Monday, February 04, 2019

Feedback Request

The author of the query most recently seen here would like feedback on the following version:

Ratman, a giant rat with mind control abilities and an annoying habit of turning invisible, is on the loose. That’s not exactly what twelve-year-old Cody was expecting when he snuck into a secret underground city.

But why is that freaky fur-face attacking him--and only him?

Maybe it’s because Cody’s from the surface, and outsiders are absolutely not allowed. Or maybe it’s because everyone else down there has awesome paranormal abilities like reading minds and levitating objects.

Cody suspects it’s because he’s been searching for the missing Detectors, the underground people who protect the city from natural disasters and invading beasts. If he finds them, he’ll be a hero and he’s sure the city leaders will let him stay. [Why should a 12-year-old kid who's unfamiliar with this place be able to find the Detectors when the people with awesome paranormal powers who live there can't?] 

Whatever the reason, Ratman has already pushed Cody down the Devil’s Mouth hole, roasted him with a hot crystal, and tried to drown him in the river. But since Cody is the only one who ever sees the giant rat, no one else believes Ratman even exists.

Now Cody’s determined to hunt down Ratman in order to find the Detectors and save the city from whatever this whiskered weirdo is plotting--or at least before Ratman’s next attack actually kills him.


Not clear why Cody wants to stay in a place where he's absolutely not allowed to be and where he's already been attacked three times by a creature that wants him dead.

In any case, this is mostly setup. We know Cody's situation and his goal but how does he plan to achieve this goal? What goes wrong when he puts his plan into action? If he's choosing to be here instead of going home, why? What will happen if he fails to find the Detectors?

If you trim your query down to:

Ratman, a giant rat with mind control abilities and an annoying habit of turning invisible, is on the loose. That’s not what twelve-year-old Cody was expecting when he snuck into a secret underground city whose residents all have awesome paranormal powers.

But why is that freaky fur-face attacking him--and only him?

Cody suspects it’s because he’s been searching for the missing Detectors, the underground people who protect the city from natural disasters and invading beasts. If he finds them, he’ll be a hero and he’s sure the city leaders will let him stay, instead of sending him back to his horrible abusive parents.

... you'll have room  to tell us something that happens. For instance:

Cody figures the Detectors are being held captive by Ratman. If he can follow the creature, to his lair, he might be able to free them, but so far he almost dies every time he gets near Ratman. Obviously he's gonna need help from . . . who else? Batman!

If the other people are also looking for the Detectors, why is Ratman only attacking Cody? If they aren't looking for the Detectors, why not?

Friday, February 01, 2019

Feedback Request

The author of the opening featured in New Beginning 1029 would like feedback on the following revision:

The trees didn’t say a word. They never did. They watched.

Well today, I watched them right back. I stood in the middle of the dog park, staring at the woods in the distance. The sun roasted my shoulders right through my Green Lantern t-shirt, but I didn’t move.

Every day those freaky trees huddled along the back of the dog park like giant green aliens studying me for some crazy experiment. But today, their leaves flickered in the breeze as if a million green fingers were reaching out, begging me to come inside.

What were those trees hiding in there?

Of course Mom’s warning blared in my brain. I mean it, Cody, she’d said a bazillion times. It’s too dangerous. Gangs and drug addicts hang out in those woods. I don’t care what the other boys do. You’re never to go in there. Understand, Cody? Never.

Never? C’mon. Is never supposed to mean not ever for the rest of my life?


I'm not crazy about the trees as aliens simile. Why would the trees behind the dog park look any more like aliens than the trees he sees hundreds of other places?

Cody is probably smart enough to know that even if "never" doesn't mean for eternity, it also doesn't mean he can go in right now.

You don't lose much of anything if you start:

I stood in the middle of the dog park, staring at the trees in the distance. Mom’s warning blared in my brain: I mean it, Cody. It’s too dangerous. Gangs and drug addicts hang out in those woods. I don’t care what the other boys do. You’re never to go in there. Understand, Cody? Never.

Never? Come on. "Never," I decided, didn't mean never. It's just a word grownups say when they mean "not today." 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1212 would like feedback on the following version of the query:

When a giant rat terrorizes his underground city, twelve-year-old Cody’s got some exterminating to do. 

Cody is fed up with his too-busy-to-care divorced parents and runs away. Then he discovers a secret underground city with crystal caves, slugs-and-bugs soup, and new friends with awesome abilities like reading minds and blending in with nature like a chameleon.

Best. Home. EVER.

But Cody’s adventures take a dark turn when the Detectors, the people who protect the underground city, start disappearing. Without their warnings, the city could get blind-sided by earthquakes, floods, or invasions by deadly beasts.

Cody isn’t about to let his new home come crashing down around him, but every time he tries to help find the Detectors, a mutant man-sized rat attacks him. Ratman roasts Cody with a hot crystal, pushes him down the Devil’s Mouth hole, and tries to drown him in the river. But since Ratman has a talent for mind control, and an annoying habit of turning invisible, no one else believes the freaky fur-face even exists. [Starting that sentence with "But" led me to think you were going to explain why Ratman's attacks failed to get the job done. Perhaps you should explain that there, and start the next paragraph: Because Ratman turns invisible when anyone besides Cody is around. . . .]

Cody knows it’s up to him hunt down Ratman in order to save the Detectors and the city from whatever this whiskered weirdo is plotting-or at least before Ratman’s next attack actually kills him. Looks like Cody’s got some exterminating to do. (Will eliminate this sentence if I keep the hook.)

RATMAN'S REVENGE, my middle grade adventure story complete at 54,000 words, may [should] appeal to readers of Brandon Mull's Fablehaven.  May I send you the manuscript?

Thank you for your time.


You've taken much of the advice the minions provided way back when, and it's an improvement.

As paragraph 2 precedes paragraph 1 chronologically, if you keep P1, Change P2 to past tense.

It probably reads better without the hook, but that puts Ratman too far down in the query. You could work him into what would be the first sentence: Fed up with his too-busy-to-care divorced parents, Cody runs away to a secret underground city with crystal caves, slugs-and-bugs soup, chameleon people . . . and a mutant man-sized rat that keeps attacking him.

This would require changing the rest of the query somewhat, but that might be a good thing if it gives you room to tell us how Cody plans to defeat Ratman and what goes wrong, and what  happens if he fails.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1390 (below this post) would like feedback on this version of her query.

Dear Evil Editor,

Eighteen-year-old Mea Gwen has all the tools to thrive in a 22nd-century society consumed by money, power, and virtual realities. Too bad she couldn’t care less. She would rather join America’s first Intragalactic Pioneer Program than stay on Earth, even if that means leaving her family’s multi-billion dollar tech company behind.

But before she can experience life among the stars, Mea’s kidnapped by the Reformers, a terrorist group led by the creators of a popular VR game. To prove that the elite aren’t untouchable, the Reformers force the richest of the rich to participate in a deadly competition, and winning is Mea’s only hope for survival. Determined to get back home, Mea promises to do whatever it takes to reach the number one spot.

As she’s pulled deeper into the game, Mea discovers that the Reformers are part of a political conspiracy to gain authoritarian control of America. Either she follows their rules to [possibly] save herself, or she risks her life stopping a plan that would break an already divided country.

A PAWN OF SEDITION is a 90,000-word Young Adult science fiction novel with culturally diverse characters. It delves into the issue of social and economic division and will appeal to fans of Warcross by Marie Lu and The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee.

Thank you for your consideration,

(Not part of the query: I tried to rewrite the query to focus more on the science fiction aspects, but I'm scared it might've added more confusion and unnecessary questions.)


This is much more intriguing and informative, and I don't have many questions. While I'm interested in whether Mea has to kill other contestants to win, as in The Hunger Games, or whether she's indirectly responsible for their deaths by winning, you've at least said that winning is the only hope for survival.

It's possible some reader could at first misinterpret "Either she follows their rules to save herself, or she risks her life . . . " not as her choice, but as cause and effect. If it said "She must choose: either follow their rules and possibly save herself, or risk her life trying to stop a plan that would break an already divided country." there'd be no ambiguity.

Of course since she's not guaranteed to win the competition, and the Reformers can't be trusted to spare her life if she does win, her life is at stake no matter which choice she makes. She might have a much better chance of survival by trying to stop them, depending on the skill level of her opponents in the competition. Like if the competition is one-on-one basketball, and the other competitors include LeBron James and Kevin Durant, even a 1% chance of stopping the Reformers would be worth the risk. But that's more a concern in the book than in the query.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Face-Lift 1390

Guess the Plot

A Pawn of Sedition

1. Armenian chess master, Ivana Sedition, reveals the secret to her five year run of spectacular wins: the pawns were dictating play to her all along. 

2. Fifteen year old Casey Robbins is sick of being used in his parents' endless war with each other. So tonight he's got Mom's sewing scissors, and when Dad goes to sleep on the couch, Casey's going to end this mess once and for all.

3. Kidnapped by terrorists, Mea must follow their rules to survive. Or she could risk her life trying to stop their plan to kill millions of people. Millions of people who, let's face it, are going to die eventually anyway.

4. Hearse was accepted as Pawn for the Sedition Order, but he has higher aspirations, namely Knighthood. However, to become a Knight, he must make his way across the land, avoiding the Obedience Cult who will stop at nothing to capture him.

5. Queen Mirahda has been trapped in her loveless marriage to King Roneda for thirty long years. Her last hope for revenge against her cruel husband is her 16 year old son, Guthry. Armed with Guthry, her son-in-law Prince Tephy and loyal wizard Demitus, she's ready to launch her play to remove the King. Unfortunately, Guthry is autistic and only interested in wagons and numbers. Can her coup succeed?

6. After being kidnapped by aliens, Lyle creates an Anarchist's Cookbook for his fellow slaves in an attempt to sow enough internal dissension that he can make a break for freedom. Unfortunately, he succeeds too well, becoming the galaxy's go-to agitator, and the only thing stopping a militarized hegemony from conquering Earth.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Eighteen-year-old Mea Gwen knows that to prosper in a society consumed by money, power, and lies, one has to understand the basic tenets of 22nd century America:

People in poverty didn’t work hard enough.

Races can’t get along, so don’t even try.

Facts don’t matter; truth is subjective. [Wait, those are the basic tenets of 21st-century America.]

Luckily Mea has all the tools to thrive — fame, wealth, and her family’s multi-billion dollar tech company. Too bad she couldn’t care less. Wary of the dark world of business, Mea would rather join the first Intergalactic Pioneer Program and spend her days discovering new planets.

But before she can experience life among the stars, a terrorist group calling themselves the Reformers bombs mega bank, United Finances. Their first attack kills hundreds, but it’s only the beginning. Claiming [Vowing] to bring back economic justice, [I'd go with "establish." You can't bring back something that never existed.] the Reformers begin kidnapping the richest of the rich, striking fear through [into?] every designer-wearing floosy [plutocrat? capitalist?] in the country. When the group finds its way [Reformers find their way] to Mea and her company, her trip to through space becomes a distant dream.

Now stuck in the Reformers’ murderous scheme, Mea finds herself twisted [entwined? caught?] in a political conspiracy that threatens the lives of millions. Either she follows their rules to survive, or she risks her life stopping a plan that could break an already divided country. [If Mea is one of their kidnap victims, I don't see that she's also involved in their conspiracy. What do they want her to do?]

A PAWN OF SEDITION, is a 90,000-word Young Adult science fiction novel that delves into the issue of social and political division. The story unfolds using a mix of hacked documents and standard narrative.

Thank you for your consideration,


It seems more likely that the Reformers would throw all the billionaires into prison than involve them in their conspiracy and trust them to follow their rules.

I want to hear more about how the lives of millions are threatened by the Reformers. It sounds like their goals go well beyond economic justice, so maybe you can let us in on what Mea learns about their true agenda.

The only hint that this is science fiction is that Mea hopes to go into space and look for new planets. It might as well be set in 2018 and she wants to be an astronaut. Can you work something into the query about the science or how the 22nd century is different from the 21st?

You're spending the entire plot summary setting up Mea's situation. We want to know what she plans to do, what goes wrong, what her plan b is. If you condense your first six paragraphs into something like this:

Eighteen-year-old Mea Gwen has all the tools to thrive in a 22nd-century society consumed by money, power, and lies, but Mea would rather ditch her family’s multi-billion dollar tech company, join the first Intragalactic Pioneer Program, and spend her days discovering new planets. Unfortunately, before she can experience life among the stars, she's kidnapped by the Reformers, a terrorist group who've vowed to establish economic justice throughout the country (world?).

... you'll have plenty of room to tell us what happens after she's kidnapped.

Note that I changed "Intergalactic" (between galaxies) to "Intragalactic" (within our galaxy). Inter seems a bit optimistic for the 22nd century. We haven't even explored Uranus yet.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Face-Lift 1389

Guess the Plot

Shadow Blade

1. Half-human, half demon Jake finds himself in the unenviable position of keeping common folk from stepping through the gate of Pandemonium. Armed with the demon sword Nightforcer, he leaves his human self behind and becomes--Shadow Blade. At least, when his mother lets him.

2. Mara finds a dull dagger in her family's shed. While the physical blade can't cut anything, its shadow is the sharpest she's seen. Now with war on the horizon, can she save the family homestead or will she always remain in shadow?

3. Jen enrolls in a culinary school where the pastry chef is invisible, the pixies steal her bread homework, and the chickens tell her what she's doing wrong while she dismembers them for stew. When a relationship with the hottest guy in school wreaks havoc on her ability to control cooking temperature, does she still have a chance to win the coveted Shadow Blade awarded at the year-end cooking competition? Includes recipes adapted to the mundane world.

4. Some preternatural beings have the ability to heal. Kit has the opposite power: The ability to kill with her mind (also known as "shadow blade"). It would make her a valuable weapon if war breaks out, but not wanting to be used by Parliament as a weapon, she goes into hiding. But can she hide for an entire novel? Also, a vampire.

5. Sir Donald decides to attack the black knight's shadow with the shadow of his sword. But his blade unexpectedly ends up stuck in the ground, leaving him defenseless as a volley of blows rains upon him. Hey, it was worth a try.

6. When assassin-in-training Liffelio loses his shadow blade in the darkest part of Night City, he'll need to find another way to take out his training target--the iffy comedienne Carla-Arla--without actually killing her, but proving he easily could have, while getting involved but not letting it get personal; and keep his instructor thinking he still has the shadow blade while simultaneously looking for it and trying to buy a new one. 

7. Half devil, half angel Tonner walks the earth in search of entrances to Hell or Heaven. He kills their keepers with his holy Shadow Blade, then sucks their vitality with the sword. Yep, Jim Harris is convinced that this superhero he's created will sell to Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse. Then maybe he can pay his Mom rent for living in the basement.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When the psychic Parliament orders her keeper to remove the bind that's kept her abilities locked inside her head the past few years, Kit Chase is thrilled. [I'm not crazy about three pronouns appearing before their antecedent is mentioned. It would be easy for a reader to assume the "her"s refer to the psychic Parliament. Or that the first "her" refers to the psychic Parliament and the next two refer to the psychic Parliament's keeper. Admittedly we don't think of a Parliament as female, but we also don't think of one as psychic, and in a fantasy novel some author might decide to call the ruler of a kingdom its Parliament rather than its queen. Perhaps: Kit Chase is thrilled when her keeper removes the bind that has kept Kit's abilities locked inside her head for years.] She would be more thrilled if she didn't suspect ulterior motives behind the order. After all, the Parliament's not exactly known for its charity and, having been raised around the machinations of vampires and Fae, Kit recognizes a hidden agenda when she sees it.

Her suspicions are borne out when she finds their interest [Presumably "their" refers to the psychic Parliament, not to her suspicions or to vampires and Fae? If so, I note that in the previous sentence you used singular "its" as the pronoun referring to the Parliament, and now you're using plural "their." Assuming the Parliament consists of more than one being, I'd go with "their" consistently.] stems from her ability to kill with kinesis, the rarely seen counterpart to the healing ability. [It sounds like you want "antithesis" rather than "counterpart."] So rarely [seen], in fact, she's unaware she has the ability until she's made to execute a prisoner. [I don't think the fact that a power is rarely seen has anything to do with whether a person knows she has it. For instance, most of the members of the Justice League and the X-men and the Avengers have rarely-seen powers, but they all know they have them. I would change "stems from her ability to kill with kinesis, the rarely seen counterpart to the healing ability. So rarely, in fact, she's unaware she has the ability until she's made to execute a prisoner" to "stems from her ability to kill with kinesis, a power she's unaware she has until she's made to execute a prisoner." Or you could change she's unaware to she doesn't suspect, which makes sense if it's extremely rare.] Mutterings of war with the rest of the preternatural community follow swiftly amongst the Parliament members. [You're saying the members of Parliament mutter about going to war with the other preternatural beings because having Kit on their side would assure victory? Aren't the members of Parliament part of the preternatural community? If the British Parliament had a super-powerful weapon, they wouldn't declare war on the British people. They'd declare war on America.] 

Kit's not the type to take orders well, especially when they include the words 'preternatural war' and 'weapon'. Disappearing into the human world sounds like a fine way to avoid those words. She doesn't realize it's going to set the entire preternatural community after her, including the vampire that raised her mother and refused to take her in after the death of her parents.

Hiding from the Parliament is easy. Hiding from the vampire that taught you to track, not so much. Preventing a war that would destroy a millennia of peace and spill over into the human world? Impossible. But then, people say the same thing about kinesis.

My debut novel, SHADOW BLADE, is urban fantasy complete at 93K words. Thank you for your time and consideration.



A lot of blue words, but mostly for minor stuff.

There's been peace for a thousand years, but as soon as Kit shows she can kill one person with kinesis, Parliament is ready to go to war? Why?

"Kinesis" means movement, right? I don't think it's clear what Kit does to kill someone. Does she just think, Die!? Or is there some movement involved? The word "kinesis" isn't self-explanatory.

Not sure how they knew Kit had this power when they made her kill a prisoner, or how they explained to her how it works, but I'd have been afraid she'd turn the power on me after I made her kill a stranger.

I wouldn't bring up the psychic Parliament in sentence 1. No one will know what that means. I'm still not sure what it means. They're all psychic? I'm guessing they rule over all preternaturals? I'd give them a better name.

A woman who can kill with some rare power and goes into hiding to avoid becoming a weapon of war is intriguing. Even if everyone else including the one tracking her is human. That she's being tracked by a vampire seems to detract from the main conflict. Did you make him a vampire because she could easily kill anyone who isn't already dead? 

Possibly you could tell us what Kit's goal is, and how she plans to achieve it. Right now all she does is run and hide. Does she do anything that could help prevent a war? Does it work, or does something go wrong? Does she have a difficult decision to make?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Face-Lift 1388

Guess the Plot

An Army of One

1. When all the 0's in computer binary land go on strike, it's up to one 1 to save the universe or destroy it. Think of a cross between _The Dot and the Line_ and _Tron_, stone-age style.

2. During the Daco-Romano wars of 101 to 106 A.D., one man, Darius, decides to take on the Roman Empire. He knows this would be easier with an army, but his fellow villagers refuse to help because they suspect Darius of murdering a shepherd. So now Darius has two enemies: his fellow villagers . . . and the 300,000-man army of the Roman Empire.

3. Sir Charles has declared war upon the kingdom of Ponce. As the sun rises on the first day of battle, the archers and swordsmen of Ponce are lined up on the western edge of the Valley of Death. Standing alone on the eastern edge, Sir Charles has just realized he may have been a bit hasty. Also, a dragon, not that it helps Sir Charles in any way.

4. Hannibal has been assigned to this remote outpost in the pass for two years running. After the plague took everyone else, he is the lone survivor running it, and the latest message indicates an army is on its way. What is one poor soldier to do?

5. Horace Steampuff loves being a keyboard warrior. Feminists, greens, religious minorities, people of colour, anti-gun lobby, anybody who uses the word 'privilege' . . . he blasts them all mercilessly in the comments section. Until one day he emerges from his mother's basement . . . 

6. When you're the sole life form on a planet, you're the only army you've got when aliens invade. Fortunately, these Lialian invaders mistakenly believe Eli-Eli to be the sole means of saving their species, so he'll be safe, at least until they realize he's a criminal who was abandoned here for crimes against the galaxy.

Original Version

Dear Mrs. Jackson:

Darius Komozai, the leader of a small village in southern Dacia named Aricdava, is on the defensive forefront with the most powerful regime on earth. The Roman Empire. Although, defending won’t come easy as Darius is accused of murdering his own shepeard [shepherd] by his town rival, Thiamarkos, In a plot to overthrow Darius for power. [If those last eight words are supposed to be a sentence, there should be a period instead of a comma after Thiamarkos. However, those last eight words aren't a sentence, so you should un-capitalize "In."] Furthermore, stirring up conflict and tension within the village. [That isn't a sentence either. I'd just delete it, since you've already made it clear that there's conflict and tension in the village.] [Also, it's hard to buy the murder of a shepherd as the reason defending a small village against the approaching Roman army won't come easy.]

With Darius’s popularity in the village going down, he sets out into [for] the neighboring villages in an attempt to put together a defense group against the approaching Roman Army. All while back in Arcidava, [That's not how you spelled in in the 1st sentence.] Thiamarkos strikes a deal with the Romans. In which if he and the village ally against Darius, It would result in Thaimarkos [That's not how you spelled it the first two times.] being the new ruler. [I usually think of kings and queens when I see the term "ruler."] [Similar punctuation issues. Why is "It" capitalized if it's not a new sentence?] [I don't see what advantage this deal gives the Roman Empire. They don't need an alliance against Darius and his few recruits. They could overrun the village, killing everyone in it as if they're ants.]

With Darius set to come back to the village with freshly recruited men, he is not welcomed back and is kicked out. Forcing him to relocate with his militia to another village. [Not a sentence; part of the previous sentence.] He is now forced to remake his plans, as he not only has one enemy in the Romans; but an enemy in his town. [That's like saying, Not only is he trapped in a pit full of tigers, there's an annoying fruit fly buzzing around his head.]

Complete at 90,000 words, THE ARMY OF ONE is a young adult historical fiction that is based on the Daco-Romano wars of 101 to 106 A.D.

As Romanian-American, I feel as If [Don't capitalize "If."] Romania is often overlooked  [known more] for its problems rather than It’s [its] rich history. [Actually, it's not known for its problems; it's known for Dracula. And to a lesser extent, Nadia Com─âneci.] This story is my attempt at bringing awareness to Romania’s history, the struggles, and how much blood was shed in the making of this country. [You haven't actually mentioned Romania until now, and while what was once known as Dacia does include modern day Romania, Moldova, and parts of a half dozen other countries, the person reading the query may never have heard of Dacia. Perhaps when the first sentence mentions southern Dacia, you might add (modern-day Romania) so we know what part of the world you're bringing awareness to. Is Romania ever mentioned by name in the book?]

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Best regards,


I hope this wasn't an attempt to get me to do your homework.

Writing a 90,000-word book is a major accomplishment, but you need a stronger command of English before trying to sell it. Or . . . Can you write in Romanian? 

As for the story, setting this village's political conflict during the time of the Roman Empire is fine, but when the Roman army moves on the village, we tend to stop caring whether Darius or Thiamarkos is the mayor. Is your story 300 vs The Roman Empire, or Darius vs Thiamarkos? 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Face-Lift 1387

Guess the Plot

Infinitely Stranger

1. On the scale of ordinary to bizarre, Billy Bledsoe's talking thumb is something else. 

2. It started with a bird on her ceiling. Then her doorbell ringing at 5 past 6 o'clock every night. Now there's a holly bush growing in her kitchen. Molly is regretting saving that fairy from a fox last Tuesday. 

3. First there was the partridge. Then more birds. The rings were okay, but the geese and swans were a nuisance. Now the drummers and pipers and leaping men are driving Eloise crazy. She's beginning to think Bradley isn't her true love, after all.

4. Cellist Cameron Rhone has discovered that a man he knows is actually a robot. An investigation reveals that other people he knows are also robots. What the...? In fact, robots are permeating all of society! And taking over people's minds! Only Cameron can save humanity, but what can one 12-year-old kid do?

 5. Adam has just met a wonderful woman. They laughed and danced and talked for hours. He told her everything about his life. The next day, she can't remember any of it, but he happily goes through it all over again. The day after, she's forgotten it all again. Will he have the patience to keep this up, or are they destined to be strangers forever? Also … something. I forget what.

Time traveling, world hopping, shape changing, genre bending--no, it's not sci-fi: it's American political studies from a historian-turned-philosopher-turned-anarchist.

7. Joe Miles lives in an average house in suburbia, works an average job in a small town, and has an average family. Then things get so strange that by the end of the story you'll wonder if Joe is crazy, or they are (but the author isn't, honest).

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Twelve year-old Cameron Rhone has served his share of detention, usually for skipping class to practice his cello in the music room. But nothing prepares him for the trouble he gets into when he accidentally hits the strange new principal, Mr. Haley, in the head with a golf ball—and the principal short circuits.

To keep Cameron quiet about what he knows now [now knows], Mr. Haley threatens to implant an electric-shock training device in his skull that’ll turn him into a perfect, obedient student. As the principal alters the curriculum, adds new rules, and gradually replaces human staff members with more robots, Cameron’s frustration grows. Fearing his beloved music teacher, Mrs. Kessum, will soon be replaced by an artless machine, he teams up with his cousin Sing, a self-proclaimed superhero, and searches for answers. ["and searches for answers" is vague. Answers to how to stop it? To what Haley is up to? Something like: "to nip Mr. Haley's scheme in the bud" or "to foil Mr. Haley's master plan" would be more specific.]

As secrets are uncovered, Cameron begins to realize [That could be more specific as well: While spying on an after-school teachers meeting, Cameron discovers that] the robots are not only invading his school but permeating society—and the minds of everyone. With the help of a mysterious girl who may have psychic powers, [What's mysterious about her? I would just call her a psychic girl. If it turns out in the book that she's not psychic, no one will care what you said in the query.] a rouge android, [We don't need to know the android's color. Oh, wait, did you mean a rogue android?] and his cousin Sing, Cameron, while struggling to deal with his parents’ separation, sets out to reclaim his life—and humanity—from the Machines.

INFINITELY STRANGER, a 68,000-word Middle grade science-fiction novel, is available upon request. I have a Bachelor’s in English and a Master’s in Library Science. I am currently a librarian on Long Island. (As far as I know, my neighbors are human). This is my first MG novel.

Thank you for your consideration,

[The title comes from a quotation by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man can invent."]


A good query. I mostly nit-picked.

While I don't think it's much of a concern that the reader might interpret "the principal short circuits" metaphorically (i.e. to mean loses his temper), I thought paragraph 2 might be giving examples of things the principal does because of the short circuiting, but it turns out whatever damage was caused by the golf ball has somehow been repaired between P1 and P2. 

Now if "the principal short circuits" were changed to "sparks fly from Mr. Haley's eyes and ears. Holy Moly! Mr. Haley's . . . a robot?!"  it might fix a couple issues that probably don't need fixing.

"While struggling to deal with his parents’ separation," seems out of place in the sentence it's in. If we need to know that at all, maybe it could be worked into the first paragraph.

I guess you consider the story too serious for an amusing title like WTF? Our Principal's a Robot?!

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Face-Lift 1386

Guess the Plot

Pickled Punk

1. Mike Maloney, a circus punk from Detroit grew up cleaning up after elephants and alcoholic clowns. When his ideas on modernizing the circus destroy it instead, he goes into hiding from the furious clown cabal. How long can he escape the swift justice of the International Clown Court?

2. There's this guy named Bob, and the author is way overqualified to be writing this, so the book should fly off the shelves, and any and all persons involved in its publication will be living the high life aboard a twenty-foot yacht with three years of booze included. 

3. Detective Martinez has the case of a lifetime. The punk found dead at the pickle factory turns out to be the heir to a billionaire. Dozens are suspect, but he can't get past a single question: How many pickled peppers did the pickled punk pilfer? 

4. When their only hit from the 70's is used as a movie theme song, the band Pickled Punk are suddenly awash with cash. And groupies. Then Rory Rotten agrees to transport a package home from Thailand for his cute new girlfriend, and the guy in customs makes him open the package, and this punk is in a real pickle.

5. Amanda Green couldn't be happier when her animated character Tickled Pink goes viral on the Internet. But where there's success, there's parody, and soon the poorly drawn, foul-mouthed "Pickled Punk" comes on the scene. When Punk becomes more popular than Pink, Amanda declares war on his creator- her brother. Their sibling rivalry divides the Internet and makes family gatherings much more interesting.

6. After some punk robs Amanda at gunpoint, he takes off running, but he trips and falls into a vat of balsamic vinegar. He can't swim, and he asks Amanda to help him, but she wants her purse back first, so he gives it to her and she still lets him drown. Also, an appearance by Emperor Tojo.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

A secret society of circus clowns, formed in reaction to the Nazi clown ban in occupied France, has infiltrated the Chambers of Commerce, Lions Clubs, VFW halls, and popular family restaurants throughout midwestern America. [Why?]

[Bozo: The Nazis have banned clowns in France.

Krusty: Then we must unite in a secret society here in the midwestern USA.

Pennywise: Makes sense. And we should infiltrate family restaurants.

Ronald:  How? I can't cook. I can't even make a decent hamburger.]

Pickled Punk tells the story of Mike Maloney, a circus punk from Detroit who grows up cleaning up after elephants and clowns, [Are clowns that messy? I'd clean up after a dozen clowns before I'd clean up after one elephant. Although I suppose most clowns would create a lot of empty liquor bottles and puke-covered bedsheets and bloody costumes from butchering children.] learns about heavy drinking and irresponsible sex from his dwarf coworkers, and gets promoted to business manager of the Great Western Circus of the Americas. [Was he qualified for this job?] Mike goes into hiding from the furious clown cabal after his grandiose ideas about how to modernize the circus end up destroying it instead. [Never mind previous question.]

Mike manages to avoid the certain and swift justice of the International Clown Court for twenty years. It's not until his secret protector in the circus dies and he's betrayed by his own sister that Mike is forced to go on the run. [Are the clowns he's on the run from driving a clown car? Just asking. ] [Why is it only the clowns who want revenge? If he destroyed the circus, I would think the lion tamers and guys who get shot out of cannons would also be pissed at him. Perhaps it's only clowns who've unionized.] Along the way, he's poisoned by a mysterious stranger, he picks up a con-woman companion, and he befriends the illegitimate son of a famous Russian entertainer.

Pickled Punk is my second novel and is complete at 103,000 words. I'm a professional technical writer and computer programming teacher, and I've authored or co-authored over a dozen published technical books.

I self-published my first novel in 2017, and it received good reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. I recorded an audiobook, built a website, and created a Facebook page that today has more than 5,000 followers.

The experience of self-publishing convinced me to seek representation by an agent for my second novel so that I can benefit from the help of an experienced editor and the distribution of a publisher. [This red stuff is unlikely to matter to an agent.]

I'd be happy to send you the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,


There's a lot of stuff that sounds like it's really funny, and this could appeal to some agents, but I think the query is too listy. All three plot paragraphs include lists. Plus, many of the items being listed don't seem important enough to be in the query. Better to connect ideas so that you tell the main story. I can't tell if the story is mostly what happens after Mike goes on the run, or during the twenty years he's in hiding, or something else. 

Is there a second character important enough to be named, maybe the con-woman or Mike's secret protector in the circus, or his sister?

What does Mike want, what's keeping him from getting it, what's his plan to overcome this obstacle, what's at stake if he fails? Once you work all of that into a cohesive summary of the plot, you can embellish to show your humorous voice. But we need to know you have a story.

You could start: Mike Maloney, a one-time circus punk from Detroit, has risen through the ranks from cleaning up after elephants to apprentice clown to business manager of the Great Western Circus of the Americas. But when his grandiose ideas for modernizing the circus end up destroying it instead, he's forced into hiding by the furious clown cabal. 

Where you go from there depends. Maybe the circus is in his blood and he'll do whatever he has to to keep his feet in his giant shoes, which he does with the help of his secret protector. Or maybe he infiltrates Denny's and his ideas on how to modernize the restaurant make him a millionaire, but then his jealous sister rats him out to the International Clown Court.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Face-Lift 1385

Guess the Plot

Crowns Shall Wail

1. The bastards should wail while I beat and torture the giant shoes, white makeup and big damned fake red noses right off their creepy faces and--what? Crowns? OK, nevermind. My bad.

2. In a world where song is immoral, Kings and Queens compete not with armies but by emitting prolonged, mournful laments while rending their garments. But twelve-year-old princess Tallionia has a beautiful voice and can only sing like an angel. Besides, she likes her only summer dress. What’s a girl to do? 

3. The Wailing Crown will cry out unless it is on the head of the proper king. It hasn't stopped wailing since Friday, when the king died. None of his heirs could make it stop, and Alicia is going to murder someone if she has to listen to its wails one more time. 

4. The old knight stared at the ancient inscription on the castle wall. No one knew who put it there or why. It read:
"Crowns shall wail
Empires fall.
Kings shall weep
Beggars, all.
Swords shall break
Reapers win.
Get those whiskers
Off your chin.
Burma Shave"

What could it possibly mean? 

5. Briar Rose has been wishing for another hundred years of sleep ever since giving birth to identical princelings, Howlin, Waylon and Yelp, whose interminable caterwauling is keeping her awake all night. In desperation, she decides to place three spinning wheels in their nursery. Will this solve her problem or bury the castle under a mountain of tea cozies? 

6. Orphan Fiona wants to know why her parents abandoned her, so when she meets a boy who claims he can take her back in time to see for herself, she jumps at the chance. But will she learn that he parents were actually the king and queen? Also, bad hypnotism.

7. When expert thief Silvi finds a hoard of coins from dozens of countries throughout history, she's divided as to whether to find collectors to sell them to or melt them down for their base value in gold. The problem: the coins start screaming when she removes them from their erstwhile home. Next up, DRAGONS!!!!!! 

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am writing to seek representation for my manuscript. [This goes without saying.]

Fiona has spent her whole life [In the interest of accuracy, I'd change that to: For as long as she can remember, Fiona has been] brooding over the identity of her parents and why she was abandoned to be an orphan. After an encounter with a witch, she finally has the answer to her question, but it is not what she wants to hear. [What was the answer?] [More informative would be "After a witch's spell shows Fiona the past..."]  To top it off, she also finds out her ability to hypnotize via [by] playing her vielle is not a gift but a curse. [For example, when she tells a guy under hypnosis that when he wakes up he'll think he's a bear, he wakes up and mauls her.] Determined that what she currently knows is a lie, Fiona seeks the aid of a refugee boy to travel back in time and see the truth for herself. [Wait, an actual witch was unable to show her the past, but some random refugee boy can take her there?] Alas, not everything is as simple as it seems, [Nothing seemed that simple to me.] and trust must be wisely placed. [Would it be wiser to trust a witch to be able to see the past and tell me the truth, or to trust a refugee boy to be able to take me into the past?]

When everything falls, [Fails?] Fiona has to decide what’s more important- the wilted past or the possibly blooming future. But time is running out; maybe it’s all too late and sacrifices must be made. [This is all vague. Why is time running out? What must be sacrificed?] 

CROWNS SHALL WAIL is an MG historical fantasy complete at 37,00 [37,000?] words. The full manuscript is immediately available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,


How old is Fiona? Is the whole story Fiona's search for knowledge about her parents? If so, tell us about that. All we know is she encountered a witch and a refugee boy, each of whom claimed they could satisfy her curiosity. Your format could be:

Fifteen-year-old hypnotist Fiona has long wondered why her parents abandoned her. She consults a witch, who says her parents couldn't stand her whining, but Fiona doesn't buy it. Then she meets a refugee boy who claims he can take her back in time to see for herself.

That's all I know, but you know the rest, so add two more paragraphs telling us what happens in the past, what obstacles Fiona must overcome, what she learns, what decision she must make now that she knows what happened. You might mention where crowns come in. Be specific.