Monday, December 31, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

The task was to write a scene involving an unlikely black ops division.

Jack was a Salvation Army Major, black ops section. Salvos will deny they have one, but they do. The section even has a motto, "Cram the fear of God into 'em." That's just what Jack was doing at the moment.

"You better pray, you stupid bastard."

"I...I don't know the words."

Sweat was pouring off the guy, so was the blood. So much so that it
was hard to tell what he was losing faster.

Karen, outside contractor, put a couple charged wires through his
belt loops. They weren't touching him so he felt nothing, yet. Then
she just stood there with a bucket of water until the little light
went on in his head and he knew what he was in for.

"Oh, God, no, I'll do anything..."


"Our is..."

"Who are in heaven."

"...who art in heaven..."

He looked around the dingy room. Looked like the thing hadn't been
cleaned in years. It was so dirty and faded that it was hard to tell
which walls were painted and which had wallpaper. They had holes in
them straight through the pre-war plaster down to the wooden slats
the plaster used to hang on. Hadn't been electricity here in years,
which explained why ops had to bring in storm lights.

"Keep praying, you bastard, if you don't want a bucket of water
tossed over your crotch. And when you're done - one way or the other
- you and I are going to talk about the exorbitant rents you've been
charging widows for this dump."

--D Jason Cooper





Warm water running.


Biohazard plastic bag with easy seal,


Gag a maggot, Odor guards.


Replacement self-closing waste disposal system for males.


Hygienic tape in case of emergency.

Air freshener.


Gas mask.


Waterproof underlay.


Waterproof overlay.


Waterproof spray guards?



Latex gloves ready.


Latex gloves on.

Uh, this one ripped.

Latex gloves ready, again.


Baby not screaming.

Check, not screaming.

Anti-crawl guard.


Then go, go, go, go, go!

--Dave F.

3. (SFWA/BO--Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, Black Ops)

"Another writer, code named Dave F, is about to qualify for membership. Agent Thai Stick reports his short story has been accepted by Evil Monkey Magazine."

"Crap! Our membership database computer is still full. Tell Agent Stick he must stop the publication at all costs."

"Mr. Monkey, I have reason to believe that Dave F's story is a Mesopotamian tale that he had translated into English and claimed it as his own."

"Mr. Stick, I personally know Mr. F and I'm in his writer's workshop. I helped refine the story."

"You don't believe his last name is really 'F' do you?"

"It's his pseudonym. His real name is Dave Q.

"You can't publish this story; it is a national security matter."

"I don't believe you. This story will be published."

"This is Thai Stick. Evil Monkey Magazine is playing hard ball. Shall I use the Nuke Option?"

"All means are approved, but when you go back in time to disappear Evil Monkey Magazine, try to avoid side effects like--"

"I know, like when I turned the 'Los Angeles Herald-Examiner' into 'Evil Editor Blog.'"

--Bill Highsmith

"The shipment is here."

"Did they bring everything we ordered?"

"Sir, yes sir--four crates of semi-automatic rifles, ten of bullets for them, half a ton of plastic explosive, three cases of grenades, and a couple of Gatling guns."

"Excellent. Are the teams ready?"

"Sir, yes sir. Everyone's in camo and Kevlar armor. We have the targeting radar up and running, and the snipers are locked and loaded."

"What about the tracer bullets?"

"We won't need those till it gets dark, will we?"

"No, you're right. Did everyone bring a packed lunch?"

"Sir, yes sir."

"All right, synchronize your watches, everybody. Then the teams move out, five minutes apart, and infiltrate your preselected targets. This is going to be the most successful PBS pledge drive ever."


The doorbell interrupted Ben’s Sunday afternoon nap. He got up slowly, rubbing his eyes. “Oh, hello Amanda.”

“Hi, Mr. Anderson.”

“That time of year again, huh?”

“Yes, Mr. Anderson.”

“Put me down for one of the Thin Mints.”

“Just one?”

Ben patted his belly. “Yeah, you know. Trying to watch my—" Something stung his neck. He grabbed at it, but then everything went pink and wobbly. Rainbows burst from his mailbox. The oak trees in his yard sprouted faces and debated quantum mechanics. The neighbor’s cat bumped into him as it brushed by, walking on its hind legs, smoking a pipe and reading Chaucer. “Pardon me, ole chap,” it said. Then it hopped on Ben’s Harley.

Dizziness washed over him. He felt himself floating. He was on his back staring at the ceiling. Half a dozen little girl faces, all pink and green and purple and yellow, arranged in a perfect slowly spinning circle, gazed down at him. And they chanted.

“Thin Mints…mmmmmm…Carmel deLites…mmmmmm…Peanut Butter Patties…mmmmmm…and new this year…Cinna-spins…mmmmmm…cinna-monnnn-y…buy them…buy them…again and again…buy them…buy them…in multiples of ten…mmmmmm….

The doorbell interrupted Ben’s Sunday afternoon nap. He got up slowly, rubbing his eyes. He was drenched in sweat. What the hell had he been dreaming about? He could never remember his dreams. “Oh, hello Amanda.”

“Hi, Mr. Anderson.”

“That time of year again, huh?”

“Yes, Mr. Anderson.”

“I’ll take ten of each. No wait!”

Amanda raised an eyebrow.

“Make it twenty.”


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Guess the Real Titles

The list below includes 14 books (listed on dealing humorously with the subjects of business, money and computers. It also includes 14 titles made up by your fellow minions. Which are the actual book titles?

50 Jobs Worse than Yours

101 Ways to Get Your Boss Fired

100 Bullshit Jobs...And How to Get Them

Office Dirty Tricks: 50 Ways to Sabotage Your Coworkers and Bluff Your Way to the Top

50 Satisfying Ways to Destroy Your Computer

Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics

What Would Machiavelli Do?: The Ends Justify the Meanness

Loving Microsoft Windows: Better Living through Chemistry

Extreme Office Crafts: Creative & Devious Ways to Waste Office Supplies & Company Time

Outsourcing Sleeping Your Way to the Top

Double the Fun with Double Entry Accounting

How to Succeed at Globalization: A Primer for the Roadside Vendor

The Glass Ceiling: Keeping it Sparkling Clean

Your Retirement Plan: Tuning it up or Polishing a Turd?

Now You've Got It, How to Keep It

Cube Chic: Take Your Office Space from Drab to Fab!

Pimp My Cubicle: Take Your Workspace from Boring to Bling!

Make A++ with C++

Cubicle Survival Guide: Keeping Your Cool in the Least Hospitable Environment on Earth

Who Moved My Soap?: The CEO's Guide to Surviving in Prison

Every Partner for Himself: Squeeze out your colleagues before they squeeze you out

It's Better Than Nerdsex: All Night Programming Fun!

Death by PowerPoint

Bullwinkle on Business: Motivational Secrets of a Chief Executive Moose

Test your knowledge quotient

Office Haiku: Poems Inspired by the Daily Grind

What to do When You Can't Get Enough (money)

Rich Writer, Poor Writer, Even Poorer Writer, Positively Indigent Writer

Answers Below

Fakes supplied by--McKoala, Bill H., Deborah K. White, writtenwyrdd, EE

The actual book titles are:

50 Jobs Worse than Yours
100 Bullshit Jobs...And How to Get Them

Office Dirty Tricks: 50 Ways to Sabotage Your Coworkers and Bluff Your Way to the Top
Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics
Extreme Office Crafts: Creative & Devious Ways to Waste Office Supplies & Company Time
Who Moved My Soap?: The CEO's Guide to Surviving in Prison
Death by PowerPoint
What Would Machiavelli Do?: The Ends Justify the Meanness
Cube Chic: Take Your Office Space from Drab to Fab!
Pimp My Cubicle: Take Your Workspace from Boring to Bling!
How to Succeed at Globalization: A Primer for the Roadside Vendor
Cubicle Survival Guide: Keeping Your Cool in the Least Hospitable Environment on Earth
Bullwinkle on Business: Motivational Secrets of a Chief Executive Moose
Office Haiku: Poems Inspired by the Daily Grind

Friday, December 28, 2007

Satan and the Antichrist

Ten fake plots starring the evil ones. Plus two actual plots from minions' novels. Which are the real ones?

1. Terminal cancer patient Steve Marsden makes a deal with the devil: his eternal soul in exchange for 7665 extra days of life, just long enough to see his infant daughter grow up and get married. But Satan mischievously grants Steve 7665 dog days, which pass at seven times the speed of human days. Can Steve get his daughter married off by the age of three?

2. Bob is a pimply, poor-mouthed nerd, but when Satan comes calling, Bob sells his soul in order to become his opposite in every way. When his silver-tongued opposite brings the world to the brink of destruction, can Bob overcome laws of physics to save humanity . . . and the only girl who liked him as a nerd?

3. Satan couldn't believe it when his performance review came in. No longer would the board of directors allow him to reign in hell. Now he must serve in Heaven. And God is a lousy tipper.

4. When movie director Marcus Bray is told that angelic Annika Angstrom, the child star of his latest film, is the Antichrist, he assumes that means she's a typical Hollywood spoiled brat--until a series of grisly “accidents” start killing off the cast and crew. Is a hit movie worth letting Annika achieve dominion over the world?

5. Hell just wasn't any fun. Sure it sounded good when Satan used that famous recruiting line: It's better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven. The trouble was, Satan was the only one who did any ruling. Everyone else suffered eternal torment. Can Elgin find that elusive chink in the brimstone that will allow him to escape? Also, a clock that runs backwards.

6. Jury duty in heaven is hell. After 1,562,354 years, Molly learns she still can't talk about Satan's trial after his fall from heaven . . . which means she will never, ever get to be on Oprah. This leads her to the biggest existential crisis she has ever faced. Luckily for her, she has plenty of time to think about it.

7. In the cutthroat world of fashion design, Ellen DeLong has always been second rate. That is, until she makes a deal with Satan and gains the magical Shears of Endor.

8. Nine-year-old Ashley-Blanche Carmichael leaves Catholic school to follow her dream of stardom, only to land in the middle of the most bizarre child beauty pageant ever. Can the nuns of St. Wendelyn's keep her from winning the title of . . . The Prettiest Little Antichrist?

9. He was the most amazing man she ever knew: smart, strong, and sexy. But if Maribel bears the child of Satan, will he love her faithfully forever, or will he leave her only . . . A Legacy of Ashes?

10. The first time didn't go so well. The second, well, that whole Hiroshima thing put paid to it. But Satan is back and ready for more, and this time he's got a plan he's sure will succeed.

11. Six years ago Marlene was seduced by Satan himself. Now she's readying their daughter Firenza to compete in beauty pageants. But she needs the father's permission. Will she discover that there are some things too horrifying for even Satan?

12. A cloning experiment in Area 51 creates a hybrid of a human and an alien, a hybrid that proves to be . . . the Antichrist!

Answers below

Actual plots:
4 and 12

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

An ice storm has had your electricity off for four days. You can't cook, watch television or use your blender. Worst of all, you can't get online. Write a scene describing the lengths you go to to find out what's happening on Evil Editor's blog.

"Sears Corporation, can I have your name please?"


"I beg your pardon?"


"Okay, Miss Fifty, may I ask who you're calling?"

"I'm not sure. Could you just page the whole company and tell them that 150 is on the phone?"

"I...can't do that unless you specify a location."

"Okay, just do one at a time. Where do you think I should start?"

"Ma'am, I'm going to have to transfer you to--"

"Wait! I'm just looking for minions."

"We don't--"

"Sears is the ninth largest employer in America, right?"

"Would you like me to put you through to employee services?"

"Yes--no! I only have fifteen minutes left on my cell phone. Could you please just get on the PA system and tell everyone that 150 needs to know about Evil Editor? It's been four days."

"Ma'am, I'm hanging up now."

"Wait! Tell them weredingoes! Weredingoes!"


"You've reached the corporate office of JC Penny's, how can I help you?"

"Hi, this is 150. You're the tenth largest employer in America, right?"


Journal [ed. note: like a blog on paper]:

Tuesday, Dec. 26. I've sawed off my foot and used a wrench to grind it up in my blender for lunch. What's next? Oh yeah, what's happening on EE's blog? Hmmm . . . smoke signals. I must first teach the receiver of my signals a language since there is no standard smoke signal language. I'll start by sending something universal. The structure of a hydrogen atom . . . or maybe pi . . .

Friday, August 15. Someone finally understood my message and called me on my cell phone . . . Cell phone? Dammit!

--Bill Highsmith

Mother phoned tonight. She said: "Remember that package of frozen Calamari I said I had in my refrigerator?"

I said: "Yes Mother." Being the dutiful son that I am.

She said: "Well, it's really a package of Sauerkraut for New Years Day. Would you go buy the Calamari for Christmas Eve?"

Now I'm allergic to fish. Deathly allergic. Bleed to death allergic. But I HAVE to stuff the calamari on Christmas Eve, sew them little bodies shut and cook it into a red sauce ...

... Tis the Season ...

--Dave F.

Face-Lift 469

Guess the Plot

Unholy Ghosts

1. Each year, God selects the most worthy spirit in Heaven to serve as the Holy Ghost. This year, He's making his selection through an American Idol style contest, with the losers spending the year in Hell. For Justin, it's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't.

2. They were ratty, they were torn, they were holey ghosts. But now, thanks to a little help from the Spirit of Christmas Past, they're getting it all together. Demons better watch out - its the all new . . . Unholy Ghosts.

3. The Baptists had it all wrong - way wrong. Now they're sitting in a very Catholic purgatory, all 200 million of 'em, contemplating just how wrong they were. Soon, it's gonna be time for revenge. If you've ever taught Sunday School, pack your bags and get out of town - before the Unholy Ghosts come calling.

4. Lex Hopper's mom refuses to ruin a perfectly good sheet by cutting eyeholes in it so he can be a ghost at Hallowe'en. Later that night, a still-incensed Lex meets the Devil enjoying a hot tub in Mrs. Minchpick's back yard. There's more than one way to make a ghost and Lex's mom is about to discover there's more to life than good sheets.

5. After a long series of flubs and mistakes, paranormal investigator Rory Mitchell isn't really sure of anything anymore. She knows one thing, though: ghosts can't really hurt anyone. But soon she finds out she's wrong. Again.

6. A drug addict is hired by her dealer to banish spirits from an airport so he can use the place for smuggling. It sounds like a piece-of-cake job, but there's a downside: these are no ordinary spirits; they're . . . Unholy Ghosts!

Original Version

Dear Agent,

[Insert line or two about how I found agent or whatever.] [Agent or whatever? Listen, if you can't get an agent immediately, keep trying. Don't settle for a mannequin or a weredingo.] I would love for you to consider representing UNHOLY GHOSTS, my approximately 83,000 thousand word [83,000 thousand equals 83 million. 83 million equals instant reject. Unless it's an encyclopedia.] [Word count should be approximated by rounding down to the nearest ten million, and subtracting 1 so it doesn't seem quite so long. In this case it would be 79,999,999.] dark urban fantasy set primarily in a punk-rock ghetto known as Downside.

[When you're depressed and shit is making you bitter
You can always go - Downside
When you're hopped up on drugs and feel suicidal
You can off yourself - Downside
Just listen to the racket of the axemen and the drummers
Linger with the emos as they claim their lives are bummers
How can you breathe?

The waste and puke fill the air
You can deny all your responsibilities there
So go Downside, tell yourself life is great
Downside - great place to take a date
Downside - everything sucks when you're there.]

Sometimes addictions are more trouble than they're worth… [If you're going to start your sales pitch with this line, I think I'd start the whole query with it. It feels weird following the previous paragraph.] [Though my advice is to start the query with the song parody.]

In a world where having a ghost in your house could earn you an enormous cash settlement from the Church of Truth—government, state religion, and the only line of defense between humanity and the spirits determined to destroy them—faking a haunting is seen by some as a better shot to [at] riches than the lottery. [Standing in the desert hoping a bag containing 10,000 thousand dollars falls out of the sky is a better shot at riches than the lottery.] [I would delete everything between the dashes. It's a lengthy and somewhat confusing interruption of the set-up.] That's why the Church has Debunkers. Their job is to disprove the hauntings, or banish the ghosts back to the City of Eternity if the haunting is proved real.

Cesaria "Chess" Putnam is a Debunker. She's also an orphan, a former abused foster child, and a loner for whom drugs are all that make life worth the bother.

When her drug dealer offers her a way to work off her debt to him, by debunking or banishing the haunting at an abandoned airport so he can use it for smuggling, she agrees. [Banishing I can see, but debunking? Why would anyone fake a haunting at an abandoned airport? Who stands to get rich?] Wiping fifteen grand—it should have been only four, but he's decided to charge interest—off the books suits her just fine, and the job should be as easy as swallowing a pill.

Too bad nothing is ever easy, especially in Downside. [But nothing is ever easy in Downside.] A rival drug gang discovers what Chess is doing and offers a counter-deal she can't refuse: if she doesn't banish the ghosts, they'll supply her for free. [That's it? Unless they pay off her debt as well, she can easily refuse.] She'd be glad to turn her back on the whole thing and curl up on her couch getting high, but what's going on at the airport is far more sinister than a mere haunting. When a decaying corpse is found with a soul trapped inside and the black magicians responsible decide to pay a middle-of-the-night visit to Chess' apartment for a little weapons practice, Chess realizes she can't just walk away. Solving this one is going to take every bit of bravery, intelligence, and skill she possesses…and an awful lot of amphetamines too. [What does she need to solve? You said the black magicians were responsible.]

Unholy Ghosts is a stand-alone novel, but is planned as the first in a series.

I have [small press credits]. I'd be happy to send the complete manuscript of Unholy Ghosts for your review. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Your Church of Truth won't be the only one. There's an International Church of Truth and a Cosmic Church of Truth and a Marvel Universe Church of Truth. But don't worry, I'm guessing more people read this blog than are members of any of them.

What's the point of faking a haunting if the Church sends in Debunkers? Is Debunking an inexact science?

What's the point of banishing ghosts "back" to the City of Eternity? They left it once; why won't they leave again?

Is haunting an abandoned airport more fun than being in the City of Eternity? Just wondering about the spirits' motivation.

You'll have to get Chess off the drugs soon. It'll interfere with her debunking, and her employer won't stand for it.

Guess the Plot Prep

We're in a holiday lull, with no new queries coming in, no one submitting continuations, etc. Those who enjoy writing fake plots have nothing to do. Sympathizing with them, I'm preparing a Guess the Plot quiz for books nominated in a few categories of the 2007 Edgar Awards, given for the best mysteries.

· The Pale Blue Eye
· The Dead Hour
· The Virgin of Small Plains
· Liberation Movements
· The Faithful Spy
· Sharp Objects
· The King of Lies
· Holmes on the Range
· A Field of Darkness
· The Open Curtain

Go to it. Do any or all. Remember, they're all mysteries. I'll remove titles from the list once they have enough good fakes.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 Best Face-Lift Nominations

Approximately 40 Face-Lifts were nominated by volunteers and myself. I have narrowed the field to ten. Your job is to choose the very best.

You have 15 points, which you may allocate in any way you wish, but you may not give more than five points to any nominee. You could allocate 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 to your five favorites. You could decide it's a three-way tie for first place and give three of them 5 points. You're judging EE here, so don't consider the Guess the Plots, the quality of the query itself, the genre or appeal of the book being queried, the comments, or the identity of the author.

face-lift 257


face-lift 270

face-lift 347

face-lift 357

face-lift 359

face-lift 363

face-lift 388

face-lift 406

face-lift 437

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Guess the Plot

The fake plots below appeared on this blog during the past year. But not all of them proved to be fake. Which two are the actual plots of minions' novels?

1. When “undocumented worker” Carlos Cruz shows up at the day labor pool on Christmas Eve, the only guy offering work is a pequeno duende with bells on his shoes. Driving the sleigh is no problem, but will Christmas be ruined when Carlos has to take a leak at 30,000 feet? The kid who asked for the jar of marbles will probably think so.

2. A pearl for Christmas, a ruby for Valentine's, and an emerald for her birthday. Sue's husband sure is spending hard to assure her that his cheating days are over. But will the sparkle of her Columbus Day sapphire blind her to his sudden increase in "business trips"?

3. Evelyn told her mother-in-law that she wears a size 12, when a 16 is closer to the truth. With the family reunion drawing near, will Evelyn resign herself to wearing the ill-fitting gifts her mother-in-law sent her for Christmas, or will she find a way to escape. . . The Lies that Bind?

4. Poverty and creativity went hand in hand for Pearl, until her homemade Christmas ornaments became big sellers in Winston-Salem. Success is a puff away, but can she find the right partner for her Cigarette Angel factory or will her plans go up in smoke?

5. Charlotte has a thing for holidays. She poisoned the marshmallow chicks in her first husband's Easter basket, strangled her second husband with the ribbon from the Valentine's Day chocolate box, and suffocated her third with the helium balloons at his own birthday party. Now, as Christmas approaches, hubby #4 wonders why that package under the tree is ticking.

6. Every year, Carrie's creepy boss has groped and French-kissed her at the office holiday party. With the antidote in her hip pocket, she waits near the mistletoe and keeps her tongue away from her poisoned lipstick. By this time next year, she'll be the VP doing the groping.

7. Christmas at the estate of Lord Ajax was supposed to be the climax of this year's social season-- and the moment Lord Ajax proposes to her. But Clarissa discovers she is not to be the recipient of a marriage proposal, when she discovers her Ajax under the mistletoe, locked in the embrace of . . . her brother.

8. It's Christmas, and Christine has no one to spend it with--until she gets drawn into an international drug conspiracy by hunky doctor David McLeod. Now that she's found true love, can she stay alive long enough to enjoy it? Also, Johnny Cash.

9. What started as an innocent kiss at the Devorson’s posh Christmas party turns into an obsession that leaves a trail of bodies from New York to Nevada. Beautiful detective Mary Sky must find the X-mas Killer, following the clues he leaves her, before Christmas rolls around again and his knife finds her under the Mistletoe.

10. Kelly Coosman volunteered to work the kissing booth for the parish Christmas Gala…it was the least she could do after Father McElroy rescued her from the streets of Chicago. But she’s been on her feet for fourteen hours straight, smooching hundreds of nicotine-fouled old men with rotten yellow teeth, and she's thinking prostitution wasn't so bad after all.

11. Confident his parents won't be getting him a Christmas present, Nate runs away from home and moves into Wal-Mart. When a night security guard finds him and realizes he's the missing boy she read about in the newspaper, she sets up a tent, gets Nate a sleeping bag, and helps him set up a household. Hey, the place gets lonely at night.

12. Investigative journalist Shiela Nagig is working on an expose of the child beauty contest circuit when the Archdiocese of Sheboygan hires her to find out why six of their little angels from the Christmas Play have mysteriously disappeared along with a valuable altarpiece.

Real Plots Below

The real plots are

8 and 11

Monday, December 24, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

Stranded on a frozen tundra, you look up to see a vast herd of reindeer stampeding toward you. It could be time to use your time travel device, but there's no telling where and when it'll deposit you.

Tighe shoved the ball into the underwater goal. He gestured both thumbs up to his nemesis, an over-muscled red-haired swimmer. Red grabbed Tighe's wiry body but Tighe squirted out of the man's grip and dove under him. Red dove afterward. Out of air, the other underwater rugby players gave up pursuit. Tighe bounced off the bottom of the pool and spun Red upside down wrapping his arms and legs around Red. They grappled, their arms a blur of movement over slick bodies. After a moment, the two men stopped. They weren't out of air or ready to black out. They just stopped, crouched down and kicked to the surface. They surfaced at the side of the pool. Cody and Dane watched them get out of the pool still not breathing heavy.

"How do you guys stay underwater that long?" Dane asked.

"Mind over matter." Tighe pulled off his white Speedos, wrung the water from them and toweled off. The paleness of his skin betrayed the temperature of the water. He slid dry Speedos back up his legs. Red toweled his body dry. His thighs were as big as Tighe's waist.

"I don't think about breathing. I just stay underwater and protect the goal. I surface after you guys give up," Red answered.
A brilliant white flash filled the pool. A man dressed in artic clothing fell into the water with a grand splash. His clothing dragged him under the water.

"Where did he come from?"

"Should we let him drown?"

"Nah, dead bodies spoil the water."

--Dave F.

Reindeer!{click} Knife poised for my chest. {click} Geez, more reindeer...I thought they were endangered. {click} Gorillas! {click} 72 virgins. Hmmm...nope, don't want to be a dead Muslim. {click} Reindeer? No . . . plain old deer I think. {click} Is that Mt. Vesuvius? {click} American Idol set? It really must be my time to go. {click} A young Isabella Rossellini in lingerie. {click} No!!! I didn't mean to click and this freaking thing doesn't have a rewind button. I'm just going to kill myself now and get it over with. What's this? A lounge singer convention. No!!! {click}

--Bill Highsmith

A brilliant ball of energy blasted across the ice field leaving a dozen reindeer charged, antlers foreward into the mist where a lone man once stood.

"Where did he go?" Rudolph demanded, rearing rampant, antlers slashing the air, red nose glowing through the evaporating mist.

"He must have hidden a time teleport in his suit." Donner answered, smashing the ice with his fore-hooves. Thunder echoed over the icy plain. Vixen and Comet crashed horns to disperse their anger. Blitzen shot lightening bolts from the tips of his antlers as he pawed the ground. The rest of the stags snorted.

"Whoever's responsible better own up to it now." Rudolph's body twisted, reformed. The feet and ankles grew larger. From the waist down the reindeer remained furry animals with short white tails. Form the waist up, their torsos transformed. Forelegs grew into massive arms, pecs formed, shoulders broadened, bearded faces appeared from under furry skulls. A dozen half-man, half-stag anthromorphs stood flexing, stretching. Their ears pointy and fur covered. Their antlers proudly displayed from their foreheads, bellowing affirmations. Antlers crashed together. Fists pummeled big guns, hard abs, other fists.

"Who was to guard the human?" Rudolph demanded in voice that rumbled the very ground he stood on.

"Prancer and Cupid..." Donner proclaimed, his voice like thunder.

"Prancer and Cupid? Did you lose your mind in the last rut?" Rudolph's voice rose to a high-pitched crack reeking of sarcasm. "I'll be Prancer did the damn Cha-Cha with the man and Cupid, well Cupid most likely stuck that prong of his in the wrong place again!"

"Now see here Rudolph, it was a Tango."

"Don't sass me, you cretin."

--Dave F.

4.A 200 foot wall of ice to my left, a ravine to my right; it was warp out or get trampled. I warped.

I immediately found myself in the study of the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. He was working on a manuscript. In fact, the room was filled with manuscripts. I picked up a few of them. Hamlet. MacBeth. King Lear. Othello.

"Are these first editions?" I asked, thinking I might snatch a few for an ebay sale if I ever made it back to the twenty-first century.

"They're unpublished," he replied. "I wrote them this year. And by the way, who are you?"

"Evil Editor," I told him. "If you like, I'll take a look at them, I've got some publishing connections."

"Be my guest."

I returned the next evening. He asked me what I thought.

"Drivel," I answered. "Of course plenty of drivel does get published. But if you value your reputation you'll take my advice and use a pen name."



A dozen of the following thirty titles are available at The others were made up by the Evil Minions. Make your guesses; the answers are below.

Zombie Bums from Uranus

Man, Beast and Zombie

White Zombie Astro-Creep

Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse

March of the Undead

How to Make Love Like a Zombie


Would Anyone who has Lost an Arm Please Contact the Service Desk: Your Limb is Waiting For You

Zomboni: the ultimate sex guide for the living dead

Zomboni: My Life Driving the Truck With the Wacky Name

Dead Man's Best

Fred and Anthony Meet the Demented Super-de-Germ-O Zombie

Zombie Monkey Monster Jamboree

The Dead Rise

The Zen of Zombie

The Down-Home Zombie Blues

Zombie Surf Commandos

The Good, the Dead and the Fed

The Dead-Vinci Mode: Renaissance Art from a nonliving perspective.

Love You True, My Eye's On You

Gombie: An Autobiography. From stretchy to stiff and all the stuff in between.

100 Zombies You Should Know: a feel-good book for the undead.

Dead Alive

Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned While I Was Still Alive: inspiring anecdotes and observations from a former Rabbi (and yes, he still keeps kosher)

The Secret Life of Z's: The original do-it-yourself book for zombification.

Keep My Hand, Keep My Heart

Dead Sexy

I, Zombie

Mondo Zombie

Undead in the City

Answers Below

Fakes submitted by Deb, December/Stacia, Khazar-khum, McKoala

Actual Zombie Book Titles:

The Zen of Zombie

The Down-Home Zombie Blues

Zombie Bums from Uranus

Man, Beast and Zombie

White Zombie Astro-Creep

Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse

Zombie Surf Commandos

How to Make Love Like a Zombie

Fred and Anthony Meet the Demented Super-de-Germ-O Zombie

Zombie Monkey Monster Jamboree

I, Zombie

Mondo Zombie

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

Evil Editor is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who helps him revisit the crucial event that led to his evilness.

"Wake up. Tis time. Tis time."

"You? You're just a boozy whore from the women's prison in Watchahanamee." EE pulled his nightshirt down over his body.

"I am the Ghost of your Christmas Past." She giggled, floating in a diaphanous green gown.

"A lascivious fugitive emission of my mind, you mean," EE said, standing up from the bed.

"Take my hand. Our journey begins on a dark and stormy night." The spirit stretched out its hand.

"Not without protection." EE yanked on a pair of latex gloves and wrapped an old wool coat over his shoulders. He took the spirit's hand. They floated through a mist into the night.

"First the specter of Miss Snark appears on my shower stall door and berates me. I swear her middle name is Giselle and my only saving grace is that I can't dance."

"But there was a time when you were good." The spirit pointed to a patch of light. Lightning bolts illuminated a group of lithe, virile men and women dressed in sleek, form-fitted paintball outfits. Fluorescent paintballs splattered against the obstacles. A chubby teen with a scraggly beard stood watching from under a fringed yellow umbrella decorated with pink flamingos.

"I got pneumonia and spent my formative years in a sickbed."

"You were a joyless teen."

"I embraced my inner self and found it superbly cold, pleasingly morose, and serenely Mephistophelean."

"She was your first love."

"She was my first social disease."

"Were you always this cheerful?" the Ghost asked. EE had succeeded in dispiriting a spirit.

--Dave F.

Hot sweat marauded over his skin like a slug plague attack and he kicked his arms and legs into the darkness for want of synapses better equipped for fucking off pronto, flicking the duvet from the systolic nightmare of his torso with the plip of a burst hive.

'Any minute now,' he thought, 'an evil sounding voice is sure to resonate round my bedroom, peeling my Bon Jovi posters from their generous Blu-tak fixings with a vorpal weapon swish and working wonders for my Dickensian English.'

But then, from deep between the fractal apostrophes of his convoluted brain matter, the sound of Edith Piaf humming lewd Gallic ditties warbled its way down the ladder of his vocal chords and wished him a Merry Christmas. So convincing a DIY phantom was she that he talked himself to sleep till he was wide awake as a madman.

In the morning, he burned the gifts he'd received from his friends, denouncing the third person singular as a two-faced charade best left well alone.

'From now on I prune by the light of la lune,' he cackled, sharpening every last knife he could find and hurling his hand-bitten Texas Chainsaw Massacre DVD at his bookcase like a shuriken until his neighbours in the adjoining apartment were dead....


The Ghost of Christmas Past had quite a time with Evil Editor, as Ed wasn’t eager to revisit the monastery where it had all started. But in the end, the story unfolded…as if in a dream. Yeah, that’s it. A dream.

As a member of the Monks of the Order of Maximus, Edward had grown used to self-flagellation as a means to cleanse himself, body and soul. He and the other young monks-in-training, why, they’d have weekly sessions with Brother Tony, and in these sessions, they’d traipse up and down in absolute silence along the gravelled paths inside the monastery walls, feeling all holy and tingly inside.

But this beating up on himself, this flailing himself over the shoulder onto his back with his… uh…flail…well, it got old after a few years.

And as Edward grew older, this flailing stuff got all mixed up in his mind with those wet and messy pubescent dreams he was having, (and you know, you can flail until hell freezes over, but puberty is gonna have its wet ole’ way with you,) until the pleasure of flailing around in his bunk bed most nights, and the pleasurable pain of flailing around on the gravelly path with Brother Tony and the other young apostolates, well, the combo plan, it drove him half crazy.

Then one day…(isn’t there always a ‘then one day’ in these stories?) Edward heard a voice on the other side of the garden wall. A female voice. Reading poetry. And the voice was so beatifically beautiful, it was like listening to a songbird singing.

Suddenly, all those crazy night dreams slid straight into focus. And Ed knew what he had to do. Leaving Big Tony and the boys behind, he climbed over the wall, arms outstretched, ready to, as they say, seize the day, or at least have his way with, the bird.

He saw her standing there, smiling at him. She looked him up and down, and then she said…

“Do monks store sausages down their robes or are you just happy to see me?” And she started laughing. Well, that did it.

Edward became Evil Editor in that moment, that day. He left the monastery, and, with his insidious intelligence (and other good stuff) in tow, he set up shop, and would-be authors from all over flocked to him for a flailing. (Especially those birds. He had a flock of those birds now, just hanging on his every word.)

And now he really feels all tingly inside, although that holy part, well, that’s all gone now. Yeah.

Happy Holidays, EE!

--Robin S.

The Ghost of Christmas past had Evilnoozer Scribe pinned to the window, looking in the now-defunct literary agency where he began his career.

"Here's your first rejection, sent the day after you joined the agency: I'm sorry, Mr. Clancy, you're a complete moron and will never be published."

"I . . ."

"Quiet! Here's the second: A is for Alibi? It's a mystery to me you know the alphabet, Ms. Grafton. REJECTED!"

"Seemed like a bad title--"

"Silence! King, Heinlein, Grisham, I need to mention the other eight you rejected?"

"Nope. I get it."

"What I don't get is why you felt that the night custodian needed to answer queries for the agents."

"They told me to empty the trash, so--"


--Bill Highsmith

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

We all know what happened when the little "Who" discovered the Grinch taking all the presents; she bought his lies and went back to bed. Write a scene in which one of the following characters discovers the Grinch stealing Christmas: Columbo; Rambo; Chief Wiggum, Chris Hansen.

…And the Grinch grabbed the tree, and he started to push when he heard a strange sound like air leaving a tush. He turned around fast, and his foul mood went sour. Chief Wiggum stood staring, fresh out of the shower. The Grinch had been caught by this naked wet copper who'd been making his armpits make noises improper.

"Er," said the Chief. And the Grinch knew he'd blown it. Don't burgle a cop. Rule one, and he'd known it. Fooling Whos and Who Daughters was easy as pie, but cops here in Springfield might detect a bald lie. His only option was truth, so he gave it a try.

"Look," said the Grinch. "Please let me explain. I've got a good reason. I may be insane. Those Whos drove me crazy with their mirth and their fun. After ninety-six days I was back to square one. All that singing! Hand-holding! All those random high-fives! And that tasteless roast beast made me break out in hives! Oh, I tried! How I tried to be part of their lives."

Chief Wiggum stared blankly, blinking once now and then. Cop silence was deafening so the Grinch spoke again.

"I'm sorry to say, but it has to be said. I nearly emptied a Who-gun into my adopted Who head. So I left. I skipped town. I high-tailed it to here. I wound up in Moe's bar and Moe gave me a beer. And that's when, Chief Wiggum, that's when I knew. I could live here in Springfield, among all of you. Because you guys are yellow and I am quite green. So we must be related, share some skin tinting gene."

The blinky Chief Wiggum blinked blankly some more as the Grinch inched clandestinely toward the front door. "Whaddya say?" said the Grinch, slowly turning the knob. "Let bygones be bygones? I didn't technically rob."

"Hold it right there!" the naked Chief wailed. "You don't fool me with your tearjerker tale. Sure, I make arm farts. I walk around with no clothes. But I smell a big rat with my rat-smelling nose. Red hat and red coat? White beard and big sack? You must think I'm retarded, think I don't know jack. It's clear from your outfit you didn't run here on legs. So spill it, Easter Bunny. Where'd you hide all the eggs?"



Rambo Finds the Grinch


The End



Cindy-Lou Rambo

And the Grinch shoved the Christmas Tree right up the to the sky when who should appear but little Cindy Lou Rambo, not so little and wearing a fake wig and a pair of blond pigtails.

"Yo, fur-face," he said, "Where ya goin' wit dat tree?"

Taken aback, the Grinch prepared a bare frontal lie. "There's a burnt out bulb on this tip of this tree, Santa sent me to retrieve and repair."

"Oh HO HO HO," Cindy Lou Rambo laughed, a deep laugh unseemly for a maid, her night coat threadbare and reseamed too often. "It's got dose new-fangled LED light. Deys don't burn out. Ya wanna try another lie before I zap your ass with the Christmas TASER?"

"Santa does keep a naughty list, little Swiss miss," the Grinch smiled a wickedly, awfully, mendaciously convincing smile.

"Yo, I ain't your little Swiss miss. I'm da bouncer at Festoon Bar in da Hilton Dew Drop Inn. Don't let my nightie fool you. My parents here in Whoville wanted a girl. So every year, I dresses up to make 'em happy. It's my Christmas present to 'em, da memories last all the New Year."

"I'm positively vaporous with delight. The Dew Drop Inn, you say. I know it well, corner of Paulowna and Herron? It has pink flamingoes outside? Now Santa merely wishes to fulfill the wishes of young and old alike. He sent me here to fix an imperfection so nothing, big or small, can spoil the confection you so assiduously propose." The Grinch made a flourish with both hands and bowed.

"Put da tree and da gifts back old man or I'll deck my hall wit your boughs of holly."

--Dave F.


I was telling Mrs. Colombo about you and she thought that you just needed a big ole hug. I . . . I . . . just can't do that. Sorry. I'll just let you go now. Don't tell the chief, okay?

--Bill Highsmith


The Grinch patted little Cindy Lou Who on the head. "Now, my dear, tell me, which way is your bed? Time to go sleepy-bye, small sleepy-head."

Suddenly all the lights in the room went on, and a tall, fair-haired man walked in from the kitchen. Startled, the Grinch leaped to his feet. Only then did he notice that there was a camera crew in the corner of the room, behind where the tree had stood, busily filming.

The tall man strode forward. "Do you think it's normal for an adult Grinch to sneak down a chimney at four o'clock in the morning to have an assignation with a two-year-old child?"

The Grinch thought fast. "It is hard to determine the age of a Who. I thought she was grown up--now you tell me she's two? I swear to you, stranger, I meant her no harm--just to tuck her in bed, where she'd be safe and warm."

Cindy Lou, suddenly sounding much older (and somehow taller) remarked, "You knew all right, Grinch-boy, despite what you speak. You've been sending me e-mail for over a week. When I asked for a photo, you thought me a gubbins, and sent me a pic of Bartholomew Cubbins!"

The Grinch stared at her in horror. "Just who are you people, and what do you mean? Never mind, just forget it, I'm blowing this scene!"

"Let me introduce you to Detective Cindy Lou Who of the Whoville Police Special Victims Unit, a mistress of disguise. And I'm Chris Hansen of Dateline: NBC, and this is is To Catch a Predator.

"Book him, Cindy."

With holiday wishes for joy and not distress
From Tal, who is putting the Chris back in Christmas!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Face-Lift 468

Guess the Plot

The Spirit Thief

1. When a soul-sucking witch is picked for the cheerleading squad, it's up to cheerleader/amateur sleuth Allie Jones to uncover her identity before all the oomph goes out of her fellow cheerleaders.

2. Master thief Kadie will accept any commission if the pay--and the challenge--are enough. But when she "reallocates" the sealed jar on the altar of the crocodile god Sebek, the question becomes, Can she put something back before the world ends?

3. He's Eli, a charming wizard and the greatest thief in the world. She's Miranda, the wizardess hired to hunt him down. But when a more powerful wizard shows up and snatches the kingdom's throne, can Eli and Miranda team up to prevent him from also stealing the souls of inanimate objects?

4. One by one, the cheerleaders at Central High are succumbing to depression. The homecoming pep rally resembles a funeral. When quarterback Jack Van Helsing discovers that the new kid at school is more than a mere Goth/emo weirdo, can he stop The Spirit Thief before everyone starts dressing in black and wearing a lot of make-up?

5. Mrs. Mary Muffleton can't get through a day without a sip or two of hard spirits. When she finds her whiskey flask mysteriously drained, even teetotaling Mr. Muffleton gets involved in the hunt for the culprit. Strange noises in the basement, a blunt axe and a mismatched pair of shoes are the only clues to the identity of . . . The Spirit Thief.

6. When ghosts start disappearing, Trevor the poltergeist hopes that heaven has lowered its standards. But then he discovers the truth: the spirits are being systematically abducted by high-tech mercenaries, led by a nefarious scientist named Egon. In order to free his people, Trevor will pick off his foes one by one, possess a health inspector, and if he's lucky, get people to stop calling him 'Slimer'.

Original Version

Dear (agent-name-spelled-right),

In a world where everything has a soul, [Everything? Do people feel guilty about sending their trash to a landfill, knowing it deserves a proper burial?] and magic is as much about fast talking as raw power, Eli Monpress is a wizard who can charm a door off its hinges. [Does charming a door off its hinges affect the door's soul?] He's also the age's most famous thief, with a price on his head large enough to fund a small war. But that's not nearly enough for Eli, he has a higher goal, a greater purpose: earn a bounty of one million gold, or die trying. Of course, "die trying" is exactly what Miranda Lyonet, the wizardess with the impossible job [It's impossible?] of catching Eli before he ruins the reputation of wizards everywhere, would prefer he did. My fantasy novel, The Spirit Thief, complete at 75,000 words, is about what happens when magic, money, and a royal kidnapping gone wrong change the rules in the old game of cat and cat.

When Eli talks his way out of jail

[Eli: Guard!

Guard: What now?

Eli: Funniest thing. You're not gonna believe this, but . . . I'm innocent.

Guard: You're right, I don't . . . Hey, what's your cell door doing off its hinges?]

and steals the king of Mellinor, [Actually, we have a special word for stealing a person.] a country that has forbidden magic since its founding, there's nothing the nobles can do. [Well, they could send their armies after Eli, but his fast-talking skills would easily thwart them.

General: We've found you at last, Eli. Turn over our king or die.

Eli: Funniest thing. He escaped days ago. He should be back in Melanoma by now.

General: I don't want to believe you, but you're so damn charming.]

Fortunately for them, Miranda arrives right on Eli's heels. She offers to rescue the king, and catch Eli in the process, [Isn't catching Eli impossible? I know I heard that somewhere.] if Mellinor will rethink its ban on wizards. The nobles reluctantly agree, and Miranda begins the dangerous business of tracking down the self-proclaimed "greatest thief in the world." [Begins? I thought she was already tracking him down. Remember? To keep him from ruining the reputation of wizards everywhere?] But things get complicated when the kidnapped king's older brother, Renaud, himself a wizard banished by Mellinor's law, takes advantage of the confusion to make his triumphant return. Happy to have any prince, wizard or no, the nobles rush to follow his orders, but Miranda is suspicious. Can a banished prince really be willing to [Would a banished prince] stick his neck out for the younger brother who took his throne?

She gets her answer when Renaud sabotages the king's rescue, cheating Eli out of his ransom money and framing Miranda for the true king's death. [The true king? Isn't the true king the kidnapped younger brother? Since when is he dead?] To clear her name, and get out of the country alive, Miranda has to face the traitorous prince. But Renaud proves to be a more powerful wizard than she suspected, and it soon becomes clear she's going to need help. Unfortunately, "help" means swallowing her pride and teaming up with the thief who started this whole mess. But even Miranda and Eli together might not be enough to stop the plan Renaud has been hatching since he lost his birthright, and the price of failure could be much higher than Mellinor's throne. [The price of failure is the key. It's your query's Maltese Falcon. Its Ring of Power. Excalibur. The Grail . . . What is it?]

(Closing comments specific to each agent – not to exceed 25 words),

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon,


Revised Version

In a world where magic is as much about fast talking as raw power, Eli Monpress is a wizard who can charm a door off its hinges. He's also the age's most famous thief, but that's not enough for Eli; he vows to earn a bounty of one million gold, or die trying. When Eli talks his way out of jail and kidnaps the king of Mellinor, a country that has forbidden magic since its founding, there's nothing the nobles can do.

Enter Miranda Lyonet, a wizardess who arrives on Eli's heels. She offers to rescue the king and catch Eli in the process, if Mellinor will rethink its ban on wizards. But things get complicated when the kidnapped king's older brother Renaud, himself a wizard, takes advantage of the confusion to make his triumphant return. Miranda is suspicious. Would a banished prince really stick his neck out for the younger brother who took his throne?

She gets her answer when Renaud sabotages the king's rescue, cheating Eli out of his ransom and framing Miranda for the former king's death. To clear her name, Miranda must take on the traitorous prince, and for that she'll need help. Unfortunately, "help" means swallowing her pride and teaming up with the thief who started this whole mess--and the price of failure could be the universal destruction of Cocoa Puffs.

The Spirit Thief, complete at 75,000 words, is about what happens when magic, money, and a royal kidnapping gone wrong change the rules in the old game of cat and cat.

Thank you.


How come when a wizard kidnaps the king there's nothing the nobles can do, but when a wizardess is framed for killing the king, she can't get out of the country alive? Are wizards that much more powerful than wizardesses?

I recommend calling the kingdom Melanoma. It has a nice ring to it.

I liked the query, but it seemed too long for one page. The shorter version probably doesn't include the real price of failure, as I don't know it, but if it's something really terrible, you might want to work it in.


Cookbooks are big sellers, especially at holiday time. But even a cookbook needs a catchy title. Which of the following are real cookbooks, and which were composed by the Evil Minions? There are 11 real books on the list.

Faux Paws: Vegan Cooking for Your (Carnivorous) Pets

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

Stoned Soup: Favorite Recipes of the Martyrs

Kangaroo Cookin': 88 Simple Roo Recipes

Man and His Meatballs

Possum Gumbo, Crawfish Pie and Other Cajun Delights

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)

Moon Unit Zappa’s Vegan Goodies

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken

The Redneck Grill: The Most Fun You Can Have With Fire, Charcoal, and a Dead Animal

Mama Nazima's Jewish Iraqi Cuisine

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

The Head's the Best Part! 101 Ways to Cook Brain

The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef

Chewy, Gooey, Eyeball Stewy

Fishwife's Guide to Cooking for Ingrates

Cans en Croute - Make Cheap Ingredients Taste Special!

Offal Surprise - Tasty Dishes the Whole Family Will Love

Dinner's Brewing: 75 Great Recipes with Beer

Pig Ears: Not Just for Your Dog

Crock of Shitake--Japanese Crock Cooking

The Abs Diet: 6-Minute Meals for 6-Pack Abs

What’s For Dessert In The Desert? A Wartime Baker’s Compendium

Boy Meets Grill

Erin go Burp: Traditional Meals from Ireland's Emerald Shores.

Actual titles are listed below.

Fakes were submitted by McKoala, Bill Highsmith, Sarah, Midnight Muse, and EE

The actual cookbooks are:

Mama Nazima's Jewish Iraqi Cuisine

Kangaroo Cookin': 88 Simple Roo Recipes

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef

Man and His Meatballs

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)

The Abs Diet: 6-Minute Meals for 6-Pack Abs

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken

The Redneck Grill: The Most Fun You Can Have With Fire, Charcoal, and a Dead Animal

Boy Meets Grill

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Face-Lift 467

Guess the Plot

Maureen Pope

1. A starry-eyed nun's chance encounter in the Vatican turns into much more when she gives birth nine months later to a baby girl.

2. In a world where the demons are all too real, the daughter of the Pope gains the power of Super Prayer.

3. As a child, there had been nothing she wanted more than to be Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, but at fifty, she had to face the bitter reality: she was just Maureen, Pope of Rome.

4. She was a cross-dresser, she was a nun. And now, thanks to the liberalized rules of the New Catholic Church, she's the Pope. And man, does she have some altar boys to get back at.

5. Born and orphaned in a taxi in Belfast in 1967, she was adopted and raised by the taxi's deaf driver. She joined the IRA at twelve. Now 26, she's one of the organization's most violent and vicious leaders. When she discovers she's become pregnant, she faces choices and soul-searching she never expected. She's . . . Maureen Pope.

6. She studied the classics when she was very young. Then when she was five her mother sent her to boarding school for ten years. Now she's back, and someone's gonna pay. For something. They call her . . . Maureen Pope.

Original Version

Dear Ms. Agentname,

Maureen is a privileged child from birth. Silent and observant, she spends her time reading and studying the classics with her father, Adam. [What do you mean, "silent"? Does she speak? Can she?] When Adam dies [How?] shortly before her sixth birthday, [She was five? I thought she was studying Oedepus Rex and The Aeneid. Now I find out by "classics" you meant The Cat in the Hat and Winnie-the-Pooh.] though, her quiet life suddenly changes. Her once-vibrant mother banishes her to a far-off school, where Maureen spends the majority of her childhood. Maureen returns home nearly ten years later to find her whole world changed, [How?] and soon discovers a sinister pattern of denial, not only of the dead, [Not only of the dead? The dead are in denial? Of what? If this is a zombie book, that's your biggest selling point. Trumpet it. Change the title to I Was a Zombie's Daughter.] but of the living, as well. [Who's denying what?] She must then struggle to lay her father's soul to rest and free his exiled memory.

Maureen Pope is a literary fiction piece. It is 64,000 words. I understand that you are particularly interested in literary fiction; I think that my novel is well-suited to your tastes and hope it fits your agency's needs. Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to your response. [Too many blah sentences in this paragraph.]



I don't understand "free his exiled memory."

Why isn't her father's soul at rest?

All we have here is that a girl's father dies, she goes away for ten years, and when she returns things have changed. Not enough to go on. I, as an unusually prescient editor, can deduce that Maureen's mother murdered Adam, and his spirit can't rest until Maureen kills her mother, marries her stepfather, and finishes reading the complete works of Euripides, but most agents and editors will want the specifics spelled out in the query. I've pointed out a few places where specifics can be easily added.

New Beginning 422

In a small apartment near the Hospital Salpetriere in Paris, the doctor is surprised by the soft sounding of his door knocker. It is a polite knock, not timid, but no louder than it needs to be to attract his attention. He has no scheduled patients, and he approaches the door with curiosity, wondering who is calling so long past the dinner hour on such a snowy night.

On the stoop waits a man alone. He wears a thin cape, leather gloves, no hat, seeming impervious to the cold. His eyes are black, rimmed round with lashes so thick it almost looks as if someone has drawn circles around them with Egyptian kohl. His hair hangs in a long, thick plait down his back, his boots are a dark, butter-soft leather, laced up to his knees. His German is flawless, his glance both hopeful and cautious.

Doctor Freud? My name is Dragula. I have been referred to you by a friend. He believes you may be able to help me.”

Freud bows his head. "You may rely on it," he replies, and steps aside. Dragula nods in thanks and enters.

"Perhaps you are my only hope," Dragula says as he removes his cape. "Your skills are the talk of the city."

Freud again gives a modest bow. "Without a doubt." He leads his visitor into the parlor.

"I am at my wit's end. I am racked by a . . . a craving for human blood. I fear . . . Am I insane, doctor?"

Freud thinks for a moment, staring toward the ground. "As I see it, yes."

"The Devil take me! Can you possibly help me?"

The doctor takes a deep breath and rubs his beard. He turns toward the fireplace. "Very doubtful."

"Then I am doomed. I shall serve my eternity in Hell. You can offer me no solace?"

Freud clears his throat. "Reply hazy, try again."

"What I must know is-- Uh, what does that mean? Hey, wait just a minute . . . What's that?" Dragula stands and approaches Freud. "Is that a--? You're getting your answers from a magic eight ball?"

Freud thrusts his hands into his jacket pockets. His eyes dart around the room, like those of a trapped animal. "I . . . Ah . . . " He turns around again. "Ah . . . Signs point to yes."

Opening: deb hoag.....Continuation: ril

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Face-Lift 466

Guess the Plot

Cargo Volante

1. Yet another plane comes to a deadly, explosive end when it skitters off the edge of a too-short runway in Brazil. Two hundred dead is bad enough, but when over half of the bodies are found in the cargo hold, the crash unlocks a secret slave trade that Hugo Volante, investigative reporter, will risk his life to expose.

2. After six months of unemployment, Sue has just started her new shipping and receiving job at Cargo Volante. Soon she learns that the company is bringing huge quantities of marijuana and cocaine into the U.S. Should Sue report this? Or should she just ask for an employee discount?

3. He's a hunky Brazilian soya farmer intent on expanding his farm into the Brazilian rainforest. She's a hard-headed, voluptuous American environmentalist out to stop deforestation. When they collide, it's so hot it could set the Amazon on fire.

4. On an abandoned cargo wharf, penniless, homeless, drunk Hiram falls in with a group of drug-addled anarchists. Together they turn the seedy wharf into a thriving venue for dance parties, with Hiram becoming a popular DJ and flying high in the city's social circles--until he starts to miss his old life of dumpster diving and bongs.

5. Cargo Volante was the code name for a spook research venture, a flying brick with no aerodynamics or fuel. Would this Area 51 project launch the U.S. into interstellar flight, or would the KGB's Cargo Snagglepuss program send it in another direction?

6. It was smuggling of the fowlest kind, and Dirk Destiny was determined to ferret out the depraved ring of black-marketers. But what he hadn't counted on was that the only way to succeed would be to don a tight fur suit and weasel his way in on all fours, hoping that he would be the perfect mole to infiltrate the vole-snatching ring in this spine-tingling tale of small animals gone awry.

Original Version

[It's actually a synopsis/cover page for a serial comic book proposal, which are a bit different from novel queries in that they don't expect you to have the entire thing written when you're pitching it.]

Hiram, a gay teenage delinquent on a prolonged whiskey bender, runs away from his mother's trailer on the Tulalip Indian Reservation out of frustration at the depressed economy and depressing people, and finds himself penniless, homeless, too sheltered and too drunk to consider anything besides crashing on the couch of the first person who offers. [If you're penniless, homeless and drunk, you're rarely in position to pick and choose from among several couch offers.] [Not clear what "too sheltered" means here.] That person turns out to be Sebastian, a quirky South American trust-fund brat turned starving artist squatting with a group of anarchists in a seedy abandoned container wharf on the Seattle waterfront. After several nights of heady conversations with his newfound friends and torrid sex with Sebastian, [Apparently comic books have changed a bit since the days of Archie and Jughead, Richie Rich and The Flash.] Hiram decides to move in with him - just temporarily, until he can get his feet on the ground, of course.

With the help of their circle of drug-addled, counterculture buddies, the unlikely pair turn the remote squat into a thriving venue for underground electronic dance music parties, and Hiram lives out his dream of becoming a popular house DJ and socialite in the big city. [A gay teenage delinquent who grew up on a reservation has a dream of being a big city socialite?] [Let's cut to the chase: what are Hiram's super powers?] It doesn't take him long to get over the culture shock and ditch mainstream day-job society for his chance at a wayward youth full of debauchery, dumpster-diving, bongos and bongs with the man and the scene he is falling deeply in love with. [How can he ditch mainstream day-job society? Is DJ at an underground dance club considered mainstream day-job society?] Hiram quits drinking, begins to take pride in his appearance, and finally starts to tear down the cynical, angry facade he has been hiding behind since childhood, feeling that only now has he found the 'tribe' to which he truly belongs. [This seems to keep going back and forth. He ditched the good life for a life of debauchery, dumpster diving and bongs, yet he also quits drinking etc.? Is the tribe to which he belongs the drug-addled counterculture buddies? If so, do they drink? Do they take pride in their appearances?]

But every party has to end sometime. The unlimited supply of pills and speed tempts Hiram with increasing frequency, he is plagued with guilt about leaving his disabled mother and codependent older sister back on the Rez, the fundamental differences between his world view and Sebastian's cause drama in their relationship, and the parties at the wharf have gained enough notoriety to attract unwanted attention. [Aquaman and Prince Namor want their cut of the profits.] Reckless and hedonistic abandon may have worked out for the best the first time around, but it's going to take maturity, self-sacrifice and cooperation to keep everything he's worked towards from falling apart.

[Origin of the title - It's like Disco Volante, which is Italian for 'Flying Saucer' but more commonly used as a pun about discotheque music, but in a cargo wharf, so, cargo! If anyone has any better suggestions, I'm all ears. I haven't drawn the logo yet.] [You removed the "disco" from disco volante and replaced it with "cargo." If anything needed replacing, it was the "volante," since the wharf was converted to a disco. I'd certainly go with Disco Volante as the title over Cargo Volante. And I'd seriously consider adding some flying saucers to the plot.]


The plot sounds more like literary fiction than a comic book series. I suppose if I'm gonna read something depressing it might as well have pictures.

It's not clear what happens after the dance club becomes successful. Does Hiram ditch the club for high society, and then go back to Sebastian? If so, when he goes back I would expect him to find the wharf a thriving venue, not the seedy dump it was when he first got there. So how is going back to life with Sebastian connected with dumpster diving?

Do they charge money to attend the parties? Is it a business? Where do they get the money for equipment and music and decor etc.? Does the starving artist dip into his trust fund for speakers?

Even if there are no super villains, there should be a villain of some sort. Who's the bad guy who threatens to mess everything up for our "hero"?

Monday, December 17, 2007

New Beginning 421

Once safely inside the Tribune Saica's house, we threw off our cloaks to reveal our uniforms. The housekeeper gave me a sterner version of the look with which he'd greeted us at the door.

"Ain't no Twelfth Legion," he said.

Ignoring him, we advanced on the exedra; he retreated before us, slamming his wooden leg down on the floor at every other step, perhaps as a warning.

The smell of food hadn't misled. We interrupted Saica at dinner, he rising from his seat to greet us, and Drusus grabbing the housekeeper and shoving him out of the room. Once Drusus closed the door, he stood with his back to it. That left him conveniently in shadow. No matter--he would have to face Saica soon enough.

Geraint stepped aside. Saica looked at me for a long moment, then reached for his glass of wine, and sipped from it.

"We are sent here from the Twelfth Legion," I said.

Saica examined my uniform as his slender fingers played with the stem of his wine glass. "I know of no Twelfth Legion," he replied.

I cast Geraint a glance. "We have traveled fourteen days from the city of Rudra to meet with you."

"Really?" Saica arched an eyebrow. "Yet I have never heard of a city called Rudra."

"Sir." I took a step closer so he could fully see my earnestness. "Our country is in turmoil. If we do not form an alliance, the Jardian will take control."

Saica shook his head. "Jardian is a name unfamiliar to me." He took another sip of wine.

"Tribune Saica! Your stubbornness does us a disservice."

"You have me mistaken, sir, for my name is Aiken Dromm and I am a farmer."

I heard the tap of a wooden leg outside the door. "Ain't no Tribune Saica," were the housekeepers muffled words.

I snatched the order papers from Geraint's hands. "Bollocks. We're in the wrong buggering story."

Opening: BuffySquirrel.....Continuation: ril

Face-Lift 465

Guess the Plot

The Dracula Chronicles: The Dragon Awakes

1. The wind brings glad tidings--a child is born unto a minor prince in the little town of Wallachia. And he shall be named Vlad. And he shall be a good man. Then a dragon shall awake and ruin everything. Also, a vampire.

2. Another in the cross-genre series in which the author seeks to reinvigorate the moribund fantasy novel, following her widely-acclaimed "Frankenstein and the Philosopher's Stone," "Zombies of the Round Table" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Weredingo."

3. Dracula was on vacation, working on his memoirs in Newark, the least likely place to have a sleeping dragon. But there was a dragon, under the old Peoples' Express terminal and it smelled Dracula's aura. Was Newark ready for total war between Dracula and Dragona? Would they even notice?

4. It has vampires, it has dragons. As long as both are on the cover, it doesn't need a plot, because every fantasy/paranormal fanboi will buy it anyway. Now if only we could fit werewolves in there somewhere...

5. Dracula gives the fang to a dragon, creating a new creature that drinks blood and throws away the meat, quadrupling the dragon's harvesting of humans. Thanks a bunch, Dracula.

6. Dracula's late-night heavy toga-partying with his werewolf buds pisses off a neighborhood dragon, causing a flame war.

Original Version

Dear Evil:

I've recently completed a 90,000 word novel of supernatural suspense that focuses on the early life of Vlad Dracula. [Just the first 400 years.]

[Dracula: The Early Years

I. Dracula breast-feeding

Mrs. Dracula: Hey, you little bastard, just suck it!

II. Dracula in kindergarten

Teacher: Okay, which one of you drained Maria's blood?

III. Dracula in ninth grade

Principal: Okay, which one of you drained Mrs. Wallenstein's blood?]

In this richly drawn portrait of the infamous vampire, The Dracula Chronicles: The Dragon Awakes tells the story of an extraordinary man with the power to change the face of Europe forever. [By making it very pale.]

The story begins in 1431, high in the Carpathian Mountains. A Black Dragon sleeps, as he has done for a hundred years, sated on the blood and pain of the Crusades. Then the winds bring Black Radul tidings of a child – the son of a minor prince in the insignificant country of Wallachia, which borders the Black Sea. Vlad has the power to cast Europe back into another Dark Age, and postpone the Renaissance for centuries. Radul's goal is to tie the boy to him before the other Great Dragons of Europe can manipulate him for their own purposes. [When a gigantic lizard wakes up after a hundred years, I suspect his only immediate goal would involve pigging out on a couple dozen knights.]

When Vlad is singled out for induction into the [Vampire Hall of Fame,] Holy Roman Emperor's powerful and secretive Order of the Dragon, the ceremony gives him strange new powers . . . [while robbing him of the ability to pronounce the letter "w,"] and binds him to Radul, the Black Dragon of the Carpathians, in an unholy servitude that Vlad can neither accept nor escape.

This sumptuous tale travels from the debauched and glittering Nuremburg court of Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, to Adrianople, and the hashish-soaked harem of Murad II, the Grand Sultan of the Ottoman Turks.

The Dracula Chronicles: The Dragon Awakes combines the actual events of the life of Prince Vlad Dragula [That's what Dracula goes by when he dresses in women's clothes.] with the myth of Dracula, to tell the tale of an exceptional man at the center of a whirlwind of magic and evil, seeking to insure that the world remains in the hands of the mortals it was created for, no matter what the price. [Wait a minute, Dracula's the good guy?]

Please let me know if there is anything further I can do to facilitate your consideration. Sample chapters and the full manuscript are available at your request.



It wasn't clear to me whether Radul wanted to use Vlad to postpone the Renaissance or wanted to prevent other Great Dragons from using him to postpone the Renaissance. What are the various dragons' motivations? It must be made clear what Radul wants with Dracula.

Better to let the editor discover that your story is richly drawn and sumptuous than to declare it so yourself.

This reminds me of other books based on the actual events of Dracula's life. Except it has dragons.

Anne Rice wrote The Vampire Chronicles. Unless you're Anne Rice, you might consider a new title.

Charter Members of the Vampire Hall of Fame: Dracula, Angel, Lestat, Armand, The Count, Count Duckula, Count Chocula, Evil Editor's first wife, the IRS.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

The task was to write a scene involving yourself and an annoying restaurant waitperson.

1. "Hell-o-o-o. My name is Randol. I'll be your server tonight. May I start you off with a 'tini? The chocotini is my very fa-a-vorite."

"Let's make this easy, Randy . . . "


"Rand'l. Whatever."

"Ran-DAWL, not Randall. I'm a PERSON, you know, not your slave."

"Okay, Ran-DAWL. I don't know what you're smoking, but give me two mediums, black, a pumpkin muffin, a coffee roll, and dozen of those Chocotini Munchkins you're so fond of. And make it snappy. I see the bus coming."

--Dick Margulis

2. Two goombas sat at a Formica table. A platter of steaming linguini di pomadoro crowned with meatballs sat on a platter next to a basket of over-garlicked bread. At the other end of the diner, a door opened and the smell of cheap air freshener and urinal cakes followed Porfirio Ruiz's short black hair, electric-blue silk shirt, and white tie to the table. He motioned to sit. Reedy pulled a chair from a table and sat with his legs around the backrest. Blantan stood behind him.

"Petunia tells me yous want to talk." Ruiz tucked a napkin into his collar, rolled the linguini against his spoon and shoveled a wad of pasta into his mouth. The ends flicked red sauce everywhere.

"Your name surfaced during our investigation of Zack Savage's death."

"I'm not a moron. Savage didn't give you my number. Only two people know that number. One is so brain damaged he can't remember how to jackoff. The other is no longer my son." Ruiz drank a half glass of wine and sopped up his chin with a piece of bread. A goomba refilled the glass.

"Sentimental," Blantan sniped.

"Go piss up a rope, moron. I don't give a shit about you or Savage. I paid the friggen Pope a ton of money to let me adopt those two kids and then I had to build a friggen cathedral to disown them. He crossed himself as he ate. "What's dey done now dat Daddy has to bail them out?" His words and mouth distorted by mouthfuls of linguini. He belched, garlic breath.

"Your son Jack was genuinely concerned," Reedy said, trying to understand Ruiz's attitude.

"He was?" Ruiz put his hand to his chest in mock concern. "He's the one without brain damage. When they hooked up with that idiot. I kicked their asses out, disowned them. No sons of mine are ever going to become jackasses." Ruiz swallowed a whole meatball.

--Dave F.

3. After pestering a fabulous babe at work for six months to go to dinner with me (and being talked to twice by HR), the last thing I wanted on our first date was an annoying waiter.

"I like your Hear no Evil Editor tee shirt," he said.

"Thanks. What would you like to drink, Margie--"

"What do you think of him?" The waiter again.

"Huh? Oh, funny guy. Margie--"

"Real funny or just sorta funny?"

"Real funny, sometimes. Margie--"

"Pretty good editor, too, huh?"

"Sure, dude. Margie--"

"What do you like best, his Face-Lifts or--"

"His Face-Lifts, of course. Margie--"

"Not his New Beginnings?" The waiter seemed really upset.

"You're him, aren't you? You've got the mutton chops and everything."

The waiter was stricken with panic for a moment. "You won't tell anyone, will you?"

--Bill Highsmith

4. The final drip of Hugo's piss plops into my wineglass and he bounds from the table, jabbing his elbow into the back of my head like a rugby player thrashing about in a grudge match scrum. I rise to offer my sincere apologies, and hopefully, to escape, but before my soup-drenched knees can respond to the most obsequious of grovelling reflexes, knives, forks, spoons, cruet and plateloads of my fellow diners' dinners are winging their way towards my skull, flung with a venom unwitnessed since Hitler cut himself getting his tash just right.

'No-one,' he screeches. 'Why does no-one ever compliment me on my beautifully folded napkins!'


5. It had been a rough day, so I stopped into an intimate coffee shop to wind down. I saw him immediately, heading my way, white gloves, white face, and apparently walking into a gale-force wind. It took him about a minute to reach my table, where he held out his hand as if it held a menu. I made a mental note to provide a tip with as much substance as the menu.

"Just bring me a cheese danish and coffee," I told him.

He frowned, then saluted, then started toward the kitchen. But before he'd taken two steps, he stopped. He could go no further, as he had somehow become trapped inside an invisible box. Unable to find a way out he looked panic-stricken.

Realizing the man needed help, I looked around until my eyes fell upon a fire axe behind a pane of glass. I sprang into action, breaking the glass, grabbing the axe, and rushing to the waiter's aid.

I still couldn't see the box, but it was clear from the waiter's hand positions where it was. Incredibly, just as I prepared to swing a mighty axe-blow at the box, it seemed to disintegrate, allowing the waiter to leap from it and run to the kitchen.

I never did get my coffee, but I did receive a round of applause from the other customers.

--Evil Editor

6. Serving the Muse

I chose to dine at A's establishment:
a restaurant well marked for style, panache
and quality, a place for nourishment
of soul and sense - at least they kept the trash

at bay when one's inclined to eat good food -
or so I was informed. I ordered boar
and settled back to contemplate the crude
parade of riff-raff shambling past the door.

"My deeply felt apologies," a voice
beside my elbow murmured. Looking down
I saw the chiseled bones of service hoist
into my view. "Why so?" I asked, a frown

across my brow. "We've had to bar the boar,"
the waiter cringed: "It charged around the place
creating havoc, carnage! Such a chore
to clear the mess - we turfed it out, disgraced!"

Nonplussed, I checked the menu once again.
"What else is there to eat?" The old man smiled,
his lips a gruel of soup. "The chicken, plain,
is rather good - a filling dish, par-boiled."

"But rather boring, I'd have thought?" He shook
his head and said: "You do not understand, young sir,
but plain is best - no sauce to hide the look,
no herb or spice disguising taste! The bird

served bland delights the plate. Just try a breast
or two." I was intrigued, I have to say:
"You use no salt? No stuffing? Just undressed?"
"Oh yes!" he said. "It is the only way

to exercise the muse! We don't allow
ingredients to spoil the meal, the chefs
must work in peace and comfort - once the row
of discontent is banished, gone, they're left

with harmony in which to hone their skills
and arts! A space where they can learn to shape
their honest, soul-full heart-wrought chicken meals
to feed our guests: a dish you can't escape!"


7. So I’m sitting on pins and needles. At least in my mind they’re right there under me, and they’re poking up out of this crushed-velvet pretend-French hoo-ha chair and hurting like, well, like pins in my ass.

I’m waiting for the guy to show, and I’m trying to keep those nerve needles from hurting any more than they have to. It doesn’t help much when this precious, pudgy waitperson waddles over, and I’m not sure if it’s a he or a she looking down at me.

“How are we this evening, Madame?” he/she says.

I look around, and I’m right. There’s no one else at my table. I guess I’m getting the Royal We treatment. Something I’m so used to.

So I say, just to piss him/her off, “We’re fine, thanks. And we’d like to start off, as soon as possible, please, with the wine list.”

And he/she says to me, as though I hadn’t just spoken, “My name is Porter, and I shall be serving you this evening. Would you care…” and he/she looks back and forth from me to the empty seat at my table and back to me again, “…to see the wine list?”

“I’m not alone, you know,” I say. “I’m…waiting for someone.”

“Yes, yes, of course you are, Madame,” says this pudgy Porter person, all warm smile and smarm.

About this time the door opens, and in the guy walks. He’s seated at a table by the window. Near me. Christ. I feel pins actually invading my ass. I think they’re really in there now.

Pudgy Porter hands me my wine list. He watches me watching the guy, and he smiles. A big one this time. I crook my finger at Porter, and Porter leans on over, all ready for a whispery confab.

“Don’t mess with me on this, Porter, honey,”I said to him/her, “or I’ll be finding out what’s down there between your little legs right in this room. Got it?”

And then, Porter got it.

--Robin S.

8. "You're very brave to bring me here," I said to Mark as he seated me.

"Nonsense. I've always wanted to try Cajun-Asian fusion cuisine."

"You're a bad liar, but a very nice cousin." As I began to study the menu, a waiter appeared--barely post-adolescent, with sullen eyes and a smarmy smile.

"Hello, I'm Benjy, and I'll be--"

Mon dieu! Not again! "Our waiter, not our personal friend," I snapped.

"Let me tell you a bit about the history of Wok Full of Gumbo and our specials. Our chef--"

"I already know the history of your restaurant, and I'd much rather read the menu for myself. PLEASE."

"But I need to explain our dishes." He turned to Mark. "Sir, here at Wok Full of Gumbo--"

Mark waved him to silence. "Never mind. Juliette, what do you want me to order?"

At this point Benjy lost it. "Dude, are you going to let the bitch tell you what to EAT? Are you a frickin' man or a frickin' mouse? You're supposed to order for HER! What is she--your sugar momma? Your boss?"

"No," Mark said mildly. "Just my cousin from Paris . . . and the food critic for the Guide Michelin."


9. It wasn't the best bouillabaisse I'd ever had, far from it, and what made it annoying was that the waiter had recommended it so highly. So when he asked how everything was and started to walk away before I'd even answered, I said, "Lousy," which was overstating it a bit, but if I'd given him the usual "All right," he'd have kept walking and I wouldn't have seen him for twenty minutes.

"What's the problem?" he asked.

"The clams are tough, the shrimp are overcooked, the fish has bones . . . "

He sat down at my table. "Man, I'm bushed," he said.

"And . . . you're joining me for dinner?"

"Nah, just resting my dogs." He picked up my spoon. "Do you mind?" he asked, and served himself a spoonful of the soup before I could answer. "Not so bad," he said. "Needs a little salt." He added some salt, then picked up a piece of my bread, dipped it in the broth, and ate that. "Mmmm, love it," he declared. "I don't see what the problem is."

"If you're going to eat part of my dinner, maybe you should pay for it," I told him.

"Hey, pal," he said, "you don't even like it. Better that I eat it than that it gets tossed in the trash or back in the pot. Pass me the pepper, will you?"

I passed him the pepper.

"Word of advice," he said as he finished off my meal. "Next time, get the vichyssoise."