Thursday, May 31, 2007

Face-Lift 346

Guess the Plot

Murder Under the Mistletoe

1. Charlotte has a thing for holidays. She poisoned the marshmallow chicks in her first husband's Easter basket, strangled her second husband with the ribbon from the Valentine's Day chocolate box, and suffocated her third with the helium balloons at his own birthday party. Now, as Christmas approaches, hubby #4 wonders why that package under the tree is ticking.

2. Every year, Carrie's creepy boss has groped and French-kissed her at the office holiday party. With the antidote in her hip pocket, she waits near the mistletoe and keeps her tongue away from her poisoned lipstick. By this time next year, she'll be the VP doing the groping.

3. Christmas at the estate of Lord Ajax was supposed to be the climax of this year's social season-- and the moment Lord Ajax proposes to her. But Clarissa discovers she is not to be the recipient of a marriage proposal, when she discovers her Ajax under the mistletoe, locked in the embrace of . . . her brother.

4. It's Christmas, and Christine has no one to spend it with--until she gets drawn into an international drug conspiracy by hunky doctor David McLeod. Now that she's found true love, can she stay alive long enough to enjoy it? Also, Johnny Cash.
5. What started as an innocent kiss at the Devorson’s posh Christmas party turns into an obsession that leaves a trail of bodies from New York to Nevada. Beautiful detective Mary Sky must find the X-mas Killer, following the clues he leaves her, before Christmas rolls around again and his knife finds her under the Mistletoe.

6. Kelly Coosman volunteered to work the kissing booth for the parish Christmas Gala…it was the least she could do after Father McElroy rescued her from the streets of Chicago. But she’s been on her feet for fourteen hours straight, smooching hundreds of nicotine-fouled old men with rotten yellow teeth, and prostitution is sounding better than ever.

Original Version

Murder Under the Mistletoe is a 95K romantic suspense.

The end of the year is almost here, and it couldn’t come soon enough for Christine Abernathy. It had been the year from hell, but three weeks of mandatory vacation plays right into her plans this Christmas—sunny beaches, warm Caribbean waters, piña coladas, a pile of books, and the parental units paying her way. Life couldn’t get any better, until Grandma Marie has a stroke, dashing her plans and canceling the vacation.

With her parents flying to be with her grandmother and her fun in the sun poofed away, [Not clear why Christine isn't either flying to be with her grandmother or flying to the Caribbean. The flight and hotel would have been paid in advance, so if she's not visiting grandma anyway . . . ] [I'm guessing the parental units were going along on the vacation? Nothing like topping off the year from hell with the vacation from hell.] all Chris has to look forward to is taking home her accounting files from Leftschwich pharmaceuticals…until she gets clonked on the head by a thief in black. [I assume from your description of Christine's vacation as "mandatory" that she has to use it by the end of the year. Whether she's in the Caribbean or her apartment, she shouldn't be dealing with accounting files.] Chris wakes up with a jackhammer rat-a-tatting in her head and the Johnny Cash song, Man in Black, playing on the Musak station. She vows to bring the culprit down. [Coldcocking her was bad enough, but now she can't get that damn song out of her head.]

Contaminated chemotherapy, a psychic grandmother and a trail of murder leads right to her door when she unintentionally opens an international can of worms. To survive, she will need help from her man in black, but can she trust him with her life? [These are your main plot elements, and you gloss over them like you've got a plane to the Caribbean to catch.]

The full manuscript and synopsis are available at your request. Thank you for your time.



I didn't expect you to use verbatim the revised version I provided when this first appeared, as Face-Lift 130 (which is where the jokes are). I had to make up most of that. However, you might have used it as a guide. Most of this query is just setting up Christine's situation.

The new title makes it sound like a murder mystery in which someone gets murdered under some mistletoe. Who? Are there several suspects? A detective?

Your plot is something like this: People are dying from taking chemotherapy drugs produced at Leftschwich Pharmaceuticals. Dr. David McLeod, suspecting foul play, convinces Leftschwich employee Christine Abernathy to help him expose the scheme. But Christine and David (who quickly fall madly in love) have stumbled onto an international conspiracy whose chief players will do anything to silence them, including committing . . . Murder under the Mistletoe. Expand on that and you'll have something.

Why Christine is not in the Caribbean isn't nearly as important as the fact that she eventually gets there . . . with Doctor David.

New Beginning 284

Every Monday and Wednesday for the past two years, Julia has taken the ten-fifteen train from the Forest Park station to the UMSL campus to fuck Professor Dunn (that’s what his students were expected to call him) during the brief break between his eleven o’clock class and his one-thirty lecture. In Julia’s mind, fuck was the only word that could possibly describe what she and Carver did behind his locked office door. It had never been love, had never declared or desired to be, although, for a brief time in the beginning, Julia had deluded herself, jeopardizing Carver’s marriage as well as her own. Carver had implored her to rein herself in, convincing her they had a good thing, and that emotional entanglement would only ruin it. She wasn’t sure how good it was. Their affair had become heady, like betting on horses at Fairmount Park, but it was only about the thrill of gambling; no one ever expected to win.

No one, that is, except for Dunn himself, who was engaged in a long-term game of "Schedule Bingo."

"It's over," he said to Jones, who had the scowl on his face of someone who was losing. "I've got Becky at the Monday 8AM slot, Julia's covering 11 to 1:30 for both days, Sarah's happy with a half hour at 3, which leaves me time to lunch in peace, and Georgina is now a regular for Wednesday 4PM. That leaves Monday at 5:30 after labs for Louise; I've filled every slot."

"Not so fast," said Jones. "Julia's left school; she doesn't count anymore, not unless she re-enrolls."

Dunn shook his head like an old race horse. "You never specified students; you didn't even specify female if you want to get down to it. It's taken me two years but I've done it! You owe me a ten-spot."

Jones sighed and pulled out his wallet. "Okay, you win . . . Double or nothing on keeping it going another semester?"

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Sylvia

Face-Lift 345

Guess the Plot

Needs of the Minute

1. Turn off the tea kettle. Stop the three-year-old from dunking the cat's head in the toilet. Pay the mailman the postage due on the SASE without the stamp. Stop the one-year-old from smushing strained carrots into the DVD player.

2. The "little people" have needs, too, and when a midget evil scientist creates a shrinking ray to reduce every elected official in the world to pint-size, hunky Spade McDade and voluptuous Isley Pitfall team up to stop his nefarious plan.

3. With time bombs ticking away, an enemy of millions attacking, a spaceship orbiting the planet, and doomsday approaching, Semelon Semse must balance his planet's long-term needs against its . . . Needs of the Minute.

4. Cockroaches take over the world, only to be set upon by a pestilence of mites which cannot reproduce without nutrients supplied by the XGSXU1-054 bacterium, which only thrives in the presence of caffeine, so once Starbucks ceases to function, life on earth is basically back to the Precambrian.

5. Hilarity ensues when Herbert Bumple installs pay toilets in his Dollar Store, but refuses to make change.

6. After Gulliver departs, the Lilliputians find themselves needing intensive therapy sessions to deal with new-found issues of inadequacy.

Original Version

NEEDS OF THE MINUTE is a complete science fiction novel of 100,001 words. [No way I'm rounding off my word count, not when I worked so hard to make it a palindrome.]

When the primitive enemy in an ancient war suddenly brings new weapons and tactics to the front, SEMELON SEMSE traces the innovations to a shocking source and discovers a fast-approaching doomsday for his world.

The enemy is a horde of savage, unschooled Tachba who are contained -- just barely -- by a thousand miles of trenches, barbed wire, and machine guns. [A thousand miles of trenches? The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. I'd hate to have to dig a trench four times the length of the Grand Canyon.] Semelon is a Tachba officer who was born on the Haphan side of the front and forcibly “civilized.” Fighting with the Haphans against his own people, he watches ambivalently as his brethren attack the trenches and die in their thousands and millions. [He watches as they attack the trenches and die in millions? These trenches must be as deep as the Grand Canyon.]

It’s an abysmal war which hasn’t changed for centuries -- [Centuries? If you've been sending millions of your people at enemy trenches for centuries, and you've made no headway, it's time to come up with a new strategy. Tunnels. Or turning around and circling the entire planet. Are they Tachba or lemmings?] [Have they considered just settling down on their side of the trench?] until now. Orbiting above the planet is the LUCKY STRIKE, an independent prospecting starship [whose naming rights were bought by the American Tobacco Company,] that is subtly orchestrating the Tachba victory by supplying heavy artillery, [planks to lay over the trenches,] tactical advice and new weapons. If the the front line collapses, the Haphans’ “mid-level” civilization will be destroyed, and the ship can stake a claim on the planet for re-colonization. It plants doomsday bombs at the front to cover its tracks. [What plants doomsday bombs? The ship? The Haphan civilization? If somebody has doomsday bombs, shouldn't they just use them and avoid the trench warfare?]

To defuse the ticking bombs and stave off a holocaust, Semelon must elude Haphan secret police who have him pegged as a mutineer. At the same time, the Tachba finally overwhelm the trenches. [Overwhelm is an exaggeration; actually, with millions of Tachba bodies in the trenches, the few remaining Tachba merely walk across.] Caught between colossal forces, fighting an unreachable enemy, Semelon, at long last, begins to . . . enjoy himself. Sure, it’s nice being civilized, but the only solution he can see calls for violence. Semelon, being Tachba, is very good at that. [All he has to do now is decide which army of millions he's going to single-handedly defeat.]

I've been writing professionally for several years, namely articles and product reviews for print and online. This is my first novel. I would be delighted to send you a full or partial manuscript for your review.


Why is this war going on? Who wants what?

What are the new tactics the Tachba employ? They still go at the trenches.

I don't see how the Tachba manage to maintain a population. You can throw millions of soldiers into trenches only so long before you start running low. And don't you need living Tachba to parent new warriors?

So is this military science fiction? Is the entire book focused on the war? Does Semelon have a life outside the military? If this is Military SF, my main concern is that the miles, armies and years seem overly high. When your enemy has machine guns, you eventually learn not to line up and charge their trenches. If it isn't military SF, if there's more to the book than the war, you might want to bring that into the query.

I should point out that the Guess the Plots I didn't use, like several I did, overwhelmingly went with the "tiny" definition of "minute." That may indicate that it's not clear which definition you're going for, and that you should get that word out of the title. Even knowing which "minute" you mean, the title is nothing to write home about.

Q & A 112 Can I Write Like Grisham?

Just wondering about something -- the dreaded Deus Ex Machina (aka DEM).

I think I understand the concept but I see DEMs in literature more often than we admit. I'm thinking specifically about The Pelican Brief (Grisham) because something I'm writing has a similar pattern and I'm afraid I'm going to need a DEM to get some closure.

In that story, the protags are uncovering a conspiracy, piece by piece. But there really isn't any closure until they find a videotape, made by a victim of the conspiracy, who spells the whole thing out and validates what the protags found.

Is that a DEM? More importantly (to me), can I get away with something that might be as DEMish?

Julia Roberts wrote the Pelican Brief without seeing the videotape, and as you say, she and Denzel Washington were uncovering the conspiracy piece by piece. The videotape merely validates their findings.

Compare that to the same novel told in the POV of a detective investigating the deaths of the Supreme Court justices, and getting nowhere. Suddenly, in the next-to last chapter, as he's preparing for bed, a pelican flies in his window, drops a crucial incriminating videotape, and flies out.

That, even Grisham couldn't get away with.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Beginning 283

“Hoodlum!” Mrs. Harp had angrily raised a fist as her son, wearing a black leather jacket and riding a double-fork extended motorcycle rolled past her. “So you have become a Hell’s Angel now? May God have mercy on your soul.”

“Ma! I didn’t join a gang. I just bought a bike, that’s all.”

“I forbid it! Take it back this minute!” Mark’s mother hadn’t known whether she should worry more about her son’s physical or spiritual safety. “We’ll see what your father has to say about this.”

Mark knew his father wouldn’t be home for at least another few hours. He hoped the old man would be on his side for once.

“Not just anybody can ride a motorcycle. It takes skill.” Mark’s face was determined. “I’ll bet it becomes an event at the Olympics someday.” His thoughts had had this same justified tone for the past hour.

"Get off," Mark's mother said. "Now." Mark glared at her as he dismounted, only to watch as she hopped on and went into a series of stunts in the street, including a Captain America, Watchtower, Cliffhanger and Elevator. Then she flew down the block doing a No-handed Wheelie, and finished with a one-handed stoppie, right in front of her gaping son.

Stepping off of the bike, she said, "Good top end horsepower, but a little light on torque. And if your father says you can keep it, get those front brakes checked; I didn't like the way they felt on that stoppie."

Opening: ME.....Continuation: Evil Editor

Face-Lift 344

Guess the Plot

One Promise Too Many

1. Overachiever Kevin Gallagher is grounded for digging up his mother’s prize-winning roses and selling them on E-bay. He really wants to see the Sex Pistols Revival at the Dome and will do anything. “Mom, pleeeeaaase, I promise! I’ll make my bed, take out the trash, do my homework, wash the cars, clean the garage, stop masturbating . . . ”

2. The kidnappers promised the CEO they wouldn't harm his daughter. The CEO promised his daughter he'd get her back. The detective promised to catch the kidnappers. And the schizophrenic promised to take his medication. Will one broken promise lead to four?

3. Playboy Winston Merkle is a ladies' man, but his promises are wearing thin. When he tells Big Janey Moorcock he'll respect her in the morning, she makes sure of it by twisting his neck and eating his dead flesh. How was he supposed to know she was really Athena, daughter of Zeus?

4. Lana swore that she would hate her mother forever if she didn't get to go to the Senior Prom. She vowed to quit eating if her mom said no. And she promised to hold her breath until she turned blue. As she lapses into unconsciousness, Lana realizes that she may have made... One Promise Too Many.

5. First it was a puppy. Then a Wii. Then a trip to Disneyland. All nine-year-old Nicky wants to do is play catch with his dad, but when Dad is off on another business trip promising to "make it up to him next time," Nicky steals his sister's witchcraft book and learns a spell that will make Dad live up to every promise he's ever made. But Nicky forgot about Dad's promises to "give him something to really cry about."

6. He promised to love her. He promised to cherish her. He promised to care for her and provide for her and respect her in the morning and never cheat on her. But the day he ate the last slice of pie after promising not to, Laurie realized: she couldn't trust any of his promises.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Recent failures haunt Roger Stark as he begins a new job as Marshfield, Pennsylvania's newest detective. [Usually they promote cops to detective after recent successes, not failures. What kind of failures are we talking about?] When someone kidnaps the five-year-old daughter of a volatile CEO, Roger must cope with an enigmatic new partner, a pregnant wife, and an elusive suspect by an odd 42 hour ransom deadline. [Odd?

Kidnappers: We want the money by noon Thursday.
CEO: Noon? That only gives me . . . 42 hours. Not only is it not enough time, it's rather odd.]

ONE PROMISE TOO MANY is a completed 87,000 word mystery told from Roger's and Phil Cartier's POV. Phil is a medicated schizophrenic at the center of the mystery. When Roger busts Phil's alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the kidnapping, he flees fearing the police. [Why does he need an alibi? Why is he at the center of the mystery? What is the mystery? The identity of the kidnapper?] With his sanity faltering and Roger's partner obsessively pursing Phil, [I'm not up on my cop lingo; does that mean he's obsessively hitting Phil over the head with his purse?] an estranged girlfriend with her own agenda seems like Phil's only lifeline. [No, no, he still has "50/50" and "Ask the Audience."] Phil's movements are erratic. Do they lead the cops to the girl? Or, is Phil trapped in his own imaginary world? [You have to connect Phil to one of the crimes, or these sentences are irrelevant. Even if they were relevant, they're kind of vague.]

As the hours to the ransom delivery tick down, Roger discovers the kidnapping is a ruse to divert attention from a $100M embezzlement scheme at the CEO's company set to occur during the ransom delivery. [Divert whose attention? The CEO's? A CEO has more important things to do than check to see if the books are being cooked. The authorities? The people who investigate kidnapping aren't the same ones who handle embezzlement. If the idea is to steal money at a time when the CEO is preoccupied, why not steal it when he's asleep or on vacation, instead of committing another crime, one that's going to have the FBI (instead of the company accountants) chasing you.] The embezzler keeps unwitting co-conspirators in line through deceit [If you're a co-conspirator, can you be unwitting? Don't you have to be fairly . . . witting?] while manipulating a murderous henchman, a childhood friend of Roger's, to eliminate loose-ends. [Loose ends like the unwitting co-conspirators.] As Roger's wife goes into labor, an armed Phil holds the key to an embezzler's success and Roger's redemption for his recent failures.

[groveling and begging paragraph] [No groveling or begging. Take your lumps and move forward.]


Kidnapping is investigated by the FBI, whether there's been interstate travel or not. If the police are aware of the kidnapping, the FBI would be as well. Is the FBI in the book?

According to Wikipedia: Convicted kidnappers can expect to face life imprisonment or death penalty if convicted. In many states kidnapping is the only capital crime other than murder. Granted, no one has actually received the death penalty for kidnapping since 1960, and many states have no capital punishment; nonetheless, committing a capital crime as a ruse to distract authorities from a lesser crime (embezzlement) is like committing treason to cover up your shoplifting. Then again, no one ever said criminals were smart.

I was under the impression embezzlement took place gradually over a period of time. $100M in one fell swoop sounds more like grand theft.

If you're going to kidnap a child for ransom anyway, why not just demand $100M in ransom instead of committing embezzlement and kidnapping someone as a ruse for the same take?

It's not clear what Phil has to do with anything. How does he hold the key? You know that Phil needs to be in the query, but you haven't shown why he's a suspect in either crime.

Roger's pregnant wife can be left out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Golden Opportunity?

Some of you may know about the auction to aid juvenile diabetes research, which is in its third year. I just found out about it, and have placed a last minute offering on the auction block: Your entire book (as long as it's not over 100,000 words) edited by EE. Bidding ends the 31st. Details on how to pay, how to bid etc. are on the site.
People who've never heard of EE won't be bidding much, so it's up to you guys to fight it out. Whatever this goes for, it's tax deductible. So if you give money to charity anyway, here's your chance to get something beyond the satisfaction of doing a good deed.

There seem to be a lot of people visiting from the auction site, who may be unfamiliar with Evil Editor. As there are more query critiques here than you can read in a short period, I invite you to click on the label below, which will lead you to the "Face-Lifts" minions judged as the best of 2006.

Face-Lift 343

Guess the Plot

Wherever You Are

1. A simple game of hide-and-seek turns deadly, and it's every player for himself. When a trail of blood leads to a playmate's hiding place, the kids realize that this isn't a game any more. Come out, come out . . .

2. Octopus McGee searches paintings in the Louvre for clues that will help him unravel the hidden meaning of the last message from Mae Wong: Wherever you are, there goes an idiot. What can it mean?

3. The literary agent left and took her yappy poodle with her, but Minnie refuses to let go. She's headed for New York, to wander Eighth Avenue and West 35th. She'll find you, Miss Snark . . . Wherever You Are.

4. The elusive Mrs. Calabash, after a lifetime spent avoiding the limelight, finally turns up running a diner in Scranton.

5. Actress Laura James begins to fear for her safety when she receives a series of notes that say, "I will find you, wherever you are." Refusing to be alone, she hires two bodyguards . . . both of whom fall in love with her.

6. Pirates of the Caribbean meets Somewhere in Time, as Juliana, who's been searching for her boyfriend Zach ever since he vanished fifteen years earlier, time-travels back to the 18th century . . . and onto the burning pirate ship Zach is now captaining.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

When his love from another century reenters Morgan's life, the ex-slave and ex-pirate must learn to overcome his past, and fight a deadly enemy, to have a second chance at love.

Wherever You Are is a 100,000 word time-travel romance that encapsulates all the swash-buckling adventure people have come to love in the popular Pirates of the Caribbean movies, with the added benefit of a deeply emotional love story between two people scarred and hardened by life's choices. [I'm guessing "encapsulates" isn't the word you were looking for. I'd lose "benefit" as well.]

When Juliana MacKenzie’s boyfriend disappeared, the police ruled him a runaway. Never convinced Zach would willingly leave her, part of Juliana waits for his return [while the other part of Juliana has a torrid affair with Zach's hunky younger brother, Ziggy]. But fifteen years later she realizes she has to put some closure on that part of her life in order to move on. [Fifteen years?! Waiting for a boyfriend? If he's been gone fifteen days, you can close the book on this guy.] When she visits Zach’s childhood home, she mysteriously travels through time and finds herself on a burning ship in the eighteenth century.

[Juliana's thought processes, as she awaited Zach's return:

After two days: Where could he be? Zach would never leave me. He must be lying in the bottom of a gorge in his wrecked car. I'll never forgive myself for sending him out to get my tampons.

After two weeks: Maybe he's been kidnapped. And sold into slavery. He'll escape and come back to me. True love conquers all.

After two months: That bastard. He left me for another woman, I just know it. Probably that Marjorie bitch. Or he's dead.

After four months: He fucking well better be dead after what he's put me through.

After ten years: I suppose I should start dating again. But what if Zach's lying in a coma in some third-world hospital? He'd never forgive me. I'll give him another five years, but not a day longer.

After fifteen years: Okay, Zach's probably dead. But there's one other slim possibility: there may be a time portal in the house he grew up in. If there is, and I go through it, maybe he'll still be waiting at the exact spot the time portal goes to, even though fifteen years have passed since he got to that spot.]

When Morgan discovers the stowaway aboard his burning ship, he believes she was sent by his enemy. [Why would his enemy send Juliana to stow away on the ship? Wouldn't he send a man, so the stowaway wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb? And if he did send a woman, wouldn't he send one dressed in 18th-century clothes instead of 21st-century clothes? Does Morgan think his enemy is an idiot? Why are we calling this person "his enemy"? Who is it?] Soon he will realize that Juliana is the woman he left in the twenty-first century. When his enemy captures Juliana, Morgan must confront his past in order fight for the greatest prize of all. [He has to rescue her. Simple as that. Why does he have to confront his past?]

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.


You claim Morgan left Juliana in the 21st century. So when Juliana goes to Zach's childhood home fifteen years later, it's actually the future, sometime in the 2016-2022 period, right? Just checking.

Who owns Zach's childhood home? What does Juliana say when she shows up at the door? "Hi, my boyfriend left me fifteen years ago, and he lived here thirty years ago, when he was a kid, so would you mind if I looked around the place in order to help me forget about him?"

Why haven't the people who now live in Zach's childhood home mysteriously traveled to the 18th century?

You call him an ex-pirate. His name's Morgan, he's on a ship, and you compared the book to Pirates of the Caribbean. If he isn't a pirate, tell us what he is.

Why doesn't Morgan recognize Juliana? Sure, she's fifteen years older, but if she just says, "It's me, Juliana . . . from the 21st century," the light bulb should go on immediately.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Happy Memorial Day

It's a long weekend here in the U.S., which explains why there are fewer people visiting and commenting. They're all at the beach. It's the traditional start to the beach season, and for those planning a trip to the beach this summer, I thought I'd run through a few of the better-known beach superstitions.

Granted, many people aren't superstitious at all. But most superstitions have a strong basis in fact. Take Friday the 13th. This date has long been considered unlucky because it's believed to be the day Jesus was crucified. And let's face it: any day on which you get crucified is pretty damned unlucky.

There are probably more superstitions associated with the beach than any other place, and most of them make a lot of sense when you think about them. So let's run through them.

1. If you walk backwards down a fishing pier, you will soon be buying a new pair of shoes.

2. It is bad luck to go swimming in the ocean while wearing a necklace made from hunks of raw meat.

3. Red sky at dawn: nuclear bomb.
Red sky at night: terrorists blew up another flight.

4. If you burp in the ocean, you'll have eleven years of bad luck--unless you accidentally swallow a jellyfish at the same time.

5. If a flock of seagulls flies directly over you, you'll soon be washing your hair.

6. When your legs become hopelessly entangled in seaweed while wading in the ocean at three A.M., it is bad luck if the tide is coming in.

7. If you put down a large non-refundable deposit on a cottage, it will rain for precisely the amount of time you have the place.

8. If you step on a conch shell, your middle name will mysteriously change to Chellio.

9. Drop the tray holding your family's sandwiches in the sand, and you will soon be spending a large sum of money in a bad restaurant.

10. If a Portuguese Man-of-War becomes trapped in your swim trunks, your sex drive will inexplicably disappear for two months.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Face-Lift 342

Guess the Plot

Of Myths Reborn

1. Lowly dishwasher Kavin daydreams endlessly about mythological characters while scrubbing grime off of pots and pans. But he'll wish it were only a dream, when a creature from the darkest myths comes after him.

2. When a phoenix fed up with the endless cycle of death and rebirth meets a born-again TV evangelist, sparks fly and hilarious karmic hijinks ensue.

3. The 5th graders in Miss Guthrie's class never appreciated her until she needed 2 weeks to recoup from augmentation surgery. Then they tortured the substitutes--until Principal Jones hired a psychic and summoned Ivan the Terrible.

4. If you think springing full-blown out of your father's head is bad, try getting killed by one of your own lightning bolts. Poor Zeus--a god should have enough karma to avoid being reborn as a talking rat. How will Zeus cope with the loss of his god-like powers and his new life in the alleys of Chicago?

5. Nick Jeffries is thrilled at the reception his painting of nude warriors at Thermopolae is getting from the critics. But will it also attract Josh, the young sculptor he admires from afar?

6. Of Myths Reborn, and Love Forlorn, this novel tells the tale;
Of toxic stew, Los Angeles too, and one sick humpback whale.
When love arrives, and men collide, things may become perverse.
Who will prevail, in this sweet tale, that's told in rhyming verse?

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil,

I read your blog every day and get a huge kick out of it (and maybe learn a bit too). Your website says you represent fantasy and I thought you might be interested in my fantasy novel, Of Myths Reborn.

Though but a scullion in the kitchens of the sprawling Jade Palace [Google lists 1,190,000 Jade Palaces. Amazingly, all but sixteen are Chinese restaurants.] where the Emperor dwells, Kavin daydreams of more. [He dreams of the day he will supervise the scullions.] While scrubbing the soot and grime off the insides of giant pots and cauldrons, he imagines a hundred different lives from legend, tale, and myth, but most often daydreams of Nadae, the daughter of one of the most powerful nobles in the Empire. It is just a daydream [Are you going to use the word "daydream" in every sentence?] until in a chance encounter they meet, he discovers that she likes him as well, and she has him appointed as her personal manservant. [Manservant? Is that what they called it in days of yore?] [I was going to scoff that this was about as likely as Paris Hilton falling for a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant. Then I realized the odds of Paris Hilton falling for a dishwasher are actually pretty good.]

His wildest dreams seem to be coming to fruition when, on the night of the greatest feast of the year, the Emperor is assassinated, the Palace becomes a battleground, and Nadae dies in his arms – poisoned. [Those are his wildest dreams? Maybe you should change "when" to "--until" or "but".] As the Empire dissolves into civil war about him, he discovers that he has a Traitor’s Coin, a cursed trinket that many blame for the worst betrayals in the Empire’s history. [Benedict Arnold on the witness stand: I know how it looks, but I'm innocent, I tell you. My mind was being controlled by this trinket.] The horrible realization that he might have poisoned the girl he loves under its power has just begun to sink in when the Fade Raven – a creature from the darkest, whispered myths – comes for him. [Why?]

.........................................Art by George Perez

Kavin’s story is but one from the host of characters in Of Myths Reborn. [Others include the stories of Kanneth the outhouse cleaner, David, the horse-stall scrubber, and Eleanor, laundress to Ivan the Incontinent.] It is my first novel and is complete at 125,000 words. I’d be happy to submit a synopsis, sample chapters, or the full manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time.



What do you mean, Kavin’s story is but one from the host of characters? Is this book the story of Kavin, of the war, or of a period of time in this land?

Kavin daydreams about Nadae, miraculously gets her, and then you kill her off? I'm guessing this happens fairly early, as you still have a war to deal with. Do we need Nadae in the query? Could you begin with the assassination? After emotionally involving your readers in Kavin's romantic quest, are you confident they'll stick with you through this?

What does the Fade Raven want with Kaven? Perhaps that's where your story truly lies.

Can't you come up with a better name than "Fade Raven"?

What makes Kavin think he poisoned Nadae? The coin causes the worst betrayals in history--something like the the assassination of the emperor, perhaps, but not the murder of some noble's daughter.

He discovers that he has a Traitor’s Coin? Where'd he get it? Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Miss Snark's Therapy Session

1. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"But Dr. Betelbaum, something doesn't feel right. I don't feel . . . discrete. It's as though I'm losing my sense of self." She glanced nervously at an old painting of New York City on the wall.

"That's normal. You see, Miss Snark, you are a fiction. A composite of the ordinary and the spectacular from the life of another, with a dose of the unreal. The feeling of addiction that you have felt was the projection of another. Being cut loose, you begin to exist only in memories, which are unreliable."

Miss Snark reached down and picked up Killer Yapp. As she stroked his head, her hand reached deep into his fur -- too deep, seeming to pass through his skin. "I'm afraid."

"Don't be. It's part of the natural order. We grow, we change, and parts of us are lost in the process." He pushed a plate of toffee toward her, but she refused. "Even as you pass on, just picture all of the lives that you touched. Will that let you smile on your way out?"

Miss Snark stared at her hands, slowly passing them through one another. Little sparkles of light flitted about inside like faeries. She forced a smile. "Yes. Thank you, Dr. Betelbaum." She rose, drifted over to the painting with Yapp in her arms, and faded out through its cracked surface.

"It was my pleasure," he whispered at the wall. He checked his watch, smiled, and faded into his chair.


2. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I don't know," Miss Snark sighed. "The outpouring from the Snarklings was tremendous! I feel as if I've abandoned them. Have I done the right thing?"

"Absolutely," Betelbaum replied. "Your readers will be stronger for it. Many of them had formed a dangerous dependence on you, an anonymous blogger. That sort of thing can become very unhealthy. And the experience wasn't doing you much good, either."

"The stress was killing me," she agreed, "but now I feel so empty, somehow. Have I betrayed them all?"

Betelbaum smiled gently and murmured reassurances, secure in the knowledge that no fewer than 38 former Snarklings were scheduled for appointments with him in the upcoming weeks.

"I'm sure we'll work through this," he said. "With time."


3. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it. It's just a matter of finding something as rewarding as blogging."

"I've tried, doctor. But I miss the nitwits, the burning hair . . . Now I spend all my time stomping stilettos into slush."

"Surely it's not that bad?"

"Worse. There's the not my genre pile, the must be copyedited pile, the interns will be amused pile, the Dog is that a dumb idea pile, the please don't send us anything ever again pile, the shred before reading pile, the minuscule font pile, the five page query pile, the no SASE pile, the it's another literary-fiction-sci fi-romance all in one pile, the 200,000 . . . "

The doctor's cellphone interrupted. He listened intently replying only yes and ending with a no. "An opportunity has come up," he said. "It could be just the thing."

"Clooney wants me?"

"Since you have so many piles, how would you like to be national spokesperson for Preparation H?"


4. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I still don't see," Miss Snark said, "how more sessions is going to help me kick my psychoanalysis addiction."

"Now, now, don't worry about that. Let's work on the gin pail next."

"My gin pail? You can't take that away from me. That's almost as sacred as my affection for George Clooney."

"Yes, I know, but it has to go so you'll have more time for me," Betelbaum said. "Besides, George pays no attention to you, so why obsess about him when I'm available?"

Miss Snark's eyes opened wide. "Why . . . you're a nitwit!" She reached for her purse.

Betelbaum paled as the business end of a cluegun emerged and pointed in his direction. "Well, maybe it's all right to obsess so long as you--"

Smiling, Miss Snark stepped over Beterbaum's clueless body to make her way out of his office. The police wouldn't know who'd done the deed--clueguns didn't have to be registered.

--Dave Kuzminski

5. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I'm not so sure I shouldn't have kept the blog and quit my job. The blog made me the most famous literary agent in the world. Now it'll probably be Kristin with her damned iPod."


"It's unbelievable. Kristin Nelson's form rejection slip:

STATUS: Plowing through the slush that built up while I was off at yet another conference. Currently reading yours.

What's playing on the iPod: KEEP YOUR DAY JOB, by The Grateful Dead.

We apologize in advance for this form letter. Best of luck elsewhere."

"Getting back to you, Miss Sn--"

"Even when she's submitting her clients' manuscripts to publishers, she manages to work in what's playing on her fucking iPod. Christ."

"Are you finished?"

"Look, Betelbaum, I've made a mistake. What's more satisfying? One of my Snarklings hitting it big, or unloading one of my clients' crappy books on some clueless publisher?"

"Has one of your Snarklings ever hit it big?"

"Of course not. They're all nitwits. But they're my nitwits." She sighed. "If I could just find a client capable of putting out a mega-seller, I could afford to retire and go back to blogging."

"Have I mentioned to you that I've written--"

"Quiet, Betelbaum, I'm thinking. I wonder if Evil Editor's planning Novel Deviations 3." She grabbed her purse. "See you next week. I got an email to send."


Friday, May 25, 2007

Face-Lift 341

Guess the Plot

Spartan Sunrise

1. This biography of the first man to be married to his partner on the steps of the Capitol building chronicles his rise from a humble small-town life to the sex, drug and techno-fueled lifestyle of New York City . . . followed by his plunge into the impoverished, Spartan lifestyle of the Bowery.

2. Buster Mordwell turned over. The sun was peeking through the curtainless windows. No alarm clock, no telephone, no coffee. No sheets, damn it. And he itched. Never mind the price, this was the last time he would stay in a Budget Inn.

3. When King Laonidas mixes his signature cocktail for King Xerxes, Xerxes just has to have the recipe. But when Laonidas refuses to give up the secret ingredient, Xerxes gives him a drunken shove. Laonidas shoves back and knocks over Xerxes’ drink. Several thousand dead soldiers later, both men agree: things got out of hand.

4. After watching his pirated copy of 300 for the 164th time, 35-year-old Joe Boxman glances out the window of his mother's basement and sees he's watched the movie until dawn again. Realizing he's an obsessive-compulsive loser, he degenerates into a very literary mental breakdown. Then he watches 300 again.

5. After a whirlwind romance, accountant Todd Abernathy-Flynn is happily married to glamorous superspy Mae Wong. All he wants is to settle into a honeymoon of subconscious bliss with the little woman. But Mae cracks her whip and puts him on a strenuous regimen. She knows her ex, Octopus McGee, the notorious fiend from Dublin, is on his way to pulverize Todd. Will her darling be ready?

6. Lucinda will sign over her yuppie pub to anyone who can name a mixed drink she’s never heard of—and biz at the bar is booming! Until a Greek from 631 BC arrives with the name of a cocktail that’s certain to stump her, made from the blood of massacred Visigoths.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

John Hayward is the first man to be married to his partner on the steps of the Capitol Building. [The last place you want to get married is on a flight of stairs. Do you know how many people (mostly men) faint during a wedding ceremony? Check out this compilation video.] Spartan Sunrise is a novel about the series of small moments that make up his life. [Uh oh. Small moments? How small?

One morning in 2005, William cooked breakfast for John. It was unusual, in that John was the better cook, but John had been up late the night before, working on their scrapbook. There was a tulip in a vase on John's tray, which touched John so much he didn't even make an issue of the slightly overcooked eggs. But that was the kind of man this fictional character was, the kind who would gladly choke down burnt eggs for his partner.]

Told from his perspective and the varied stories of people he's encountered along the way, traversing the many layers of society that make up New York, from impoverished to wealthy, from isolation to having many friends. [That sentence needs a predicate . . . Come to think of it, it also needs a subject.] Unified vignettes from many points of view, as people seamlessly enter and leave John's life – tell the story of his journey. [That says what the previous sentence said, but even more vaguely. If you keep it, change the comma to a dash or the dash to a comma.] The fictional biography spans his life from his humble, cliché small town beginnings to the sex, drug and techno fueled lifestyle of New York. When John 'comes out' to his socialite girlfriend he's evicted from his Fifth Avenue apartment and needs to live in a SRO on the Bowery to finally realize his ability to accept himself. [Finally, a sentence that tells us something specific that happens in the book.] The story encompasses his quest for normal: career path, partner, children, divorce, then surreal death. [Are divorce and surreal death included as part of a "normal" quest?]

I'm greatly inspired by writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and Jeanette Winterson (to name just a few). [If you're saying you admire them, the reader doesn't care; if you're saying you're in their league, the reader will be highly skeptical.] The novel is 58,000 words and about 230 pages in a word document.

I'm a contributing writer for Huffingtion Post; once penned the blog One Gay Date at a Time. [You'd have to be awfully sure the person you're writing to is familiar with it and impressed by it, before bragging that you once penned a blog.] My first play Three Tables was successfully produced this fall and listed in New York Magazine as an Off-Off Broadway pick. A short story was published in the online journal Fluent Ascension. I freelance, when possible as a slightly snarky blog writer for hire. [Wait a minute; you're Miss Snark?] [Wait a minute, people pay you to pen their blogs?] You can find out more about me and current work at _____________.

Thank you for taking the time to read this query, attached is an SASE; I look forward to hearing from you.



On the one hand, if the book consists of small moments in John's life, I can see how you would find it hard to come up with specifics worthy of the query letter. On the other hand, you have to come up with specifics worthy of the query letter. You have to make the query reader care about the character. Who wants to read about the small moments in a fictional character's life? I want to read about the defining moments. Which means I want the query to tell me what those moments are, and how John deals with them. What makes his life more interesting than the lives of the people you expect to buy the book?

That his girlfriend knows he's gay means he has to move out of his home and start living on Skid Row? Aren't 80% of the apartments on Fifth Avenue occupied by gay guys? Aren't there laws protecting people from being evicted for such reasons? Was he leeching off his girlfriend?

It's a biography (sort of). No need to drive it home with phrases like "moments that make up his life," "the story of his journey," "spans his life," "encompasses his quest." Instead of defining what a biography (sort of) is, tell us what happens in this biography (sort of).

New Beginning 282

Everyone who can fix my life is in this phone book. The pages are buttermilk yellow and written in code. But I know the code and all I have to do is punch in seven digits listed in the ads and instantly I’m connected with people who can help, professionals in home improvement and remodeling, mold mildew and moisture control, traumatic stress counseling, laser surgery, and welding. It’s so easy it almost seems like a miracle, and if not a miracle, at least some sort of high-octane grace. Exterminator. That’s who I was looking for when I came across Escort Services. Abalienes Escorts—For an evening of indulgence. Beautiful ladies within an hour. Always selective hiring. We gladly accept all major credit cards. The ad was an inch high and bounded by a thin ruled line. Nothing ostentatious or hungry and it could have just as well been an ad for legal advice, artificial fingernails, or midwives, even though there were only two listings for midwives and neither ad was as attractive as Abalienes. There were only two other listings for escort services, and both were nothing more than 800 numbers for long distance companionship. Actually, I was surprised to find any escort listings in a town as small as Waynesville. After all, everyone knows everyone or knows someone who knows you and most folks are related somewhere down the tree, so it would be a difficult date to keep discreet. But I was half tempted to call anyway, even though carpenter ants were eating through the beam in my basement.

Then I thought, Why not? and dialed.

Forty minutes later, a sultry blonde rang my doorbell. "Good evening, Martin." She gazed up at me through lowered lashes as I led her into the living room.

Something about her made me pause, hand on her elbow. "Don't I know you from some place?"

She laughed. "This is Waynesville, love. Everyone knows everyone. Don't you recognize me?" She adjusted the neckline of her dress. "I'm Wilbur's little sister -- I was two years behind you in school."


She laughed again, a provocative, throaty chuckle.

"So, um, how is Wilbur these days?"

"I'm guessing you didn't bring me here to talk about Wilbur," she murmured, stroking my cheek. She settled onto the couch, crossing her legs in a way that got my full attention.

With a loud creak, the living room floor gave way, dumping the couch into the basement amid a pile of rubble.

With a sigh, I picked up the phone to make the call I should have made in the first place.

"Best Pest Control, Wilbur speaking."

Crap. How was I going to explain this?

Opening: AB.....Continuation: foggidawn

Q & A 111

Over at Jessica Faust's BookEnds blog, there's a raging debate about whether or not to thank the agent/editor for their time and consideration when submitting a query. Well, maybe not so raging -- it seems like Jessica is about the only one who says not to do so; commentors mostly disagree with her. Do you prefer to be thanked when agents (or writers, if you accept unsolicited slush) submit work? Or do you consider that unwarranted groveling?

I visited the links you provided. My first thought was, WHAT?!! Who's this doing query critiques? Who does she think she is, horning in on my territory? Wouldn't it be easier, instead of critiquing a query, to send her readers to EE's blog, where there are nearly 400 query critiques? Incredibly, Evil Editor isn't even among the blog links in her sidebar! That right there should send up a red flag.

Then I read the query critiques. They aren't even funny!!

But, getting to your question, I see nothing wrong with a simple Thank you, or Thank you for your time and consideration. I pay my masseuse, my psychiatrists, and my pool boy very well, but I still thank them for their services.

On the other hand, that stuff is usually at the end of the letter, and I've already made up my mind whether I'm interested before I get to it, so it isn't going to alter my decision.

If I were a writer, I would expect my agent to include a word of thanks when submitting my manuscript to a publisher. I can't recall receiving a letter from an agent who didn't do so. You shouldn't have to tell your agent that you want a thank you included with your submissions, but perhaps you do.

After critiquing 380+ queries on this blog, the phrase I'm sick and tired of reading is: I look forward to hearing from you. Of course you do. That's the whole point of a query letter. Is the agent more likely to get back to you if you declare that you look forward to it? Does she sort the slush into piles from authors who look forward to her response, and those who don't? I don't believe so.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Face-Lift 340

Guess the Plot

A Gift of Myrrh

1. Arnie was hoping for a new baseball mitt, but Aunt Fran gives him the lamest birthday present ever. Now Arnie faces the biggest challenge of his young life -- writing a sincere-sounding thank-you note.

2. Diapers would have been nice. Or food or livestock or a freakin' cradle. But when Balthazar shows up with a dopey grin and a bottle of tree resin, what's Mary supposed to do?

3. Four teenage boys turn up naked and dead, their faces coated in oil of Myrrh. The boys are the first clues in a case that will lead Italian Police Detective Abele Porfirio into the heart of one of the most powerful trade unions in Europe.

4. The Fountain of Youth exists, and it falls upon Nando to eliminate all who know about it, including a hippie family in Hawaii, a 12th-century emperor, and a bearded man who's been around since the birth of Jesus.

5. Genevieve has planned her wedding down to the last detail, so when Rodney's ex-girlfriend arrives uninvited, carrying a big lump of hardened tree sap, it's up to the maid-of-honor and a renegade ex-cop-turned-wedding-singer to keep A Gift of Myrrh from becoming A Gift of Murder.

6. Naomi should have been more suspicious when her new boyfriend Balthazar brought a gift of bath oil. When she slips beneath the silky hot water a queer tingle rises up her legs. The embalming process has started, and Naomi, if she gets out of this alive, is done with

Original Version

Dear Agent/Editor:

The greatest gift is not immortality, but the ability to die—especially for someone else.

[Not quite, but close. The top ten greatest gifts:

10. The ability to die for yourself.
9. Laughter.
8. A housebroken puppy.
7. Roller blades.
6. Immortality.
5. Two dozen long-stemmed roses.
4. Myrrh.
3. A wide-screen plasma TV.
2. The ability to die for someone else.
1. The Novel Deviations twin-pack.]

Nando knows this. His brother died more than 500 years ago, sacrificed to the gods of an enemy people that soon became Nando's adopted family. Although this same family has long since died out, Nando still owes his love, loyalty, and allegiance to their memory. For their sake, his mission for nearly 200 years has been to eliminate those who know the truth: The Fountain of Youth exists and is buried under layers of concrete on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. [Nando's adopted family have died out. Apparently they didn't drink from the Fountain of Youth. So what is their connection to the Fountain, the connection that leads Nando to believe eliminating those who know about the Fountain will somehow protect his family's memory?] And he has fulfilled his duty, save for two people: his former commanding officer and himself. That officer also happens to be his son-in-law and oldest friend in the world, Johnny—Juan Ponce de Leon, who had other ideas about how to protect their family's memory. Now that a series of paintings has pointed the way back to Johnny, Nando can no longer hide from his responsibilities. [Not clear what that means.]

What Nando does not know is that Johnny hasn't been keeping the secret to himself. Others—ranging from a man Jesus healed in 28 A.D. to a legendary 12-th century emperor to a hippie family running a vegetarian cafe on Kauai—know now and their lives are at risk as well as they stand between Nando and Johnny in a centuries-old feud. [If I were going to get involved in a centuries-old feud, it wouldn't be with someone with a lame name like Nando.] As 2000 years' worth of stories unfold, secrets bigger than the Fountain come to light. [Secrets like Atlantis, the Loch Ness monster, and Canada.] Mortal and immortal alike must decide what is worth living for . . . and what is worth dying for.

"A Gift of Myrrh" is literary fiction and is complete at 99,000 words. Although the novel can stand alone, it is the first book of a planned trilogy. [The others will involve Pizarro and gold, and Cortez and frankincense.] Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.


People from the 12th century and from 28 A.D. are still alive . . . because they drank from the Fountain of Youth? Even though Florida was unknown to them at the time? Clear this up in the query.

Nando has eliminated everyone else who knows about the Fountain, except his former commanding officer. How did Nando know who knew about it?

This takes place on Earth? Who are these people who were sacrificing other people to their gods 500 years ago?

I note you don't include Nando's daughter among those who know the secret. Neither her father nor her husband told her?

I can see keeping the Fountain secret to prevent hordes of people from descending on it, but I don't quite grasp Nando's reason.

Success Story

December Quinn reports the sale of her novel Personal Demons (Face-Lift 240) to Juno Books, for a 2008 release. She assures me there are zombies in the book.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

New Beginning 281

Black rocks covered with shimmering green moss, air fresh and light with the scent of pine needles and dew-soaked grass, shadows in the shapes of continents drifting lazily beneath enormous clouds across the vast golden plain, and sun-shot trees fluttering with an endless supply of leaves. Here is a river and a stick that makes a noise when it breaks. Just ahead is something different. Not the tree, no, or the snake, no, but a pair of creatures who walk on two legs with skin that shines like the bark of a birch tree in the bright morning sun. One of them holds an apple and the other is running away. Now the other runs away, dropping the tender fruit to the ground. The snake slithers under a rock. The fruit tastes very, very, good.


The voice boomed like thunder, rumbling the earth at my feet. I looked around, startled and frightened by the sound that seemed to come out of nowhere.

"Cut, cut, CUT!"

The two-legged creatures walk sheepishly back onstage, accepting robes from the ones wearing clothing. "Now what?" says the woman to the man who shouts into a hollow cone.

The man with the hollow cone points up to the catwalk. "'God' botched his lines again!" He gestures with a black-and-gold book. "Herbert, your first line is 'Where are you?' Three little words. Verse nine. Christ, you're not even on camera; read the fucking words if you can't remember 'em. And go easy with the booming!"

"SORRY, MOE," booms the thunder from above.

"Unbelievable," the cone-man says. "Two months of rehearsal and the only one performing flawlessly is the damn bear. Again. From the top."

Everyone groans, but I am delighted. The shouting man says those words a lot. And every time he does, I get another apple.

Opening: AB.....Continuation: 150

Face-Lift 339

Guess the Plot

Below the Thermocline

1. It came from the Deep, and now the northern city of Eureka is covered with orange slime. Where will it spew next? San Francisco? Monterey? LA? Only the monstrous Gastropod knows. Tanya Moonbeam, marine biologist, slings off her bikini to think in the hot tub. Only her ex -- scuba expert and bastard son of Jacques Cousteau, Bud Winkerstein -- can save California from this scourge. But where is he?

2. Thirty years ago Jeremy caused Arthur's death by drowning. Now some woman has published a novel Arthur wrote, and Jeremy is worried. Is she the reincarnation of Arthur? Or . . . did she discover Arthur's body, preserved in the cold depths below the thermocline, and re-animate him?

3. An obsessive compulsive writer, in his haste to have an evil blog editor review his query, submits relentlessly, over and over the same damn material, slightly changed, but sadly still lurking . . . below the thermocline.

4. When Judy Clamsworth asks Chad Perkins how he managed to crawl up from below the themocline, he knows their first date isn't going well. Can this romance be saved? Only his assistant, the winged pixie Amanda Trueheart, knows for sure.

5. For Fred's birthday, Janie bought him the new Thermocline recliner from La-Z-Boy. When Fred disappears, though, can homicide detective Zack Martinez identify the sticky, gooey pool of slime bubbling up from the carpet below the new chair?

6. When decades of relentless tourism threaten the fish stocks of Loch Ness, environmentalist Jock MacTavish strikes a deal with Nessie: he'll ferry the tourists to the middle of the lake, and Nessie can eat them instead.

Original Version

Below the Thermocline (mainstream mystery-67,000 words)

How can young author Annie Logan prove she didn’t steal another writer’s work? Annie is promoting her third novel when she is accused of plagiarism. What she doesn’t know is that the work in question is actually her own—from a previous life. [That gives me an idea. I think I'll publish The Da Vinci Code, and put my own name on it. Then I'll claim I wrote it in a previous life and sue Dan Brown for plagiarizing it. Hell, in my previous lives I wrote Valley of the Dolls, Catch 22, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Bible. And I'm ready to start collecting my royalties.] Arthur Brensen, a once promising writer, drowned thirty years earlier, his work safeguarded by his younger brother, Jeremy. [Too many commas in that sentence. Put a period after "earlier."] [Also, you might put this information, in another form, after the first sentence of the next paragraph.]

Jeremy Brensen is Annie’s accuser. He sees an opportunity to establish a literary award in Arthur’s name using the money from a settlement against Annie’s publisher. But his strong feeling of responsibility to preserve Arthur’s work goes deeper than sibling love—Jeremy caused his brother’s death, a secret that has corroded his spirit, leaving him troubled, angry, and ashamed.

Annie suspects that Jeremy is delusional from his drinking, or [is] trying to scam her publisher, while Jeremy, in jeopardy of losing his professorship at SIU because of his drug and alcohol abuse, holds a strange fascination for Annie, his feelings caught between loathing and desire, made more confusing by the fact that he’s married. [Too many commas. Break into two sentences (eliminate "while".] [Not sure, but I think "Jeremy holds a fascination for Annie" means the opposite of what you're trying to say. Maybe "develops" a fascination, or "finds himself fascinated by . . . "]

Annie and Jeremy are both convinced the other is guilty of some deception, when a diary arrives in the mail from a woman who has read Annie’s latest novel. [Break that into two sentences.] The diary’s entries, while disturbing, shed new light on Arthur’s death, and new insight into Annie’s life.

My novella Turnback Creek won the 2006 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and will be published by Texas Review Press in the summer of 2007. Short stories of mine have appeared or are forthcoming in such publications as Southwest Review, The Minnesota Review, The Baltimore Review, Roanoke Review, The Southeast Review, Flint Hills Review, Talking River, The Iconoclast, Pisgah Review, MoonShine Review and others. Thank you for your time and consideration. [Three or four titles would be plenty.]


In a large body of water the thermocline is the moment of sudden change. Above the thermocline life flourishes. Below, decay and frigid temperatures prevail—a harsh environment where only the most tenacious life survive. [Good of you to provide the definition, though for GTP purposes, I'd have been more interested in why it's the title.]


There's nothing wrong with combining ideas into one sentence, but only if the ideas belong together. In the cases I point out, better transition is needed if you want the ideas in one sentence. For instance, Arthur Brensen, a once promising writer, drowned thirty years earlier, and ever since, his work has been safeguarded by his younger brother, Jeremy works fine. As does Annie and Jeremy are each convinced the other is guilty of some deception--until a diary arrives in the mail from a woman who has read Annie’s latest novel.

In these cases, the meaning becomes more clear.

The story sounds interesting, and you've done a good job of condensing a complicated plot so that it's clear--once those minor problems are fixed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Beginning 280

Before the cavalry of buses marched up to the school loop, before the kids of East Hill Elementary shot out of buses four through twelve, before Principal Weins changed the letters of the schoolyard sign to read ‘Happy Summer,’ Sharon Deemers crept around to the back of the school, slid the dumpster door open, and trashed her birthday party invitations.

She almost got away with it.

“Hey! Garage Girl! Watcha throwin’ in the school dump?” Brian called out from behind a tree.

“Just some papers from home.” Sharon zipped up her backpack, or ‘patchpack’ as she called it, and walked backwards a couple of steps. She eyed Brian, then eyed the dumpster.

“I’m gonna get me a closer look,” Brian taunted. He took the Orioles baseball cap off his greasy brown hair, walked over to the dumpster, and peered into the opening. Sharon stood a few feet away, frozen to the spot.

After Brian lifted out one of the gaily colored invitations, after he sounded the words out phonetically and got the gist it was for a skating party, after he laughed so hard spit came out his right nostril, Sharon shoved his head forward, flattening the card between his nose and the dumpster.

"Hey, whadja do that for?" Brian sniffed, rubbing what Sharon hoped was a broken nose.

"Because, Baseball Boy, those lame invitations are the decoys I showed my parents. The real party is down at Bronsky's. It's BYOB, and there's a $5 cover. You in?"

Opening: Takoda.....Continuation: Phoenix

Q & A 110 How can I improve on perfection?

Suppose I get a critique and everyone, including me, agrees that a particular line just doesn't work. I don't just write the first thing that comes to my head; that non-working line is already my best idea. Any thoughts on how to come up with an improvement when you've already run through several options? How do you make your best better?

Next time one of your critiquers tells you a line doesn't work, say, "Oh yeah, wise guy? I'd like to see you come up with something better." If you're lucky, she will.

A thesaurus is a good tool for improving writing, if you know how to use one. (If you don't, it will make you look like an idiot.)

Or, you could send the passage to your editor. One task often assigned to editors is to make someone else's best even better.

Of course, if you don't have an editor, you could send the passage to Evil Editor, who will post it and allow his minions to argue over the soluton to your problem.

Face-Lift 338

Guess the Plot

The Secrets of Harworth Castle

1. Surrounded by the snapping jaws of dangerous reptiles, three teens race to safety amid the ruins of a spooky castle. As night falls the castle comes to life as an outpost of 16th-century Wales, complete with knights, ladies . . . and a green-skinned witch.

2. Princess Dream and her winged pony, Sunshine, have always lived in Harworth Castle. But then the King vanishes in the middle of the wizard Gromulus' fireworks display. Can Dream and Sunshine save the day?

3. Harworth Castle, Jr. died as a seven-year-old in 1953. Or did he? Bailey McAllister, third generation investigative journalist, just received a message from him, along with proof he’s alive and an accusation that her grandfather perpetrated the cover-up. With a billion-dollar estate at stake, can Bailey uncover . . . The Secrets of Harworth Castle?

4. Liza has been writing her very first book, a mystery about a haunted castle. When she finds a key to a mysterious door in her attic, it leads right into the castle of her story.

5. American twins are kidnapped while visiting London. They're taken to Wales and imprisoned in Harworth Castle. To escape, they must learn the secrets of the castle--but the castle has other ideas.

6. Harworth Stillwell built a castle using ingenious, groundbreaking architectural innovations never before seen and unlikely ever to be repeated. Too bad Harworth is four years old and the tide is coming in.

Original Version

THE SECRETS OF HARWORTH CASTLE is an upper middle-grade adventure/fantasy of 50,000 words, set in present time, in a fictitious castle on Cardigan Bay in Wales.

Thirteen-year-old American twins Jillian and Everett Lewis, are kidnapped from their London hotel and dumped into a stone walled cell in an ancient castle. When a mysterious person unbolts the cell door, their escape is thwarted by locked doors and windows, leaving them trapped inside the castle. The kidnappers, Lomax, Squirrel and Lyon, must capture the twins, [What do you mean they must capture the twins? What happens if they don't?] and find a way to get rid of them. [Get rid of them? Why'd they kidnap 'em in the first place?] The children uncover a secret haven, which leads to dark passageways, spy holes, and strange encounters with the mysterious person. [You need a better term for this character than "the mysterious person." Something like the "hooded figure," or the "masked hunchback," or the "humanoid with loose garb and ambiguous voice."] During their search for a way out, they learn the castle's closely held secret of the Celtic cross, [Apparently not that closely held.] but in a moment of carelessness, Everett is recaptured. Jillian must save her brother, triumph over the kidnappers, and discover a secret route out of the castle. [The boy screws up and the girl has to rescue him? This would never have flown in the fifties.]

In the mode of SPY KIDS, Jillian and Everett demonstrate their courage and savvy resourcefulness, resulting in quick-witted, creative solutions to their plight, and to the castle's secrets. [Or puzzles. Secrets don't have solutions.] The castle however, seems to have a mind of its own, begrudgingly releasing one secret at a time, [Begrudgingly? The castle practically gave them the Celtic cross secret. Is the Celtic cross secret a much bigger secret than the other secrets? What is the Celtic cross secret?] and in the process revealing even stranger new ones. To counterbalance their dark confines, THE SECRET OF HARWORTH CASTLE explores the twin's [twins'] relationship by exposing their individual weaknesses [Everett's weakness is that he's male. Jillian's weakness is Everett.] and their need to overcome petty jealousies and indifferences [indifferences?] to work together for the common good.


Sounds like it could be fun, especially if the solutions to the problems are truly creative.

Not clear why the kids were kidnapped and taken to Wales. Why go to London to kidnap kids when you can kidnap them in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, and already be in Wales?

Working together to escape is enough theme to mention. Counterbalancing dark confines, exploring relationships, and exposing weaknesses of thirteen-year-old kids aren't anything kids in this age group care about, and thus I doubt their editors will either.

Generally, I don't like comparing one's book to a movie.

Monday, May 21, 2007

New Beginning 279

This is the end. There is nothing else after this. All I have done till now was for naught, a vague memory of misspent time.

Life strolled in and erased my yesterday, just like it had done to the world almost a thousand years ago. Our leaders thought they were in control back then. When the Great Calamity occurred, all the continents collided, war ended under the thunderclap of ethereal forces, and life, as it was once known, ceased. Those who believed in their power discovered how futile it really was. Many who thought they had all the answers disappeared, while those still lost in wonder survived as a changed people. And it is those abandoned souls who begot me, this dishevelled fool. So, one clear night under the eye of a blood moon, I stood on the doorstep of opportunity and quaked. Just as the world must have when it was reborn as Kadith.

At the side of the room a man wearing glasses frowned. "Kadith?" he said. "What do you make of that?"

"I think he watched Eragon this morning," his companion replied. "Or Lord of the Rings. He’s all muddled up."

The bespectacled man gave him a fierce look. "You never should have let him get that high-def LCD. Do you remember how long he looked for Blue's Clues?"

"Of course I remember." He watched the speaker ramble on a bit longer, then added, "On the other hand, you have to admit this is the most interesting start in years to the State of the Union address.”

Opening: K. E. Stewart.....Continuation: Merper

Contributions Wanted

I've received many emails the last day or two beseeching me not to retire this blog. I'm not going anywhere, but it's worth noting that if I'd done a face-lift a day for the past week, instead of the detective stories, there would currently be no query letters remaining in the queue. And there aren't many openings either. Remember, query letters can be for any type of book, including nonfiction. Openings can come from short stories as well as novels. Some of you have sent everything you have. The rest, it's your time. Remember, Evil's just my first name, not an adjective describing how I treat my minions.

Also, don't be shy about sending in continuations to the openings posted at Evil Editor's Openings (link in sidebar). I realize it gets frustrating when Evil Editor never chooses your continuation. But the majority of people who made it into the pages of Novel Deviations and Novel Deviations, vol. 2, have only one opening or continuation in the book. These books wouldn't even exist if not for one-hit-wonders. All it takes is one moment of inspiration, preferably at a time when everyone else's submissions suck.

Speaking of Novel Deviations, vol. 2, I originally predicted it would be shipped in early June. Actually, it's ready already. Those who pre-ordered it should have it now. Those who ordered in the past week should have it by Friday.

Face-Lift 337

Guess the Plot

The Demon's Bane

1. After her best friend is possessed by a demon, Nerea travels to Lectros to train at summoning demon-fighting angels. But the demon, cast out of Nerea's friend, possesses her lover and follows after Nerea. Will he kill her before she becomes . . . the Demon's Bane?

2. Aleister Blanc—oppressor of the damned, master of the infidels, and the half-human offspring of the succubus Satonis—exerts supreme dominion over the realm of darkness. Yet with all his power, Aleister is slave to the most hellish of human curses—the dreaded sphincter of flames, the bonfire of the buttocks . . . the anal inferno.

3. His beat is the inner city, and he sees it all: vampires, zombies, werewolves -- but mostly demons. In fact, they call him Demon's Bane because he's sent so many back to the Netherworld. When the ultimate challenge becomes the ultimate temptation, can Bane hold on to his reputation . . . and his heart?

4. Memnok the Lazy enjoys his quiet existence terrorizing mortals with thoughts of procrastination. But when The Man Downstairs summons him to train an over-ambitious new demon, his underworld is turned upside down. Can Memnok find a way to tame the new guy’s insatiable bloodlust before it sparks a new round of mass exorcism?

5. Zubba complains about his job a lot, but he doesn't really mind the ash or the heat. He knows he's pretty lucky to have a job at all. But when he gets trapped in the brimstone with a young upstart called Bill, he admits the truth: the crank phone calls from St. Peter are really starting to wind him up.

6. Richard Fudge runs Fudge Pizza like an outpost of Hell. No one dares oppose his whims -- until he hires the meanest cashier in the world: tyrannical spinster Joan Winesap. When Richard makes fatally snarky remarks, Joan realizes she must destroy his precious little pizza kingdom, then take over the world.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

The Demon's Bane is an adult high fantasy novel of approximately 117,000 words.

Nerea is a young slave living in a remote, northern village named Hillensom. While serving in the home of the local earl, her life is kept busy with her various responsibilities and a somewhat-reluctant relationship with Jachan, the earl's son, much to the disapproval of the other slaves. [Do they disapprove of the relationship or the reluctance? What would happen if she refused him?] On one winter's night, Saska -- her only childhood friend -- is possessed by a demon, although this attempted possession is thwarted by the village priest. [Who is thereafter known far and wide as The Demon's Bane.] This is followed by the surprise arrival of a mysterious woman named Hanna and her angel companion.

Hanna is a summoner, one of the few women that can call angels -- mighty warriors of the gods -- to earth, and together fight against demons, evil summoners, and others that serve the fallen god Onago. Hanna [, known far and wide as The Demon's Bane,] has come to test all eligible women to see if they have a summoner's power. Despite her skepticism at the existence of gods or angels, Nerea finds that both she and Saska possess the potential to become a summoner, [but only one of them has the potential to become . . . the Demon's Bane.] [This is like how only Buffy could be the slayer.] and now they must travel across much of the known world to the holy city of Lectros to be trained. [Trained by Giles, the librarian of Lectros.] Jachan, now bereft of his reluctant lover, is offered an opportunity by the demon that was cast out of Saska to recapture Nerea, but at the price of allowing the spirit to reside in his body. Overwhelmed by his anger at Nerea's "kidnapping," Jachan agrees only to discover that there are other summoners hunting Nerea as well.

During her journey, Nerea will be helped by others in her quest: Saska, who also wishes to be trained as a summoner; the priest Denson, who knows much about Nerea's past; the angel Seth, and his summoner companion Arentil; Melody, Arentil's book-wise granddaughter, and even the goddess Yethde, who directly opposes Onago's plans for Nerea. Hounded at every step along the way while avoiding capture or murder at the hands of Jachan and the enemy summoners, Nerea will learn about her history, her power, and why she is the latest in line to be called "the Demon's Bane."

Thank you again for your time, and I hope to see your response on the blog very soon.



Nerea, Jachan, Saska, Hanna, Onago, Arentil, Melody, Yethde, Denson, Seth, the local earl, a village priest, Hanna's angel companion, the demon that possessed Saska, other slaves, demons, angels, summoners, gods, and all eligible women. If there are that many characters in the query, I'm thinking the book has as many characters as the final battle in The Return of the King multiplied by the number of rejection slips that get mailed from New York in one year.

What are Onago's plans for Nerea?

Your plot, basically, is: Slave girl Nerea goes off to train as summoner. Her lover, thinking she's been kidnapped, allows a demon to possess him, so that he can follow her and punish the "kidnappers." Nerea meets many obstacles on her journey. Then . . . tell us what happens after she becomes a summoner. Five or six characters is plenty for a query. We're more interested in what happens than in your many characters. Also, it's much easier for EE to make fun of your ridiculous plot than of a list of characters.