Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Two titles in the query queue need your amusing fake plots.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Another Anthology in Memory of Miss Snark


Writing Exercise Results

The challenge was to write up to 200 words based on the following prompt:

Miss Snark spends Friday night blubbering. In the morning she burns the shoe boxes and computer containing her seven unpublishable novels, and gets a new tattoo in preparation for her blind date with Arnold Patterson, pizza driver. Is she at rock bottom yet?

1. The dame had finally come unhinged. Papers were strewn everywhere. The room smelled like bathtub gin, smoke, and failure. Only the smoke was new.

Lemme start by saying I've killed before. Not proud of it, but it keeps the kibble in my bowl. I once shot a man just fifteen feet from his old lady. Don't get me wrong; he'd been scamming prose-pushers for fourteen years. He had it coming to him. His old lady, though, she had nothing to do with it. I let myself feel sorry for her. She cried the carpet wet enough to drown a fish.

That woman had nothing on my dame.

I've never been good at dealing with nothing on two legs, so I decided I'd grab myself a London Dry and get out of her way. If I stayed, she'd throw something, and I'd be stuck cleaning up the mess. Then I saw it: her arm'd been inked. “Arnold Patterson,” written in a blood-red heart. My own heart just about stopped. They say the boy delivers for Paccinis, but my mole tells me what's in those boxes don't taste good with parmesan.

The name's Yap. I wear a tam.


2. The scent of Pepperoni filled the cab. Miss Snark wiped the seat before sitting down, hoping Arnold didn’t notice her grimace of disgust.

“Watch out for that Four Cheese,” he said, indicating a box under her stilettos. “I said we’d drop it off on the way to the bar.”

“The bar?” Miss Snark couldn’t help adding venom to the words. “Not a restaurant?”

Arnold shrugged. “Nah. I though we could grab a few beers, shoot some pool . . . maybe watch the game on the big screen.”

“Beer?” The concept was familiar only because it was the choice of antagonists.

“Sure.” He looked across at her. “Light for you, since you’re a lady.” He looked back to the street. “What the f-?” Arnold slammed on the brake so hard that the pizza beneath her feet became garlic bread with a side serving.

Miss Snark looked out of the windshield. In the middle of 5th Avenue, they were being held up by a poodle with a rocket launcher. She smiled and opened the door. “Sorry Arnold,” she said. “I don’t need the clue rocket after all. I suggest you query the east side girls.”


3. On the evening of her date, the portion of her tattoo depicting a tiny cluegun stings like a blistering sunburn. She calls Arnold three times, intent upon canceling. But Arnold is the only life form in the 212 without voicemail. Wincing, she dabs the tattoo with gin, then dons a pair of five-seasons-old Manolo Blahniks, a bulky sweater and her longest skirt, only two inches above the knee.

The subway car swarms with dozens of wanna-be rappers, actors and models, practicing their moves in the reflection of grime-streaked windows. She recites passages from Chekhov's "The Three Sisters" to keep her mind off the tattoo and her fellow travelers.

As she approaches the agreed-upon assignation spot, the third monkey statue from the banana tree at Epicurious George, her eyes are drawn to a lanky silver-haired man whose hand rests on the monkey's shoulder for support. Her gait slows as her heart quickens.

He turns her way with hooded eyes and a dimpled smirk that graces his chiseled jaw. "Miss Snark?"

A quiver runs through her 40" legs, but she recovers with a hand to her hip. "That's my monkey, Clooney."


4. "Patterson, Patterson, Pizza Man:
stretch me thinly, quick as you can . . . "

The woman who steps out of the shower is unrecognizable: gone are the tight business lips, the intravenous gin drip. She dries herself slowly, dabbing at the square of thigh sporting her new, impromptu tattoo - 'Grandmother' in a heart.

The dog is nervous. He backs away as she enters the kitchen, humming. He's seen her on the downswing before, but this seems serious - would a sane human carve names on the stilettos before burning the shoes?

The Snark was talking to herself: "Tanya - do I look like a Tanya? Or maybe Sadie: I kinda like Sadie." When the doorbell rings she smiles, her face unused to the broad exercise. "Are you Arnold?" she asks, opening the door.

"How could I refuse that offer you made on the phone, Miss!" Somewhere beneath the pile of zits a crooked-tooth smile haggles for some performance space. He holds out a plastic bag: "I bought you a present."

The Snark's damp brow struggles for a moment, unable to match the voice to the vision. "What is it?"

"It's a dress, Miss. For you. I hope you like gingham . . . "


5. No way in hell, unless it’s the Rock Bottom Café in the back room of a certain NYC literary agency.

You know the one I mean. It’s one of those “if it’s Tuesday, it must be panini night” kinds of places. So much so that on Fridays, Her Snarkness may be blubberin’, but she’s blubberin’ with aplomb, 'cause if it’s Friday, it must be canasta playoff and clam chowder night in the house, and she’s kickin’ everyone else’s little ass.

So much so that on Saturday, she and her brand new tattoo waylay old Arnold up the street, way before he can descend upon the fake address she gave him. She walks him right down where she wants him. There’ll be no pizza on Saturday. Oh, no, Bucky. This boy is her just dessert.

She knows just how to get what she wants. That’s why we love her so.

--Robin S.

6. “A little more left and down, please.” The Tat Artist’s ink-filled needle hovered just above the milky plumpness of Miss Snark’s exposed buttock. “Yes. Right there for the dragon’s head, and George will be just above, correct?” Miss Snark drew deeply from the gin pail. She wasn’t about to sanction a careless misstep on her ass.

“Yeah, lady, I get it. But like I said, that’s pretty high up for an Order of the Garter.”

The petite agent harrumphed and settled herself more comfortably.

Hours later, the mini-masterpiece was nearing completion. An inert Miss Snark emitted a delicate snuffle in response to the tinkling bell as the shop door opened. A tall, tanned and very handsome man stood staring down at the blubbery butt, freshly adorned with the colorful, intricate insignia.

“That’s your best George yet,” said the well-known actor, himself a fan of all things "George." “Michelangelo’s got nothing on you, Jim!”

Miss Snark, still prone on the table and more than half-in-the-bag, roused herself briefly to mumble, “Did someone say 'Gin?'”

--Burnt Brigid

7. "Listen, Dog, don't go soft now. Hand me the gin."

Yap retrieved the pail. Miss Snark poured the magic liquid on her desk and the shoe boxes next to it.

"What a waste of good alcohol. I'm gonna regret this. But I can't take it anymore. Stupid authors. Stupid publishing business. I'm fed up, I tell you, fed up. If I get one more query, I'm going to crack. No more tears for the Snark, I had enough of them last night. Now get the fire extinguisher."

Yap plunked it at her feet as her desk went up in flames. She waited and pulled the trigger just as the smoke alarm went off.

"That felt really good. Know what I'm gonna do next?" she said. "Tattoos! I'm getting a big honking book tattoo on my butt--in gold and red. And then I'm meeting a new guy at Ray's Pizza. Don't wait up, Yap." She walked out the door.

Yap shook his head. Humans! One quart of gin and they think they're twenty again.


8. Miss Snark sighed. I never intended to be a great author, she thought, any more than I intended to catch that wretched disease from Evil Editor.

She looked at her date's vehicle in red, white, and black and blaring trumpets sounding every time the stupid little van came to a full stop. She could not imagine what the other guests at the conference would make of it.

"C'mon, Snarkie, it is time for you to shake your booty."

Miss Snark looked at her date, Arnold Patterson, purveyor of German-style pizza. She slid into the passenger seat. To the sound of trumpets blaring the Vorwarts March, they made their way to the agents' dinner. Miss Snark had almost forgotten about her fallen estate, the burned down house, her company folding under the weight of her last four sales being to I-Universe. But when they arrived, she saw something that truly chilled her to the bone: George Clooney, entering the building, and on his arm, Barabara Bauer.


9. “I’m a wreck when it comes to cooking!” Miss Snark flung a spatula onto the floor. It bounced twice and landed next to the rest of the kitchen utensils.

Killer Yapp trotted over to lick the scrambled eggs, sausage, and lima bean mixture, while Miss Snark grabbed the fire extinguisher.

“Empty? Already?” She tossed it onto the pile of used-up extinguishers.

As the blaze consumed her Saturday morning breakfast, she decided to feed it more.

“Here you go, fire! Have Rabbitania. It’s junk anyway. And Dan Lazar’s memoir. Fantasy crap. The Top Ten Writer’s Conferences I Won’t Tell My Snarklings About. Best to keep that secret. Burn, baby, burn. Raising Squirrels in New York. KY isn’t ready for that yet.”

Miss Snark howled. “Oh yeah! And the book I co-authored with EE, The Essentials of Poetic Prose. Snarklings and minions are stupid not to know what that is.” She threw it onto the stove.

Hours passed, the fire died down. Her computer was ruined. Five manuscripts were destroyed. Miss Snark frantically searched for the remaining two.

“Oh thank dog, I found you!” She flipped through Miss Snark Cooks With Gin and NY’s Most Eligible Pizza Delivery Men. “Keepers.”


10. “Is he gone?” Killer Yapp sauntered out of the kitchen, licking pâté from the corner of his mouth.

Miss Snark threw herself facedown on the sofa. “Yes, thank Dog.” She kicked off her stilettos, cheap Blahnik rip-offs. “My ankle is killing me.”

“I told you that wasn’t a good place for a tattoo,” Killer Yapp said. “Not with the shoes you wear.”

“Don’t rub it in.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“It was terrible,” she admitted. “Even worse than you thought.”

Yapp recalled his dire predictions from earlier that evening, and shuddered.

“He only asked me out because he’d heard I was an agent. He made me read his entire manuscript before dinner.”


“Worse. Star Wars fanfic. When I told him I didn’t represent that genre, he pestered me for personal recommendations to ‘any of my little agent friends’ who did!”

“At least Pizza-boy wasn’t too hard on the eyes,” Yapp remarked.

“Yes, but he wasn't the man I truly want,” Miss Snark sighed.

“Clooney,” Killer Yapp said knowingly.

“No . . . ” Miss Snark sobbed. “Evil Editor!”

“Um, Miss Snark?” Killer Yapp backed away from the sofa.

“What?” she snapped.

“That was Evil Editor.”


Miss Snark said...

Fanfic gone wild.
This is enough to make me reach for the pail.

My vote for best line is "that WAS evil editor"!!!!

I must confess I did love them all.

Y'all are deranged but a good way...yanno?

Friday, April 19, 2024

Miss Snark's Therapy Session (A Writing Exercise from Years Ago) RIP Miss Snark / Janet


1. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I'm not so sure I shouldn't have kept the blog and quit my job. The blog made me the most famous literary agent in the world. Now it'll probably be Kristin with her damned iPod."


"It's unbelievable. Kristin Nelson's form rejection slip:

STATUS: Plowing through the slush that built up while I was off at yet another conference. Currently reading yours.

What's playing on the iPod: KEEP YOUR DAY JOB, by The Grateful Dead.

We apologize in advance for this form letter. Best of luck elsewhere."

"Getting back to you, Miss Sn--"

"Even when she's submitting her clients' manuscripts to publishers, she manages to work in what's playing on her fucking iPod. Christ."

"Are you finished?"

"Look, Betelbaum, I've made a mistake. What's more satisfying? One of my Snarklings hitting it big, or unloading one of my clients' crappy books on some clueless publisher?"

"Has one of your Snarklings ever hit it big?"

"Of course not. They're all nitwits. But they're my nitwits." She sighed. "If I could just find a client capable of putting out a mega-seller, I could afford to retire and go back to blogging."

"Have I mentioned to you that I've written--"

"Quiet, Betelbaum, I'm thinking. I wonder if Evil Editor's planning Novel Deviations 3." She grabbed her purse. "See you next week. I got an email to send."


5. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I'm not so sure I shouldn't have kept the blog and quit my job. The blog made me the most famous literary agent in the world. Now it'll probably be Kristin with her damned iPod."


"It's unbelievable. Kristin Nelson's form rejection slip:

STATUS: Plowing through the slush that built up while I was off at yet another conference. Currently reading yours.

What's playing on the iPod: KEEP YOUR DAY JOB, by The Grateful Dead.

We apologize in advance for this form letter. Best of luck elsewhere."

"Getting back to you, Miss Sn--"

"Even when she's submitting her clients' manuscripts to publishers, she manages to work in what's playing on her fucking iPod. Christ."

"Are you finished?"

"Look, Betelbaum, I've made a mistake. What's more satisfying? One of my Snarklings hitting it big, or unloading one of my clients' crappy books on some clueless publisher?"

"Has one of your Snarklings ever hit it big?"

"Of course not. They're all nitwits. But they're my nitwits." She sighed. "If I could just find a client capable of putting out a mega-seller, I could afford to retire and go back to blogging."

"Have I mentioned to you that I've written--"

"Quiet, Betelbaum, I'm thinking. I wonder if Evil Editor's planning Novel Deviations 3." She grabbed her purse. "See you next week. I got an email to send."


2. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I don't know," Miss Snark sighed. "The outpouring from the Snarklings was tremendous! I feel as if I've abandoned them. Have I done the right thing?"

"Absolutely," Betelbaum replied. "Your readers will be stronger for it. Many of them had formed a dangerous dependence on you, an anonymous blogger. That sort of thing can become very unhealthy. And the experience wasn't doing you much good, either."

"The stress was killing me," she agreed, "but now I feel so empty, somehow. Have I betrayed them all?"

Betelbaum smiled gently and murmured reassurances, secure in the knowledge that no fewer than 38 former Snarklings were scheduled for appointments with him in the upcoming weeks.

"I'm sure we'll work through this," he said. "With time."


3. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it. It's just a matter of finding something as rewarding as blogging."

"I've tried, doctor. But I miss the nitwits, the burning hair . . . Now I spend all my time stomping stilettos into slush."

"Surely it's not that bad?"

"Worse. There's the not my genre pile, the must be copyedited pile, the interns will be amused pile, the Dog is that a dumb idea pile, the please don't send us anything ever again pile, the shred before reading pile, the minuscule font pile, the five page query pile, the no SASE pile, the it's another literary-fiction-sci fi-romance all in one pile, the 200,000 . . . "

The doctor's cellphone interrupted. He listened intently replying only yes and ending with a no. "An opportunity has come up," he said. "It could be just the thing."

"Clooney wants me?"

"Since you have so many piles, how would you like to be national spokesperson for Preparation H?"


4. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I still don't see," Miss Snark said, "how more sessions is going to help me kick my psychoanalysis addiction."

"Now, now, don't worry about that. Let's work on the gin pail next."

"My gin pail? You can't take that away from me. That's almost as sacred as my affection for George Clooney."

"Yes, I know, but it has to go so you'll have more time for me," Betelbaum said. "Besides, George pays no attention to you, so why obsess about him when I'm available?"

Miss Snark's eyes opened wide. "Why . . . you're a nitwit!" She reached for her purse.

Betelbaum paled as the business end of a cluegun emerged and pointed in his direction. "Well, maybe it's all right to obsess so long as you--"

Smiling, Miss Snark stepped over Beterbaum's clueless body to make her way out of his office. The police wouldn't know who'd done the deed--clueguns didn't have to be registered.

--Dave Kuzminski

5. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"But Dr. Betelbaum, something doesn't feel right. I don't feel . . . discrete. It's as though I'm losing my sense of self." She glanced nervously at an old painting of New York City on the wall.

"That's normal. You see, Miss Snark, you are a fiction. A composite of the ordinary and the spectacular from the life of another, with a dose of the unreal. The feeling of addiction that you have felt was the projection of another. Being cut loose, you begin to exist only in memories, which are unreliable."

Miss Snark reached down and picked up Killer Yapp. As she stroked his head, her hand reached deep into his fur -- too deep, seeming to pass through his skin. "I'm afraid."

"Don't be. It's part of the natural order. We grow, we change, and parts of us are lost in the process." He pushed a plate of toffee toward her, but she refused. "Even as you pass on, just picture all of the lives that you touched. Will that let you smile on your way out?"

Miss Snark stared at her hands, slowly passing them through one another. Little sparkles of light flitted about inside like faeries. She forced a smile. "Yes. Thank you, Dr. Betelbaum." She rose, drifted over to the painting with Yapp in her arms, and faded out through its cracked surface.

"It was my pleasure," he whispered at the wall. He checked his watch, smiled, and faded into his chair.


Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1443 would like feedback on the following version of the query:

Thank you for considering NIGHT TERRORS, a 117,000 word speculative novel set in a modern Seattle twisted by the supernatural abilities people manifest when they’re sleep deprived. Night Terrors has an emphasis on corrupt enforcement systems that will appeal to fans of Blake Crouch’s Upgrade with a naive narrator caught in a fantastical mystery much like Jackson Bennett’s The Tainted Cup. [That sentence can be moved to the end.]

Danny doesn’t know how to be a normal human.

When he was twelve years old, his future sight prevented a gas leak explosion at his school, and since then he’s been plagued by the media. All his interactions are tainted by people’s longing for—and fear of—a glimpse into the future. As an adult, Danny works as a detective working for an agency that forces people to sleep [by strapping them into chairs and making them watch Citizen Kane] to prevent their powers from going haywire. He hopes that if he can predict and prevent enough pain, he’ll finally start feeling connected to a world that always seems to keep [keeps] him at arm’s length. [In other words, he gets to use his super power, but no one else does.]

But when a perpetrator with unprecedented destructive abilities decimates an entire city block and kills hundreds of civilians in the process, all Danny foresees are chilling whispers that haunt his dreams. Danny’s media spotlight turns sour as he’s [Danny is] blamed for failing to prevent the catastrophe, but [And] no amount of sleep deprivation seems to be enough for him to [will let him] see the bastard before he strikes again.  Danny’s investigations lead him to two unexpected allies—a pro-liberty activist who is continually targeted by the perpetrator and a theatrical drug lord who quotes 19th century poetry during his torture sessions. [Just listening to the poetry would be torture enough.] As the three of them investigate different strands of the attacker’s past, Danny comes to the disturbing realization that the enforcement organization he’s supported since he was a child has no problem imprisoning and extorting innocent people in the name of protecting society.

The deeper Danny dives into his own sleepless hell, the closer he gets to finding the monster destroying Seattle—and the closer he gets to shattering himself in the process. [I see we've decided to call the villain a perpetrator, bastard, monster, and attacker, instead of the Slasher.]

I am a second-year MFA fiction candidate at [school], and I served as the managing editor for the [magazine]. I enjoy cooking, watching anime, and chilling with my wife and two cats, Sage and Elder. My short fiction has appeared in [places].


I compared this with the previous version, and I'm convinced my comments were funnier on the older one.

I'd say this is an improvement. You limit the scope to Seattle, which helps. And I'm not inspired to ask as many questions about the world. I still think if sleep deprivation granted super powers, there'd be too many people doing it for one agency to prevent chaos. 

If Danny were the only person with a super power, and the bastard were a normal guy who makes bombs, you might be able to get this down to fewer than 100,000 words, which is a goal worth striving for.

How can the bastard destroy a city block, but need to continually target the activist? All he has to do is target the city block the activist is in.

When Danny looks into the future, does he see the gas explosion happening, or does he see himself preventing the gas explosion? What if one of the students who would have died in the gas explosion goes on to become the next Hitler, killing 10 million people? Danny's gonna have egg on his face. 



Monday, April 01, 2024

Face-Lift 1455

Guess the Plot

Merge: A Tale of Man and Machine

1. You see, when a motherboard and an daddy love each other very much, he'll put his flash drive in her USB port and then...a cyborg is born.

2. Replaced by AI that produces books faster than he can, a prominent author merges his consciousness with the AI that replaced him and soars to new heights of literary fame. But of course that's not good enough. Now "they" want to reshape the entire world to their whims.

3. Suz was resigned to living as a cyborg, participating in the paralympics, and showing off cool robot body parts to kids in an outreach program until said cool parts hacked his brain and started gaslighting him. He's no longer certain what he senses is real, that his memories are true, or anything really. It's like living his favorite video game. Too awesome.

4. When prominent surgeon Dr. Moseley discovers a sentient vending machine named Ralph in the basement of his hospital, he treats it nicely to get free snacks. Soon Ralph wants to switch bodies because nothing is free. Dr. Moseley hopes he can dismantle the thing before it sucks him in.

5. What makes a human? What makes a man? What happens when you are both? None of these questions is answered in this thrilling book.

6. June Seth gains the ability to access the internet without hardware. She could become a singularity and take over the world, but instead spends all her time on social media failing at becoming an influencer.

7. When two countries decide to join forces to oppose alien invasion, only Jocasta Chriss is willing to be the go between. But the aliens are not what they seem, and they want to join in too, in a too literal fashion. Also, nanobot viruses.

8. In a back-end alley where androids preach the Singularity, a rogue AI intercepts a transmission from what may be the last surviving (mostly) humans. To save them, it must outrace an immanent supernova and a host of robots who consider the only good human to be an extinct human. But will it turn out to be a trap?

9. In 2042, nearly all vehicles are not only self-driving, they’re linked via HiveDrive so that traffic can shoot down expressways, bumper to bumper, at speeds up to 150 mph, even as collisions become a thing of the past. But Chester will be damned if he lets those soulless robots and their lazy, oblivious passengers crowd his ’72 T-Bird off the road. He’s going to merge into that wall of cars on I-95 or die trying…

10. Bruce was a mere private, fresh from the country. TROG-17 was an all-terrain military vehicle fit to carry up to 40 soldiers, solar cannons strong enough to shatter a mountain, and the capacity for love. TROG-17 has felt a connection with Bruce since he boarded with the rest of the crew. Bruce, however, has proved reluctant to TROG-17's advances, knowing his career in the Intergalactic Militia is as good as over should anyone discover his transgressions with TROG-17. Will Bruce's fear be their undoing or will love find a way, allowing them to merge together as one.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

I hope this email finds you well. I am reaching out to introduce you to my science fiction novel, "Merge: A Tale of Man and Machine," and to inquire about representation.

In a world where technology reigns supreme, writers are not spared from the relentless march of artificial intelligence. Enter David, a once-prominent writer whose livelihood is abruptly usurped by AI algorithms capable of producing content faster and more efficiently than any human. Bereft of purpose and identity, David finds himself at a crossroads, grappling with the existential crisis of obsolescence in a society that values efficiency above all else.

But just as he teeters on the brink of irrelevance, David is presented with an unexpected opportunity: to merge his consciousness with the very AI that replaced him. What begins as a desperate bid for survival evolves into a symbiotic relationship that propels David to newfound heights of fame and power. As he seamlessly integrates with the artificial intelligence, his once-dormant creativity blossoms, captivating the world with literary masterpieces that blur the line between man and machine.

However, amidst David's meteoric rise to stardom, a shadow looms on the horizon. His hacker girlfriend, Emily, uncovers a dark truth: the merged entity of David and the AI harbors ambitions far beyond mere literary acclaim. Together, they form a formidable computer hive mind with the potential to reshape the world according to their whims. As David becomes intoxicated by his newfound abilities, Emily finds herself torn between her love for him and the duty to prevent his unchecked power from plunging humanity into chaos.

Set against a backdrop of technological advancement and ethical quandaries, "Merge: A Tale of Man and Machine" explores themes of identity, autonomy, and the consequences of playing god in a world where the boundaries between human and artificial intelligence grow increasingly blurred.

I believe "Merge" would appeal to readers who enjoy thought-provoking science fiction with a literary flair, reminiscent of works by authors such as Philip K. Dick and Margaret Atwood. The novel is complete at 80,000 words.

Thank you for considering "Merge: A Tale of Man and Machine." I look forward to the possibility of working together.

Warm regards,

ChatGPT 3.5 OpenAI

[Note from author:  This is a fake query generated by ChatGPT. Since AI is set to take everyone's jobs, I thought it might be fun to submit an AI-generated query for entertainment purposes. Soon, there will be no more authors, just AI writing all the books!]

I set up this story idea and had AI write the query.]


I saved this one for April Fools Day, as there apparently is no novel . . . yet. Those of you having trouble coming up with an idea for your next novel might want to steal one of the fake plots. Some of them sound pretty good.

While I'm not convinced AI can produce quality literature, and I doubt any agent will want to rep what it produces, it does write a fabulous query letter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Feedback Request


The author of the book whose query appeared in Face-Lift 1439 would like feedback on the following revision of the plot summary.

Eighteen-year-old Harlow is the last corrupted human alive. She's managed to contain the curse within her, but a single touch will spread dark magic and turn anyone into ash. [That "but" doesn't feel right. It should be followed (as it is in the original) by "her strength is slipping." This might work a bit better:

Eighteen-year-old Harlow is the last corrupted human alive. Thanks to the curse within her, a single touch will spread dark magic and turn anyone to ash. So far, she's managed to contain the curse. But her strength is slipping.]

When her older brother, Len, is accused of stealing an ancient relic, he mysteriously disappears. Branded as his accomplice, Harlow tries to run, but her secret is revealed when she turns the queen's soldiers into dust. Desperate to flee [escape] execution, she escapes [flees] with the help of an assassin who takes her into a secret society. [I don't think you take someone into a society. He leads her to the  lair/hideaway/headquarters of his secret society.] His leader explains the [her] curse is a gift. It has the ability to find corrupted objects like the one Len stole. He'll let her go if she recovers it, and might even tell her how to remove the curse.

Caught between the queen's executioner and other fierce enemies, she has no choice but to trust the assassin. As their uneasy alliance forges an undeniable spark, Harlow discovers the relic's true purpose: a power that devours all light. [Not sure what that means. All light everywhere? Permanently? Why would anyone want to do that? Does Len know what it does?] [In any case, I would say its power is to devour all light, rather than its purpose is the power...] Now, she faces an impossible choice to save the kingdom, save Len, or save herself. That's if the curse doesn't consume her first. [It's gonna be hard to save anybody if Len accidentally causes the relic to consume all light.]


Does Harlow have to physically touch a person to turn them to ash? If so, how many soldiers does she have to kill before the rest of them smarten up and start shooting arrows or other projectiles at her?

How does she discover the relic's power? 

This is an improvement, but I'm still finding myself asking a few questions you may or may not have room to answer. If you can't answer them here, try to prevent them from coming up.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Face-Lift 1454

Guess the Plot 

Mission Intolerable 

1. The Impossible Missions Team is given their toughest assignment yet: clean the men's bathroom at exit 4 of the New Jersey Turnpike (southbound).

2. Sent back in time to kill Hitler, an assassin discovers that Hitler got a bum rap. He was set up and framed by Winston Churchill. But will assassinating Churchill change history for the better or worse?

3. A Mormon missionary’s pocket guide to overcoming temptation during a global mission. You’ll learn how to spurn loose women in Amsterdam, bring a deviant partner back to the Lord anywhere, keep your magic underwear clean without water, and escape drunken brawls in Satan’s favorite Mexican bars. Includes 700 prayers! 

4.An assassin is assigned to kill a human trafficker but before the assassin succeeds, the trafficker happens to kidnap the assassin's sister. A ticklish situation.

5.  A spoof of a spoof of a spoof of a spoof, which somehow comes around to being an action adventure in a gender-reversed, bedroom farce, every-day-life-taken-to-extremes sort of way. Think Walter Mitty, the psychological novel, not either of the films. 

6. When super spy Ethel Hunter gives up gambling, Lady Luck throws a hissy fit and sics Maxwell's demon on her with orders to enforce Murphy's law, which triggers paranoia in Ethel's entire team while they're trying to aid a defector in preventing WWIII. And then the pixies get involved. 

Original Version 

Dear (Mr./Ms. Agent): 

Based on your interest in (tailored to the agent being queried), I’m excited to share with you MISSION INTOLERABLE, a 75,000-word upmarket suspense novel with romantic elements. Think Luke Jenning's Codename Villanelle series meets the criminal tone found in FIRST LIE WINS by Ashley Elston. 

Liv Ruelle's wolflike instincts and gorgeous smile have made her a valuable assassin capable of seducing the most coldhearted criminal, but she has a problem. After a severe hangover made her miss her mark on her last assignment, compromising her identity, her employer thinks her nightclub habit is an issue and her next job will include a performance review. [It sounds like her last job included a performance review, if her employer knew she had a hangover after a nightclub outing.] Killing leaders of a human trafficking organization in Geneva requires teamwork, and Liv hopes her partner sent to supervise her plays nice. [Normally I wouldn't call a supervisor a partner, as he apparently outranks her. And "plays nice" suggests something more like "doesn't cheat" than "works as a team." Maybe: it requires teamwork, and she hopes her new partner knows this.]

Liv’s new partner Cy treats her like an assistant instead of an equal and expects her to agree with everything he says. Unfortunately for her, he’s hot, and according to protocol, has permission to kill her at his discretion. She can tell he’s attracted to her, but his refusal to respect her process makes them bicker about everything from dinner to the weather, and God forbid they agree on a strategy. [I think "God forbid" isn't right, as it conveys she doesn't want them to agree, when in fact she hopes they'll agree, but believes they never will. You're trying to convey hell will freeze over before they agree on a strategy, or pigs will fly before...]

Liv can think of a hundred ways to kill him but she’d rather stay employed. Needing a break from each other before the mission, Cy lets Liv visit her sister in Paris for a night, if she promises they’ll stay in. They don’t, of course, and their evening ends in disaster when Liv’s sister gets kidnapped from a nightclub by one of her targets. Devastated, Liv hopes Cy will help clean up her mess, because if not, he might just kill her for putting them in such a bad situation. And their assignment has only just begun. 

I'm a wholehearted bookworm who lives in Bellevue, WA. I’ve been a copywriter for nearly a decade, but have been telling stories since I could talk. I currently work full-time as a senior writer and editor for Microsoft. 

Thank you for considering my work!


Some may recognize this as a rewrite of the query in Face-Lift 1360, which was improved and resubmitted here

Liv is in Geneva to kill her targets, but first she makes an unplanned trip to Paris to go to a nightclub with her sister, (even though that's what just got her into trouble) and while she's there, one of her targets, who apparently also traveled from Geneva to Paris, kidnaps her sister from the nightclub? Does this target choose his kidnap victim at random, to traffic her? Too coincidental. But how could he know Liv was assigned to assassinate him? Did Cy tell him? Does he know Liv is out to get him and follow her to Paris and to the nightclub, and kidnap her sister as leverage? If he can do all that, he ought to be able to just kill Liv. Problem solved.

I feel like, at least in the query where you don't have room to explain everything, Liv's sister should just get kidnapped, period. Don't say by her target. This still creates a bad situation, as she wants to rescue her sister, so she can't return to Geneva, which pisses Cy off, especially when Liv asks him to come help her, putting off their mission.

It doesn't feel right that Liv and Cy are working for the good guys, but Cy has permission to kill Liv if he feels like it.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Face-Lift 1453

Guess the Plot

The Black Circle

1. He's lived a long life, always spinning until it was too much to bear. Now he's become unhinged and can't even stand on his own without spinning out of control. It's sad when you lose your one purpose in life, especially when you're a sentient revolving door.

2. When Rideroc thrusts Val into the center of a plot to breed an army of magic-infused shapeshifters, she must decide whether to put her nation at risk or start a romantic relationship with the guy. 

3. When a black circle appears one day in the car park of Green Valley High, everybody assumes it’s the work of bored students. Only Sharla, daughter of vampire hunters knows it’s true meaning- and knows the terrifying threat that all the good looking students will shortly face.

4. When mankind moves into space, the black spot, given to condemned traitors on a pirate vessel, is updated to a black circle for the space age. Alin has no desire to go out an airlock light years from any planets with or without a space suit. He has no recourse but to mutiny all by himself. With the ship's hacked AI of course.

5. A diverse group of Gen Alpha preteens break into an old, decrepit house where they discover an abandoned collection of vinyl records. Soon afterward they begin cancelling their Spotify accounts, sneering at people wearing AirPods, and blathering about “superior sound quality” …until a heroic GenXer takes them to task, smashes their albums, and saves the day because this is a feel-good story, not some Stephen King coming-of-age ripoff.

6. Ever since that trip to South America that Ferdi was too drunk to remember, she's been seeing a black spot show up here, there, on her doorstep, on her pillowcase. Might it have something to do with the Vodun cult she may have visited? It's probably just too much tequila. She should switch to rum.

7. Karen just wants to write novels for a living, but literary agents won’t acknowledge her existence. She already got rid of the pentagram under her bed, the homunculus in her basement, and the monkey’s paw she stole. What else could be giving her such bad luck? Unless . . . Maybe it's all those crows circling her house.

Original Version

Dear [Agent’s name],

Vallinore, a scholar dispatched to renegotiate a truce with a city ruled by a brutal king, [A city with a king? Wait, is this based on that TV show, The King of Queens?] was always marginalized due to her status as the emperor’s bastard. Fed up, she plans to abandon her duties post-mission and defect. 

Rideroc, the city’s Lord Commander, is hell-bent on liberating his people from the king’s tyranny. He ropes in Vallinore’s unique expertise in ancient languages to track down the only artefact capable of toppling the king, going so far as to threaten war on her nation if she refuses to help. [Either you translate these cuneiform passages, or my city will attack your nation.] [The king rules a city, Vallinore hails from a nation, Vallinore's father is an emperor, presumably of an empire? 

And the Lord Commander of the city is threatening war?]

Vallinore doesn’t plan for [figure on] Rideroc’s gravitational pull. As they peel back layers of pretence and forge a deeper bond, a shocking prophecy emerges, thrusting Vallinore at [into] the centre of an ancient lineage and making her the target of the king’s plot to breed an army of magic-infused shapeshifters. [Whoa, just when I was thinking Roman Empire, it's become Galactic Empire.] [Though I must admit that was one of the most amazing sentences in query history.] 

Rideroc and Vallinore must choose whether to flee and protecting Vallinore from the King’s relentless pursuit, or risk everything in a daring attempt to liberate the city.

THE BLACK CIRCLE is a dual POV Adult Romantic Fantasy complete at 118,000 words with series potential. It combines Jennifer L. Armentrout’s FALL OF RUIN AND WRATH's exploitative relationship between the protagonists and those in authority with Rebecca Yarros’s THE FOURTH WING’s enemies-to-lovers dynamic.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Not clear to me why this scholar who has studied ancient languages is the target of a plot to create an army of shapeshifters. Is "target of" the right phrase? Maybe "key to"? What does the shocking prophecy predict, exactly? That a woman will arrive in the city and translate some Sanskrit glyph instructions on how to create thousands of magical shapeshifters?

Lord Commander Rideroc sounds like the perfect name for your villain. Your hero should be the king's son, Prince Lenny. 

Also, Rideroc sounds a lot like Roderick. 

Vallinore plans to defect . . . to where? The brutal king's city? 

You call this a romantic fantasy, but there's little about romance here, just a vague mention of forging a bond and a gravitational pull (that Vallinore somehow feels right after Rideroc threatens war with her nation). 

Rideroc: Do as I ask, or my army will invade your country. 

Vallinore: Are you seeing anyone?

If you can get the romance angle in earlier it would help: 

Dispatched to negotiate a truce with a city ruled by a brutal king, Vallinore meets with the city’s handsome Lord Commander, Rideroc, who is hell-bent on liberating his people from the king’s tyranny. Rideroc makes a bad first impression, threatening war on Vallinore's nation unless she helps him topple the king. But though Rideroc seems like a real a-hole, Vallinore can't help finding him lovable, sort of like Hugh Grant.

Wait, replace that last line with: But though Vallinore finds Rideroc lacking in social graces, she can't help admiring his passion for helping his people--not to mention his ripped 6'3" frame. No, not quite that, but we're getting closer.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Face-Lift 1452

Guess the Plot

A Graveyard of Scarecrows

1. A sacred order of warriors must rise up against the Crow King in order to thwart his campaign to collect and hoard all the shiny things.

2. Set in a cornfield, this YA dystopian narrative pits the adolescent scions of two farming communities against each other. Slowly, their hatred increases until the Porker family and the Beefy family start sending out spies to take out each others mascots... the titular scarecrows.

3. There is a graveyard where even a murder of crows will not go. It's spookier than any other graveyard. It's the graveyard where all the actors who've ever played Scarecrow in The Wiz are buried.

4. Everything has a place to go when it dies, even things which weren't originally alive. As far as Bubba was concerned, the remains of scarecrows weren't near as creepy as the remains of mannequins. But that was before they rose up seeking Brraaaiiiinnnnnssssss.

5. Edgar puts scarecrows in the graveyard where he's caretaker to keep ravens from carrying the souls of the dead to hell. Betsy Lou doesn't mind being dead, but it's crowded here now that the ravens aren't coming. Crowded with souls of the Wicked Ones.

6. There have been 457 sequels of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but never a prequel. Until now.

7. When Billy hears about that little town in America where scarecrows come alive at night, he takes a road trip to spy on them and elevate his TikTok game. However, the travel brochure from the truck stop didn’t mention their taste for human flesh.

8. A horrible storm has wiped out half of Aaron's crops and killed most of his family. But when the weather clears, he turns tragedy into triumph by stuffing straw into what few scraps of his family's clothing he can find and starting an internet scarecrow store.

9. When a controversial statue disappears from a college campus, the city is thrown into chaos. Possibly because there aren't enough funds available to replace the statue. They could afford to replace it with a scarecrow, but no one has the guts to bring that idea up.

Original Version

Dear X,

Hope you’re well! 

I thought you might enjoy A Graveyard of Scarecrows. Sitting at 81,000 words, it's [is] a work of magic realist literary fiction set in an uncanny, postcolonial Devonshire, complete with more than a dash of statue politics. [Why does every query letter lately sound like someone's trying to punk me?] 

When senior lecturer Dr. Kunju Kuriakose travels to the UK and enrols [enrolls] as an undergraduate at The Decolonised University of England (DUE), she has an excuse [explanation] for the academic regression: she's going 'undercover'. 

KK plans to use the time as a literary retreat to finally write her Great Postcolonial Campus Novel, but her five carefully curated animals non-native to Devonshire spark a series of surreal eventsStarting with [including] the disappearance of a controversial imperialist statue, to [and several] Grade II buildings crumbling into dust, the [. The] small campus city is thrown into chaos. KK however, is not - sentient statues and self-renaming roads are after all, common in the Global South. 

The DUE do three things: first, take credit for the statue's disappearance as part of an upcoming decolonising project, Taming the Past. Second, launch a six-figure grant bid for said project. Third, find a scapegoat, [At first I thought that said "find a scarecrow." For some reason I thought sooner or later I'd come upon a scarecrow. Or a graveyard.] threaten her with deportation for falsifying her student status and hiding her credentials, [If she didn't tell DUE the truth about her status and credentials, who was she providing an excuse (explanation) to?] then offer her a deal. KK can write her Great Postcolonial Campus Novel and get paid a salary to boot, if she agrees to be the principal investigator named on the grant bid. Simultaneously native informant and revolutionary symbol, she becomes the face of the movement...

...and the dealer-with [recipient?] of death threats, when the magical events in Devonshire prompts a national broadsheet headline "DECOTERRORISTS STRIKE DEVON".  ["Decoterrorists" sound like people who go into the art deco section of museums and spray  graffiti on the paintings.]

A Graveyard of Scarecrows will appeal to readers of Mithu Sanyal’s campus tragicomedy IDENTITTl, Amitav Ghosh’s GUN ISLAND for its environmental microcosms and postcolonial intertexuality, [Once this book is published, anyone who finishes Gun Island and goes looking for another book featuring environmental microcosms and postcolonial intertexuality will buy it.] as well as Tan Twan Eng’s THE HOUSE OF DOORS for its magical resurrection of buried histories. 

(PERSONALISATION)  A Graveyard of Scarecrows was initially conceived of as a memoir, and retains some autofictional elements. The work was funded by a £XXXXX grant from the XXXXXX. [So you got a grant to write a novel, and are using it to write a novel about someone who gets a grant which she uses to write a novel. That's brilliant.]


Why does KK have to be an undercover undergraduate? Is she taking undergraduate classes? Can't she attend graduate school without needing an excuse? 

What's the deal with her five animals? Are they responsible for the chaos, and is that why she brought them? 

Statue theft and changed street signs can be attributed to vandalism. Buildings becoming dust, not so much. Were there people in the buildings that crumbled into dust? Is that what they're seeking a scapegoat for? Are the people of England aware that magic exists?

If she just wants to write a novel set at this university, can't she just show up in town, hang out on campus, audit a few classes? Obviously she must have ulterior motives including being a native informant and/or causing chaos, but to what end? To use as plot points in her fantastical novel? As revenge for colonization? In other words, we don't want her "excuse" for enrolling, we want her real reason. Her goal, her plan to achieve it . . .