Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 New Beginning Awards

Once upon a time bodies lay thick on the ground. Most were dead but there were a few who were soon to be made so. Postules filled with blood and pus, then burst. The mixture burned the skin of the living and dead alike.

I am Death. I have sinned. This is my confession.

"Death, you say?" I tugged on my collar and swallowed. "Well, let's see . . . This is most unusual, and I'm a bit new at this, but . . . you're going to need to say twelve million Hail Marys and thirty-five thousand Our Fathers. Yes, I think that should be about right."

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: Eric

Journal, if I am going to keep you we need to get one thing straight. I am keeping you because I want to, because I choose to and because I wish to share my experience and pessimism with any travellers fortunate enough to find you (if there are any nuggets of wisdom in my words, I apologise for that now). Most importantly, journal, this means I am not keeping you because Miss Perfect Susanne asked me to. I like to think that more than a flimsy shopper’s notepad and bank pen lies between me and insanity, thank you very much.

I would also like to point out that I’m aware you are an inanimate object, even if I refer to you as ‘you’ – it’s just easier that way. Given that I’m one of probably only a handful of sane people left on this planet, I thought you’d understand.

Not that most people nowadays are insane; they’re just dead.

Dresser, don't think I can't hear you sneaking up behind me as I write this. That's an expensive hardwood floor you're tearing up. Just keep your distance, and if I need a pair of clean underpants, I know where to find you.

Television, you turned yourself on and now you can turn yourself right back off. Or at the very least, switch away from Jersey Shore re-runs. If there's any silver lining to the bizarre force that has breathed hellish life into Earth's inanimate objects, it's that reality TV "stars" were among the first casualties.

Toilet ... we need to talk.

Opening: Naomi Reynolds.....Continuation: jrmosher

The girl screamed in delirium as she lay on the white bed twisting the stiff, starched sheets under her. A stain of sweat and blood spread below her raised and shaking legs. A musky smell hung in the air as the girl struggled. Outside the rain streamed down in a torrential rush beating in a tinny, rhythm on the windows of the back room of the one-floor medical office.

Doctor Britton’s right hand slid inside the girl up to his wrist as he pushed down on her bloated stomach. She screamed again as he touched her monstrous belly. Then her lungs and strength gave up and she trailed off into ragged whimpers.

“The head is turned. Get me the forceps!” He yelled to the nurse with cropped, gray hair. She swiftly identified the instrument from the table near her and placed it in Doctor Britton’s outstretched left hand. She trembled next to him. In her 40 years as a nurse she had never seen a pregnant woman scream so hideously through the birth process. Something was wrong, terribly wrong.

She wished there were other attendants here for this birth besides herself and the doctor – and the unseen man outside who waited to finish this night for them and take this baby. She glanced at the back door where he waited. She wondered what kind of man would wait in the rain for such a job.

[Slow dissolve. Fade in on man in brown uniform waiting patiently.]

Voice-over: UPS: For your most difficult deliveries. Ask about our guaranteed pick-up service.

[Fade to black.]

Opening: Donna Galanti.....Continuation: Anon (Probably ril)

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Cartoon Caption Awards


Caption by Khazar-khum


Caption by anon. (probably ril)


Caption by Whirlochre

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Beginning 912

He stood in the afternoon sun, studying three dead bodies littering the Victorian Townhouse. The occupants had moved out overnight, stripping the furniture and decorations and leaving their dead; one withered, one pumped full of embalming fluid and one with his neck ripped out but devoid of blood. None of the neighbors heard any noise or remembered the occupants. Detective Lieutenant Gimbles prepared for magic that would bring a vision of what happened here.


There was a knife in Whitlaw Hamilton's chest and it dripped blood. The thief stared as the blood covered his hand. Not hot vital blood but cold unnatural blood. Whitlaw sneered, not dying. The thief stepped back, wiped his shaking hand on his sweatshirt with panic spreading over his face.

"You shouldn't have done that. It's hurts to have a knife stabbed into your heart. Did you ever have a knife stuck in your chest?" Whitlaw asked. He bent over in mock pain, grabbed the knife in his right hand and yanked it out of his chest. Blood gushed over his naked abs and down his legs. The thief babbled and turned to run.


The defense attorney cleared his throat and spoke carefully. "So this, uh, 'vision' of yours, Detective--"

"My magic vision," Gimbles clarified.

"Yes, your . . . magic vision of my client being stabbed in the heart told you to arrest him on three counts of first-degree murder? Did you have any other reason to charge him?"

"Well yeah, he's a vampire," Gimbles explained, exasperated. "Look!" The decorated detective seized a cross from under his collar and held it dramatically toward the defendant. The bailiff wrestled it away from him as the prosecutor looked down in shame.

"Unless the prosecution can produce some tangible evidence," the judge declared, "I order the immediate psychological evaluation of Detective Gimbles. Case dismissed."

Opening: Dave F......Continuation: Tamara Marnell

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Face-Lift 981

Guess the Plot


1. Two dogs attempt to speak in English, but their vocabulary is so small . . . hilarity ensues.

2. Convicted of treason in the Andromeda galaxy, Lachette is given the ultimate sentence: banishment to Earth! Her response upon learning this: "NOOOOOooooooooo!"

3. Look, let's just cut to the chase and say that this is my answer to your query.

4. An author attempts reverse psychology to sell a novel about the childhood of an evil genius as an autobiography. It's a meta thing.

5. Whether it followed your sales pitch, marriage proposal or drunken pick-up line, if anyone's ever asked you, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" then this is the book for you. Over 300 pages of clear explanations and real-life examples, plus chapters on etymology, pronunciation and spelling. Soon you'll be able to say, "Baby, I'm an expert."

6. A complete guide to successful parenting, from toddler to teen.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When Lachette, one of a species of humanoid aliens composed entirely of fire called Fianites, [And you thought you were burned out?] [Is it the fire that's called Fianites?] is banished from her home planet in the Andromeda Galaxy [If she was on her home planet, why is she referred to as an alien?] for high treason, she is sent to Earth. Her crime: revealing the planet's most highly guarded secrets to the enemy in the midst of war. [In the midst of war, a space ship would have better uses than transporting a criminal to another galaxy.] [I've never thought of planets as having highly guarded secrets, though admittedly, our scientists are always trying to figure out what causes the strange noises coming from Uranus. What are Earth's most highly guarded secrets, and from whom are we guarding them?] [Apparently we haven't even been able to keep the fact that Earth is the perfect place to send your worst criminals secret from planets in the Andromeda galaxy.] After befriending a few humans--two girls named Rex and Kaz, [Would a human name a girl Rex?] and two boys named Justin and Andre--she dodges the United States Armed Forces as she keeps in contact with her best friend and princess of the planet of Fianate, Zatini. [Wouldn't Zatini die of old age in the time it takes Lachette's message to get to Fianate?] [Also, isn't Zatini a pasta?] All together, they gather evidence, examine it, and send it back to the Elder Council of Fianate to prove Lachette's innocence [There's evidence of Lachette's innocence on Earth?] and uncover the one who framed her, all this within a deadline. [Twenty-seven light years.] [Yes, I'm aware light years are a measure of distance, not time, but would you have thought it was as funny if I'd said Twenty-seven exaseconds?] [(One exasecond = 32 billion years.)] She has one month to leave American territory or the President will give clearance to hunt her down and capture her as United States property. [Why has she been dodging the US military if they haven't yet been given clearance to capture her?] [Also, the US is already crawling with millions of illegal aliens. We hardly ever manage to capture any.]

No is the completed second book in the unfinished Uncertainties Series at 52,016 words. [There's nothing Uncertain about No. Change the title to Maybe, Maybe Not.]

Thank you for your time.


I wasn't sure if this was a real novel until I realized that "RexKazJustinAndreLachette" could be anagrammed to form "EE in drunk sex tryst in Uzbekistan."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Face-Lift 980

Guess the Plot

Hollywood Endings

1. Detective Krinsky is called to the Chateau Marmont to investigate the murder of a paparazzo. The LAPD chief of detectives tells him the murder is not as important as the victim’s collection of photos of the most famous Hollywood derri√®res. Krinsky must solve the murder, and recover the photos sought by three different groups that will kill for them.

2. Courtney isn't looking for fame and fortune when she heads for Hollywood, just a chance to make the world a better place. Then she meets hunky model-turned-actor Justin. Will publicity tours, red carpet premieres, paparazzi, tabloids, Justins' crazed jealous ex, and hobnobbing with jet-set celebs change Courtney? And is there more to Justin than his perfectly chiseled body, piercing blue eyes and adorable dimples? Based on 1000 true stories.

3. Monsters emerge from a UFO. Strategic use of a fire hose can save mankind, or at least teen psychic Chas Cramer and his girlfriend Wendy. Cross-country chase scenes. Also, a massive explosion, an angel choir and bright lights, helicopters, bazookas, massive icky sticky goop, etc.

4. Ghostwriter Tom Evans can turn any stupid monster movie into a blockbuster by rewriting its final scenes, but he yearns for an Oscar. He retreats to Wyoming to write like a modern-day Thoreau, but his insightful meditations are disrupted by wolves, grizzly bears, gun-freaks with basement distilleries, nudists, forest fires, and that seductive witch -- Roxanne.

5. Hitler, Napoleon, and Attila race chariots towards a row of exploding shopping carts where clones of zombie Marilyn Monroe line dance. More things explode. A sensitive monologue about the cost of explosions on the environment ensues. And things explode some more.

6. Each time Ludlow ditches a girlfriend, the event is more spectacular and heart-breaking than the time before, so when Dakota Jones suggests Ludlow stop writing feeble screenplays and make a documentary about his own love life it all seems brilliant -- until Tiffany finds out what the camera was for and decides to murder him.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When Midwesterner Courtney Robbins moves to California, she isn’t looking for love, fame, or fortune. She’s determined to finish law school [Imagine her surprise when she discovers the Happy Ending Bar has nothing to do with the California Bar Association.] and do her part to save the world by handling the legal matters of a local women’s shelter. [It's where women go after working on a Michael Bay film.] After a chance encounter with Hollywood’s next big thing, Justin Erikson, leaves Courtney reeling, [Is reeling good or bad?] she is forced to reevaluate her plans. [Someone else can save the world; as Justin Erickson's girlfriend, I have a shot at being on Dancing with the Stars.] When Courtney is with Justin, a hunky model-turned-actor, the sexual chemistry is undeniable, but the couple seems to have little else in common. [No need to state the obvious.]

As Justin’s career continues to thrive, thrusting him into the spotlight more than ever, Courtney assumes the relationship is doomed and focuses on enjoying the ride while it lasts. In between Courtney’s classes and Justin’s filming schedule and publicity tours, Justin shares the perks of his lifestyle with Courtney, whisking her away to Vegas, escorting her down the red carpet at movie premieres, and flying her to the set of his newest hit movie where she meets other celebs. [Between classes in law school you may have time to grab a doughnut. Flights to Vegas and movie sets sound more like between-semesters activities.]

As the passion between Justin and Courtney flourishes, they must overcome typical relationship obstacles, like the disapproval of Courtney’s parents and the antics of Justin’s starlet ex-girlfriend, [Overcoming the antics of a starlet ex-girlfriend is a typical relationship obstacle?] in addition to the challenges unique to Hollywood’s select few, such as the ever-present paparazzi and Justin’s controlling publicist. Justin struggles to shelter Courtney from the paparazzi and to ward off the crazed scheming of his jealous ex, but his own reputation continues to haunt him. [What reputation?] Meanwhile, Courtney begins to appreciate that there is more to Justin than his perfectly chiseled body, piercing blue eyes and adorable dimples, and finally accepts her true feelings for him.

As a couple, Courtney and Justin feel complete and unstoppable, but their two worlds continue to clash. When a tabloid rumor instigated by Justin’s ex-girlfriend threatens both Justin and Courtney’s careers, they must decide what price they are willing to pay to stay together.

Complete at 97,000 words, Hollywood Endings is a sexy romance-glitz novel sure to entertain anyone who has ever fantasized about the Hollywood high life or a romantic tryst with a famous heartthrob.

The full manuscript is available at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This mostly sets up the situation while listing a few general things that happen. The tried and true plot of a romance would have Courtney and Justin being in love but kept apart by various misunderstandings and obstacles. These two seem to be together and simply contending with their problems. We need to see that Courtney is desperately in love but the relationship is doomed. Then we can get behind her as she fights for true love.

Focus on Courtney. Set up the situation in paragraph 1. Then get to the main obstacle, which seems to be the crazed scheming of the jealous ex, and especially the tabloid rumor she's responsible for. What's the rumor, how does it threaten Courtney's happily ever after, and what does Courtney plan to do about it?

As it is, Courtney has the life "anyone who has ever fantasized about the Hollywood high life or a romantic tryst with a famous heartthrob" wants, and we can't tell if she's happy with it or wishes she were working at a shelter. If you don't show us how miserable she is about something, we won't cheer her on to happiness. We'll just hate her for complaining about the minor irritations that come with having it all.

In short, less about the Hollywood lifestyle, and more about Courtney's hopes and dreams.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tongue Twisters

Sometimes Evil Editor notices that certain phrases in writers' query letters are difficult to say five times in a row really fast. Thanks to Google I've been able to collect these examples:

Stepmom's swan song


ski sash

Rod-legged oil rigger

ruthless duelist

Laleena llama


To celebrate the season, here are a couple of EE's old writing exercises, one about a Christmas ghost, and the other about trying to park at the mall during the Christmas season.

The Ghost of Christmas Future Visits EE

What the-- How'd you get in here?

I am the ghost of Christmas future.

That so? You look like John Malkovich.

I get that a lot. I was expecting you to be asleep.

Nah, I do the slush in the wee hours. It's less addictive than sleeping pills. Hey, you wanna help?

I'm not--

An editor? Don't worry about it. Just read the first paragraph of each manuscript. If it sounds like it was written by a lobotomized Lithuanian lumberjack, toss it onto that mountain of paper in the corner. Otherwise put it in the pile on my desk.

I don't see a pile on your desk.


I'll give it a try. Hmm, the first paragraph of this one is only one word.

Is it dialogue?


Is it the F bomb followed by an exclamation point?

How'd you know?

Toss it.

You know, this is pretty easy. Wanna trade jobs?

Hmm. What's your job like?

It's nothin. I show some jerk the errors of his ways. He's supposed to learn his lesson, but they never do. The best part is I work one day a year.

Whattaya do the rest of the time?

Surf the web.

Space Quest

Got a craving for a cinnamon bun. Got a craving for a cinnamon bun. Hey, that's pretty catchy. I shoulda gone into advertising. I mean, what's more satisfying: editing some piece-of-crap book from the slush pile so some incompetent author can take credit for all my work while 10,000 people read it; or writing a jingle that'll get stuck in 20 million people's heads until they want to scream?

Got a craving for a cinnamon bun . . .

WTF? There's no parking spaces? What if I had an emergency? What if I needed some medicine for my baby? What if I . . . got a craving for a cinnamon bun?

I'm gonna run out of gas looking for a space. It's not right that people who shop here once a year take up the whole lot while regulars like me can't get in. Hell they got special spaces for the handicapped, why can't they have special spaces for people who just wanna run in and grab a cinnamon bun? Got a craving for a cinnamon bun . . .

Shit, now I can't get that jingle out of my head. Which proves it's effective. Maybe I'll auction it off to the cinnamon bun makers. It's gotta be worth millions.

Why am I wasting my time? I've never enjoyed an entire cinnamon bun. They make 'em too sweet, you get gooey icing all over your hands . . . The first bite's okay. The second and you're thinking, I paid three bucks for this hunk of sugardough? You toss the rest on the floor of the car to keep the one you bought last year company.

I'm outta here. I need gas. I'll stop at a gas station with a grocery that even with it's ripoff prices still only charges a buck and a half for a packaged honey bun that's been on the shelf six months. Got a craving for a cinnamon bun. Got a . . .

Friday, December 23, 2011

Face-Lift 979

Guess the Plot

Tyger, Burning

1. One of the world's most accomplished and eminent scientists offers a solution to the impending world fuel shortage.

2. A famous golfer/womanizer intentionally misspells his name at Heaven's pearly gates, but Saint Peter is on the ball for a change and sends him to Hell.

3. William Blake is transported to 21st century Indonesia, hires a local guide, and goes in search of the last remaining Sumatran tigers. But when a forest fire breaks out, can he rescue the cubs?

4. Gay super-villain Tyger, a man who can transform into a burning tiger, escapes from his cell and goes in search of his arch-enemy Kallie, a lesbian superhero with scalpels for fingers.

5. A poet stricken with cancer fights to stay alive as he hopes his daughter will visit him in the hospice. A heart-wrenching story broken up by the inclusion of the main character's hope-filled poetry.

6. Professional wrestler Tyger, who dresses in a tiger costume, realizes that he should have sprung for the flame-retardant version when he discovers he'll be wrestling washed-up superhero "The Flamethrower."

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

People with abilities they shouldn't have. Abilities that are impossible. A man who can transform into a tiger, apple core eyes, and orange, black stripes, burning. A woman with metal fingers instead of flesh, scalpel-like. [An author who needs no verbs.] They are called Caps.

Kallie is a Cap. She is stronger than anyone she's ever known, and she aches to be the hero she could be. She shatters bones of those who would steal, spills blood of those who would kill. [How does she determine who would steal and kill? Even if she reads minds, you can't just walk up and break someone's bones on the grounds that he would have stolen in the future. Does she always arrive at just the right moment to catch criminals who are about to steal or kill? ] When the man who maimed her years ago is broken out of his padded cell, Kallie knows he will find her again. John Doe plucked the fingers from her hand, and he must remember how she tastes, and now she finally has the chance to hurt him like he hurt her.

TYGER, BURNING, a gay/lesbian superhero novel [A what?] complete at 90,000 words, is written from two points of view: The woman preparing for her final encounter with John Doe, and the man responsible for breaking him out. It is my first novel. I have a B.A. in creative writing from Eckerd College.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration [and evilness].


It's not obvious whether John Doe is the guy who can become a tiger, or if that's the guy who breaks John Doe out. I would expect a tiger to have done something more violent than "pluck" Kallie's fingers. Like at least rip them off.

If "Tyger" is the name John Doe goes by: Most superheroes and their nemeses have secret identities, but we don't call them John Doe, we use their awe-inspiring super names. If this is a world in which super powers are known to exist, JD would be referred to as Tyger.

Thus if Tyger is the character who breaks Doe out, I'd refer to him as Tyger, the super-villain responsible for breaking him out.

This is all set up. Kallie's arch-nemesis has been sprung from prison and she wants to capture him either to make the world a safer place or for revenge. Now, what's her plan? What's making it difficult? What's at stake? Is this guy out to destroy the world, or does he just want to pluck Callie's toes now? Tell the story.

I think you can do without the first paragraph. You might want to open: TYGER, BURNING is a gay/lesbian superhero novel complete at 90,000 words. This makes it clear what we're dealing with, and you can describe the characters' powers as you introduce them.

I assume you've thought about whether the gay/lesbian aspects of a gay/lesbian superhero book need to be brought out in the query letter, and have determined that they don't? After I'd read the summary, it came as a surprise when you declared it a gay/lesbian superhero novel. Possibly that's because I'm so naive I didn't realize that spelling "tiger" with a "y" is code for gayness. Is this a superhero book whose main character happens to be a lesbian, in which case I'm not sure it's even necessary to call it gay/lesbian? Or is it a book you don't think would appeal to those who aren't gay/lesbian?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Success Story

David Gaughran reports that A Storm Hits Valparaiso (Face-Lift 716) is available as an ebook from Amazon.

This link to the first chapters was taken from his blog:
A Storm Hits Valparaíso by David Gaughran РFirst Six Chapters

Evil Editor in Art

Back before they invented photography, one could preserve one's likeness for posterity only by hiring da Vinci or some other artist to paint one's portrait. Today, when every Tom Dick and Harry is suddenly a member of the paparazzi, and thus at least tangentially a murderer of Princess Diana, an artist's rendering is once again the classiest means of showing the world what they long to see, namely celebrities such as Evil Editor.

You'll recall that EE has been the subject of numerous artists' works in the past, including, but not limited to the following:

Self portrait in oils, now hanging in EE's home

Evil Dad, by Evil Jr., created for the Ocuritz pince-nez advertising campaign

Evil Editor, by Anthony B, created for the 2nd Blogiversary celebration, 2008

And the latest addition to this pantheon of pulchritude (and I say this hoping it makes sense, as I have no idea what "pulchritude" means, having used it only for its alliterative qualities):

EE at Work, by James Catlett

Clicking on individual paintings may result in enlargement. Contact the artists for prices on originals or prints. Evil Editor not responsible for marital discord resulting from the hanging of his portrait anywhere in your home, especially on the bedroom ceiling.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Beginning 911

Niko saw his first Shadow the moment he set foot in Aldemyr.

He followed the other passengers off the steamship gangplank onto the harbor landing and there it was, a grey filmy thing scuttling beneath a heavy cart.

"Out of the way." His little sister, Sandy, shoved him from behind.

"All right, all right." Niko gripped his bags and walked up the crowded sidewalk, keeping pace with the cart, his eyes riveted on the thing as it rippled along the street.

At first, he'd thought it was part of the cart's own shadow; he could see the cobblestones through it. But then it jumped forward and danced beneath the horse's clopping feet, darting between each hoof that hit the ground. Niko shivered in the summer air.

Sandy dragged her bags over beside him, her short plump legs kicking at her long skirts, while Mama scanned the area for their escort.

"What is it?" Sandy followed his gaze. "I don't see anything."

Niko shook his head. "I don't know."

As the cart drew near, the thing leapt into the shade of the gutter, just inches away. Niko jumped back, his heart pounding, but the creature only hovered a moment, a puff of dark smoke. Niko had the feeling it was staring at him, though he could make out no face, or even a discernable head. Then it skittered up the street and vanished around a corner. No one else on the crowded sidewalk gave it any notice.

"Look, there's another one!" Niko leant down to his sister's level and pointed toward a nebulous blob behind the horse. "Under the cart! It's some kind of Shadow Creature!"

Sandy frowned and scrunched up her eyes, trying to focus on what her brother was pointing at. "There's no such thing as Shadow Creatures; that's a lot of horseshit."

Turned out she was right. It was.

Opening: Laurie A. May.....Continuation: Anon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

If Santa Were a Hard-Boiled Dick


New Beginning 910

They told him it was a psychological condition.

Of course they were very sorry, but they were unable to continue employing him in his current position. There were other opportunities available: the company sponsored a racing team and ground-based branches of the company always needed flyers. If he preferred to seek employment elsewhere they would be happy to give him a very nice separation package and a stellar recommendation. Or, if he wished to retire, they would pay all fees associated with the PDT.

They told him that too.

He returned to his company-owned apartment which they would graciously allow him to use for two more weeks. After activating pre-set queries on the terminal next to his bed, he slept for sixteen hours. When he awoke he examined the results: low-density population centers sorted by price of living and correlated with his savings to obtain a short list of planets where he could live comfortably for more than eighty years. The planet farthest away would take anywhere from four to nine months to reach depending on riftquakes and how well the ships were piloted. More importantly, the trip would require transfers at low-tech space ports -- opportunities for him to disappear.


"This is very interesting, Lenny," Dr. Schmaltz encouraged her patient. "It's so good to see you expressing yourself creatively. But sixteen hours of sleep is much more than you need, and you still seem preoccupied with this idea of 'disappearing.'"

The psychiatrist set Lenny's journal on her desk and picked up a pen. "I'm increasing your Prozac by another 20mg per day," she said, scribbling down the prescription. She tore off the top sheet and offered it to Lenny with a smile. "I look forward to seeing what you write for next week."

Opening: Faceless Minion.....Continuation: Tamara Marnell

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twitter War Results

In retrospect, it was inevitable that I would crush Mrs. V in our race to 100 followers of our Tweetness. The stakes, you'll recall were that the loser had to quit tweeting and do some actual work around here for a change.

In addition to that penalty, I've also moved Mrs. V's tweets not only below mine in the sidebar, but also below the blog archive index. It's kind of like being forced to sit at the kiddies' table at a family gathering even though you're fifteen and bigger than half the adults. In short, abject humiliation.

Fans of Mrs. V will be happy to know I'm considering allowing her to post tweets on my blog on weekends. Now, gotta get back to my own twitting.

Face-Lift 978

Guess the Plot

Niko and the Shadows

1. Shy child Niko Jones is so terrified of the school bus, when the 1st day of kindergarten comes he runs to hide in the shadows -- and is never seen again! This humor-horror picture book will help children realize going to school is better than the alternatives.

2. It snows in Paris and Niko, a young alley cat, nearly freezes until a family of Shadows takes him in. Together they merrily haunt the Louvre until evil busybody Dr. Debut decides to fumigate. Plus, a 12-year old pickpocket named Nell.

3. The wizard king switched his infant son, Niko, with a pizza delivery dude's kid to protect him from the Shadows, a rough syndicate of magical thugs. But Niko could never pass as ordinary and at 17, he blows his own cover with a reckless spell. Trouble ensues. Also, a girl band and winged cats.

4. Niko heads for the city, where he's heard magic is common, but the only magic he sees are creepy shadow creatures. Invited to attend the king's grandson, Niko is soon caught up in court intrigue and an assassination. Now it's up to Niko to save the day by following the shadow creatures through the Valley of Monsters to defeat a powerful necromancer.

5. Sent away to live in exile with other surly teens, Niko soon realizes something sinister lurks in the shadows. Vampires? But unlike the ones on TV they all look hideously dead and smell worse. Maybe they're zombies? No, they are Zombires, a new kind of biting monster that really is impossible to kill.

6. The Shadows, a one-hit wonder twenty years ago, are on the comeback trail thanks to acapella rap. Niko's Lounge, desperate for a live group, hires them for Christmas. Niko needs a miracle: he promised his mother a real tree and a turkey dinner. If he can get the shadows to turn their jackets inside out, rip off a couple of sleeves and lower their pants 6 inches maybe there's a Christmas miracle in the offing.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Fifteen-year-old Niko grew up in the one place where magic doesn't work [Earth.], though he's read about it all his life. Unfortunately, when he moves to the ancient city of Aldemyr, he finds no magic swords or eldritch wands. [Why is this unfortunate? Did he move there because he needs a magic sword and an eldritch wand in order to become a wizard?] Instead, he can see the scarpies, creepy little shadow creatures who live in darkness and feed on black magic. [Why "instead"? That implies an either/or situation involving opposites, as in: I expected it to be hot in the Sahara; instead it was snowing. Even if Niko found an eldritch wand, he still would have seen the scarpies. Instead of "instead," you want something like: In fact, he sees nothing supernatural . . . except scarpies, creepy little shadow creatures who live in darkness and feed on black magic.] Most people can see a few of them here or there, but Niko sees them in the hundreds, creeping around the city, stalking people, or throwing themselves against buildings, trying to get in. No one takes the scarpies seriously; Niko's cousin calls them spectral rats. Niko just tries to ignore them.

But when Niko is invited to court to attend the king's young grandson, the king's son and heir is murdered by a mysterious magical attack. [That sentence isn't connected to the previous paragraph well enough to start it with "But." Either start it with "When," or make the connection, which I'm guessing goes like this:

No one takes the scarpies seriously.

But when the king's son and heir is murdered by a mysterious magical attack, it's the scarpies who hold the key to the assassin's identity.] Later that night, the scarpies lure Niko to the remains of animals killed in a black magic ceremony. Coincidence? Or is there a connection? [Lure him, or lead him? "Lure" suggests they don't have his best interests at heart.]

And then there's the strange arrogant girl, Julian, who came to Aldemyr the previous winter carrying a corpse on her back. [Did anyone ask her for an explanation? Or did she just drop the corpse off in front of the morgue and check into a Motel 6?] She tracks Niko wherever he goes and the scarpies are as drawn to her as they are to the black magic remnants they discover. People tell Niko she's a monster. She tells him they're right. Is she an ally, a murderer, or something even worse?

With a court barely held together by an ailing king, warring factions vie for power and control. Niko is certain his new friend, the young prince, now heir to the throne, is in danger. Niko is forced to accept Julian's help and follow the scarpies through the darkest places in Aldemyr, even through the Shadow Mire, the valley of monsters, to stop a necromancer before anyone else is killed.

Niko and the Shadows is a YA fantasy novel complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Revised Version

Fifteen-year-old Niko grew up in the one place where magic doesn't work. Seeking an escape from the boredom, he moves to the ancient city of Aldemyr to live with his cousin, expecting to find wizards wielding eldritch wands, changing dogs into dragons and dragons into dogs. Instead he sees nothing unusual . . . unless you count the scarpies, creepy little shadow creatures that live in darkness and feed on black magic.

No one takes the scarpies seriously (Niko's cousin calls them spectral rats). But when the king's son and heir is murdered by a mysterious magical attack, it's the scarpies who lead Niko to the clue that could reveal the assassin's identity.

Then there's the strange arrogant girl, Julian, who came to Aldemyr the previous winter carrying a corpse on her back. She follows Niko wherever he goes. People tell Niko she's a monster. She tells him they're right.

With the court barely held together by an ailing king, warring factions vie for power and control. Niko is certain the young prince, now heir to the throne, is in danger. Teamed up with Julian, he follows the scarpies through the darkest place in Aldemyr, the Shadow Mire, to stop a necromancer before anyone else is killed.

Niko and the Shadows is a YA fantasy novel complete at 70,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.



With warring factions trying to gain control of the court, why would a kid who just moved to the city be invited to attend the king's grandson?

Not clear whether Niko moves to Aldemyr just to witness some magic or to become a magician or just coincidentally.

Do these kids really have the ability to take on a powerful necromancer, or are the scarpies doing all the dirty work? What does Niko bring to the table? I'm assuming Julian has some powerful mojo that will be useful against the necromancer. If she doesn't, we probably don't need her in the query. Of course, I couldn't walk 50 feet with a corpse on my back, so Julian gotta have something going for her.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Guess the Plot

Shadow of Doubt

1. Should Carmela marry Dennis, wealthy weapons merchant, or Farley, struggling sculptor? It would be easier if she didn't think either of them could be the murderer of Bobbles, the village idiot in the sleepy hamlet of Dalsette. Will she ever be free from this . . . Shadow of Doubt?

2. A rich widower visits his niece, only to meet with a series of bizarre, near-fatal accidents. Could it be that some higher power is trying to tell him that he should redo his will, in which he leaves all his money to his nephew?

3. By night he takes human form, but by day he's a payphone. Should he tell his new crush his secret, thus jeopardizing everything? Or should he settle for a sex-only relationship and hope she's the type who loves to use the phone? It's a dilemma.

4. When Sandra exposes herself with her book, “Lying for Fun and Profit,” her editor lets slip that the book is selling due to its unintended humor. Her accountant absconds with the money and her boyfriend dumps her. Penniless, infamous and idle, she is refused employment by everyone. Except Satan.

5. When he was born his father named him 'Doubt' Lambright--they were never very close. But when he falls in love with a girl who turns out to be his first cousin, whether he's really his father's son suddenly becomes important. Oh, did I mention they're Amish?

6. Three dead actors. One missing director. And the only witness is a chimp. Homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: the chimp isn't talking, and there's no way he'll let the perp make a monkey out of him.

Original Version

TITLE: Shadow of Doubt

Query - Plot: [If these two lines are part of the query, get rid of them. They're wasting space.]

What happens when you fall for the one you are forbidden to love? [In my case, I sit around my home every night watching TV and wondering if Julia Roberts will ever remove the restraining order.] When destiny takes over everything you fought to control, that which was forbidden could now destroy you. [This is all too vague to have any meaning, and will presumably be restated below with specificity. Dump it.]

Erebus is a Shadow, an immortal night dweller, walking the Earth for the last century. [You don't need to be immortal to have walked the Earth for the past century. Just really old.] By day he is the occlusion of a payphone, [Say what? What does that even mean? I can only assume it's a typo and it's supposed to read: By day he is an octopus made of Play Doh. Or he's the clue gun of a peafowl. An accused Hun from Plano?] and by night he returns to human form. [When did he ever have human form? I assumed he was this immortal night-dwelling Shadow creature when he wasn't a payphone.] He’s different than other Shadows, [which are, by day, reflections of coffee makers.] solemn when Shadows are meant to live for personal fun and satisfaction. That is, until he meets Aurora, a young law student at Cornell University, a human girl. His entire world is shaken. Human feelings he's never had, and urges he’s never understood, like wanting to have a place to live of his own, [Does he live in a phone booth in the daytime?] drive him to question everything about himself and his kind.

Prohibited by the Night Council to have a relationship with a human that involves more than just sex, [Even phone sex?] Erebus is risking severe punishment to be with Aurora [Sounds like he's really hung up on her. Ba dum ching.] on a completely different level. [Even a sex-only relationship with a human can be problematic--if you're still going at it when dawn arrives and you suddenly turn back into a payphone.]

When a jealous old flame, Nanny, stalks back into his life, [I could never date someone who went by the name Nanny. Although it's better than dating someone who goes by the name Mommy.] Erebus breaks the most important law set by the Shadows and reveals his secret to Aurora. [Are we talking about the secret that he's immortal or the secret that he's a payphone?] [I'm thinking if you tell your true love you're a payphone, it doesn't matter whether she believes it's true or not. She's gone.] [I'm not sure whether I'd rather my mate be immortal or a payphone. Immortality would be good because funerals are expensive. On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt to have a steady influx of spare change.] By telling her, he jeopardizes everything, and must protect her from Nanny and the judgment of the Night Council. [The only thing he jeopardizes is his relationship with her. No way Aurora bought his claim that he's an immortal nightcrawling payphone.] His biggest fears are realized when he sees that [Aurora has her own cell phone, and thus won't be pushing his buttons.] his desire for Aurora could destroy her, or worse, erase his own Shadow forever.

SHADOW OF DOUBT is complete at 52,000 words and falls into the category of young adult fantasy. The storyline has a unique twist [I'll say.] that goes beyond the traditional fantasy, with pure love that can conquer anything in and beyond this world.


What would happen if humans found out Shadows existed? What's the punishment for telling a human you're a blender? In other words, what's at stake?

Usually authors go with a human being as the main character if one is available. Especially when the alternative is a payphone.

Whatever the occlusion of a payphone is, the query is better off without it. We also don't need Nanny. She's a subplot.

What's the difference between a Shadow and a human at night? Besides immortality. Do Shadows have any powers? Can they have relationships with each other? Are all Shadows occlusions of payphones, or are some occlusions of gas pumps? Are all objects Shadows? Or are there a limited number of Shadows?

Selected Comments

wanitajump said...Dying laughing at your comments on the Shadow of Doubt... I betchya you were shaking your head as you read it! Thanks for the ideas... The story doesn't sound as ridiculous as the query's made it out to be! I promise you that :) It's actually been picked up by an agent and I think a proper rewrite of this is DEFINITELY in order!

khazar-khum said...Is Erebus at all concerned that pay phones are a dying breed? What happens when he's the only one?

Angela Robbins said...Things that make you go: hmmmm? Definitely a new twist when one of two MC's turns into a pay phone! Gives new meaning to: here's a quarter call someone who cares. I don't like that your characters' names are the same as mine in something I wrote, but considering they've been around for millennia, I guess I can't cry and whine now. If this was picked up by an agent, why did you need EE and his minions to shred it? Just curious. I agree with EE's real and blue comments and laughed at all their hilarity!

Ashley Girardi said...I really want to know what an occlusion of a payphone is! This query is a mess but you say you've had bites from an agent so there must be something to it that I'm not seeing. Right now the plot reads as a very cliche supernatural boy meets girl love story with the inexplicable addition of a pay phone.

Angela Robbins said...I'm wondering... if Erebus cheats on Aurora with a cell phone, will Aurora still accept his collect calls?

Mother (Re)produces. said...You mean he's blocking a pay phone? Like a wad of shadowy chewing gum? What a bizarre life. Sounds interesting but I'd love a few more specific plot details.

mb said...This gets my vote for funniest Face Lift of 2010 so far. Also maybe funniest query. If I were an agent I'd have requested pages, too, just too what the heck the thing was like.

Dave F. said...Well, we can't say it's a plot we see everyday. Nosiree, we can't. And the blue comments are just spectacular.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...Please, please explain what on earth the occlusion of a payphone might be. I don't think I'll be able to concentrate all day until I know.

Anonymous said...OMG, this made me laugh so hard I look CHEERFUL at my job! Everyone else has started smiling too, apparently from the fallout of my snerkling. Please, PLEASE tell us what "the occlusion of a payphone" is!!!

150 said......I assumed "occlusion of a payphone" was an attempt to say "the shadow cast by a payphone" without actually saying "shadow" again. This is crazy. Just crazy enough to work. God bless you, author of a girl-meets-payphone love story. You really raised the bar.

Marissa Doyle said...EE, that was one of your best. I'm wondering what possibly makes this a YA. Your main character is an immortal, and his love interest is in law school, which means she's at a minimum 22--that's way beyond YA territory. I'm also curious as to why you're working on a query letter if you're agented.

lora96 said...I hate to state the obvious but: A pay phone? People have cell phones, so pay phones are increasingly difficult to locate. Is Shadow in peril because the phone company may deactivate him and send him to a landfill? Perhaps a less obsolete inanimate object is in order.

Sarah said..."Perhaps a less obsolete inanimate object is in order." Maybe that's why he's looking for a date, because the work has dried up. Times are hard for us all right now...have a heart.

Phoenix said...Wanita: The reaction of the minions is telling. If an agent has offered on this, please, PLEASE do your due diligence and make sure it's a REPUTABLE agent. Check out Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write... Or google "agent fees writing scam" and follow the links to be crystal clear about what you're getting yourself into/gotten yourself into. If they're legit, then congratulations, and best of luck in getting it placed! An agent will generally write the pitch to the publishers themself or will coach you along in how to write an improved one.

EE: The commentary for this is a candidate for the year's top 5 for sure! My stomach still hurts from laughing.

M. G. E. said...Clearly payphones are the new vampires! But does your payphone sparkle in the sunlight and have a moody operator voice? Just dial 143. Seriously, this was the funniest FL of all I've read ^_^ I laughed often and loud, especially over the picture, hahahha :) As for the "occlusion of a payphone" line, it seems that refers to him literally being assigned to be the shadow that a payphone casts, almost like it was his home in daylight. It's a strange concept. You'd think they'd just have to hide within the shadow of anything to survive. But no.

52,000 words seems awfully short. I keep thinking that authors are writing short novels and then trying to pass them off as YA because the word-count ended up low. Because this sounds nothing like YA.

Why do I get the feeling that the book is going to end with him deciding to be his lover's shadow for the rest of her life >_> Talk about a stalker.

My question is why he's suddenly hooked on this girl? What's special about her? There has to be something. You write him as having these purely physical relationships. I don't see any motivation on offer for a change of that mindset in his life. This is something that can be very carefully and subtly laid down, and you could do it with his old flame pretty easily.

Becca C. said...I laughed all the way through this, and it wasn't just from EE's hilarious comments. And that's not the reaction you want to your story. Seriously, A PAY PHONE?! Is he literally a pay phone, or did you attempt a metaphor or something there? PLEASE clear this up, it's killing me!

Polenth said...It sounds like a story that was initially intended to be about vampires (dark name, immortal, not supposed to have human emotion and can't go out in daylight). Spending all day in a coffin has been replaced by being a payphone, but that doesn't really have any impact (according to the query). It's still just a reason why he can't go out in daylight hours, however quirky a reason it might be. If his payphone lifestyle does have an impact on the story, that'd be something to mention.

AA said...I've gotta ask: When he finally popped the question, DID HE GIVE HER A RING?

Sarah said...Wanita, when I read your query I wasn't convinced by the Night Council forcing all Shadows keep their race secret (that is the point of the no-close-relationships rule, I take it?). Why are the Shadows in hiding? If they're immortal then there's not much to fear from humans knowing about them.

Sometimes it seems as if the "secret race who must never be known of by humans" gimmick is just used to add some tension. Not saying that's the case in your story, just that it's a widely-used theme and you should take care to justify it. It's been done so many times (Twilight being an obvious example in recent times, I suppose, and the vampire theme in general is fond of that concept) that it can end up a bit yawn.

That said, I still want to know about the occlusion of a payphone. I have to go to work shortly, and I can't see it going well while I'm thinking about this.

Marisa Birns said...A payphone? *looks to see if there are any around anymore. No. Will have to use cell phone again* And, eewww. Think about how MANY germ-y hands have been over Pay Phone Lover during the day. And is he really ever available for a date? I mean, doesn't Dr. Who use a pay phone for long periods of time. Wait! Is this a story about Tardis?

Joe G said...I have to admit I was surprised by which of the fake queries turned out to be the real one... Admit it. You're Tom Robbins and you've decided to take on the YA genre with this animate payphone stuff.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Guess the Plot

Courage of Story

1. An autobio- graphical tale of a life spent pushing fiction to increasingly hostile, and sometimes violent publishers.

2. The truth is revealed as the cowardly lion documents what really happened after his fateful encounter with a young girl from Kansas. Also, a recipe for stew using a tin pot and straw tinder.

3. A simple girl, a king and a mage have a story to tell, but first they must find someone who has the courage to listen. Do you? What about you?

4. Eighteen year old Tom Story cuts a dashing figure in his WWII uniform. At home, he uses a sob story and the uniform to bag hot nurses, but once he hits the front-lines everybody will see . . . the courage of Story.

5. Google Random Title Generator. Click on the top Googlition. Click on Give me some titles! Do you like the third one down? If not, request more titles. Do you like the third one down now?

6. When an editor receives a query letter for a book whose title seems to have been created with a random word generator, he soon realizes that he will have to write most of the fake plots. Can he get past the bad mood this is sure to put him in before he reads the letter, or is the author doomed to endure a scathing critique?

Original Version

Dearest Evil Editor,

Many people can speak without fear, but how many can listen? [Actually, I think you have it backwards. A lot of people are afraid of public speaking, but almost everyone can listen without fear. Unless what they're listening to is the dentist's drill or the footsteps of an obsessed serial killer coming up the creaky stairs. Or a shark.] [Do sharks make sounds? I've never heard one, but that may be because the sounds were drowned out by the screams of the people the sharks were devouring.] [Opening with a vague rhetorical question is bad enough, but:

1. A primary feature of a rhetorical question is that the answer is obvious.
2. You apparently believe the obvious answer to your rhetorical question is Very few people.
3. The actual answer is Almost everybody.

You're better off not asking the question and starting with the next paragraph.]

Raven is a formidable mage with a very gloomy outlook on life. Thani is the youngest, but also wisest, king his realm has yet seen. And Syvrus is a relatively simple girl with a relatively simple wish: to become immortal. [No point modifying everything with "relatively," unless you explain what they're relative to.] Together, these three characters tell a tale of power, of love, and most of all, of the courage to listen. [I don't even know what that means. What do they listen to? This is the part of the query where you're supposed to summarize the tale. All you've done is list three characters. What do the characters do? Who tries to stop them from doing it?]

Courage of Story [The title is bland. I got a couple decent ones from the random title generator: Wizard of Words and Thief of Silence. Even knowing nothing about what happens in your book, I recommend these titles over Courage of Story.] is a fantasy novel (directed at young adults) about a world of mythical creatures and incredible mysteries, and can be compared to other fantasy works such as “Eragon” or the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. However, unlike these novels, Courage of Story is not about a fight of good vs. evil. Rather, it is about the destruction of [evil] despotic traditional powers [by the forces of good], as well as sudden and powerful disillusionment. [This is all vague. What, specifically happens in the book?] This novel is completed and 135,000 words in length.

My name is _________________, and I am a second-year student at McGill University – with an avid interest in fantasy writing, directed at young adults. I have written a proposal for my novel entitled, Courage of Story. I would like to invite you to review my proposal (or my manuscript itself) and consider representing me. [Get rid of that paragraph.]

I noticed your impressive credentials during my search for a literary agent. I would be honored to have you represent me. If you are interested in my novel, please contact me as soon as possible. [You haven't said anything about your plot; how can I be interested?] I will be showing my proposal (or manuscript) to only one agent at a time. [You'll get it to three or four agents a year with that policy.] You can reach me at ______ or by email at __________. [That paragraph can go too.]

Yours truly,


Start over. Write an 8- to 10-sentence plot summary focusing on your main character's goal, problem, solution. Make it specific, and make it sound so interesting we just have to read the book. Then just say ___________ is a 135,000-word YA fantasy that can't be much worse than Eragon.

Selected Comments

fairyhedgehog said...There, and I was sure it would be GTP #4. #3 was hysterical. I always feel bad commenting on GTPs when I've nothing to offer the author of the query but I have nothing useful to add to EE's excellent advice. Sorry author!

josephrobertlewis said...Lots of issues here, which EE covers nicely. You should read more examples of queries here and on agent blogs before re-writing this.

1. The title is weak and meaningless.

2. You need a plot.

3. Comparisons to poorly written books by teenagers are not advised.

4. You need a plot.

enewmeyer said...EE - your comment about the title generator has led to an entire class period devoted to creating fake plots for the bad titles I generated. Who knew my 4th and 5th graders were so brilliant?

Dave F. said...Many people can speak without fear, but how many can listen? Listen without fear? A person can be taught to listen to what other people say and then act appropriately. It's part of the training you can get for conducting public meetings and compliance audits of quality management systems.
Not the material of a novel.

Stripped of adjectives, you tell us: Raven is a mage. Thani is king. Syvrus wants to be immortal. Mythical creatures, mysteries, despotic powers and disillusionment occur.
I can't even guess how those three characters interact nor can I guess what they have to do with the other items.

Tom said...EE's very last line was spot on. Eragon. For a 15-year-old writer it was a great novel.

Despotic governments are evil, unless your definition of evil is different than mine. I suppose you mean there is no Sauron or Dark Lord for the hero to fight.

By the way, who is your hero? (In the story I mean) Who is the villain? Not the king, if he is so wise, but some sort of despot.

Joanna Hoyt said...I think there's a story in here that might interest me. The courage-to-listen part makes sense to me (EE must have led a sheltered life...and I think Courage to Listen makes a better title than Courage of Story) and the disillusionment part sounds possibly interesting too; but like the others here I'd like to know what actually happens.

Stephen Prosapio said..."Syvrus is a relatively simple girl with a relatively simple wish: to become immortal." Was that supposed to be a joke? The tone of the query isn't funny, so if this wasn't an attempt at humor, this makes no sense. I'm sharing my honest thoughts here just so that you can see the reaction that lines like these give readers/writers:

Becoming immortal certainly isn't a simple accomplishment (unless it is in your world, but you haven't explained that). It technically could be a "simple wish" in and of itself in that it's not a multi-tiered wish. But just reading a line like this makes me DISinterested in reading your pages because I would assume the book is going to be filled with phrases like this that try to say something but don't say what you really mean for them to say.

The fact that you don't go into the plot of your book, and then go out of your way to say this is NOT a battle of good vs evil makes me think that this is an experimental work without a protag that rambles and sermonizes.

I say this not to accuse you of anything and I very well may be 100% wrong about your novel, but if those are my thoughts and I read about 4 queries a week (on this site), imagine what a literary agent who is reading 1,000 queries a week will think?

Kudos to you for sharing this here. Keep writing. Keep rewriting!

Stick and Move said...If your story isn't about good vs. evil, scrap it and start over.

Just kidding, but definitely scrap that line. I'll just reiterate: tell us what the story is about, and leave out what it is not about. I'm sure you have a plot, tell the reader the main plot points in the query. Don't be coy or cute, just give us the protag, the goal, the antag and the obstacles he/she presents. And the outcome.

I won't pile on about the title.

Queries are hard. Take the advice offered here and rewrite it so we'll want to read the book. You might have to rewrite it fifty times. It's part of the process. Good luck with it!

Jeb said...This sounds like it can't make up its mind whether to be a literary novel or a fantasy adventure. So, given the length, it's two novels in one manuscript. Sorry to pile on, author, but all those meaningless words in the query do not give me hope for the manuscript being less than desperately bloated. Either you need to write a query letter that reflects the crispness of your novel's prose, or you seriously need to chop at least a third of the words from your ms.

_*rachel*_ said...Put the query letter down. Now look on the left side of the blog. You see the thing labeled Blog Archive? Yes? Click on one of the pages below it and start reading. Read it all.

Bibi said...Also look at Evil's list of 15 things he cares about in order of importance in your query and go to the Phoenix Sullivan Dare to Dream blog. Research the query letter until you're blue in the face and blind in the eye. The query is the only sales tool you have. Good luck.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Guess the Plot

Beauty for Ashes

1. John's faith in God was unshakable until God let John's beautiful wife burn to death. Now John has a new religion based on alcohol, gambling, and sex with strangers. Can anything save this man's soul?

2. Carlo Frumi is a student archeologist working at Pompeii. When he pours plaster into an ash mold of a former citizen, the woman whose face emerges from the past haunts him. But is she also visiting him in his room?

3. Norma Jean Walker, white trash stage mother extraordinaire, becomes the prime suspect in a string of arson cases involving the homes of rival child beauty pageant contestants. Can Norma Jean elude the police long enough for her little baby to reach the Little Miss Sweet Corn crowning?

4. On a world where death is as curable as your common hangnail, it's not your body up for judgment, but your urn. To win enough money for "permanent resurrection", Lavidia Clomesty must survive the beauty pageant of the dead. Too bad her murderer also happens to be the chief judge.

5. Elke has always been unattractive, so when Satan offers to make her beautiful if she'll burn down a nunnery, she agrees. Hey, she's not even Catholic. But when she discovers that her long-lost twin sister is living in the nunnery, will she go through with the deal or try to con Satan into letting her renege?

6. Sculptor Christobal's latest project is an enormous statue of Aphrodite made entirely from cigarette ashes. But anti-smoking campaigns have limited his raw materials, so he moves to Greece, which has the highest per-capita smoking rate in the world. Will the real Aphrodite take kindly to being portrayed in ash?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Jonathon Douglas’ future looked bright- he had a beautiful young wife, a job he loved, and a faith in God that couldn’t be shaken- what more could he want? [A smoke alarm.] But his life goes into a tailspin when a deadly fire claims the lives of his wife and infant daughter.

Stripped of everything he ever held dear, he turns his back on the God who betrayed him and embraces a life of sin, [Perhaps you'd like to go back and modify your earlier claim that his faith in God couldn't be shaken?] turning to alcohol to escape his pain. Jonathon hits bottom in the seedy underbelly of the Las Vegas strip, when he wakes up in the bed of a stranger. Broken and repentant, he finds that the Lord had been with him all along. [Wait, you're saying he woke up in the Lord's bed?]

[If I woke up in the bed of a stranger, I wouldn't conclude that the Lord has been with me all along. (Unless, of course, the stranger were Julia Roberts.) What really clues Jon in to this fact?]

John begins to rebuild his life and discover a new future in California, where he meets and falls in love with Jenni, a young Christian woman. [It sounds odd to say he falls in love with a Christian woman. If she were another religion it might be worthy of remark, given his faith--which is shakable only occasionally, like when God is letting his wife and daughter burn to death--but in this case you could be more subtle and say he falls in love with a woman he meets at a church potluck dinner.] But his days of hard living catch up with him in the form of a very pregnant April, his one-night-stand from Vegas. Will his faith crumble again [I'm starting to think this man's faith is about as unshakable as a James Bond martini.] and can his relationship with Jenni survive? Everything good in his life is threatened once again, but this time he chooses to cling to his faith and trust in God to carry him through. [Thus when God cometh to him in a vision and telleth him April must be killed and buried in the woods, he doth.]

John must be willing to give up everything to do what is right- and perhaps a soul will be saved in the process. [I hope "what is right" isn't getting married to a crack-addicted prostitute he's known for a few hours and who's pregnant with a baby that might be his, so the child can be raised by two idiots who'll resent each other for the next twenty years.]

Beauty For Ashes is a Christian Fiction novel complete at 93,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.



I'm thinking a character losing faith in God in the face of tragedy is standard fare in inspirational books, and perhaps seeking solace in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll is too. But when that fails, why not try Buddhism or marathon running or the Peace Corps? In other words, tell us what brings John back to the God who betrayed him.

Selected Comments

Eric said...I get what caused Jonathon to lose his faith, but what causes him to get it back again? Since the setup is that Jonathon rejects God because of tragedy, the solution can't be that he realizes that sin isn't all it's cut out to be. What makes him not just want to clean up his life but also return to God, if in his view God still caused the tragedy? What changes his mind from "the Lord betrayed me" to "the Lord is always with me and that's a good thing"? (It wouldn't be good to have a traitor always with you.) Perhaps what's bothering me is the "Christianese" or churchy nature of the wording that pops up whenever Jonathon's faith is mentioned. E.g. "He chooses to cling to his faith and trust in God to carry him through." Aaay-men; I feel a praise chorus coming on! Of course I expect some level of churchiness in Inspirational fiction, but here I want to know what makes the character tick, not what platitudes he learns.

In short, a bigger glimpse into the character's thought processes about God would be helpful. Make him a real person with a real crisis and resolution of faith. (I hope you've done this in the book, but I'm not seeing it yet in the query.)

Dave F. said...It's a tried and true plot - Person loses loved one and their faith and goes out sinning then finds faith again in love. But the query sounds thin. The big deal will be the three way interaction between John, his new love Jenni and April the pregnant one. That's where the lessons or morality will come into the story. I think that's where your query should focus.

Kings Falcon said...I so wanted this to be GTP #2. Back to this one.

When does the novel start? With the first wife's death and the loss of faith, when he wakes up in April's bed or when he finds new hope in CA? I ask this question since all of the stuff that happens before John, April and Jenni collide seems like backstory.
Your plot is a tried and true one. So, your query is going to have to shine and tell me why your story has a new take or is better written than every other "loses loved one, blames God, falls into sin, finds new loved one, and renews belief" story out there. Right now the query is just the main genre plot line. Like Dave says, focus on the three- or four- by adding God into the mix conflict that happens in CA in your query.

Anonymous said...I am fine with the plot. It's tried and true - and yet when we see a romance novel - beutiful heroic heroine falls for roguish, handsome man with mysterious past that usually involves being secretly a spy, rich or criminal, she denies her feelings, conflict happens involving rescuing, swooning and danger, they fall in love and marry or have sex, perhaps both . . . it works. Part 2 - the antagonist returns.

But I agree, seldom does the sinner wake up and realize their life is spiraling out of control and they need God as they recover from a hangover and try to find taxi money to get the one-night stand home. They may realize they better stop drinking and when they can't stop turn to God for help, or God hits them over the head with a frying pan.

And, I agree doing the right thing should not be falling for the one-night stand and ending his new relationship. I don't think that is what God would want. Of course, abandoning the child wouldn't be in the cards either.

Anyway. Tried and true is okay but focus on the redemption part since that is important and will help your novel shine out amongst all the other spirtual based novels.

Stephen Prosapio said...That was the funniest EE commentary in quite some time and the cartoon is priceless! I must say that my faith in the publishing industry is absolutely unshakable...until I get my next rejection slip!

Becca C. said...Someone has to write GTP #2! And the cartoon was freaking amazing. I second what everyone else said. To me the plot seemed to be very "he does this; this faith is shaken. He does that; now it's back!" and I don't think that's what the story should be about. I'm kind of wondering, what's the point? You have to focus on what causes the ups and downs in his faith, because the ups and downs themselves aren't the story.

And when you spell Jonathan with an o all I can think of is tuna (tuna in French is thon). But that's probably just one of my weird quirks.

arhooley said...I get incredibly annoyed with people who preach faith in God to the suffering masses UNTIL . . . they're made to suffer themselves. "Repent ye and endure his might -- whoa! What? This crap applies to _me_? In that case, there is no God in the entire universe!" Maybe John is more complex than that. I just have no use for characters with big ideas and small minds.

Khazar-khum said...Thanks for the love for GTP 2! When my shoulder heals enough for me to write for more than 45 seconds at a time, I will start on it.

_*rachel*_ said...To me the thing that makes this plot stand out is the John-Jenni-April thing. Try emphasizing that more, especially if it's the main part of the book. Thinking about it, I've decided: Christian fiction is a lot like romance fiction, except that in the former, the relationship in question is a spiritual one with God. Personally, I like more subtle approaches, like C. S. Lewises and J. R. R. Tolkeins.

M. G. E. said...Until recently I didn't understand why EE begins each Face-Lift with a "guess the plot" section. Now, I think the reason is because it highlights the importance of a title in both creating reader-interest and hinting about what the book is actually about, hooking the reader, and the "guess" activity highlights how a title can succeed or go wrong in the associations it creates. As for this title, I'm not sure it's successful. It has a structure similar to "Like Water for Chocolate," it implies a trade-off, and a dilemma. But beauty is just a concept, it cannot be traded or even grasped. If it was "Beauty in Ashes" that would be quite a statement, one of finding redemption within the midst of destruction. That might be more appropriate to the plot as given.

Beyond that, the query is also used by the agent as an indication of the writing quality of the piece. Errors found there are assumed to be rampant in your manuscript. Thus the importance of truly crafting a query.

So, here's a list of things you may want to revise:

- "future looked bright"
- "beautiful young wife"
- "life goes into a tailspin"
- "[faith that] couldn’t be shaken"
- "what more could he want?"
- "everything he ever held dear"
- "hits bottom"

Etc., etc. That's just the first paragraph. I think you get the picture.

A more subtle issue is double telling. When you say "deadly fire" kills, the 'deadly' part says already what you say later. Double telling weakens your prose. Cut out 'deadly' from that line and you both remove an adjective which makes your prose zip a bit faster, and you avoid double-telling.

As for the plot, you need a much bigger "aha" moment than just waking up in a stranger's bed for us to buy him turning his life around again. Something more threatening. Something like... oh, contracting an STD >_>

Anonymous said...To me the thing that makes this plot stand out is the John-Jenni-April thing. Try emphasizing that more...

I agree. Nothing makes me believe in God more that a good three-way.

Michelle Massaro said...Sorry it took me so long to get around to commenting here on my own query. First of all, thank you all so much for your insight- it is very helpful! I am going to take this, completely rework the query, and try to resubmit it here (I'm a glutton for torture).

In the book, God is not a silent concept; John "hears" the Lord speaking to him but rebels against it. I think I need to bring that out more (as one poster mentioned).

Arhooley expressed annoyance with people who ditch their faith in tough times- well, that's exactly the point. This guy finds out that he's not as strong as he thought when push comes to shove. But by the end, the character grows.

A lot of you had really great points, and again, I appreciate them all. For the record, I laughed out loud at the cartoon too!