Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Face-Lift 1150

Guess the Plot

Please Laugh at My Funeral

1. Oh, I will. Believe me, I will.

2. Two years into clown college, Balletina still can't fashion a balloon poodle. Desperate to ace Sight Gags 101, she plans the biggest prank ever. Unfortunately, she tapped the hydrogen tank, instead of helium. Also, angels.

3. Steve plans to kill himself, but to give the people who attend his funeral some hilarious stories to tell about him, he puts off his suicide for a month and does crazy stuff involving homeless guys and penguins.

4. After decades of failure, would-be comedian Eddy Marsh has taken his own life. Five comedians are invited to the wake - only to discover that Eddy has left a few last practical jokes. Deadly jokes.

5. When Crenshaw Comedy Club regular Mickey Mass is found dead holding a suicide note that reads "Please laugh at my funeral," homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, Mickey wouldn't have killed himself right before filming his HBO special. And two, he would never have signed his suicide note "Bonzo The Clown."

 6. Manfred is immortal, bloodthirsty, and unashamed, but he wants humans to know he has a soul too. He forms a folk band with a clever name (Please Laugh at my Funeral), but how can he resist biting his adorable bandmates?

7. John is dying. Not in the figurative way that living creatures are dying, but with a brain tumor. Considered the most morose man in the world, John's tumor has tickled his funny bone. After leaving his jobs at the sewer plant and the crematory he started a career in standup comedy. Now, he has one last gig before he slays everyone at the funeral parlor. They will die laughing.

Original Version

Steve is going to kill himself in 30 days. [There has to be a faster way.]

“Please Laugh at my Funeral” is a modern fiction, complete at 51,000 words, [If you put this at the beginning or the end instead of right after you've gotten my attention, you won't have to worry that I'll forget all about ... Whatshisname.] where each chapter is one day in Steve’s life as he desperately tries to ‘feel alive’ before he ends it all. [Usually it's people who desperately want to not feel alive who kill themselves.]

To do this he breaks into the penguin enclosure at the zoo, [That won't make him feel alive; it'll make him feel like an idiot, especially when his friends read the news report.] tries drugs for the first time, [It's better the 2nd time.] blackmails his former boss, [He should kill his former boss. If you're gonna kill yourself, you don't need money. You need the satisfaction of taking someone with you.] sleeps in a homeless commune, [Sleeping with Penelope Cruz would be more life-affirming.] explores religion, [Preferably not one that says eternity in a burning lake is the penalty for suicide.] love, death [He explores death?] and more. [Basically, he's put off his bucket list so long that he has to cram it all into one month, but in his case it's not because his doctor gave him one month to live; it's because he gave it to himself.] [In any case, the key word is "list." Lists are boring, and the longer the list the more boring it gets. This list seems to be a three-word summary of each chapter. Perhaps something like: "To do this he becomes a thrill-seeker (he skydives on meth), a criminal (he kidnaps a penguin and kills a homeless guy), and finally . . .  a philosopher."  . . .would satisfy your need to list stuff while more quickly moving us along to day 30, when something actually happens.]

It all starts to catch up to him as the police begin searching for him and a cult like group called ‘Live with Steve’ start obsessing over his plan. [This cult is the most interesting part of the story. Get rid of the police and expand on the cult (in the book too, if necessary). How do they know about his "plan." Is he blogging his way through the month? Are they eagerly anticipating his death or trying to stop him? Does he meet with them? Are they in most of the chapters or just the last few?]

Quick Biography:

I have written for magazines, newspapers and have written full time for broadcasting companies (including both television and radio.) [I wouldn't call that a biography, but the good news is it was quick.]

Some Publishing Credits: [What's with this sudden trend of labeling the parts of a query letter? I half-expect the next query to start Salutation: Dear Agent,]

Sharp Magazine
The Bulletin

Peace River Broadcasting
Vista Radio
Chorus Broadcasting


[If you have credits that are relevant (published fiction), stick with those. And limit your list to two or three items. Also, listing vertically doesn't make the query seem longer. It just highlights the white space to the right of the list.]


Is Steve killing himself in 30 days even if his attempt to "feel alive" succeeds? If so, why? If not, then he could change his mind after day 1? For instance, if he goes on the Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure on day 1, he could develop a renewed will to live. Or if he goes on It's a Small World at Disney World he could off himself before the ride ends. What I'm saying is, Is his goal to find a reason to live or is it to feel alive as much as possible in the 30 days before he kills himself?

Is calling this "a modern fiction" a way of avoiding the criticism that it doesn't hold together as a novel? If there's a logical progression through the 30 days, with Steve learning something about life and himself, tell us about it. If the first 25 days/chapters could be rearranged in any order, it's not a cohesive story.

Once you cut the bio/credits to a couple sentences you'll have plenty of room to tell us what happens in your book, focusing on Steve's character arc rather than listing stuff he does.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Face-Lift 1149

Guess the Plot

A Not So Quiet Hostage

1. After witnessing a murder, Alice Platinum is taken hostage by the murderer. But only for one month. That's as much of Alice as he can stand.

2. It was a simple plan. Kidnap one of the king's daughters, collect the ransom, retire to the tropics. But the princess that bandits Fenton and Bock grab has a terrible secret: she snores. Also, she wants to join their gang.

3. Gwen, drunk and wandering, encounters a real centaur in Adirondack Park. He throws her over his back and ties her up on his bed. They engage in the most interesting acts for weeks until Gwen's abusive husband beats on the door with his rifle.

4. Aid worker Petra is taken hostage by insurgents, beaten daily and threatened with beheading. Her situation seems hopeless until she realizes she can project her thoughts to one of the captors. Can she persuade him to release her? Or will he accuse her of witchcraft, guaranteeing her death?

5. Ax'nat'Henes has seized the Earth as hostage until the Sun returns those comets stolen when the solar system first formed. Since the comets were runaways and not stolen, the Sun has no intention of returning them. And so another 10.9 hits Los Angeles while Earth fights for freedom.

6. Elf twins Talien and Glorian have a great plan for world peace: Capture Dwarf Prince Maggar and hold him hostage. But when the Prince turns out to be a spoiled, petulant drag queen, will they give in to the Dwarf King's demands? Or will they find a way to return the Prince?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

A terrible past has haunted a twenty-four year old young lady named Alice Platinum for nearly six years, but when she moved far away to shut away all the lies and gossips, her worst nightmare arose from the blue.

A horrifying death of a young go-go dancer was witnessed by Alice’s eyes, but the guy who killed her was no other than, Jason Hampton; [,] a past high school rival. He had figured out who saw him, [;] before everything becomes exposed he kidnapped Alice and kept her hostage for a month. [Pluperfect, present and past verb forms in one sentence. Impressive.] Now to prevent her from exposing him, Alice was forced to join Jason on his dreadful mission without turning back. Not only is the truth of Jason’s deadly murder [All murders are deadly. Maybe it should be deadly mission and dreadful murder instead of vice versa.] being exposed, [Who is exposing it?] but his luck and faith lies with Alice. [

While the whole world assumes she knows a top secret code; a seven letter word which would open a safe that contains one tiny piece of paper, [Great scenes inspired by that clause:

1. A billionaire, having purchased an impregnable safe in which to keep his bearer bonds, writes the combination on a piece of paper because he's afraid he'll forget it, and then, afraid some criminal will find the piece of paper, locks it in the safe. 

2. Ruthless criminals torture a billionaire for hours until he finally reveals the combination to his safe; they open the safe and there's nothing inside except a slip of paper on which is written the combination.] multiple criminals are after it, [Is the seven-letter word "dolphin"?] [I have no reason to believe it is, but think how amazed the author would be if I got it right.] [....did I?] but one in particular is only after her; Mr. Stollen a massive criminal. [Maybe if he laid off the Stollen he wouldn't be so massive.]

Six Massive Criminals

Fat Tony (The Simpsons)

The Penguin (Batman)

 Mr. Stollen (A Not-so-Quiet Hostage)

Violator (Spawn)

The Slug (Capt. America)

Jabba the Hutt (Star Wars)

Don Corleone (The Godfather)

Now that her past stopped haunting her, Alice’s future lies under Jason’s hand. Alice tries to force her mind to trust him, but all the evidence provided proved her wrong because she is afraid of--- finding out the truth. While an ugly secret becomes exposed, not only about Stollen and Jason’s past rival, but about Alice’s disappearance and taunting past. Now to stop her past from taking over her future, Alice has to figure out what to do, all alone and to listen to all the unbarring truth which has to be revealed. [Possibly the vaguest four-sentence paragraph ever to appear on this blog.]

A Not So Quiet Hostage is a 50,00 word count, mystery novel. [Mystery? What's the mystery? Jason is the murderer and Alice's eyes witnessed it.]


I get it. Writing is in your blood, and for some reason you've decided to write this book in English. But you don't have the idioms and the punctuation and the word usage down yet. And once you've mastered the conventions, you'll still need to choose specific information that captures our interest, and organize it in a coherent, cohesive summary of your story.

A summary that might address some of the following:

Why is Stollen interested in Alice?

If Alice saw Jason commit murder, wouldn't he flee the country or silence her forever, rather than hold her hostage for one month?

Why does the whole world think Alice knows a top secret code? I don't see why anyone would think that. Who is she?

What is Jason's "mission"?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Face-Lift 1148

Guess the Plot

Mark from Earth

1. After Mark gets his 200th form rejection he goes to Mars to start querying editors there. But Martians speak English backward in heroic couplets, so Mark will have to--ah, screw it, Mars girls are hot, and easy.

2. In a flip of the campy 80's sitcom, Mark leaves Earth on a mission to Ork. Shazbat! He's in trouble when Bindy takes him as her love slave.

3. If Mark had known that enlisting meant a one-way trip to Anteres, he'd have read the army's fine print. As jobs go, Galactic Emissary doesn't sound bad--until Mark is put on trial for Emperor Zuhl'li's murder.

4. Captain Thunderbird rounds up kids with special gifts from different planets for his academy to battle Prince Asteroid and his deadly Meteorines.

5. After moving to the moon, Mark comes into possession of an object that gives him great power and that could cause a disaster in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, on the moon there are no active volcanoes in which to throw it.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Do agents like a query letter that gets straight to business (As advocated by Queryshark)? Or a long rambling letter (as suggested by so many query writing tip giving sites)? [Your interpretation of what "so many query writing tip giving sites" suggest may be inaccurate. Were those the exact words? "Long rambling letter"? I ask because "long and rambling" is not a complimentary description of a query. They might as well advise you to compose a vague, confusing letter.]

I have two letters: one straight to business, the other a long rambling affair. Tell me, please, do you like to get straight to business, Evil Editor? Or do you prefer a long rambling affair? [This already feels like a long rambling affair, and we haven't even started. And so far I'm not liking it.]


Dear [Agent],

Mark is the boy from Earth who will need to choose between being a hero. . .and saving his friends. [Saving his friends seems heroic enough. At least to his friends.] [Also, a logline isn't needed in a query.]

Query: [No need to label each section of the letter.]
Mark lives in a dusty Australian town full of sleepy tractors, strict parents, and best friends who keep moving away. He hates it. So, like the trouble-making git he is, he takes his dad's 1942 stunt plane for a daredevil joyride. Naturally, he crashes it.

For some reason ("tenacious spirit" [?] or something), this get's [gets] him recruited to a hidden starfighter academy on the dark side of the moon. [If I were a trouble-making git and someone told me they wanted to send me to the dark side of the moon to a . . . starfighter academy! "Yeah, that's it, a starfighter academy . . ." I would suspect the dark side of the moon is Earth's latest answer to prison overpopulation.] Once there, Mark promptly makes enemies out of snobbish teachers and kids who hate Earthers. [Earthers. Bad enough we're considered the scourge of the galaxy; we're even hated on our own moon.] Thankfully, two people have his back: Lexe, who hates hoverboards, and Heath, who won't stop customizing his hoverboard. [Earthers are either dog people or cat people. Mooners fall into the pro-hoverboard or anti-hoverboard camp.] Together, they haggle with a blackmarket merchant [There seem to be a lot of people on the moon. What are they breathing?] over a hoverboard (for Mark, who desperately wants to ride one). Instead, the perfidious, swarthy little man cons them into a salvage operation at an industrial wasteland. None of them know about the jagged blue cube hidden there, or its guard of freakishly demented droids. ["Demented" is sufficient. I infer "freakishly."] That is, until Mark finds it, succumbs to its promise of power, and filches it. [Where are the freakishly demented droid guards while Mark is filching the cube they're supposedly guarding?] [This cube sounds suspiciously like the Ring of Power.]

Hunted for the cataclysmic power they've uncovered, [It seems to me that if you know a cube has cataclysmic power, you wouldn't store it in an industrial wasteland, guarded by demented droids who suck at guarding stuff. If the cube is intrinsically bad, it should have been rocketed into the sun or dropped into Mount Doom long ago. If it's good if kept in the hands of good people, it should be in an underground vault protected by a force field in a Buddhist monastery.] [Also, if the stakes include a potential cataclysm, I'm wondering why we had so much talk about hoverboards. We could start with three kids at the academy discovering a mysterious cube. An Earth-based book about a nuclear cataclysm may have scenes in which a character is a surfer, but I'd expect the query to focus on more important matters than what brand of fins he should use on his board.] the bickering friends must stick together as they unravel the mystery tied to the cube, even after it turns Mark into their greatest threat. For when the true nemesis steps out of the shadows, she will force Mark to make a choice: use the cube and be the hero…or save his friends. [This is why you don't need a logline. Inevitably you end up saying it anyway.] And he will need to decide quickly. She inked his name into her black book of mistakes. Mistakes she plans to burn. [Why doesn't she use the cube and be the heroine? And whaddaya mean, "use the cube"?] [Calling this being "the true nemesis" is no way to convince me Mark will be a hero if he uses the cube. She sounds perfidious, if not swarthy.]

MARK FROM EARTH. YA SF. 87,000 words.

Thank you for considering,


Dear [agent],

I dig your style. [What the--?] It speaks to me. [Next query.] You represent Book X. I can appreciate that. My book is like book Y, except my book leaves the toilet bowl steaming…because my book is the hottest shit. Sign me. [You're seriously asking if I or anyone would prefer this to a business letter? This is what you send when your goal is to add to your collection of rejection slips.]

Voice of Mark and friends:
Finn from Adventure Time makes friends with a daring Rory Gilmore and a young Ross Geller. [If that said Uri Geller slips Rory McElroy a Mickey Finn I would at least have some idea what you're talking about.]

Soon, Mark will be racing on a custom skyboard. He’ll be pranking a paranoid android, throwing shoes at a diabolical alarm clock, and sharing spicy food with friends from orbit colonies. [If you must list some really cool events in the book, come up with more intriguing ones than throwing a shoe at an alarm clock and eating spicy food.] But none of that can happen if he stays stuck on the only planet separated from a galaxy filled with people, the only planet without hoverboards: Earth. [Earth is in its galaxy and it has people. In what way is it separated?] [Hard to believe there are hoverboards on the moon but not on Earth.]

One day, Mark takes his dad’s 1942 stunt plane for a daredevil joyride, and survives crashing it. His tenacious spirit gets him recruited to SPIFF, a hidden starfighter academy on the dark side of the moon. He struggles to make friends at first, but ends up with two friends-for-life: Lexe, whose love of danger is a bad mix with Mark’s troublemaking habits, and Heath, a business-minded kid saving up for his first hovercar. Together, they explore an industrial wasteland where demented droids guard a jagged blue cube. That is, until Mark succumbs to the cube’s whispered promises of making him a hero, and takes it. Hunted by half-augmented humans, the trio must fight to unravel the mystery of the cube, even after it turns Mark into their greatest threat. For when the true nemesis steps out of the shadows, she will force him to make a choice: use the cube and be a hero…or save his new friends. [This paragraph (divided into three paragraphs) isn't bad, but I want to know why Mark's friends are in danger if he doesn't use the cube, and what happens if he does use it that makes him a hero.]

Douglas Adams and J.K. Rowling walk into a bar. [Christ. Here we go again.] They sit down to tea and create worlds. After four years and myriad empty cups, a whole world comes to life: Quirky professors teach curious subjects, lunchboxes instantly make food, and one paranoid android runs around with a fire extinguisher. Doug and Jo, discussing fears and dark ambitions, then write an elegant nemesis— A woman whose fascinating rise to power is revealed over the six books to follow. [That's a lot of space wasted on something that seems to have little to do with "style." Most writers would just say the style is "Douglas Adams meets J.K. Rowling," which is just as irritating, but mercifully briefer.]

MARK FROM EARTH is a YA science fiction novel complete at 87,000.

Is the next J.K. Rowling. [Ouch.] Pub credits include: 7th grade science project. I got a gold star. Also: everyone loves my book. Angels cry. [If you wish to show that the book is filled with this type of humor, do so in the plot description.]


All I'm looking for is a summary of the book that makes me want to spend time with the characters and lose myself in their story. In a letter that shows me the author can write well. In other words, I don't want the query to entertain me; I want it to convince me that the book will entertain me.

I wouldn't call the second version "rambling." "Annoying" would be a better description.

The story might be better for middle grade than YA.

If something is a cube, can it be jagged? It sounds to me like calling a circle oblong or a cone cylindrical.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Beginning 1013

"I want a divorce.” Ruby stared at the ceiling from her bed as she listened to the creaky furnace kick on. She inhaled on a non-filtered cigarette and blew a plume of smoke out between her lips as frozen slush bounced off the window above her head. The evening before had started with clear skies and diamond bright stars.

“You’ve got to be kidding? We’re not even legally married.” The love of Ruby’s life swung out of the bed they shared, bare feet hit the floor, and stepped into a pair of plain boxers.

She glanced over as her partner pulled on a stained wife-beater. “Whatever—you’ve cheated again, and I can’t stand it. What about the children? Did you ever think of them?” Ruby paused and studied the muscles rippling beneath the under shirt. “When are you going to grow up?”

The flick of a lighter and bubbles through a water pipe answered her question.

“I hate you.” This wasn’t the first time Ruby found out about an indiscretion. Over the past three years she had found evidence of at least five affairs--which she knew of. “Don’t you have anything to say to me?”

"Yeah, I've got this to say," came the reply, followed by a long toke on the bong. Ruby guessed this might take a while. She knew there was at least an ounce of weed in baggies on the dresser, not counting any she didn't know about.

"You want a divorce, well now you can have a divorce. We can go down to City Hall, get married, and then file for divorce, just like anyone else." The pipe bubbled again as a red glow swelled and ebbed. A note of pride tinged Amber's giggle as she added, "The Supreme Court of the US of A says we're as worthy of divorce as any of those straight bastards."

Opening: Kregger.....Continuation: John

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Face-Lift 1147

Guess the Plot

The Value of a Life

1. 243 Euro. That's what Carmen sold for in the auction. Her Master, billionaire Storm Thunderson, has so much to teach the nubile Carmen. Firstly, never to launder his wool suits. Secondly, that closet ain't gonna clean itself!

2. $1.28. That's what video game hero George the Skateboarding Panda collects every time he adorably knocks over a pedestrian in his popular arcade game. But now George has become obsessed with wondering what he would be worth were anyone ever to knock him down. And so begins a downward spiral of increasingly risky stunts and sex addiction.

3. $72.96. That's what Bob Bradley left in the locker at the airport. Not the $25000  Bradley paid a hit man to take out his wife. And that's a shame because Roman Pedowsky, aka the Bat, will get way or another.

4. A plugged nickel. That's what broadcaster Anders Norton's life isn't worth after he receives a file proving that someone has been forging government transmissions sent to the Vesta Terraforming Colony. Now he just needs to figure out what's going on and stop it unless it doesn't need stopping.

5. $2,000,000. That's the size of the advance Bill's 253k-word first novel lands him, three weeks before his penthouse terrace trampoline sends him down to the street. Was it his wife who moved it closer to the edge? Or her lover?

6. Less than the cost of a latte at Starbucks. That's the answer Johnny comes up with when his philosophy professor ask what the value of a life is, and Johnny takes the question as an assignment and renders a homeless man into his molecular elements.

7. It's kind of a weird assignment, thought Harold after getting "The Value of a Life" for homework in Dr Felsner's Calculus class. When he goes to turn it in, though, no one in the Math Department has ever heard of Dr Felsner. And the classrooms all look different.

8. Vampire Joann runs an auction house auctioning orphaned children to vampires. They feed on the children’s blood. But new government regulations require daycare. It’s expensive. Then Dr. Vlad opens a phlebotomy lab across the street, selling cheap biohazard blood. Bids for children plummet. Can Joann make ends meet by taking a night job at the convenience store?

9. When the headless, handless body of a young black man is found in a burning car on MLK Blvd, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, those tattoos identify him as local wannabe rapper Mea Nea. Two, considering how easy it was to identify the body, maybe he should tell his slacker nephew to get that stupid anime tat he's been after.

10. Evan suffers an existential crisis when his wife leaves him for his brother. Soggy with booze, he's fired from his job. After he's evicted he meets Shayla, the new tenant, and something clicks. Can he convince her to take a chance on love, or will she think he's just looking for a place to crash?

Original Version

[Dear Evil Editor,

Below is a query for analysis and all around destruction on your website. The title is based on the colony's government system, which assigns a numeric value to each citizen that reflects their contribution and social worth]

Anders B. Norton never planned to start a revolution. Sure, he knows life on the Vesta Terraforming Colony isn't fair. [Even if this is an homage to Andre Norton, consider changing the character's name.] But when he sweated his way up to a job at the Colonial Broadcast Network Anders thought all that unfairness would finally tip in his favor.

Then someone fed him a file proving the government had been forging transmissions supposedly from Earth. Now the Council of Tens [So named because they're trying to get the Colony to switch to the decimal system.] is working to make sure Anders doesn't stay free, or alive, long enough to find out why. [He works for the Colonial Broadcast Network. If they report that the government is forging transmissions, a swarm of reporters will start looking into the "why" and the Council will have no motive to eliminate Norton.] [Unless the Council somehow know that neither Norton nor the person who sent him the file has sent copies to anyone else, hunting down Norton seems futile. It's like if Mrs. Varmighan put a nude photo of Evil Editor on her web site and I made her take it down, it would still be on TMZ tomorrow.]

Anders cuts his ID chip and flees to the lower districts. He’s got a plan that could win him both revenge and redemption. [Does it involve sending the file to someone who isn't on the run so they can discover the secrets behind the Earth Transmissions?] All he needs is to discover the secrets behind the Earth Transmissions. [They call him Lone Wolf Norton.] Problem is his new allies: a young idealist, an aging hacker, and a former agent of the Council all have very different ideas of what to do with the information once it’s uncovered. Some of those plans could mean unraveling the systems that keep the colony running.

[Idealist: We should send the info to WikiLeaks.
Hacker: We should extort millions from the Council.
Ex-agent of Council: We should destroy the file and forget this ever happened and I should kill all of you so you don't talk about it in your sleep.

This ex-agent doesn't already know why his employers were forging transmissions? I thought sure the ex-agent was either the one who was doing the forging or the one who sent Norton the file.]

Cornered and uncertain who to trust, [Aging hackers are always trustworthy. Never trust an idealist or an ex-agent. Or a youthful hacker.] Anders has to decide how far he’s willing to go to get his revenge. [That's the second time you've mentioned revenge. Usually you seek revenge after you've been wronged. He's basically trying to be a whistleblower (although, as he hasn't yet discovered why the Council was forging transmissions, he can't even be sure whether they're heroes or villains). He wants revenge on the Council for . . . trying to stop him from finding out what they're up to? That he also wants redemption suggests they've unjustly discredited him as a broadcaster. If true, it's something you ought to include so the revenge and redemption ideas make more sense.]

THE VALUE OF A LIFE is a 90,000 word Science Fiction novel with series potential. I have included [that stuff the agent asked for].

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Now that the ex-agent, the hacker and the idealist all know about the file (along with everyone they've told and everyone who reads their blogs and Twitter feeds), is the Council still trying to just eliminate Norton?

I think I would like this better if Norton already knew the motivation for sending the forged transmissions or if you told us what was in the transmissions so we could infer what's at stake. Are they forged letters from home, designed to trick the colonists into believing Earth still exists when in fact it was destroyed months ago? Everything centers around those transmissions, and we don't know who's receiving them or what's in them. 

That they assign everyone a numeric value apparently isn't important enough to be mentioned in the query? Is it the job of the Council of Tens to assign values from 1 to 10? I assume it's not 0 to 10; if you had enough initiative to go all the way to the Vesta Terraforming Colony only to be told the value of your contribution and social worth was 0, you'd be too depressed to live.

Monday, August 19, 2013

New Beginning 1012

“Penarddun verch Morfudd! The reception begins in less than two hours and you are still dressed in that, that …”

Penny jumped and the sleek, Bakelite horn in her hand crashed to the marble floor. The voice boomed like the voice of a god. Or the voice of her uncle and boss, archdruid and head of the Madocian Institution of Arts and Sciences. Same thing, really. And it was true that if she showed up at the opening social event of the year in a capacious men’s overall and dingy white plimsolls, her mam would have her head on a plate.

“Plenty of time for me to change, Uncle. It’s just that there’s something wreaking havoc with my narration for the Cauldron of Rebirth. I recorded a lovely piece, how King Bran received it from the Otherworld in ancient times, how Prince Madoc brought it with him to these shores from Wales in 1170, how it saved the Allied Forces in the Great War by reanimating our fallen warriors, all recited in my most mellifluous tones and … well, listen to it now!”

She propped the horn back in its holder and pushed a button on the stand. A screech of feedback burst from the speaker, a mindless giggle, and ...

...Elvis somersaulted through a momentarily radiant rainbow portal, his pelvis gyrating with the nervous glee of a pre-Prom cheerleader shot through with a thousand volts of hot cattle prod action, his hair slicked back as if coiffured by angels with Don Cheney’s infamous saliva-drenched comb and 50ml of prime coipu sebaceous gland extract.

The reincarnated 50s icon of rebellious crooning and cheesy movie fame brushed down his lime tuxedo and approached Penny and her uncle.

“There’s big trouble brewing in Ffestiniog — and only a full stage production of Heartbreak Hotel at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff will save both your dreams of oratory success and the fate of the kingdom of RuthMadoc in one fell Barry John swoop.”

As the onLlookers Llooked on, Elvis paused for dramatic effect masquerading as melodrama dressed as comic relief.

“Or shall we put the goddamn show on in Swansea? Or Llanfairfechan? Or Betwsy-coed?”

Penny leapt like a gambolling Snowdonian lamb and cLlapped her hands with glee. “It’s the perfect solution for our dilemma, Mr Prestatynley! And while we’re at it, let’s ditch all these ludicrously outdated Bakelite funnel effects and get hip to the point of acetabulum with a dinkily happ’nin’ bunch of spanking new Nexus 7 2s...” 

Opening: Unknown.....Continuation: Whirlochre

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New Beginning 1011

The concrete octopus of Chicago’s interstate system is a gloriously proud homicidal maniac. Every five miles of tentacle bears a brilliant scoreboard advertizing the mounting tally. Despite the “Don’t Text and Drive” PSA campaign, regular commuters grind the Kennedy Expressway’s lethal curves with digital distraction; its outbound Montrose Avenue split is a frequent kill zone. As my mobile coffin cruises into the heart of downtown, the marquee lights flash “739 Traffic Deaths This Year.” Nine more lives devoured over the Labor Day weekend.

I park in Northwestern’s high-rise garage, blot my cheeks with a wadded napkin and drop my sunglasses in my cup holder. My reflection, a bloodshot corpse I hardly recognize, makes me snatch them up again.

My cell phone flares to life on the six-block walk to the office. “What?”

“You left early,” Sean says.

“Couldn’t sleep.”


I continue walking. He continues breathing. We burn time saying nothing. Finally, he says, “I think, maybe, we should try counseling.”

Is that cheaper than divorce? I wonder. “We’ll talk about this later.”


Never. “When I come home.”

“What about the kids?”

Oh, are you considering our family now? “After they go to bed.”

“You’ll still be conscious?”

I sincerely hope not. “I’ll do my best.”

“You always do.”

Shove it with the sarcasm, asshole. "See you tonight."

"Oh, could you pick up a couple six-packs and some smokes on your way home?" he says.

Fuck you, you lazy, cheating shit-drinking bastard. "I'll try to remember."

"Thanks. Love ya babe."

Yeah, right, we'll see how much you love me when I poison your beer and ram an ice pick up your left nostril tonight, mothercockeatingwankcheesesuckwad. "Love you too."

Opening: Veronica Rundell.....Continuation: EE

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Face-Lift 1146

Guess the Plot

Penny and the Treasures of Prydain

1. Penny is an ordinary girl in every ordinary way, until she falls asleep under the rowan tree. She awakes in Underland, new matriarch of the Prydains, and learns the Queen never survives Samhain. Can Penny escape the ritual sacrifice?

2. Prydain was once handsome, but now he's a clumsy giant, thanks to a mean witch. Penny thinks Prydain is cute, and leaves flowers on his doorstep. Now she's trapped in his underground lair, and he won't let her go until she kisses him.

3. The Treasures of Prydain have disappeared, and it's up to Penarddun verch Morfudd ("Just call me Penny.") to get them back, aided by a man named Wmffre. But will they abandon their mission when their path leads to the otherworldly prison of Caer Siddi?

4. Prydain is a land rich in gold and crops. Penny had heard her mother say this often enough. And now that she's an orphan, Penny is setting her sights west. Good luck getting past the scorpions lurking in the Desert of Despair.

5. Adventures of a middle-grade fantasy writer, Penny, who, after years of trying to convince agents and editors that "Prydain" is just Old Welsh for "Britain", gives in and changes the title of her manuscript.

6. Little Penny is a shiny copper coin. When Quarter Master tells her it's time to go off to the Mint, she thinks it's the end. After a tearful goodbye to Nickle Back and Dime Bag, she's whisked off...only to arrive in Prydain, a strange vault filled with thousands of other coins. But is this really a paradise for unwanted money, or is something more sinister lurking beyond the sealed door?

Original Version

Hail, O Evil One!

It’s 1920--the 750th anniversary of Prince Madoc of Wales’ discovery of the New World. [If the most interesting event going on is the anniversary of something that happened 750 years ago, maybe we need to open in a different year. Unless . . . is there something else special about 1920?] And it’s also the first Great Eisteddfod--the decennial cultural festival that brings together the druids of the Old and New Worlds--since the end of the Great War between the Pagans and the Catholics and their Ottoman allies. [1920: The Year of Living Boringly.] [If this is the first Eisteddfod, how can they already be calling it "Great"? They're gonna look pretty silly if hardly any druids show up.] [If I were a druid, I would suspect that the Great Eisteddfod was dreamed up by the Catholics as a ruse to get all the druids into one place so they could kill us. It wouldn't be the worst thing they'd ever done.] For Penarddun verch Morfudd, Assistant Curator at the Madocian Institution of Arts and Culture, it’s also the chance to mount an exhibition of the ancient Treasures of Prydain, [I would think the curator would mount the exhibition, while the assistant curator would . . . assist.] including the Cauldron of Rebirth that helped win the war by resurrecting dead soldiers on the battlefield.

[Soldier: The men are starving sir. We must surrender.

Captain: Not necessarily. If you can just find the strength to throw all those corpses into this giant . . . Cauldron of Rebirth . . . we might have a chance.]

[In three sentences you've capitalized 30 words. See if you can cut that down to 20. Also, those last two sentences are so long and contain so much information readers won't retain anything. The only interesting item is the Cauldron of Rebirth, but even that's lost interest now that its a display in an exhibition rather than a weapon of mass resurrection.]

Penny’s ready for some festivity. Life has been grim since her fiance’s death in the War--blown to so many smithereens that no Cauldron could bring him back. She’s looking forward to a reunion with her British friend Elen, and maybe the success of the exhibition will win approval from her archdruid uncle. Respite from her mother’s relentless political match-making would be nice, too. [When every druid who's any druid is in town, the matchmaking is more likely to ramp up than ease off.]

But things start going pear-shaped almost immediately. Penny has to host the belly-dancing priestess Sirona of Galatia, a woman so beautiful that nearly every man who lays eyes on her falls into Love at First Sight. Penny herself falls victim to Love at First Sight with Elen’s cousin Gwydion, but Gwydion seems to adore Sirona. [Everyone adores Sirona. If Mrs. Evil couldn't deal with the fact that I adore Julia Roberts, I'd never get any action.] The audio recordings for her exhibition are infected by a bwg [big whirling gadget] that turns informative description into bad vaudeville routines. A trip to the beach turns tragic when Gwydion’s twin brother Gil is savaged by a feline predator. During ritual single combat, a young man is beheaded [Near the top of my list of rules to live by: I refuse to engage in any religion or culture whose rituals involve beheading.] and Elen’s fiance, Wmffre, loses his arm and foot [and a couple of his vowels] when a magic sword runs amok--a sword stolen from Penny’s exhibition. And then the Treasures disappear, along with Gil, Sirona, and Penny’s brother Dylan. [That's seven examples of things going pear-shaped. Choose three and do without the rest.]

Penny, Gwydion, Elen, and Wmffre must rescue the hostages before the Treasures are put to dangerous use. [I'd leave Wmffre behind on the rescue mission. A guy with only one foot and one arm is going to slow them down, especially if his blood is still oozing and dressings need to be changed a couple times a day.] But success will bring to light shameful secrets and old betrayals. [Vague.] How far, exactly, is Penny willing to follow her dreams, [What dreams?] when their path leads into the Otherworldly prison of Caer Siddi?

Penny and the Treasures of Prydain* is inspired by my nearly thirty years’ study of Celtic mythology (PhD UCLA, 1992). [Word of advice: next time you decide to invest thirty years in the study of one subject, come up with something more useful than Celtic mythology.] I have published five nonfiction books and some two dozen articles and encyclopedia entries on a wide range of topics in folklore and mythology; Penny is my first novel. The manuscript is complete at 100,000 words and I would be pleased to send you sample chapters at your request.

*I hate this title but I have not yet come up with anything better.


Somehow I feel like we should be told everything about this world at once. The first sentence prepares me for a historical novel set in 1920. But then I find that Catholics + Ottomans have just had a war with Pagans, so maybe it's alternate history. But then I find the war was won thanks to a magic cauldron, so it's a fantasy. Was it a war involving tanks and planes and machine guns, or guys with swords on horseback? It has a medieval feel to it, but the "audio recordings" feel anachronistic. Maybe you should start, Set on an Earth where magic exists and religious wars have continued into the 20th century...

The plot description is too long. We just want to know what Penny does about her problems. She's looking forward to the big anniversary celebration when her friends are kidnapped and the treasures vanish. What's her plan, who's out to stop her, what's at stake? That's the story. The boring stuff can be put in your synopsis if you need one.

Nowadays, a high school student named Penarddun verch Morfudd would go by Penny to avoid being ostracized. But in your world, maybe not. In any case, Penarddun verch Morfudd and the Treasures of Prydain is a better title. It sounds like Baron Munchausen and the Deathly Hallows. And who wouldn't read that?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Face-Lift 1145

Guess the Plot

The Protectors

1. One Tuesday, in the ladies' room at work, Raquel notices a man wearing only the same color paint as the walls, watching her wash her hands. He's her Protector, and he's not the only one.

2. A colorful gang of condoms-cum-superheroes guard their charges from villains S'Phyllis and Gonno'rhea. But one thing The Protectors can't do is stand alone.

3. Twins Sam and Janice stand up to the bullies harassing the good kids of class 5H, and soon the ugly thugs are all quivering wrecks. But this sort of protection doesn't come free; the twins find that their classmates' lunch money is good for all sorts of treats. Now who will protect the class from the protectors?

4. Johnny and his friends patrol and secure their territory. Lately, giants have swooped in, plucked out valued citizens, and returned them completely used. Now Johnny's love Lorraine has come up missing. Johnny will get her back, but not without the help of his buddy's . . . the protectors.

5. Jacob Snodgrass owned the only pest control business in Sioux City until Alex Marten's Pest Control opened its doors. Jacob is ready to fight dirty, until he learns Alex Marten's really a striking blonde from Duluth. Will they compete for the pest control business, or join forces to become . . .The Protectors?

6. An elite squad of highly-trained wizards and warriors is hired to protect the Egyptian Princess Tah as she makes her way from Thebes to Memphis. Only one problem: Princess Tah, a daughter of Bast, is a kitten, while her protectors are all mice. Can they all survive the grueling boat trip up the Nile?

7. Leah is a plain ordinary girl. Except, of course, for her super power. She joins the Protectors, whose mission it is to rid the world of demons and boring singers, but it's Leah who is instrumental in saving mankind when the chips are down.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation of my YA novel THE PROTECTORS, which stands complete at 72,300 words. It is the first novel in what will become a four book series, and will appeal to lovers of Kelly Armstrong’s Darkness Rising series and Jamie McGuire’s Providence series.

Leah Hawthorne was an ordinary girl, plain in every way except for one, [:] she could see into the future. You’d think having that kind of talent would be like a cool super power, but for Leah it was the exact opposite. Her life was ruled by strict regulations set by her overprotective, control freak of a brother, John, to keep her secret safe. [I was expecting an example of how her power wasn't cool, how it backfired.] [What regulations are needed besides "Don't tell anyone you can see into the future."?] [Can Leah prevent a future occurrence once she "sees" that it's going to happen? If so, this power could be useful in the cause of Good; why keep it secret?] In the weeks that followed her eighteenth birthday she thought things would change, that John would loosen the reigns [reins] a bit. But with the arrival of three strangers all vying for her attention, her life was about to become more than she ever expected. [More what?] [Are the strangers vying for her attention because they have romantic interest, or because of Leah's power to see the future? If the latter, John has done a pretty lousy job of keeping her secret safe.]

Attempting to gain control of her own life, Leah joins the Protector Agency, [I hear that's why people join the Central Intelligence Agency: to have control of their own lives.] a team of angel/human hybrids destined to fight in the war against Donovan [AKA Mellow Yellow] and the demonic [Hurdy Gurdy Man.] Leviathan Order. [An order of demons choosing Donovan as their leader is like the X-Men dumping Dr. Xavier and choosing Cat Stevens as their new leader.] [If the Protector Agency is a team of angel/human hybrids, how can Leah join? She's an ordinary girl, not an angel/human hybrid.] But, with the added strain of trying to keep her relationship with John open and her own personal insecurities will she be able to break the chains of fear that Donovan so tightly wrapped around her, [When was this? Has she ever encountered Donovan?] and become what she was always destined to be, a Protector? [So she isn't already a Protector, even though she joined the Protector Agency? Is she in an entry-level job, like their receptionist or housekeeper?] [Why is it that you never see the human employees of groups like the Avengers and Justice League of America? They must need their case files organized and their headquarters floor polished. Not that they couldn't do that stuff themselves at super speed, but would they want to? When it's Batman's turn to clean the refrigerator, would he complain that he shouldn't have to since Superman could do it in a couple seconds? Who gets the fish stench out of the break room couch after Aquaman's been sitting there? How would you like to be the Avenger whose turn it was to clean the bathroom next, and you see the Hulk walk out holding a newspaper?]

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The first plot paragraph doesn't suggest what kind of book this is. It sounds like Here's what happens when an ordinary high school student can see the future. Then it suddenly morphs into Here's what happens when an ordinary high school girl becomes a key player in the war between angels and demons.

I see no point in bringing the three strangers into the query. They don't do anything. What do they want? Are they suitors? Are they Protectors? Are they members of the Leviathan Order?

John doesn't do anything either. The only setup needed is that Leah can see the future. She wants to use this power for good, but someone (who?) wants her to use it for their own nefarious reasons.

What happens? Leah joins the Protectors is all we get. Is she expecting to have a minor role in saving the world from the Leviathan Order, but it turns out the other Protectors are useless and Leah's the key to saving mankind?

Change Leah's name to Jennifer Juniper, set the novel in Atlantis, and I think you've got something.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Face-Lift 1144

Guess the Plot


1. The story of the forbidden affair between Brown physicist Jeremy Swakowsy and Sgt. David Kyle as they anxiously work on the brave new world of the first atomic bomb.

2. A father, a son and an unholy ghost terrorize Vatican city. Only the pope himself has any chance of slaying the trio of vampires.

3. He's a college professor with a dirty secret: he gyrates on stage at Wild Stallions. One night a member of his university's departmental committee shows up at Wild Stallions with a few of her lady friends. How will this affect his tenure status?

4. When the head of Pastor Rubens is found outside the Church of the Holy Trinity, leaving the rest of his body impaled on the altar, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, Rubens didn't slam that chunk of rebar through his own chest, and two, this could be the start of another rash of 'vampire killings' in LA.

5. Trinity believes her father is God and her best friend is a ghost. Her priest refuses to give her communion, and her psychiatrist has quit giving her drugs. What is a teenager to do? Trinity embarks on an evangelical road trip to hell where she learns the true meaning of religion--sex, drugs, and raising money.

6. An atheist is put in charge of maintaining the balance of Light and Dark on the planet. Someone's gotta do it, and the Believers can't be trusted to give the Dark Side a fair shake.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Below is a query letter for my novel Trinity. The title Trinity comes from the union of the three essential forces on Earth: Light, Dark and the balancing neutrality of the planet itself. Thank you for considering my letter. I'm looking forward to the critique. Everyone needs a good cry once and a while...

Dear Agent,

Louden Ellery didn’t believe in God. Prayer was merely an exercise in procrastination. He was completely unprepared, then, to become the Guardian of the Amulet, a relic as old as Earth itself. Empowered by the amulet, Louden must maintain the balance of Light and Dark on the planet. [I'm not that clear on how the first two sentences relate to the rest. Apparently believing in God is not a requirement for becoming the Amulet Guardian, so why bring it up? Is everyone who believes in God prepared to become the Guardian?]

Aided by a cranky witch, with authority issues and a mysterious priest, [Neither of those commas was needed.] who is too comfortable in combat situations, Louden must consolidate the power of the amulet and stop an ambitious demon from enslaving mankind. That is, before suspect allies and newfound enemies, looking to command the amulet for their own devices, prematurely end Louden’s tenure - a life long commitment. ["That is," doesn't make much sense as the beginning of that sentence. Also this being the last sentence of your plot, I suggest you move it to a new paragraph and expand on it with some information about these allies and enemies and the "devices" for which they want the amulet. It would help to know whether the enslavement of mankind by a demon is better or worse than whatever these other characters want to do.]

Trinity is a fast paced, fantasy novel set in the near future where dragons have mysteriously appeared and the occult abounds. [If dragons mysteriously appear, I would think that would be mentioned as a main plot point, not tossed in as an aside after you've finished with the plot. It's like a query for Gone with the Wind that doesn't mention the Civil War until the wrapup.] Trinity is an engrossing hero’s journey as Louden grudgingly unravels the legacy of the amulet and masters its power. [Two consecutive sentences starting "Trinity is." Choose one or combine the best of both.]

Trinity is my first novel, but I have published non-fiction previously in a trade publication. I am currently working on a second novel while I solicit agents. I am looking for an agent that will be a partner, who will help me build a commercial writing career.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you. Sample pages are available upon request. [Combine the six sentences in those two paragraphs into one paragraph with three sentences. You may decide which three sentences to dump.]


I don't see what God has to do with anything. What God are we talking about? This Light, Dark, and the balancing neutrality of the planet doesn't sound like a religion of our near future.

I'm not sure what's meant by consolidating the Amulet's power. What does Louden have to do, exactly?

Who decided Louden was to be the Guardian, and why are the suspect allies and new-found enemies allowed to try to gain command of the amulet? The decision isn't automatically accepted by all?

If I were suddenly handed a lifelong commitment I wasn't expecting, and someone else wanted it, I'd say, "Take it, it's all yours." Louden's commitment seems more like what I'd expect from someone who did expect to have the responsibility that goes with the amulet.

I'm on vacation and blogging on my ipad is more trouble than it's worth, so while I will be posting comments, there won't be new posts until after Saturday.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

New Beginning 1010

“Let’s try them, just for fun,” Paula said. She held up a pack of Tarot cards, confiscated from one of the kids at the evening’s campfire.

“Open the door and the devil walks in,” I said. “Messing around with the occult is an invitation to evil, that’s what Pastor Jim teaches. Hand ‘em over.” I reached under my bunk and pulled out a cardboard box of Bible camp contraband — a string of firecrackers, a halter top, a Harry Potter book. No condoms this year, not yet. As senior counselors, Paula and I were entrusted with keeping such evidence in our cabin.

“It’s a game, Caitlyn, come on. Quit being Miss-bless-my-heart for a few minutes.” Paula thumped a Bible onto the table. “There, now we’re protected.” She pulled a first card from the pack and looked at it. “The Drowning Man,” she announced, and let the card fall to the tabletop. She pulled a second card. "Justice."

I stepped closer. “How do you know the names?”

Paula smiled and held up a third card. This had to be a joke. A picture of my childhood home? “You need to stop, right now,” I said.

Just then the door opened and the Devil himself walked into the cabin. My heart thudded as his flinty gaze took in the cards, the Bible, the halters.

"Stop?" he said, flashing a smile that promised filthy delights, "We're only getting started."

I caught sight of the box in his hand and my skull echoed with the deafening roar of blood rushing. In the final moments before I lost consciousness I didn't pray. No, my last thought was amazement. Lucifer preferred Trojans? Somehow I'd imagined him as a Magnum Man. 

Opening: IMHO.....Continuation: Veronica Rundell

Monday, August 05, 2013

Success Story

Chelsea Pitcher reports that her YA urban fantasy, IMMORTAL SACRIFICE (previously titled THE LAST CHANGELING and CHILD OF THE DARK COURT) just sold to Flux in a 2-book deal.
"My query and opening first appeared in 2008 as Face-Lift 578 and New Beginning 574, and again in 2011 as New Beginning 892 .
"I could not have done this without you and the minions. Your site has taught me how to revise (and to never give up!) THANK YOU."

Thursday, August 01, 2013

New Beginning 1009

"I'm rewriting Bible verses for my next book." Jonah said before taking a quick puff from his e-cig. "This will be my best book ever."

"Bible verses?" Lacey rolled her eyes. "That's about effing stupid."

"With great power comes great responsibility." Jonah looked up at Lacey and gave her a crooked smile.

"Stan Lee quoted Voltaire." Lacey smiled. Her face beautiful, even without makeup.

"Jesus said basically the same thing." Jonah turned back to his work.

"Prove it." Lacey put her hands on her hip, bent over and put her face directly in front of Jonah's.

Jonah looked into Lacey's emerald green eyes. The urge to touch her was strong. He had these feelings since the first time they met. If only he could place his lips on hers. But how could he? Especially since he recently discovered that she was his sister.

On the other hand, they were alone together. They did have a few hours to kill. Lacey was wearing those Daisy Dukes for a reason. And what the hell? The Bible was full of siblings getting it on. 

Opening: Uknowme.....Continuation: CavalierdeNuit