Friday, July 08, 2022

Face-Lift 1427

Guess the Plot

Reign of Jaeger

1. With John and George dead, and Paul and Ringo diminished, the time has come at last for the . . . Reign of Jaeger.

2. Jaeger's kingdom was taken over before he ascended the throne. He's been living in exile in a small village ever since. He does plan on ousting the invaders. After the harvest, the barn raising, the baking tournament, the . . .

3. Jaeger backstabbed, assassinated, and bribed his way to the throne. War on the border? Starving citizens? Revolt? He's got his hands full making sure he looks his best for audiences and no one else is trying his methods. Oh, and the local rat catcher.

4. When humanity left the planet Volnura, they left behind their robots. Now Jaeger, the robots' head honcho, is on a quest to lead his fellow mechanical people to the spirit world, where all knowledge is stored. For knowledge is power.

5. May 25 to June 7, 1981, French Open. Mixed Doubles. That was it.

6. Jaeger dies without an heir the night before he's supposed to ascend to the throne. Rather than admit the fact and plunge the already war-ravaged country back into chaos, several upper level ministers decide to fake his life and reign. They've got the trickster god on their side, sort of. But if any of the others find out, another civil war will be the least of their problems.

7. Historians call him the worst king of Bohemia, but I've written a book about him because who wants to read a book about a good king? Unfortunately, I don't know much about him, but you can assume there was corruption and torture and starvation. Those are the only specifics I have for the query. More in the book.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,


JAEGER is steel. [Cool. Is he a Battlebot? I used to love that show. My favorite battle was the one where a guy attached a rake to his battlebot so . . . well you can watch it here.] A remnant of Mann, the ancients who once gripped Volnura, bending even nature to their will. But city-sized craters and poisoned lands speak of their brutal exodus, and Jaeger's mechanized people litter their ruins. Oblivious and abandoned, Jaeger unites with another droyde, [Short for androyde.] NOVA, and the two vow to discover the truth behind their existence, by way of the scholar or the sword. [This sounds like the plot of the next Star Wars movie, in which the rebels and the Empire have wiped each other out and R2D2 and C3PO are the only characters left, so they change their names and seek their origin story. If you tell me they eventually reign over the universe, I'm on board.] [I'm not that clear on what Mann is. Some ancient race or civilization on the planet Volnura? And you call it Mann? Did you think putting an extra "n" on Man would fool us? I mean, it's still pronounced the same as Man. People who buy the audio book will think it's Man. Change it. Or get rid of it and just go with Volnura. Is Volnura a planet? A country on future Earth?] [Did the ancients give all their robots names, or did the robots come from the factory already named?]


After losing a convoy to the benyne marauders, [who are, apparently, anything but benign,] Jaeger reunites with his seaside gang after fighting for his freedom in the 'Pit'. [It's called the Battlebox.] [Are the marauders and the gang all mechanized? Are there humans in this book?] He convinces the ringleaders with false tales of a spell that will lead the [them] [Or him or her, depending on which pronouns you favor.] to the 'Atlas', the map to Mannic riches they seek in the mountains. After they free Nova in a breakout, [Free Nova from what?/whom?] the two turn from expendable hired swords to magical wayfinders. But the Atlas, a derelict Mannic spire, will not lead to riches. It will give them the answers to humanity's catastrophe. [Aha! Humanity! So there are or used to be humans in this place.] And Jaeger has to hide that for as long as possible. 

[Jaeger: You know that thing I said was a map leading to riches? It's actually a derelict spire, not leading to riches. 
Ringleader: Before we destroy you, what the hell is a derelict spire?]

[Who started this new trend of titling each paragraph in a query?]

But the expedition takes on an unwelcome guest. To death and decay, Kyatt has pledged his worship. Tasked with bringing riches to Jord, Daughter of the Night, he partners with IAJINN to usurp the gang. [Kyatt, Jord, and Iajinn are all unwelcome guests . . .  in the query.] When Kyatt's prying ears hear of an imminent expedition to Mannic riches, plans quickly change. Jaeger and Nova are given a warning: When the mutiny happens, make sure you're on the right side.


Mann has left dark footprints within Volnuran history, and time has kept them secret. A spirit world awaits, where all of humanity's knowledge has been stored. [You don't need a spirit world to store all of humanity's knowledge. You can store it in one iPhone.] And its creator is keen to tell Jaeger who is returning. [If only the creator of this book were keen to tell us who is returning.]

REIGN OF JAEGER is a genre-bending science fantasy novel sitting at 83,000 words. It has a story similar to ETERNITY ROAD by Jack McDevitt, and HORIZON ZERO DAWN. I am fully committed to making a career out of storytelling, and I've made great efforts to fulfil this dream. I work part-time as a freelance editor, working on other manuscripts for a fee on Fiverr. I also did ghost-writing for some time at The Urban Writers.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration, and I hope to hear back from you soon.

Kind regards,


Would Data and C3PO win a doubles tennis match against Nova and Jaeger?

It's not clear why someone says no mother could spawn such a curse. Jaeger's your hero. Plenty of mothers have spawned curses worse than Jaeger.

The tone and vocabulary seem a bit heavy. Is the whole book written in this tone? It might be better to lighten up.

Is this your plot? 

Humanity reached the stars, set up shop on Volnura, and proceeded to ruin the place. They then took off, leaving behind all their mechanical people, and some marauders and gangs, who may be human or mechanical. Two of these mechanical droydes, Jaeger and Nova, go on a quest to learn about their origins and the history of Volnura. Even though they know nothing about their history, they somehow know that the answers they seek are contained in something called a derelict Mannic spire. They trick some gang members into helping them find the derelict spire by telling them it contains a treasure map. Even though treasure is of no use on this dead planet, the gang members go along, planning to kill Jaeger and Nova once the spire is found. What they don't know is that humanity is on their way back to rescue their beloved robots. 

You need something about halfway between your version and mine.

A standard plan of attack is to address these questions:

1. Who's your main character, what does he want, and what's his plan to get it?

2. What obstacles does he face in his quest to reach his goal (choose the main one)? What's his plan to overcome this obstacle?

3. What will happen if he fails? What will happen if he succeeds? What big decision must he make that will determine whether he succeeds?

#3 is a problem here. You haven't convinced me to care whether a robot finds out where he came from. Is Jaeger the leader of all the mechanized people? Is he hoping to lead his droydes into a new age of sentience and human-like civilization? Is he trying to reach the spirit world where all robots become human?

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Face-Lift 1426

Guess the Plot

The Two Kinds of Magic

1. "Magic Carpet Ride," by Steppenwolf, and "Magic Man," by Heart. They're different.

2. Crazed sorcerers battle over the relevance of the definitive article before blasting themselves to shit with the exotic pyromantic devilry only the 17,276,187 have the expertise to muster.

3. There's the magic that's all unicorns and rainbows and pixie dust. Then there's the magic that's blood, bones, and dead-flesh-eating maggots--much more useful for a surgeon. Unfortunately for Nevern, the Inquisition doesn't see it that way, but fortunately, the neighboring warlord is a more understanding sort, even if he does indulge in necromancy and keep malicious dragons as pets.

4. Magician Antonio Sciarra can only attain the unlimited power he covets by killing Delany Riordan. And her only hope of thwarting him is to become a magician herself, before he succeeds. Will bad guy magic triumph over good girl magic?

5. There's the kind Samantha did on Bewitched. And there's the kind Lord Voldemort did in Harry Potter. Personally, I'd rather watch Bewitched, but only the ones with the original Darren.

6. Miles Estamini is an up-and-coming cynical stage magician who knows all the tricks. Martha Smith believes in true love. When these two non-compatible belief systems are thrust into a fantasy world where words, gestures, and beliefs have very tangible physical results, will they end up allies or squabble over who's the real evil overlord?

Original Version

After years of believing that magic is mere delusion, Delany Riordan finds out that magic is real—and dangerous [when she reads about Roy of Siegfried and Roy getting mauled by his tiger]. [I have seen magic shows on stage and TV, and in most cases I have no idea how they do that stuff. It has to be real magic. People like David Copperfield and Shin Lim would've been burned at the stake if they did their acts centuries ago. And rightly so. So, did Delany witness real magic, and assume it was all done with mirrors and sleight of hand? Or does she assume magic isn't real because she's never witnessed real or fake magic?] 

When Delany’s mother turns up drowned in a hotel swimming pool, Delany assumes that’s the last she’ll hear about magicians and secret societies. [Why? Was her mother the only one who ever talked about magicians?] Then Sebastian James arrives to protect her from Antonio Sciarra, the magician who killed her mother. [No way would Antonio Sciarra have drowned Delany's mom in a pool. He'd have drowned her in one of those tanks that magicians get lowered into upside down while wearing a straitjacket.] 

There’s no more room for doubt after Sebastian performs the impossible right in front of her. [He saws a woman in half, and restores her, then pulls a rabbit out of a hat.] Delany agrees to become his apprentice and learn all she never knew about the hidden world of magic, [No magician would reveal how they do it. Except . . . is Sebastian the Masked Magician?] where a mirror can become a passageway and a piece of paper can become a weapon. [Seriously, is anything worse than a paper cut?] 

She’ll need to learn quickly.  Sciarra needs Delany’s death in order to gain unlimited power, and is prepared to muster all his forces to obtain it. [What's so special about Delany that it's her death Sciarra needs? And what are these forces he's prepared to muster?] And with each strike, he’s getting closer... [How many times has he struck already, and why didn't he muster his forces those times?]

THE TWO KINDS OF MAGIC is a 70,000 word urban fantasy with romantic elements. [Sciarra casts a spell that makes Delany fall in love with him.]  I have a Creative Writing degree from Emory University and my short story, “Home”, will be in the upcoming anthology The Forever Inn.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


So are the two kinds of magic real magic like Penn & Teller do vs. fictional magic like Doctor Strange does? Or good magic that saves lives vs. evil magic that brings unlimited power?

We need to know who Delany is. Obviously she isn't some random person who inexplicably happens to be the key to Sciarra taking over the world. Is she the daughter of Glenda, the good witch of the north? How old is she?

It seems like a magician who's on the verge of becoming all-powerful wouldn't keep failing when he attempts to kill this girl or woman before she has developed her powers. He didn't have any trouble killing her mother. Does Sebastian keep saving her, or does she use her wits? You don't want your main character, a female, to depend on a man to keep rescuing her. 

Is it a coincidence that Delany Riordan is an anagram of "ornery Aladdin"? Consider calling the villain Aladdin instead of Sciarra, which is the name of a Bond villain, though not as well-known a Bond villain as Blofeld or Goldfinger (and his first name was Marco instead of Antonio). Anyway, you wouldn't do a superhero comic book and name the main villain Rex Luthor.

Tell us what happens in the book, not just who's in it and what the situation is. What's the Delany/Sebastian plan to defeat Sciarra? What goes wrong? What will happen if they fail (besides Delany dying). Like what is Sciarra's goal after he has unlimited power? 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Feedback Request

 The author of the opening featured in New Beginning 1072 and 1074 would like feedback on the following alternative opening.

The salt that gave the Blood Flats their color made them near-impossible to farm. They also flooded with seawater on occasion, and the small collective of which I was a part would need to migrate to the forest. However, the Blood Flats did have their uses; the barrenness of the land provided excellent visibility, the priests had to walk for several days to bring us supplies, [Why is that an advantage?] and there were a few caves and unpolluted springs. Best of all, some of the rock could be poisonous. [Almost everything on that list could be seen as disadvantages of the Blood Flats.] Unfortunately, we were having difficulty getting small enough pieces to make into weapons.

We had rope, woven from the few tough grasses that grew in the less toxic parts of the Blood Flats. It was great for mundane use, but would not stand up long to the Dragon Warlord. Wood had a similar problem. Our only hope of defeating the Dragon Warlord lay in stone, and our combined talents. [Basically, straw didn't work, sticks didn't work, so they went with stone. This is the plot of The Three Little Pigs.] [Which, I now discover, I pointed out in my notes about New Beginning 1074.]

Soon, the Dragon Warlord would need to eat. We were running out of time. [Wait, the Dragon Warlord is an actual dragon? That would be clearer if you referred to it as "the dragon."] [Also, I now have less respect for their intelligence if they thought rope could defeat a fire-breathing dragon.] Han, trying to pick up a boulder, collapsed. [If I can't tell by looking at it that I won't be able to lift a boulder, I know within one second of trying. I don't grunt and sweat and throw out my back.] He had been using Hope to work harder than anyone else, not quite believing that the glowing blue leaves could be deadly. [He was told Hope was deadly, but didn't believe it? So he decided to test the theory by lifting boulders? They're all morons, but Han is the king of the morons.]

Vole, the half-priest, took over the watch at the end of the day. [Vole? Wait, are these talking animals? And the Dragon Warlord is a Komodo Dragon? Suddenly I love this. If they're people, change them to animals.] Many people didn’t quite trust him, but he was the only one who could tell when the priests were sending out the Dragon Warlord. [So the priests are villains? And the half-priest might not be?] He would be on night watch until the Dragon Warlord had eaten. I fell into an uneasy sleep wondering who would be next. We would not be ready in time to save them. 

I woke up suddenly, lying completely still and straining my senses for any hint of what had woken me. Another tap came at the entrance. Jumping up, I sprinted over to yank at the spot in the pulley system that would quickly pull the entrance-stone away. [
If they all get into the cave that has an entrance stone that can only be moved by the pulley system, they should be safe.] Vole was standing outside, looking guilty. His strange eye mirrored that of the Dragon Warlord and the scar that went through it twisted half his face into a permanent grin.


I'm afraid I don't see that significant changes have been made since you submitted the version in New Beginning 1074. You added part of what was in 1072, but didn't address the biggest problems.

One vole would not be a meal for a Komodo Dragon. It would be like an amuse bouche. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Face-Lift 1425

Guess the Plot

Two Truths and a Lie

1. I love you. I love you. I love you.

2. Against all odds, you have managed to submit your query to Evil Editor. Your work will receive the same treatment that would be afforded an author like John Grisham. Evil Editor and his minions truly value your work and care about you personally.

3. My father is a homophobe. He would disown me and disinherit me if he thought I was gay. Luckily, I'm not.

4. You completed your novel. Your family and all your friends tell you it's brilliant. It's sure to be published.

5. The weather report calls for possible tornadoes. Douglas wants to watch the big game on his new TV. That noise he hears is probably just a train going by.

6. Conman John "Dough" Montgomery needs to repay loan shark "No-miss" Natasha before she puts a bullet in his heart. Or did he already lose his heart to her and that's why he signed to begin with? And is her real interest in the loan interest or in him? It's cutthroat three card monty crossed with swoony Russian roulette, gangster style.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

People say the truth will set you free, but how free will your truth get you if it’s half a lie? [The truth only sets you free if you're innocent and can prove it. If you're guilty, and admit it, you're done for.] [Also, I don't like opening with a vague question.]

Sixteen-year-old Ashton Sinclair-Yang is caught in a crossfire of two truths and a lie. Despite knowing his parents’ rocky relationship will end in someone leaving, he’s still heartbroken over the fact that it’s his dad. It leaves him defenseless against his overbearing mom, making things especially hard since his home support system—twin sister Mallory—seems to never be around anymore. [If his dad's absence leaves him defenseless, it sounds like his dad was his support system. Also, as Yoda would say, Mallory around is or is not. There is no 'seems'.] [Also, twins in fiction are always the same gender, allowing you to write scenes where they trade places with each other. It's an unwritten rule, just like whenever a body is burned in a fire, it's never the body of who they think it is.] But at least, with his dad gone, he doesn’t have to lie about being straight anymore, right? [Did he frequently have to say, Dad, I'm straight? or did the subject never come up?]

Turns out, it’s not that easy. It gets harder [It's not that easy, it gets harder . . . what exactly is "it." Not lying about being straight?] when Ashton falls head over heels for Mason Castillo, a boy just like himself, having one foot in his true self and another one living a lie. He figured [figures] that if they stick together, their lying karmas will balance out. [Wrong. k + k = 2k, not 0] The more time he spends with Mason, the more he’s able to pull himself out of his lies, enabling him to smoothen the relationship with his mother and rebuild the bridge to reach Mallory. [Just because a 16-year-old girl stops hanging out with her brother doesn't mean a bridge has collapsed. Did something happen?] Everything is set and ready for him to let go of the half-lies he’s been holding on to [He pulled himself out of his lies, but held onto his half-lies. I'm getting confused. The title says there are two truths and one lie.] . . . until his dad comes back.

Just like that, Ashton falls back into the pit he’s been trying so hard to dig himself out of. His father’s return shines a light on many other holes the people around him have dug, filled to the brim with lies of their own. He realizes he isn’t the only one in the family playing an unwinnable game of two truths and a lie against the universe, and now all the lies are catching up to them. [I'm starting to think the title should be One Truth and Hundreds of Lies. You could throw in a couple specific examples of what you're talking about.] If he doesn’t find a way to end the lies, especially his own, he’ll have to watch his family crumble and lose a truthful love he desperately wants to have. [Good to tell us what's at stake, but the rest of the paragraph is vague.]

Complete at 89,400 words, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE is a standalone coming-of-age YA novel. It’s an honest and provoking tale of sexuality, family, and finding legitimacy in one’s own identity through living as their own true self that would appeal to fans of FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN by Johnny Garza Villa, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera, and LOVEBOAT TAIPEI by Abigail Hing Wen.


I could assume the book's theme has to do with truth and lies from the title. By my count, forms of the words "truth" and "lies" appear at least 16 times in the body of the query. That's where I'm expecting to find the plot summary. 

Fewer metaphors, please. (caught in a crossfire of two truths and a lie, another foot living a lie, rebuilding the bridge, digging holes filled to the brim with lies, playing an unwinnable game of two truths and a lie against the universe)

Unless Mallory is more crucial than you've let on, we don't need her in the query.

You've basically provided us with your main character's situation. Which can be done in one paragraph:

Sixteen-year-old Ashton knew his parents were going to split up, but he didn't want his dad to be the one who left. Although with his dad gone, at least he doesn't have to pretend to be straight anymore. When he falls for Mason, another kid who's been hiding his sexual orientation, Ashton finds that even his crappy home life is reinvigorated. Then his dad comes back. 

Now that we know his situation, what's his goal? How does he plan to achieve this goal? What obstacles could stop him? Does he have allies? Does he have a plan B?
What will happen if he fails? Is there a point at which he must make a difficult decision that will make or break his plan? What are the pros and cons of his possible actions?

If you can answer most of these questions with specific information, especially information about what happens (the plot), your query will be much more compelling.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Face-Lift 1424

Guess the Plot

The Reanimates

1. Louisa wants to bring her long-dead mother back to life but her state has outlawed the reanimation procedure. When Louisa tries to go to another state she's captured and thrown in a prison bunker. Can she escape, get to an out-of-state reanimation clinic, & revive her mom before anti-reanimation fanatics hunt her down?

2. Sean Tompsy thinks the job offer is to re-boot some cartoon series so old he's never heard of it. But the location for his job is an old graveyard and involves more decaying flesh than film. At least there's good health care, and great death benefits.

3. If the enemy of your enemy hates you and their enemies are also your enemies and the enemies of those enemies are simply more enemies, you may be doing something wrong. Of course, you only need corpses to make a few hundred thousand friends.

4. Vintage cartoon characters Mikey, Dunwald, Goopy and Plato finally make their return to the screen, but this time as the undead, thanks to the machinations of their original creator, Dalt Winzey, newly unfrozen from cryogenic storage. A roman à clef with fictional characterizations cleverly designed to avoid potential litigation. 

5. From Frankenstein to Re-Animator, fictional characters have long been fascinated by the idea of reanimating the dead. But Virgil Weeds knows something those idiots didn't, and he's gonna build an army of reanimates to take over the world. You'll see, just as soon as he's released from the psych ward. 

6. When the dead start coming to life, it's not clear if they're gonna be zombies like in The Walking Dead, or good people who just smell bad. Either way, we can't have them walking among us, so it's open season on anyone you think might be one of them. 

7. A love triangle gone wrong leaves a beaten corpse lying next to a pile of empty spinach cans. A shotgun-wielding psycho with a speech impediment screams "Wabbit season!" before opening fire in a pet store. Savage attacks on campers by something smarter -- and deadlier -- than the average bear. Homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: 1) animated characters from the 70's are back with a vengeance, and 2) he could have avoided it all if he had just taken that left turn at Albuquerque.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Fifteen-year-old Louisa Fern won’t have to grieve her mother’s suicide for much longer. Or wonder why her mother would leave her at just seven years old. If she can only make it through another three years, she will finally get her answers and a second chance to prove she is worth staying alive for. That is until her state’s authoritarian government [So this is Florida?] suddenly outlaws the reanimation procedure that brings the dead back to life. [Does the procedure take 3 years, or do have to be 18 to request the procedure?]

Giving up on reanimating her mother will never be an option for Louisa. When she discovers the procedure is still permitted in the next state over, she makes a run for it despite the fact that crossing state lines is illegal. She should have known she would get caught [because pushing her mother's corpse down the Interstate in a wheelbarrow is kind of conspicuous.] but that doesn’t prevent her from putting up a fight—one that lands her in a government-run bunker resembling a prison. Except, it’s not a prison and she’s apparently [supposedly] there for her own protection. But if that’s the case, then why are there armed soldiers everywhere she looks? And why will no one tell her how long she has to stay or let her contact anyone on the outside? Most importantly, why in the world [And what] does she need protection [from]?

Louisa’s questions only multiply but she can’t lose focus now. The solution seems simple: Do whatever it takes to get the hell out of the bunker and find a better way to cross state lines. But it won’t be that easy, [That easy? It sounds impossible to me. I assume they didn't put her in an underground prison bunker, and then give her free rein to wander around the grounds above the bunker.] especially after she learns she’s not the person she thought she was her entire life. [She's actually the reanimated Princess Diana.] [Not clear why it would be "especially" hard to escape and cross state lines now that she knows who she really is.] [Also, who is she?] To make matters worse, each obstacle Louisa comes up against only makes it more apparent that she’s not in the bunker for protection. With her life now in danger, [Why is her life now in danger?] Louisa begins to rethink everything she thought she knew about reanimation, herself, and her mother’s suicide. [It wasn't suicide. It was . . . murder!]

One thing is certain. If she has any hopes of getting her mother back, she must make it out before it’s too late. [When will it be too late? When they kill her? If they want her dead, why haven't they killed her already?]

THE REANIMATES is a work of YA speculative fiction, complete at 90,000 words. It combines the raw and honest look at love and loss of Emily X.R. Pan’s THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER with the speculative sci-fi elements found in Stefanie Gaither’s FALLS THE SHADOW. I look forward to writing further books in the series [including one set twenty years in the future where Donald Trump's followers reanimate his corpse and he gets elected president again and destroys America again.]

I have had two personal essays related to my own experiences with mother loss and suicide published in the literary journals HEAL (Humans Evolving through Art and Literature) and Halfway Down the Stairs. When I’m not working as a freelance news and content writer, I can be found on the beach with my wife and dog.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Even if she makes it across the state line, won't she still have to wait three years? 

What does she need to bring to the reanimation center? The body? (Has it been cryogenically frozen?) Some DNA? (Would the person created from the mother's DNA have the mother's memories of why she committed suicide?)

Here's a shorter version of your plot description, one that might not inspire the reader to ask a lot of questions you don't have room to answer in the query:  

Louisa Fern has long wondered why her mother committed suicide when Louisa was just seven years old. She thinks she'll soon have a chance to ask her--until her state’s authoritarian government suddenly outlaws the reanimation procedure that brings the dead back to life.

When she discovers the procedure is still permitted in the next state over, Louisa makes an unsuccessful run for it, and ends up imprisoned in a state-run bunker, supposedly for her own protection. But why will no one tell her how long she has to stay? Or what she needs protection from?

As her questions multiply, Louisa begins to rethink everything she thought she knew about reanimation, herself, and her mother’s suicide. One thing is certain. If she has any hope of getting her mother back, she must escape from the bunker before [something more specific than "it's too late."]

That's short enough that you can add a little something I left out that you mistakenly think is vital.

Not sure I like the title. Are "the reanimates" characters in the book who've been reanimated? Perhaps The [adjective: troublesome? desperate?] Reanimation of Louisa Fern's Mother.

As you call this a look at love and loss, I assume it's not intended as a satirical look at abortion rights, but the "procedure" being recently outlawed in some states is bound to give the reader that idea. If you don't want that, calling it a process instead of a procedure might help. Or not. 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Face-Lift 1423

Guess the Plot

The Jerks

1. Some people are just so annoying--needy and clingy and snippy all the time. Everyone thinks so. But that's hardly a motive to murder them. Besides, I certainly wasn't the last person to have seen them, and if I was, I'm pretty sure they were already dead. 

2. What if dogs and birds and other animals could talk? That would be cute, right? Wrong, as Henry finds out when animals trash talk at him and tell him to f*@k off as he's walking through the park. Turns out animals are jerks. Also, a murder investigation conducted by fish.

3. A history of how we came to be who we are, including Neanderthals who let their saber-tooth tigers poop in front of neighboring caves, Romans who parked their chariots across two spaces at the market, and Elizabethans who talked too loudly in the audience during Shakespeare plays.

4. Willie "Spiceman" Wilde has the best jerk chicken this side of a Kingston barbecue pit--a lock to take home the Kentucky State Fair prize. But newcomer Nancy "Honey" Louis is rumored to have a certain knack with the chilis and coals. Will this year's competition result in a hot and steamy romance . . . or murder? Includes recipes.

5. When J.V.B.Z.G. "Electro-pecs" Hoolihan's Total Body Excitation device explodes, he fears his circus career as an accidental acrobat is over. Only Sally McGoodyGoody's Home Soup Kitchen can save him. But will Sally’s past as a frenzied hooker serve Hoolihan well as she spoons him the succor he desires? Or will she have his eyeballs out by chapter 3 because she can barely control her fingers?

6. Newly elected to Congress, Ellen James finds herself surrounded by sexual predators, sexist assholes, racists, morons, and corrupt thieves. Can she do anything to save America from all of . . . The Jerks?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

THE JERKS (70,000 words) is a magical realist romantic comedy, in which a wise dog helps a lonely human find his voice.

It starts with a bird, a pretty little warbler in Central Park who tells Henry Parsons to f*** off.  Soon he hears dogs mocking their owners, and pigeons trashtalking, and police horses profiling.  Henry is a gentle soul who finds it all hard to bear.  [Especially when he gets insulted by a talking bear! Ba dum ching!] But he doesn’t tell anyone because it’s crazy, right?  Until he overhears three rats discussing a corpse in the New York subway. 
[I can't tell if the corpse is in the subway, or the rats are discussing it in the subway. Or both.] [Either way, that would also be crazy. Possibly you could say: But he doesn’t tell anyone because no one would believe him. Besides, it's kind of funny . . .  until he overhears three rats discussing a corpse in the New York subway.] 

Henry’s new friend Molly Bent — impulsive, optimistic, cavorting through life — decides to investigate.  [So he tells Molly he heard three rats discussing a corpse, and instead of slowly backing out of the room, she decides to investigate?] He’s desperate for another date with her.  So the usually cautious Henry plays along, following her into an abandoned tunnel under the West Fourth Street station. [She was going to go by herself? She sounds a little . . . bent!] There they find a body, sure enough... and the presumed murderers find them. [If they're the murderers, don't call them "presumed." If they aren't the murderers, why are they hunting Henry in the next paragraph?] [Why are the murderers still hanging around the scene of their crime? Is it certain the corpse is a murder victim?] 

Now Henry is being hunted, and for the first time in his careful life there’s no way to duck confrontation. [With ducks! Spoiler alert: The murderers are talking ducks!] He must find the courage to face his stalkers. [Why? Facing murderers who know that he knows that they're murderers sounds like a bad idea.] Of course, that same assertiveness might transform his chances with Molly too. Wisdom arrives, unexpectedly, from two erudite betta fish and a neighbor’s yapping Pomeranian. [If this is the wise dog that helps him find his voice, i
t should be a philosophizing Pomeranian, not a yapping one.] [Also, if the dog just yaps, I have no choice but to assume it's the two erudite fish who solve the case.]

This offbeat novel may appeal to fans of Carl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me, Eileen Garvin’s The Music of Bees, or Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. [Do those books feature talking animals too? Or just jerks?] [Another way to go would be to say it would appeal to fans of Heckle and Jeckle, the wisecracking magpies, who were definitely jerks, at least in the opinion of their rival, Dimwit the dog.]

My writing has appeared {etc, etc.}.  Many thanks for your time and consideration.

With respect,


I really enjoyed Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I easily bought into kids with special powers. So I purchased the sequel, Hollow City, which had a lot of the same kids, but also, it turned out, a talking dog. This ruined it for me, because hello: dogs can't talk. And even though there've been numerous other books in the series, I didn't buy them, because they might have a talking dog. (A talking parrot would be okay, as evidenced by this scene from my graphic novel about a bird named Hercule Parrot:)

Not sure if any of that was relevant.

Are the talking animals the jerks of the title? They don't seem to play much of a role in your plot description. Plus the Pomeranian and the fish don't seem to be jerks. In fact, they seem to be the heroes. Which is fine if you plan to write sequels starring your crime-fighting fish, but your main characters are Henry and Molly. Is Molly also being hunted by the murderers? She seems to disappear after they find the corpse, except as Henry's motivation to demonstrate his courage. 

Wait, there's a fish called a molly. Is Molly a fish? Henry does seem just crazy enough to fall for a fish. Is this one of those "fish out of water" stories? Or does he carry her around in a fishbowl?

The animals don't seem to play enough of a role to title the book after them. Note that the animals in this video titled Animals Can Be Jerks are the stars, not supporting actors: animaljerks

Your one-sentence description was: "a wise dog helps a lonely man find his voice." It should be: two wise fish help a loony guy solve a murder to impress his crush.

You have three stories, the romcom starring Henry and Molly, the crime novel, and the magical realism story starring fish and a wise dog and jerk animals. Combining them in a book can work, but combining them in a query leaves each of them getting short shrift. I'm not sure which of them you should focus on. Perhaps start out:

In a world where animals can talk and are wiser than humans, Henry Parsons wants nothing more than to find true love with his crush, Molly Bent. But when, on their second date, the couple discover a corpse in an abandoned tunnel under the Fourth Street subway station, Henry puts his romantic aspirations on hold, knowing if he can bring the murderers to justice, Molly may be impressed enough to go out with him a third time.

Of course I realize that may not be exactly how your book goes . . . but it should be.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Face-Lift 1422

The Two Ravens

No one submitted a fake plot for this title, so no Guess the Plot

Dear Evil Editor.

Some dead people don’t know they’re dead. [Spoiler alert: For instance, Bruce Willis.]

Most people won’t notice these miserable, lost souls as they wander through dimensions.[If the ones who weren't miserable to begin with don't know they're dead, why are they now miserable?] But for sixteen-year-old psychopomp Raven, they can be a downright nuisance. Who [Nobody] wants to be ogled by an audience of impatient spirits as you [they] make out with your [their] boyfriend on the settee? [Having looked up "psychopomp," and discovered it's a "creature, spirit, angel, or deity in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife," I'm wondering if psychopomps would have time for boyfriends. It doesn't sound like a job for a teenager.] [I mean, when I die, I don't think I want my escort to wherever to be some teenager who starts every sentence with like or so or I mean.] [Do you mind if I just shorten that word to "psycho" from now on? "Psychopomp" sounds like a new genre of loud bad music.] [So, when did Raven discover she was a psycho? How did she know how to guide dead people to the afterlife?]

When Raven’s parents die in an accident, she is packed off to live with her grandfather in an enormous old manor house, Dunham Hall.  [Like, did she pomp her parents to the afterlife?] [Did her parents know she was a psycho?] But old manor houses come with their own share of ghosts.

Raven finds herself drawn to Saul, the strangely familiar son of the hostile housekeeper. As their relationship grows, Raven begins to have disturbing flashes when she touches him. In her visions, they are both adults. Saul knows more about these memories than he’s letting on, [These sound more like precursors or premonitions than memories. Are they memories of when they knew each other in a past life?] and Raven is determined to find out what he’s not telling her. [Kind of like we're determined to find out what you're not telling us.] 

But to win their freedom, Raven must learn more about their problems, [Coming after a paragraph about Raven and Saul, it's not immediately clear that "their" doesn't refer to Raven & Saul.] and what help they need before they’ll rest in peace. [Maybe all they need is a psycho to get up off the settee and guide them to the hereafter.] It won't be easy. Someone is trying to steal the souls that she’s trying to help, ["Steal" meaning "kidnap"? What do you do with a soul once you've stolen it?] and she certainly didn’t expect to come face-to-face with herself in the afterlife.

THE TWO RAVENS is a Young Adult Paranormal Romance complete at 89,000 words with series potential. It will appeal to readers of Mary Lindsey’s Souls series and The Haunted by Danielle Vega.

I thank you for your consideration.


Is Raven the only psychopomp in the book? Is she human? Do you have to train to become a psycho?

If Raven died in a past life and was chosen to be a psycho, wouldn't they just train her and send her back instead of making her spend sixteen years of hell growing up?

Maybe start with paragraph 3: When sixteen-year-old psychopomp Raven loses her parents in a tractor accident . . .  That doesn't explain what a psychopomp is, but maybe I'm the only one who needed to be told. I'm not sure we even need the Saul paragraph. He can be worked into the 1st paragraph: When sixteen-year-old psychopomp Raven loses her parents in a tractor accident, she is packed off to live with her grandfather in an enormous old manor house, Dunham Hall. Not the worst possible fate, especially when she meets the housekeeper's hunky son, Saul. But old manor houses also come with ghosts. 

The manor has ghosts, the ghosts need help, Raven wants to help them, someone else is keeping Raven from helping them. What's her plan? What's the danger? 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Face-Lift 1421

Guess the Plot

The Township

1. When Earth's atmosphere becomes toxic, only one settlement remains: the Township. Can the last humans work together to avoid extinction, or will they split into warring factions leading to civil war? They're humans, so that question was rhetorical.

2. When a Venus-sized ice meteor combines with global warming to raise the sea levels higher than they've ever been in history, Mac "Noah" Knicker and his neighbors decide to build a boat under their entire town. It's home flipping at it's finest ... and worst.

3Susan has been living on the Sweet Delilah all her life. The township was sailing the seas even before her grandmother was born. But now there is a new smell in the air, mixed in with the sea salt breeze: Blood.

4. When the good folks of Midsomeplace Kansas sail free into the climate changed canals of New USA, nothing can prepare them for redneck cries of WHERE'S MY FRICKIN' PANTS? and THIS THURSDAY YET? resounding from the underhollow of their discomfort. This too-close-to-the-knuckle apocalyptic abomination of a book may slay every family pet you hold dear. EVEN BEFORE THEY READ IT!

5. How three women living in a township outside Johannesburg sparked a movement to end apartheid. And how two decades later their dreams were finally realized . . . with all the credit going to men. 

6. On its surface, Barton Township is Small Town, America. Mayberry, incarnate. Until you look under the covers, behind closed doors at the seedy underbelly of this seemingly idyllic community. This book blows the lid off the shrouded secret lives of the sleazy residents of one squalid township.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

The Township is the last surviving human settlement, and it is falling to pieces. The airtight structures are crumbling, the machinery used for repairs is wearing out, and the economy is dependent on technology that it cannot reproduce. [Barcode scanners. I don't see how this place even has an economy if the barcode scanners aren't working.] Worst of all, the population is divided into two radicalized factions [The faction that still has working barcode scanners, and the faction that doesn't.] on the brink of civil war. [Civil war? Everyone still alive lives in this one township, and because there's no other settlement to go to war with, they're going to war with each other? Why am I surprised? They're humans.]

As a young engineering technician, Jacob Watz volunteers to work outside in an inhospitably hot atmosphere filled with toxic hydrogen sulfide. [Doing what? I hope this isn't your main character, because he's kind of a moron.] After a run of terrible luck, he [I'm not sure I'd blame his heat stroke and chemical pneumonia on bad luck.] is blamed for a welding accident and forced to choose between a decade of forced labor or join[ing] a nearly suicidal expedition into the surrounding ruins to scavenge fabrication equipment. [That's a pretty stiff punishment for a welding accident. What did he accidentally weld?] The expedition is undermanned and under-resourced, but Jacob becomes [is] determined to return alive with enough equipment to give the engineers a fighting chance to save the decaying Township. [Basically, he's hoping to find one of those 3D printers which they can use to make a barcode scanner.]

Sandra Evans, Chair of the Council and the highest-ranking authority in the Township, tries desperately to keep the peace. She conceives of the expedition as a way to unite the population behind their shared cause of survival, but the project sparks the very civil war that she had been trying to avoid. [Obviously the first faction to find a 3D printer used it to fabricate assault rifles instead of barcode scanners. Humans are so predictable.] With the violence spiraling out of control, she attempts to assert what authority she has left to prevent the final extinction of humanity. [Do both factions consider her an authority figure?]

The Township is my 105,000 word climate fiction novel. [Is climate fiction a genre now? "Dystopian" might be a better descriptor.] The setting is based on the Permian Extinction, which was the largest of Earth’s 5 mass extinctions and is believed to be the result of rapid global warming. [
The Permian global warming, I believe, was caused by volcanoes. Yours, I assume, was caused by humans, who, typically, are now blaming it on the climate, hence "climate fiction."]  My readers have compared it to [Fans of] Wool by Hugh Howey and Colony Mars by Gerald Kilby [will enjoy this book].

Thank you for [taking] the time to consider my novel. The first X pages are below. I hope you enjoy them.


How does the last settlement on the planet have an economy dependent on technology? I'd expect the economy to consist of people trading the zucchini they grew for repairs to their thatched roofs. Do they have an electrical grid, delivery trucks, cell phones, remote controls for their televisions?

Is the main plot of this book the mission to find 3D printers, or the civil war involving the last of humanity? If it's the latter, I'd drop the paragraph about Jacob. His mission seems like small potatoes in the big picture. If the book is mostly about this one mission, I'd rather hear about the plan, the obstacles, what goes wrong, and what's at stake than about Sandra. In other words, I would focus the query on one main character, even if the book has two.


Monday, January 10, 2022

Face-Lift 1420


Guess the Plot

The Lesser Evil

1. Harvey Weinstein or Ghislaine Maxwell?

2. Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell?

3. The demon who's offering you eternal life in hell, or the priest who made your childhood a hell on Earth?

4. The judge who refused to grant you a restraining order against your abusive husband, or your abusive husband who would've ignored the order anyway?

5. The unshaven guy who just broke in the door, or the clean shaven, guy who kidnapped you and is holding you captive?

6. The serial killer who has you duct taped to an operating table in his dungeon, or the guy who gave you a date rape drug and then sold you to the serial killer?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Hazel thought she was street smart. This illusion came crashing down with a billy club to the back of her head. 

Her captor thinks no one can find them in the wilds of the Virginia mountains, least of all by someone that isn’t looking for either of them. Turns out they are both idiots today [he's wrong too].

Trapped in a cabin with the unexpected, they have the same goal - - escape.

The unexpected looks like Hazel’s usual clientele - -  tattooed, unshaven, slightly greasy unkept [unkempt] hair, wild eyes, [orange jumpsuit with "Department of Corrections"] printed on the back, and the scent of angry hopelessness. Maybe that’s cheap whiskey, but the two are easily confused. [I wouldn't say the scent of angry hopelessness is easily confused with the scent of cheap whiskey. I might say they go hand in hand.] Her captor seems to be the polar opposite; clean shaven, not a hair out of place and new clothes that release a pleasant scent as he moved [moves]. [I gotta get some of those clothes. Does J.C. Penney carry them?] One thing these two have in common, they’re equally dangerous. At least the unexpected wore clothes that branded him as dangerous, [Could you be more specific? Any of these?]

unlike her captor who’s a wolf in sleek clothing. 

[If Hazel thinks a guy who looks like her usual clientele is as dangerous as a guy who knocked her unconscious and transported her to a secluded cabin, she needs to start serving a classier clientele. Maybe instead of focusing on the unexpected's looks, tell us what makes him as big a threat as her captor. Does he have a weapon? Has he said anything threatening? I think if someone knocked me out and I woke up in a cabin in the wilds of the mountains, I'd welcome the intervention of a third party, even one with tattoos and greasy hair.]                   

Hazel’s sure neither has the intention of letting the other leave the cabin alive [Why not? Neither one of them is gonna go to the police] and her odds for survival, which weren’t good to start with, are getting lower by the minute. What was supposed to be a light dusting of snow is turning into a full on blizzard and none of them are [no one is] leaving anytime soon. [How does she know what the weather report called for in the mountains?]

She has to pick a side in order to survive. If it weren’t for the splitting headache, she could almost mistake her captor’s protective stance as chivalry. [If she has to pick a side, choosing the one who's almost chivalric is not the best criteria. I recommend going with the guy who's most likely to win a fight to the death between the two of them. When the fight is over, and one guy has emerged victorious, you don't want to be the person who was cheering on the other guy. Does she place her trust with her captor or take a chance on the convict with blood on his sleeve? [Wait, the convict? So he's wearing one of those striped prison uniforms or an orange jumpsuit? If you told us that up front you could have referred to him as the convict instead of the unexpected. Plus, prison garb is far more suggestive of danger than greasy hair and tattoos.]

THE LESSER EVIL is a suspense novel. [Include the word count so agents can reject your book for being too short or too long. If you don't include the word count, they'll assume it's too short or too long and reject it.]

Thank you,


Does the convict have a gun? If so, choose him over the guy with the billy club. 

The convict could be a wrongly convicted good guy who got framed. The other guy clubbed you over the head and had no possible reason for bringing you to this cabin other than to torture you before he kills you. Choose the convict.

The blizzard seems irrelevant. If neither guy is gonna let the other leave alive, it doesn't matter if it's snowing . . . Unless the snow is gonna trap them there long enough that they run out of food and have to resort to cannibalism, in which case they'd be better off not killing each other now, because they'll want the meat to be fresh.

Telling yourself, If it weren’t for the splitting headache, I could almost mistake my captor’s protective stance as chivalry, is like thinking, If it weren't for the dagger he just thrust into my gut, I might be sizing this guy up as possible husband material.

A few minor errors in a one-page query could convince the reader that there'll be a few on every page of your manuscript.