Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New Beginning 152

It was one of those hot summer days where the sun bakes you in its little oven and then spits you out like a burned loaf of bread. Sweat poured off Mama’s brow and she wiped it away. She picked up a newspaper and started fanning herself, her head perched back on her neck, her mouth open like it needed to be cooled too.

In between the waves of air she fanned at her face, she looked at me. “Poppy’s going to die this summer.”

I stared at my mama, as those words came out of her mouth. She said them like they were just another bit of news like you read in the newspaper. No emotion. Just matter of fact.

“You talk about him like he’s nothing, Mama. Don’t you love Poppy?” Mama got up and walked over to the steps and ignored what I said.

I chased after her as she idled off the porch, her belly bulging with my little sister inside. "Mama! The boll weevils are all over the cotton this year. What'll we do without Poppy?"

Mama fixed her eyes on my tattered gingham dress that clung to my sweat covered body. "I don't know, Billie Sue, but I'm tired of being a character in depressing southern lit. If killing Poppy is what it takes to move to Chicago and sit in a Starbucks with my iBook and a frothy Frap while some doctoral student makes eyes at me, then Poppy's gonna meet his maker."

I watched a mosquito land on my arm and then squeezed the vein until the little bugger popped in an explosion of blood.

Mama had a point. Bye bye, Poppy; Chick Lit City, here we come.

Opening: Judy Gregerson.....Continuation: Pacatrue

Monday, October 30, 2006

Face-Lift 224

Guess the Plot

Devil's Gold

1. Bert Blott knows that the shiny stuff on the wall of Mr. Popek's garden wall is really just fool's gold. But when he finds a bar of real gold in the same garden, he is delighted--until the owner shows up.

2. The Prince of the Underworld has no need for earthly riches - until he meets the American Princess from Hell.

3. Spinster detective Amelia Pettipants is back to solve another case. This time, when the Vicar drops dead at the village cake baking contest, the secret ingredient in the devil's food cake entries makes the recipes pure gold.

4. Deep in the Yukon, part-time prospector Dave Mercey strikes what he thinks is the motherlode. But when the men working the mine start turning into flesh-eating zombies he realizes that some things are better left underground.

5. Glen made a deal with the Devil: His soul for Olympic Gold. He's won his four races and is hailed as the "fastest man in the world," but now he wants out of the bargain.

6. An oil company discovers a bottomless well of "black gold," and conspires to commit genocide in order to ensure no one else "horns" in on their find.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Devil's Gold is a completed 117,000 word commercial novel that I would like to offer you for consideration of representation. [End the sentence after "novel," or say "for which I'm seeking representation." You don't want the agent thinking the book is as wordy as that sentence.]

The biggest gold rush of the twenty-first century…some call it terrorism, others call it survival. [I don't know what that means. How is terrorism or survival a gold rush?] Endless burning gas flares, rivers poisoned by oil, bloodbaths inflicted by corrupt Nigerian militia -- this is zoologist Cassidy Lowell's fight. [This sounds like a fight for Red Adair, Greenpeace, and the United Nations, but if they've already failed, it is time to call in Cassidy Lowell.] From the heart of the Niger Delta to the serene ambiance of Yellowstone National Park, Lowell along with undercover agent Jake Anderson, [He's an undercover agent for what organization?] race against time to prevent New World Petroleum from committing genocide and stealing a bottomless source of oil. [You toss around terms like "endless" and "bottomless" pretty freely. Stealing a bottomless source of oil would be tricky. It would require an endless supply of bottomless oil tankers.]

Chastised for not cooperating with the oil industry, Cassidy is reassigned to the serene ambiance of Yellowstone National Park. [Chastised? Are you saying her transfer from Nigeria to Yellowstone is a punishment? That's like a soldier stationed in Afghanistan talking back to his sergeant, and getting shipped to Hawaii as his punishment.] Jake is selected as her biologist for this assignment. [Selected by whom?] His mission is to determine the nature of the menacing connection between Cassidy's employer, ZEBRA (Zoological Ecological Biological Research Agency) [Actually, zoological would be a subset of biological, so you should replace biological with botanical. You still get to call it ZEBRA.] and New World Petroleum. [And he's going to determine this in Yellowstone?]

Discovering an alarming genetic mutation of the parvo virus [parvovirus--one word] that appears to transfer from canine to human, [I smell a werewolf book here.] Cassidy and Jake pursue its origin before it spreads beyond the greater Yellowstone region, [They discover this genetic mutation? Don't they alert the Center for Disease Control? Or at least ZEBRA? Aren't these organizations better equipped to find the origin than Cassidy and Jake (who's an undercover agent, not even a real biologist?)] [Yellowstone Park is bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, and the greater Yellowstone region is several times that. Two people are going to keep the virus from spreading beyond this region? Let's face it, we're doomed. Doomed, I tell you.] their relationship taking a slight detour from professional to personal. [If Jake doesn't become a werewolf at some point, you've missed a golden opportunity.] The media strikes at Cassidy, accusing her of transferring a biological weapon from the Niger Delta to Yellowstone. [Someone in Montana gets parvovirus, and the media immediately decide it was brought from Nigeria by Cassidy?] She's been set-up by New World Petroleum who is preparing to release the mutated virus on a vast scale and commit genocide within the Niger Delta, opening the door for unmonitored mass production of oil pushing New World Petroleum to the forefront as the most powerful oil conglomerate in the world. [If they commit genocide, who's gonna do all the labor involved in pumping the oil? Wait, they can import slaves.]

Cassidy and Jake arrive off the coast of West Africa to uncover what is driving New World Petroleum's actions, salvage her career and protect the Niger Delta region from more environmental damage. Cassidy is betrayed by one of her own [Her own what?] and infected with the virus. Jake undertakes a successful search and destroy mission, bringing down New World Petroleum and saving the woman who now ranks No. 1 on his "most important" list. [Is this a romance?] [One guy brings down New World Petroleum? That's as believable as a cow destroying the city of Chicago.] [How does he save Cassidy from the virus? New World Petroleum was using the virus to commit genocide, yet Jake can cure it?]

I have previously been represented by Madame X of The YZ Literary Agency. Ms. X submitted this manuscript to MIRA. [Mira Books? Or Mira Sorvino?] In addition, the movie rights were optioned through July of 2006 and garnered interest from George Lopez [George Lopez? Too bad it wasn't George Lucas.] in conjunction with Clint Eastwood. The script was also submitted to Bruce Willis in June of 2005 [With all this name dropping, I'm beginning to think it was Mira Sorvino.] where it met with favorable interest but ultimately there was concern that the locale was too similar to Mr. Willis' Tears of the Sun. [More likely there was concern that the box office gross would be too similar to that of Tears of the Sun.] As far as I know, the script has not been returned or officially rejected. [Apparently film producers are just as slack as publishers about sending out rejection slips.]

Thank you for your time and consideration of this query.

Revised Version

When zoologist Cassidy Lowell's work in Nigeria comes into conflict with the interests of New World Petroleum, she is transferred to Yellowstone National Park. There, working with biologist Jake Anderson, she discovers an alarming genetic mutation of parvovirus that transfers from canine to human. The virus appears to have originated in Nigeria, and Cassidy is accused in the media of bringing it to the US.

She's been set-up by New World Petroleum who are preparing to release the mutated virus on a vast scale and commit genocide within the Niger Delta, opening the door for unmonitored production from newly discovered oil fields, and making New World the most powerful oil conglomerate in the world. Jake reveals that he's actually an undercover CIA agent, assigned to investigate the connection between Cassidy's employer, ZEBRA (Zoological Ecological Bio-Research Agency) and New World Petroleum.

Cassidy and Jake arrive off the coast of West Africa seeking to salvage her career and protect the Niger Delta region from environmental catastrophe. When Cassidy is infected with the virus, Jake has only a few days to sabotage New World Petroleum's operations and to save the woman he has come to love.

Devil's Gold is a completed 117,000 word commercial novel. I would be delighted to provide the full manuscript or a partial and synopsis. Thank you for your time and consideration.


I didn't see mentioning Bruce Willis as a selling point. Publish my book because Bruce Willis doesn't want to star in the movie?

The screenplay will be about 120 pages, while the novel will be more like 400. That means you have to fill in all the glaring plot holes that will exist in the ridiculous summer blockbuster.

My plot probably isn't quite yours, but it might give you a blueprint for a more cohesive query.

New Beginning 151

My situation is unstable, like a cone balanced on its point. I am so comfortable that I can’t feel my skin. I am at perfect thermal equilibrium with my surroundings while simultaneously enjoying a pain free morning. No joint discomfort or other age related feelings. It is weird. I am no longer sure where I leave off and the rest of the world begins. It’s a wonderful feeling though, to feel this good, to not know how big you are. I could be as big as an oak, as small as a bean. My thoughts seem expansive, oversize. Nothing seems impossible because I feel a part of it all, of everything. I have no body so I must be everywhere and everywhere must be here. My spirit leaps and I feel intense joy, like a caged setter freed to the autumn woods and the thrill of the hunt. I am sure this will not last too long and I am right.

Professor Chiltern stared at the printout, incredulous. “Are you sure about these results?”

The research assistant pulled out a thick file full of charts and transcripts. “We’ve tested over a thousand subjects. All the same. Once we figured out a way to translate the electrical impulses, the rest was simple. Professor, there’s no doubt about it.”

The Professor leaned back in his chair and pulled off his wire-framed glasses. He didn’t know whether to be elated at the breakthrough, or disappointed that one more mystery of nature had been solved. “So it’s true,” he said. “The male organ does have its own consciousness.”

Opening: Inkmandoo?.....Continuation: ril

Sunday, October 29, 2006

New Beginning 666 (Anonymous Submission)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

And so while posing as the leader of the French Revolution, the agent secretly dashed off hundreds of form letter rejections, crushing the hopes of wannabe writers across the continent. Until he was crushed by the foot of a giant eunuch.

Opening: Dickens.....Continuation: Anon.

comment 1, by Hawkowl: I knew after the first character of the first word that this was the worst example of writing I've ever seen. Way too predictable. This writer will never warrant any attention.

comment 2 by Egghead: The only way this could work is to be in present tense, third person POV.

comment 3 by Dave: Too many words. Eliminate every "the." And we get the point after the first sentence. Cut the other garbage.

comment 4 by Rammer: The only way this could work is to be in past tense, first person POV.

comment 5 by White Mouse: The author doesn't know where to start the story. Where's the tension? Where's the conflict? Isn't there a car chase that would make a better starting point?

comment 6 by radicalfeministpoet: Damn surgeons, they should all be killed.

comment 7 by Bunny Girl: Way too much description. Just show me already!

comment 8 by Braun: Way too little description. Just tell me already!

comment 9 by Kate Thornton: Great continuation. The continuation was great. Did I mention that it was a pretty good continuation?

Face-Lift 223

Guess the Plot

Miss Pettybone's First Case

1. Miss Hayley Pettybone, law firm receptionist, is astounded to find that the partners really won't get out of bed for less than 110K, and is left to defend the (alleged) Whittlestone Ear Boxer on her own.

2. Miss Millicent Pettybone, self-styled animal psychic and Victorian designer sleuth, establishes her reputation when she reveals who let the dogs out, woof, woof, ruff, woof-woof.

3. Miss Amelia Pettybone, frat house maid, challenges the boys of Kappa Sigma Phi to a beer drinking contest -- with hilarious results.

4. Miss Emily Pettybone has long since purchased a new set of matching luggage and forgotten all about her disappointing weekend with Brash Hardy. But when Mildred Pongle buys a lovely used cosmetics case containing Hardy's head, all the old intrigue is brought to light.

5. Miss Loraine Pettibone, postal worker, learns that a mysterious man on her route has been murdered, and decides to escape her boring life by solving the crime--even if it means no one will get mail for three weeks.

6. Miss Portia Pettybone, owner of a finishing school for young ladies, uncovers a secret plot to polyurethane the students and sell them as fashion mannequins, and must use every ounce of her genteel decorating sense to foil the plan.

Original Version

If life is what you make it, then Miss Loraine Pettybone figured she took a wrong turn years ago. Her job as a postal worker, for the last twenty-seven years, is duller than her love life. [Which, lately, has consisted of nothing more exciting than licking Teddy Roosevelt stamps.] And as middle-age spreads its cloak around her, she realizes how boring and mundane her life has become. [Has become, or has always been?]

When a tall, dark, mysterious stranger rents out an isolated farmhouse on her route, she is intrigued but when he manages to get himself murdered, she is thrilled. [Hey, it's one less house to have to deliver crap to.] [Manages to get himself murdered?]

Jumping into the investigation with both size-nine sensible shoes, she is determined to investigate the murder and track down the killer. [Not clear how she would have any information or access or skills that would further the investigation. Wait, she opens his mail and finds a letter from the killer that says, If you aren't dead yet, you soon will be, for the cookies I sent you last week were laced with a slow-acting poison. If you are dead, then it must be the cops reading this. Sorry boys, you'll never find me, especially not if you look for me at the legendary antique home show. I wouldn't be caught dead there.]

Her first clue involves the legendary Antique Home Show, [What is an antique home, and how many of them are on display at this show?] which sends her and her best friend, Lynn Cooper, racing to New York City.

She quickly runs into a quandary, in the form of Sheriff Dwight Caruthers, an old childhood sweetheart who broke her heart her senior year of high school, Eli Rawls, a dashing entrepreneur who owns “The Roosters Club,” in Savannah, Georgia and two respected Antique Appraisers, all who may or may not be whom they portray themselves to be. [Unclear why this is a quandary or what any of these people has to do with the murder. Why not tell us?]

While she races after clues like her hair was on fire, [Just a wild guess, but if her hair were on fire, wouldn't she be racing after water?] she never slows down long enough to figure out what to do if she catches the murderer. A mistake with deadly consequences. [Deadly consequences? You mean like death? She dies? Miss Pettybone dies? What about the sequel? What about the lengthy series of Miss Pettybone mysteries your fans will clamor for? Have you no consideration for the millions of readers who've come to love Miss Pettybone, just from reading this query, despite her size-nine feet? Miss Pettybone's First Case turns out to be Miss Pettybone's Last Case? Let's just call it a mistake with frightening consequences.]

Thank you for your time, I hope to hear from you soon.



It's a bit brief, which means there's plenty of room to fill us in on what the clues are, who the suspects are, and why Miss Pettybone should be any more successful than the police. I'm sure the novel is cute, but we need more than Miss Pettybone is racing around trying to solve a murder. We need the facts, Ma'am.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

New Beginning 150

Megan tried to keep her voice from quavering. "Hello, Joe," she said into the microphone. The lights in the studio were dim, but she still had to resist the urge to hide under her desk. "How can I slay your demons tonight?"

Her new boss, Richard Blake, stood behind the glass separating the studio from the engineering booth and nodded approvingly. They'd fought over that stupid opening line, just as they'd fought over the immense publicity campaign the station had done for her show.

Her caller sounded no more comfortable than Meg felt. "Uh…I have this girlfriend, right? And her father, he like, doesn't approve of me. He doesn't want her to see me. So I thought…"

The images that came to Megan were not happy ones, and she was glad she kept most of her psychic shields up. Angry faces shouted words she could not hear.

Joe went on: “I thought you could, like, zap him with a death ray or something.”

“Sorry, Joe, that’s not what I meant by slaying demons.”

“Oh.” Joe seemed stymied. Then Megan heard him whisper, “You’re right. She doesn’t know it’s me. Some psychic.”

She lowered her shields enough to see that “Joe” was her supposed boyfriend, Zack, holding the phone in one hand and cuddling her best friend Tara with the other. “Of course, Zack, I could make an exception this one time.” Megan lowered her shields fully and sent a psychic energy beam of death at Zack and Tara. Their agonized screams echoed across the airwaves.

When Megan opened her eyes, Richard was staring at her in disbelief. “Did . . . did you just kill two people?” he asked.
“On the air?”

“Oops,” she said.

“Oops nothing. Do you know what this will do for our ratings? From now on, you’re on five hours a night.”

Opening: December Quinn.....Continuation: Anonymous

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Beginning 149

Alcohol doesn’t take away the pain of career rejection, but it does dull it a bit.

I shift on my cushy green couch and take a sip of my liquid tropical paradise, pretending to listen to the woman beside me. She’s talked nonstop for the past half hour.

“—and they don’t ever read their assignments,” the woman hollers above the sweet sounds of Prince, who, unlike me, gets to party like its 1999. She shakes her head and says, “I just don’t understand it.”

“Yeah, I hear ya,” I say to her with a fake smile, trying to pour empathy into my voice.

On the inside, though, my heart aches from the unfairness of life—earlier this week, I found out Andrew, my boss, hired someone else for the newly created management position.

From outside the company.

I’ve busted my ass for three years, working hours upon hours of overtime, and for what?

I’m still fuming when I return to my desk, smelling of tobacco and alcohol. I throw my coat untidily across the back of my chair and drop myself into the seat. I can see Andrew in his office talking to the new manager, occasionally taking surreptitious glances at her legs. There’s a new pile of mail in my in-tray, my message light is flashing and a bunch of post-it notes bearing Andrew’s scrawl are stuck along the edge of my mouse pad. The lunchtime cocktails have loosened my inhibitions and given me an edge; I feel bitter and vindictive. Does Andrew think he’s the only one able to crush a person’s hopes and aspirations?

I fire up Word and start typing:
Dear Author, With regard to your recent submission . . .

Opening: Rhonda Stapleton.....Continuation: ril

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Face-Lift 222

Guess the Plot

Where Evil Resides

1. It looked like just another historic home tour - until the door opened and a devastatingly handsome editor ushered the group in.

2. A delightful illustrated tour guide to such varied buildings as The White House, The Bates Motel, and several New York publishing houses.

3. Attempting to recreate the Inferno, Dante blows up a power plant. If anyone can stop his quest for world domination, it's the yodeling cowboy.

4. A paperboy turns to extreme measures when his subscription payment at the Kneivel house is way overdue.

5. Real estate agent Carrie Fordham has sold her share of tough properties, convincing homebuyers to look past lead paint, radon levels that would choke a horse, and the occasional cracked foundation. But when 666 Elm Street in Amityville comes on the market, Carrie must take her sales skills to a whole new level.

6. Postman Sal Magundi has never met a letter he couldn't deliver. So when little Clara Hexton misspells the addressee of her Christmas list as "Satan," neither fire nor sulfur nor hordes of marauding demons will keep this carrier from completing his task.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Tranquil, quaint and unquestionably safe is what most residents thought of life in the northern Arizona town of Pine Ridge. [Then . . . the zombies came.] [Is this the same Pine Ridge as in the movie Yodelin' Kid from Pine Ridge?] [Quote from the movie:

Col. Millhouse: Marvelous, Autry, marvelous! You certainly have that animal trained and I don't see how you do it.
Gene Autry: The secret in training a horse, Colonel, is that, ah, you have to know more than the horse.]

That changed the day the plans to build the Sycamore Canyon Power Plant outside of town were announced.

Over the weeks following the announcement Pine Ridge became a town divided as the residents subtly aligned themselves. There were those who welcomed the progress and jobs [and electricity] the power plant offered while others feared it would forever change the landscape of their lives, and yet another, small, sinister faction that saw the division of the town as an opening to pursue its own agenda.

That group named themselves the Pine Ridge Alliance or PRA. They furtively began recruiting members from those who not only opposed the plant but also had reason to hate or fear the government. [In other words, everyone except the filthy rich.] As the group grew they began their campaign of terrorism under the guise of environmental conservatism. Their attacks began with minor acts of subterfuge while the sprawling plant took shape. [For instance, graffiti slogans like "Nuke the Plant" and "Free the Yodelin' Kid."] Over the two years it took to bring the plant online the acts became increasingly more violent, finally culminating in the bombing that disabled the plant and shook Pine Ridge to its very core. [Core? Is this a nuclear power plant?]

Many PRA members tried to leave the group then, believing that boundaries had been crossed, but they soon found their lives were no longer their own. [Had they been members of PRA, or PRA, they would have had no trouble getting away.] Dante, their shadowy leader now ruled by intimidation and threats against their families. [Now that the plant's been bombed, what more does Dante want from his followers?] When two members were viciously murdered as an example, someone went to the feds and helped infiltrate federal agents into the group.

Ultimately the undercover mission led to the apprehension of several members and that’s when Department of Justice agents Shelby Ryan and Carson Billings of the domestic terrorism unit arrived in town. [These wouldn't be your main characters, arriving in chapter 19, would they?] Their task was to investigate and build the prosecutorial case against the suspects as well as aid in the capture of Dante and the members still at large.

Over the months Agents Ryan and Carson work with local Sheriff’s Lieutenant Gabe Navarro to stop Dante, whose ultimate goal entails a far more iniquitous attack than anyone could have envisioned. [He plans to bring in PRA to assist in destroying the peaceful town.]

Where Evil Resides is a completed 70,000 word thriller. I would be happy to send a synopsis [I think you just did.] and sample chapters. Thank you very much for your time.



It's a bit long on plot. The PRA legally requires you to get it down to a page.

Why are we keeping the sinister faction's agenda a secret? It's Dante and the PRA that makes this a thriller, yet we don't know what their threat is. Is it a threat to Pine Ridge, or the US, or the world? We need to know what's at stake if we're to be hooked by the query. Also, is there a character we follow throughout the book who's a good guy? Usually in a good guys versus bad guys story, we meet the good guys early on.

Q & A 89

Two years ago my agent submitted a novel which was widely rejected by publishing houses (rightly so - it stank). I have re-written the novel and secured a new agent with a major agency. The novel's premise and basic plot remain the same, but it is vastly better. I have also changed my name, the novel's title and the name of the principal character. Question is: are the editors who read it before likely to remember the novel, and if so, will they reject it out of hand?

1. If it truly stank, most of the editors who read it didn't read more than a page or two.
2. Most people who were editors two years ago have quit and become literary agents.
3. If it was rejected because the writing was horrible, which is no longer the case, I doubt those few who remember it (despite your clever attempts to disguise it) will reject it out of hand. If it was rejected for some other reason, that reason may still exist.
4. If you can provide your agent with a list of those to whom the book was sent, you can let her worry about whether it's worth sending to them again. Wait a minute, you have an agent? Shouldn't you be asking your agent this question?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Beginning 148

I fling the paper toward the neighboring house, then sigh in relief after it disappears through two tall bushes. "Thank you,” a male voice calls out. I don't answer, just slam the front door behind me. I try to determine whether there was a hint of sarcasm in my neighbor's voice, but don't care enough to analyze for long. I've never met him, but the fact that he gets the newspaper is enough to put him on my list. I shudder. People like that carry the news with them. It oozes from their pores.

My straw welcome mat swings from my hand into the fireplace. With the ignorant paper boys in the neighborhood, it doesn’t pay to invest in a sturdy one. I strip and toss my clothes and shoes on top of the mat. Then I flick the switch to start the fire, and run upstairs for untainted apparel.

After my shower I go back downstairs and sweep up the fireplace, sealing the ashes in a plastic bag and disposing of it safely in the sanitized trash chute.

I settle down to a cup of tea and a bowl of oatmeal, but I'm constantly distracted by a tiny hair on the floor of the kitchen. I don't want to have to get changed again to clean it up, so I distract myself by writing my neighbor's name on my list. It's high time I did something about him and his dirty habits.

That hair is still bothering me. I have to deal with it. I go back upstairs and change into a fresh suit. I glance at myself in the mirror and am pleased with what I see. No underpants over the trousers for me. After all, I'm a different type of superhero: Obsessive-Compulsive Man!

Opening: Crystal Charee.....Continuation: McKoala

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Face-Lift 221

Guess the Plot

The Horizontal Life

1. Jake Stone wakes to find that the life he led for six years was nothing but a coma dream. Instead of the lucky young man who side-stepped a speeding car and went on to football fame and fortune, he is a shriveled scarecrow doomed to years of surgery and physical therapy.

2. Finding and keeping gainful employment when you're a narcolept isn't easy. Myron is barely making it when he auditions for a mattress commercial and suddenly strikes it rich.

3. This book about modern-day hookers is highlighted by my first-hand up-close-and-personal interviews with dozens of prostitutes.

4. After thirty-two years spending most of his waking hours prostrate before the childish emperor, Vlad finally sees his chance to stage the coup he's always dreamed of. Also, a dragon.

5. Born lazy, Joseph has spent his life lying on the couch. But when rampaging elephants threaten his hometown, he must stand up -- or be forever flattened.

6. Living in an iron lung has not stopped Gene from getting a degree in aerospace engineering and turning his "capsule" into the Love Rocket.

Original Version

Dear Ms.Literary Agent:

Every day across America, businessmen sit down to their computers to book a business trip. They choose the airline, the hotel and their transportation all by pointing and clicking. [Actually, they have their secretaries do this. Most businessmen never touch a computer, unless they're looking for free pornography.]

They can also choose what type of woman they will go to bed with as well. [See what I mean? Now this is the part where the secretaries are left out of the loop.] Whatever his pleasure is---a brunette, a blonde, black, Asian [or one of each]--it’s all available online [What did you say that url was? (Just to confirm that you have your facts straight, of course.) ] and as easy as ordering a pizza. [Pizza or prostitute. Hmm, let's see . . .


"The works".............$14.95........................$200.00
Cholesterol...............22 mg./slice.................0
Protection............Napkin: 2 cents.......Condom: $2
Chance of STD..........2%..............................64%
Chance of getting
murdered by pimp..0%...............................7%
Tastes better with
chocolate sauce?....No...............................Yes
Made by high
school kid 30
minutes before
arriving at your

Prostitution has moved off the streets and into cyberspace.

My book, The Horizontal Life: Selling Sex in Cyberspace is all about the women who go online (and out of the sight of law enforcement) to ply their trade, the men who patronize them [I don't care what any of them said, that wasn't me. Everyone knows prostitutes will say anything for publicity. Especially Mandy.] [It was Mandy, wasn't it?] and the subculture of web sites, blogs and professionally run boards where the escorts and clients go to meet and greet.

There have been other books about Internet Prostitution, but most of them have been memoirs or how-to books. [Can you recommend a good how-to book?] No one has directly explored how popular and widespread the selling of sex online has become from an investigative journalism perspective. [No one else has plunged so deeply into prostitution.]

My hope is this book will not merely titillate, but educate. I’m not a crusader, but I recognize sometimes you have to start an argument before you can win one. [Not clear what you're talking about. Which side of what argument would you take?]

Included are dozens of interviews with prostitutes I have conducted [Actually, I think you mean it was the interviews you conducted, not the prostitutes--unless the prostitutes formed an orchestra.] [Which is possible. I've heard many prostitutes are quite proficient on the organ, and I imagine many of them have a fine pair of maracas.] over the last four years. [Interviews in which the prostitutes didn't even realize I was interviewing them--I managed to convince every one of them that I was just a regular customer.] I have 14 years experience as a reporter, columnist and managing editor for various mainstream, alternative and online publications.

I would be interested in sharing my proposal for The Horizontal Life with you at your request. This is a simultaneous query. Thank you for your time and consideration.

(The title, "The Horizontal Life" comes from an interview I conducted with one prostitute who said she had accompanied men to the White House, had attended parties with powerful politicians, changed cars every two years [After two years, the back seat starts to get pretty scummy.] and had a stock portfolio worth a million dollars. She said her way to the top had come via a view of the ceiling. Thus..."The Horizontal Life.")


To me the most intriguing part was the part that wasn't in the query, about where you got the title. Perhaps if many of the women you interviewed went from barely scraping by to millionaire, thanks to the Internet, the query would be made more interesting by including sample stories of a couple of these women.

New Beginning 147

I shall end the slave revolt with four nails. To the south, more than six thousand crosses line the Appian Way to Capua, where the uprising began. The dying moan and gasp for breath, begging for rescue that will never come. Dishonored even in death, they will never be buried. Even after vultures rip flesh from bone, their carcasses will hang, a reminder of punishment that awaits those who oppose Rome. Two legionaries throw a thin, ragged youth onto wood planks cut from a nearby forest. They tie the boy to the cross. Barely old enough to shave, he had been Spartacus’s servile pupil.

“Rip that medallion from his neck,” I order. I am not superstitious. I lend no credence to the slaves’ prophecy that their god will explode from the earth and exact revenge. Nor do I believe their claim that, forged by a deity living below Mount Vesuvius, the medallions empowered them to outfight us in battle. I merely want to add them to my coffers; it will put me in high regard to present the silver pieces to the next general to which I am assigned.

And when I have grown in power, I will no longer feel like that little puer I once was.

(Orchestral strings enter. Lights dim to a single spot on the centurion.)

CENTURION (singing): When I was just a puer . . .

CRUCIFIED BOYS (raising their heads and singing): We are all just pueri.

CENTURION: I never saw my mater.

BOYS: He never saw his mater.

CENTURION: I never saw my pater.

BOYS: His pater worked for Caeeeeee-sar.

CENTURION: And I was beaten by my magisterrrrrrrr!!!

Crucifixion! The Rock Musical!

Opening: Steve.....Continuation: Pacatrue

Monday, October 23, 2006

New Beginning 146

His hands slipped another inch. The metal railing was wet with sweat. His desperate gasp strained three octaves above his usual range. He craned his neck, trying to make eye contact with the figure above him. “Look, just tell me what you want. Money? I’ve got fifty thousand in bonds. I’ll cash them in. They’re all yours. A car. I’ve got a car. A new BMW. Just bought it last month. It’s yours. All I have to do is sign over the title. Take me two seconds. Jesus, just tell me what you want.”

The last word ended in a screech as his fingers slipped another inch and his feet scrabbled for a foothold on the slick glass wall of the skyscraper. His left shoe came off, tumbling over and over, thirty stories down to the dark empty pavement of Macquarie Street.

Deparde looked over the balcony at him, silhouetted in the warm glow of the lights, his lips smiling thinly, his eyes cold as steel. “You overestimate our needs, Mr. Johnson. You clearly do not understand the protocol.”

Johnson tried to pull himself up, get a better grip on the steel. A loud creak told him the railing wasn’t designed to take this kind of punishment. “What then? For God’s sake just tell me what you want!”

“The standard thirty-five percent, Mr. Johnson. No more, no less. Now will you or won't you sign with the Sobol Agency?”

Opening: AttemptingFiction.....Continuation: ril

Face-Lift 220

Guess the Plot

Random Thoughts of a Teenage Axe Murderer

1. Should I chop up my boyfriend and eat his body parts? I hate writing my thoughts in this crappy journal. If I kill all my co-workers, maybe I'll get promoted out of my lousy entry-level job. I'm in love with my shrink; maybe I'll kill him with an axe. Or maybe I should have him over for dinner . . . as the main course!

2. She's cute. Math homework is so unfair. Got to beat my GTA3 high score. Wonder if the new Blindside album is out? Look at the boombah's on her. Die, Die, Die, you scum-sucking parasite. I hate mayonnaise.

3. Mmm, cookies. I wonder if I should ask Tina to the Winter Formal. Double-bladed looks cool, but a hachet is a lot more practical. Are there walnuts in these? If there are walnuts in these, someone is going to have to die. Would it look suspicious if I rented a woodchipper?

4. Will this fake I.D. work to get some beer? Can I get that cute girl in History to notice me? Will my skin clear up in time for the dance? Will my Dad loan me the car and an axe Friday night? Who you lookin' at?

5. I wonder if I was on the verge of getting my license before I chopped the driving instructor into tiny pieces. How do so many kids buy this Red Riding Hood story? I mean, if you can't tell your grandmother from a wolf, you need your eyes examined. Think I'll go hang out at the mall. Better bring my axe in case some cop gives me trouble.

6. So I hacked up a few people. Was that any reason to put me in here with all these crazies? Look at that guy, sitting there with his mouth hanging open. Where's an axe when I need one? Doesn't that TV get anything but Brady Bunch reruns? Wait a minute, is that an axe behind the glass in the fire extinguisher cabinet?

Original Version

All Mighty Evil One,

Therese Randle just turned nineteen and she thinks she's falling in love. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but Therese has a small tendency to kill and eat her boyfriends. Well, she eats part of them; other parts give her indigestion. [The liver is good with Chianti and fava beans, but she stays away from the brains, possibly because her nickname for him was "shit for brains."]

Therese's problem is that her brain is incapable of remembering happy thoughts. [It's a psychosis known as elationesia.] So when something pleasant happens, she reacts to that foreign emotion by removing the cause of it. [For instance, if her boss praises her, she responds with an axe blade to the forehead. If a waitress gives her exceptional service, she responds with an axe blade to the forehead . . .] She sees nothing wrong with this less than accepted form of emotion management and is able to look at the death she causes in a matter of fact way. [The difference between Therese and Evil Editor is that when I dole out an axe blade to the forehead, it's to someone who gave me unpleasant feelings.] This allows her to calculate her moves before she makes them in order to escape blame. [In other words, premeditated murder is the best kind because there's no blame involved?]

When she kills her boyfriend, Bucky, in the middle of sex in the middle of a forest,

[Bucky: Not to ruin the mood, but out of curiosity, why do you have an axe?
Therese: If a tree falls on us and pins us while we're making love--
Bucky: Ah. Say no more.]

[If a tree falls in the woods, and the only people there to hear it are moaning and screaming, "Yes, oh yes, harder, baby," does the tree make a sound?]
Therese claims to have witnessed the whole thing as a victim. ["Hey, I'm the victim here. I had to watch as Bucky was chopped up with an axe."] With a rash of [axe] killings sweeping through the area, everyone is more than willing to believe her. Months later, when she uses unnecessary violence against a cop who pulls her over for speeding, [She hacks him up with an axe.] [I thought it was only pleasant feelings that made her respond with violence.] Therese is sent to a psychiatric ward claiming emotional trauma from witnessing her boyfriend's death. Her shrink, Dr. Brian (a cute novice straight out of college) takes her on as his pet project and a year after her arrival gets her out of the ward and into a halfway house for nut jobs [Is that the pc term they're using these days?] with no knowledge of what's really wrong with her. With her new "apartment" and the low entry job she must take as part of her reintroduction into society, Therese makes friends that she must desperately try not to kill. [For if she kills her co-workers, she'll surely get the axe.]

Dr. Brian encourages Therese to write her daily events in a journal- a boring tedious task to her that inevitably becomes an eye opener. As she writes and rereads her entries, she realizes that good things do happen and she really wants to understand why she doesn't remember them and to try and overcome her violent urges. When Dr. Brian falls for Therese, and Therese for him, she knows exactly what kind of danger he's in even if he doesn't. So the question is, does she tell him the truth, or invite him over for dinner?

Random Thoughts of a Teenage Axe Murderer is my first novel. [Good, I was afraid it was your autobiography.] The complete, 88000 word manuscript is ready at your request. Thank you for your valuable time.



"Random thoughts" doesn't give the impression we're dealing with a cohesive novel. Maybe "Confessions" would be better.

You make it sound like killing is a regular occurrence with Therese. Is she that good at getting away with murder?

It seems like if you're planning in advance to kill people, you'd settle on a less-conspicuous weapon than an axe. Plus, even if the person isn't alarmed by the fact that you happen to have an axe, and there's been a rash of axe murders in the area lately, anyone with good reflexes could duck or run in less time than it takes to swing an axe. Of course, you don't actually mention an axe anywhere except the title, so perhaps she doesn't always use an axe.

What you really need if you're trying to sell a book about a killer is a weapon that hasn't been done to death in the movies. Thus I'm providing a list of weapons you might use to fill in the blank in your title, Confessions of a Teenage ______ Murderer.

1. Hoe
2. Tuning Fork
3. Dipstick
4. Baton
5. Turkey Baster
6. Corkscrew
7. Corn Holder
8. Waffle Iron
9. Clarinet
10. Pie

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Beginning 145

Three witches floated through my bedroom wall on Wednesday morning. “Ouch—look out,” I said, as Leonora’s long robes swept across the top of my dresser, knocking over my lotion and deodorant and crucibles, her knee bumping my shoulder. Niad came close behind her; at least she managed to arrive without breaking anything. Sirianna followed about a half a minute later, stamping her feet and shaking her head as if she had a bloodworm in her ear. She landed unsteadily on the floor beside my bed, then reached back and tried to pull the rest of her hair in. It cooperated, eventually.

I waited for them to gather themselves and tell me why in the name of the Blessed Mother they had chosen this moment to drop in. And I hoped they would get to it quickly. If they stayed more than a few minutes, I’d be late for work again.

"It isn't working," Sirianna said.

"It's only Wednesday," I told her. "Give him until the end of the week."

Leonora scowled. "It won't make any difference. We called him Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor. We told him he's gonna be king. He just--"

"I don't have time for this; I'm due on the set. Improvise."

"But there's a problem," Niad said.

I glared at them. "What is it?"

"He's read the script, Mr. Branagh! He knows how it ends. He keeps telling us to bugger off."

"Enough," I said. "Tell Mr. Crowe either he plays the part as it's written, or I'll replace him with a CGI version of myself."

Opening: Shannon Page.....Continuation: j.h. woodyatt

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Face-Lift 219

Guess the Plot


1. Ernie Friks is a champion swordsman. Now if he could just learn enough French to sound good during a match.

2. Men and women try to touch and be touched by each other through the sparks of connection all humans long for. Also, a birdman.

3. In 2012, wearable computers communicate by passing pulses across the skin's ambient electronic field. When Tiffany and LaTis'ua bump in the crowded train, they accidentally switch identities

4. As the Martin family continues their cross country trip, the dreaded cry sounds out from the back seat for the fiftieth time that day: "Mom, Billy's touching me!"

5. Homicide investigator Jill Akron has a secret: she can sense an item's history just by touching it, a skill she has always found useful. Until, that is, she borrows her boss's pen and uncovers a conspiracy that could endanger everyone she loves.

6. A collection of essays about babies and their effect on their single parents. Also, a panda.

Original Version


I am seeking representation for my ten thematically linked collection of short stories, TOUCH. [If you're going to get rejected after only one sentence, you want it to be because of the phrase "collection of short stories," and not because the sentence makes no sense. Move "collection of" in front of "ten."]

Most of the offbeat stories are set in California and feature men and women struggling to find a sense of place and belonging: fitting in, finding roles, and connecting with others and the natural world. [In other words, there is no common theme, but I think the book will sell better if I declare one, so I'll make one up that's so general it could apply to just about any story ever written.] In “Animal Rescue,” a young man examines his commitment to his aging gay parents who are showing signs of mental illness. [Eventually he calls in the animal rescue squad, claims there are two lemurs in his basement, and has them transported to the zoo.] In “Birdman,” a woman struggles with the choice of raising her autistic son alone or remaining in a dysfunctional relationship [with her husband, a salmon-crested cockatoo]. In the title story, a woman receives the remains of her MIA husband and tries to connect to her daughter. It is a collection of experiences, roads not taken, and the intense and unforeseen sparks of connection we all hope for.

I also have a novel nearly completed. [I call it Smell. It's about people struggling to find a sense of place and belonging: fitting in, finding roles, and connecting with others and the natural world. But instead of touching each other, they smell each other.]

Most of the stories have previously appeared in literary journals including: “Lynx Eye,” “Del Sol Review,” “Prism,” “South Dakota Review,” “North Atlantic Review,” and “Isotope Literary Journal of Nature and Science Writing,” among others. [Good strategy, mentioning only the big guns, and not the obscure ones.] In addition, I have attended the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and participated in classes offered by Gotham Writers Workshops.

[Cost to attend Santa Barbara Conference, including lodging: $2000
Cost for a Gotham Writers Workshop: $400
Income for selling stories to literary journals: $200
Potential income for selling this collection of stories: $100
No wonder everyone wants to be a writer.]


If you're going to provide one sentence per story, you have room to describe more than three stories. If you're going to describe only three stories, you have room to go into more depth with each of them. As it is, we don't know enough about what's in the book.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Beginning 144

Nothing but forest--miles and miles of forest--stretched out in front of her in every direction. After wasting four hours of daylight climbing to the top of the ridge, she’d hoped to see more. A distant ribbon of highway, a lone radio tower, anything manmade that would point her way back to civilization.

Lost. The word she’d been refusing to acknowledge suddenly reverberated through her mind. “I’m lost,” she said it aloud, trying on the sound of it, surprised by the quiver in her voice and the knot in her gut.

Again, she wondered at the incongruity of having done something so stupid. She’d been warned back at the ranger station. Never hike Hell’s Gate Wilderness alone, not even a day hike the tall blond ranger had cautioned.

“Come on Carly, you can do this,” she muttered, walking to the tree where she’d propped her battered backpack. She grabbed the pack, slung it over her shoulders and started humping back down the trail.

Walking would have been quicker than humping, of course, but not nearly as much fun, and hey, the tall blond ranger was cute. She was glad he'd insisted on accompanying her, even if he was as lost as she was.

Opening: anonymous.....Continuation: McKoala

Face-Lift 218

Guess the Plot

Blind Side

1. After George's boating accident leaves him blind, he fears he'll have to give up his career as a NASCAR driver. Can Mary, his lovely pit crew leader, convince him to keep driving?

2. Pegleg Paul is the most brutal pirate captain to ever terrorize the Bering Sea, ruling the waves unopposed until a valiant Aleut warrior realizes that the eyepatch isn't just for show.

3. Taking advantage of an Equal Rights ruling, Ted got accepted into dental school despite being blind. But now that he's graduated, he can't understand why he's having so much trouble building a practice.

4. The Scarlet Letter meets The Village in this historical novel based on music by the Swedish rock band Blindside.

5. Only a quarterback could truly love a left tackle. When the coach finds out just how much his QB Brad loves the left tackle Don--and just how hard Don works at covering Brad's blind side--he considers trading Don for a big tight end.

6. A one-eyed supermodel fights to be photographed on the left (it's her good side), despite the missing orb.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Blind Side is, basically, as Tolstoy once put it about his novel, Anna Karenina, a novel about an affair, and the devastating effects of it. [Tolstoy certainly had a way with words.] It follows a widowed August Pahcon, 31, living in a constant state of guilt from the death of his wife, the result of an affair with the tragic Rivka Svetchite, [I'm starting to think it would be easier to pronounce the names in Anna Karenina than in this book.] not so long ago. Set in the 1680s and ‘90s (a parallel to our 1780s and ‘90s), in the farce land of Homstail, [Unclear what the point of calling it a parallel is. Why not just call it the 1790s in a world just like ours, instead of the 1690s in a world just like our 1790s?] it has hints of The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible and “The Village” as we follow August in the village of West Tale [Already I see the hint of The Village: it takes place in a village.] as he tries to learn to love once more, and forgive himself for his wife’s death and his own sins. On the anniversary of his wife’s death he meets the mysterious Blaise Sylen, carrying her own secrets, and soon, her own guilt. Through her he tries to learn to love and to live once more, but her own secrets, the fact that she is a witch and the cousin of August’s most hated person, the village cleric and his brother-in-law, Mr. Atholl, [I can't tell if she's the cousin of one, two, or three people.] thwart their love, and an attempt is made upon their lives, leaving them separated from each other for ten years. [I've read query letters shorter than that sentence.] August ends up in Scoebrinn, the capital of Homstail, living with his sister-in-law [I'm not sure whether you mean he's living with his wife's sister or with his brother's wife; either way, he's in trouble with someone.] and the beguiling Rivka, in a new state of guilt, under the notion that Blaise has died because he could not save her. Still searching for some comfort, August gives into temptation once more, and his second affair with Rivka begins. But when he hears news that Blaise is alive, as well as depressed, blind and vanished from West Tale, he leaves to find her,

[August: I'm leaving you for another woman.
Rivka: What?! Again?! Who is she?
August: She's depressed, blind, invisible, a witch, and I haven't seen her in ten years. But I'm sure to be happier with her than with you.]

and what love may still be there. When he finds Blaise, however, what happiness he thought would be there is absent, as Blaise denies loving him, [seeing him,] or even knowing him at all. We are left with August pondering whether to stay with Blaise, to try and resituate what love was there, [Resituate?] or if he should leave, realizing that his marriage to her was a mistake, [His marriage to her? You didn't say they were married.] and the only woman he has ever truly loved was Elina, the woman whose death is his culpability.

Blind Side is pensive, dramatic and highly original. [Well, original except for the parts that are like The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible, The Village, and Anna Karenina.] It would attract not only readers who enjoy the classics, but fans of the band Blindside (as such it was named after). [If that works, I suggest you title your next novel The Beatles.] Their album, Silence, released in 2002, helped me create the novel, including the plot and reasoning behind certain characters and their actions. Each song on the album has been used in the novel, [With permission?] each song becoming a chapter, the lyrics infused within the writing. Any fan of Blindside’s could easily find the lyrics imbedded, [You realize you can't just imbed (or even embed) song lyrics you didn't write, right?] but one does not need to know the music to understand the novel. I believe it is the first novel of its kind, and because of its originality [I don't get how a book closely based on a record album can be called "original." Doesn't that make it completely derivative?] and fascinating plot, it could draw readers of all ages and interests, [making it the bestselling book of all time.] including many fans of Blindside from America and Europe (seeing how Blindside is from Sweden, and has a marvelous following overseas as well as in America). [Did you call the book Blind Side merely in hopes of selling books to fans of Blindside?]

Being female, and just sixteen, Blind Side was a fun, and interesting challenge for me during the eleven months I spent writing it, [even if it did cause me to miss my junior year, but who really cares about chemistry and geometry and French?] especially seeing how the main character is about twice my own age, and then aged to my parents’ age, and mainly, male. It is a literary fiction/historical fiction novel (as much of the culture is Puritan) at 226,050 words. It is not the first novel I have written, but it is certainly the longest [I hope so. I hope half of it is the longest.] and most serious. I’ve not had anything published before, and I am quite exited to have Blind Side be my debut! [So excited, I can't remember how to spell "excited."]

Thank you so very much for taking the time to read my query letter. I look forward to speaking with you.


Tolstoy wrote novels shorter than this query letter.

It's not a good idea to compare your book to classic works. Let reviewers and editors make the comparisons. Also, let others decide if your book is the first of its kind, fascinating, highly original, etc. Your opinion of your book will not be seen as unbiased.

Your book is going to be 800 pages long. Some people won't even be able to lift it.

Shorten those long sentences. Longer isn't always better, as your boyfriend will try to convince you after you finish laughing.

You stick the phrase, "the fact that she is a witch," in a list of facts about Blaise, and move on like it's as natural as saying she's a seamstress. If one of your main characters is a witch, you might want to elaborate.

New Beginning 143

When I was a kid, a bespectacled bookworm creeping through the children's section of the library, a poster hung in the corner where preschoolers fidgetted through Story Time.

The poster graphic was a book opened like a door, showing the way to a pastel fairy-tale land, castle on a hill and all. I loved that poster and was embarrassed by it in equal measure. The straight-backed chair for the Children's Librarian stood right in front, so I couldn't always read the words as I scuttled by. I knew them, though, by heart.

Books are magic.

Back then it was just a metaphor.

Outside the piledriver slammed, shaking the walls. I pushed my earplugs in harder and hunched over my keyboard. At this rate, McClung Library would collapse before the Dee Centre for Thaumaturgical and Shamanic Studies was two storeys high.

Thud. A book fell off the shelf. I stifled a curse. Since Magic's Return there's been the chance a curse would work, and then what? Curse while holding A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and find an oak in the middle of your bedroom? Snap at your husband while he's reading The Lady Vanishes and never be seen again? Books have to be treated with respect.

The pile driver slammed again, sending a rain of dust onto my head. I sneezed.

"God bless you!" sang out the head librarian.

Oh, no. Now she'd done it. Without warning a brilliant column of light shone from above and my ipod playlist miraculously morphed from Megadeth to Gregorian chants. I picked up the book that had fallen, just as the pile driver sent another shudder through the building. "Son of a b--" I bit the sentence off incomplete. Not too late, I hoped.

I glanced at the book: Female Caligula.

Uh oh. Miss Ranavalona, the librarian, was approaching.

Opening: Batgirl .....Continuation: acd/ril

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Face-Lift 217

Guess the Plot

Nightcraft Sister

1. It's Bewitched all over, as Raymond freaks out over the fact that his new girlfriend Callie is a real witch.

2. As an ex-nun on the run, there were two choices for Jayne deWynter in the warren of dark alleys that made up the Black Heart district. She decided being a black witch in training was too reminiscent of the Church, while being a pole dancing stripper at least had shorter work hours.

3. Embroidery isn't forbidden at Holy Toledo Convent, but Sister Aurelia chooses to work on her life-sized tapestry of Adam in the Garden of Eden by moonlight - at least until she gets the hang of it.

4. The nuns thought that she passed her evenings quietly, doing handcrafts. In reality, Mother Superior was battling evil vampires every night. She was Nightcraft Sister, terror of the undead.

5. Little Tommy Trupple has been awakened by strange noises in the dining room. On the night he is brave enough to investigate, he discovers his sister putting together a secret family scrapbook. And yes, it has baby pictures.

6. Betty thought it was fun to join in her sister's midnight pagan rituals--until she heard that at the next ceremony she was scheduled to be the main course for a demon from the sixth plane.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Callie the witch just wants to have a little fun—escape her boring coven house once in a while, hang out with her human boyfriend Raymond. But when her best friend Logan vanishes and no one in the coven or the Elders does anything about it, [Why would anyone in the coven or the Elders do anything about it? Do they all know Logan? If not, I'd leave out that phrase.] Callie decides to take the situation into her own hands. She quickly finds out why everyone was wary of getting involved: there are dark forces at work here. And amid everything else, she doesn’t neglect her job at the university’s magical research lab. [If I'd vanished, and my best friend was a witch who was taking things into her own hands, I would hope she would neglect her job, and find me.] [This was shaping up as a decent opening paragraph until that last sentence. Dump it, and instead explain what you mean by dark forces at work.]

Logan’s upstairs neighbor, a sexy warlock named Jeremy, offers to help. Callie is drawn to him, despite historically uneasy relations between witches and warlocks. [Warlocks hate that there are so many more movie roles for witches.] It doesn’t matter, of course, because he has a girlfriend, and Callie is involved with Raymond…assuming he can get over his current freak-out about the fact that she’s a witch. [If it doesn't matter, we shouldn't be talking about it. If that's all the space you're allotting to plot--and right now I can sum it up by saying "When Logan disappears, his best friend, Callie the witch, and his neighbor, Jeremy the warlock, try to find him,"--I'd rather you left out the romantic angle and gave us more about the ramifications of Logan's disappearance. What are they doing to find him? Who is he, other than a friend? Is there reason to believe the "dark forces" want him for something? If so, why him?]

My completed 80,000 word urban fantasy Nightcraft Sister stands on its own, but it is also the first in a series. [It would be easier to make a joke about what happens in the next Callie the witch book if I had a better idea what happens in this one.] The second book is underway, and I have sketches for several more to follow. [Is it easier to write a novel from an outline, or from a sketch?] Enclosed is a brief synopsis and the first five pages. May I send you the entire manuscript?

Kind regards,


"Callie the witch just wants to have a little fun" makes it sound like a comedy. Dark forces at work and urban fantasy lead me to think it's somewhat darker. I'm not sure the query succeeds in describing the book's tone.

Maybe an idea of what a witch can do would be helpful. Can she cast a spell that kills all terrorists? Can she eliminate pollution? Or is it more like mixing up a sham love potion?

Is the character actually referred to as "Callie the witch" in the book? That makes it sound like a cartoon character. You know, like Wendy the witch, Casper the friendly ghost, Felix the cat, Miss Snark, the literary agent. If she isn't called that in the book, I'd get it out of the query.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New Beginning 142

After it happened, and before they took her away, Mum sat shaking and crying at the kitchen table, the sleeve of her pink striped night-shirt stained with blood from where she had nicked her own hand with the knife.

Felicity sat opposite, trying not to look at the blood, trying not to think about Thomas. She kept her eyes on Dad, who stood behind Mum, rubbing his hands up and down the sides of his dressing gown. Mum's head was bowed and she sobbed, "She told me to do it, she told me to do it!" Dad made soothing noises and reached out his hands towards Mum's shoulders, then pulled them back as if afraid and resumed the rub, rub, rubbing of his dressing gown.

It was true; I had told her to do it. I never liked that stupid cat, Thomas. And things were rather tight, what with Dad having lost his job and practically everything else except for that ridiculous dressing gown.

Mum and I had smiled as Dad and Felicity raved about the stew. It was only after Felicity found the whiskers in her bowl that things got ugly.

Opening: McKoala.....Continuation: Kate Thornton

Monday, October 16, 2006

Face-Lift 216

Guess the Plot

Dragon Sword

1. A mistake in transcription of an ancient text sends treasure-hunters on a wild goose chase for a sword when what they should be seeking is the Dragon's Word.

2. After rejecting Elf Quest, Wizard's Spell, and Knight's Tale, a young fantasy writer comes up with the most clichéd title imaginable.

3. In this genre-busting fantasy, a motley crew searches the countryside, dodging supernatural creatures, to find the long-lost Dragon Sword needed to defeat the Evil Lord and restore happiness to the land. Also, shockingly, a young sheep herder turns out to be the heir of the kingdom!

4. When a California man gets a pixie pregnant, he has no idea his action will soon lead to his life being threatened by an evil little man. Also, dragons.

5. Orgadon The Brave is about to set out on a quest for the Dragon Sword when it is brought to his attention that there are plenty of Dragon Swords already in the village, namely in the library.

6. It has a blade twenty feet long and a grip designed for giant claws. Mildred Trout daydreams about the strong, handsome knight the sword must belong to, but is in for a surprise when the real owner shows up.

Original Version

Dear E. Editor:

What if pixies were real? What if they weren’t at all like Tinkerbelle, and what if they weren’t little blue creatures from Cornwall? What if pixies were almost without exception female and found their mates in the human world? [What if pixies were so good at golf, they could all beat Tiger Woods? What if I kept asking you questions about pixies for an entire page, and it turned out my book was a cold war spy thriller?] The trouble and mischief would be overwhelming, and the romance would be unusual.

Dragon Sword is an 82,000 word fantasy with a strong romance sub-text. [I'm tired of terms like "strong romance sub-text." Why not just say, with sex scenes so hot you'll be compelled to stop reading and polish your own dragon sword every few pages.] It tells the story of Sha’na, a pixie princess, and her mate Robert. It is set in and around a small lumber town in Northern California. Most of the action takes place just after World War I. The story is told in the voice of their daughter, Sha’el.

Robert denies Sha’na’s reality. When she is ready to seal their mating [That's another phrase I hate. Can't you just say "hit the sheets," or "absorb the pancake batter?"] he says, "You’re not real." She offers her touch as proof. He says, "And I suppose dragons are real too." [Shouldn't she have this converation before considering sealing their mating?] Indeed they are, though she tells him griffons and phoenixes are just mythological. He asks with some irony if they’ll see a dragon. She suggests that’s unlikely. Dragons don’t like to be seen. But, they will see one and its child. [You have less than a page to give the plot of your book. Is this conversation that vital?] They will fight to save the dragon kid.

Robert and Sha’na mate. Robert is drawn into the world of pixie pregnancy. Pixie gestation is two weeks and involves "the hunt." [The hunt of what by whom?] [Does the hunt involve a sword?] Sha’el explains that human males usually have about thirty-eight weeks to adjust to being a father, But Robert has only two weeks, and they’re filled with the unexpected. He has no time at all to adjust to the idea of a daughter born talking and flying. [You just said he had two weeks.]

Hiding a pixie family is imperative. An evil little man accuses Robert of kidnapping a child. He misunderstood what he saw, and thought Sha’na a child. [Out of curiosity, who's bigger, Sha'na or the evil little man?] She’s about four feet tall, average height for a pixie. [Four feet? What's the difference between a female dwarf and a pixie? First LOTR has elves that are much bigger than dwarfs, and now it turns out even pixies are as big? I hope we don't find out Tom Thumb was actually five feet tall, or there may be a revolt by dwarfs who want to be considered bigger than somebody.] There will be more trouble if they stay in the little town where Robert lives. He jumps at the chance to take his family into the forest. When his boss asks him to track timber-thieves, he hauls his family off to a forest cabin. [How hard can it be to track timber thieves? Just follow the guys with the trees.] [What occupation has "tracking timber thieves" as part of the job description?]

Sha’el can talk to animals, including Robert’s horse, Daisy. Her mother shrugs it off as "early." Sha’el and Daisy become fast friends. Their adventures make up a significant part of Dragon Sword. [A pixie child and a horse have adventures that take up much of the book? Is this book for adults? On the other hand, a strong romance sub-text might not appeal to the kiddies. Who's your audience?]

Fred, the evil little man, ["Evil Little Man" was comical enough. Naming him Fred makes it even funnier. If you want him to be evil, name him Mordok the Bludgeoner.] plagues them. He tries to kill them. [With a sword?] But Fred is just a small evil. There is worse. [If Fred is trying to kill me, I'll worry about the worse evil later.] The conquest of the greater evil brings Sha’el into her own. She saves her father. [With a sword? Is there a sword in the book? Because I'm thinking you didn't see a lot of people carrying swords around in California just after WWI.] To end the more malevolent evil, they journey to the Home Forest. We meet Pixie culture head on.

I have a background in history. I’ve drawn on ancient cultures and myth to create a unique and well developed pixie culture, though I present it sparingly and as part of the story. I also have a family background in the timber industry and a connection to Westwood, the little town around which much of the action takes place.

There is much in Dragon Sword that I intend as subtle humour, including "riffs" on fairy tails. [I knew dragons had tails. Fairies do too?] [Hey, are dwarfs bigger than fairies?] If you’re a parent, you’ll probably see much in the pixie children that will remind you of your own.

May I send sample chapters or the entire manuscript?

Best regards,


When Fred sees Robert with Sha'na and assumes Sha'na is a child rather than a pixie, why does he also assume she's been kidnaped? Is it so unusual to see a man with a child?

I gotta tell you, I didn't get a sense of what the main plot is. Or rather I got the sense that the main plot is the fight against the greater evil, but that we've spent all our time talking about dragons, pixie gestation, Evil Fred, and Daisy the horse. What's the greater evil, how is it threatening Robert and the pixies, and what's their plan? How far into the book do we get before learning about the greater evil? I'm worried that much of the book might be a series of events that involve these characters, but have nothing to do with the main threat to their world.

New Beginning 141

I was a young girl, fifteen years old, when I left Mama’s dusty shack for my father’s flawless mansion in the upper class section of Puerto Plata. I should have been relieved to go but I wasn’t.

Mama’s house was more than just humble, it was poor. It was a sad mix of wood, concrete and dried palm leaves. We had a small plot of land behind the house that my brother, Manuel, used to grow plantains and yuca. Our small piece of property held some chickens and a goat that I tended to early in the morning and an immense flamboyan tree behind the house. Pitiful as it was, it was the only home I knew and I was afraid to leave it.

One day that spring, while I was playing with Aurora in the dirt yard, I overheard Manuel arguing with Mama. "Mama, how can you let Maria Matilde go with him?"

"I have no choice," Mama said. "The chickens continue to fall victim to el Chupacabra. Soon there will be nothing left to eat."

"But," Manuel protested, "Maria Matilde is el Chupacabra."

"Don't you think I know that?" Mama sneered. "I told your odioso papá that one day he'd pay for leaving me."

Opening: Glendaliz Camacho.....Continuation: ILS

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Writing Challenge

I received one signed contract from a continuation author whose opening author hasn't responded to emails. And I have room for another entry or two in the book. The solution: Someone writes a piece of fiction whose opening will work with the following continuation:

The Crotaline leader approached. "How's that functional requirement specification coming?" he snarled.

I ignored the taunt and lunged for his groin with my sword. The barbarian dodged, but my sword intelligently countered, slashing wickedly into his femoral artery. Blood sprayed from the wound in great, copious spurts. My sword drank from it wantonly.

"Snap out of it, Kearney. The planning review meeting is in twenty minutes."

My intelligent sword and I were undeterred.

This continuation originally went with New Beginning 18
. The new opening shouldn't be funny, and should involve swordplay that turns out to be this businessman's fantasy. We'll change the word "Crotaline" to whatever we have to based on the opening we use. Here's the one rule: once you've composed your 150-or-so-word beginning, you have to continue working on the piece. It could be a short story, the beginning of your nanowrimo novel, a piece of flash fiction, whatever. To avoid being accused of being another James Frey, making up openings, this has to be the actual opening of some larger work. So don't do it unless you plan to finish it, whatever it is. And don't do it unless you are willing to permit its publication by signing a contract, if you haven't done so already.

Face-Lift 215

Guess the Plot

Stolen Pieces

1. When Allison is released from Rivercrest Mental Institution, she decides to piece the puzzle that is her life back together one memory at a time. But when she remembers that her husband left her for her sister, Allison decides it’s her turn to steal a few pieces.

2. Two friends die and go to heaven. St. Peter gives Chris a pass to come in, but tells Mike he must go to hell. Mike steals some pieces of Chris's pass and uses them to demonstrate his skills with origami. Unfortunately, St. Peter is unimpressed.

3. They don't call him Casanova Krebs for nothing! In this tale of high adventure, follow our hero as he impersonates the paying customers at an expensive brothel.

4. Suspicion naturally falls on a community of tree-dwellers when there is a break-in at the Reeses factory.

5. It had taken Diana a year and a half to finish the 5000-piece puzzle of one of Jackson Pollack's paintings. Finished, that is, except for the three pieces her obnoxious neighbor walked off with yesterday, and Diana is determined to get them back, no matter what the cost.

6. In the fast-paced world of extreme chess, almost anything goes. Lucas Boesky claws his way to Grand Masterhood, but is it through his skill or his telekinetic powers?

Original Version

Dear Agent’s First and Last name,

Do you ever wonder why people act like your friend to your face when in fact they are your worst enemy? [I can think of worse things for my worst enemy to do than treat me like I'm his best friend. Torture me, for instance.] Mike and Chris are what appears to be the best of friends throughout their lives. Mike and Chris pass away and meet St. Peter at the pearly gates to see where they will spend all of eternity. St. Peter informs Chris that he was a good person throughout his entire life, then is granted a pass into heaven. On the other hand, St. Peter tells Mike that he was a mean person who abused his friendship with Chris. Mike is then banished to hell for all eternity. [This is sounding like a standard Pearly Gates joke.

A couple are killed in a car crash on the way to their wedding. At the Pearly Gates they ask St. Peter if they can get married in Heaven. St. Peter says, "I don't know. I'll find out," and leaves. Months pass. While waiting, they wonder, What if it doesn't work out? Eventually, St. Peter returns.
St. Peter: Yes, you can get married in Heaven.
Man: Great! But if things don't work out, can we also get a divorce?
(St. Peter slams his clipboard down.)
Woman: What's wrong?
St. Peter: It took me three months to find a priest up here! Do you have any idea how long it'll take to find a lawyer?]

Feeling bad for Mike, Chris gives him a piece of the pass to heaven. [It's a little souvenir Mike can take with him to hell, to remind him, as he's burning in the fire lake, how easy Chris has it.] While Chris isn’t looking, Mike steals another piece by cutting the pass. [With the scissors he happens to have with him.] Now, Mike has more of the pass than Chris. [Uh oh. I wonder if St. Peter is gonna fall for this.] St. Peter asks to see the pieces[, having apparently already forgotten which guy he gave the pass to]. First, St. Peter opens Chris’s pass. Chris’s piece opens into a cross. St. Peter tells Chris that he still gets to go to heaven. [Whereas, if the pass had opened into a triangle, Chris would have been sent to hell. Interesting that the criteria for entrance to Heaven are so arbitrary.] Next, St. Peter opens Mike’s pieces. Mike’s pieces are slowly opened and spell out the word “hell”. Mike’s evil, deceitful behavior lead to his own demise.

This isn’t your classical “good” verus “evil” picture book story. Stolen Pieces is an interactive picture book for children [Unless you're sending this to an agent who handles nothing but children's picture books, you might mention this up front. Otherwise it might be rejected before they get to the part about it being for kids.] and is appropriate for ages three to eight. [Three? Who would tell a three-year-old that there's a chance she'll spend eternity in a pit of fire? She'll have nightmares for a decade and then spend her adult life in therapy.] Children enjoy stories that invite them to participate. By carefully folding a piece of paper, children can actually cut the pieces of the pass as the story unravels. [Does this mean we have to trust a three-year-old with scissors?] Chris’s piece of the pass opens into a cross. Mike’s pieces of the pass spells out the word “hell”. [We know, we know.] [Can't you make the paper unfold into a pitchfork or something? Do you want to be reading to your three-year-old, and you unfold the pass and magically it says "HELL!" and bursts into flames? Sure, it's not as bad as unfolding the paper to find the "F" word, but when the kid starts running around yelling the "H" word and telling her friends they're going to burn for eternity if they abuse her friendship, she may lose a few friends.] [If Mike had made one more cut, his pieces would have spelled "hello," Chris's would have read 666, and the outcome would have been vastly different.] A sequel is in the making. [In the sequel, an army private gets orders to spend two years in Germany, but in a drunken celebratory stupor he folds his orders in quarters and makes three cuts with a pair of scissors. When the paper is opened up, it spells "Afghanistan."]

I am a fan of the work you have represented. I hope to work with you in the future. I have enclosed the manuscript of STOLEN PIECES for which I am seeking representation, a demonstrational cut out of the pass that accompanies the story, [which is legitimate and redeemable for entrance to Heaven at the actual Pearly Gates,] and several summaries of picture book texts that are available upon request. [Several summaries of picture book texts? What picture books?] I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. [Four of the five sentences in this paragraph are blah spacewasters. Get rid of at least two of them.]


Revised Version

Stolen Pieces is an interactive Christian picture book for children. Mike and Chris have been friends throughout their lives. They pass away and meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates to learn where they will spend eternity. St. Peter praises Chris for being a good person, and gives him a pass into Heaven. St. Peter tells Mike that he was a mean person who secretly abused his friendship with Chris. Mike is banished to hell for all eternity.

Feeling bad for Mike, Chris gives him a piece of the pass to Heaven. While Chris isn’t looking, Mike steals another piece by cutting the pass. Now, Mike has more of the pass than Chris. St. Peter asks to see the pieces. First, St. Peter opens Chris’s pass. Chris’s piece opens into a cross. Next, St. Peter opens Mike’s pieces. Mike’s pieces are slowly opened and spell out the word “hell." Mike’s deceitful behavior has foretold his own demise.

This isn’t your classic “good” versus “evil” picture book story. It comes with the pass into Heaven, and a pair of safety scissors. Children can cut the pieces of the pass as the story unravels, obtaining the same results Chris and Mike do in the story.

I have enclosed the manuscript of Stolen Pieces for which I am seeking representation, and a demonstrational cut out of the pass that accompanies the story. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.



How old are Mike and Chris? 10? 90? I can see kids being less interested in old men, but I can also see kids not wanting to read about kids who died.

The cutout is, no doubt, ingenious, but I worry about attempts to scare people into being good. Then again, I suppose it could be argued that that's the whole idea behind most religions.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

You make me soooo mad, Evil Editor.

McSwilligans has left a new comment on your post "Book Update":

Go fuck yourself, Evil Editor. You start a blog under the pretext of giving free advice to novice writers, then turn it around and make a book based on their contributions. Since they did the bulk of the work, I don't think the idea of you sitting back and collecting all the money from book sales sits well with them.

1. There was never a pretext to give advice, free or otherwise. This blog is for my own entertainment, and that of anyone who enjoys it. Show me where I offered advice.

2. "They" did very little work. The openings were written already, not written for this project. The continuations are about 75 words each, many of them far fewer. A few minutes of work. I, on the other hand, have put a good 100 hours into this project, having designed the cover and interior, edited, proofread, hounded authors for contracts, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

3. Cash cow? After paying for production and shipping of the book, ISBN's, etc. etc., I expect to be out $1500 - $2000. And I've declared if the book miraculously makes back more than I spend, the profits will go into a sequel.

4. And what's it to you, anyway? Not only have you contributed nothing to the book, I don't recall seeing a single contribution of anything to this blog by a "McSwilligans" since it started. Not even a comment. You drop in for the first time ever, and decide people care what you think?

5. How many copies can I put you down for?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Face-Lift 214

Guess the Plot


1. When a mysterious organization destroys the library's oldest books, their magical power is released in the form of dragons. Now, only two resourceful library assistants can prevent the destruction of the town.

2. Brothers Jimmie and Joey DiMarco's exterminating business takes a turn for the worse when Jimmie decides to re-paint the truck. Now they're cruising the city streets looking to zap Bookwyrms, Slivverfish and Cockreaches.

3. The inaugural night of the Bonnington Readers Circle turns bitter and bloody when they realize they have seventeen different editions of Jane Eyre but not a dictionary among them.

4. The SF/F genre is under attack by escapees from an unpublished 600-page ms., and only mild-mannered annelid specialist and Robert Jordan fanatic Sherman Splink can save the day.

5. Ellenore thought the old book she found in the attic wasn't good for anything but propping up her wobbly table. But when she tore out some pages to make it fit, she freed a dozen dragons, and now she must find a way to contain them--or risk losing her damage deposit.

6. A young wyzyrd is thwarted in hys studyes when every magyckal tome in the lybrary is dyvoured by a plague of fyre-breathing parisytes.

Original Version

Dear Agent-name-spelled-right,

Magic is back, and man, is it ticked!

Library assistant Lynne Shorter doesn't expect anyone at her small university to succeed in harnessing magic. [Something more like, "No one could have predicted that someone at tiny XYZ University would be the first to harness magic," would be a better start. Who would care about a library assistant's opinion on this subject?] [It's like saying, Chicago plumber Joe "Ball-cock" Jacobi never expected anyone from Illinois to discover a huge fissure in the surface of Uranus.] Twelve years ago magic rolled back into our mundane world, [What caused this?] and so far no one has discovered how to exploit this new and dangerous resource. Lynne finds enough challenge in repairing magically-endowed books [Explain.] and enough amusement watching the new faculties of magical studies squabble for funding. When she's saddled with training Ken Hautala, a sullen darkmage-wannabe, it's just another bump on her road to retirement. [I wouldn't think of a library assistant as being on the road to retirement. Either she's young, and on the road to something better, or she's old and took the job to get off the road to retirement.] [What is Lynne training Ken in? Darkmageness, or library assistantship? I assume the latter, but it isn't clear.]

But Ken discovers that a mysterious organisation--conspiring with the university's ambitious president--plans to destroy the library's oldest books and harvest the released power. [In order to . . . ?] Lynne and Ken become reluctant allies [Why are they reluctant to be allies?] in a campus crusade to save the books. The organisation's scheme goes badly wrong, and the freed magic manifests as dragons. [Apparently the crusade to save the books didn't go so well?] Annoyed dragons. [You know your story is either predictable or nuts when it's the same as one of the fake Guess the Plots.] Can two library assistants save their town from the dragons--and save the dragons from the bureaucrats? [I would expect the dragons to need saving from hunters or the military; bureaucrats are easily disposed of with standard fire-breathing.]

BOOKWYRMS is a 75,000 word modern fantasy. SASE is included. Thank you for your time and consideration.



If magic rolled in twelve years ago and no one knows how to use it, how is it manifested? Are dragons, talking mailboxes and flying broomsticks now commonplace? Is David Copperfield now waiting tables? Tell us what's different since magic got here so we have a sense of why it's dangerous. And why it's considered a resource despite being dangerous.

The first sentence implies that someone at the university succeeds in harnessing magic. Who? Lynne and Ken? The Organization? Ken discovered the plot, but it's not clear why Ken and Lynne are the only ones who can stop the dragons from destroying the town. Isn't this a job for the Head Librarian?

It sounds like a kids' book. Which isn't a bad thing, but if it's for adults, you don't want to give the wrong impression.

I won't go so far as to say the sentences could all be rearranged without changing the meaning, but there needs to be better transition between them. Right now it sounds like a list of mildly related plot points. Answering a few of my questions would help solve this problem.