Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Beginning 920

“Five agents! Five!” Sergeant Mallory slammed his fist onto the desk, making the bones of his wrist tremble like an abacus. “Five! And now you want to try?”

Sharmayne met his gaze, her softly-glowing green eyes bright in the dim office. “I think I know where they may have gone wrong, sir.”

“You?” Mallory straightened up, the white of his skull reflecting the light. “How long have you been here? Three months?”

“Yes, sir, but I—“

“Three months! You know how long I’ve been doing this?”

Sharmayne held her ground. “Two hundred, forty seven years, eight months and four days.”

“Damn right! And I’ve got at least another century to go before I can retire. And if you think you know more than me, you’ve got another thing coming!”

“Can I at least tell you my idea?”

“Go ahead! It’s not like I have anything important to do.”

She took a long breath. Unlike most Awakened, she had kept her lips, nose, ears and breasts; except for the pallor of her skin and her glowing eyes, she could be mistaken for a human. “What I was going to say, sir, is that I think they approached this farmer Stanton the wrong way. I think that a quieter method might get better results.”

“Oh you do, do you?” Mallory leaned back, red eyes glittering. “And just why do you think that? These were some of my best men! And they were shot down dead by Stanton. You really think sweet-talking is going to help?”

“It can’t possibly hurt.” She folded her arms across her chest. “At school they said that there are better ways of dealing with humans being tried now in Europe. That’s all I want to try.”

“School.” Mallory shook his head, gray hair wagging. “Listen. When I started here, we didn’t have crap like schools. We just went out there and did our jobs. And we didn’t take any guff from farmers!”

“You have to go to school,” she began. “If you want to—“

“—to have any chance of succeeding in the world today. Yeah, I know. I hear it all the time.” Mallory sighed, blowing papers astray. “All right. I’ll let you go. But if you get killed, don’t say I didn’t warn you!”

“Thank you, sir.” She hesitated by the office door. “I won’t let you down.”

“See that you don’t.”

Retrieving the Stanton dossier from the out box, Sharmayne left.

Sitting there in his office, sensing that somehow he'd just lost yet another argument, Mallory couldn't help but feel aggrieved that she got to keep her tits but he hadn't been able to hang on to his balls.

Opening: Khazar-khum.....Continuation: Anon.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Face-Lift 985

Guess the Plot

Bibs, Burps, and Bottoms

1. One woman's warning to those young and foolish enough to be considering maternity. Told entirely in limericks.

2. I just had to get my experiences feeding, bathing and entertaining my children from infant stage to toddler stage down on paper. Now I share those experiences with the world.

3. Did you see that CSI episode about the grown men who liked to dress in nappies and be bottle-fed? Well, this is their story in their own words.

4. When the body of hunky film star Jeff McNeal is found wrapped in his adult baby fetish wear, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: nobody in Hollywood is what they seem; and he's got a lot of movies to trash when he gets home.

5. The law firm of Bibs, Burps and Bottoms are legal champions of the diaper-clad, representing those with gripes about mushy peas, chafed butts, and unrequested circumcisions. Eat your heart out Grisham.

6. After mob boss Johnny “Bibs” Bibbiano finds Jesus and confesses—it takes nineteen hours and three shifts of priests—he returns to the pole dance emporiums. He buys beer and lap dances so he can talk to the girls. Only this time, between burps and sighs, he proselytizes and they throw him out.

Original Version

When a baby or toddler is difficult to manage, most new parents console themselves by saying “at least it wasn’t twins”. But imagine having not just one, but two sets of twins, within eighteen months!!! [One exclamation point is sufficient to convey this level of staggering wonderment. Two exclamation points covers quintuplets+. Three is reserved for events like three sets of triplets in eighteen months.]

This is the story of raising my babies from newborns to toddlers.

My manuscript consists of stories from my days looking after four demanding infants. [That's pretty much what the previous sentence said.] It starts as a tale of sheer survival, calling favours from friends and relatives so I was able to have a shower and a coffee away from the newborns [Your main child-care tip is to get other people to take care of the kids?] who screamed for twenty hours per day. [Twenty hours a day!!! What were you doing to those poor kids?] [This is sounding like Mommy Dearest, only from Mommy's POV.]

It includes the indescribable joy of getting all four off to sleep at the same time. [One person's indescribable joy is another person's indescribable horror--my horror of putting all the readers to sleep at the same time.] It’s a celebration of our ingenuity when we designed and constructed a pram so all four could be taken out with only one parent. It includes tales of how I kept them fed, clean and entertained during long rainy days. [In short, it's a testament to my greatness.] [This is reminding me of the query for An American in London. Either you're highlighting the boring parts and saving the good parts for when we read the book, or you don't have any good parts, in which case you need to make some up.]

You might laugh at my supermarket tantrum horror stories. Or share the sheer terror of having one little absconder who bolted whenever my back was turned.

Bibs, Burps and Bottoms is ultimately a story of triumph. I hope to share practical parenting advice and funny tales. [You need to share funny tales in the query if you want us to be convinced the book contains funny tales. Give examples. Possibly you can embellish your experiences to make them more entertaining. For instance, which of the following is more entertaining to read:

1. You might laugh at my supermarket tantrum horror stories.

2. I take the kids to the supermarket instead of going alone while my husband takes them for a walk in the Quatropram™, and they all have tantrums. Everyone is staring at me! Imagine my embarrassment!!!

3. When I tell Billy he can't have a honeydew melon he screams and reaches up and upsets the entire display of melons, which come tumbling down, burying him alive. A nearsighted customer happens by and, thinking Billy's head is a honeydew, grabs it and places it in her cart. I'm about to say something when I realize that raising three kids would be a lot easier than raising four.]

It is 50000 words long. It can be a stand alone story, with series potential. [I don't think I'd call a series of anecdotes mixed with practical parenting advice a stand-alone story. Is there a plot? Check out Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and the film Big Business for how to build a plot around two sets of twins.] I am simultaneously working on my anecdotes of the twins as school children (including the time we went overseas with them), and stories of the four kids as adolescents.


Here's what this is coming across as: You invite a bunch of complete strangers to your home, and as the evening's entertainment you bring out 25 photo albums that span the years from birth to toddler of your children.

I can pretty much guarantee you'll have a better book if you take the best parts of those three books and combine them into one 50,000-word book. You don't have to throw away the three-volume set; you'll enjoy reading it every few years after the kids are off to college and you're free, free, FREE!

I don't know about including practical parenting advice. When there are a couple billion people around with parenting experience, you may need more credentials than you've mentioned to get people to respect your advice.

Remember, your stories don't have to be 100% true, as long as they're based on true stories. In fact, if you call the book fiction, there doesn't need to be any truth!!!


Guess the Plot


1. An old Gypsy woman travels through the Carpathians in a mule-drawn wagon, trying to avoid vampires, wolfmen and other cliche characters, but failing miserably.

2. Lana longs for the open road, but husband Gary wants to stay put. When he dies, she takes his insurance money to buy a big RV. On her way from Albany to San Clemente she meets different people, and at 87 she falls in love with aging screen idol Jack LeMans. Will they travel together to the end, or will she drive her RV through the great Farmer's Market in the sky?

3. They used to have a lot of negative stereotypes thrown at them; transients, tinkerers, thieves and prostitutes. Then the world was introduced to Frankie ‘the fingers’ and his inexplicable ability to snatch sickness from people as easy as stealing a wallet. It’s a latent ability that has been hidden among clans of gypsies for centuries.

4. Rhodes Scholar Gypsy Rodes is hitting the road again—this time in search of her gypsy past. But after running into a dead end in Romania, she’s at a crossroads of a sort. Will she wander the highways and byways both physically and metaphorically until the end of time or can she overcome her gypsy past?

5. Gypsy Johnson's parents didn't think her ability to animate toys would force them into a nomadic existence--on the run from the law, the mob, and social services. Maybe allowing her to go to the Museum of Natural History with her pre-school class was a bad idea.

6. Kathy Barnes's parents are dead, and to get her inheritance she must locate a man known only as The Traveler. With a nickname like that he could be a Gypsy, so she jets off to Albania, but there's no sign of The Traveler. Maybe she should have gone to Moldova.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

What do Gypsies, Klingons, and Gadjos (non-Gypsies) have in common? [You'll find them all at the Bucharest Star Trek Convention?] [But seriously, having looked ahead, I'm qualified to answer that question: They all get mentioned in the first sentence of your query for no discernible reason.] Kathy Barnes is about to find out in Gypsy. [Maybe you should leave off "in Gypsy," as we may think you're talking about the Broadway Musical.] [Although I don't recall any Klingons in the musical, unless you count Mama Rose.] After her parents die under mysterious circumstances, Kathy—a modern-day American girl with a Gypsy lineage—receives a cryptic letter with instructions to find a man known only as The Traveler, the sole person who can help locate the family inheritance left to her. [When you're trying to locate a guy, it's never good to discover his nickname is "The Traveler."] [In what way is the letter cryptic? Is it in the form of a cryptogram?]

Two years, a bought [bout] with depression, and a closet-case of teenage alcoholism later Kathy turns eighteen and jets off to Albania, to begin her quest. Upon pick-pocketing her own wallet back from Gypsy thieves she devises a scheme to use them for information in her search for The Traveler. But her quest goes awry when she meets a Gypsy with a charismatic, overconfident demeanor she loathes—and a magical spark she simply cannot resist. [I invariably find it easy to resist anyone whose demeanor I loathe.]

In a bizarre twist, Kathy uncovers secrets from her family’s past that date back to the Klingon takeover of Earth during World War II, [Whoa. I appreciate your attempt to prepare us for the fact that Klingons are now ruling Earth by mentioning them in sentence 1, but the Klingon takeover doesn't seem to have had any effect on Kathy's story. The plot description needs either more Klingon or no Klingon.] [In other words, you might want to change your first sentence to: Gypsy is a completed alternate history novel set on an Earth that was taken over by the Klingon Empire decades before the Klingon Empire was conceived by Gene Roddenberry.] [Also, from what I know about the Klingons, Earth is the last planet they would want anything to do with. They would consider all of us, with the possible exception of Seal Team 6, mollycoddled wimps.] [Also, I'm not sure you're allowed to use Klingons as a major part of your book without Captain Kirk's permission.] [Also, finding secrets from your family's past doesn't strike me as a "bizarre twist," especially when you're specifically looking into your family's past.] and her life is thrust upon the brink of disaster when the Gypsy leader discovers her lies, her family lineage, and her secret mission to find the inheritance.

Gypsy is a 99,250 word YA novel geared toward a crossover audience (teens to twenty-somethings) [The people who grew up with Klingons are in their fifties now] that whisks the reader into an exotic world full of young love, lies, and unexploded landmines [3 is a good number of items to put in a list, but if you can come up with only 2, don't just toss in a random object to make it 3.] in the heart of colorful Eastern Europe. [The only colors I think of when I think of Eastern Europe are gray and drab.] Evil Editor once said: “The question is can you say a hearty yes to your quest.” [True, he wasn't referring to my novel (or to any novel), but] My novel begs this same question of the reader. Will you follow Kathy on her quest? Will you answer the call when your own adventure arises? I hope you said a “hearty yes” to these questions [Actually, I believe I'll use them as an excuse to send a rejection slip. Hey, I'm petty that way.] because Gypsy was written to inspire the adventurer in all of us. [I don't see that you've described a story that inspires the adventurer in us. Kathy goes to Albania, lies to some Gypsies, and . . . what? If she gets imprisoned by, and escapes from, Klingons, put that in the query.]

This is my first novel. The capstone for my Bachelor’s degree was a research project I conducted on Eastern Europe and the three countries (Albania, Serbia, and Moldova) used for the setting of my story. [Moldova's a country? When did that happen? Ah, research shows my geographical knowledge needs updating. Apparently their main claim to fame is the boy band O-zone, who came to prominence in 2004, when their hit song "Dragostea Din Tei," also known as "The Numa Numa Song," took over the #1 spot on the Eurochart Hot 100, replacing Eamon's "Fuck it (I Don't Want You Back)".]

The manuscript for Gypsy is complete, and I would be happy to send a partial upon your request.

Thank you for your time, Evil Editor. I look forward to having my query letter ripped to shreds.



It's not clear why Kathy needs to "use" the Gypsies to find The Traveler, or why her lineage is being kept secret from them. Why doesn't she just say, "I'm of Gypsy lineage, like you guys, and I'm looking for The Traveler. Seen him around?"

If the main plot is Kathy's quest to find The Traveler, can you hint at whether she ever finds him? I hope your answer is a hearty yes.

What's the Klingon secret? Kathy's great grandfather was a Klingon collaborator, and the inheritance is his ill-gotten gains? There's no harm in telling us. Why is she on the brink of disaster when her secret is discovered, if she didn't know the secret herself until she got there? What danger is she in, and what's her plan?

Dump the Evil Editor stuff and use the first sentence of that paragraph to open your last paragraph.

How the heck did the Klingons get into this? Are you sure the book wouldn't be better without them?

Selected Comments

Ellie said...It does not beg the question. It encourages people to ask the question. I suspect this particular usage battle has long been lost, but it still drives me crazy--and may drive an agent crazy too.

Having not seen your story, I have no idea how you portray the Gypsies (nor am I trying to accuse you of being insensitive, I promise)--but it seems like your query hits a lot of the stereotypes (thieves! magic! colorful!) without promising a lot of nuance in the way you present the culture. Your query does not have to be a Very Special Episode, but you should let it show you know the culture you're writing about.

Rini said...This sounds like a fun story, I want to read it. That being said, the query does little for you. I would dump paragraphs four and five, as it just sounds like you're tooting your own horn, and as Evil editor points out, seem a little irrelevant.
The first two sentences comes off as a little kitschy, and bogs the query down. The third sentence though, throws us right into the action. It's a great sentence to start with because it introduces the main character as well as the main conflict that drives the story (it would make a great hook as well). It's a great sentence, and may I be so bold as to suggest that you start with it instead of the first two?

Try to clean this up a little, focus. The mention of her pickpocketing might be a little too much information for a query letter. I would also leave out "in a bizarre twist". just a bit of pruning to tighten things up.

Keep going on this. It sounds like a great story, and I think with a little polish here and there, this query could attract some attention. Good job, minion.

Phoenix said...Yes, please, kindly share with us a bit more of the adventure that the novel is begging us to be a part of.

I'm also not clear why Kat's plan to use the clan to find information goes awry when she meets Maksim. It sounds kind of like she says to herself, "I'm going to get myself invited to dinner and ask them some questions to trick them into telling me want I want to know. Oh no! They have an infuriatingly cute member. Well, in that case, scrap that plan."

On a personal note, author, I got my MA at UNT, just a block down the road from TWU. But other than my having the chance to wave "Hi" to a fellow North Texan, that paragraph doesn't really say much except you've got a degree and you've done your research -- and the degree doesn't matter and the research should really be a given.

Dominique said...They're not called Gypsies. They're called Romany. The word Gypsy comes from the old mistaken impression that they came from Egypt. The Rom actually trace their origin back to the Aryan peoples of the Punjab.

Polenth said...It comes across as using Roma people because you think they're cool. Exoticising cultures is generally unpopular among those who like multicultural fiction. I'd reconsider using terms like "exotic world" and "colorful Eastern Europe" for that reason.

Stephen Prosapio said...This query begs the question as to why we should read the book, because we should really desire to.

While it sounds like it could be an interesting story, there were enough mistakes, errors and unexploded landmines to make me wonder how well it's organized.

I also take issue with it being a "YA" novel. I'm starting to see this as an issue with writers because "YA" isn't a true *type* of book/story. It's a "genre" in the sense of how the novel will be marketed, but just calling it "YA" doesn't give a writer the leeway to not know what his/her story is.

Case in point: Harry Potter was a Fantasy story. Twilight is a Supernatural story. Neither are YA stories. If GYPSY is an "Action/Adventure" book, then focus on that in the query. If it's a "Coming of Age" story then focus on that in the query.

Joe said...This query begs a plot! So far we have:
1. Kathy loses her parents and gets a letter about her inheritance.
2. Two years later (for some reason) she goes looking for her inheritance.
3. She falls in love with a Gypsy.
4. Another Gypsy finds out who she is!
5. So what?

Are there fights? Chases and escapes? Mysteries to solve? Vampire sex scenes?

Does she find The Traveler? Does she find her inheritance? What is the inheritance and why should we care? Because if it's just a recipe for oatmeal cookies, I will be disappointed!

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Guess the Plot

The Ivory Tower

1. She's the hottest thing to hit Triple-X since Busty Bundtcakes. Everyone thinks her nickname is due to her pale Scandinavian skin and her phenomenal height, until they see her perform! It seems she's equipped for every occasion.

2. An actual tower made of ivory looms metaphorically over a dying land in which zombies and an ice goddess try to keep a young wizard and a guy named Harold from saving the world from a mysterious plague. Also, gnomes.

3. After years of planning, Jason finally opens his upscale BDSM club 'The Ivory Tower'. But when the mayor dies in the dungeon, Jason and his clientele are branded immoral killers. Will anyone believe Jason's claim that he's really the town's whipping boy?

4. The world outside her window beckoned, and Professor Horn fled The Ivory Tower to experience another way of life. Now that she knows people have to work hard out there and no one is impressed with her credentials, she can't wait to go back to her cluttered office in the Economics Department.

5. Big game hunter Dirk "Blowgun" Pratt spends a year trying to poach the elephants of the savanna armed with an empty toilet paper roll and a supply of licorice jelly beans. But the gentle animals lose patience with Dirk's shenanigans and impale him upon their tusks for a ride on . . . The Ivory Tower.

6. Homicide detective Zack Martinez loathed the conceited professors at the local university. And not just because he lost his ex-wife, Marie, to Marcus Denethen, head of the History department. When Marie and Marcus are discovered naked and drained of their blood in the stacks of the school library, suddenly Zack becomes a suspect.

Original Version

All David wanted was a simple life and time to grieve. When his mother died and his sister ran away, there wasn't time for such self-indulgence; the same plague claimed his uncle Merric—the town's priest and David's magical instructor. [Whattaya mean "the same plague"? You haven't mentioned a plague.] From the age of ten, he worked night and day to shield his hometown from sickness and famine. [David or Merrick?]

Five years later, life has settled down, and he wants nothing more than to settle down with it, spending his days chatting with local farmers [I can buy into a world in which magic is real, but a fifteen-year-old kid who wants nothing more than to chat with farmers? Come on.] and honoring local gods. [I like the idea of local gods. If you believe in one god who has seven billion people on this planet plus a few billion other planets to keep tabs on, you feel kind of guilty asking him/her to intervene in your pathetic life. But if there are a few gods who focus just on your neighborhood, you figure one of them probably has time to deal with your math test or your hemorrhoids.] It is not to be.

His coming-of-age ceremony is interrupted by Harold, a traveler who claims to have known Merric. He confirms David's suspicion that Merric was not a hedge-mage [Hedge-mage: a gardener who's a wizard with pruning shears.] but a full wizard, and reveals what Merric never had the chance to: a prophecy that holds only David can heal the spreading wasteland in the east. David protests, but when he learns that the plague was actually [a] spell sent by his enemies, [David has enemies? He's a kid; how did he get enemies?] David realizes he has no choice but to leave home.

Soon he's headed east to unearth the Book of Life, a spellbook with which he is meant to heal the land. Adventuring life isn't easy. He is attacked repeatedly by bandits, gnomes, and undead. [Undead?! There's your hook, right there, and you've buried it in the middle of paragraph 4. You've also left it somewhat vague. The reader can't tell from the word "undead" whether you're referring to people who are vampires, people who are zombies, or people who are alive. Just as a science fiction author will refer to normal people as "humans," hoping the agent will think, Humans! I wonder what they're like, and request the manuscript, a fantasy/horror author will refer to normal people as "undead," hoping the agent will think, Undead! Could be zombies, and request the manuscript. It's a ploy as old as the hills, but it continues to pay dividends.] To save a friend, he must risk his soul confronting [Hillary,] the Ice Goddess herself. When he finally reaches a safe haven, he learns that he has been challenged to a duel [He learns this? If you're gonna challenge someone to a duel, etiquette demands you do so in person, not place a personal ad.] and has two months to make up for five years of missed training. [Two months?

I challenge you to a duel.

Accepted. When?

Let's see, my inlaws 'll be here the rest of the week, and I'm already dueling Rodriguez next Friday . . .

I've got the junior prom the week after that.

Now we're running into the holiday season.

Gimme a call in a couple months, I'll see if I can clear some time.]

David learns to deal with physical assault, but the real dangers aren't physical. [Whoa. The dangers are always physical when there are zombies involved.] He soon discovers that everyone has secrets, and he doesn't know where to turn.

Harold, the leader, [The leader of what?] is secretly the eastern prince—and even more secretly, adopted. [More secretly than secretly?]

Raven, the bitter sorceress, is in fact his lost sister, transformed beyond recognition by her lust for power.

David was raised to mistrust wizards and hate kings, [I was raised to trust Mr. Wizard and to love Elvis.] but is on his way to becoming both. Neither Raven nor Harold told him that the Book is not just a tool of healing—it's the weapon with which he must unify the continent.

None of this prepares him for the greatest betrayal of all. When he finally reaches the ancient spellbook, he meets the writer's ghost and learns the final secret. The prophecy was a fraud, penned only to coerce him into service. [Is this a betrayal of David or of the reader?]

The Ivory Tower is a 120,000 word humorous fantasy that addresses the question: "What happens when the prophecy isn't true? When the unlikely hero is really is unlikely?" [Come again?] It's a broad satire of quest stories—the Smalltown Savior, the Thing of Power, and the Lost Heir are all here, and all tweaked so as to reveal their underlying absurdity. Comic relief comes in the form of David's sardonic first-person narration, [If you need to put comic relief into a comedy, it's not funny enough.] but the story is not simply a big joke. It's also a coming-of-age tale about the value of choosing one's own goals and making one's own way.

[Title Note: The Ivory Tower is an actual tower, made of Ivory, that existed long ago. Although they never visit the site, the tower looms metaphorically over the characters. To Raven, who has spent years searching for it, it represents magical knowledge. To Harold, the adoptive prince, it represents his nation's fallen grandeur. [To me it represents 250,000 dead elephants.] Most tellingly, it was both built and destroyed by the Book, and serves David as a symbol of the dangers of power.]


I'm not in the camp of those who believe a humorous book demands a humorous query. But it should at least describe situations in which the reader can see the potential for humor. The book you describe sounds like the book you're supposedly satirizing. I'm more interested in how the plot's been tweaked to reveal the underlying absurdity.

To make the query funnier, always refer to Harold as "a guy named Harold."

It's too long, and it has so many paragraphs, you'll end up skipping about ten lines. Combine some of the short paragraphs. And don't bring in so many plot elements.

The third paragraph was well developed, each sentence following logically from the last. The fourth paragraph is a list of events, no development, and less interesting. Two or three well-developed paragraphs makes a more impressive query than a lot of underdeveloped ones.

If you open the query: When a plague takes the lives of David's mother and his Uncle Merrick... I won't keep thinking What plague? every time you mention this plague you think I know all about.

Selected Comments

Dave said...Does this - only David can heal the spreading wasteland in the east... - mean that there is hope for Passaic NJ?

This story sounds like fun and I like the author's writing. It's got humor and all the elements of good satire. But please, author step back and take a deep breath. This query is written inside the forest and you need to step back away and rewrite it. I've done this very thing too many times not to recognize it. I still do it write too many words, so you're in good company.

Perhaps you can start with your thought "What happens when the hero really is just a commoner? Or when the prophecy proclaiming him king and savior is a pack of lies? Harold, a talentless sheep farmer has to find out." and flesh it out from that POV.

Beth said...The most surprising sentence in this query was this one: The Ivory Tower is a 120,000 word humorous fantasy. Coulda knocked me over with a metpahorical ivory tower. I didn't get any sense of satire or humor in that query. Which is waaayyyyyy too long, and tells too much of the story. There were too many places where the storyline left motivations foggy and logic in the dust. I suggest you start with the paragraph that describes what sort of book this is (tweaked to answer EE's concerns), then condense all the rest into one paragraph that introduces setting, character(s), and major conflict, in a colorful and intriguing way.

Dave said: "What happens when the hero really is just a commoner? Or when the prophecy proclaiming him king and savior is a pack of lies? Harold, a talentless sheep farmer has to find out." Good suggestion. Already I'm hooked.

150 said...To me, the most intriguing part of this was the kid having to give up his childhood to keep his village alive. Then it became a standard Hero's Journey...and then it became a spoof. I'd read that first book, but give the other two a miss. All of which might just be a way of telling you to give us the nature of the book right up front.

Orion said...I didn't realize quite how excessively long it was. I was somehow convinced that it was no longer than some of the other longish ones, until I saw it in EE's format. I'm rewriting it now for brevity, as well as moving the genre information to the beginning. Speaking of which, how did y'all like the description of what I was trying to do? I worry that it may be a bit pretentious...

The duel will probably not make it into the revised version of the query, but in case anyone cared, here's the explanation:

A challenge to a duel doesn't need to be made in person, it can be a letter naming the time and place of the challenge. Since wizards' duels take some preparation and the distances involved make speedy delivery impossible, the challenge was sent *well* in advance of the actual day.

David doesn't know he's been challenged because it was sent to him in care of Raven, who didn't actually give it to him.

150 said...Speaking of which, how did y'all like the description of what I was trying to do?

It seemed pretty clinical to me, and a little wordier than it should be--trying too hard, especially, as EE noted, The book you describe sounds like the book you're supposedly satirizing. How about, "The Ivory Tower follows the classic Hero's Journey while acknowledging--and winking at--the underlying absurdity of its tropes."

Rei said...I strongly second Dave's suggested opening para. I would scrap your entire current query. I'd use Dave's opening plus *one* paragraph.

phoenix said...What Dave, Beth and EE said. Plus: I would call it a "spoof" right up front. Consider that "humorous" implies a whole different direction. Plus, with "humorous," you have to use a whole lot more words to essentially say it's a spoof. And unless you're submitting to university presses (Bored of the Rings comes to mind) or agents not known for handling fantasy, I would shy away from saying "underlying absurdity" (however true that may be) when flagrantly discussing some of the genre's well-known works. Readers of the genre will accept a sympathetic spoof with open arms, but will not read anything that truly ridicules their taste or the books they love. I don't think that's your intent (although I'm making the assumption your target audience is readers of fantasy; if not, who else?), so just be careful of word choice.

I'm also not buying the statement that the book is more than satire, but also a coming-of-age morality story about choosing your own path/destiny. That's because the Hero's Journey is always about choice. A Hero is the one who can make the selfless choices. Those who can't are, well, the hedge-mages of the world. No matter the prophecies, no matter the task, a Hero must voluntarily choose to take each step. So a Hero can never really be considered a Hero until the end of the journey. In that sense, juxtaposing your statement about making one's own way against "not one big joke" seems to be advocating living a selfish, it's-all-about-me life. Again, not what I think you had in mind. Just be sure you clearly understand the conventions you're satirizing and be sure it's clear in your query. If I made it down to the last paragraph of your query as an agent who represents fantasy, these points -- as presented -- would be auto rejects for me.

jennie said...Ivory Tower? Why am I reminded of the Neverending Story, which also has an Ivory Tower, an unlikely hero, a wasting plague on the land, a book, etc..

pacatrue said...Hi author, I like the *idea* of what you are trying to do quite a bit. I had a similar idea a year or so ago that was supposed to satirize the idea of the great evil overlord on a volcano. However, you have done much better than me in that you actually wrote the thing.

I don't have any new advice to offer you. The comments here seem good, the rewrites you mentioned seem the right direction, and so have fun with it.

pjd said..."Alas, poor Merric! I knew him, Harold. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent hedgerows, he hath borne me on his sheep a thousand times, and now how abhorred in my imagination it is!"

EE, I think you've got "hedge-mage" wrong. A Hedge-mage is an accredited investor who invariably makes money on unusual and/or risky investments. Like a 120,000 word spoof. (Is it really 120,000 words? Bored of the Rings is only 42,000 according to amazon.com.)

EE, very fine form this time. I am tempted to like the humor of the query because I laughed so much at the comments. But really, I only laughed at the comments... the query fell flat for me, even after I found out it was satire. After I found out it was satire, the only parts that made me smile at all were the gnomes (possibly due to EE's treatment in the GTP entry) and the "even more secretly" bug.

If this were 45,000 words, I might consider picking it up. But I'm not likely to invest the time to read a 120,000 word satire unless I'm guaranteed a side-splitter every few pages. (If I recall, Bored of the Rings had a side-splitter every few words. But I was twelve at the time, so anything involving the word "fart" was a side-splitter. What I'm saying is that my judgment may not have been entirely reliable.) I think phoenix explained the difference between spoof and ridicule quite well.

And I don't really buy the fact that it's both satire and legitimate fantasy. The Princess Bride managed to pull it off (with the added bonus of using the name Humperdink instead of the more mundane Harold), but from the query I'm doubtful that you've managed it. My suspicion is that either the humor is too subtle or the satire is much too long.

Orion said...Hmm... one issue that is coming up as I revise the query is that I don't have the vocabulary to describe exactly what I'm doing here.

It is *not* a spoof, at least, not what I think of when I think spoof. It's not Bored of the Rings or Monty Python; in fact, in its original conception it was straight-up quest fantasy. I found the original version lacking a little something. When I switched from third-person to first, I discovered to my delight that David was actually a pretty funny guy, and that, like most of us, he uses humor as a defense mechanism.

The jokes aren't the *point* of the story, though, just a glaze on top for added flavor. And the plot isn't necessarily a *parody*. Really, what I did was deliberately reverse genre conventions whenever possible.

Thus, instead of the dramatic revelation that a character is royalty, I have the dramatic revelation that a character is *not* royalty. Instead of a true prophecy, I have a lie. Instead of the restoration of an old line of kings, I have the creation of a new republic.

That said, the story is meant to be internally consistent and take itself at least somewhat seriously.

PS --The gnomes aren't funny. They're predatory beast-men made of dirt.

Orion said...Revised Query

Where there’s a prophecy, there’s a “chosen one”—usually a snot-nosed kid. Ignorant and unprepared, (s)he still prevails against staggering odds. This success occurs because the “chosen one” turns out to be a natural hero. This is very convenient, but also very improbable. The Ivory Tower is a 120,000 word humorous fantasy that explores what happens when the appointed hero isn’t very heroic.

David, a wizard’s apprentice, was ten when a virulent plague killed both his mother and his master. There was no time to grieve; it took all his skill to keep the disease from wiping out his entire town. Five years later, things are finally looking up. Between presiding over holiday feasts, starring in the town’s annual opera, and dancing with all the farmers’ daughters, David is finally beginning to enjoy himself.
His coming-of-age ceremony is interrupted by Harold, a traveler who claims to have known David’s master. He says that a prophecy holds only David can heal the spreading wasteland in the east. David protests, but learns that the plague which killed his family was a magical attack. David accedes to Harold’s demands rather than continue to endanger his hometown.

It is immediately clear that he is not the hero they had hoped for. He’s not even sure he wants to be. In fact, his greatest fear is that he will one day come to enjoy an adventurer’s violent lifestyle. His recalcitrance is justified when he discovers he is being used. His comrades expect him not only to heal, but to conquer. Worse, the prophecy itself is a fraud penned to coerce him into service.

David fins himself with quite a conundrum. Which is more selfish: To go his own way and let his friends down, or to persevere in pretending to be that which he is not?


I should still be shorter, I know. Am I on the right track?

pjd said...The gnomes aren't funny. They're predatory beast-men made of dirt.

Well, there you go. Predatory beast-men made of dirt is pretty funny to me. I mean, as long as they're chasing someone else.

Sorry I got it so wrong, Orion. I am having a very difficult time really understanding what you're up to. I mean, I get it intellectually, I guess. Have you tried writing the query in David's voice? If it worked for your book, maybe it would work for your query.

Perhaps this is one of those fictional autobiographies we just finished talking about. Perhaps you should try selling it that way. (Dear agent, Having just discovered I'm not actually supposed to save the world, I wrote a book about it. My sister, the frustrated sorceress, thinks I should just go back to the sheep, but...)

Anonymous said...If not for the EE comments I would never have stuck around long enough to make it through that plot description. And heroic fantasy would be right up my genre. I'm not an agent, I don't know if they demand humor in queries pitching humorous books, but the alleged presence of humor probably shouldn't be the most shocking plot twist in your query, as it was here.

The "it's not a spoof" comment is a little scary, too close to the dreaded i-don't-even-know-what-my-book-is statement that you never want to send an agent. "I tried to write X but it all came out Y" is another variation on that same theme. Maybe you didn't start with a spoof, but it is a spoof now, right? Or at least it's more like a spoof than anything else the English language has a ready word for, yes? When the agent calls editors to say what she's pitching, she's going to say, "it's a terrific spoof", is she not?

If so, then your new mantra can be, "I wrote a spoof." And when some dolt says it seems more like you tried to write a serious novel but lost control -- you can give them a blank stare like they must be mad and say, "Spoof," then swirl your martini to the other side of the room where all the sophisticated people are.

phoenix said...The gnomes aren't funny. They're predatory beast-men made of dirt.

An orc by any other name...

Well, now I'm confused. Your comment says Harold gets the dramatic revelation that he's not royalty and that the government being established will be a republic. Yet the query states he's on his way to becoming a king. Since the two paragraphs before that one seemingly relate truths, then a reader would also logically think this 'graph, including using the Book to unify a continent, is true, too.

And then there's the lie at the end: That the prophecy was just a ruse to coerce him into service. Your comment indicates a new replublic is created rather than the kingship mentioned right before. Does this new republic get led by David? If so, then he IS following a destiny -- if not a prophecy.

I'm sorry, I'm not feeling the Princess Bride thing shining through at all, either from the query or your comments. So I'm not "getting" a feel for your book at all.

Xenith said...You could start with "The Ivory Tower is a 120,000 word fantasy that addresses the question: "What happens when the prophecy isn't true? When the unlikely hero really is unlikely?"

I think that sets the tone without you having to say if it's humorous or spoof or whatever.

phoenix said...Just read the revise, and it's still not working for me. Maybe my confusion about what the book is supposed to actually be comes from the fact that I don't know how it ends.

David is being used. Got that. He's pretending to be something he's not. Not understanding what he's pretending to be from the query. But how does it all resolve? If he's not a hero, then does the plague wipe everyone out in the end? Who do his comrades expect him to conquer and are they the "good guys?" In the end, is everything left in chaos because David is not a hero? Or by his unheroic inaction only do the good guys win?

Without that piece of the puzzle, I guess it's hard to offer comment on what the book may or may not ultimately be "about." Because as I pointed out before, a Hero can only be judged a Hero at journey's end.

takoda said...Oh God, predatory beast men made of dirt--ROTFLMAO! Now I know what to call my boys! Sorry, but I can't think of a possible scenario where dirty beast people are scary! You know, you're really funny even when you're trying not to be. Just go with it!

Evil Editor said...It should still be shorter, I know. Am I on the right track?

Yes. It now sounds like it was written by a writer. I'm starting to think it should be called a fantasy. Especially if the unlikely hero ends up prevailing against staggering odds. Here's your new version with a few cuts to shorten it:

Wherever there’s a prophecy, there’s a “chosen one”—an unprepared, snot-nosed kid who prevails against staggering odds because he's a natural-born hero. How very convenient. But what happens when the appointed hero isn’t exactly heroic?

David, a wizard’s apprentice, has just turned fifteen. Between starring in the annual opera and dancing with all the farmers’ daughters, he's enjoying life. Then some guy named Harold shows up, claiming that only David can heal the spreading wasteland in the east. Why him? David wants to know. "It's been prophesied," Harold informs him. End of discussion.

As David reluctantly battles his way eastward, he begins to enjoy the adventurer’s violent lifestyle--until he discovers he is being used. His comrades expect him not only to heal, but to conquer. The prophecy is a fraud, penned to trick him into service.

The Ivory Tower is a 120,000-word fantasy in which an unprepared, snot-nosed kid must decide whether to go his own way and let his comrades down, or to persevere in pretending to be that which he is not. Thank you.

Marissa Doyle said...Orion, is what you've written here something on the Terry Pratchett-ish side, with David as a sort of Rincewind character? His books are snort-coffee-out-the-nose funny but with a deep, often philosophical stream running underneath the humor. You could use that comparison (or at least go to Amazon and read up on how his books are characterized).

Orion said...What happens? He finds the Book, and decides that he just isn't interested in that kind of power. He gives the book to his sister (the one who ran away to seek fame and fortune). He uses it only once, to send himself home.

I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan, though I am deliberately *not* imitating him. Since he's got the fast-paced, zany fantasy market sewn up, I'm trying for something a little more subtle and leisurely (though I *do* expect the book to get shorter as I revise).

Evil Editor said...The question is, can you convince an agent or editor that fantasy readers who've followed your hero on a 100,000+ -word adventure will be satisfied with his decision to say, "Screw this," and transport home?

phoenix said...EE: You did a nice turn with the query in tying it together given the elements to work with. And Orion, it's a great start. But honestly, still yawn. The "As David reluctantly battles..." paragraph is where the wow factor needs to be, where the glazy-eyed agent/editor will jerk upright, spill their coffee, and grab the telephone to beg for pages. But in all the versions, it's just so ... flat.

Nothing in these queries shouts, "Hey, read me, I'm different from any other fantasy in the slush!" Same setting. Same snot-nosed kid. Same reluctance. OK, really hard to tell, but maybe the end is different. David turns his back on the power and goes home. Now, Dorothy did that in the Wizard of Oz. She could have taken the Wicked Witch of the West's place. But no, she chose farmlife in Kansas over fame in Emerald City. And we all cheered, right? But the story was structured to make us believe that Dorothy, the small-time farm girl who becomes the reluctant Hero, belonged on that farm in Kansas, not in Emerald City.

Now, it may be extraordinarily well done in your book, but in the query and in your explanation, I'm not seeing the payoff. What's the "Aha!" moment? What's going to make the reader sit back and go, "Wow, funny story AND a satisfying ending! When's this next author dude's book coming out?"

Make me see how you accomplish that in the query.

150 said...I dunno, EE, I was pretty happy when those two little hairy guys destroyed their MacGuffin and just went home.

I would want to know that David went through some serious growth, though, and that he returns to his village with something--new knowledge, respect for the humanity outside his borders, or whatever.

Evil Editor said...Yes, but did David destroy his? Or did he give his sister the book and tell her to fix things?

150 said...Ah, see, I was assuming that David fixed things on his own without Book-related help and THEN went home. The ending you assumed would be much less satisfying, I agree.

pjd said...But if David doesn't fix anything and instead just leaves the big honkin' wasteland in the east for his successor to clean up, the book's release in October 2008 will be very timely and topical. Particularly if the successor is a bitter sorceress "transformed beyond recognition by her lust for power."

Orion, I like your revision better and even more the efficiently pruned EE version. I'm still with phoenix, but it does seem that you're getting closer.

Orion said...The political situation in the book is pretty complicated, and there simply isn't space to explain it in the query, which is why I decided not to address it in detail. If you're interested, here it is:

David is supposed to use the book to unify the continenet and reign as king of the entire land. On the other hand, Harold is all set to inherit the one nation that the wasteland is in. Both discover they're being used. David goes home, while Harold says, "Screw this, let's have a republic!"

David does *not* heal the wasteland; however, the quest for the book wouldn't have succeded without him, and now that his sister has it, *she* can do it. He's not *making* her do the work, he's *letting her*. She was always jealous of him, because *she* wanted to be the hero.

He marries a princess who shares his distaste for power; they live in his hometown. He uses the magic he learned on his adventure to make his town healthy and wealthy; she puts her administrative training to work as the town Mayor.

phoenix said...I'm really trying hard to like this. But from your last comment, I see why the resolution paragraph keeps falling so flat. Where's your climax? Is there one? Is the ending more than a bump in the story followed by a long, mediocre denouement? And quite honestly, the more I read about the story, the less funny and fulfilling it sounds, and the more mired it becomes.

I was all onboard for a nice, sympathetic satire that you just needed to tweak into a hook that described well what you were trying to accomplish. Maybe some objective outsiders like the folks over at Critters could help you find the focus and plot points in the story that would help make your query shine. But I think it's going to take critiquers actually reading large chunks of your book to really help out. Sorry.

author said...Thanks much for your help with the old version -- I've completely overhauled the book itself, so thought I'd float another query by you. Note that, if the intro graf's gimmick just doesn't work, I believe the query stands without it.

The Ivory Tower – Query (Revision)

"My name is David… commonly called the Godspeaker. Not that you needed me to tell you that. I just want you to know, being the "hero" is not what the talespinners say it is. Okay, I dueled Sardit to the death. Yeah, I sold my soul to an ice goddess. And, if you want to get technical, I did run off with a princess. I didn't ask for any of it and it didn't make anyone better off. Now gather round, my children, and shut the hell up. And don't ask me how Raven's looks live up to the tales; she's my sister, creep."

The Ivory Tower, the tale of a predestined hero who's completely unsuitable, is an 80,000 word high fantasy narrated by the sardonic antihero.

A spiritual cancer afflicts the nature kami of the Eastlands. Affected regions blossom into jungle before crumbling into lifeless desert. Choked by refugees, the Eastern emperor fears only the gods can save his kingdom now. Unfortunately, without the Book of Stars, only record of the lore by which the gods were made, they aren't inclined to be helpful. A prophecy tells that only the Godspeaker, a youth born to a certain house in a remote village, can retrieve the tome and save the land. That youth is David, a wizard's nephew who was to have been groomed from birth for his role. His uncle died when he was ten, leaving him responsible for his village's welfare and completely unaware of the role he was born to. At fifteen, he is wise beyond his years... and lacking the magical education of any magical Journeyman.

On his 15th birthday, he is whisked off on his quest by the Eastern prince and a magician, secretly his runaway sister. When it comes to magic, he catches up quicker than anyone could hope, saving a friend's life by outwitting an ice goddess and his own in a lethal spellduel. However, he doesn't take well to the adventuring life; nauseated by blood and uninterested in power, he doubts that he is the hero they're
looking for; especially when he learns that he is expected not only to heal the plague, but to unify the continent. When he finds himself using magic to fight his political adversaries, he begins to fear the man he is becoming.

Matters come to a head when he learns that the prophecy is not a record of the future but the propaganda of a power-hungry ghost, written in order to manipulate him into service. Armed with that knowledge, he is now free to choose his fate and make his own way—but who, if not him, will save the East?

Title Note:

The Ivory Tower stills plays a mostly metaphorial role, but I managed to get him to find the bloody place and make his stand there against a goblin rush.

talpianna said...I still don't see any reason to like or admire David, so I'd give this one a pass. It seems that what you are writing is an epic fantasy with an ironic hero, and Northrop Frye won't let you do that. I have an excellent YA fantasy around here somewhere in which the hero knows perfectly well that declaring him the "Chosen One" is a setup, but he goes along with it to see what the situation is. He comes out of it well not because he's heroic, but because he's very intelligent and a good judge of character. These are the qualities I miss in your hero.

Sarah Laurenson said...The intro does seem off to me. I get an immediate dislike for David out of it. If that's what you're going for, you succeeded. Would not make me want to read the book though.

What's a kami?

I like this part:
When he finds himself using magic to fight his political adversaries, he begins to fear the man he is becoming.

I think this is a large part of the conflict - his fight to stay true to himself despite that outside pressures. This makes his struggle more identifiable with 'everyman'.

His uncle died when he was ten, leaving him responsible for his village's welfare and completely unaware of the role he was born to. A 10 yr old runs the village? Is that what this means? No other adults step up to the plate and they're all fine with resting their futures on his shoulders?

Overall - without the first paragraph, I might ask for pages, but I'm not an editor or agent.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Face-Lift 984

Guess the Plot

The Star Bear Odyssey

1. Microbrewer Dave Fitzsimmons thinks he's found a winning name for his secret lager. He dreams of hitting it big. Then there's a mistake at the printer. Hilarity ensues.

2. A space bear travels to Earth and meets a tragic end, but his cells serve as the building blocks of life on our planet. Written entirely in haiku.

3. Sam and Belle Star, horse and cattle rustlers, stop in a bar where a depressed stockbroker says there’s a bear market at the Chicago Exchange. So the Star gang raid Missouri and Iowa zoos, stealing bears and herding them toward Chicago.

4. When Olga Petrovna, the lead bear in the Moscow Circus's bicycle act, is kidnapped by a rival ringmaster, plucky 11-year-old acrobat Ivan Ivanovich must cross Siberia to far off Irkutsk to recover her.

5. A crew of astronauts set out on the most dangerous mission ever, a voyage from Mizar in Ursa Major (The Great Bear) to Polaris in Ursa Minor (The Little Bear). Apparently they're obsessed with bears, although this is carrying it a bit far.

6. Seventeen-year-old Kendra Langton sets out to follow the path of Odysseus in her sailboat, Star Bear. It's supposed to be an educational vacation, but when she encounters Charybdis and then gets attacked by a Cyclops, she realizes she's in for rough sailing. Could Circe be behind this?

7. Every solstice, Grock the centaur makes the pilgrimage to the Ring of Stones to learn about his destiny from the Star Bear. This year, his oracle is silent and Grock needs to find out why the stars' voices have been stilled.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Attached please find my 523 word very haiku horror picture story for all ages, [If it's haiku, we don't need a word count; we need a syllable count.] [Not sure what the word "very" is modifying. Very haiku? As opposed to somewhat haiku? Would a somewhat haiku book be written using a lower percentage of haiku, or would it just have some inferior haiku, like with eight syllables in the middle line?] The Star Bear Odyssey. You mentioned that you would be interested in seeing it. [Note to self: Henceforth no more than two beers per night at a writers conference.]

The crash-landing of another traveller, expelled from his own star, rudely interrupts a small water bear space traveller’s journey. [These strings of modifiers (very haiku horror picture, small water bear space) don't help your cause, partly because they seem like randomly chosen words.] [Here's a haiku I just composed using your word-string method:

Small water bear space
Very haiku horror pics
Charge tennis cow spring.

Is that what the haiku in your book are like?]

The empathetic star bear is glad to receive company and agrees to take care of the foundling. A tale reminiscent of a twining of Roald Dahl’s dark humor and Poe’s psychological distress unfolds.

[Edgar Allan Poe
And Roald Dahl entwining.
Wackiness ensues.]

On one level it is a simple story of survival. On another level it is about depression, abuse, and the betrayal of trust.

[Depression, abuse,
And the betrayal of trust.
Sounds like a downer.]

The outcome is necessarily tragic, but also a pyrrhic victory, in that the star bear’s cells serve as a fragile evolutionary bridge on earth. Panspermia is an unlikely but possible scientific theory for the sustenance of life on earth. [For those who don't want to look it up, panspermia is the theory that sperm from a star bear traveled through space until it encountered the egg of an Earth mammal, resulting in the creation of Yogi Bear.]

I wrote the book during a period of severe depression, for which it served as a kind of catharsis. I have had it edited professionally by Hat Trick Rooster, a published Xanaduian poet. [I Googled the words Xanaduian poet but Google insisted I meant Canadian poet. I guess that means they never heard of a poet from Xanadu. (Personally, I'm surprised they've heard of any poets from Canada.) Then I Googled Hat Trick Rooster and got this 1961 Australian ad for Red Rooster's Hawaiian Hat Trick box of food.] [I had no idea Australian ads were as annoying as American ads. "Chunks and chips." That sounds appetizing.] [Does a haiku author really need a haiku editor? Haiku are only about eight words long. I guess the editor can confirm that each line has the right number of syllables. And some words do have questionable syllabic totals. For instance, Xanaduian. If you pronounce it Zan a du ee an it's five syllables, but if you pronounce it Zan a du yen it's four. If I were writing a haiku, I'd go with four syllables. Otherwise it takes up the entire first line. To illustrate, compare these haiku:

Xanaduian dome
Brings pleasure to Kublai Khan
But not to students.

It describes Rooster Hat Trick,
Whoever that is.

As haiku, they're equally great, but the first one has more words. That's the point I'm trying to make.] [Wild guess: Xanaduian TV ads are less annoying than Australian TV ads.]

I am at a loss as to what type of publication (other than/self-publishing) it might appeal to. (which I won't mention) [I agree that it's a mistake to mention in a query that you believe self-publishing is your best bet.]

I am an artist and aspiring illustrator-author, an avid reader, and fascinated by the evolution of books, reading and technology. The illustrations for Star Bear are done on smooth, bleed proof paper in mixed media. The haikus are written in calligraphy as part of each illustration. I found the physical act of handwriting in itself therapeutic. [I don't even remember how to perform the physical act of handwriting.]

I look forward to hearing from you.



Maybe this would be a hit in Japan. Or maybe it would be cool for teachers to use when covering poetry in elementary school.

Clearly you need to include sample pages so editors can judge the quality of the art, calligraphy and haiku. If they like what they see, they will probably want a lot more of the story than you provide here. The mention of horror/Poe/Dahl leads me to believe there's a plot. Are the bear and the foundling the only characters? What happens when they get here? What's this about betrayal? Summarize the story. Then add:

Haiku book, complete
With space bear illustrations.
Request manuscript?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 6th Annual Oscar Guess the Plot Quiz

Each of the following films has been nominated as best picture of the year. Your job is to figure out which of the plots are fakes, created by Evil Editor and his Evil Minions, and which is the actual plot of the film.

1. The Artist

A lonely autistic man paints haunting images of the Holocaust.

In depression-era New York City an artist who was the talk of the town must deal with the fact that no one has any money to buy art.

Silent film about a silent film star who produces a silent film to prove that silent films aren't dead.

Serial killer "The Artist" rearranges victims' faces to resemble Picassos. Corrimer is an art critic-turned-detective, hot on his trail. But now the Artist is stalking the critic due to a scathing critique of the last crime scene.

A world-renowned sand sculptor must move to snowy Colorado to care for his ailing father.

That's what they call him, Jean-Baptist LaClerc. He has painted and screwed his way through most of French nobility, but can he seduce Marie Champlon? Her eyes say 'yes,' but the key to her chastity belt says 'no.' His reputation is at stake, confound it!

2. The Descendants

Aidan and Andrew, a married gay couple in NYC, struggle to come to terms with the deaths of their grandparents in the Holocaust.

With his wife in a coma, a lawyer takes his children to meet the man their mother was having an affair with. Dramedy ensues.

Their grandfather and their father were bosses in the nation's biggest crime family. Now twins Carlo and Carlotta try to make a life for themselves with a home-made pasta business while the family's enemies seek revenge.

Picasso's nude model descended the staircase only once for that iconic picture, but did she descend it again for Picasso's arch nemesis?

Eleven houses in eight countries on four continents and yet, people always figure it out; 'John Smith' and his family are direct descendants of Adolf Hitler's love child. His wife, Zelda wonders if it might be John's mustache. Nah. Better move again.

3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

A young woman from the midwest visits the big city for the first time and comes to regret sitting next to Evil Editor at the all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet.

Jon thinks winning front row tickets to an AC/DC concert is a dream come true. But ten days later, he and his date still haven't recovered their hearing.

After buying their dream house in Georgia through an Internet realty firm, Californians Paul and Marcie move across the country and discover their home is located next to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

After Oskar's father is killed in the World Trade Center attack he befriends an old man who hasn't spoken since he witnessed a bombing in WWII. They become close and Oskar notices the old man is a lot like his father. Hmm...

Jeremiah is sick of his conjoined twin, Jeremy. Jeremy yells when watching sport on TV, which he does constantly when not making appalling jokes and laughing raucously at them. Can Jeremiah find a way to kill the idiot without harming himself or doing time?

Two siblings, both nearly deaf, come of age in frontier America.

A group of high school friends take a road trip to see their favorite band live and from the front row . . . 30 years after the band's heyday.

4. Hugo

An unconventional dark comedy about Hugo Weaving, the man who brought both Agent Smith and Lord Elrond to life.

Charles Beaumont refuses to heed the warnings as Hurricane Hugo approaches Charleston, SC in 1989. When his child is killed by glass from a shattered window, he must spend the rest of the movie feeling guilty and enduring his wife's glares.

An orphan named Hugo is living with his uncle. When the uncle vanishes, it's up to Hugo to get his uncle's mechanical man working.

Hugo the elephant is so big and fat he flattens every circus that'll have him — until the ringmasters all gang up to have him shot. Can Dumbo-crazy toddler Biffy Stumpo save the massively-trunked quadruped? Or will he too be squished to a pulp and everything EVERYTHING end terribly?

A biopic of mad scientist Hugo A Gogo – you know, from the 60’s cartoon, Bat Fink. What do you mean you can’t remember? It was a classic, man, a classic.

The sqeezable soft bear from the Downy commercial makes his silver screen debut in a heart-warming family comedy. Bear does know best.

Never heard of him? No? Who has? It sucks being Igor's little brother. “Igor, fetch more brains.” “Igor, check the contacts.” “Igor throw the switch.” “You? Errrrm... Go scrub the loos, there's a good lad.”

5. Midnight in Paris

Vacationing with his fiancee in Paris, a writer is transported every night at midnight back to the 1920s, where he hobnobs with the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

During WWII, a pair of lesbian jazz singers--one Jewish, the other African-American, struggle to come to terms with both their love and their project to smuggle crippled Polish children to NYC.

Midnight: cute kitty by day, avenging panther by night. Follow Midnight's adventures as she stalks and wreaks bloody vengeance on those Parisians who are far too superior to bother scooping up after their pooches.

The thrilling end to the romantic trilogy that began with "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset."

Is it midnight? Who can tell, with all these bloody lights! Just once, Michele wants his children to be able to see the stars. Calling in every favor he has, he conspires to shut off all the public outdoor lights at once. Will party-pooper Mayor Adele Richard thwart his plan?

6. The Help

Mexican-American illegal immigrants who mow the lawns of suburban soccer moms, and their secret lives.

Maids, footmen and cooks at a 1915 British estate gather nightly in the kitchen to gossip about the family that employs them. Pretty funny if you can understand their accents.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, every 100 years, twelve superheroes are born. The Healer. The Fighter. The Sympath. The Honest. The Courage. What does Melda get? A lifetime of emergency silver-polishing and deviled egg-making.

Fresh out of college, Skeeter wants to be a writer, so she interviews a number of maids working in Mississippi, compiles the interviews into a book, and sells it to Harper Collins. The book is a success and Skeeter goes on to a career in publishing. A fantasy.

Imogen is the angel assigned to help Sahira leave her slum home in Mumbai and rescue her family from grinding poverty. When local bullies discover and kidnap Imogen, Sahira has to help her “help”.

Documentary about the rumored 6th Beatle - the copy editor who was the real driving force of the band's success.

7. Moneyball

It seemed like a good idea at the time to drop an enormous ball of cash in the poorest area of DC. Several trampled politicians later, Senator Mitchel has been arrested on multiple charges and his cellmates have come up with a new nickname for him. Guess what it is.

A pair of crooks try to break the bank at Atlantic City while seeking a place that will perform their gay marriage.

The general manager of a hapless major league baseball team devises new methods of scouting players in order to contend with his team's puny payroll. At one point they win 20 games in a row, and would have won the World Series, except it's based on a true story, and they didn't.

After winning the $50,000,000 Powerball lottery, Sheila Stone discovers relatives she never knew she had. When her generosity leaves her bankrupt, she uses her last ten dollars to buy lottery tickets. You'll never guess what happens.

John Nathan just wants to throw the perfect birthday party for his 12-year-old, as part of a ploy to regain the favor of his estranged ex-wife. But when it turns out that bank robbers stashed their ill-gotten gains in the baseball-shaped pinata he just bought, it's gonna be one hell of a party.

8. War Horse

The Trojan War from the horse's perspective.

Battleaxe. Steamroller. All of these apply to Carol's mother-in-law. Husband Lennie tries to convince Carol it's serious, and when they come home to find MIL in a chalk pentagram pulling the heads off chickens, she does. But is there still time to run?

A gay, autistic African-American soldier in WWII obsessively draws images of horses on bombers heading to Germany.

A rocking horse is possessed by demons after a children's birthday party gone wrong. Breaking free from the house, the horse sets off on its mission to start a world war and, hopefully, ensure the destruction of the planet.

Albert's father sells their beloved horse Joey to a British officer during WWI. The officer is killed and Joey is captured by the Germans. After the war, Albert discovers that Joey is being auctioned off and collects money to bid on him. Sadly, he's outbid by an old French guy.

Rock band War Horse are the new Hot Things. Follow their rise to fame and fortune, their boozing and drug taking, the stalker groupie, the tantrums, the leaked sex tapes with nobodies, the manipulative manager and internal rifts over the artistic direction they will next take, the split, the appalling solo releases, and their final degradation – hosts on televised talent quests.

9. The Tree of Life

Three generations of Jewish African Americans struggle to come to terms with their autistic LGBT descendants' marriages.

When he sees a tree being planted in front of a building, Jack O'Brien reminisces about his life as young teenager during the 1950s. Also, the origin of the universe and dinosaurs.

Just as the Circle of Life describes how death leads to more life, the Tree of Life describes how growth leads to the raking of leaves.

The Giving Tree fights back.

Oh, you thought it meant your life? Come closer my pretty, and I will tell you a tale of the last surviving carnivorous cypress in the Bayou. A bit closer. Closer.

Answers below

Fake plots created by Evil Editor, Khazar-khum, Anonymous, Mother (Re)produces, Jo-Ann, Whirlochre

The actual plots are:

1. Silent film about a silent film star who produces a silent film to prove that silent films aren't dead.

2. With his wife in a coma, a lawyer takes his children to meet the man their mother was having an affair with. Dramedy ensues.

3. After Oskar's father is killed in the World Trade Center attack he befriends an old man who hasn't spoken since he witnessed a bombing in WWII. They become close and Oskar notices the old man is a lot like his father.

4. An orphan named Hugo is living with his uncle. When the uncle vanishes, it's up to Hugo to get his uncle's mechanical man working.

5. Vacationing with his fiancee in Paris, a writer is transported every night at midnight back to the 1920s, where he hobnobs with the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

6. Fresh out of college, Skeeter wants to be a writer, so she interviews a number of maids working in Mississippi, compiles the interviews into a book, and sells it to Harper Collins. The book is a success and Skeeter goes on to a career in publishing. A fantasy.

7. The general manager of a hapless major league baseball team devises new methods of scouting players in order to contend with his team's puny payroll. At one point they win 20 games in a row, and would have won the World Series, except it's based on a true story, and they didn't.

8. Albert's father sells their beloved horse Joey to a British officer during WWI. The officer is killed and Joey is captured by the Germans. After the war, Albert discovers that Joey is being auctioned off and collects money to bid on him. Sadly, he's outbid by an old French guy.

9. When he sees a tree being planted in front of a building, Jack O'Brien reminisces about his life as young teenager during the 1950s. Also, the origin of the universe and dinosaurs.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Haven't I Heard from Dancing with the Stars?

As my Twitter followers are well aware, my Twitscription is: World's most famous editor. Does that qualify me to be on Dancing with the Stars?

Now you may say, Of course it doesn't. Most people have never heard of Evil Editor. To which I say, I just examined the list of celebrities who have appeared on Dancing with the Stars, and had never heard of 64 of them until they made their appearances. Which is not to say that no one's ever heard of them, just that the list of celebrities sports fans have heard of doesn't necessarily intersect with the list soap opera fans have heard of. One viewer's Kelly Monaco is another viewer's Clyde Drexler is another viewer's Evil Editor.

Here are some of the fields from which celebrities have been invited to compete on the show: Rodeo cowboy, fashion entrepreneur, disk jockey, chef, son of famous singer, brother of reality TV star, daughter of ex-governor, beach volleyball player, daughter of famous singer, idiot from New Jersey, and unicyclist. No one from the publishing field has competed.

I'm sure they'd love to have Julia Roberts and Bruce Springsteen and Tiger Woods on the show. Those are top celebs in the acting, singing and sports fields. Instead they get such c-list stars as actor Ralph Macchio, singer Marie Osmond and football player Chad Ochocinco.

The point is, Evil Editor is the Julia/Bruce/Tiger of editing. King of the hill top of the heap A-number 1 New York, New York. A-List all the way.

It must be embarrassing for the producers when they introduce the "star" to his dance teacher, and the dance teacher is more famous than the star. The star is some geezer who played Ernie, the 4th son on My Three Sons, 50 years ago, while the dance teacher has 20,000,000 Facebook friends and gets invited to state dinners at the White House in hopes that he/she will endorse the president in his bid for reelection.

It's a joke every season when they announce the names of the Stars and people are saying Who? Who? Who?!! And the producers say, He played drums in Bette Midler's stage show in 1987. She's a real housewife from Omaha. And she once served a sandwich to Lauren Bacall.

Of course they might prefer to go with a literary agent rather than an editor, but no agent is higher than B-list, the only B-list agent is Kristin Nelson, and according to a source on her staff who wishes to remain anonymous, Nelson has two left feet.

The only reason I can think of why I haven't received an invitation is because they're afraid I'll win, and they prefer that the winner be a TV star. Have they looked at my picture? I'm fatter than Penn Jillette, less attractive than Steve Wozniak, and older than Cloris Leachman. And none of them even made it to the final four. I could dance like Fred Astaire and I wouldn't make it past the fifth week.

Too bad I don't have 20,000,000 followers who could bombard the producers with suggestions/demands that I be invited. I need to become a TV star. Is there a network that might be willing to cast me in a sitcom about an editor who's always at odds with his most famous client, John Grisham? Call me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Beginning 919

The little puppy my (then) husband handed me looked at me with a quizzical twist of his Doberman head. He was all feet and nose. A red Dobie, all mine. My then husband had to travel a lot and we lived in a huge estate home on a golf course and lake. All my neighbors had been broken into. We hadn't been only because I insisted on burglar proof windows when we built the three story mansion. The cruds had tried but didn't have the skills to get into the house where I lived most of the time without a husband but with his mom and my two daughters. I was a nervous wreck.

I didn't sleep much most nights, I looked out windows and paced. Our back yard faced onto the seventh tee of a golf course. Easy way to get to a house, by the golf course. My neighbors had a yappy dog who slept through the night of their burglary. I suspect the dog was awake but kept quiet. Wise move.

I bought a gun. It was a glock. I went to the firing range and learned how to use it. I went to the RCMP and registered it. The member of the force told me "Good choice" as he examined it. I got my licence. I wasn't a hunter although my dad had been when I was a kid. I had had a few break in attempts. Hence the gun and the dog. This silly little red dog, like he could protect my kids, my mother-in-law and me. He weighed maybe nine pounds when he arrived in my arms.

I couldn't sleep that first night. Dobie lay at my feet on the bed where I slept alone most nights. My then husband had said he was "working late." Like I would believe his lies after so many years. Like I couldn't hear his secretary showering in the background when he called from "the conference hotel."

When the door to the bedroom creaked open, the girls had been asleep for hours. I pulled the Glock out from under my pillow. Dobie looked at me dolefully, but kept quiet. Wise move.

That was the night my husband became my then husband. As his body lay in a pool of his own blood on the carpet, I enjoyed my first peaceful night of sleep in years.

Opening: Wilkins MacQueen.....Continuation: Tamara Marnell

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Guess the Plot

Squirrels in Space!

1. Still smarting from the last shuttle disaster, defense contractor Willard Butz devises a cunning plan to test rocket components on a smaller scale.

2. Rocky is lonely so he signs up for Facebook, looking for companionship. He never guessed how many nuts were out there.

3. A genetically engineered race of sentient squirrels retreats to their own star system in the face of human intolerance.

4. NASA's mistranslation of an extraterrestrial message, "We'll kill ten thousand marigolds each week until you surrender your nuts," sends global panic through the jock-strap market.

5. When a powerful drug company rounds up all the squirrels in the country to use for animal testing, the squirrels realize their only hope of avoiding extinction is to steal a space shuttle.

6. Marcia's comic book series, Squirrels in Space, becomes a cult hit, but her new celebrity status threatens her marriage.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I have completed an 85,000 word young adult science fiction novel entitled SQUIRRELS IN SPACE. Set in a universe where humankind has spread out amongst the stars, a genetically engineered race of sentient squirrels has retreated into their own star system in the face of human intolerance. [Just because we keep trying to figure out ways to keep them out of our bird feeders doesn't mean we're intolerant.]

When a bomb rips apart the squirrel's [squirrels'] space station, the survivors are rescued by a military human spaceship [This makes it sound like the spaceship is human. And in uniform.] from an allied system, the Barossa. [This makes it sound like the Barossa is the allied system, when in fact it's the human spaceship (I looked ahead).] Among the survivors is Amily, a young squirrel on the brink of adulthood. [Squirrel-wise, that's about five months old.] By chance he caught sight of a mysterious ship which is the only lead on tracking down the squirrels' attackers. Amily welcomes the chance to hunt them down and becomes a member of the Barossa's crew. He finds out that even on board the Barossa there is danger when he overhears a plot to kill him and maybe even blow up the ship.

[Villainous conspirator: There's a 5-month-old squirrel on our ship.
Villainous co-conspirator: So I've heard. It's a delicate situation.
Villainous conspirator: We need a plan. We may not get a second chance.
Villainous co-conspirator: Bird feeders with poisoned seed?
Villainous conspirator: No good, there's no birdseed on board.
Villainous co-conspirator: We could blow up the ship.
Villainous conspirator: Hmm. Fast. Effective. No downside that I can see.]

When the Barossa finally tracks down the black ship, [Black? I don't remember anything about it being black.] Amily accompanies the team sent in to capture the terrorists, who are hiding in an abandoned mining base dug into an asteroid. Despite being shot, he manages to help save his team, and the terrorists are brought aboard the Barossa. [If you want to kill a squirrel, you don't shoot it; you run it over with a car. That's where the terrorists went wrong.] Disturbingly, the terrorists hint that their conspiracy reaches into heart of the Barossa and may even extend to the governments of the allied systems. [They hint? Usually prisoners either clam up or talk, they don't drop hints.

Interrogator: Who's behind this?
Terrorist: I'm no snitch.
Interrogator: Borgo, remove the prisoner's left eye.
Terrorist: Whoa,
I'll give you a hint. He's right-handed.]

Threatened with exposure, Lieutenant-Commander Jacoby, the senior conspirator on board the Barossa and one of the senior Bridge crew, takes the Captain hostage. Increasingly desparate [desperate] to gain control of the ship, he hides her in a spacesuit tethered to the outside of the ship. Amily and members of the crew still loyal must find the Captain, the conspirators and the bomb before tragedy strikes again. [Jacoby's prepared to set off a bomb that'll kill everyone aboard, but when he puts the captain outside, he makes sure she has a spacesuit and a tether line?] At the same time, Amily has to deal with growing up and establishing a new life among humans. [At the same time? Can't that wait till after they prevent the tragedy?]

If you would like to read more of Amily's story, I will be very happy to send the complete manuscript or sample chapters. This is my first novel. I have one short fiction credit to date, with a science fantasy short story being published in Hub Magazine this winter. Thank you for your consideration.

Revised Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Humankind has reached the stars and a genetically engineered race of sentient squirrels has retreated into their own star system in the face of human intolerance. A bomb rips apart a squirrel space station. The survivors, rescued by a military spaceship, the Barossa, include Amily, a young squirrel who caught sight of a mysterious black ship, the only lead in tracking down the attackers. Amily welcomes the chance to hunt them down and becomes a member of the Barossa's crew.

When the black ship is located, the terrorists are brought aboard the Barossa. They reveal that their conspiracy reaches into the heart of the Barossa itself. Threatened with exposure, Lieutenant-Commander Jacoby, the senior conspirator on board the Barossa and one of the senior Bridge crew, takes the captain hostage and hides her in a spacesuit tethered to the outside of the ship.

Amily and still-loyal members of the crew now must find the captain, the conspirators and the bomb before tragedy strikes again. There's more at stake than their lives; Amily's heroics during the mission could help create better understanding between humankind and squirreldom.

SQUIRRELS IN SPACE is a completed 85,000-word YA science fiction novel. If you would like to read Amily's story, I will be happy to send the complete manuscript or sample chapters. This is my first novel. I have one short fiction credit to date, with a science fantasy short story due to be published in Hub Magazine this winter. Thank you for your consideration.


The title is funny, but in order for this to work the book needs to be funny. Is the only joke that there are squirrels instead of, say, Ferengi? In other words, do you use squirrels simply because they're amusing animals, or because of the numerous hilarious situations that are made all the more hilarious by the presence of squirrels? Are the crew members intolerant of Amily's presence? If the book is funny, show this in the query.

Selected Comments

JTC said...I don't think this story line will work unless you make it a spoof like "Spaceballs" or something.

Zombie Deathfish said...Wait... You mean this wasn't a joke?

Anonymous said...Why would anyone need to genetically-engineer squirrels? Is there a planet out there where their nut-finding abilities are needed desperately? That would make for a funny story. "Our food supplies are scattered all over the planet and covered by mountains of slime! What do we do?" "I know! Get me the SQUIRRELS IN SPACE!"

nitpicker said...sentient: 1) Having sense perception; conscious.

In other words, all (living) squirrels are sentient. A better term for your characters might be "hyper-intelligent".

Also, have you read the Mistmantle Chronicles? It's children's lit, not YA, but it features heroic (and non-comedic) squirrels.

kovirgw said...If you want to kill a squirrel, you don't shoot it; you run it over with a car. That's where the terrorists went wrong.

Once again, EE shows a knack for pointing out the major plot holes in a story.

Anonymous said...Um, folks, think the author was being serious. I'm not a big fan of animals dressed up in cloaks, tights or space suits but it does work. As Nitpicker said: see Mistmantle.

Nut said...Being a nut myself, I do have certain isues with squirrels... Wait a minute... The squirrels fight the humans? Yay, little guys! Down with THE MAN!!!!!!! Just sprinkle in some humour in the query, and try not to bite any of my kin, and we're cool.

illiterate said...I hate to tell an author what to do, but... you REALLY should put in that "Villainous conspirator" dialogue. With EE's permission of course. Its the bomb!

noir said...I just wanted to point out that this doesn't sound like a Young Adult novel - it sounds like very young middle grade fiction. YA novels are for teenagers.

Ellen said...Hi, evil minions - thank you so much for the feedback. And thank you, Evil Editor, for the groovy purple title. *beam*

It's not entirely serious, but it's certainly no spoof. And having thought up the muppetesque working title, I'm incapable of dreaming up anything else.

Why were the squirrels genetically engineered? Why not? There's not much that isn't being tinkered with right now.

Thank you mentioning Mistmantle: it looks good. I'll search the chronicles out next time I'm in the bookshop, which shouldn't be long.

Cathy said...My daughter is an avid reader of Young Adult fantasy novels. She has read Mistmantle. Aside from having my mother trying to hide the book from her (my mother is intolerant of squirrels), she thoroughly enjoyed it. My daughter is FAR more fond of animals than humans, and wants to know about their unlikely adventures. Carry on! You are brave to expose your work here.

Kanani said...I think if you include a giant orbiting acorn that would serve as some sort of speeding mothership, and also write a part named Bar for the actor Tim Allen, that you could pitch this to Disney. He, of course, would play Bar-Barossa, and the five month old squirrel would be played by either of the Wayans brothers.