Friday, July 30, 2021

New Beginning 1097

It was pizza day and there was an uproar in the Cafeteria because the only topping available was pineapple and anchovy. The trainees declared it a tragedy––pizza was the only thing they had to look forward to––while the more experienced caseworkers picked flecks of fish and soggy fruit off their slices and silently cursed the kitchen staff. Amelia Morgenthal alone was unmoved; she’d never really understood the appeal of pizza. 

She sped past the Cafeteria and through the halls, hiding her face in a file. She didn’t think she could bear one more unnecessary question or inane comment, yet she’d have to, since she still had eight more practice sessions to lead today and in decades of doing this job she knew that trainees were never prepared for their first assignment. 

Amelia darted into the relative safely to her cubicle. High-stepping over boxes, she angled herself around the desk, knocking a few loose files onto the floor. She bent to retrieve them and something caught her eye. 

There was a present on the seat of her armchair, wrapped with smudged printer paper and tied with an incongruous purple ribbon. It was obviously from Tad. Amelia rolled her eyes. When will he learn that this crap doesn’t work on me? 

She wanted to toss it straight into the wastebasket, but Tad was her boss and Amelia knew he’d come fishing for a thank you later. The package was heavier than expected. She tugged the ribbon and the paper fell away, revealing a snowglobe. Iridescent flakes settled around a grey plastic mountain; at its peak was a little man, raising his arms in victory. Painted along the bottom in a bright yellow script were the words, ‘You can do it!’ 

Amelia frowned. Why had Tad given her this thing?

She decided she'd just have to go ask him.

Taking the quick route through the cafeteria, Amelia picked up a couple of slices of pizza. A thank you gift in return couldn't hurt, and Tad never turned down a slice, though maybe it wouldn't hurt him to miss a meal...

Tad's office was clean and tidy. No books or boxes on the floor, no papers strewn around. Just today's newspaper in the center of the desk. As she surveyed the privileges of being in charge, a noise in the doorway caused her to turn around.

"Oh," Amelia said. It was Tad's secretary. "I was looking for..."

"Sorry," the woman replied. "You just missed him. He's out until next Thursday."

As the secretary bustled away, Amelia took another look around and shrugged. Oh, well -- a gift is a gift. She wrapped the pizza slices in a sheet from the newspaper and left in on his chair.

Opening: Rachel D'Erminio.....Continuation: ril

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Face-Lift 1418

Guess the Plot


1. When adventurer Amelia dies near the summit of Mount Everest, she finds herself in her own personal hell: holding down a tedious office job on the production staff of the afterlife's most popular reality show, Romance Live Stream.

2. After foxy Wendy Fitz says she'll never date Bill "One-Up" Stetson, he tells her she'll never forget him. The fates conspire against them both with experimental magic, mad science, and multiverse time travel to prove them wrong. And right.

3. The latest rumor in Hell is that whoever climbs the highest mountain, Neverest, can escape to purgatory and finally find some rest. Is it true or simply the latest diabolical torture? Mountain climber Sid Shanks is about to find out.

4. Asked by his teacher for an example of an adjective along with its comparative and superlative forms, Joey replies, "never, neverer, neverest. She compliments his answer profusely, rather than risk he'll murder her after class. Just another day in the Newark school system.

5. It had always been Marion's dream to scale Everest, but when she gets halfway up  and sees the mess of garbage and frozen corpses cluttering the once-pristine mountain, she turns back and starts a Go-Fund-Me project to raise money for trash bags, body bags, and a community cleanup project.

6. In a parallel universe, climbing Neverest is the goal of the most daring mountaineers, not because of its height so much as because it's crawling with abominable snowmen who will stop at nothing to protect their home from interloping humans.

Original Version

NEVEREST is a gender bent reimagining of Dante’s Purgatorio, complete at 100,000 words. Like Olympus, Texas it is inspired by literature and weaves together a narrative through the eyes of multiple characters; like The Good Place, it explores a dysfunctional afterlife and uses satire to question the status quo. [Or, to put it more succinctly, Neverest is a combination of an 800-year old poem no one has read, a novel(la) no one's had time to read because it just came out in May, and a TV sitcom.] 

Amelia Morgenthal had a distinguished life: daughter of a billionaire, an adventurer and mountaineer [Wait, she had three parents?]––until she died near the summit of Mount Everest. [I don't see "distinguished" as descriptive of  the life of a mountaineer, adventurer, or billionaire's daughter. If we just go with adventurer and mountaineer, you could call her life rip-roaring or electrifying or stimulating. Having peeked ahead, and seen that her parents and her finances are never mentioned again, I think we can leave out the billionaire's daughter line. Which leaves us with: Adventurer and mountaineer Amelia Morgenthal led an electrifying life––until she died near the summit of Mount Everest.] In the afterlife, she’s a failure, stuck for decades as a caseworker in the Life Imbalance Modification and Betterment Office. [I deleted the failure part because I suspect she did a good job as a caseworker, despite finding the work tedious. ] [It might be better to say she's stuck for decades in LIMBO--the Life Imbalance etc....]  Just when she thought nothing could get worse, a routine New Soul Intake goes awry. Rosealie Durante arrives screaming, and in a fit of frustration, Amelia erases the young woman’s memories of her last day, hoping to shut her up. [If you want us to sympathize with Amelia, "hoping to ease her transition (or her mind) would be better than hoping to shut her up.] The shortcut is a mistake; Amelia has unwittingly interfered with The Colloquium’s favorite cosmic reality show––Romance Live Stream #1.  [It sounds like Rosealie is in the fit of frustration until I examine the punctuation carefully. To keep it clear, you could try: Rosealie Durante arrives screaming in terror (or anger or whatever). In a fit of frustration, Amelia erases the young woman’s memories of her last day, hoping to shut her up, but unwittingly interfering with The Colloquium’s favorite cosmic reality show––Romance Live Stream #1.] [Also, the TV show needs a catchier title. Love Eternal or Match Made in Heaven or Paradise by the Deathbed Light.]    

The Colloquium, a mysterious collection of souls who influence life on Earth, demands that Amelia tend to Rosealie while waiting for the other half of her fated bond, Max Lieberman. There’s just one small problem: Amelia erased a long-awaited reconciliation between the two. So when Max arrives ready to resume his relationship with Rosealie, he is promptly rejected, and Amelia must get the two wayward lovers back together.  [You know, if you spell her name Rosalie, Blogger's spell check won't keep underlining it in red.]

The more Amelia discovers about the couple and their past lives, the more she is convinced that they deserve to be free from The Colloquium’s voyeuristic gaze and each other. Rosealie becomes the one person who makes Amelia feel seen, and Amelia decides she cannot betray her new friend, [It would be a betrayal to get her back together with the man she just chose to get back together with? So the colloquium was behind their reconciliation?] even if it means giving up on freedom. [Not sure what that means. Is Amelia a prisoner? Or does she get to do things on the weekend and holidays, like watch Romance Live Stream #1 and go to harp concerts?] She confesses everything to Rosealie and the women form a plan to escape, [From where to where? Wait, do they climb through the seven levels of Colloquia?] but The Colloquium has a secret weapon––Max––and they are willing to do anything to keep their beloved show running. [The show got along fine before Rosealie died, why won't it get along without her now?] [Is Max a secret weapon because he's working with the Colloquium? Or are they just threatening him if Rosealie doesn't take him back?]


Despite all the blue words, it's not bad, in that it's organized and has some specificity. But it inspires a lot of questions about the plot, which should be avoided unless you want to answer them in the query.

Is it really a reality show if the Colloquium can demand that the plot progress exactly as they want it to? The Bachelor season doesn't end immediately if the bachelor doesn't give a rose to the woman the producers wanted him to end up with.

If you die, and find yourself in a job as a caseworker who investigates the past lives of new arrivals in the afterlife, and you believe nothing could get worse, I have no sympathy for you. That job sounds fascinating. I can think of lots of worse stuff, much of it described in detail in Dante's Purgatorio

Speaking of which, I don't think calling your novel a reimagining of Dante’s Purgatorio in your first sentence is going to entice a lot of people to venture into your second sentence. If your book is light, like The Good Place, You don't want to compare it to something really heavy. And I'd put the first paragraph at the end of the plot summary. 

Popular works (among hundreds) that mix afterlife with reality: Good Omens, American Gods, Heaven Can Wait, half the seasons of Supernatural. Your book may have a similar tone to one of these.

Because most of the plot takes place after the Everest tragedy, and in another world, the title comes across as an attempt to be clever or cute or funny. Doesn't work for me.

Friday, April 30, 2021

New Beginning 1096

Alexis guided the cursor over her favorite words. After ten hours in her cubicle, the phrase “Sign Out” was better than any other two words in the English language including “free shipping” and “new episodes”. It was even better than her favorite three word phrase: “number two combo”. 

She clicked the button. Instead of turning grey, it remained green. Alarmed, Alexis clicked the mouse again and again. No please God not now, not this! 

Too late. Cheerful music blared in her ears. Alexis knew it would be an insult to war veterans and trauma survivors everywhere to suggest that the upbeat tone ‘triggered’ her, but the anxiety that overcame her was real. That zippy ditty meant that someone, somewhere, was angry and about to take it out on her. She would have to absorb that anger, make it a part of her, reshape it, paste a smile on it, and hand it back. 

“Thank you for contacting Smiletronics,” she answered. “My name’s Alexis, could I get your name please?” 

“June 24th, 2011,” the woman on the phone began.

"A date that will live in infamy?" Alexis guessed.

"The day a SWAT team broke down my front door, killed my four children and my husband, and then realized it was the house across the street they were supposed to be raiding. I happened to be at the grocery store."

"On the bright side," Alexis said, "I assume you only had to attend one funeral for all five victims. I hate going to funerals, don't you? So depressing. I remember when my great grandmother died, she was 98 and bedridden, and I had to go out and buy a black dress, which is not my best color, and which I've never worn again because on the way home from the funeral I stopped at Wendy's for the number two combo and spilled grease on the front. My best color is turquoise, which goes well with my light brown hair. Although I could have colored my hair to match the black dress, but then I'd have had to buy new shoes. Any--"


Opening: Amanda Barrett.....Continuation: Evil Editor

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Face-Lift 1417

Guess the Plot

Monsters Like Us

1. That's right, they really do. We sell out every show and have wild parties afterwards that leave them in a drunken stupor, the perfect condition to be snatched up and sold. And if their friends and relatives don't like it, well, they should have paid us what we agreed on. 

2. Crying babies with leaky diapers. Screaming toddlers who bite. Surly teenagers. The stuff of nightmares that we, as parents, have created in our own image. What the hell have we done, and more importantly, can we ever be stopped? 

3. Police. Republicans. Old white men. The Swiss. Mimes. Editors. They may look like us, but they're evil. And they're coming for us.

4. The year is 3011 and the metropolis infrastructure is crumbling. The old sewers can't keep up with the explosive waste. A sub-race of humans, disfigured and discolored, adapted long ago to high levels of pollution. Will they agree to clean the pipes of their oppressors? Or will they unionize first?

5. A behind-the-scenes history of Japan's Toho Studios, with special emphasis on the violent jealousies that arose between the little men in the rubber suits that threatened to tear the company asunder as thoroughly as Godzilla and Ghidorah devastated Tokyo. 

6. When Matt hides the crate of experimental opiates he found, he doesn't expect to become the target of the CIA, a major drug cartel, and foreign agents. Lucky for him he knows Taekwondo.

7. In a secret underground lab, Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman perform terrifying experiments on potatoes, glue, eggs, and other common household items in this science book for kids. Includes a fun pronunciation guide by the evil Doctor Dihydrogen Monoxide.

8. No one knows where they came from. They started cutting down trees, polluting our rivers, and destroying the land. These humans.

9. Calista Kalspar's life is turned upside down when she learns she is a half breed of the race of the mucus-oozing creatures her parents have devoted their lives to hunting. Hunting to prove the existence of, that is.

Original Version

Dear highly personalized agent 

Matt grew up tough in his opioid ravaged Appalachian town. When his high school sweetheart dies of a fentanyl-laced overdose, he kills the dealers involved. Feeling guilty for taking the law into his own hands [(and worried that it might be illegal to murder a bunch of guys)], he vanishes to a quiet life in Los Angeles where he teaches kids at the local Taekwondo school. [When people in LA want a quiet life, they move to West Virginia. West Virginians move to North Dakota.] 

That’s until [Then] a crate parachutes onto the path of his mountain bike ride. Matt swore he wouldn’t get involved again but no ordinary drug shipment comes with serial numbers and expiration dates. [Actually, that's how ordinary drug shipments do come. It's the parachuting part that makes this shipment suspicious.] With his past, he doesn’t dare involve the police, so he hides the drugs on the mountain while taking [and takes] a bag to get tested. If they’re standard street fare, he’ll anonymously notify law enforcement and return to his law-abiding, if boring, life. [But if they're the really good stuff, well, let's just say he'll have a lifetime supply.]

Only the CIA, who developed the drug at a secret facility in South America, is sending in a team after the test results activate a government tripwire. The cartel who stole it is close behind. [After the test results activate a government tripwire, the CIA, who developed the drug at a secret facility in South America, sends in a team. The cartel who stole the crate is close behind.] And the foreign agency manipulating everyone is planning to discredit the CIA by using their own drug to fuel a new wave of addicts. [Manipulating the CIA I can buy, but just trying to manipulate a drug cartel is asking for trouble.] 

If Matt was a cautious man, he’d run as fast as he can. But a cautious man wouldn’t have killed those dealers ten long years ago, and there’s no way he’ll let more kids die. [Also, once a vigilante, always a vigilante.] 

 Monsters Like Us is a 115,000 word suspense novel.


Not clear why Matt has to determine whether the drugs are standard street fare before he anonymously alerts the police. And if he does need the test results first, it would be hard to stay anonymous while taking a bag of drugs to some laboratory, requesting it be tested, and 
asking to be notified when the testing is complete.

Matt's goal is to prevent more kids from dying. Presumably that means from getting their hands on these drugs, and not that Matt wants to take down the cartel and the CIA. Obviously he doesn't want the drugs going to the cartel or the foreign agency. Probably not the CIA either, as their use of a secret lab in South America suggests they're up to no good, as usual. The police aren't much more trustworthy, but since Matt was planning to notify them anyway, if the drugs were street fare, he could just FedEx them the crate. Or he could just destroy the drugs himself after Googling "How to destroy drugs safely."

You'd think the cartel would've had people waiting and watching for the parachute. Guys with binoculars and machine guns.

If you can answer or prevent some of the questions I've brought up, it will help.

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.] 


"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? 



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.]


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, 


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?