Saturday, April 17, 2021

New Beginning 1095

Eliza Mack was trying to think about her dead brother. Maddeningly, she was failing. Mikhail Shamoun, the love of her life, had driven her thoughts away from the innocent dead and back to himself this morning with a persistence that was nothing short of demonic. He was the one man on earth who had the power to hurt her more than anyone else, and he used it. Eliza picked up speed as she cruised south on the 405 while sapphire skies, glittering office parks, graceful palm trees, garden-like beach towns, and shimmery plains of ocean evaporated in her rage. 

 It was a gauzy Sunday in June, and she had begun her day with that springy feeling that always followed a night, or nowadays a Skype, with Mikhail. Their groove of anus-licking and violent orgasmic passion -- which they had adapted to cybersex due to their new geographic circumstances -- left them both groaning and unconscious in a way that equaled them out until the next cycle of injuries and apologies. Before she left her apartment, she had snatched a few minutes to surf the net for something that was gnawing at her mind, and she struck google gold. Escalation of commitment.

* * *

Evil Editor looked up from the manuscript, eyebrows raised. "Well, Miss Persimmon... You certainly know your target demographic: Wild free spirits, wanderlust, sudden rage; love of bright colors and shiny things; obsession with computer screens; noisy, wild sex and, ah, anus licking...

He adjusted his spectacles. "Anus licking." He paused for a moment. "Frankly, there's just one thing that will prevent this becoming a best seller. Cats can't read."

Miss Persimmon huffed, grabbed her papers and headed for the door.

"Anus licking." Evil Editor repeated quietly to himself, as he reached for the intercom button. "Mrs Varmighan? Would you step in here a moment? There's something I need you to do."


Opening: anonymous . . . . .Continuation: ril

Friday, April 16, 2021

Feedback Request


The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1415 would like feedback on the following version: 

The Counterfeit Girl is a 93K suspense novel, in which a woman who shouldn’t be alive finds the secrets of a town that shouldn’t exist are more than even its creators expected. [More . . . numerous? Mysterious? Dangerous? What did the creators of the town expect its secrets to be? Maybe it should be . . . a woman who shouldn’t be alive finds the secrets of her hometown are more sinister than she could have imagined.] 

Thirteen years ago, five-year-old twins were kidnapped from Castor, Oregon just before it was destroyed by a mysterious explosion killing all the inhabitants. [An explosion that wipes out an entire town won't be mysterious for long. It'll be newsworthy and investigated. More mysterious would be if everyone in town suddenly disappeared.] Now, one of the twins, eighteen-year-old Trina Radu, has discovered she’s grown up in a copy of a town that no longer exists. 

Trina’s counterfeit town is hidden by impregnable forest and maze-like trails. Her parents have been replaced by actors, [her] friends [have apparently moved away] and family dead and gone, any mention of the outside world carefully edited. All that’s left is her sister, seductively whispering through Trina’s dreams. Find me. Save me. And rescue the whole damn world. Only, their kidnappers believe the twins hold the secret of Castor’s destruction and their reunion will result in a global holocaust. [Do they want a global holocaust? If not, they could have left the twins in Castor to die with everyone else. Why did they kidnap them?] 

Trina will do anything to rescue the only family left in her life. A quest that will either save a world Trina has never known—or burn it to the ground. 

The Counterfeit Girl’s inspiration reaches back to Twin Peaks and The X-files and could be thought of as Jean Grey trapped inside The Truman Show. It would appeal to fans of Blake Crouch, Peter Clines and Patrick Lee. [Seven comps isn't nearly enough. You forgot to include the songs "Trapped" and "We Gotta Get Out of this Place" and that surreal dream you had four years ago.] 


Notes

"their kidnappers believe the twins hold the secret of Castor's destruction" makes it sound like the kidnappers had nothing to do with Castor's destruction. But they had to be in on the plot, since they presumably took Trina to fake Castor. 

 Perhaps you should explain why the kidnappers believe the twins' reunion will result in a global holocaust. How can that make sense to even the nuttiest conspiracy theorist? 

 I can't say I find this version any more intriguing. It's good that you focus on the plot rather than the set-up, but maybe you should stick with what Trina knows. She doesn't know what the kidnappers believe. Is a global holocaust a real possibility?

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Face-Lift 1416

Guess the Plot 


The Angel of No Consequences

1. When Eliza Mack’s fiancé ejects her from his life to clear the way for a new woman, the Angel of No Consequences appears to her and offers her one free murder. Spoiler alert: She takes the Angel up on it and pumps a bullet into her fiancé. 

2. All guardian angel Muriel did was make certain the fallout from the disasters his charges caused were completely insignificant. After the third one commits suicide, Muriel is branded a fallen angel and cast out. Can he rescue his former charges from hell by making their stay there unimportant as well? Spoiler alert: He makes things even worse. 

3. Sarah Fim, the world's wealthiest woman and ruthless CEO, dies on her way to a board meeting. On her first day in Heaven, she demands to be made an Angel, and when it's clear she won't take no for an answer, her wish is granted. She throws herself into her new role, answering prayers from the rich by giving them more riches and ignoring prayers from those she deems not worth her time. No one dares contradict her authority. Spoiler alert: the prayers she thought she was answering are just computer-generated fabrications to keep her busy.

4. Ask any angel: does he make love? No. Why? Because he is love. Gabe is not just any angel. He is a sex god. Life on Earth is paradise until Raphael blasts him back to heaven. Spoiler alert: It's actually hell this time.

5. When the fountains in heaven stop gushing, the lights stop shining, and the couples stop ... ahem, Vizriel leaves the group of happily singing investigators looking into this diabolical plot and goes to Earth where people have the decency to get upset when things go wrong. Also a depressed demon with a good attitude.

6. A counter-argument to Butterfly Effect theory, consisting of essays and mathematical models, the shape of which, when plotted, more closely resemble the wings of an angel than a butterfly.

7. Alaois Markey agreed to back the production of morality play No Consequences as a ploy for the gratitude of the ingenue playing the angel. But through the ups and downs of the inexperienced cast and crew, he discovers camaraderie and true love in the most unexpected place. Spoiler alert: in the arms of the mutton-chopped minister.



Original Version

Dear Agent, 

I’m an English major and sometime Outer Limits addict with a tingly-sense for the perverse side of justice. I’ve written a literary thriller inspired by the fate of Lady Macbeth: a tale of guilt that begins when a woman scorned decides to cool her fury with a murder. 

When Eliza Mack’s fiancé ejects her from his life to clear the way for a new woman, she winds up in a lowly motel room to lick [licking] her wounds. There, a mysterious and seductive creature that she dubs The Angel of No Consequences appears to her and offers the thing [gift? blessing?] she’s cried out for at the height of her rage: one free murder. She takes the Angel up on it, pumps a bullet into her fiancé, and flees to the gloomy estate of Madeleine, her late brother’s agoraphobic widow. 

As promised, Eliza’s crime goes unprosecuted--but not unsuspected. Desiray, the “other woman” who stole Eliza’s (now-dead) fiancé, is convinced of Eliza’s guilt, and she threatens Eliza with revenge. To Eliza’s horror, the Angel offers his services to Desiray. Knowing the Angel’s ruthlessness and lethality, Eliza strikes pre-emptively and poisons Desiray. This time it’s her own skill, not the Angel’s, that helps [lets] her escape the consequences. 

Meanwhile [In time], Eliza finds life at Madeleine’s estate increasingly bizarre. When she catches Madeleine dumping a bucket of blood down a drain, she resolves to quit the place. But one last intervention from her otherworldly accomplice forces her to return. 

I realize this reads [This may sound] like some sort of [a perverse] horror opera, but it's also a morality tale; after the desire to live, my characters are driven by the need to right their wrongs. 

[Optional "I thought I’d query you because..."] 

The Angel of No Consequences is complete at 88,000 words. [The first xx pages follow my signature below.] May I send my manuscript for your consideration? 

Thanks,


Notes

Well done. I'd ask for the manuscript, if the first xx pages weren't a mess.

I assume you call this a "tale of guilt" not because Eliza is guilty, but because she is haunted by feelings of guilt, so maybe there should be something about that in the summary. Maybe instead of the bucket of blood, which, while intriguing, only leads me to wonder how Madeleine explains it.

Eliza: Um, why are you dumping a bucket of blood down the drain?

Madeleine: It's AB negative. I only drink A positive.

Eliza: No, I meant why not just flush it down the toilet?


Wait, is it Eliza's brother's blood? And Madeleine's dumping it because she was afraid Eliza would see it in the refrigerator and start asking awkward questions?

I think spelling Desiray's name Desirée or Desirae would lend a more gothic flare, and could be what puts this query over the top.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Face-Lift 1415


Guess the Plot

The Counterfeit Girl

1. While building a wild-west theme park, Mindy Lou discovers her deceased grandfather's deed to an abandoned silver mine is an old forgery. She must outwit collectors, pawnbrokers, and museum curators to discover who bilked whom out of what so she can finally bring back the shoot-em-up days.

2. Sitting in a stifling room at the back of a fake shoe store shuffling rubles, dollars, riyals, euros, yen, and yuan is no way to live. Svetlana is bored out of her mind and stuck in a financial rut she'll never escape as the Black Market Currency Exchange Girl. She'd kill to be The Counterfeit Girl -- glamor, opportunity, and a clean restroom.

3. Mindy drew her first perfect fifty dollar bill when she was twelve. Six years later, on the lam from the mob, the FBI, and various world-wide spy agencies, can she fake it as a budding artist in a retro-hippie commune long enough to forge herself a new identity?

4. She was made of yarn and string, a hopeful thing. But at what point does she become real? Dolly sets out to become a real girl, and Pinocchio has nothing on this determined kid.

5. Anniziq was created by the Spanner Corporation to be the ultimate female companion. But what happens when serial number RML-10038291 begins to sense its soul is that of a man?

6. Lela was the cutest Pomeranian in the world until she got caught in the cross-fire between a witchy stepmother and a fairy godfather. Now she's a human girl trying to survive on the streets. Fortunately, she still has the amazing ability to smell like a dog. Unfortunately, she also still smells like a dog.

7. Mary Joan Oswald reinvents herself as Instagram starlet Marisa Oz, hiding her identity as a coding bootcamp student. Her developing feelings for classmate Noel leave her at a crossroads. Down one road is the unrequited true love of a dweeb, down the other a posh NYC dream.

8. After 18 years in Oregon, Trina discovers that her entire life has been spent in China, in a town constructed as a replica of an American town. It's either some kind of experiment or a Chinese plot to destroy the world. Does Trina have what it takes to save us all?

9. Sasha is the criminal underground’s premier go-to for counterfeit bills. These days, she’s printing a revenge plan against her ex-boyfriend, master thief and wanker Darby Kingsley for shafting her on his last score.


Original Version 

Dear Agent 

The Counterfeit Girl is a 95K suspense novel, [Inconsequential nitpick: "K" is an abbreviation for "thousand," not "thousand-word." It's also an abbreviation for strikeout, kicker, Kelvin, and Potassium.] in which a girl who shouldn’t be alive, raised in a town that shouldn’t exist, must save the world in a way her kidnappers never intended. [Does that mean her kidnappers intended for her to save the world, but in some other way?]

Biomed company Nyquest has revitalized Castor, a remote town in Oregon. They provide the internet, support the police force, and offer free medical care and counseling as often as they think you need. [I prefer to get my medical care and counseling as often as I think I need.] With Nyquest’s juicy scholarship approaching, life is good for eighteen-year-old Trina Radu, the oldest kid in the safest town in America. [That makes sense if the scholarship goes to the oldest kid. Is she guaranteed to win the scholarship?] 

Then her boyfriend hints about a mysterious place called China. China isn’t in her geography class and doesn’t appear on the Internet. [I think the boyfriend should get the scholarship. He can at least find China on a map.] [In world maps in Trina's book and on the Internet, is there a blank space where China is? Or does it just have a different name?] 


Map of Asia in Trina's geography book

She badgers him for details but he’s killed before they can meet. [If I happen to mention a place my girlfriend never heard of and she starts badgering me, I start looking for a girlfriend who's less passionate about geography.] In her parents’ bedroom she discovers a stuffed animal with a tag labeled Made in China [tag]. Tucked inside is a photo bringing back dreams [memories?] of a twin sister no one else remembers. Convinced her sister is held outside town, she tries to escape only to find impregnable forest and maze-like trails. Every call outside Castor’s area code leads to a recorded message. And none of the kids who’ve left for college are ever heard from again. 

Suddenly, those police cars patrolling her street don’t seem so comforting. [I never find police cars patrolling my street comforting. And I'm white.] College is approaching, but Trina’s final exam is escaping a town that’s monitoring her every move and her graduation party a quest for [finding] a sister no one believes in. A reunion that will either save a world Trina has never known—or tear it to pieces. [There's no evidence in your plot summary that the world needs to be saved, or that Trina is the one for the job. She can't even find her way out of town.]

 The Counterfeit Girl’s inspiration reaches back to Twin Peaks and The X-files. [To me, it sounds like The Prisoner meets The Truman Show.] It would appeal to fans of Blake Crouch, Peter Clines, and Patrick Lee. 

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
My title comes from a young woman who discovers her entire life has been a fake and she’s been raised in China, not small town America. [The fact that she grew up surrounded by 1.4 billion Chinese people should've been a dead giveaway.]


Notes

Twenty years ago, China constructed a town that could pass as a remote Oregon town, then kidnapped people to populate the town, and took great pains to convince these people that the country China doesn't even exist. As the children in this town reach college age, they are put to use in a plot to destroy the world, a plot that will fail if one of these children, Trina Radu, ever meets her twin sister.

That wouldn't be a great way to start the query. But it's probably not a great impression to give as a pitch for the book, either.

Some questions I have that you might be able to keep me from having, either by answering them or by getting rid of the parts of the query that inspired them:

1. Why shouldn't Trina be alive?
2. What's gained by keeping China's existence secret from people who can't travel anywhere? 
3. Was the twin also kidnapped? How old were they when kidnapped? Was everyone in town kidnapped, or are most of them in on the plot?
4. Is there something special about Trina that makes her the only one whose actions will save or tear apart the world? Like does she have super powers?

The information in your note about the title belongs in the query, possibly up front:

When 18-year-old Trina Radu discovers that she has grown up not in remote Castor Oregon, but in China, she has a lot of questions, starting with WTF?

No wait, starting with, Who built a replica of a small Oregon town in China, and then populated it with people who would never complain that they couldn't leave? And why?

Starting the query after Trina becomes suspicious saves a lot of space that's being spent on Nyquest and the boyfriend and the scholarship and geography class. Space that can be used to talk about what's at stake and what Trina can do about it.

Friday, March 12, 2021

New Beginning 1094

Patti followed her abductor’s instructions and forced her gaze back to the clear night sky. Jagged edges of pine tree tops scalloped the mural of stars in the night sky. Beside her, Carol screamed through her cloth gag. Patti dared to look away from the sky again. Carol writhed on the ground, trying to free her wrists from the zip ties that bound them beneath her. She kicked her heels uselessly against the grass.  Patti knew she should be trying to escape too, but her body was clenched with fear. She couldn’t move, could only alternate darting glances between her friend and the man who stood with his arms raised, palms out. 

“Yes!’ he shouted and pointed at the sky. “There! Amhaodhrah chases her prey!” 


Patti couldn’t help but look. A shooting star flashed, high and distant. Then Amhaodhrah appeared. 


More like a low flying plane coming in for landing than a shooting star, it looked like the sun was streaking through the sky toward them. Its face seemed to stare, impartial as it fell.  It lit up the forest in a fast forward of dawn through afternoon.


Finally a humanoid shape began to resolve, an indistinct shadow behind the glare. "I found you," it said. "I have come a long way." The light danced across the man, and the two women on the ground. "Your timing is perfect."

The man dropped to his knees. "What do you have for me, Amhaodhrah?"

"I bring you the light," was the reply. "Because you bought zip ties, duct tape, extra large Tuf-T bags, a shovel and our special Hiding Things in the Wilderness Where They'll Never be Found guide book, you get one of these nifty extra bright bluetooth GPS head lights as our gift to you.

"And it's Amanda. The name is Amanda. It's on my badge."

Patti's body tensed; she wanted to kick and scream through her bonds: On her last trip to Home Depot she spent over a thousand bucks and only got a measly apple corer for free.



Opening: Amanda Barrett .....Continuation: ril


Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Q & A 197

As I'm revising the rough draft of my novel, I see that I need practice in narrative structure. I am thinking of practicing structure by writing some short stories. Rather than come up with a bunch of new ideas, I was going to rework scenes from the novel into short stories.

If I wanted to submit any of these stories to magazines, would it be a problem if I eventually complete the novel and submit it for publication? Do I need to alter the stories enough to separate them from the novel? I thought it happened sometimes that characters or ideas first appear in short story format but I don't know if that's a bygone practice or part of a marketing scheme, or what. 


If you're Stephen King, and you wrote the novel first, and it's going to be published, then this is a marketing ploy. (Though marketing ploys are usually sample chapters or novel excerpts rather than short stories.) If you are Stephen King and you wrote the short story first, then this is your way of getting another novel published without having to come up with an original idea. All you have to do is surround the short story with 70,000 words of filler (description of stuff, scenes that don't further the plot, etc.).

However, you are not Stephen King (at least I assume you aren't, though it occurs to me that Stephen King would use an alias when writing to Evil Editor for advice), and you would be thrilled to have a short story published in a magazine. Anyone can self-publish their novel, but only a few can get a short story in The New Yorker. You would buy lots of copies of the magazine. It would give you something relevant to add to your bio when trying to attract an agent. So go for it. Odds are that by the time the novel gets published, the magazine will have gone out of business anyway.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

New Beginning 1093

The three of them marched purposefully to a halt and peered over the black-and-silver waves.

“I can see it,” said the first one, nodding at some spot not too far out on the water. He pointed with four fingers, his hand held out like a cleaver. “There.”

“So half the ground is covered,” said the second one.

“Which means,” said the third one, “that nothing remains except that final, fickle, determinative one percent.”

The first one gave an ironic wince. “If it happens, it happens.” He cupped his hands around his mouth and blew a long, soft breath out at the ocean. The wind picked it up and carried it just beyond the breakers, where the water stilled and something compact and formless floated upward from the depths. A pale oval. As it neared the surface, its topology and colors were resolved by the moonlight: a human face, detached from whatever body might have carried it to warmth and firmness, staring up in pain and horror from beneath the cold salt sea.

"Well, that's not entirely true," another voice affirmed.

The first three turned rapidly at the unexpected voice. The fifth one just wore a contemptuous smile. (No, he was the fifth one. The fourth one was the one who floated up from the sea. Although it was just a face, so not really a whole fourth one. Maybe just ten percent or so. So the fifth one was probably just four and two tenths.)

"What is your meaning?" The second one asked in a questioning voice.

The fifth one, or more accurately 4.2, shrugged and replied, "Well, if half the ground was covered, that means a headmost, reasonable, stable forty percent remains."

"Forty?" the first one questioned. They all looked at each other. Except 0.2 (the head), who let out a wail and sank back to the depths, knowing these four fools could never make him whole because they're all shit at math.


Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: ril

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Feedback Request


 The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1411 would like feedback on the following revision:


Dear Evil Editor,

The blood on her hands no longer troubles Leudora. What keeps her awake at night is the chilling suspicion that her crimes might have been in vain. 

 

A decade ago, Leudora had her major enemies eliminated - the scientist known as the Dalmatian Serpent, and his followers, who sought her people’s blood. A ruthless guardian of her kin and an unscrupulous politician, Leudora lived with her guilty conscience for as long as the invisible barrier that shields civilization from madness remained intact. Only [But] it is no longer so. When the Veil starts to fade, slowly poisoning the air and endangering those, [no comma] whom she once sought to protect, Leudora wants answers.

 

She does not expect her answers to confirm the Dalmatian Serpent’s theories: those are Leudora’s own people, who conduct bloody experiments to protect themselves from their powerful neighbors, causing the Veil’s degradation. Once rumors about their affairs spread, not only the culprits, but all her people will become scapegoats. Trying to prevent a war and stop the Veil’s decay, Leudora turns to her enemy’s works and searches for the culprits. [I don't like "culprits" twice in two sentences. In fact I don't like it either time. I'd shorten this paragraph to: 


She does not expect it when the answers confirm the Dalmatian Serpent’s theories: Leudora’s own people, conducting bloody experiments to protect themselves from their powerful neighbors, are causing the Veil’s degradation. If this gets out, not only the guilty, but all her people will be blamed. Trying to prevent a war and stop the Veil’s decay, Leudora turns to her enemy’s works. 

 

Is it odd to refer to "her enemy" when talking about a guy she eliminated a decade ago? Maybe She turns to the Serpent's spellbook (or research or whatever it is, more specific than "works."] 


The deeper she delves into the Dalmatian Serpent’s secrets, the more Leudora finds herself drawn to his fascinating mind and dark science. If she follows in his footsteps, her kin will turn against her. [All of them, or just the "culprits"?] If Leudora stays loyal to her people, she will have to side with those, [no comma] who may bring them all to the verge of extinction, betraying the legacy of a man,[no comma] whom she knows to be right. 


Byzantine Purple is an adult fantasy set in an alternative version of Eastern Europe[comma] complete at 103,000 words. The novel stands alone but is envisioned as the first book in a trilogy. It combines the conflicted protagonist of The Masquerade Series and the political intrigue of A Memory called Empire. 

 

Thank you for your time and consideration, 



Notes


Much better. I mostly nit-picked.


If she knows what's causing the veil problem, seems like she should know who's causing it. If it's just a few of Leudora's people who are causing it, and they refuse to stop, eliminating them seems like an easier solution for this ruthless unscrupulous character than hoping to find some magical way to save the veil.

 

Do the people causing the degradation of the veil know they're causing it? They can't want their air poisoned, so why don't they stop? Don't they care?


Friday, February 12, 2021

Face-Lift 1414


Guess the Plot

The Pilot of Aros

1. Ronaldo Cauchon pilots commercial freighters through the treacherous waters surrounding Aros Harbor using only a raft and pole. But even that pales in comparison to the exhausting task of piloting Captain Fanny Astley’s heart through the straits of her blueblood family’s objections to Ronaldo's cable knit turtlenecks.

2. Every ship needs a pilot just like every pilot needs a ship, but why did Versa, with the lowest scores at the academy, get assigned Aros, the psycho ship that's killed its last fifteen pilots for being incompetent? Alien invasion? Versa needs to survive her own ship first.

3. Pilot Asha Glix has a thriving business, and that's all she ever wanted. So it's little annoying when criminals and politicians send powerful warships to attack her passenger ship. But she'll survive through grit, determination, and inexplicable luck..

4. The memoir of Burton Ross, who served as the only active pilot on the tiny island of Aros. He and his self-built “Windcharm” Newport II served the local community from 1908 until his untimely death in 1988. A collection of anecdotes from his former passengers. Includes photographs.

5. Crail is 20 years old and he knows every current, shoal, and sandbar of Aros, the river that leads to to the dreaded Isle of Fire, where traitors and rebels against the emperor are taken. He's grown up working as a hand on the ferry that transports the wretches, and now he's inheriting the job of pilot. Will he find it within himself to continue -- especially now that he's fallen in love with one of his passengers?

6. If you want to be immortalized, you have to be the best at what you do. Which, for Sven, means removing any pilots better than him in "accidents." When he's caught, rather than go to prison, he becomes the literal heart and brains of an experimental fighter ship. Without the body parts for lust, can he find true love with his captain?



Original Version

Dear [Insert name of Query-Inundated Agent Here], 

I am currently seeking representation for my space opera, THE PILOT OF AROS. Given [whatever made me submit to them], I thought it might be a good fit for your list. 

Captain Asha Glix is the most famous interstellar passenger pilot in the Tork Arm of the galaxy. [Impressive. But I'd rather read about the most famous interstellar passenger pilot in the entire galaxy.] Her unorthodox style and swift ship, the Superstition, are known in posh elite and rowdy underground circles alike. Clients and benefactors whisper of her “preternatural luck” without ever guessing its source - and as far as Asha is concerned, they can keep guessing. [Until they eventually guess right, and then she'll have to kill them.] Her reputation has built a booming business and secured the livelihoods of her crew. That’s all Asha ever wanted. 

When a mysterious stranger stumbles upon the old secret that Asha has buried deeper than any other, he offers her what seems to be the opportunity of a lifetime - even though taking it would force her to resume an identity she left behind long ago. [Way too vague. What's mysterious about the stranger, what's Asha's old secret, what's the opportunity, what was her identity?Compare your paragraph with the following, which may or may not be correct:

When a stranger wearing a foggy fishbowl over his head and a black cloak tells Asha he knows she's the actress who popularized Human/Tork soft-core porn, and he can get her a screen test for Star Wars, Episode 29: The Empire Strikes Back Yet Again, she's thrilled--until she realizes being on the big screen means she'll be recognized as the disgraced empress of Aros.]

Unfortunately, the Captain isn’t left to contemplate the stranger’s offer in peace. Powerful unmarked ships have begun attacking the Superstition and menacing her best customer; 
drawing Asha against her will into the snarled interface between organized crime, politics, and dispassionate practicality. And when one of their friends commits the most perilous of treacheries, [Inciting an insurrection.] Asha and her crew are forced to face the fact that surviving may not always mean surviving intact. [This sounds less vague, but outside of the fact that powerful ships are attacking the Superstition, there's little specificity.]

THE PILOT OF AROS is complete at 90,000 words, and is the first novel in a planned trilogy. I have included the first [#] pages and a synopsis below. The remainder of the manuscript is available, in part or full, upon request. 

The author is an opera singer, chemistry geek, and recovering grad student shocked to find herself in her mid-20's. She adores complex female villains, concept cars, and chatting about politics and power dynamics. [First of all, aren't you the author? Second, this would be highly effective in your Tinder profile, but it'll sway a limited number of agents to request your manuscript.

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Notes

As an opera singer, surely it's occurred to you that you should convert this space opera into an actual opera. The title even sounds like an opera. The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, The Pilot of Aros. All you need is a bunch of songs, one of which has to have a catchy melody, and a set that looks like the bridge of the starship Enterprise.

There must be a reason that a passenger ship would be attacked by several powerful ships. If your cargo is passengers and your mission is transportation, you normally aren't equipped to defend against warships. If a Delta Airlines plane were attacked by several F-15 fighter jets, it wouldn't have a chance, even if the pilot had preternatural luck. Of course things are different in space.

I'm not sure why we bring up the stranger's opportunity if Asha doesn't even have time to contemplate it. Is it connected to the attacking ships? To organized crime, politics and... dispassionate practicality? If it's all interrelated, show it. Otherwise focus on what's most important.  

What is Aros?

Monday, February 08, 2021

New Beginning 1092

Hooves thundered down the hillside, as Samantha and Snowflake galloped after the fleeing soldiers. The men had a head start but that was no matter. They were heavy and their horses were not bred for speed. Snowflake was.

Samantha allowed the front runners to escape. Let them tell the tale. A straggler though; he would serve a different purpose.

She pulled an arrow from its quiver and nocked it against the bowstring. Drew. Relaxed into the rhythm of the horse beneath her. Aimed. Felt the wind. Gauged the distance. Adjusted. Loosed.

The arrow whizzed beside the ear of the soldier's horse, a mosquito’s buzz without the bite. The spooked horse whirled, throwing the rider.

Snowflake slowed and Samantha leapt down, landing in a crouch. She dropped her bow to the ground and gripped the hilt of Justiciana.

The soldier groaned. On seeing her striding toward him, he hauled himself to his feet. She smiled to see it, lips curling back from her teeth.

Samantha unsheathed her rapier, relishing the whisper of steel on leather. She flourished her blade at him as he fumbled for his own.

No need to bloody Justiciana on this bumbling oaf, she thought, tossing the sword aside. Feeling the wind again, she gauged the distance. Aimed. Adjusted. Loosed. With a loud rumbling the stench traveled to the soldier's nostrils and filled his lungs.

Samantha's foe dropped dead to the ground without a drop of blood shed. She thanked her spirit guardian for the offal stew she ate last night then turned for the long and tiring ride home.

But to her horror she found her adjustment had been poorly judged: such was the power of Fartistica's magic, Snowflake had melted clean away.


Opening: Amanda Barrett..... Continuation: ril

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Face-Lift 1413

Guess the Plot

The Rooster Sutra

1. A serial killer who kills only occultists is targeting Tanya, an aspiring occultist who resembles a rooster. Can Tanya's Buddhist mentor, the only pacifist in the occultism industry, set aside her beliefs long enough to rescue Tanya? Also, a beatnik.

2. An illustrated collection of proverbs for children, recited in anuṣṭubh meter by a rooster named Shakuntala and his barnyard pals.

3. Bo-Jo's family has been running a chicken farm for six generations. Rather than a sweeping family saga full of passion and drama, here are the rules they've lived by. And how to cover up a murder.

4. This is not your mother's Ugly Duckling or Chicken Little. Barnyard birds are getting into it, and the other inhabitants of Old MacDonald's Farm are braying, barking, and oinking in prurient glee.

5. Tarragon is a backyard chicken and reincarnation of -- well, Sanskrit isn't easy when you're a bird. Can he convey his wisdom to the world, or will the neighbors convince his owners that the path to his next incarnation should be coq au vin? 

6. Ginger-haired Detective Gallus’s latest case is a fraternity student found dead in a rooster costume on campus. When a second student turns up dead under similar circumstances, Gallus goes undercover into the underground world of a new society known as “The Cockfighters.”

7. Studies show that 4 hours of sleeping upright yields the same benefits as lying prone for 8. Find techniques for "roosting" in this self-help sleep guide to self inducing a trance-like state and selecting a perch for you and your lovebird(s).

8. Sutras, suitors, sutures.... All Bantam knows is that when the chicken hits the fryer (i.e. his Bollywood-style wedding goes up in flames when his fiancée elopes with a Cornish hen), a rooster's gotta do what a rooster's gotta do.

9. Old Man MacDougall is fed up. His hens are hysterical, he's seeing twice the usual number of feathers around the coop, and his precious eggs have actually been hatching... The only clue: mysterious chicken scratches on the wall of the coop. The perpetrator: an ordinary-looking rooster who has discovered that attracting ladies isn't just about looks. This rooster Casanova will give his all to help his sexy hen babes escape the farm.


Original Version

Dear Ruinous Reviser:

Only one of Keket Cheshire’s teammates has died on the job, and she is resolved that that number doesn’t go up. Still, only one death is an impressive record for the only pacifist in the occultism industry, with its 40% mortality rate and sociopathic competition. [Logging and commercial fishing, the two most dangerous professions (besides occultism), have a combined mortality rate of about 1%. The US Civil War had a mortality rate of 20%.] [Is that 40% annually? Because that would wipe out the industry in short order.] 

 

During a mission gone sour, a high-school girl named Tanya Gallo is nearly killed by Keket’s slip-up. [Does this happen after Keket resolves that the number of her teammates she kills won't go up? Sure, almost killing your teammates is an improvement over killing them, but . . .] [Also, I need to look up "occultist" and find out why they get involved in so many missions that lead to death.]  . . .  [Okay, Wikipedia's List of Occultists is pretty long, but here's a sampling: Plato, Nostradamus, Sir Isaac Newton, Marquis de Sade, Arthur Conan Doyle, Adolf Hitler, Jim Morrison, David Bowie . . . Hmm, what do they all have in common? They're all dead! 100% mortality rate! Why hasn't anyone else looked into the connection between occultists and death?] Tanya is smitten, with Keket, and even moreso [more so. There seems to be some controversy over whether moreso is a word, but Blogger has underlined it in red, and that's good enough for me.] [Of course Blogger also underlines Keket in red, and my phone's auto-correct thinks Keket is kookoo.] with her profession. [Occultism is a profession? I wonder if it's hard for employment recruiters to convince people to go into a profession with a 40% mortality rate.] Occultism promises escape from a reality where Tanya is mired in poverty and powerlessness. [She has a 40% chance of escaping.] Wanting to impress Keket and become an occultist herself, Tanya seeks out tantric magic. An aging beatnik takes her on as a student and encourages her to use magic without hesitation… or concern for its consequences. [Use it to do what?] [Also, since when do high school students listen to any advice from an adult?]

 

Meanwhile, a moralizing serial killer is spring cleaning the occultism industry of anyone he deems unworthy, with Keket the only exception. [If he kills every occultist except Keket, the mortality rate of occultism will be approximately 100%.] [How do we know Keket is the only exception? Just because she hasn't been killed yet? Or has the killer informed her that she's not a target, and she believes him?] Tanya and the killer soon end up on a collision course and Keket is forced to decide: Is she willing to put her pacifism aside and her teammates at risk to clean up a mess she created, or [will she] turn a blind eye and preserve the life she worked so hard to cultivate? [Not clear how Keket created the mess. There seem to be two messes, one caused by the aging beatnik and the other by the serial killer.] 

 

THE ROOSTER SUTRA is an upmarket urban fantasy marrying Buddhist doctrine with drugs, sex, and violence [I give that marriage three weeks, tops.] from the alternating viewpoints of Tanya and Keket. It is complete at 97,000 words and will appeal to fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Dead Astronauts and N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.



[P.S. The title comes from roosters being a symbol of greed and desire in Buddhism, and also Tanya's hair is a red mohawk, so she looks kinda like a rooster. ]



Notes


First of all, a serial killer who's killing everyone in a certain profession should be the centerpiece of your query. Look how far it got Jack the Ripper. 


Up until the serial killer arrives, I have more questions than answers. Like what kind of missions do teams of occultists go on? Why do so many die? What did Keket do that almost killed Tanya? What is the job description of an occultist?


We know who's in your book but we don't know much of what happens. 


High school student Tanya Gallo wants to be an occultist, like her idol and mentor Keket Cheshire. Even when Kekel informs Tanya that a serial killer has been targeting occultists, Tanya still wants in. In fact she joins the team of occultists hunting the killer.


Something like that would be a way to start this off if it were what actually happens in your book, which it probably isn't, but you get the idea. 


Are all the occultists in the occultism industry in one city or even country? If not, this serial killer seems to have taken on an impossible task. Maybe we should narrow it down geographically.


The decision Kekel must make doesn't strike me as difficult. Ignore a serial killer while he continues killing and could be coming after you next, or engage temporarily in activities designed to neutralize him. I know what the Buddha would do.


Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Face-Lift 1412

Guess the Plot

The Wearable Wolf

1. Old Man Farragut has long had the hots for Red Riding Hood's Grandma, but she's more interested in bad boy types than a wuss like Farragut. Will he win her over when he shows up at her house in his wolf costume?

2. Susan was walking in the woods when she discovered a discarded wolf skin. Not thinking much of it she brought it home. Now some guy is knocking on her door saying he is now her husband. Can she get rid of him before he eats her out of house and home?

3. Being killed and skinned hasn't stopped Lyle from being a were or hitting on the ladies. Only now, instead of doing it in style, he's a fashion accessory. 

4. Suzee Swank -- star of the slopes and darling of the apres-ski scene -- never goes out without her signature wolf's-fur parka. Most people think it's a fashion statement, but in reality it's Suzee's sidekick, Wolfboy, who springs off her shoulders and into action whenever a criminal mastermind happens to turn up at a snowy resort or chalet -- which is surprisingly often. 

5. Joan Carson, consultant fashionista, is "The Wearable Wolf". If you can get her to dress you, admiring gasps will follow wherever you go. If you're a teenager trying to impress at the prom even though you don't have a date, or an aging star trying to recapture the adulation you can't live without, the Wearable Wolf's art is guaranteed to make your dreams come true. But -- is the lupine artist's price too high to pay?

6. While developing a nature exploration VR game, Tom Thompson becomes trapped inside his avatar, a gray wolf. What's worse, he's transported to a parallel world of talking animals, elemental fairies, and environmental exploitation, where he becomes the eco-avenger known as The Lupinator.

7. John Fourier has a problem. His invention, a wearable suit that harnesses the lunar cycle and gives humans werewolf powers, offends the actual werewolves of Boston. They've marked their territory, and it looks like there's going to be one heck of a dogfight.

8. River & Shield's fur-covered condom is designed to let your beast howl at the moon. When animal rights activist Guadalupe Blanc learns the fur isn’t synthetic, she and her ‘wolf pack’ break into the lab to free the wolves. But it seems other experiments are being conducted here...



Original Version

Dear [agent] 

I'm sending you this query for THE WEARABLE WOLF, with # of pages attached as requested by your guidelines.  I appreciate your time and effort in reviewing it. THE WEARABLE WOLF is a [paranormal thriller?] of about 115,000 words.  It is a standalone novel, although I have two more books in mind to follow it. [Lose the first two sentences, and put the other two at the end of the plot summary.] 

Graduate student John Fourier has plenty on his plate with classes in Transformations and Necroptics at an elite engineering institution.  He'd love to be able to harness the lunar cycle for small-scale practical magics, which he believes could have saved his younger sister from an early death.  But some of the city's werewolves are threatened and offended by what they see as John's meddling in their revered relationship with the Moon, and a few may be willing to kill him for it.  [Having looked ahead, I believe "John Fourier has plenty on his plate" works better as the start of the next paragraph, which lists a lot of stuff on his plate. In fact the two items on his plate in this paragraph (school and unhappy werewolves) are among the items listed in the next paragraph.]

There’s the Free City werewolf pack, who’ve transformed on the Boston Common since the Colonial era and prize their tradition above new technology.  There’s the Leominster Investment Group, who want to use John’s inventions to take power for themselves.  And then there’s the normal stressors of graduate school -- Necroptics Lab, keeping one’s advisor and one’s girlfriend happy at the same time, the varying tolerances of roommates, and finding enough to eat.  Over it all, the mysterious figure of the Laughing Dog, the goddess Coyote, watches and plays games of her own.  It’s almost enough to make one go back to architecture school, but John is a graduate student, and that means he's ready to take on any establishment to see his research through. 

I (PhD neuroscience, 1998) am a successful survivor of graduate school, and minored in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.  I have previously edited a college SFF literary magazine, published science fiction and fantasy poetry and short stories, and been an invited reader and panelist on topics lycanthropic at science-fiction conventions.  I have taught experimental design to wearable-technology engineers, practiced Aikido for decades, and several times prayed to the Moon. [I'd cut the bio down to this:

My PhD in neuroscience and my experience teaching experimental design to wearable-technology engineers brings credibility to the book's science. I have published science fiction and fantasy short stories and been an invited reader and panelist on topics lycanthropic at science-fiction conventions.]


Notes

Basically, your plot summary is a list of the obstacles your main character faces in his quest to . . . prevent early deaths while earning his degree? Rather than list obstacles, focus on the main one, which is that some werewolves don't want humans horning in on their act. That'll leave more room to tell us . . . what happens in the book. Here's a possible opening paragraph:


When John Fourier invented the "wearable wolf," a contraption that gives the wearer such werewolf powers as rapid healing and physical strength, he wanted to help people like his sister, Liz, who died too young. He had no idea his project would offend anyone, least of all the Free City werewolf pack, who've been transforming on the Boston Common since the Colonial era, and prize their tradition above new technology. And some of whom are willing to kill anyone who meddles in their revered relationship with the moon. 


Now there's room to switch to present tense and tell us about the leader of the opposition werewolves foiling John's plans by kidnapping his girlfriend and demanding he shelve his project and replace it with a wearable bat to give humans vampire powers. (Just a guess. Did I get it right?)

We do need to know what he's up against, but we also want to know what he does, what goes wrong, how he plans to deal with it.