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, 


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!


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. ]


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.]


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.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Face-Lift 1411

Guess the Plot

Byzantine Purple

1. Turkish bare knuckle boxer Muhmat “The Byzantine” Balkan is easy on the eyes, but his new uppercut is not.

2. Competitive ballroom dancer Viorel is entranced by the moves of a street woman in a purple dress. He’s desperate to make her his partner, but first he’ll need to convince his club to accept her. And before that . . . he’ll need to find her again.

3. When strange corpses appear with purple goo in their veins, Leudora realizes that the prophesies of her family's enemy, the notorious Dalmatian Serpent, are coming true, and if she doesn't act fast, all Byzantines will be exterminated. 

4. When fashion student Cassi Folter is transported back to ancient times she's more horrified by the clothes than the sanitation. Can she revolutionize the textile industry or will wearing the wrong color land her in prison? (And can she convince the jailers that style is always possible?)

5. The Byzantine Empire was once the Roman Empire just as Istanbul was once Constantinople. So Byzantine Purple must be about the dye from snails, right? Wait, what? The modern color? Robin's history report is about to get a creative spin when her time traveling adventure was about the wrong thing.

6. Fortune hunters from all over the world have long sought "Byzantine Purple," a fabled gemstone believed to have been owned by Constantine the Great. John Niedenaker is the latest. Intrigue ensues when his team crosses paths with seekers of the Maltese Falcon and the Ark of the Covenant and they all have to sort out their quirky native interpreters, intrepid girl-reporters, arch-villains, and other stock characters. As for John, he swaps away his brunette femme fatale for a ginger and goes off to find the Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

7. Kelly Mercado, chemist for struggling paint company Adore, is sent to Istanbul by new corporate consultant Leo Ione to join an archaeological dig to find inspiration for a color that can beat rival Heritage’s “Lost Atlantis”. Corporate espionage, a game of cat and mouse in the Grand Bazaar, romance, a prince and more!

Original Version 

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. 

The massacre she committed a decade ago was necessary. The death of her brilliant enemy, the Dalmatian Serpent, was unfortunate but inevitable. [I know nothing about the Dalmatian Serpent, but I feel confident there was nothing unfortunate about his death. Did he die in the massacre? Because when you stage a massacre, you have no right to complain that the death of your victims was unfortunate.] [I would call the Dalmatian Serpent's death necessary, rather than inevitable. Pretty much everyone's death is inevitable. Of course you've already called the massacre necessary, but I'm not convinced that it was. For instance, if she massacred everyone in some village because she knew the Dalmatian Serpent was there, she could have avoided the massacre by asking the villagers which house the Dalmatian Serpent was holed up in. I think you'll find that history books rarely (if ever) refer to massacres as necessary.] Only through violence could Leudora save the Veil. She will live with her guilty conscience for as long as the invisible barrier that shields civilization from madness remains intact. [Shouldn't that sentence be "She lived with her guilty conscience for as long as the invisible barrier that shields civilization from madness remained intact."? She "will live" implies that she currently lives with her guilty conscience, but you said the blood on her hands no longer troubles her.] Only it is no longer so. [Aha! Reinforcing my argument.]

Whenever parts of the Veil fade, strange corpses appear with purple goo in their veins. ["Goo" sounds somewhat childish. More mature synonyms include guck, goop, and gunk.] [Also, if the Veil is an invisible barrier, how can you tell if parts of it have faded? In other words, how do you know whether the fading caused the goo or the goo caused the fading? It's like a chicken/egg thing, except it's a Veil/goo thing.] Determined to stop the Veil’s decay and justify her past actions, [You mean justify massacring that entire village? Unjustifiable.] Leudora follows the bloody trail. [Is it a bloody trail or a gooey trail?] All the evidence that she uncovers confirms her worst fears: The Serpent was right in his theories. It is Leudora’s Byzantine kin that stands [who are] behind the Veil’s degradation. [That was his theory? That his enemy was to blame? You don't have to be brilliant to blame your enemy for everything that goes wrong. ] But Leudora knows one more truth. It will not take long for her family’s political opponents to connect the same dots. When they do, they will have a perfect excuse to exterminate not only her, but all Byzantines. [Do you really need an excuse to exterminate Byzantines?] Before that happens, Leudora will [must] find a way to restore the Veil, eliminate the murderers [That one's easy: massacre them.] and bury the Serpent’s research. [You keep calling him the Serpent. It's the Dalmatian Serpent.]

A disgraced scholar with an unsavory reputation, Leudora  [Whew, for a second I thought the plot summary was done and you were starting your bio.] seeks allies and knowledge. Potential allies want her to bring them to power and overthrow the unstable government. And knowledge remains hidden in the works of her defeated enemy. The deeper she delves into the Serpent’s secrets, the more Leudora finds herself drawn to his fascinating mind and dark science. If Leudora follows in his footsteps, her own people will turn against her. If she does not, the Veil will not endure, and her own demise will become the least of her problems. [I'm more interested in what will be the worst of her problems.]

Byzantine Purple is an adult fantasy set in an alternative version of Eastern Europe, told in multiple POVs, 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, 

[ The title alludes to the purple mantle traditionally worn by the Byzantine Emperors. ] [And here I thought it was the purple goo.] 


The plot summary is too long. And I find it difficult to follow, especially with all those blue words interrupting it. The connections between sentences don't seem obvious enough. I have to work to come up with guesses at how they're connected.

What are Leudora's kin doing that's causing the Veil to decay? Why don't they quit doing it? Is the solution to this threat somewhere in the Dalmatian Serpent's notes?

If I'm looking for someone to help bring me to power and overthrow the government, a disgraced scholar with an unsavory reputation won't be my first choice. I assumed Leudora was a political or military or rebel leader. Who is she?

Try the often-effective three-paragraph plot summary:

P1. Who's the main character, what's her goal, and what's her plan to achieve it.?

P2. What obstacles might prevent her from doing so, and what decision must she make to hopefully overcome the obstacles?

P3. What's at stake? What happens if she fails? What happens if she succeeds?

Limit the plot summary to ten sentences. We'll let you know if that improves it or not.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Q & A 196

What are your thoughts on writer’s retreats, workshops, and bootcamps? Commercial gimmick preying on the hopeful? Or legitimate programs?

The language on some of the websites sound like these workshops are on par with ivy league schools.  You have to pay just for the privilege of applying and then the programs run approx $4000-$5000 for 6 weeks.

Would an editor / agent be impressed that a writer was “accepted” to such a program? In your experience, do you see an elevation in quality from those who’ve attended? For example, can you always spot a ‘Clarion man’?

Do some programs carry more legitimacy than others? 

Also, can I get Evil Editor’s (and minions) thoughts on the highlighted portion below, taken from one workshop’s website?

Commercial gimmick preying on the hopeful? Or legitimate programs? As with everything from book publishers to snake oil salesmen to literary agencies to politicians, there are some of each.

$4000 a week for 6 weeks? Including room and board? I'd pay that much, skip all the classwork, and enjoy a 6-week vacation at about $100 a day. Beats staying at a luxury resort at $500 a night including only one meal, a breakfast bar with eggs that have been sitting there three hours.

Would an editor / agent be impressed that a writer was “accepted” to such a program? Only if it's an editor / agent who taught at the retreat you attended and was paid well. In your experience, do you see an elevation in quality from those who’ve attended? For example, can you always spot a ‘Clarion man’? If we're talking specifically about Clarion, that is not a commercial gimmick. It's intense and useful; I have that first-hand from a few people who attended, and the names of authors who've been on the faculty is impressive: http://clarion.ucsd.edu/clarions-distinguished-alumni-faculty/ Also, while I can't always spot a Clarion man, I can always spot a Clarion woman.

Yes some are better than others, and it makes sense to do some research.

As for what an adverb is and why you shouldn't use one, I know you've read Evil Editor's Why You Don't Get Published, vol. 2, article #4, but for those who haven't, here's a link to the original article on the EE blog: https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/26791026/3559145757560460699

Thursday, January 21, 2021

New Beginning 1091

Warm sunbeams touched open fields and wood fences in the village of Lambahvras. The river Pehm, sleepy in this stretch of its journey, flowed west along the southern edge of the village, sparkling in the morning rays. Spring ice; thin, clear, and delicate hugged the edges of the riverbank. In a rapid sequence of cracks, one piece broke free from the mainland and floated with the current for a few yards before becoming one with the river again. 

Up the northern slope of the riverbank, at the highest point, sat a weathered stone cottage, its windows set alight by the sun’s glow. Every sunrise, no matter the time, no matter the weather, no matter her health, Maska Rue Knottswood stepped outside her cottage’s red front door as she had done for the past seventy three years to take note of who failed to appear for Sungreet. 

 Sunlight may have brightened the scenery, but Rue still felt the spring chill in her thin-skinned hands and in the stone beneath her thin soled slippers. Her shrewd eyes noted with glee that Meadow struggled to coax her young son Thaw through the door of their house. 

It was a different story with Sky and her four boys. The oldest, Volcano, erupted from the house on a dead run, trampling the brittle grasses that had struggled to survive in the frozen yard. Thunderhead moved more slowly, brooding with his dark eyes downcast and his hands in the pockets of his worn trousers. The youngest, Whirlwind, zoomed in random circles while making odd humming noises that unsettled their two skinny goats. There was something wrong with that boy, thought Rue, although for all his oddness he seemed happy enough. But where was Downpour? It wasn't like him to be late for Sungreet. Oh, wait, there he was, stepping out from behind a newly dampened tree, hitching up his britches.

Opening: Amanda Barrett.....Continuation: JRMosher

Friday, January 08, 2021

Feedback Request

Guess the Plot 


1. Domino!—Is it a pizza? A board game? A bag of sugar? Super-sleuth Van Morrison claims he's solved the mystery. But will anyone listen? 

2. During a worldwide pandemic, aging superhero Carnival Cavalry tries to popularize stylish two-piece masks. 

3. Five year old Timmy Topple receives a hand-carved ebony domino for his birthday. He loves to stand it up, tip it slightly, and hear the solitary satisfying click when it falls. Next year and every year, his father promises, he will get another. So begins his quest for immortality in a story spanning centuries of (set them) ups and (knock them) downs. 

4. The fields, homes, and shops of Omendios are being destroyed by monolithic obelisks guarded by screaming apes with clubs! The people fear there are more obelisks than they can hope to defeat, but pizza deliveryman Dom Donovan knows if he can topple just one of them, the rest will follow. 

5. When a set of diamond encrusted ivory dominoes goes missing, Detective Zack Martinez knows two things. He needs to solve the case in time to get to his anniversary dinner; and if he doesn't, his marriage will collapse like a . . .  house of cards. 

 6. At the pizza chain’s masquerade ball, Alex's flirtations with Jael blossom into an office romance. She dismisses his enthusiasm for the new organic red sauce as career ambition. At their wedding, when Jael hisses and burns beneath the priest’s blessings, Alex questions how well she really knows him.

7. Sent to a military boarding school by a mother who thinks he's too fickle, Bali experiences one unfortunate event after another, leading to another, until he decides he must run away. Or maybe he should stay. If only he could make up his mind.

[The following is a revision of the query that appeared in Face-Lift 1381. As the book now has a different title, I figured a new Guess the Plot was in order.]

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor, 

At the military boarding school in Haldwani, India, clandestine corporal punishments from the Senior Cadets is accepted as a rite of passage by the juniors. The tall ideals of the old boys have fallen. The seniors rule with an iron-fist with strange codes that either broken or followed, [, enforcing barbaric rules designed to] destroy the juniors. ["Destroy" seems like too strong a word, considering that the seniors were presumably juniors last year, and survived to become seniors. Perhaps "break" or "humiliate"?] while the juniors have no free will. 

When fractious thirteen-year-old Bali Zutshi arrives with the new batch, no one thinks he will survive his first term. Not his House Captain, who makes him endure rigorous training for the coveted Boxing Cup he wants no part of. Not his belligerent cadet guardian, who makes him his errand mule and keeps him on a leash. Not his House Master, who passively watches him suffer from a distance. Maybe not even his single mother, who sent him here to make him a man. [She sent him here thinking he might not survive?] 

Then one day an anonymous letter blows the lid on [off] the culture of corporal punishments handed down from senior to junior under the garb [guise] of tradition. As the administration leads the investigation - [,] the Senior Cadets begin their search for the whistle-blower. Their suspicion? Bali Zutshi. Unsettled, erratic, and homesick. 

Bali has two choices. Run away from school but confirm her [his] mother’s deepest fears about his fickle nature. [Did she send him here to make him a man, or because he was too fickle? I suppose she could believe no fickle child could ever become a real man unless he spent years at a military boarding school.] Or stand up for himself, clear his name and prove that he belongs. [Belongs to what? The seniors? If he clears his name, he's still a junior and subject to being "punished."]  [If seniors doling out corporal punishment to juniors is a bad thing, then the whistleblower is on the right side of this issue. If Bali wants to prove he belongs with those who want the tradition to continue, I'd rather read your book about the whistleblower.] 

When he finds support from unexpected quarters, he begins to see the unraveling of the lost virtues of the culture that once made the school great. Greater forces are at play and Bali must connect the dots to survive the churn. Justice awaits, but the price is heavy. [This whole paragraph is vague. With a lot more specificity it might suggest Bali is finally coming around.] 

DOMINO (~89,000 words) is a coming-of-age story grounded in the harsh realities of a military boarding school in India. I survived five years in one to write this story. 

I am a Marketing Professional. This is my debut novel. I took a sabbatical to complete it. I also have a popular Instagram Page with more than 10,000 followers and growing where I post my own original short stories once a month. 

Would you like to see more of the book? 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 


[Regarding the Title: The title derives its name from how a trifling catalytic incident snowballs into a series of unfortunate events in the story.] [It snowballs like a line of dominoes.]  [The incident and it's aftermath might make for a more interesting plot summary, replacing the list of people who don't think Bali will make it.]


I don't see how this tradition could have lasted so long without the administration knowing about it, if only because some members of the administration probably attended the school.

Making the juniors train for a boxing match and run errands for you don't strike me as the extreme hazing described as "corporal punishment." It's more like the rookies on a football team being made to carry the veterans' equipment bags. Are the juniors being brutalized?

Bali is a junior at the age of 13? Does that mean they graduate at age 14? Or are there levels higher than senior? You said you went to one for five years. Was that ages 10 - 14? If Bali isn't a junior, why are the seniors bullying him? 

There are some improvements over the first version (That Bali was suspected of being the whistleblower seems important, though there was no mention of a whistleblower in Face-Lift 1381), but overall, I don't think it's better. Perhaps third time will be the charm.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Q & A 195

Are comparison titles really necessary? I understand the point of listing comparison titles in a query, but not how to identify a good one correctly. If I list a title that anyone's ever heard of the agent/ editor will roll their eyes at the audacity of comparing my work to something successful. Or they'll roll their eyes because the titles don't qualify as true comparisons -- out of date, different genre, wrong medium etc. Or their eyes will roll because the comparison title is so obscure as to be meaningless. 

And I know you're going to tell me to toddle off to a bookstore and see what all the other new, exciting, published authors in my genre are doing. 

But if I have to pull books off of the shelf and look at all the smiling faces of new authors who got published (and probably at a younger age than me), my rampant insecurity will flare up. I'll seethe with jealousy and become so discouraged that I'll scrap the project for another ten years. I'll never get a query letter sent in at this rate. 

Do I really have to include comps? And if so, how do I identify the right ones?

You've caught on admirably to the beauty of the literary agent's game plan. Asking for comps is nothing more than creating another reason to reject you. For example:

You: My book will remind you of The da Vinci Code.

Agent: I hated The da Vinci Code.

There's no need to include comps if an agent hasn't requested them. But let's assume you've decided the perfect agent for you is one who has requested comps. (This is probably an agent who demands you query using Query Manager, because they know if they send you to Query Manager you'll start filling out the form and give up halfway through and they won't have to deal with you. An agent who uses Query Manager has lots of free time for long lunches. I would use Query Manager if I were an agent.)

I don't recommend toddling to the bookstore if your purpose is to find, as comps, titles of books you haven't read. It would be embarrassing to meet your prospective agent for lunch and she says, "How did you feel when the train crashed in The Girl on the Train?" and:

You: It was so unexpected. And sad. I almost cried. 

Agent: Aha! There was no train crash in The Girl on the Train. My offer to represent you is rescinded.

When an agent asks you what titles compare with your book, they're really saying that if you've written something so original and groundbreaking that nothing like it has ever been seen before, they want nothing to do with it.