way her head bouncing against the coffee table and sending the laptop crashing beside her.
On her back, she tried to fight the mad spinning of the room, squeezing her eyes tight. When she opened them again, Fatíma was standing above her, filling her field of view — not one, but two Fatímas, the double-vision of the concussion superimposing one crazily over the other.
“Sorry, Mom,” she heard her daughter say, almost tenderly, as the younger woman again raised her arm high.
This time Marilyn felt the impact as if from a distance, and slipped without weight into a bottomless black void…
3. Unexpected On-The-Job Problems Can Arise.
“We’ve got something!” one of the agents called to Connor. He pointed at his computer screen. “Dulles Airport, one of the outlying parking lots. Radiation hit of some kind. Low intensity, may be shielded. But damn it– it shouldn’t be there at all.”
“Scramble DAS,” Connor ordered, and felt his heart start to race. “Get a NEST team in a helicopter, and get them out there. Move!”
There was already a live line to one of the on-call detachments of the Nuclear Emergency Support Team at Reagan National Airport.
They were airborne in forty-three seconds– as it turned out, eighteen seconds too late…
• • •
“He knows,” Rani said, and Fatíma heard the panic in his voice. “Start the car, woman, now!”
“Are you then a coward too?” she murmured, her gaze still locked on the vehicle outside. “Do you also fail in this–“ her voice became scornful, cruel as a lash– “my poor, pitiful eunuch of a husband?”
Rani stared at her. His lips moved, but made no sound.
“Run then, Rani. Open your door, and run very fast.”
• • •
Justin was still fumbling for his radio mic when the figure on the passenger side suddenly wrenched open his door and stumbled out, then sprinted away from the bright corona of the headlights.
His eyes caught movement in the car: the remaining occupant shifted higher in the seat, twisted herself almost casually toward the rear of the Prius, then turned back to face him.
Justin had just enough time to glance at the driver, an attractive young woman. Her eyes were open, and her lips seemed to be moving as if in prayer. She was smiling–
And a light brighter than the sun ignited inside the Prius, instantly transforming night into noon for much of Northern Virginia and nearby states.
A nanosecond later, Justin –and, a micro-second after him, much of the surrounding two-mile radius– was incinerated, obliterated.
And a half-second after that, the disembodied atoms of carbon, cesium, strontium and other matter that had been Justin Beaver, or Fatíma Huntsman, or Rani Yashir were nothing more than highly radioactive isotopes of lethal ash and dust. At a speed outstripping a hurricane’s gale, they joined countless tons of other debris sucked high into the rising, roiling, mushrooming tower of cloud and flame —the fire of the prophet— that now clawed its way into the Virginia sky...
4. Imminent Death Can Complicate Relationships.
…Now Connor was a block away, and already his head was snapping on a pivot to scan the faces that surged past. Occasionally, he braced his hands on a startled stranger’s shoulders, using them as a foundation to boost himself higher to survey up the street.
Damn, damn damn, he mentally raged, though in reality it was a silent, fervent prayer. Please be here, Katie.
Then he was at the intersection. He skidded to a halt, whirled in a frantic desperation, seeing only strangers in the faces around him…
A hand seized his sleeve, immediately followed by the embrace of familiar arms.
• • •
Even as fear-crazed as they were, a remarkable sense of social propriety remained in the fleeing crowds on the sidewalk.
As if by some common agreement, they parted to form an eddy as they flowed around a young couple, both of them crying openly now, who clung tightly to each other in their midst…
—All excerpts from Fire Of The Prophet
Fire Of The Prophet, In Brief
Fire Of The Prophet is the first of a multi-novel arc, though it is written in a manner that allows it to stand alone independently. The second book –working title: Prophet And Eagle– picks up where Fire Of The Prophet concludes; leading characters from Fire (that is, those who survive) are again featured in this subsequent work.
The storyline of Fire Of The Prophet builds from an opening that is set along the U.S.-Mexican border –itself, a realistically chilling portrayal of the violence that is routine in this human-smuggling trade, though in Fire Of The Prophet it culminates in a particularly startling manner– through the battlefields of the Middle East, and ultimately takes the reader to a looming disaster in the capital of the United States. Each new revelation establishes the foundation of the next; while in no way a “police procedural” novel, the actions of both law enforcement and the intelligence communities also are accurately and/or plausibly depicted.
Fire Of The Prophet is the product of the author’s intensive research and original interviews, the latter with some of the nation’s leading experts on terrorism, national intelligence, law enforcement and the military. The storyline and characters are entirely fictional, except in rare instances where the use of actual names bolster the realism of the narrative or are historical in nature.
The second installment of this series, Prophet And Eagle, further carries the story into the aftermath of the actions and events presented in Fire Of The Prophet. -- EM
-- END SYNOPSIS --
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