Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Face-Lift 100!!

Guess the Plot

Lair of a Terrorist

1. Learn the latest boobytrapping and cave decoration techniques in HGTV's latest addition to their line of interior decorating books.

2. Kareem Akbar Kalib is a terrorist on the run in the United States. With the DHS hot on his trail Kalib turns to the only place he can find safe refuge –the Democratic National Convention.

3. A fresh coat of white paint on the walls and a shiny new national seal on the floor inspires a lone man in a quiet, elliptical room to plot devious schemes.

4. Fleeing bombs from cave to cave is tough, but Bin Laden's fatal mistake comes when the falafel he orders from the Peshawar Dominos is delivered by a suicide bomber.

5. The Mullah, a strict fundamentalist, finds that raising his 15-year-old daughter in Miami is a bigger challenge than his day job at the Miami mosque--training recruits for an attack on the American infidels.

6. She knew there was something funny about the way he decorated his bachelor pad. But she had no way of knowing that she had stumbled into...The Lair of a Terrorist.

Original Version

Espionage/Crime Thriller
101,000 Words

Dear Mr. Evil:

Which elements foil a terrorist plot: poor planning, inadequate financing, bad luck? [Actually, those are the things that let it succeed.] Jack Vitelli, FBI counterterrorism chief, exploits another possibility--family life.

Jack trails the suspects; they're clever, brilliant perhaps, and their activity is suspicious, [Especially the part where they purchase three tons of fertilizer the day after they arrive in the U.S.] yet he has no evidence against the suspects or intel on the impending attack, only warnings from his clairvoyant aunt of vague threats. [His aunt is the FBI's secret weapon against terrorism? Explains a lot.] Jack surveils the suspect's family members to search for an opportunity.

Amir Hassan, leader and mastermind, is handsome, charismatic, a rich, young Saudi, who is Tayssir's son, a devoted mother hiding old secrets. The attack's success means more to Amir than just a strike against the infidels, world dominance will be within his grasp soon, yet nothing can compare to its most illusive prize, his father's approval, or so he thinks. [Until he discovers that only dominance over the entire universe will win father's approval.] [Consider trying other punctuation marks occasionally, in place of your favored comma.]

The Mullah, a strict fundamentalist and second-in-command, trains his recruits within the bomb shelter, hidden beneath the Miami mosque. The important work is going well, however, raising a fifteen-year-old daughter outside of Syria proves to be more of a challenge than defeating the infidels. [The Mullah sounds like a great sitcom idea.] [Seriously. At work he contends with incompetent underlings who keep accidentally blowing each other up. Then he goes home to find his daughter Fakhriyya is dating a Jewish American girl, and has a tattoo of an American flag on her thigh.] [At first he's beside himself, but in the end he throws up his arms and utters his catch phrase: Kids today . . . Whattaya gonna do?]

After careful negotiations, Habib Al Ashari, the faithful Pakistani soldier, is betrothed to Yasmeen, the woman of his dreams. He ignores his wife's [Does his wife know he's betrothed to Yasmeen?] emotional instability, he only sees her beauty, certain she will grow to love him once the attack succeeds, but Yasmeen has other plans. [She wants to be the first Pakistani to make the final three on American Idol.] [This list of characters reads like a "Guess the Plot."] [In fact, I could have taken all six "Guess the Plot" ideas from the actual query, and still had people saying "I can't believe it's any of these."]

Seth Levi is suspicious of the American's motives--why him? Jack recruits the veteran Mossad operative for reasons other than Seth's infiltration talents. [Seth makes the best hummus in Florida.]

Jack sifts through the facts, exploits the suspect's weaknesses--how will he stop the attack in time? [Luckily he has an ace in the hole: Chloe O'Brian.] A SASE is enclosed if you'd like to find out more.

Thanks for the opportunity.


Revised Version

Espionage/Crime Thriller
101,000 Words

Dear Mr. Evil:

Jack Vitelli, FBI counterterrorism chief, is on the trail of suspected terrorists. With no hard evidence, he resorts to surveilling the suspects' family members for clues to the upcoming attack.

Mastermind Amir Hassan, a charismatic young Saudi, is the son of Tayssir, a devoted mother hiding old secrets. The attack's success means more to Amir than anything--except finally winning the approval of his own family.

The Mullah, a strict fundamentalist and second-in-command, trains his terrorist recruits within a bomb shelter beneath the Miami mosque. The training is going well, but raising his fifteen-year-old daughter outside of Syria is a different story.

Habib Al Ashari, a Pakistani soldier, is married to Yasmeen, the woman of his dreams. He ignores his wife's emotional instability, seeing only her beauty, certain she will grow to love him once the attack succeeds.

Are Tayssir, Yasmeen, and the Mullah's daughter the key to preventing a terrorist attack? Jack gathers clues, sifts through the facts, but time is growing short. Are we all DOOMED?!

A SASE is enclosed if you'd like to find out more. Thanks for the opportunity.



Evil Editor must confess that the query does not fill him with confidence that the book is ready for submission. Even if it is, I'd like to see less about the terrorists and more about their plot. Then there's the fact that the descriptions of the terrorists strike me as amusing. Is that just me? If the terrorists come across as comical, I doubt the query is going to appeal to a publisher.


Anonymous said...

The query letter isn't very good, in large part because of the punctuation. On the other hand, I think the story sounds really good. It was a nice break from brutal eunuchs and devious shapeshifters, in my opinion. And there wasn't a single person with an apostrophe in their name.

I don't dishout many compliments here, especially since my query and story were trashed. I like this one though.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Happy 100!

Anonymous said...

Where are the zombies? Oh, wait. I know. They work at the immigration office. -JTC

McKoala said...

100 congratulations!

Anonymous said...


Pish! Apostropes are fun!

EE's version is a huge improvement. The original is just another example of an author not being able to distance himself from his work. TMI, and none of it clear enough.

As for that sit-com, possible title: Eight Simple Rules For Staying The Hell Away From My Teenage Daughter, You Filthy, Infidel Vermin.

Anonymous said...

To me the best part of the story would be the father-daughter angle. Although honestly, daughter of Mulla would probably not be allowed outside the house without Dad or Bubba along and only if she were modestly dressed. Now, if Dad betrothed daughter to one of the terrorist minions ... or maybe he did and I missed that part of it.

If I see a character named "Jack" I think of either Jack Bauer on "24" or my grumpy but lovable father.

Stacia said...

The "foiling the terrorist plot" isn't nearly as interesting as the mullah with the rebellious daughter. I would totally watch that sitcom.

The rest of it isn't uninteresting, though.

Feemus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luna said...

How many stereotypes can be crammed into one query letter? Geesh. (All though, to be truly 100% cliche, you need to ditch the FBI guy's ethnic-sounding last name and replace it with something like Whiteman, Oldman or Oldwhiteman.)

No offense to the writer, but in the context of the world in which we live, this story seems like a poor choice to query. It reminds me of that movie "True Lies", which was great entertainment when it came out, but post 9/11 and Iraq War just seems grotesque and irrelevant.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

I like the idea of a sitcom about a terrorist mullah who can't cope with a rebellious teenage daughter in Miami, too. We haven't had enough farces ridiculing our enemies lately.

Anonymous said...

A comedy about terrorists would actually be really cool--but would take some serious skill.

Failing that, I never thought I'd say this, but ... I think this story would work better if it weren't set in the real world. :-)

Anonymous said...

The multiplying commas, the occasional subject-object confusion and the extraneous words and phrases - such as "Jack surveils the suspect's family members to search for an opportunity" - wore down my interest, and eventually killed it for me in the third paragraph.

I liked the last two 'Guess the Plot' ideas but #2 suffers from serious credibility problems. Could readers REALLY be induced to believe the present Administration's minions, in the midst of surveillance on millions of library cards nation-wide, would neglect to keep an eye on the official convention of their official political opponents?

I guess if I'm going to keep snarking about others' query letters, I'd better send in my own clowns.

Anonymous said...

Feemus, with all due respect, the author knows more about where terrorists than you seem to think. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were "rich Saudis" (you might want to look into the educational system in Saudi Arabia -- it's been in the news lately). Nearly all of them, including Muhammed Atta (a rich Egyptian) were highly educated, from very well-to-do and high profile families, and yet spoke every day of the need to rid the world of infidels in any way necessary.

Osama himself is the son of a gazillionaire, is himself well-educated, was a highly successful engineer who made tons of dough, but he gave it up because of his hatred of us infidels.

Feemus said...

Despite my earlier comments, I could really relate to this query.

I, too, have an Aunt of Vague Threats.

She is married to my Uncle of Specific Retributions. They complement one another nicely.

Or maybe I just made them up. They are illusive.

all in good fun,

Anonymous said...


Osama bin Laden is a rich Saudi. And most of the hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis as well, weren't they? I don't recall hearing that any of them were impoverished or otherwise disaffected.

And Wahabbism (sp?) is the main form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and it's also one of the most fundamentally militant.

Moreover, here in Canuckland, the RCMP and CSIS just busted a bunch of Islamic terrorists who were planning to bomb the CN Tower, stage an armed assault on the Parliament Building, and behead our beloved Prime Minister Stephen Harper. And one of them was a Hindu, for Pete's sake! How'd he get with these guys in the first place--even his parents are flummoxed.

Truth is, you get together a bunch of people (not all of them very bright) who wanna frag a common enemy, and suddenly they don't care as much about who's from what branch of what religion.

And Iraq might well be on Osama's shit-list, along with all his half-brothers and sisters, but he ain't gonna turn down their money, either. Terrorists use people for their own ends. Sometimes they use people for whom they have only scorn. This is not news.

On the other hand, if this blog was widely read in Canada, you'd likely be deluged with comments about how racist this premise is, and how Muslims aren't the only people who use terror in the world. And you might even get a comment or two about how America got what it deserved on 9/11 (which is total bullshit, IMO). But the reality is that 90% of the terrorism in the world is done by Muslims--some of it against other muslims, which is just sad.

Hey, author, why don't you change the whole novel. Set it thirty years ago, make the Mullah a Northern Irish Catholic priest, and his daughter a teenage unwed mother. Hmm, Christian Europeans using terrorism? Now that's fresh and interesting. I think we've all had enough of this other BS.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your 100th facelift! You don't look a day over thirty! Oh, crap, maybe you're really twenty five and I just ruined any chance of getting a REAL query past your desk.

pacatrue said...

I too worry about some of the broad brush strokes being used here. I am largely ignorant of all the various cultures and their relations, but I think some of these relationships will need to be checked. For instance, my mom lived in Saudi for a few years, including the first couple years of Iraq II, and Pakistanis were definitely not natural compatriots from the point of view of most Saudis. In Saudi society, various nations have very particular roles to play. Saudis are in charge and every other nationality is brought in for certain jobs - and no other jobs. Anyway, I have no knowledge on most of this, so, writer, just make sure you do. From a story telling point of view, I think the main character of Jack was lost in the query. I assume he is the main character, though the father/daughter thing was the most interesting to me as well. So how does the main character grow and change through the novel? If you are more interested in the terrorists, then I'd say switch the novel around and write about one of them instead. That of course will acquire even more research, assuming you aren't Saudi, Pakistani, or Syrian, but could be great if you can pull it off.

Linda said...

Congrats on #100! I've both enjoyed and learned from them all. :)


Anonymous said...

Comedy or straight; thriller or family drama - something tells me this is going to be a really hard sell in the current climate. Without casting any aspersions on the quality of the book or the handling of the subject matter.

Miss Snark, more than once, has made mention of the fact that she will not take on books on terrorism. I wonder how many other agents share those sensibilities.

Best of luck with it.

Bernita said...

So when did terrorism in its present incarnation become taboo?

Anonymous said...

After picking tomatoes in the hot sun, men from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Venezuela and Honduras sat down for their noon break.

The Mexican asked, "How come we're supposed to learn if Middle East terrorists speak Urdu or Arabic or if fundamentalists come from Syria or if they're Persian or Sunni, or what? I can't learn all this stuff."

"You got to," the Hunduran said, "otherwise you can't belong to politically correct American society. That's our ticket out of the tomato fields and maybe we can get into publishing."

"But the Americans can't tell the difference between all of us--we live here and we pick their tomatoes. Hell, they don't know if I eat flour or corn tortillas or if I'm Catholic or not."

"Yeah, it's not fair. We should do something about it--maybe blow up the tomato fields, then they'll respect us."

The publishing industry won't publish the story. But the book will sell.

Anonymous said...

Stories like this need to be told--and published. In Canada we only just got this huge wake-up call, when we thought everybody liked us. You can support the Palestinian cause (as so many Canadians do) and oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that won't make Palestinians and Iraqis and Afghans not hate you. If anything, people in the Middle East are even less informed about us than we are about them. Like the Russians during the cold war, everyday people in the Middle East rely on their leaders to tell them what's what. When the leaders themselves are rabidly anti-american, anti-christian, antisemite, their followers are going to be, too.

That said, in a book like this it is incredibly important to get your facts perfect. It ain't a historical romance where you can mess up the years historical figures were alive, and make the history fit your story, and no one's gonna call you on it. You mess up your facts in a book like this (that's going to offend some people--it's just going to), and it's gonna look like a PC shitbomb went off.

I'm just saying...

Bernita said...

I would suggest a less vanilla title though.
Something like "The Fatwa Project," or some such.

Stephen said...

The query does certainly sound a bit like "Carl Hiaasen meets 24", which, as a high concept pitch, doesn't quite grab me. As others have said, it would take enormous skill to pull off.

Personally I'd lose the psychic aunt. Maybe it's just me, but this sort of thing screams "plot device", and makes me think that the writer cannot come up with a more sensible idea. Paranormal is fine if it is whole-hearted, but little bits of paranormal to patch over gaps tends to look like patching over gaps with little bits of paranormal. FBI agents always have lots of little scraps of information that would never stand up in court - hunches, rumours, informant networks - they don't need the psychic aunts network.

Anonymous said...

"American Jihad"

Or is that one already taken?

How about "Wonderbread Jihad"? Doesn't that just scream middle class America? "Velveeta Jihad"? "Velveeta Fatwa"?

Ooh! Ooh! "The Jihad, the Fatwa, and the PB&J Sandwich"!

Okay. Sorry. Sorry. I'm done now.

Anonymous said...

"The Mullah, the Mastermind, and a Polar Bear Tattoo"

Okay, okay! Now I really am done!

Mazement said...

I guess I'll put in a plug for the movie "American Dreamz" as a good comedy/farce about terrorism.

Dark comedy and satire are box office poison, so it wasn't a big commercial success. But my wife and I both loved it.