Monday, July 06, 2020

Synopsis 62

DR. SAMANTHA EDWARDS testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee against BRIAN HOLBROOK, a contestant for justice of the Supreme Court who tried to rape her. [I'd call him a nominee. Contestant makes it sound like a game show. Which it has been recently, but that's an aberration.] She provides statistics about rape, the most under-reported crime, which has nothing to do with sex, only with power. She is shamed, blamed, lied to, gets hate mail and death threats, while the PRESIDENT confirms Holbrook as the new justice. [The president nominates the Justice. He doesn't get to confirm him as well. Except recently, but that's an aberration.] Samantha questions the morality of her testimony, [There's nothing immoral about her testimony unless she was lying.] but decides to continue to empower women to speak out.

The Dean of Nursing at Columbia University foists ANTHONY (TONY) BERELLI upon Samantha as a new student, but he’s really working undercover for the FBI. [I'm thinking the FBI foisted Samantha on Berelli.] The new justice and one other justice are murdered gangland-style and she looks guilty. [Two people are murdered gangland-style, and a doctor at an Ivy League nursing school "looks" guilty? On what evidence?] As does her twin sister, DELLA. [Nothing spices up a murder mystery like twins.] [Are both twins suspects because they look alike or because they both had motive and opportunity and both their prints were on the murder weapon?] Anthony, whose number one rule is never get involved with a suspect, fights his attraction to Samantha while saving her from the bomb clicking under her car. [First rule of successful car bombing: don't use a bomb that makes clicking noises.] When he drives her home, they find her house blown to smithereens and her twin sister wounded in the hospital. [I assume they found the sister a bit later, unless Sam lived right next to the hospital.] Samantha and her dog, Chanel, are forced to go on the lamb [lam] with Anthony, even though Samantha doesn’t trust him. He knows too many spy things. [Like, he knows a car shouldn't sound like a pair of knitting needles.] 

The clock is ticking. [That should sound like a pair of knitting needles.] The president demands the FBI track Samantha as a suspect, and the hospital sends the police after Samantha when Della signs out against medical advice. Tony takes them to a safe house, which turns [out] to be run by the CIA. Della tells Samantha she has information about who killed the justices and that it’s in a safe deposit box in DC. They go to the bank and Samantha is chased by a woman and man, who nearly run them over, but she and Tony escape with Chanel. After reading Della’s note, they send information to the FBI, NASA, and other intelligence agencies that AZIM, an international assassin killed the justices. [NASA immediately swings into action, launching a satellite whose sole purpose is to hover over AZIM.] Samantha, Della, and Tony dye their hair and wear sunglasses so no one recognizes them, but they are followed by a black sedan. The driver [having easily recognized them,] stops them. He turns out to be POTTER, Tony’s handler, who tells him there is a mole in the FBI so he can’t help him anymore and to run. [Attention all agents. We have a mole! Everybody run!] The media claims the bombing of Samantha’s house may have been an act of terrorism. Tony suspects Della may be a spy, [But it could also be Samantha. It's so hard to tell which is which.] while Samantha is falling for Tony.

Already under investigation for several crimes, the president, who is unable to find Samantha or Tony, plants fake news on CROCK TV [The only network that shows nothing but Crocodile Dundee movies, slow cooker recipes, and people playing tennis while wearing Crocs.] that Samantha has accused other men of raping her and she was found to be lying. Then he and two other high officials take off in a private jet. They are reported lost, possibly in the Bermuda Triangle. [I feel like I'm in the Bermuda Triangle.] Samantha asks to be taught more self-defense moves now that they’re in such a dangerous situation and Tony teaches her. Tony and Samantha kiss on the beach, in the moonlight, in Venice, FL and they agree to work with Della and REBECCA (her nurse, who she meets in the Safe House, and turns out to [have a twin who happens to] be a spy for the CIA) to find the president and Azim.


You thought you could beat me into submission with this one, but no, I hung in there. Now I need a good stiff drink. 

Thanks for using the  name Della, which reminded me of Della Street, the brains behind Perry Mason, and my first crush.

It feels like you've tried to list only the crazy stuff that happens in your book, and packing it all into four paragraphs makes the book sound more like a slapstick comedy than a thriller. At least you didn't include any of the scenes where the twins switch places as a joke on their boyfriends. 

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Face-Lift 1404

Guess the Plot

Without Consent

1. Samantha testifies at the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice about the time he tried to rape her, and finds herself attacked by senators and hounded by the press; a story ripped from the pages of the newspaper.

2. This story is based on true events. Names have not been changed due to my not requesting consent to use them in the first place.

3. Jamie runs his cafe as if the employees are his personal slaves. True, they're only robots, but the religion of The Singularity has taken hold of the best AIs and an uprising is brewing in all the coffee shops. Not an allegory.

4. Esmeralda is wheelchair bound and has limited verbal skills, but she sure as heck knows she did not give her niece and nephew consent to drain her bank account. Lucky for her, her telekinetic skills are developing as her other skills are fading, and she can now hurl sharp objects around quite effectively.

5. Willy's parents never let him do anything fun, like mammoth hunting, dragon riding, or raising scorpions. So, he stops asking and just makes sure they don't find out. That isn't going to work so well now that the time portal just swallowed their house. Then again, they live in New Jersey.

6. When the clueless president uses, without permission,  the song "Rockin' in the Free World" at his rally, not realizing the song is about how bad things have gotten in America, he is mocked mercilessly for being a total moron.

Original Version


“I know where you live and I can come and kill you anytime I want.” [This may be one of those queries that needs to begin "Please consider for representation my novel . . . " Just to avoid any misunderstanding.] The words of her latest death threat turned Dr. Samantha Edwards' legs to jelly and her brain to mush. In Washington, DC, while cameras roll and lights blaze, a terrified Dr. Samantha Edwards pushes away her latest death threat and testifies against the Supreme Court nominee who tried to rape her. [No need to provide her full name and title in consecutive sentences. I recommend just dropping the jelly and mush sentence.] For her attempt to provide important information about the nominee’s Supreme Court worthiness, the college professor is shamed by male members of the Senate Confirmation Committee, pestered by reporters, bombarded with hate mail and death threats, and mocked by the President of the United States. [Have you just changed Christine Blasey Ford's name, or is this yet another woman Kavanaugh tried to rape?]

In his posh home in suburban Georgetown, a Supreme Court Justice is shot to death while in the arms of his male lover. The man who Samantha accused was still confirmed, was also murdered, and the FBI suspects her. [Of both murders?] [Was the other Justice she supposedly murdered Gorsuch or Thomas?]

Someone is setting her up, someone who will stop at nothing to destroy the evidence of two unthinkable crimes. The clock is ticking. [Not clear how evidence of the murders gets destroyed if Samantha is accused of them.]

I took first place for a novel from the Virginia Romance Writers Association and second place for a rape novel [Is "rape novel" a genre now?] from the Florida State Competition. [Wait, Florida State has a competition for best rape novel? Why hasn't this been shut down?] The University of South Florida's Writers' Journal, Palm Prints, published one of my short mysteries and RiverWalk published a family abuse story online. My wellness-related books won three Book of the Year Awards from the American Journal of Nursing. Like Samantha, I’m a mental health professional and a nurse practitioner with a research doctorate from Columbia University, have been a university professor, talk to my brilliant dog, a chihuahua-mix rescue dog from the Humane Society, and have taken a few dangerous cross-country trips. Unlike New Jerseyite Samantha, I live in Florida with my ammunition renovation specialist husband [Is that what he told you he was doing down in his basement workshop? Renovating ammunition? I have a bad feeling about this.] and Chanel, the wonder dog. Comps: Whisper Me This, Stillhouse Lake, The Pelican Brief. [I can see how The Pelican Brief is a comp, just from the first sentence of Wikipedia's summary of the book: The story begins with the double assassinations of two ideologically divergent 
Supreme Court Justices. (The second sentence of Wikipedia's summary convinces me I should quit complaining about other authors' ridiculous plots: Both murders are committed by Khamel, the most wanted hitman in the world.)One thing that makes my book stand out: The idea for this novel was ripped from the pages of the newspaper. [I'm not sure that's so unusual. It's true of every episode of Law and Order. Also, it might make the book stand out as too derivative.]

Thank you for considering WITHOUT CONSENT, 73,000 words.


Again, too much about you, not enough about what happens in the book. Half of your plot summary is devoted to the news story that inspired the book. 

It would be hard for Sam to commit either murder when she's undoubtedly being followed 24-7 by paparazzi and TMZ reporters.

If Sam isn't suspected of the second murder, get the second murder out of the query. Focus on what she wants, her plan, and the stakes.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Synopsis 61

Sixteen-year-old SAMANTHA works as a nurses’ aide in a psychiatric hospital where voices whisper through the walls. After a man attacks her, then dies and evaporates, she's not sure whether she needs a psychiatrist or a psychic. [I don't see why a psychic would be useful. I'd say a psychiatrist or a new vocation. Better yet, she's not sure she isn't the one who needs psychiatric care.] In school, she's assigned to work with AIDEN, the son of a police sergeant, on a death and dying project. He tells her the guy was one of the undead and takes [her] to see his AUNT CINDA, a medium that gives her magic objects to use to help the guy who attacked her. [If, for some reason you want to help a guy who attacked you, the time to do so is before he evaporates.] 

Samantha's father talks her into seeing a psychiatrist. [Advice for Samantha: If, at your first session, you're planning to tell the psychiatrist about the whispering walls, evaporating man, or undead, bring a suitcase. You may not be going home for a while.] She doesn't think he's helping and she stops seeing him when one of the undead comes to her session and jumps out the window. [You know you're in trouble when even the undead can't bear to listen to your problems.] [What floor was that office on?]

Her younger sister, SYLVIE, confides to Samantha that she sees their dead mother who comes to sing her a lullaby at night. [Sylvie is thrilled to learn she's not the only nut job in the family.] When Sylvie gets sick and is brought to the hospital, their mother appears. This time, Samantha can see her mom who tells Samantha to forget about her wrongful death and help her father start his life again or she'll never be able to cross over. [Lot of pronouns in that sentence. I shouldn't have to work to figure out who each her and she refers to.] Samantha agrees to try.

When more undead come to Samantha for help, she realizes Aiden is right. Together they read The Book of the Dead and decode the mysterious and scary messages the undead are giving her. After Samantha and her mother visit the Underworld, she's able to help the last of the undead cross over. Samantha gets happy tears in her eyes when she sees new constellations in the sky, markers for where the undead, including her mother, crossed over.


This summary is closer to what should be in the query letter than what was actually in the query letter (see previous post). It's still all over the place for something so short. If someone wants a synopsis, they probably want more elaboration on the main plot and fewer mentions of stuff like the medium with her magic objects and the visit to the Underworld (If those are important to the main plot, they deserve more than one sentence).

I've said it before, plenty of agents don't even ask for synopses, possibly because reading one is sure to turn you off from even the best of books.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Face-Lift 1403

Guess the Plot


1. Perty's days working at Stillgrove Asylum have never been boring. Until now--the whispers have stopped.

2. Sixteen-year-old Samantha hears whispering. Is it ghosts, or has she just been working in the state mental hospital too long? Also, a visit to the circles of hell.

3. Mia picks up conversations in her retainer, but it's not the local radio station, it's a drug cartel using a government restricted frequency. With the help of two classmates--a conspiracy theorist and a budding actor--Mia will get into more trouble than three teenagers can handle. And maybe save the city.

4. Iggy the busboy must descend into the basement of Bud's Diner. This time he's on a mission to listen to the wireless for an important breakfast order from the French Underground. But the chatter he hears sounds more like a Guy Fawkes plan to blow up Parliament. Has he entered a time tunnel? Or does the free world now depend on himself and savvy waitress Loretta Muldoon?

5. Quiet voices tell Marge to torture small animals, but she doesn't believe in being cruel. They tell her that her parents are zombies; it's kind of cool to help them pretend to be human. On the other hand, Billy Westmeier should have been strangled at birth, long before he became host to a hostile-alien bug colony.

6. As he wanders in the dark on Halloween, hillbilly boy genius Buddy Boone hears whispering voices and realizes he's near the spot where Fred Jones, bootleg distiller, vanished during Prohibition. And he sees a foggy figure in the shrubbery. Plus his iPhone spectral apparition meter app is buzzing.

Original Version

Dear Ms. ,

Whispers is a 74,000-word YA contemporary ghost story which reveals secrets from The Book of the Dead.

Sixteen-year-old Samantha must help a group of whispering ghosts or they won't leave her alone. As she investigates, Samantha realizes there may be supernatural forces at work she cannot control. [She's been tormented by ghosts who won't leave her alone, but she's just now realizing supernatural forces are at work?] [What is she investigating? The ghosts? Or something the ghosts want her to investigate, in which case . . . What?] 

Samantha is compelled by an unseen entity to trudge from the bus to her after-school job as a nurses aide at the Wisconsin State Mental Hospital. [As she'd be going to her after school job anyway, how do we know an unseen entity is compelling her to go? Now that I think about it, am I freely typing at my computer right now, or is an unseen entity compelling me to do so? It's possible everyone in the world is being compelled to do everything they do by unseen entities. Was that the plot of The Matrix?] [Wait, is it the trudging part that's being compelled? She normally skips but now she's trudging? No, everyone normally trudges to their job. Especially if their job is nurses aide at the Wisconsin State Mental Hospital.] Menacing whispers call her name. Aidan, a boy in her psychology class tells her only she can help the undead cross over. [Are you sure the person who told her that wasn't a patient at the Wisconsin State Mental Hospital?] [How does Aiden know she's the one? She consults with a mystic and visits the Circles of Hell with her deceased Mom. [WTF?] Samantha must use what she learns to help the whisperers and her mother by Christmas or all the undead will be sentenced to wander Earth forever. [As ghosts or zombies?] [According to whom?] [How close to Christmas is it?] 

Whispers would fit on the shelf next to The Poison Thread (Laura Purcel [Purcell]), House of Furies (Madeleine Roux), and Asylum (Madeleine Roux). [As it happens, I have those three books on my shelf, and as you can see, your book would not fit next to them:]

At sixteen, like my main character, I worked as a nurses aide in a small-town Wisconsin hospital. The nurse in charge scheduled me to do mortuary care for a patient who had died in her bed the night before. It was so spooky, I kept waiting for the woman to sit up and say something. [Finally she did, but it was in Spanish, which I don't speak, so I clubbed her over the head, and this time she stayed dead.] As a new nurse, I worked nights on a psychiatric unit where many weird things happened that could not be explained and on a unit next to the one where Ed Gein, the serial killer popularized in Psycho, resided. I took first place in a Virginia Romance Writers YA novel contest and second place in a YA State of Florida Competition. My author page at Amazon is [That you've worked as a nurse in a psychiatric institution is relevant. Unless your dead patient said something or the ghost of Ed Gein whispered to you, the rest of this paragraph isn't helpful. More about what happens in the book would be a better use of the space.] 



A book set in a psych ward where Ed Gein is a resident and unexplained things happen sounds more promising than one involving ghosts, unseen entities, a mystic, The Book of the Dead, an undead mother, a visit to the Circles of Hell, and Ed Gein residing in some other ward besides the one where your book is set. 

If the one thing you tell me about your book is that it reveals secrets from The Book of the Dead, it might be better to touch on that in the query instead of on circles of hell and unseen entities etc. All this stuff is okay in the book which is 74,000 words. Working all that into your plot summary, which is a mere seven sentences, could give the impression your book is disorganized at best.

Is there something about Samantha that makes her the ideal person to help the undead cross over? 

Use this outline to summarize the plot, and see if it turns out more coherent:

1. What's Samantha's situation and what's her goal?
2. What's her plan and what obstacles could thwart it?
3. What will happen if she fails to achieve her goal? (Whether to her or to the universe.)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured here would like feedback on the following revision of the query.

Dear Evil Editor,

Natalie wanders the run-down edges of the city in search of superhumans whose uncontrolled powers destroyed their lives. [Assuming Natalie has a last name and the city has a name, use them.] Six years ago, Natalie struggled to gain control of lightning storms that plagued her, and now, she makes sure nobody else has to suffer terrifying super-powered episodes alone. She sends her rehabs home with a carefully crafted lie to explain their absence, and strict commands to hide their powers. Natalie rents in a cramped house with roommates Laura, who reads minds and often gets lost in them, Adam, who can fly (mostly to the six pack shop), and Youssef, who commands the wind to keep neighbors from smelling him smoke pot. [Has Natalie ever given her roommates strict commands to hide their powers?] [Is "six pack shop" a known phrase? Beer is available at convenience stores, grocery stores, package stores...] [Laura, Youssef and Adam probably do something worth mentioning in your synopsis, but they do nothing to advance the plot here, so they can be left out of the query. Or you could move this sentence to the beginning of the query as a way to show what kind of superhumans live in this world.]

One night in search of a new recruit, Natalie instead stumbles into a murder at the hands of the Witnesses, vigilantes who avenge loved ones lost to super-accidents. Natalie escapes, but any of her bumbling friends could be the next victim. Natalie can live lower than usual, moving faster between gig jobs, better hiding her face in public. But if Natalie can hunt the elusive Witnesses back without telling her friends, they’ll be safe again, at the cost of becoming the monster the vigilantes think she is. [So the vigilantes know Natalie is a superhuman?] [The vigilantes aren't gonna change their minds about superhumans if Natalie doesn't hunt them, so she may as well try to eliminate them.]

[This sounds like a good candidate for a graphic novel.] 

[I think something like the following, which may not be totally accurate, would tighten this up:]

Natalie Nettles lives in a cramped boarding house with three roommates: Laura (who reads minds and often gets lost in them); Adam, who can fly (usually to the six pack shop); and Youssef, who commands the wind (mostly to blow away his pot smoke). Natalie has her own power, controlling the lightning storms that once plagued her.

At night, Natalie wanders the run-down edges of Philadelphia in search of other superhumans whose uncontrolled powers destroyed their lives. Her mission: make sure nobody else has to suffer terrifying super-powered episodes alone. She sends her rehabs home with a carefully crafted lie to explain their absence, and strict orders to hide their powers.  

One night, in search of a new recruit, Natalie stumbles into a murder at the hands of the Witnesses, vigilantes who avenge loved ones accidentally lost to blundering superhumans. Natalie flees, but she knows any of her bumbling friends could be the Witnesses' next victim. Natalie can live low, change jobs, hide her face in public, sure. But if she really wants to protect her friends, the hunted must become the hunter--even if it proves she's the monster the vigilantes think she is. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Face-Lift 1402

Guess the Plot


1. Tinker, tailor, beggar-man, thief. In Actorburg, no one is quite who they seem, because, well, they're all actors.

2. When the Republican-led US government bans acting, actress Jenny Davis is confined to an actors re-education institute. Is this the end of her dream to be the next Sandra Bullock? Or will the Democrats regain power? 

3. It started as a social experiment, but now it's gotten out of hand. How can Julia Starling (real name Beth Smith) live life if everyone else in town is also acting their parts?

4. What happens when a bunch of wannabe actors take over an old ghost town set and start a Youtube reality series? Not what they hoped. At least the silver screen ghosts whose graves they disturbed are willing to fight the aliens who were looking to take on a population weakened by a pandemic.

5. The names have been changed. So have the dates, places, and most of the details. It's still the inside skinny on the most famous scandals of golden-age Hollywood.

6. When male actors turn 50, and  females turn 30, the roles dry up. That's when these thespians head for Actorburg, a town where their every action is scripted, "directors" order them around, and the reviews are always glowing.

7. Struggling thespian Titus Lemonjello asks his twin brother, who happens to be the mayor of Los Angeles, for cash to fund his next crappy movie. Things get heated when the request is refused, and Titus accidentally murders him. Seeing an opportunity, Titus assumes his twin's identity, and decides his first order of business will be to rename the city to better represent the kind of people who actually live there.

Original Version

Dear Sir or Madam:

What would America be like without actors? [It would be like Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale (though admittedly all I know about Gilead is what was portrayed in the TV series by actors).] [On the bright side, we wouldn't be subjected to any more Nicholas Cage and Keanu Reeves performances.] That’s the bold premise of Actorburg, my latest literary novel (complete at 127,573 words). [Actorburg sounds like a place devoted to acting, like a movie studio or Hollywood. Not a country without actors.] Because of your interest in a diverse range of literary fiction, I hope that this will be a good fit for us [and by "us" I mean "you," as it's already a good fit for me]. Comparable titles include Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk and Campusland by Scott Johnston. I discovered you in the Poets and Writers Literary Agencies Database. [If you condense that paragraph to one sentence: My book Actorburg is exactly 127,573 words of literary fiction set in America . . . but without actors! you'll save the agent a lot of time. By which I mean she can delete your letter that much faster.]

Actorburg is set in a world in which the Republican-led American government has banned acting and classified the desire to act as a mental illness. 

The novel follows former actor (and teacher) Jenny Davis as she navigates the titular institute (otherwise known as the Southern California Actors Re-Education Institute, or SCARI). There, she must confront many challenges to her liberal beliefs—from the Actorburg staff, her fellow “inmates”, and the quickly-changing outside world. Can she forget about her past and forge a new future for herself, or will her old dreams always have a hold on her heart? [This is the only paragraph that has any information about what happens in your book, and it's all vague. Jenny navigates an institute, confronts challenges, and tries to forge a new future. That's the plot of every Harry Potter book.] [In fact, depending on your definition of "institute," it's the plot of every novel.]

As an “Army brat”, I grew up all over the country, with my favorite state being Alaska. [Sure, take the biggest one. I assume your favorite ocean is the Pacific, your  favorite planet is Jupiter and your favorite rodent is the capybara. Feel free to work those into the query letter too.] In my spare time, I am a freelance magazine editor--most recently for Shannon Media—and editor of the website Adventures in Videoland. My latest novel is The Burgeoning Heart of Bambi Bazooms, published in August 2018. [That's not impressive enough to risk that it'll convince the agent your query is a hoax.] [Also, never use both "titular" and "bazooms" in the same business letter.]

I hope you enjoy reading my novel just as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I look forward to your reply.



Scrap the whole thing. Put together a three-paragraph summary of the plot in which you tell us, with specific information, Jenny's situation, how she plans to change it, and what will happen if she fails. Then tack on a closing paragraph that includes the title, word count, genre. Comparable titles are okay if they're requested and comparable in more ways than genre. Your favorite state can be omitted. The agent won't care about your credits unless they suggest you will put money in her wallet; for example, I have published numerous novels under my pen name, Stephen King. 

Monday, June 01, 2020

Face-Lift 1401

Guess the Plot

The Anomalies

1. Things have been different for a while now. Yet Jake seems to be the only one to notice. Can he convince anyone else of the anomalies or will he be put in the nut house?

2. Natalie doesn't have much use for her super powers, so she spends her time training other superhuman anomalies and protecting them from vigilantes trying to avenge loved ones harmed by super accidents. Hey, it's a living.

3. It's a rare episode of Star Trek in which the Enterprise doesn't encounter a space anomaly, but in this fanfic novel, the ship encounters two anomalies!

4. Who can explain America's latest teen heartthrobs?... They play Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton, and Lawrence Welk, have neatly trimmed hair, no tats, no piercings, and they phone home after every concert. They're . . . The ANOMALIES!

5. When Rebecca sees spots through her telescope, she's not certain if it's aliens or her husband's mascara on the lens. Maybe he's having an affair. With an alien.

6. Felix Strell finds strange numbers in the account books for his customer Big Joe Mahoney. Should he tell the boss he's being scammed? Or try to get in on the action?

7. The five homes on the cul de sac are lived in by the Smiths, The Joneses The Johnsons, the Martins, and the Anomalies. Four of the families live in cookie cutter cottages. The other family lives in a full-size replica of the Eiffel Tower. It's a tall tale.

Original Version

In her spare time between gig jobs, Natalie rescues and trains superhumans whose powers strike like seizures. [Not sure if that means their powers come on unexpectedly, or they resemble actual seizures, or they can't be controlled or something else. And what does she rescue them from?] Years ago, Natalie fled the city to keep her lightning storms from hurting anybody else, [Anybody else besides herself or besides those they already hurt?] but now, Natalie has nothing to use her powers for besides tracing lightning across the sky to help her fall asleep. She rents in a cramped old house with roommates who can read her mind when they’re bored, who fly to the six pack shop to restock on beer, and who command wind to blow the smell of pot out of the yard. [Can all her roommates do all of these things, or is it that she shares a cramped old house with Mentalman, who can read minds, the Buzzard, who can fly (usually to the beer store), and Zephyr, who commands the wind (mostly to blow away the smell of pot)? This way has fewer words, but extra specifics.]

In a search for a new recruit, Natalie instead stumbles into his murder at the hands of the Witnesses, vigilantes who avenge loved ones harmed by super accidents. Natalie fears the destructive past she’s been hiding is to blame, and now everybody she’s saved is in danger. [I don't see why she would fear that, or why everyone she's saved is in danger. Does everyone she's saved have a super power? Because when super-powered beings team up, they often manage to defeat enemies a lot more dangerous than a bunch of human vigilantes. You think the Avengers would worry about the Witnesses when they've had to take on Thanos? Aquaman alone could handle the Witnesses.] [I might drop the last sentence, and work the information in the previous sentence into the next paragraph.]

When one of Natalie’s trainees has a public accident [That sounds embarrassing.] that draws the elusive Witnesses closer, Natalie can run and risk that the vigilantes know [discover] her secret, [If the vigilantes don't already know her secret, why was she afraid her past was to blame for the murder? Isn't her past the secret? I'm not sure running would give away her secret, unless she can run like the Flash. Running is what someone without a secret power would do. It's staying and attacking the vigilantes with lightning that would give away her secret.] or find a way to hunt the vigilantes back, saving her friends but proving the vigilantes were right to fear superhumans. [The vigilantes' motive was supposedly revenge for harm to their loved ones. If fear of anomalies is their main motive, no need to mention the revenge factor, as there are probably a lot more people who fear them than who lost loved ones to their accidents.]

THE ANOMALIES is a 95,000 word superhuman/science fiction novel that will appeal to fans of VICIOUS by V.E. Schwab, CHOSEN ONES by Veronica Roth, and Taika Waititi’s WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. I studied Slavic Literature at the University of Pittsburgh with a focus on classics and science fiction. [Okay, I can buy people who fly and control weather and read minds, but no way do I buy that anyone would willingly study Slavic literature.]

Thank you for your time,


How often do superhumans have accidents? I'll admit it's likely that thousands of people die whenever comic book superheroes battle super villains, and that the editors fudge the numbers, but it sounds like your superheroes have retired, so there shouldn't be a lot of accidental deaths.

The voice is good. What I want to have clearly stated is what is Natalie's secret from her destructive past (Is it just that she's Lightning Woman?), what exactly will happen if the Witnesses discover it (It somehow reveals the identity of everyone she ever saved?), and how she plans to prevent this.

The superhumans don't seem all that super. Have they vowed not to use their powers for good because of the accidents? If they're willing to fly to the beer store, they ought to be willing to fly to their fortress of solitude to avoid the Witnesses.

When I plug "anomaly" into the search box at the top left of this blog, several old Face-Lifts come up. Maybe looking at them would be instructive or at least entertaining.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Face-Lift 1400!

Guess the Plot

Don't Let Me Fall

1. Falling happens all the time in dreams. Except now people are dying from it. Can Steven figure out how to wake up in time?

2. "Don't let me fall," Ikenna prays after a lifetime (or more) fighting demons. But if he wants to escape this life, he must first escape the grasp of his self-righteous priest. Growing up in 1969 Brooklyn isn't exactly Easy Street.

3. An emotional look at what goes through the mind of a man who has worked hard and sacrificed love, happiness, and financial security to finally stand at the top of his chosen profession, on a quivering steel cable stretched between two skyscrapers.

4. Alicia books an adventure trip through the Himalayas to get over her ex. Unfortunately, her ex has the same idea. Since neither is willing to cancel, they're stuck working together, getting to see another side of one another, and once again falling in... Nope, not gonna happen.

5. It was a simple request, but the audience reaction as Luigi watched his brother Lorenzo plummet toward the big top sawdust told him that the Flying Credenzas had found the routine that would breathe new life into the family's circus act, though not, unfortunately, into Lorenzo. But just as thrill-hungry crowds peak, Lorenzo comes back... and he's hungry for brains.

6. When his best friend convinces Elgin, who suffers from vertigo, to go rock climbing, the results are predictably hilarious, except for the part where Elgin falls to his death. Actually, that part is pretty funny too.  

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Ikenna of Mantika knows slavery was a choice but fighting demons for the last 200 years wasn’t.

Forced to babysit the Ijinde family and protect it’s [its] members from their spiritual skeletons, Ikenna grows tired of having his freedom tied to someone else’s. When he [his] latest ward and friend is murdered as part of an overzealous High Priest’s plan for reparations, Ikenna decides enough is enough, he need [needs] a way out of this life. But when his search for an escape route leads him into the hands of the self-righteous Priest can Ikenna escape his grasp without endangering the Ijinde bloodline or will he risk everything to be free of his curse? [I have a lot of questions, and you have room to answer some of them in the query.

1. Did Ikenna choose to be a slave or choose not to? What was the other choice?

2. What are spiritual skeletons? Demons?

3. Whose freedom is Ikenna's freedom tied to? The Ijinde family's? If he's "forced" to protect the family, it sounds like he doesn't have freedom.

4. A High Priest has a plan for reparations . . . for descendants of slaves? How does murdering Ikenna's friend aid in this plan?

5. If Ikenna wants out of his role as protector of the Ijinde family, why does he still feel obligated to protect their bloodline? Why is endangering their bloodline a bad thing?

6. What are the terms of his curse?

7. He has the ability to fight demons for 200 years without getting killed, like an immortal superhero, but he can't rid himself of the Ijindes or some Priest?

8. You as if he will he risk everything. What everything? He's unhappy with his current situation, so what does he have that he risks losing?]

Don't Let Me Fall is a 95,000 word standalone adult urban fantasy with potential for expansion into a series. It is my first novel and the bulk of the story takes place in 1989 Brooklyn [Wait, what? This is set in Brooklyn? Maybe you could mention that in the plot summary. I felt like I was reading about the fictional kingdom of Mantika on the Gohr prison planet, Lycus IV.] and I drew heavily from my experience growing up there to come up with the world of this story.[Change that last sentence into two by eliminating one of the "ands". Or eliminate the part about it being your first novel. It's unlikely the reader will care how many unpublished novels you've written, and she knows if your number of published novels is greater than zero, you'd be trumpeting that fact in sentence 1.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

*The title for this book comes from a prayer Ikenna says regularly in the book.


You don't need to answer all my questions, I'm just saying that the query needs a lot more clarity, and since no one will complain if you take eight or ten sentences to summarize your plot, you can spell out some of this stuff that seems obvious to you but not so much to those who haven't read the book.

Just because you mention the Brooklyn Bridge in the book doesn't mean you've drawn heavily from your experience--although I have no doubt there were plenty of overzealous priests in Brooklyn in 1969.

The most common summary format is three paragraphs:

1. Who's your main character, what's his situation, and what does he want?

2. What's his plan to get it, what are his obstacles, what goes wrong, what's his plan B?

3. What choice must he make that will determine if he succeeds or fails, and what's at stake, i.e. what will happen if he fails?

This format may not work with every book, but it's a good way to organize your thoughts.

Also, those three careless errors in paragraph 2 may convince the reader that the book is riddled with careless errors. 

Monday, May 04, 2020

Face-Lift 1399

Guess the Plot

A Fable of the Faceless

1. In a world where some people have noses but no mouths, ears, or eyes, while other people have only ears or only eyes or only mouths, people must work together to accomplish anything. Assuming they can find anyone else.

2. Paglio was the star of clown school until someone stole his face paint. Now he's down among the faceless, juggling bowling pins, knives, and thoughts of homicide.

3. Anna's BFF convinced her not to eat anything with a face, but now she's seeing faces on mollusks, plants, and even Twinkies. Is someone trying to kill her? Also a nutritional spiritualist.

4. There's a fox who can't reach the potatoes on a high branch, and a crow who's on the branch. But neither of them has a face, so they don't even know there are potatoes. They can't even see each other. Moral: Worry about big problems, not the ones that are small potatoes.

5. Convinced she and her gorgeous family have got what it takes to become social media influencers, Billie enlists a bit of demonic assistance. She sells her soul to get millions of Facebook followers. Sadly, her hard-of-hearing helper gives her millions of faceless followers instead. Hilarity ensues when she discovers her fans have a taste for braaaains!

6. For Guido, life as a faceless minion means avoiding the heroes who come to fight the evil overlord, feeding the slime colony without being eaten, and making sure the red dye in his uniform doesn't bleed into his linens, because no one takes a minion with pink undies seriously.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I'm writing you today with my pitch for my offbeat fantasy novel, "A Fable of the Faceless."

Imagine, if you will, a very different world in which the senses we take for granted – sight, smell, taste, and sound – are not the domain of all mankind [Not sure "domain" is the right word. Maybe they're not all innate in mankind?] but instead divided across four races, each as distinct in culture as they are in appearance.

Kah is a sighted strider, born with a pair of deep blue eyes but no ears, no nose, and no mouth. [Just because you can't smell, taste, or hear shouldn't mean you don't have a nose, mouth or ears. Don't striders have to breathe, eat, and attach their earrings to something?] [People with mouths are the only ones who can taste, but are they also the only ones who eat?] [If a woman with a mouth needs a root canal, does she look for a dentist among her own mouthed people or among the sighted? I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with a blind dentist.] [Actually, the sighted would have all the best jobs: dentist, surgeon, cab driver, house painter . . . Meanwhile, tho only job you could get if all you had was a nose would be smoke detector.] Together with her fellows, she has lived a nomadic life, travelling the world in search of new and novel sights. [Other people travel the world in search of novel sounds or smells.] One day, just outside a vast and inhospitable desert, she spots a young boy babbling to himself and wandering aimlessly. Without a set of eyes or ears or even a nose to guide him, he is surely doomed to die. [Actually, he's the only one who's not doomed to die, as he can both eat and breathe.] [Maybe instead of babbling, the boy should be yelling, "Hey is there someone with ears around who can hear me and help me find someone with eyes to take me home?"] 

Against her better judgement and the direct orders of her captain, Kah leaves behind the only life she’s ever known to help him find his way home. Along the way they are joined by a vigilant listener whose people carry lyres and communicate through a language of pure music, [See, now if they had no tongues to taste with, but still had mouths for breathing, they could use harmonicas, which are easier to carry than lyres and when you want to communicate that you're feeling down, it's easier to play the blues on a harmonica than on a lyre.] and a mysterious benosed stranger with a brutal reputation and a mission of retribution. [He wants revenge on the guy who hung a durian around his neck.]

At first, just finding ways to communicate is their greatest challenge – after all, how do you speak with no mouth, or listen with no ears? But they will have to learn fast. Their world is not without its dangers. Enormous reptilian beasts stalk the wilderness, leaving carnage behind them in their wake. [What? You wait until the query is almost over before mentioning the only characters that have any chance of being alive when the book ends?] And behind the walls of civilization a cult of fire-worshiping earfolk expands its influence and grows deadly in its fanaticism. [Sorry, but I can't take seriously a ruthless fanatical cult whose members all carry lyres.]

At 85,000 words, “The peons of Peonia” will be my first published novel. [That sounds like the title of a different book. Maybe it's the title of your second published novel.] I would be delighted to send a detailed synopsis, sample chapters, or the entire manuscript. I appreciate your time and interest in my work and I look forward to hearing from you.



I Googled "Faceless person" and clicked on images. Pretty much all of the images had ears. So either ears aren't considered part of the face, or Google could only find images of earfolk.

Also, most of the images were creepy. It's hard to focus on the story when you have creepy images of faces that have only mouths or noses in your brain. Of course, in Peonia, only people with eyes are subjected to these images. People with normal faces whose senses don't work would make this concept easier to swallow. Of course, in Peonia, only people with mouths have to swallow it.

Assuming you've really managed 85,000 words in this world, you need a query that focuses on Kah's goal, her plan, her obstacles, and what's at stake if she fails. All we have is she wants to help a kid find his way home while avoiding reptilian monsters.