Friday, December 29, 2006

Face-Lift 253

Guess the Plot

Enter the Parrot

1. They say actors should avoid appearing on stage with animals. So when playwright Quentin Unmantt learns that Valeria Starre, Quentin’s ex-wife, has landed the ingénue role in his new Broadway play, he hurriedly adds a character and a new stage direction for each of her scenes.

2. Medium Madame Ming is deep in a tricky séance in San Francisco when a huge earthquake hits. The spirits are lost and upset. One moves into the plumbing. One reanimates the dead cat. But there's trouble when Stalin's ghost and Madame Ming both decide to . . . enter the parrot.

3. A professional stunt double is hired to take the place of a martial-artist hit man for the mafia, which also means taking out the hit man's targets. He begins soliciting advice from the mafia boss's hooker.

4. A martial arts legend sends his granddaughter deep into the seedy underbelly of Chinatown to search for his missing bird, a parrot who thinks he's John Wayne.

5. Jane Finch knows her new play will be a hit, but it requires a parrot to fly in and blab clues about the murder of Mrs. Crow to Detective Robin. She tried a trained live bird, a puppet on wires, and a holographic CGI character projected on mist. All failed. Her last hope is Tommy "the Midget" Jones, in a feathered suit. Will the show go on?

6. Wei Chin never wanted to study with the notorious Pai Mei, but when his own father is disgraced for failing to master Pai Mei's deadly art, Chin is thrown into virtual slavery in his father's place. His only hope of freedom is to learn the sole counter to the master's Tiger Claw technique . . . the dreaded Angry Parrot.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

One girl. One parrot. One ancient kung fu mystery. Meet Jade, the White girl in the Wong family.

On the surface, Jade fits in perfectly. But just below the surface lurks the fragrance of ginger, ginseng and a secret kung fu society. [The fragrances of ginger and ginseng I can tolerate. But the time I rented my garage to a secret kung fu society, the stench was so bad I had the place sandblasted and fumigated, and then I had to burn it to the ground. That's one of three groups I'll never rent my garage to again, the other two being the Institute of Filipino Cryptographers, and the Moose (no, not the fraternal organization, an actual herd of moose--I must have been out of my mind).]

When her grandfather asks Jade to find his missing bird, things take a turn for the bizarre. Soon, Jade is diving deep into the seedy underbelly of Chinatown and keeping secrets from her best friends and her cute eco mentor Cedric, the president of EASY-Stud (the Ecological-American Society of Young Students), aka the hottest guy in school. [Going to Chinatown and keeping secrets don't strike me as examples of things turning "bizarre." That's more of a "things get interesting" list.] [The organization name is too contrived. No organization would have that name. Try something like American Society of Students for Ecological Scholarship.]

There are a lot of questions Jade wants answered. Is grandpa really a martial arts legend? What's the deal with Asiaphile teachers? Is it wrong to wear chopsticks in your hair? [Hey, if western women can wear forks and spoons in their hair, why not?] Can you like Hello Kitty and still be cool enough to sit near the A crowd during lunch time? [No. You have to eat under the bleachers in the gym while wearing a hood.] When will her nerd cousin understand that there's a fine line between being chivalrous and downright stupid? When will Jade herself learn the same? [The other questions were amusing or intriguing; these last two could use some background if you're going to ask them. I suggest dumping them; you have enough questions, and I'd like a few answers.]

And how can you choose between a boy who is yum cha (yummy & charming)and one who's dim sum (dimpled & sumptuous) [and one who is wel rep (wealthy but repugnant)] while hunting for a missing parrot who thinks he's John Wayne? [Now listen, and listen tight, pilgrim. Out here, a bird settles his own problems. And right now, I want a cracker.]

ENTER THE PARROT is a Young Adult novel, complete at 65,000 words, set in California. It's intended as the first book in a series, [Is the parrot in all the books in the series? I think a parrot detective would be a great idea.

Officer: Well, the killer has to be the nephew, the daughter, or the butler. They were the only ones here. But there's no evidence against any of them, so there's nothing we can do.

Hercule Parrot: Squawk! I'm gonna enjoy pulling the trigger and watching you die, Uncle Paul. Squawk.]

but stands well on its own.

I am enclosing a synopsis and the first three chapters of ENTER THE PARROT for your consideration and will gladly send you the full manuscript if you are interested.

I have enclosed an SASE for correspondence only. If you prefer, you can send me an email. Should the manuscript be unsuitable for you at this point in time, feel free to dispose of it.

Thanks very much for your time and consideration.


Try to cut those last five sentences to two or three.

The tone is good, but outside of a missing bird, there's no plot. Now that I've had you cut a few things, you have room to address a few of my questions: Is there reason to steal the parrot, beyond it's value? Are there clues that send Jade to Chinatown? Is there a bad guy? Does her cute eco-mentor have any interest in her? Is it just a coincidence that eco-mentor is an anagram for erect romeo?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Face-Lift 252

Guess the Plot

From Gray Mists, Returned

1. A faerie uses a human guy to destroy the "Gray Mists," thus opening a portal that allows all the creatures of mythology to enter our world. Chaos ensues.

2. Rainforest dweller Amanda "Gray Mists" Park, thinks she's rid the world of another unbearable cooking show hostess. But two of the stamps fell off the bomb, and after failing to answer the postman's knock, Amanda opens her door to find the deadly ticking package -- returned.

3. After being lost and given up for dead in December, a team of six mountaineers descend from the misty heights of Mt. Wiqwee in February. But all is not well -- they're undead abominable snowmen, and they're freezing all the ninnies in Malibu.

4. Amanda Marsland's car breaks down in a fog. Walking for help, she finds herself in a village in AD 1240, unwillingly involved in their problems--especially those of the handsome knight of the manor. On the next foggy night she finds her way back to her car and our time. But now, the one thing she wants in life is to return to 1240.

5. When aspiring writer Logorrhea Witherspoon receives a package, she hopes for the best. Tearing open the plain brown wrapper, she finds her manuscript, with a form rejection and a request from Gray Mists Publishing to never submit again. Will she find the courage to write on?

6. For fifty years librarian Millicent Bottomweather tsk-tsked when patrons claimed they had returned books which clearly they had not. Now, one foggy day in November, hundreds of goblins emerge from the mists to return the thousands of missing books. Will Millicent succeed in collecting their late fees?

Original Version

Dear Editor,

Demitri is an ordinary guy who wakes up one night and finds his house on fire. The fire kills his wife, and is about to kill him. [Lucky for him the fire started on her side of the bed.]

All these things are the least of his problems. [Those may be the least of his problems, but I don't recommend putting them on the back burner.]

A Faerie appears and snatches him away, moments before certain death. But now, Demitri is in even greater danger as the Faerie uses him to destroy the Gray Mists, a barrier which seperates our world from another world -- one that contains all of the creatures of myth and all the magic that have long since been absent from our own world. [Maybe it's just me, but I don't see living in a world where Pegasus and Hercules and Narcissus are real as more dangerous than imminent certain death in a fire.] She uses him and then discards him, a battered man, burnt from the house fire and on the verge of death. [Why did she use him? Did she need a burnt guy?]

He doesn't die, though, and as the strain of returning magic begins to tear the world apart, it falls to Demitri to try to re-seal the portal and repair the damage. He doesn't understand why something like this should fall to him, [Nor do I. I assume you're about to explain.] but it does [But it does? That's the explanation?] and he's the only one who can stop the unfolding chaos. [How about a few examples of the unfolding chaos. Are there centaurs and minotaurs and unicorns roaming the world? Are guys trying to push huge boulders up hills? Because that would all be cool.]

FROM GRAY MISTS, RETURNED is an urban-fantasy novel, complete at 100,000 words. It's about how the world changes around us, sometimes despite our best efforts. [Sometimes, despite all our precautions, we find Medusa, Cerberus and Chimaera in our coat closet.] It's about doing the right thing, even when it's the hardest possible thing you can do. It's about change, and loss, and it's about finding your place. [In short, it's about vagueness personified.] [The eighth labor of Hercules: destroying the Vagueron, an invisible creature that did things to stuff.] It is also, I hope, just a good story.

Although this is my first novel, I have been writing short fiction for many years now. I am also an assistant editor for a science fiction magazine, Blood, Blade & Thruster.

It is both your reputation as an agent, as well as my enjoyment of the works of your clients which gave me reason to send my novel to you for consideration. [Aw, I bet you say that to everyone you query.] I would be happy to send the full manuscript at your request.

Thanks for your time!


The paragraph telling what the book's about needs specifics, or you may as well leave it out. It says nothing after the genre and word count.

For that matter, after the fire, I don't know anything that happens in the book. And the fire could be on page one. How about some facts/events/concrete examples?

Shouldn't Demitri be spelled Demetri? Then it would be like the goddess Demeter, and the numerous Demetriuses, including Demetrius and the Gladiators, in which Jay Robinson plays Caligula. Yes, the same Jay Robinson who played Lord Petri in the Star Trek episode "Elaan of Troyius," in which Kirk must teach the arrogant Dohlman about the ways of love. Actual lines from a deleted scene in that episode:

Uhura (listening to Spock play the Vulcan lyre): I'd certainly like to learn how to play that.

Spock: I'd be glad to give you the theory. The mathematics are somewhat complex. To my knowledge, no non-Vulcan has ever mastered the skill. You see, we Vulcans have natural rhythm.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Face-Lift 251

Guess the Plot

Trail of Hope

1. Commentators from Fox News discuss the forced relocation of the Cherokee in 1838.

2. Orphaned sisters Hope and Patience Tudor cross the Atlantic on the Mayflower. Twelve year old Hope has heard fanciful stories of seven idyllic golden cities in the west, ruled by a benevolent sorceress, and runs away to find them. Can Patience find her before it's too late?

3. A pioneer woman treks from Connecticut to Oregon and starts a new life raising a child. Then, from out of nowhere, her husband shows up, wanting to know where the kid came from.

4. Hope McGhee, 16, gets dragged along with her nature-loving parents for a two-week trip to the wilds of Alaska. Furious to be so far from malls and MySpace, she half-asses the survival courses, which leaves her up a creek, stranded by a freak summer storm. Can Hope blaze a trail to safety?

5. The clues point to murder, as crack private eye Dick Peters hunts for the missing debutante, Hope Diamond. Her killer left bits and pieces of her along the road, and Peters follows the Trail of Hope into peril.

6. Little Suze Hanford loves her pet banana slug Hope. But when Hope starts spelling out hot stock tips with her slime trail, she's kidnapped by Suze's next door neighbor, an unscrupulous day-trader. Will Suze ever see her pet again?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my historical fiction, Trail of Hope, complete at 135,000 words.

When her husband Frank decides to start a fresh life elsewhere, Abigail finds herself trekking from Connecticut to the Oregon Territory in 1848. [You might include the phrase "with him," somewhere in there. Otherwise it sounds like Frank took off for Virginia with the babysitter.] To survive, Abigail must develop the physical strength and endurance to withstand the rigors of the trail west and the mental and emotional fortitude necessary to build a new life. Through fire, flood, accidents, and deaths, Abigail finds new friendships [Those sound more like things that would end her friendships. Permanently.] to sustain her and the courage necessary to succeed. But Frank questions her changing attitudes and new friends, especially the leader’s son. [The leader? Leader of what?]

[Frank: Where've you been?
Abigail: I was with the leader's son.
Frank: The leader? Leader of what?]

[Does the leader have a name? If so, I think it would add a mysterious, foreboding aspect to the book if you eliminated the name and always referred to him as "The Entity."]

Will the hardships of the journey forge Abigail and Frank tighter, or tear them apart?

First of a trilogy, Trail of Hope closes with Abigail gazing out at her new homeland, believing herself a widow, [What happened to Frank? Did the hardships of the journey tear them apart?] sheltering a newborn entrusted to her care. Book Two opens with Frank appearing out of nowhere, [No one appears out of nowhere. Is that his explanation? Because I don't see Abigail buying it.] convinced the toddler at the door is proof of her infidelity. [Oh, like Frank wasn't off boffing Miss Kitty in the room over the saloon in Cheyenne for the past year.] Book Three continues the story of that child and the growth of Portland and surrounding areas. [Your series morphs into a textbook for Urban Studies 101?] More than the story of Abigail, the series probes the reasons men and women traveled west to settle and develop new cities and territories. Why did they risk hardship, illness, even death, abandoning the settled lands in the east, especially before the 1849 gold rush? [Also, why didn't they just take the train?]

I thank you for your time and consideration.



If I'm in Connecticut and I want to start over in a new place, and I'm traveling by covered wagon, I'm heading for New York. If my kids don't like it there, they can move to Ohio, and their kids can try Kansas, and eventually my descendents might make it to Portland, Oregon. No way am I leaving Connecticut in a covered wagon heading for Oregon. Even if that was the original plan, at some point I'm gonna tell "the leader," look pal, I know we were planning to go to Oregon, but it's been ten months, and suddenly this Pittsburgh place isn't looking half bad.

Is 135,000 the word count for book 1? Is the entire trilogy complete? Trekking across the country could be interesting. Settling in Portland with this Frank clown sounds like a drag of a book. And the history of Portland (book 3) is pure dullsville. I recommend limiting the query to book 1.

If you don't like "The Entity," for a more comical slant, call the leader "The Big Enchilada."

Frank: Where've you been?
Abigail: I was with The Little Enchilada.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Why I Got Bad Grades in College

When you go to college, you have to choose a major subject. If you want to be a writer, you might choose English, in which case you end up taking a bunch of literature courses, like The Romantic Poets, or Milton. They claim that to be a writer, you have to read other writers, so you’ll be influenced by their styles. Which is crap. I mean, does this sound anything like Milton?

My Shakespeare professor was this old bald guy, Doctor Wells. He assigned a paper on King Lear, but he also told us that if we wanted to write a Shakespearian sonnet instead, he would accept it. Which was his way of saying that he’d rather read a sonnet than a whole paper. Most professors don’t bother reading serious papers anyway. If I had written a twenty-page paper on King Lear, and in the middle of page 19 I’d written, "Shakespeare was an ass, and so are you, Baldy," he never would have seen it. Not that I’d blame him. If I were a teacher I wouldn’t read all that crap either. A teacher's slush pile is probably ten times worse than an editor's.

Anyway, I happened to have a crush on the woman who sat in front of me. I hadn’t ever said a word to her, but I wrote a sonnet about her:

When I come in at nine o’clock a.m.
And sit down in my Shakespeare class, I see,
The room is filled with women, and of them,
The loveliest sits right in front of me.
O terrible dilemma, what to do?
If only she would sit some other place,
Then I’d enjoy the class much more, it’s true,
For I could spend it gazing on her face.
But no, she sits right there, with me behind.
Her visage, by her hair, from me is walled.
The only consolation I can find,
Is, unlike Doctor Wells, she isn’t bald.
Professors have it easy, I would say:
They stand where all the women look their way.

Doctor Wells gave me an "A", and that was the beginning of the end of my college career. I asked myself why I'd bothered to read King Lear, when I could get an "A" by writing 14 lines. The answer to this question occurred to me a few months later, as I was taking the final exam, but at the time I felt I was on to something big: professors don’t want to be told stuff they already know; they want to be entertained.

For my Romeo and Juliet paper, I didn’t read a word of the play. I wrote another sonnet:

It used to be when I came in at nine,
And found so many women here to see,
The only one I wanted to be mine
Was sitting in the seat in front of me.
How could such foolish thoughts be in my head?
O tell me how I could have been so blind,
To want the one who sits just up ahead,
Without a thought about the one behind?
I thought that things were really bad before,
When I could only see my true love’s hair,
But now I hate the situation more,
‘Cause I can’t even tell this woman’s there.
Why must the women I’m in love with be
The only ones in class I cannot see?

Personally, I thought this sonnet was as good as the first one, but this time I got a "B." I also got a poem:

By this time you’ve convinced me you can write
Fine poetry, but listen, listen tight:
If I don’t see some prose from you real fast,
You haven’t got a chance in hell to pass.

Well, no professor, especially not one who probably hadn’t written two pages of prose himself since he got tenure, was going to tell me what kind of papers to write. For my third and final paper, I wrote a play in sonnet form:

Return of Shakespeare

(Dramatis Personae: Dr. Wells, Ghost of Shakespeare, Students, Attendants, Nymphs)

Enter Dr. Wells
(A classroom)

WELLS. Now class I want thee all to please take note:
Othello was the best play Shakespeare wrote.

Enter Ghost of Shakespeare

GHOST. Othello?! Why if only I weren’t dead,
I’d tear you limb from limb for what thou’st said!

WELLS. Who darest interrupt me whilst I speak?

GHOST. ‘Tis Shakespeare! I’m attending class this week.

WELLS. But Shakespeare! Thou’st been dead this many years!

GHOST. Yet now’ve returned, and can’t believe mine ears!
Thee’d better shape thine teaching up real fast,
‘Cause if thou don’t, this class will be thy last.

WELLS. But William, I have loved thee all my life!
I love thou more than I love mine own wife!

GHOST. Once Caesar daredst call me mine first name;
Thou knowst what he got — thee shall get the same!
(Stabs Dr. Wells.)

WELLS. Et tu, Will!

That was only good for a "D+," but I wrote the thing in five minutes, and I forgot to use the correct rhyme scheme for a Shakespearian sonnet. I ended up with a "D" in the course, because I didn’t know enough about Shakespeare to pass the exam, but hell, if you can almost get a "C" in a Shakespeare course without reading the plays . . .

There was no stopping me now. I enrolled in Dr. Wells’s British Poetry course the following semester. Our first paper was supposed to be on Paradise Lost, which I’d read in high school, and once was enough. No way was I going to read it again, so instead I wrote the following epic of my own, and I didn’t care what grade I got. Even an "F" was better than having to read Milton. If you’ve ever read Milton, you know what I’m talking about.

Think back about a month, and you’ll recall
I took your course on Shakespeare in the fall.
I did not make an "A," I wish I had.
In fact, a "B" would not have been too bad.
But no, I did not even make a "C."
A "D" is what I made. A fucking "D"!!!
And now, I start to think I’ve lost my mind.
I have a problem that keeps getting worse.
It seems each time I talk out loud I find
That all my words are spoken in blank verse.
Your Shakespeare class has made me talk this way.
It’s been like this for three entire weeks.
No matter what it is I try to say,
I speak in blank verse every time I speak.
I asked my lawyer what I ought to do,
And he said, "Why not sue? It really pays!
Old Shakespeare’s dead, but guess who you can sue?
The guy who made you read the lousy plays!
I speak iambic penta-metric-ly.
You’ll dearly pay for doing this to me.

Weisenheimer Wells’s response to my Milton paper:

My conscience, sir, at times has troubled me,
But not, I must confess, for your earned "D."
And by the way, if you keep writing verse,
Your grade in this class may be even worse.

Doctor Wells gave me a pretty good grade on that poem. I figured he was trying to tell me something. I figured he was trying to tell me, in his own subtle way, to go ahead and write funny essays and poems for all my courses, so that other professors could experience the joy I’d brought into his tedious life.

It was my Browning paper the following semester that should have told me to cool it with the funny stuff. You’ll need some introductory information before I show you this one.

My roommate Rex and I happened to be in the same writing course one time, with this professor named Mitch Manische. After the semester we asked Mitch which writing course we should take next, and he recommended English 47, with Harmon Irons (some famous poet, though I’m sure you’ve never heard of him). Mitch told us that it was a special writing course, and that he was going to be sitting in on it himself.

I'd never taken a course with two teachers, even if only one of the teachers was really teaching, and I’d also never been in a course with only two students. That’s right, Rex and I were the only ones who registered for the course. Rex and I were the only ones stupid enough to register for the course.

You’d think they’d have enough sense to cancel a course that no one wanted to take, but no, his highness and mightiness Harmon Irons had spent at least half an hour preparing to teach the course, and he was damned well going to teach the course.

The worst part was, it wasn’t even a writing course, like Mitch had said it was. It was the same old standard boring literature course, where you read some boring book or poem by some boring person who died a few centuries ago, like Dryden, and then write a boring paper about it.

We were pissed. We had already taken all of the literature courses we needed to take, and we’d been tricked. We decided to rebel. I decided to rebel by not reading anything, and by writing papers totally irrelevant to the assignments. Rex decided to rebel by having an affair with Harmon Irons’s wife, (a much more interesting story, admittedly, but this isn’t a story about Rex).

Our first assignment was to read this ridiculously long and obscure poem called "Cleon," by Robert Browning, and to write a ridiculously long paper in which we covered these points:

1. Why did Browning decide to make "Cleon" an epistolary poem?
2. Was he right in doing so?
3. Discuss the quality of the epistle from an acoustic and graphic standpoint.

I read the first eight or ten lines of "Cleon," and that was all I could handle. This was my paper, good for the lowest grade I ever got:

In Harm’s Way

We had gathered once again, we three. There was Mitch, tall and gruff, once a writer, now playing out the string. There was Rex, virile and stylish, a veritable playboy. And of course I was there. We sat silently, staring straight ahead, apathetically awaiting an evening of weariness, anticipating the arrival of....Harm! Yes, Harm, that Greek intellectual poet-philosopher who pretended to teach this class.

Rex flipped up his Polaroid Cool-Ray clip-ons, and said, "Didn’t see you in class last time, Mitch.

Mitch refused to engage in direct eye contact with Rex. "I had a meeting to go to," he said.

Rex said, "You can only claim to have meetings and diseases so often. Face it: you spread it around the department that you were auditing this course, and now you’re stuck with it."

"I’m not stuck with it," Mitch claimed. "It’s interesting and I like it."

Rex and I were still laughing ten minutes later when the door flew open. "Quick, hide the dope!" Rex screamed. "It’s a bust!"

"Worse than that," I told him. "It’s Harm."

Harm entered in his usual flowing white toga and Roman sandals, an olive branch wreath draped solemnly about his neck. "Good evening, disciples," he bellowed, raising his arms to the heavens. "Tonight we discuss Browning."

"Fascinating," Rex yawned.

"'Cleon', my friends," Harm said. "'Cleon'! Should it be epistolary?"

Rex rolled his eyes and headed for the door, saying, "I should have dropped this course the minute I found out there weren’t any women taking it."

"Hold it!" Harm squawked. "Who’s going to tell me about 'Cleon'?"

Rex pulled open the door, and there, as if in divine response to Harm’s question, stood Dick and Jane, the talking jackasses, wearing striped pajamas. Harm’s eyes popped out of his head on springs and dangled in front of his chins.

Dick came in, extended his hoof to Harm, and sat in the easy chair next to Harm’s. Rex decided to stay.

"What seems to be the prob here?" Dick asked, lighting up a Salem.

"Aw, I can’t get anything out of these guys about why Browning made "Cleon" an epistolary poem," Harm told him.

"Oh, Jane would be the one to see about that," but I don’t think we’d better disturb her right now." Jane was sitting on Rex’s lap, nibbling his ear lobe. "Anyway, if Robert Browning made it epistolary, who are you to complain, Harm? I mean, compared to "Cleon," your poetry sounds like Mother Goose."

"Why, thank you," Harm said, genuinely flattered to have his poetry mentioned in the same breath with Goose’s. "And now, who wants to discuss the epistle from an acoustic and graphic standpoint?"

"I haven’t read it," I said.

"Guess I’ll have to field this one too," Dick said, crushing his cigarette butt against Harm’s toga sleeve. "Graphically, I think it’s a good epistle. But what do I know? I don’t even know what an epistle is, for Christ’s sake. Acoustically, the words flow right along, though there are a few touchy spots. For instance, it’s impossible to say the word ‘lisps’ in one syllable. Try it, Harm."

"Lisps," Harm said in two syllables. "Lisps, lisps."

"Hey, quiet everyone!" I said. "Mitch is talking in his sleep!"

"How did I get roped into taking this course?" Mitch said in his sleep. "And how do I get out without hurting Harm?"

We all started laughing, all except Harm, who just walked out of the room, muttering, "Lithpth, lithpth, lithpth."

That’s the kind of paper I wrote for most of my courses. I got away with it about half the time in the English department, but when I started doing it in Anthropology and History and Geography, my grade point average started plummeting. It was a miracle that I graduated, when you think about it.

As for Harmon Irons, he didn’t like my humor one bit. If there were a grade lower than "F-," he would have given it to me. Maybe he didn’t like being called "Harm." Or maybe he actually enjoys reading serious papers all the time. Could that be it?


Saturday, December 23, 2006

'Tis the Season

Guess the Plots have featured Christmas from time to time. But the ones below weren't all fakes. Which were the actual plots of novels whose queries appeared on Evil Editor?

1. Sick of his stressful job guarding a labyrinth, the Minotaur applies for a position pulling a sleigh. Can the taurine recluse learn to be jolly and get the job before Theseus finds him?

2. Time traveler Giovanni intercepts the Magi outside of Bethlehem and replaces the frankincense with sensimilla, dooming Jesus to be forever pictured as a long-haired hippie.

3. When Mark messes up his solo in the Christmas musical, his dad is so upset with him he crashes the family car into a gasoline tanker truck on a foggy bridge while driving home.

4. At Christmas, Mandi and Daniel each make great sacrifices in hopes of providing the other with happiness. Will their sacrifices tragically render their gifts useless? Or will a robot MAGIcally save the day with his Deus ex Machina appearance?

5. The true story of what happened that fateful night when three rich, swarthy, lost travelers asked for directions to the stable, but could not speak Italian.

6. Abandoning his family on Christmas day is the only decent thing Jeffrey's done for them in years. At least he didn't take all the presents with him.

7. While following yonder star, the three wise men find themselves in Rome. Lost and confused, they must depend on a senile mapmaker to get them back on their path to destiny.

8. Papa regrets telling the Santa Claus at Macy's what he REALLY wants for Christmas . . . when he discovers Santa is really an undercover vice squad cop.

9. Nerdish Ferdinand Turnbull postpones his search for his father in order to pimp for all the hos in Bethlehem.

Answers below:

Fakes: 1, 2, 5, 7, 8

Friday, December 22, 2006

Face-Lift 250

Guess the Plot

Five Days in Jail

1. Pro football player Jerrod “Sweet Moves” Walker's memoir about the time he was convicted of rape, vehicular manslaughter, illegal weapons possession, possession of a controlled substance, and first-degree murder.

2. A week in the life of a small town jail is chronicled as criminals come and go. Also, tortoises and a hypnotist.

3. John had seen DJ's doing fun stuff with vinyl records and thought he'd try it himself. But when he played the Kingston Trio's "Tijuana Jail" backwards it opened a portal and landed him behind the bars of that very jail. How can he demand a phone call when he flunked Spanish?

4. After planting a bomb under her ex-boyfriend's car, there's only one place Annie knows she'll have an ironclad alibi for the time of the explosion -- jail. So she "robs" a bank -- and accidentally succeeds, escaping with idiotic pickup guy Luke Dunbolt, in his dad's Maserati. Now what should she do?

5. Berkle Wump slips across the timeline to escape the hairy minions of Wizard Sqweepleton and is instantly lost in Tucson, Arizona. Local thugs terrify him so he attempts to steal a Twinkie, hoping to use it to return to Jizzle, but is arrested for shoplifting and thrown into jail. Now the hapless elf must quickly learn to speak Spanish and play jail soccer -- or get his ass kicked.

6. Rajendrah Day thinks he's pretty smart. He came up with a scheme to employ his wife and four children to smuggle drugs into England. But when he reads in the Bombay Times that they've been taken into custody by Customs Agent Hardbottom at Boring-on-End International Airport, it's time to think again.

Original Version

Dear Editor:

This manuscript provides a glimpse into the machinations of American small town and County law enforcement in action for one working week, and from several viewpoints, innocent and guilty. There is no one person from Mayberry who takes the lead because everyone in the City of Glenview, deputies, attorneys, the homeless and the nearly homeless, a judge and even his wife must work together in order to find a little girl who has gone missing.

Tory Burns is caught speeding and must spend five days in jail. Sheriff Deputies Martin and Mondale treat him as respectfully as he deserves, but they are busy with more pressing duties. An all out search for the missing girl begins when an armed robber tries to deal with Laura Peterson, the D.A. with information about the child’s whereabouts. [This sounds like it's the D.A. with the information. It's the robber, right?] Martin and Mondale set out to track the girl down.

Judge MaGuire runs his staff and his court with an eye to the law. [What?!! How did this guy get elected?] His wife must work around his distaste of animals cluttering his backyard in order to make a refuge for an endangered species of tortoise.

[1-800-Got-Junk. May I help you?

Yes, I need someone to clear out the clutter in my backyard.

That's what we do. What kind of clutter is it?

About forty endangered giant tortoises.

Maybe you should try an exterminator.]

[Orkin Exterminating.

I have an infestation.

Roaches? Rats?

Giant tortoises. They're everywhere.

Have you tried calling the local soup kitchen?]

The judge sends the hapless drug addict Randy to a hypnotist [I sentence you to three years of clucking like a chicken whenever you hear a cell phone ring.] where he relives the experience of coming home to find his house on fire with his kids still inside. [Who is Randy? You speak of him as if you've already mentioned him. Is he the armed robber? If not, why is he coming before a judge? What does he have to do with anything?] Randy meets the parents of the missing girl outside the judge’s courtroom. [Why are the missing girl's parents outside the judge's courtroom? Shouldn't they be a part of this hunt that involves "everyone in the city"?] He explains to them that it was by chance, not from their own negligence, that someone took their child. [And he knows this how?] [How is it known that the child was "taken"?]

As Rae MaGuire rescues a tortoise stranded in a drainage channel, the missing child comes forward. [That's it? That's your big wrap-up paragraph?] [No wonder she was missing so long; she was on the trail of a tortoise. I once followed a tortoise across the Brooklyn Bridge. It took four years. The traffic was backed up to Wyoming.] [Coulda been worse. She could have been following a snail across the La Brea Tar Pits.]

I went back to college in 2004 and attended classes in Justice Admin., volunteering several months for the San Bernardino County Mental Health Center. My education was enriched by the people I met on both sides of the counter and in the courtroom. This is a story about normal, everyday people in action. [When a cast of characters includes an armed robber, a hypnotist, a drug addict, a tortoise-obsessed judge's wife, and Barney Fife, I'd hardly call them normal, everyday people.]

Please let me know if you would be interested in taking on my manuscript. I am unpublished but willing to write. [While a lack of willingness to write can be a deal-breaker, it turns out a willingness to write isn't a big selling point. Drop it.]


Based on the title, the book is about Tory Burns. Yet his role in the book itself, which seems to be about the search for the girl, isn't brought up at all. Not that it's clear how a guy in jail can have any influence on the search anyway.

The missing girl just comes forward? What a letdown.

There's no overall coherence. If the main plot thread is the missing girl, the query should talk about the characters who are connected with the kidnaping/search. The speeder and the tortoise refuge and the judge and the burned-down house distract from the main plot. If they're connected, explain how. Otherwise drop them.

The Mayberry reference isn't working.

Start over. Concentrate on the main story. Sideshows are fine in the book, not in the query.

The Pope vs. The AntiChrist

Adversaries in both religion and Guess the Plots. But one of these plots was real.

1. Geraldo Rivera refuses to give up his obsessive quest to expose the Pope and Osama Bin Laden as Friday night drinking buddies.

2. Senator Blake Johansen suspects his son may be the Antichrist, so he shaves the boy's head to check for the mark of the beast. To his relief, all he sees on the naked scalp is the number 999.

3. A longtime nun begins to question her life's choices when she falls in love with a man on a visit to Rome, a man who proves to be the Pope in street clothes.

4. A handicapped professor of religious studies at Notre Dame plots the murder of a student he believes to be the Antichrist.

5. In 1973 the Vatican stockpiled enough oil to ensure the holy flame would burn for eternity. Then came the oil crash. Now the Holy See is home to to a brutal battalion of cut-throat priests who fight to the death to guard their oil and the holy Flame. Can a new Pope bring an end to this madness?

6. A cloning experiment in Area 51 creates a hybrid of a human and an alien, a hybrid that proves to be . . . the Antichrist!

7. A mix-up at the hospital has the Antichrist being raised by the Pope's housekeeper. A wacky battle of wills ensues.

Answer below:

Real plot: # 6


Zombies are a staple of Guess the Plots. But three of the following were real plots.

1. The popular girls of Metro Valley Day School will do anything to maintain a size 0, including becoming zombies.

2. Nobody ever said voodoo was easy. But when Vance raises a trio of zombies, he finds that undead underlings are more trouble than they're worth.

3. When a touristy dude ranch is built over a western graveyard, trouble pops up in the persons of Billy the Kid and Jesse James . . . zombiefied.

4. Veteran cop Angus Sweeney, killed in the line of duty, returns as a superhero zombie named Dead Sweeney, wreaking havoc on the criminal element of New York City.

5. When dancer Coco Osborne unexpectedly becomes a zombie, she's discouraged by her newfound stiffness. She invents a dance for zombies--the Shadow Walk--that takes the nation by storm. Will zombies finally be accepted?

6. Aboard the S.S. Anatali, a week before Academy finals, an artificial life form runs a gauntlet of student riots, corrupt cops, and zombies, trying to keep her roommate from being expelled.

7. On Troap island, Isa, only 14 years old, already practices traditional healing learned from her grandmother. But when Isa discovers she can heal the dead, her army of zombies turns the tropical paradise into a war zone.

8. No longer content to lie around listening to sirens, crying babies, and loud rap music, the residents of the Restful Acres cemetery Rise and Walk in the largest zombie protest march of all time.

9. Janice's novel seems to practically write itself. But the plot is worrisome, and her regency romance comes back time and time again to the flesh-eating zombies scene.

10. Jack knew he could get in trouble for emptying his bladder in a cemetery, but he never expected his urine to wake the dead.

11. The devout are confused with the undead, as zombies bent on world domination rise up at the same time as The Rapture. Will anyone get out alive?

12. A new dance craze hits the tiny Carribean town of Port Au Feu. But tourist Staci Mesa discovers that it's an invitation to death when she meets a handsome zombie in the hotel bar.

13. Shipwrecked in the desert, Paula is befriended by an unusually intelligent camel who guides her to a land swarming with zombies.

14. Jazz singer Carrie Bravo has finally gotten her big break: a gig at one of New York's most famous venues. But when marauding zombies attack during her set, will her need to perform outweigh her pacifist principles?

15. 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.

16. A pharmaceutical genius tries to turn millions of men with hair loss problems into zombies with his brain-sucking Rogaine shampoo.

17. In a world of witchcraft, zombies, and therapy clinics run by soul-sucking creatures, a psychic therapist's life is in the hands of three demons named Malleus, Maleficarum, and Spud.

18. Sophronia Ilkes does NOT want to be known as the Virgin Zombie. But all the zombie males have lost the urge, and most even the equipment. Is Ronie brazen enough to entice a living man to devirginate her? More to the point, is she fresh enough?

19. Scientists Jack and Imelda Ituri drill through the Antarctic ice cap -- straight into a pocket of Mesozoic soil. Ancient spores sprout in the lab, producing gigantic parasititic brain-sucking amoebas. They'll quickly destroy humanity if 14 year old Jamelda Ituri can't kill her parisitized Zombie-ized parents before they escape to Australia.

20. A movie crew accidentally bulldozes sacred Indian burial grounds and unearths some seriously pissed-off zombies, who demand ancillary rights and a share of the gross.

Answers below:

Real plots: 6, 13, 17


You never know when a vampire will fly into a fake plot--or a real one. Which of the following were fake Guess the Plots, and which were plots from actual queries?

1. A nightclub owner's plan to have themed costume parties to attract business seems to be working -- until she realizes the vampire "costumes" aren't actually disguises.

2. A vampire shares the angst of eternal teenagehood (and that pimple that won’t go away) in her stack of 2351 diaries.

3. When philosophical zombies hold a conference to become taken seriously by the world, unionized psychic vampires threaten the event.

4. A young knight and an escaped slave fight each other, as well as spirits that would enslave, corrupt and destroy the minds of mankind. Also, a vampire.

5. Sometimes a vampire needs more than just a drink. In Blood and Skin, Kevin Nivek takes a job as a night coroner in the D.C. morgue to satisfy his hunger for... well... blood and skin.

6. One by one the graduating class of Millard Fillmore High is found slashed, their blood drained by vampires, as the yearbook, once a precious keepsake, has become a grocery list.

7. When Cassandra's best friend is killed by psychic vampires, she vows to kill all psychic vampires. Then she discovers that her parents are . . . you guessed it.

8. Molly the vampire is desperate to go to her 20th high school reunion. If nothing else, she figures she'll be a shoo-in for "Youngest Looking."

Answers below:

Fakes: 2, 3, 5, 6

The Devil

The ultimate villain often stars in fake plots.

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

Little Lucifer had always been an ideal child . . . until the day Dubya moved in down the block. "Dubya." Even the name sounded sinister.

When Satan is framed for breaking a soul contract, only deceased lawyer Johnny Cochran can get him off.

Bored with Hell, Satan rises to dabble in landscape design—using souls as plants. Father Rock must stop him before he decorates Earth to death.

Satan does have a charming side, and Alice fell for it. Telling her parents about her new boyfriend will not be easy.

When a Satanic entrapment spell is hidden in an innocent picture book for children, only a feisty librarian stands between the girls of the third grade and eternal damnation.

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.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The 1st Serial Killers Guess the Plot Quiz

Serial killers pop up frequently in fake plots. And in real plots too, apparently. Six of the following plots were the actual plots of minions' novels. Which ones?

1. When Joe inherits a house from his Aunt Magnolia, he thinks it's his lucky day. But it turns out Aunt Magnolia was a mad serial killer, and the house burns down, so Joe is out of luck--until he's lucky enough to run into attorney Lancelot Fimby.

2. Patricia falls in love with the Earl of Hawksworth. There’s just one problem… he doesn’t know that she is merely a gardener. When he discovers the truth, cruel words fly--until an obsessed serial killer begins stalking Patricia.

3. By day, Guido is the town butcher. By night, he's the serial killer police have dubbed . . . "The Butcher."

4. Deep in the Ozarks, an illiterate teenager decides that "Formaldehyde" would be an impressive name for her baby boy. The consequences reverberate down the ages, as little Formy grows up into a serial killer who learns to pickle his victims in order to prolong his perverse enjoyment.

5. A former police detective comes out of retirement to hunt down the 700-pound serial killer known as "The Brachiosaurus."

6. Five female adult movie director's have been murdered in Tennessee already. Can the Tennessee Serial Killer Unit get the killer before he gets his next victim?

7. A serial killer threads fishing line through the limbs of his victims and makes them "dance." They call him . . . "The Puppeteer."

8. When serial killer "Angel of Death" terrorizes a city, only one superhero has a prayer of stopping the carnage: Sister of Mercy, with her bullet-proof wimple and her Rosary of Doom.

9. When a serial killer nicknamed "The Minotaur" slips up and allows a single syllable of laughter to be recorded on a victim's answering machine, will detective Dan Malone recognize the voice--and overcome his heroin addiction--in time to save the next victim?

10. Serial killer Herbert Hawkins takes his victims on golfing holidays and bludgeons them to death, each with a different club. Can Detective Paris stop him before he goes through his entire bag?

11.The Big Chill meets Friday the 13th, as Josh and his friends gather at the funeral of the latest victim of the sledgehammer serial killer, who always kills the firstborn child of his previous victim.

12. To escape the serial killer who's after her, Annie flees Connecticut for the safest place she can think of: Dead Woman's Pass, the highest point on the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu in the Peruvian Andes (approx.13,650 feet). But the killer is one step ahead of her.

13. The Crucifix Killer is back, killing only pale-skinned women. As his victims accrue, business booms in tanning salons across Manhattan.

Answers below:

Actual plots: 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 12

Siamese Twins

Nothing spices up a Guess the Plot like the appearance of Siamese Twins, as evidenced by these plots from previous posts:

Par for the Course
Policewoman Vanessa Grute wants nothing more than to nab the gay albino who murdered her conjoined Siamese twin--until she falls head over heels in love with him.

Second Growth
Jack Wharton discovers that the parasitic twin he'd had removed as a child is growing back. And it's mad.

Lumberjack Cal Calson's deepest secret--the vestigial conjoined twin on his back--has come to life, and is trying to convert him to conservationism.

After Siamese twins Arvel and Harvel Twitman are separated, Arvel discovers a second growth where Harvel used to be. Can’t a guy get some privacy?

Kindred Hearts
Kanyo's career of competitive eating threatens imminent congestive heart failure. Will his twin, Kinto, agree to share his healthy heart by becoming surgically joined siamese twins?

Abandoned as infants and raised by a disgraced proctologist, these psychic albino Siamese twin brothers have only each other--until a question of seniority tears them apart.

Until Death Do Us Part
Conjoined twins James and Joseph share a liver, a pancreas -- and a girlfriend. But when Lily is found murdered, they vow to find a doctor to separate them, so they can fight a duel to the death.

Tom and Larry couldn't get jobs at the circus... until they had themselves surgically conjoined to become the first Latvian Siamese Twins.

New Beginning 179

“Sir, step out of the car.” Deputy Martin held the man’s license in one hand and palmed the butt of his pistol with the other. He watched his subject clamber out from behind the wheel of the SUV. Unsteady on his legs, the driver swayed on his feet under the cold light of dawn. “Put both your hands on the car,” Deputy Martin suggested. “It'll help keep you balanced.”

“Wait, am I under arrest?” Tory asked.

"No, sir." said the Deputy. "You were stopped because you were speeding, ninety-five miles an hour in a seventy-five mile-an-hour zone.”

Tory Burns snorted. “Uk-h-h. Just because I passed that truck back there doesn‘t mean I‘m drunk.”

“No," agreed the Deputy. "Felony reckless driving, passing a semi by driving on the shoulder doesn’t mean you’re drunk.” Deputy Martin wrote on the ticket. “I’ll have to test you for alcohol level. Breathe into this, please.”

Tory ran a hand through his curly ginger hair. “Is this really necessary officer?” He reached for the breathalyzer bag, almost tripping over his own feet. “I’m already late for work.”

“It’s routine procedure, sir. Look, you can hardly stand.”

“It’s not me,” Tory protested. “It’s these shoes.”

“This is a serious matter, sir. I’d appreciate it if you took that stupid grin off your face. Your nose is as red as any drunk I’ve ever seen.”

Tory shrugged. “Can’t help it, officer. This is my face.”

The deputy glanced down at Tory’s bright, plaid trousers. "Golf pro?"

Tory shook his head no, while his fingers absently adjusted the flower in his lapel.

“I just need you to blow into the bag, sir.”

Tory put the breathalyzer to his lips and blew as hard as he could, inflating the bag to about two thirds. Then, after a couple of deft moves with his hands, Troy returned the breathalyzer to the Deputy.

“What’s this?” the cop asked.

“It’s a dachshund.”

Deputy Martin sighed. “I can't let you back behind the wheel,” he said. "Bad enough you can barely stand, but you don't even recognize an obvious giraffe when you see one."

Opening: Laura Pellerin.....Continuation: Anonymous

Awards Update

Volunteers are choosing the three best Face-Lifts in groups of 25. Once we have their choices, we'll allow a few additional wild card nominees, then narrow the field to the five or ten most-deserving.

Face-Lift 249

Guess the Plot

The Ituri Project

1. Tammy Ituri is nice, but she's the ugliest girl in school, which makes her perfect for Tina Winston's term project in fashion merchandising class. But as the makeover progresses, Tina realizes nothing is working. Should she admit defeat and accept a "C" in the class, or will blue hair dye, false eyelashes, and a sequined tube-top save the day?

2. Jim Knife wants to retire with a bang: introducing the miracle vaccine developed by his company. But as employees of the company begin mysteriously disappearing, it's up to a lowly college intern to discover the truth about . . . The Ituri Project.

3. Picking on the junior-most capable CPA, Jason Barlow's accounting firm sends him to Africa to sort out the financial mess at an uplift project he considers a worthless waste of money. That is, until he's been there a few weeks and gotten to know the Ituri. But now the backing company agrees with his earlier assessment and wants to pull the plug.

4. Psychic Rod Mayhem can read the future, a talent that puts him at the top of the heap of international arms dealers. But peace breaks out in war-torn Ituri. Is this his chance to reconcile with his ex-lover Glenda Goode, head of the Ituri food bank?

5. Scientists Jack and Imelda Ituri drill through the Antarctic ice cap -- straight into a pocket of Mesozoic soil. Ancient spores sprout in the lab, producing gigantic parasititic brain-sucking amoebas. They'll quickly destroy humanity if 14 year old Jamelda Ituri can't kill her parisitized Zombie-ized parents before they escape to Australia.

6. Ugandan land owner Hema Lendu and Democratic Republic of the Congo strongman Ernest Wamba vie for the Rainforest Cafe Franchise. But Ituri pygmies have other ideas as they successfully mount their own media blitz and land a spot on American Idol.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

What if the world’s most powerful company held the secret to its most powerful cure?
[Three possibilities.
1. The company guides the cure through the painstakingly slow patent and FDA approval processes. Hundreds of thousands die.
2. Insider trading by the company's employees alerts the world that something's up, and manufacturers of less-effective cures sabotage the project. Millions die.
3. The CEO realizes that the product will eliminate all disease, putting them out of business, and thus terminates all research and production. Billions die.]

That question lies at the heart of my novel, THE ITURI PROJECT, a thriller about an intern who stumbles upon a dark secret at America’s largest company. [Exxon-Mobil has the secret to the world's most powerful cure?]

Brian McAllister is struggling to prove himself in a cutthroat jungle. Only months away from earning a degree, he’s counting on his internship at API to land a job after graduation. That’s when he uncovers a simple mistake buried in the company’s paperwork. [He discovers a minor error in the translation of the Pakistani research scientist's report: The part where it said, The drug is toxic, lethal, and could wipe out humanity if released, was translated as The drug will cure all disease.] But as he digs deeper, the world outside Brian’s cubicle begins to crumble.

That’s because Jim Knife, API’s star CEO, has just announced his retirement – sending shockwaves through boardrooms everywhere. As power players [Will Spoon and Les Fork] begin to maneuver for Knife’s position, the chief executive quietly orchestrates his greatest achievement yet – [A spork that actually works.] a revolutionary new vaccine worth billions. Knife plans to launch the vaccine and topple API’s competitors, but another employee – Daniel Kamat – threatens to blow it all by going public first. [How does that blow it all? If the vaccine is better than anything else, does it matter when it goes public? Are you saying Kamat is coming out with his own vaccine?]

Meanwhile, Brian’s search soon leads to a disturbing discovery – illegal payments authorized by a top API executive to dozens of employees. When those employees begin to disappear, Brian goes head-to-head against the powerful API in an effort to save his life and discover the truth behind the Ituri Project. [What better way for this lowly intern to land a job after graduation than to bring down the company he's working for?]

I have a degree in English Literature, and have spent the past seven years working with executives at two Fortune 100 firms. [Now that I've been fired, I'm blowing the whistle on them. Revenge shall be mine!] Most of the market knowledge and business insight described in this book was learned during that time.

THE ITURI PROJECT is approximately 90,000 words in length. May I send you the completed manuscript? I’ve enclosed a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your reply.



How does this intern seem to have access to more information than anyone else in the company? What does this vaccine do? What is Kamat threatening to do, exactly? What is the simple mistake Brian stumbles upon? A few answers in the query would mean fewer questions arising.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Beginning 178

The thing that crept into my window that night had no mercy upon my wicked soul. My hedonistic lifestyle brought me to this evil place. My conscience became a part of the beast within my soul that continuously ate away at my being. My erosion was so gradual that I didn’t realize that each day and each time I prayed I had to name one more sin. My prayers became longer and longer and, being so, more and more meaningless. And on that terrible night in the middle of one of those lengthy prayers as I was trying in vain to remember all of my iniquities I realized I was going to die the sin unto death if I did not turn things around. Once again I fell asleep praying, I know this because I never said amen.

I was awakened by . . . some . . . thing . . . something, indescribable. From within my dreams, I heard its footfalls on the balcony.

It was the sound of the sash that roused me from my slumbers. A dull thud as it dropped to the floor, and then an un-Godly, soul-withering slithering of inhuman feet as it dragged itself to my bed. Warm, fetid breath, redolent of rotting flesh caressed my face and pulled me from my fitful sinner’s dreams. I opened my eyes, and as they adjusted to the moonlit room, I saw creased and folded skin and pointed features and cold, piercing eyes.

"Boy," it said to me in a voice like shattered glass, "your parents didn't send you to Catholic school so you could fall asleep without finishing your prayers."

"No, Sister Agnes," I replied, my soul forsaken for all eternity.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Anonymous

Face-Lift 248

Guess the Plot

The Melody of Midnight

1. Bong..bong..bong..bong..bong..bong..bong..bong..bong..bong..bong..bong.

2. Jim Smith and his yodeling dog, Ted, sing midnight duets for Bianca Lopez -- until her screaming mother throws cold water on them. Will Ted recover from this shock? Or will Jim have to go solo?

3. Awakened every night by the sound of the Twentieth Century Limited roaring past his house, Norton Pooqle decides to drive his Crown Victoria onto the tracks to see if the train will stop. The sound of tearing metal is mixed with the Beach Boys on the oldies station as Norton tries to escape.

4. A blue-eyed, thin-lipped, dour, pasty-faced droning bachelor uncle who favors retro-goggles embarks on a songwriting career. He quickly discovers that any tunes he composes at the witching hour rocket to the top of the charts.

5. In a different take on the classic fairy tale, the clock is still sounding as the prince runs after Cinderella’s coach. At the twelfth strike the coach transforms into a calliope, and the prince is left with the Melody of Midnight shrilling in his heart. Also, a bumbling stepfamily.

6. As she waits for her fiancé to return from Ghana for their wedding, Julienne finds herself accused of money laundering. And the only person willing to help is the man she allegedly stole from. Will Juli claim innocence, or will she sing when the feds put on the heat?

Original Version

Framed for larceny and money laundering? Until the Chief of Police came knocking, Julienne Béhar’s only concern was whether or not her fiancé would return from his medical volunteer work in Ghana before their wedding. [Advice to all prospective brides: before setting the date, get a firm commitment from the groom on when he'll be leaving Ghana.] Now she faces arrest warrants, FBI interviews, and a fake African charity. [I don't mind arrests and interrogations, but if those fake African charities don't quit emailing me, I'm gonna go nuts.]

Enter Solomon Wirth – solitary, wealthy, and disliked by pretty much everyone in Julienne’s small town. Solomon was the intended recipient of the funds Julienne is accused of stealing and should have been the first person pointing a finger her direction. Instead he forestalls her arrest, hires a PI to trace the missing funds, and takes on the FBI. [Nero Wolfe took on the FBI in The Doorbell Rang. But that was Nero Wolfe. I don't see some small-town big shot taking them on with any hope of success.]

Julienne is grateful, sort of, and warily accepts his help to discover who has framed her and why. [I wouldn't mind discovering that myself. Here in the query.] Their search takes them deep into the Béhar family history and unearths choices of the past that no one, including Julienne, wants faced today. Then her fiancé returns with his own tale of criminal accusations and FBI interrogations, and suddenly the intrigue is larger than one woman and one small town. [Suddenly it's one woman, one man, and one small town.]

The Melody of Midnight is an 110,000 word romantic mystery/suspense novel set in Lewis County, New York.


It might be worth mentioning who the villain is, and why the villain is out to get Julienne.

Here's my guess: the fiancé is the bad guy, he gets killed by a Ghanaian sleeper cell based in Utica, and Julie ends up marrying Solomon.

Isn't Julianne the name, and Julienne the method of cutting vegetables?

Drop the first sentence. Change the last sentence of that paragraph to Now she's been charged with larceny and money laundering, and faces an FBI interrogation.

Things I learned researching my critique: One of the larger cities of Ghana is the unfortunately named Ho, where the main language spoken is Ewe. I knew Babe learned to speak Ewe, but it never occurred to me that an entire region of people would take to speaking it.

Katie Couric: What language do you speak, and where are you from?
Diplomat: Ewe, Ho.
Katie: Okay, end of interview.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


It has been suggested that there be awards for the best of this and that at the end of the year. Face-Lifts and Guess the Plots, mainly, as EE already instituted New Beginning awards. Although I think the least messy way to handle such an undertaking would be for EE to choose the nominees, I don't object to nominations from the minions. If nominations start pouring in, I'll tabulate them and announce the most-nominated ones. If nominations trickle in, I'll just choose them myself. The criteria should be wit, humor, etc.

Face-Lift 247

Guess the Plot

The Orphan Pearl

1. The rutabaga, the radish, the potato, and the beet—orphans all—eyed the newcomer askance. In the world of parentless vegetables it verged on rude to claim a false identity. Silently they agreed to reject the little white sphere until it accepted its full name—the Orphan Pearl Onion.

2. A travel writer and a bandit's widow are thrown together on a sea voyage to London. But the widow has secrets that could endanger their lives. Also, a concubine.

3. After their parents are killed in a freak jewelry accident, Pearl leaves her sisters Sapphire, Amethyst, Ruby, Topaz and Geraldine to follow her fortune in a Seattle-based grunge band.

4. In this charming children's fable, global warming and wicked oystermen wipe out Pearl's family. The plucky orphan makes her way to Washington, D.C., to lobby against over-fishing, with unexpected results. Includes Rush Limbaugh's recipe for oyster stew.

5. An albino toddler washes up on the beach after a devastating storm in 1904 Okinawa. An aging fisherman suffers ostracism and prejudice when he raises her as his own child. Can she redeem his memory as an adult by saving the village?

6. A jealous author time-travels to Hillsboro, West Virginia. His mission: the murder of Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker. Will the ploy successfully prevent the birth and writing career of their daughter, Ms. Buck?

Original Version

Dear Correct Name Correctly Spelled,

You may be interested in my historical romance The Orphan Pearl, complete at 84,000 words. I've integrated Middle Eastern themes into a traditional historical romance set in England, 1838, putting a new angle on an old favorite.

Lady Diotima Spark [Diotima?] steps aboard the Cordelia [Maybe it should be Lady Cordelia Spark steps aboard the Diotima.] [Admit it, you came up with that name after writing the phrase, What an idiot I married, and then eliminating the early and late letters. Now you have an amusing secret your husband is too dim to ever catch on to--until your book gets published and you tell the story on Oprah.] determined to stay put in her windowless cabin from the moment the ship sets sail in Constantinople until it docks in London. She can't let her pursuers find out where she's going, [If her pursuers are on the Cordelia, they probably know where she's going. If they aren't, what's the problem?] and she can't let her family and friends in England find out where she's been. If it were discovered that the duke's daughter and the bandit's widow are one and the same, it would mean social ruin at best and violent death at worst.

Friend: Where've you been, Diotima?
Diotima: Constantinople.
Friend: Then . . . you must be . . . the bandit's widow!
Diotima: I'm ruined.
Friend: Worse. I'm arranging to have you drawn and quartered.

But the journey is long, Diotima is restless, and late one night she decides to take a walk on deck. When she has a brief but intriguing encounter with a man, she knows that her safety is compromised [Because this complete stranger is going to get a message to her pursuers? Does he know who she is? Why is she in more danger from this guy than from whoever brings her her food, or from whoever showed her to her cabin?] but she has to see him again.

It doesn't take travel writer Luke Benton long to realize that he's met the woman of his dreams. She's like him: a wanderer, a risk-taker, a thinker. She won't tell him her name, who her family is or where she's from [So again I ask, how is her safety compromised?] – although she gives him her understanding, [I don't know what that means, delete it.] and even her body, [I know what that means.] she will not share her secrets. [A woman who gives her body without blabbing her secrets would be the most popular woman on the ship. If anyone could pronounce her name.] When Luke wakes up one morning to find the Cordelia docked in London harbor and his lover vanished without a trace, he vows to find her again.

But reunion is only the first step along the road to a happy ending. [Replace the rest of this paragraph with the next paragraph.] Luke has to re-think all of his assumptions when he unearths Diotima's background – in England, and abroad. Hero worship unbalances their relationship when Diotima realizes that Luke is the author of books that had a profound effect on her life.

Even as the two grow closer, they work at cross-purposes. Diotima's attempts to thwart her pursuers plunge her deeper into danger. A crucial mistranslation prevents Luke from protecting Diotima when she needs it most. An old flame, a former concubine, and a diplomat's son throw further obstacles in the way of true love – although only one of the three is a villain.

I hold a master's degree from Harvard University, as well as a BA from Columbia University. I have the research skills to write historical novels accurately incorporating Ottoman history, the Great Game, and the true history of the legendary, but lost, Orphan Pearl. [Apparently you assume the reader knows what these last two things are.] I've traveled extensively in the Middle East, so I know the lay of the land and something of its flavor.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


I got the impression the book starts as she leaves Constantinople, so I'm not sure how important it is to be familiar with the lay of the land--the land being the Middle East. You say you've integrated Middle Eastern themes into the story, but you don't elaborate on this.

Who are her pursuers, why are they pursuing her, and why are you keeping it a secret?

If this is based on the "legendary Orphan Pearl," you might mention it up front.

If it isn't too long now, it will be after you answer a few of the nagging questions, but with a little work you'll get it down to the most important page worth of information. Cutting the plot description after "...he vows to find her again," wouldn't cost you much.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Beginning 177

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be the female version of either Sherlock Holmes or Wong Fei Hung, and that pretty much sums up my life. Don't worry if you don't know who I'm talking about. I get that a lot.

If you're the only white girl in a Chinese family, out of place doesn't even begin to describe it. I mean, most of the time, it doesn't really register. They're just family.

But of course, other people don't see it that way. And that's how it always starts.

My cousin Wayne and I are on our way to our grandpa's house when we hear the yelling.

"Hey cutie. What's a sexy girl like you doing with that chink?"

I try to will Wayne along, to not make eye contact. I love my cousin, but he's got the survival skills of a lemming at full moon.

"You gotta problem with me?" Wayne demands angrily to the two greasy guys in the Dodge, immediately taking the bait.

"Yeah, I do, chink," the driver responds, and both of them step out of the car to face us, fists clenching.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," I begin, "but I can see from the red mud on your tires that you've been up Lookout Mountain, which is well known for marijuana growing. And from the nick on the bottom of your t-shirt, I can tell that you were in a knife fight using the Guatemalan 8" Switch, which is a rare blade in this vicinity. Also illegal."

The two reach back into their car to pull out baseball bats.

I fly into the air, launching a series of No Shadow Kicks into their faces, sending the two to the pavement in a bloody, groveling heap.

Wong Fei Hung tends to be more effective than Sherlock around here.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Pacatrue

New Beginning 176

“In Pigwell, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past my house.” Luke O’Mullington pontificated, drinking his bottle of near beer. What with it being the big barbecue day and all that, his wife didn’t allow him to drink regular beer before her family arrived.

“Time must go slowly out here in Pigwell then,” Tyler said, smiling at Jimmy Joe and Sally.

“I’m glad you guys are getting to see my family homestead and a traditional family barbecue,” Luke answered. Time didn’t matter out here. Someday these city-folk friends of his would understand.

“Why when I was a kid, I used to sit out here in mah yard and count forty or fifty eighteen wheelers passin’ just before breakfast, whole caravans of them. Why, it was a sight to see, a sight to tell your kids. Now wit’ the new highway, we’re lucky to see one a day and that one, either headed to the Walmart or lost, lost, lost,” Luke said, his voice trailing off, his eyes tearing.

"Pay him no mind," Maisie O'Mullington said, gentle laughter in her voice, as she came up behind the visitors. "He's still hankerin' after his past.

"Y'know, them big semis used to zip through here all the time, and every season they'd be bound to get a deer or two to see us through. Now, there's nary a one, and us poor country folks can't afford those Walmart prices.

"That's why we like to have a city family like you folks for dinner."

That was when Tyler noticed the ax in Maisie's hand and realised just what "family barbecue" meant in these parts.

Opening: Dave Fragments.....Continuation: Anonymous

Face-Lift 246

Guess the Plot


1. The dark wizard's been defeated, the rightful king is on the throne, the all-powerful amulet is now safely generating clean energy for thousands of happy what the hell are an elf, two dwarves, the brooding human, a reformed troll, and a unicorn with a broken horn supposed to do for an encore?

2. Proudfist the dwarf, Longleaf the elf, Throd the barbarian, and Mithral the wizard meet in a dingy tavern in Cuthy-by-the-Sea to celebrate the completion of the Quest to Find the Crystal Sword of Alhambra when they are interrupted by an attack of Vogons.

3. Wolf Treasurehog finally succeeded in his lifelong quest to retrieve the Lost Shield of Minneweyynn. Now bored and restless, he decides to start a service to help other successful questers achieve a smooth transition to their new retirement lifestyles. He calls it... AfterQuest.

4. Worn out with tramping over mountains, stealing enchanted swords from the hands of animated statues, bringing peace to warring kingdoms, the constant attentions of busty tavern wenches and rescued princesses, a band of heroic orphans look for a way to revitalize their spirits.

5. Missing for months, four college students suddenly return, claiming to have been taken to a world of elves and trolls. A college prank? Maybe, but that wouldn't explain the fact that one of them now has a prosthetic arm.

6. The third in the Quest trilogy, preceded by epics "BeforeQuest" and "DuringQuest". In this final chapter, Robin's Egg Hunter Clubis Bee files the paperwork to request a new quest, hopefully in the west where the nest is best.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

AfterQuest is a 175,000-word fantasy tale where four college students are taken to a world of elves, trolls, and solar-powered interdimensional transportation. Missing for months, they can't bring themselves to explain their absence when they return. Parallel story arcs tell their adventures in the other dimension and their return to life in school. [If their return to school comes after their adventures, how are the story arcs parallel?]

Only Kenny can tell his parents what he experienced while he was missing; the scars on his back are his proof that something happened. [Something involving whips. Maybe he shouldn't tell his parents after all.] Elsie returns with a prosthetic arm and a lingering illness that causes her collapse in her parent's yard, when she recovers, she deflects questions about her ordeal.

[Mom: Where've you been the past three months?

Elsie: Hey, who won American Idol?

Mom: I can't help noticing that you suddenly have a prosthetic arm.

Elsie: I'm due at the mall. Don't wait dinner for me.]

Matt and Amber both feign amnesia to avoid talking about their absence. [If Kenny's blabbing, what good does it do for the others to say nothing?] [Also, once Matt says, "I'd like to tell you all about it, but I have amnesia," is anyone gonna buy the same story from Amber?]

Even the elves didn't know how the foursome ended up in their city. They did have legends of humans on their world hundreds of years ago and some did tell of humans who visited and returned home again. The kidnapping of an elf child turns their attention from finding a way home [Who do you mean by "their?" The students? I thought they were already home. I see no reason not to keep the events chronological in the query. Or in the book.] and all became involved in the battle to free him.

The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Encl: SASE


I assume the students arrived in Elvesville via the solar-powered interdimensional transportation. If Evil Editor can figure that out, why can't the elves? It's part of their world, after all.

If the kidnaping takes place while the students are in Elvesville, don't wait and mention it at the end, after they're home. Give us the important events in the order they take place. Based on the title, your focus is on the students' lives after they return, so I'm not sure the kidnaping belongs in the query.

We need more information about why three of them aren't talking. Were they told to keep quiet? Did something humiliating happen to them? Are they afraid no one will believe them?

More info and better organization, please.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New Beginning 175

At the annual charity ball for our nonprofit radio station, I sat with my news partner Michelle and her husband. Michelle is a thirtysomething career girl who drives a powder-blue BMW and spends several evenings a week questing for the perfect tropical drink. It surprised us all to learn that her husband is a home repairman.

"How interesting," said Anne, who broadcasts the celebrity and fashion program. "How did you meet?"

"Oh my god," giggled Michelle. There is laughter in everything she says. "Should I tell it? I'll tell it from my perspective, okay?"

"You can tell it," said her husband, with good-natured complacency.

"Well." Michelle positioned herself as if she was preparing to deliver an exceptional piece of gossip: hands up, ready to emphasize anything she said. Her eyes were bright with the thrill of telling a good story.

“I was in my apartment. I’d just put on a Herb Alpert LP and was cleaning along to the music -- you know, duster-cizing -- when the doorbell rang. I opened the door, and there was Dirk, come to fix my washing machine. Well, he looked like a young Tom Selleck, standing there with his rugged features and his cute moustache.” Anne looked at me and rolled her eyes, but Michelle just continued. “So, he came in and dismantled the washer -- I tell you, kneeling there he had the cutest butt I’d ever seen. Before I knew it, he had it all fixed and back together.

“‘Anything else I can do for you, Ma’am?’ he said. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I do have a pipe that needs unblocking.’ So he said, ‘I’m going to need the long rod for that one,’ and gave me one of those French looks; you know, double entendre. Well, next thing I knew I was bent over the Maytag on spin cycle. And we’ve been together ever since.”

“So, let me get this straight,” Anne sniped, giving me a side-long glance. “You guys actually met in a bad seventies porn movie?”

Michelle gave Anne her bitchiest glare ever. “And how else do you think I could afford a powder-blue BMW?”

Opening: Detritus.....Continuation: ril

The Korlach/Alexandra/Rod Dialogues

Kohrlach: What the--?
Rod: Hey! How--?
Alexandra: Lord Winston?
K: Who are you people?
R: Who are you?
K: I am Kohrlach the Magnificent, god of the dark realm. And you?
R: I'm Superman the Stupendous, asshole. What about you, lady?
A: Lord Winston was about to ask for my hand! What happened? What is this place?
K: Good question. Odd that it has no doors or windows. You humans are so attached to them.
R: Us humans? You're sticking to your god story? If you're so powerful, how about getting me back to court. I was about to sum up for the jury.
K: I'll be happy to send you back--as soon as I've sucked the soul from your body. Oh, wait, you're a lawyer. I'm too late. [EE]
A: Oh dear, a deus ex machina. And I was having such a supreme courtship... [Bernita]
R: Deus who? Your French is a little rusty, lady. It's called a menage a trois.
K: The only way a menage is happening is if I turn Superman here into Jessica Alba.
R: You keep talking about your powers. How about a demonstration?
K: Don't tempt me, you worthless chaser of ambulances, I'll turn you into a puppy dog.
A: Shouldn't that be ambuli?
R: Just a second, babe. We're talking here.
A: Babe? I am a young woman; about to be betrothed to Lord Winston. Are you at all familiar with Lord Winston?
K & R: (Simultaneously) I've had dealings.
R: Now we're getting somewhere. We all know Lord Winston. How?
A: Well... I lost my virginity to Lord Winston when I was seventeen.
K: One time, I shape-shifted to become an erotic love goddess from the planet Minge. I visited your puny world and... Winston had his way with me; as a woman. There's nothing wrong with that. What's your story, Earth lawyer?
R: Well, I, uh... I was young. Law school ain't cheap, and... Well, you know Winston, he's quite the charmer...
A: (Gasps, audibly.)
K: (His dark eyes redden, a fiendish glow.)
R: Well, I can't say this has been fun, but I have to get back to court. My clients in the East End keep me tied up, figuratively speaking.
K: You whore!
R: We all have our price.
K: I do it for pleasure.
A: I did it for love. I love Lord Winston. He is the love of my life!
R: Right. Now, which way takes me back to London?
K: Ah, London. Now, that is a place I am very familiar with. My work takes me there often. Perhaps you know Mr. Bla--
R: Whoa. No names, no pack drill. That could get us in even more trouble. Focus. We have to work out why we're here.
A: Well, I'm sure I have no idea. As I said, I was about to accept Winston's proposal, then suddenly... What were you doing?
K: Nothing...
A: You were, I saw you. What were you doing?
R: What have you got in your hand?
K: Nothing -- see?
R: No, the other one.
K: Nothing, look.
A: What about that one?
K: Ahh... You got me there.
R: Give that here.
A: What is it? Maybe it it explains why we're here in this doorless room?
R: It appears to be some sort of
map. If only we could work out what it means... [anon.]
R: What are those things tacked to the wall over there in the corner?
K: Hey, some portraits. Check out the sexy literary guy!

A: A man like this could make a girl forget all about Lord Winston.
R: Hell, a man like this could make a guy forget he's straight.
K: I've decided to devote my life to finding this man--or god, as the case may be.
A: I'm coming with you.
R: Hey, wait for me! [EE]


IM (Invisible Man): Hey, where'd everybody go? [Anon.]

Friday, December 15, 2006


We're creating three new characters. These characters will later find themselves locked in a doorless room, engaging in a dialogue. The characters will be:

Kohrlach, god of the dark realm

Alexandra Dimsbury, demure young debutante of 19th-century England

Rod Carpenter, unscrupulous lawyer who's never lost a case

Comments to this post should describe Kohrlach. Alexandra and Rod have their own posts.

Alexandra Dimsbury . . .

. . . demure young debutante of 19th-century England, was hoping to find her future husband in London this season. Here's all we know about her

Rod Carpenter . . .

. . . the unscrupulous lawyer who never loses a case. Here's his story.

Face-Lift 245

Guess the Plot

Worse than Death

1. When EE's queue runs dry, a minion submits her query just to keep things running. Little did she know she was about to face a fate... Worse Than Death!

2. When brutal eunuchs and rogue sorcerers threaten to destroy Boring-on-End, only Miss Amelia Pettipants can save the day. But Miss Pettipants already has her hands full with the zombies.

3. Teenage techno-polkafunk band Steeped In Molasses is known throughout the region as the only band worse than their headbanging classmates, Death. The band nearly breaks up when Roxy wants to improve but Dale thinks they should try the William Hung route to stardom. Can their friendship survive the tension and the vampire drummer?

4. Badboy "Killer" Jones, age 15, cusses, acts like a twerp, makes flatulance jokes, and then breaks a crucifix. Next day he's only age 13, and soon he realizes he's doomed to relive early adolescence for eternity. Can he escape this curse?

5. An editor's assistant is given a choice: die by lethal injection, or head up the team that is shepherding the first Amelia Pettipants novel through the editing process. What will he choose? Also, a homeless man hijacks a bus.

6. A sour-tongued minion wearing a tan coat, some type of eyewear, a hood, a strange cap and a disturbingly pleasant smile is dragged from her home by Canadian mounties during a blizzard. Her crime? a stream of ascerbic, hostile blog replies. For the next 15-20 years she is forced to edit the complete set of Amelia Pettipants posts and comments -- a fate "Worse Than Death."

Original Version

JULIE PETTIPANTS’ life was the American Dream. Perfect house. Perfect husband. Perfect great aunt AMELIA. Then came the day she woke up with her husband missing and a dark red stain halfway down his side of the sheets. She finds him alive and happy in the kitchen, but her worst fears are confirmed when a kick to the groin elicits only a grin and a hug. And he’s not the only one. The entire town’s been emasculated. Also, none of them have pulses.

But these zombies have no cannibalistic tendencies. Just the opposite. Wearing crescent-moon grins that never seem to set, her husband carries out her every command. Things seem BETTER than perfect. At least, before the cabal of rogue sorcerers fly into town.

Now the eunuchs have turned brutal. JULIE turns to the only person who she can trust. But persnickety spinster AMELIA has her own hands full, with Boring-On-End’s stadium sized morgue nearing capacity as hundred of bodies with the domes of their heads cut off and their brains missing start turning up everywhere.

Is JULIE plucky enough to help solve her nosy great aunt’s case? Will the murders in Boring-on-End stop long enough for AMELIA to help her grand niece? Can a wife go head to head with rogue sorcerers, find enough stem cells to reverse the damage, and save her husband from a fate….Worse than Death? Will she save the cheerleader (AND SAVE THE WORLD? PS. Let’s use this as the tagline on the book flap, since it is clearly an incredibly witty line.)

Currently at 250,000 words, Worse than Death is a paranormal horror urban fantasy romance mystery. As I use the words “he” and “she” several times in the book, I believe it will appeal to the segments of the market who are men or women. It will also include many instances of the word “it” which I am certain will allow the book to reach into the currently untapped eunuch and undead markets, where it should reach sales levels comparable to the Bible and Mao’s Little Red Book combined. Would you be interested in reading my first draft whenever I find the time to finish it?


PS. Please try to get James Cameroon to direct the movie. I do not like Oprah, but if you are unable to get a simple ten page ad into Vanity Fair, I suppose I could go on her show for an additional 20% in royalties.


A Miss Pettipants novel was long overdue. I would suggest you refer to the woman as "doughty" at some point in the query. Other than that, perfect. Be sure to submit the first 150 words as soon as you've written them.