Friday, June 29, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

Minions have submitted descriptions that may or may not come from their novels. But they've carelessly neglected to name what it is they're describing, forcing you to make your best guess. Think of it as a literary blind taste test. Each correct answer is located beneath its piece in invisible ink. To read it, highlight it with your cursor.

1. Oily grime seemed to infect every nook. Beads of moisture, unnatural and unclean, clung to places where moisture had no business clinging. The stench--something between rancid salami and stale ashtrays, or a combination of both--reached out at me like hands from the grave. Above me, fluorescent bulbs buzzed like a swarm of flies. I half expected to see flies swarming, but it was clear that no self-respecting fly would ever buzz or land there. The bluish light draped a shroud over the already gray fuzz which seemed to cover everything. A wheezing, almost a gasping, echoed around me like the last breaths of an asphyxiated cow. -- pjd
Meeting a blind date

2. I heard the massive steel doors slide shut behind me. The guard removed the blindfold and there it was - neither round, nor cigar-shaped, nor cubic, but radically tubular like the curl of a wave. A serpentine shape that folded back on itself like a Mobius strip and coiled around itself like a Klein bottle. Its width nearly touched the walls and its height reached halfway to the ceiling. It did have an up and down because it sat on four leg-like protrusions. Big as a house, it seemed to be a series of chambers connected by narrow tunnels. The outermost ring, levorotated backwards as I watched. No human had any understanding of how the thing worked, let alone had gone inside. -- Dave
A Spaceship

3. Tendrils of blue reached out across a pale shell, curving and parting like rivulets searching for the sea. These were rivers in winter, sluggishly winding under gleaming ice, compelled to struggle and flow to their destination, even when the surface lay still and silent. I wanted to touch it, follow the rivers with my fingers, feel the silky softness above, but my fingers quailed, afraid of the ice. Nothing here smelt of life, nothing offered freshness and perfume, only the sharp, nose-biting scent of intervention. --McKoala
The head of a child who has lost his hair due to chemotherapy

4. I peer through the dark, sooty tunnel, gleefully anticipating. Glistening globs of gunk adhere, malodorous deposits of creosote-like residue, against the inner curve. Patiently, my tools of the trade at hand, I scrape and twist, tease and twirl, one load, two loads, three. Carefully – now warming to the task – not one for wasted efforts, I am methodical and thorough as I add to the bulk and shape of the incongruous chimera-fetching fuel. The way is clear; my work here is done. After a cursory sweep, I pack up and I’m ready to go. But first, I down a cold one and contemplate the capriciousness of life. Now the flame ignites my passion and life is sweet, like a beautiful flower, once more. -- ME
Chimney sweep at work

5. Slowly, fearfully she inched forward, hoping beyond hope that all of their wishes might be granted. They had come so far, endured so much . . . he couldn't deny them. One by one the three before her made their requests, and seemed pleased with his responses. But her . . . would he give her what she wanted? Could he? She didn't think so. There's no place like home, she thought. She so wanted to be back home, to have this over with. She asked him. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed, a disembodied voice crackled unintelligibly. Overwhelmed with fear, she held her ground and meekly repeated her request. -- EE
Going through a McDonalds drive-through on a stormy night at closing time.

6. Harold looked at the object, his brows furrowing. It was unlike Jasfoup to be concerned with collecting such trivia; the demon was more likely to crunch them underfoot. It was fist sized, if you discounted the sharp points which added an extra inch or two and was a combination of peach and sand in colour, the striations lightening as they spiralled to a point. It looked more like the skeletal remains of the lionfish they’d had for dinner last night than anything else Harold could imagine.

Checking that his friend was still in the bathroom (lionfish, apparently, disagreed with him) Harold picked the spiny object up, feeling how smooth the surface was under his fingertips and put it to his ear. He could hear, as if it was on a distant horizon, a crashing sound.

“Do you mind?” said a tinny voice. “That’s my china cabinet gone over.” --leatherdykeuk
Spiny Murex seashell

7. Everything is in motion. The sound of pages being shuffled, stacked and clipped. “Damn it” is heard, muttered softly as the keyboard keys click. Drawers are opened and shut. Doors whoosh, pneumatically closed. The water cooler lets loose another blub, blub bubble. Keys jangle in the hall. The elevator doors slide open; suits and dresses rustle, packages are crumpled. In another room, a phone rings and rings. Not my problem. The deadbolt locks in place as I turn the key. -- ME
Closing up the office at day's end

8. It was once a beauty but now it's sagging. I spent a lot of money on it, a necessary business expense, to set me apart from anyone else. I would show it off with pride to any man, or occasionally woman, who made an appointment. My goal was to use it to get lots of money,
but that is now lost with it's age. Older. And instead of the gravity-defying appearance of yesteryear, there seems to be a sad droop right down the center. My back hurts whenever I try to hoist it up, to reclaim it's original glamour and glory. -- Alison
A custom clothing rack

9. About the nun who discussed Stephen Schneider’s penis preoccupation with his skinny black-haired worried little mom, well, I’ve seen enough torpedoes in World War II movies on television on Sunday afternoons to know that old nun’s boobs are right on target to be torpedo-shaped. Mushier than those torpedic warhead receptacles, I guess, because you can see the two of them swinging around some under her habit, which is kind of creepy, really, but the shape seems to me to be the same. Those long torpedo-shaped boobs of hers look like they’re lassoed in at the waist with the black belt of her habit. So I think she shouldn’t be talking about Stephen Schneider’s love of his little penis, when she herself has got her big long boobs to be worrying about. I confess that these things bother me. And they’ve bothered me more than two times. Or three. -- Robin S.

10. It was my favorite part of the grocery store. The aromas wafted over me like a neap tide of mango puree. Tomatoes. Avocados. Peaches the size of apples. Apples the size of Casabas. Casabas the size of volleyballs. And then I saw them, calling to me from the tropical fruit rack like the sirens to Odysseus, like a bird feeder to a squirrel. I had to have them. I squeezed them. Soft and yet firm. I buried my face in the entire rack and sniffed deeply. A state of perfect ripeness. Did I dare sneak a taste, here in the store? Could I even resist? -- EE
The breasts of Kroger produce clerk Margarita Sanchez

11. It was the smell Janna noticed first. The hint of disinfectant overlying the fug of humanity-- sweat, garbage, bilge-- and the familiar grunge of machine oil and hot metal that lingered in every garage and repair deck she'd ever passed through. The scrubbers never worked well on the rim; too much traffic in and out. And the security lights, too bright, designed for maximum stimulation. What they were was blinding to eyes unused to the glare. Janna sighed and donned her shades before hoisting her duffel on her shoulder. She began the lengthy trek to the check in, boot heels clicking on the steel deck. Above her, the mechanicals clanked on their tracks, casting knife-edged shadows, their distant echoes overlapping to become nearly as loud as the original. Like a mech-rock track, except the singers were hollering coded commands from the mech cabins to the lumpers working below. Apparently, the net comms were still out since the last bombing two weeks ago. -- writtenwyrdd
A space station carved out of an asteroid; on the cargo dock

12. It came in the back door -- tentative, teasing, not quite convincing, like a tap of one finger softly on the shoulder. You turned, and saw nothing. An elusive hint of something almost forgotten hovered just out of reach. It left small clues to its presence and then fled. It kissed you lightly, aroused you, confused you, abandoned you. You dreamed of it and cursed it, and longed for it to stay.

The same day it showed itself, became undeniable fact, it was gone again. Its successor's footstep was heavy, its touch oppressive. All subtlety had fled. --mb

13. I stopped dead in my tracks the moment I saw him. I couldn't help but let my eyes run over every inch of that handsome body--those sleek muscles, that shiny red-brown hair, those warm, brown eyes framed with long lashes. I even found myself adoring his long nose. It was shapely. Heck, even his ears were shapely. His face carried all the signs of intelligence. I couldn't hold back a possessive smile. The way he was built, he was sure to have stamina. Yes, he could easily beat all the competition.

I just had to have him. -- Deborah
My horse

14. I looked at the framed glass rectangle before me and was struck not by the natural beauty, not by the classic wool coat or the pince-nez, but by those magnificent muttonchops. Try as I might, I could not take my eyes away. -- EE
Staring out the window at a bespectacled man hacking a sheep to death with an ax.

New Beginning 305

"This one." The Diplomat jerked down the collar of his shirt. A long, oddly artistic finger traced the jagged scar zigging up the hard curve of his pectoral to his shoulder. "Dirt witch with a corkscrew. Thought I'd pissed in her charm spell. Twenty-seven stitches and a blood transfusion."

Always uneasy with this part of the bargain, Kanna Tanvert eyed the old wound with what she hoped looked like fascination and tried not to picture all those stitches. The Diplomat had more scars than anyone she'd ever met, and though his expression rarely changed when he talked about them, she knew he took unholy pleasure in his macabre version of show and tell.

Trying not to flinch under the force of his glittering, impassive gaze, she forced an appropriate response. "Damn, man. I think you owe me two books for something that ugly."

"Hmmf," the Diplomat muttered. "I suppose that's reasonable. Just remember -- our boilerplate says we get the digital rights in perpetuity. If you don't like it, we'll renegotiate."

Kanna Tanvert smiled. Another sale. Sure, AAR might frown on her wrestling beneath the sheets with the chief editor of Simon and Schuster, but as long as the six-figure deals kept rolling in, they could bite her scar-kissing arse.

Opening: Gutterball.....Continuation: Rei

Writing Exercise

Write a paragraph of description that might have come from a novel. You may describe anything, anyone, any place, and you may do so concretely or metaphorically or both. But you may not tell us in the paragraph what it is you are describing. (Do tell EE what it is, so I can create an answer key.) Your goal is to provide as much information as possible without revealing your subject. Your goal is to stump us. Make us think it's something other than what it is. No more than 150 words. Humor always appreciated. Descriptions accepted through 2 PM eastern time Saturday. Include the name if you want credit.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Face-Lift 366

Guess the Plot

Mysteries and Cemeteries

1. For hundreds of years, people have been reading mysteries, and for hundreds of years, those people have been eventually dying. Coincidence . . . Or curse? This book unravels the mystery of this strange correlation once and for all.

2. Tamara likes to wander through the local cemetery while her husband cavorts with their whore neighbor. But lately Tamara's realized that something beneath the soil is not resting in peace. Could it be . . . ZOMBIES?!

3. Tanya is beyond bored with the life she's chosen as a taxidermist, something her bohemian, Voodoo-practicing mother warned her about. But hilarity ensues when she tries to learn the old ways of her ancestry and finds she has little talent for controlling the dead.

4. When a gravedigger notices the names of the "fictitious" murder victims from the Inspector Jones mysteries he's been reading, on the new headstones in his cemetery, he asks one too many questions. Now he's on the run, and hoping he won't be the victim in the next Inspector Jones book.

5. Detective Bungle has made a remarkable discovery: Everyone in the Eternal Rest cemetery is dead! Now it's up to him to learn the truth: Is there a murderer on the loose? Or is this all part of some bizarre ritual?

6. When all the flowers and other grave decor goes missing, everyone interred in Shadyside is miffed. Dr. Skull is elected as chief inspector by his peers and lurches off in search of culprits. Meanwhile, Tansy Ragwort arranges the slightly wilted roses Bob Murphy gave her and wonders if he'll pop the question tonight.

Original Version

Dear Agent/Editor

Tamara Godfrey likes to wander the local cemetery. [As does Evil Editor, though I'm guessing Tamara doesn't do it in the nude.] It’s a great place to think when trying to get away from the problems of her life – like the job that is giving her high anxiety and the obvious and growing attraction between her husband and the whore next door. ["Whore" is such a strong word. Can't we just call her "the bitch next door who steals Tamara's household allowance every month in return for giving her bastard husband blowjobs"?]

But soon, Tamara realizes something in the graveyard is very wrong. Some things beneath the soil are not resting in peace. [It's zombies. It's been a while, but once again we have zombies.] Every night she wanders the graveyard, [Every night? Whether you suspect there are zombies about or not, it's best to limit your graveyard wandering. Either your brains will be eaten or people will talk.] reading the tombstones, hoping for a clue as to who it is that haunts her nights. [What kind of clue is she expecting to find on a tombstone? An epitaph reading "Lemme outta here!"? Or "Here lies my husband/Rotten to the core/Shouldn't have messed around/With the whore next door."?]

Someone else knows exactly what she might find, and they are determined to stop her before she manages to solve the mystery she didn’t know existed. [We don't even know it exists. What's the mystery?] And her husband and the whore may be conspiring in more than just the bedroom. [Why am I getting the impression you wrote this book as therapy after your husband ran off with your neighbor?]

Mysteries and Cemeteries is a 92,000 word mystery set in a lonely town on the windy shores of Lake Superior.

Thank you for your time,


Better title: The Whore Next Door. Or tell the story in 1st person, and call it My Disgusting Husband and his Fucking Whore. Be sure to send him a copy.

Is the neighbor an actual prostitute? Or is she just having an affair with Mr. Godfrey? Either way, I'd call her something other than "the whore" in the query letter.

If this is a murder mystery, I'd be interested in knowing who the victim is, who's accused, and who else had motives. It sounds more like a horror novel the way it's described. Possibly some additional detail in that last plot paragraph would do the trick.

New Beginning 304

He’s forgotten now, or maybe he never remembered about that afternoon, about the screaming.

It happened, Charlie.

You were always the strong one, he says to me. He sits in his dark red leather chair in his dark-walled family room and talks to me late at night, when everyone else is asleep and we’re alone, after I’ve driven down to the beach house for the weekend to visit him. He looks at me when he’s been drinking and looks away when we talk about it and I think it’s because it makes him feel again like he’s not a strong one and no one wants to think about that, do they. That they’re not a strong one.

But he wants to talk about it. You’ve got my back, you’ve always got my back, he says. Yes I do, Charlie. I have it.

He tells me how much he always cared about me, growing up, picking out Christmas trees and trying not to find one that was frosted because it wasn't in the spirit of the season. He tells me how much it meant that I stuck around during my brother's battle with cancer, and how much my brother meant to him as a friend. I thank him.

He leans forward; his scalp, nearly bald from alopecia since his youth, shines in the firelight. "But," he says, "about all of those footballs, Lucy . . . "

Lightning flashes, illuminating the kite-eating tree outside the window, and I realize in one horrible instant what he's really brought me here for.

Opening: Robin Sinnott.....Continuation: Rei

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Face-Lift 365

Guess the Plot

The Love Possessed

1. Ventriloquist Kenneth Darby's wife needs an exorcism, but there are no priests at their Antarctic base camp. Can a demon be tricked into thinking a penguin is a midget in a cassock?

2. An insipid teen whose best friend is a hamster, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to save the wee beast after devastating earthquakes, fires, and floods flatten Los Angeles. Plus, a barbeque.

3. Doug's in love with three different women, but little does he know that each of them was possessed by the same ghost at the time he fell for them. Now the ghost has taken possession of yet another woman in hopes of marrying Doug--but Doug won't be marrying anyone unless he can beat a murder rap.

4. Annabel Holland has been playing the dating game for too long, and charming lawyer Alex Miller seems to be her ticket out. As their courtship progresses, though, he begins to display some disturbing quirks: an aversion to holy water, a tendency to vomit on all her best clothes, and an ability to stare up at her while she gives him a backrub. Will she make him choose between her and the Dark Lord, or will she decide that at her age she can't afford to be picky?

5. When a Dutch band called The Love makes a pact with a minor demon, they rocket to superstardom. But when The Love go on tour, the demon and his pals possess the band members and terrorize their calm, elderly audiences with acid rock from Hell. Also, a bellhop with a speech impediment.

6. Demon hunter Dylan Ghostlight has killed dozens of demons – but never a Succubus –until he heads to a small Kansas town where the townsfolk are having orgies non-stop until they die of exhaustion, and finds himself fighting demons in a way he never has before.

Original Version

Dear Admired Agent/Esteemed Editor:

I was delighted to read on your blog that paranormal romance continues to be a hot genre. THE LOVE POSSESSED, complete at 85,000 words, is a spicy contemporary paranormal romance -- without a vampire in sight.

After her soul mate is killed while serving overseas, Callie wonders if she will ever fall in love again. When she dies shortly afterward in a car crash, it appears she'll never find out. [Usually in a romance you don't want your hero and your heroine to be dead by chapter 2, but this may work out.]

But dead, she's getting another chance at love [thanks to a necrophiliac mortician]. Possessing the living is easy -- if you can catch them when they're vulnerable, like during an alcohol blackout. Not particularly ethical, even if it is just temporary. [Other unethical actions by the dead:

Possessing someone because you desperately need a cigarette.
Possessing someone to see if those Jimmy Choos can possibly be comfortable.
Possessing someone in order to murder everyone who ever annoyed you.

Possessing someone in order to check your email.]

Still, it's the only choice she has if she wants to feel again. And, while sex in a different body with a different man every night proves fun, [sex with a different woman every night proves even better.] it isn't totally satisfying. Because when material things no longer matter, love really is all there is. [Well, love and revenge.]

An overachiever who's burned himself out at work, 40-year-old Doug starts frequenting the corner bar, ready to find something more meaningful in life. [Because, when you're looking for meaning in life, what better place than a bar?] What he finds are three women he clicks with, who are not only amazing in bed but who have him seriously thinking [Bigamy? STD?] marriage.

Except one of the women turns up dead after spending the night, and he's the last person seen with her. Now it's up to Callie to find a way to make Doug believe in ghosts so she can help clear him as a murder suspect. Make him realize the "it" factor in those three women is all her. And figure out how to make their unconventional relationship work.

That's when fate throws a suicidal woman Callie's way. [The woman jumped off a building just as Callie, in possession of the body of the driver of an open-bed truckload of pillows drove past.] Depression makes the woman's possession easy. And her body's a comfortable fit -- for both Callie and Doug. But is it wrong to use someone else's body to fulfill your own passion, even if that someone is willing? [I need someone to take over my body when I'm working. I can handle the passion fulfillment all by myself.] Or can Callie, after all, wind up with a happily ever afterlife? [Admit it: you came up with that line before you even started writing the book.]

THE LOVE POSSESSED is my first paranormal romance, although several of my fantasy/science fiction short stories have been published in various royalty-producing paperback anthologies and professional magazines (list at [website]). Chapter One is available to read at [website]. [I'm more likely to look at your chapter and credits if I don't have to go to your website and find them.] I'm of course happy to send more pages at your request.

Kind regards,


Was Callie still in possession of the dead woman when she was killed? If not, how does she know Doug's not the killer? If so, can she possess the real killer and turn "herself" in to the cops?

How does she know the suicidal person is willing? Can she communicate with the person she possesses? If you can communicate with the person you possess, one way to convince Doug that ghosts exist is to possess him and tell him.

If it's so easy to possess the living, why doesn't Callie's soulmate possess someone (Doug, for instance) so they can be together? Or did I just spoil the ending?

In a world where it's easy to possess the living, you'd think there'd be millions of ghosts possessing people. Screw ethics; Callie can't be the only unethical ghost.

Of course none of these questions matters if this is a light comedy, but with a dead soldier, fatal car crash and murder, it may be dead serious, in which case you want to be sure there are logical answers to questions about the world you've created (in the book--in the query it may be better to leave out stuff that leads to questions, rather than try to answer them).

I found switching to Doug a bit jarring. Possibly you could transition into that paragraph by saying, When Callie meets Doug in the corner bar, she likes him so much she goes back every night as a different woman so . . .

New Beginning 303

" . . . And Lords of Chaos ruled the cosmos until . . . There's no appropriate word in any human language, but the concept 'Uhrlicht' comes close." Jan stopped to think. "Uhrlicht when the creatures of light made battle and sealed Chaos in the dark void."

"Loses something in translation," the Captain said, staring out the porthole. "I've seen blue-white dwarfs, planets ten times the size of Jupiter and Aldebaran's bloated visage, but nothing . . ." His voice faded. Ten light years away and yet the Gateway filled the porthole. Six dwarf stars surrounded it with beams of green light. "It's real," he whispered in awe. I never believed . . . 'Down to bottomless perdition, there to dwell in adamantine chains and penal fire.'"

"Yes, and the rebels are preparing to open the Gateway to hell, itself." Jan drew his attention to the image on the long-range scanner. Chemical-fueled rockets flashed in front of the gateway.

“Reverse thrusters, Jan! Activate the solenoid!” Too late. They had strayed too far, and no amount of nuclear fission or electromagnetic force could break the inexorable pull of the Gateway.

“Well, Captain, at least you’re a ranking officer. They say it’s better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Maybe you’ll catch a break.”

The ship eventually halted, having reaching a docking station beyond the rockets, just outside the Gateway. Through the porthole the Captain could see the bright yellow orb. The image was at once distinct and familiar: an enormous yellow smiley face. The hatches flew open and a wizened alien in a blue smock greeted them: “Welcome to Wal-Mart.”

Opening: Dave Fragments.....Continuation: ME

Face-Lift 364

Guess the Plot

The Weeping Woman

1. Neighbors wondered why the wan, trembling, reclusive woman in apartment 7-B always departed from her mailbox in silent tears, carrying a stack of letters, hand-addressed to her in a beautiful, elegant script. All the other residents made fun of her--all except Rocky, the part-time maintenance guy. He knew what made Claire weep, and he knew that one day all those SASEs would lead to Claire's first acceptance.

2. Picasso's famous painting, The Weeping Woman, has been stolen. Mandy knows where it is, but the thief knows Mandy knows, and Mandy knows the thief knows Mandy knows. What Mandy doesn't know is whether the thief knows she knows he knows she knows.

3. This engaging pop-up book is a history of Western Civilization told as the faux memoir of a statue of Venus, originally created in ancient Greece, stolen by marauding Romans and moved several times, then broken to pieces during a riot of religious fervor by early Christians. We follow various pieces as they are lost, buried, excavated, slowly scattered across Europe, and finally reunited by Starman 8GYU69Q, of Planet Y.

4. Gertrude Noonburg's life improves dramatically after she sees the weeping Virgin Mary in her grilled cheese sandwich. But when her roommate accidentally tosses it while cleaning out the refrigerator, Gertrude finds herself in a race against time to find the sandwich and prevent her life from going to hell in a handbasket.

5. When Dr. Dirk Dearborn saw Lisa Preston wheeled into his ER, he couldn't take his eyes off her. Dr. Dearborn was a leg man, but apparently so was the flesh-eating bacteria consuming Lisa. He knew by her weeping wounds he'd have to amputate, but would he be cutting off his chance at love as well?

6. Abram Heber thought the scraps of parchment were a joke, but soon realized that the scraps the strange shepherd boy brought him were actually lost books of the Torah, explaining where Noah’s flood really originated.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

In 1937, Pablo Picasso created a mural depicting the bombing of Guernica, the symbolic capital of Basque country. He followed up with a series of paintings called The Weeping Woman, showing the grief mothers and wives must have felt on that day. A particularly striking version of The Weeping Woman is on loan to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. [You'll note in the painting that Picasso's chief influence in this period was Bizarro Superman.]

Vacationing Amanda Patrone witnesses a murder. Mathew Foster, a powerful criminal, had stolen The Weeping Woman and he pins the blame on a group of Basque freedom fighters. The Basques attempt to negotiate for the return of the painting so it can be returned to its rightful owner. [Wait a minute, what happened to Amanda and the murder?] The negotiation goes terribly wrong, and the ruthless Foster kills their spokesman after revealing the location of the painting.

Mandy is discovered eavesdropping, and the remaining Basques take her into their protection, while attempting to evade Foster. He will not hesitate to kill Amanda or have her arrested, since he has the local police in his back pocket.

[Mandy: Officer, I heard a gunshot through my hotel room door.

Officer: You're under arrest for eavesdropping.]

The Basques offer to take her a safe distance to an embassy beyond Foster's reach.

Sendoa, the only remaining member who speaks English, joined the movement as a young man, ignoring his family's aversion to violence. His passion stems from the murder of his father by a Spanish policeman. Sendoa is assigned to be Amanda's guardian.

Foster's men pursue them through the Pyrenees, and Amanda and Sendoa are separated from the rest of the group. They stumble on the village where the painting is hidden.

They must decide whether to rescue one of the greatest symbols of Basque suffering or melt into the mountains, leaving The Weeping Woman to her fate.

THE WEEPING WOMAN is a romantic thriller, complete at 75,000 words. In accordance with your submission guidelines, I have enclosed the first five pages. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Revised Version

Dear Agent,

Mathew Foster has stolen Picasso's The Weeping Woman, a great symbol of Basque suffering, from the Picasso Museum. Mandy Patrone, on vacation in Barcelona, overhears a conversation in which Foster reveals the location of the painting and then murders one of the Basque freedom fighters negotiating for its return. Now Mandy's life is in danger.

The Basques take Mandy into their protection, Foster's men pursuing them through the Pyrenees. When Mandy and Sendoa, one of her protectors, are separated from the others, they happen into the village of Ordino--where the painting has been stashed. They must decide whether to melt into the mountains for a passionate sexual encounter, or to postpone their romance until they've rescued The Weeping Woman.

???????? (Paragraph hinting at what happens next.)

THE WEEPING WOMAN is a romantic thriller, complete at 75,000 words. In accordance with your submission guidelines, I have enclosed the first five pages. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is a new version and new title of Face-Lift 263. (Which is where most of the laughs are.) The good news is that there's less information, and thus less confusion. The bad news is that there's still a lot of trivial information, and what's here isn't well-organized. The opening makes it sound like an art history article. Better transitions are needed to connect the ideas. And it feels like the query ends where the story begins. Surely the book doesn't end as they contemplate their decision. Either this is the story of the Mandy/Sendoa romance, in which case your query ends just after they're thrown together, or it's the story of the rescue of the painting, in which case your query ends before they even decide whether to try to rescue it. Either way, it's mostly set-up. The first two paragraphs of the revised version (not including the last sentence) are enough set-up. From there you need to tell us where the book goes. Unless that really is the end, in which case you need to finish the book.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Beginning 302

Dalin Archer chose the wrong mark on the Camden Bridge.

He'd singled him out for his clothes. The man's blue overcoat, woolen and slightly wrinkled, extended over leather breeches all the way down to his knees. It wasn't in the local style, and marked him as a traveler. Dalin wasn't allowed to rob locals, only travelers, which exasperated him because often he couldn't tell the difference. At least this one stood out. Travelers were the best marks in any case; they carried more money.

The man was pinned shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd that streamed across the bridge in a shifting mass, like the turbulent river below. The Camden Bridge was Dalin's favorite beat. As it was the only means of crossing the river into the upscale district of Ghan, well-to-do townsfolk poured onto it from all sides of the city. The press of humanity, the jostling and bumping, and the clatter of boots on the wooden slats provided excellent cover for a pickpocket.

Slight of build and not yet at his full height, Dalin wormed his way easily through the crowd and slipped in behind his mark. His mark was tall and wore his hair long, in the style of the nobility. Dalin doubted he was a noble; his clothes were too modest. Probably he was a wealthy merchant with aspirations above his station.

Dalin took his position just behind the man, a little to the right and, just as another wave of bodies came from the other direction, moved in. He banged his shoulder against the man’s arm and used the distraction to dip into the mark’s money pocket. It was empty. And as the man turned around, showing his unkempt hair and pock-marked face, Dalin realized this was just a vagabond in cast off clothing.

* * *

Fagin looked at the three men seated before him and shook his head. “Dodger, I expected better of you. Four gold crowns; not very good. "Mr. Twist, seven pieces of silver. Nice try, but I’m still wondering if you just aren’t too nice for this kind of business.

"Mr. Archer. Hopeless. You got nothing, totally messed up the task. You chose the wrong mark. I’m looking for an apprentice who can spot a hot prospect a mile off, and for that reason, Dalin Archer . . . You’re fired.”

Opening: amyb.....Continuation: Anonymous

Face-Lift 363

Guess the Plot

The Postcard

1. After Jerry Thompkins blows up his Chevy van, the ruins are sifted, and a scribbled postcard addressed to Santa Claus is discovered. Could this be what homicide detective Jane Ramirez needs to solve the intractable Case of the Toddler's Tantrum?

2. The post card was addressed to his deceased father, the return address from a place called Fantasaria. Soon, Steven finds himself in a magical realm full of talking plants, evil flesh-eating clouds, and unicorns. Also, Irish hitmen.

3. Sara gets a postcard from Morocco dated 1913 and addressed to her great-grandfather. So where was it all those years? And why did she get it now?

4. A harmless looking postcard arrives mixed with the rest of the junk mail offering the lucky recipient a choice of prizes. But the prize turns out to be the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse. Now it's up to FBI agent Harry Grimes to solve the baffling case. Also, hypnotism.

5. Yvette Richardson needs some time away after her divorce. Even after extensive research on the Internet, she still can't decide between Mexico or Puerto Rico. Mysterious mail sent from a travel agency she's never heard of helps her decide, but will she meet the tight-abbed hunk on the front of the postcard, as promised?

6. Feisty literary agent Cara tells her best friend Sue, "If I get one more query on pink unicorn paper, I'll blow up Grand Central." As a joke, Sue drops that very thing in Cara's box the next morning. Now Grand Central is nothing but ashes, Cara has disappeared, and Sue has received a mysterious postcard saying "I didn't do it" in red lipstick. But it's not Cara's color.

Original Version

I have just completed The Postcard, a work of crime fiction. The novel runs 220 pages, [Or 880 postcards.] a little more than 61k words.

A harmless looking postcard arrives mixed with the rest of the junk mail. The postcard offers the lucky recipient a choice of prizes absolutely free. When the prize turns out to be the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse, [I would have gone with the Orlando vacation, but the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse would have been my second choice.] the local police are called in. [Does the prizewinner call the police to report the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse, or to complain about not getting his prize?] [By the way, what's the difference between a dismembered corpse and the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse? They're both pretty grisly. I'm guessing with one all the members are there, albeit scattered about, and with the other, all that remains are the parts the killer didn't eat.] [Wait, the parts he didn't eat wouldn't be the grisly remains--they'd be the gristly remains.] [How did whoever shipped the prize handle it?

Customer: Yes, I'd like to ship this crate.

Postal clerk: Anything liquid, fragile or perishable?

Customer: Ah, I guess it's perishable.

Postal clerk: Fruit? Vegetable? Cheese?

Customer: No, no, just the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse.

Postal clerk: Okay, you'll have to fill out shipper's declaration 326B.]

When a second card sends the locals into a booby trapped house, killing seven policemen, the outmatched local officials call in the FBI. The Bureau relies on Special Agent Harry Grimes to solve its most puzzling cases and Harry has his work cut out for him. The innocent looking postcard is packed with anagrams, palindromes and number puzzles. [Taunting the cops is cruel, but making them play Jumble, the scrambled word game, in order to decipher your taunts is truly diabolical.] Harry, a crossword puzzle fan himself, gets a thorough grounding in the myth and mystery surrounding ordinary numbers. It soon becomes increasingly difficult to know what is a clue and what a red herring. Harry's persistence leads him from an amateur crossword puzzle competition to a curious church deep in a Florida swamp. [Okefenokee Orthodox.] Harry also stumbles on a suspicious motorcycle gang and a string of missing Iraq war veterans [There's a little something for everyone in this book.] whose disappearance is linked to a malignant government sponsored experiment in mind control. The story delves into man's relation to numbers and word games and explores the history of hypnotism

[1790: Mesmer becomes the first to hypnotize someone into clucking like a chicken.
1850: Riechenbach is the first to employ the revolutionary dangling pocket watch.
1910: Svengali discovers hypnosis can be used to get babes.
1917: Rasputin engineers the Russian revolution through mass hypnosis of 80 million peasants.
1979: Candy Goes to Hollywood hits porn theaters.]

and the government's efforts at developing a mind control weapon.The reader follows Harry's evolving knowledge in these arcane subjects as well as changes in his personal life, his budding romance with Aviva (a palindromic name), [Is he in love with Aviva or her name? Lose the parenthetical phrase.] his separation from his wife and daughter, [Hannah and Lil,] pressures from his boss and team mates. Running throughout the book are numerous anagrams, palindromes and the relationship of numbers on the human mind. [ Incredible! I just realized--this entire query letter is a palindrome.] The mystery deepens and is not resolved until the very last twist on the last page [, a page that has been encoded into the Navajo language].

I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know when you get around to reviewing it.



If you anagram every word in the query letter, any agent who figures out the entire text would have put so much effort into your work already, she'll have no choice but to represent you.

Wait, make the entire book a giant cryptogram! And it comes with the reader's choice of a Scrabble game or a Sudoku book.

"Harry Grimes" sounds too much like porn star Harry Reems.

As you don't bother to even name the prize recipient, I assume the story starts when Harry Grimes is called in. Thus we can reduce the backstory:

The winner of the latest Publishers Clearinghouse contest was expecting a million dollars a year for life, and all he got was the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse. Clerical error? Maybe, but FBI agent Harry Grimes doesn't think so.
To me this falls apart when you start listing all the disparate elements covered in the book. Is the mind control experimentation related to the grisly remains of a dismembered corpse? Is this a mystery about Harry and a serial killer who leaves clever puzzle clues? If so, stick with that thread in the query and leave the history of hypnotism and the missing war veterans for the book.

And use paragraphs. Your plot is too long to be one paragraph.

And there's too much about word games: "packed with anagrams, palindromes and number puzzles," "man's relation to numbers and word games," "throughout the book are numerous anagrams, palindromes and the relationship of numbers on the human mind." We get it. If you play up the word game aspect too much, people will think the games are a bigger part of the book than the characters and plot. People buy novels to read about the grisly remains of dismembered corpses, not to solve cryptic crosswords. You might want to remove a few of the puzzles "running throughout the book" and save them for the sequel.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Old New Beginnings

Those who've purchased Novel Deviations, volumes 1 and 2, have a more convenient means of revisiting the better New Beginnings than scrolling through the blog. But at least a dozen authors of openings decided they didn't want excerpts from their works appearing in a book. Which means those who own the books might never see these again, unless I make it easy by labeling my favorites so that you can simply click on the label below.

New Beginning 301

An old bar at the docks. Noisy but dirty, not an inviting place anymore. Once upon a time, years ago I mean, men would come here after a hard day's work on the docks. But that was before they shipped everything in containers and a single crane could load or offload a whole ship.

They didn't need so many workers any more, and the companies didn't bother keeping workers on the payroll for old times' sake. They turfed the workers and docks became a loenly place.

So the bar hadda look for new customers. Lowlifes took over. You know what I mean: criminals, werewolves, zombies, vampires, editors. Lowlifes.

Didn't used to be that way. Then some punks thought they'd desecrate some graves. Wasn't quite the case of picking on somebody who couldn't fight back that they thought. First, they were being filmed on a mobile phone camera. Second, the zombies got pissed.

Punks were torn to pieces from the ground up. No one could deny the existence of the undead any more. So like every group of immigrants the this great country they get to start at the bottom.

I steel myself and enter. The room looks me over just as much as I look it over. I go to the bar and hope the bartender will co-operate.

"What'll you have?"

"I'm looking for someone. Here's his picture. Seen 'im?"

"You kidding me, pal?"

The bartender shakes his head, dislodging a few maggots from the pits where his eyes used to be. Zombies, the labor force the multinational corporations always thought they wanted.

That's when I see him.

Scraggly gray hair, shrubby eyebrows, mutton chops ... he looks like someone who should have died a century ago. Come to think of it, he probably did. So there he is drinking with a table of zombies and werevamps. And God knows what that thing with cleavage and slinky scales draped around his neck and wiggling in his lap is. Him hanging with the lowlifes, acting like he's one of them. And them eating it up. Redliner bedliners, the lot of them. Thinking they can claim even a part of his fame by buying him a drink and laughing at his lame jokes.

I stare at the guy who'd made it all happen. Him and his zombie crusade that had reformed a country's way of thinking. And now look where we are. No more immigrants. A workforce of native-grown sons and daughters. No drain on healthcare, education or housing. Liberals and conservatives alike calling him hero. Independents hailing him an emancipist.

Me, I see him for what he really is. Satan incarnate. Forcing men like me out of the unions and into corporate hell.

Yeah, someone's gotta destroy the Evil in the world. Might as well be me.

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: Phoenix

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Face-Lift 362

Guess the Plot

If Only for a Season

1. Jeremiah Clark rises from penniless plowhand to millionaire Gold Club Member, almost overnight. He's at the peak of high society. Then, just as fast, he loses everything. Oh well, it was nice being on top of the world . . . if only for a season.

2. For Master Chef Burl Evers, a final exam turns into tragedy when several of his students are murdered. Beautiful detective Lucy Burns must sift through the clues to discover which student used arsenic to season the duck.

3. Bob thought he was going to get a prize buck this year, but when he gets to the woods, they’re empty. Turns out - for one season only - the deer have licenses to hunt us.

4. It's summer break and Manly tells Chastity his girl is gone until fall. Chastity planned on saving herself for Mr. Right, but when she sees Manly's rippling abs and cherry red convertible, she decides she'll give up her virginity . . . if only for a season.

5. Coach Mike Flannagan thinks he can handle any player, no matter how wild or tough. But when former cheerleader Chrissy Watkins beats the boys at tryouts, he knows he's in for a rough badminton season.

6. Tiffy and Biff go gaga the first day of summer school and it looks like they'll be blissed forever, but alas --their Chemistry professor is an imposter: notorious criminal Octopus McGee. Will Mae Wong and her acrobatic sidekicks arrive in time? Or will McGee's explosive laboratory homework blow the Alpha Beta Beta house clear to the moon?

Original Version

Based on a true story, Jeremiah Clark turns from $2 a week sharecropper to Victorian millionaire practically overnight. But his wealth and position are disrupted by Molly Maguire-style violence in a contest for control of the booming gold camp.

In 1895, Clark flees the poverty-stricken South for the gold fields of Cripple Creek, landing in camp with a grubstake of $128. [I don't know what a grubstake is, but I once had a grubsteak. I didn't actually know it was a grubsteak until I turned it over and found a bunch of pulsating beetle larvae. That's the last time I eat at the Coleoptera Sizzler.] Will it last six months, time enough to get established? Not likely. But with determination and a series of lucky gold strikes, [especially the series of lucky gold strikes,] he rises from plowhand to Gold Coin Club member. [Which means he can pick up his rental covered wagons directly from the lot. No paperwork.] He is among powerful friends at the top of high-society. But success is short-lived, when union bosses engage in political insurrection and violence, touching off a labor war involving the Colorado militia and citizen mobs. [Damn. I can't get the song "Up On Cripple Creek" out of my head now.] Men are beaten and killed, malefactors detained and deported, and the chaos is edging Clark’s operation close to financial instability. In an attempt to control the violence, he engages the political backing of the state of Colorado, including the state militia. But the ugly results of anarchy and military despotism bring the once-rich region into deep depression. Within eighteen months of his millionaire status, Clark can no longer maintain profitable production levels and descends into insolvency. [I feel like I'm back in Econ 101. I couldn't stay awake there, either.] Three steamer trunks hold his last remaining possessions, [a pair of socks, a wooden nickel, a harmonica and 3700 pounds of gold.] and he takes the only work available, a slag worker in the mine he built with his own hands. It was true greatness, if only for a season. [I'm no economist, but let's say my blog is a gold mine that has made me millions of dollars, and then people stop reading it. I shut down the gold mine, but I still have my millions, which I use to start a carpet shampooing franchise. What happened to Clark's money?]

I am the founder of a Colorado Springs software company, and responsible for all written and verbal marketing communications. [No one else in the department is allowed to speak or write, but they may nod at each other suggestively.] My writing experience has developed from creating marketing materials, web pages, and whitepapers. I have climbed twenty seven Colorado mountains over 14,000’ and personally visited the remains of these gold camps.



It's customary to report the length of a book when trying to sell it. Even more customary is to reveal the book's title. Fortunately I was able to ascertain the apparent title from the attachment,

Why a season? Wouldn't eighteen months be six seasons?

The first paragraph is unnecessary. All it has that isn't in the second paragraph is Clark's first name, which you can put in the second paragraph, and the fact that it's based on a true story, which you can put in your last paragraph (with the word count and title) in place of your marketing credentials. Then divide your big paragraph into three paragraphs with appropriate transitions.

Now you have a well-written standard query. But is it an interesting, well-written standard query? I'd like to hear more about the human effects of the turmoil and Clark's losses than the financial effects. Phrases like "labor war," "political insurrection," "malefactors" "financial instability," "anarchy and military despotism," "maintain profitable production levels," "political backing," and "descends into insolvency" make my eyes glaze over. Does Clark have family and employees counting on him? Does he learn any valuable lessons? Why should we care about Jeremiah Clark? Your story is about the man, not his mine.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New Beginning 300!!

I was weary and sore when I came to the great house of the Mackays. In my state, nothing seemed very grand, not the Church, not the village with its rock beach, and not the dark, dark house anchored on the hill above the choppy loch.

The coach had been on the road for days coming up from Edinburgh, and even for a young man, or a boy as my father would type it, it was weary business on the hard seat, swaying and lurching back and forth. Mostly though, I was tired of the coach, tired of rain, tired of the views from the open windows, and tired of my timorous fear. Fear - Perhaps it could not really be called a fear, but I had been tense and shaky for days as I came alone to this place where all things would be new to me.

In the door, the wind tugged at me, but was fresh and salt and welcome, as I came down out of the coach. At that second, after the smells of the carriage, I was ready to smile in relief and look forward to – whatever came. Ignobly, I fell on the last step and dropped to my knees in the mud.

It was then, at the lowest point in this wretched journey, that I first met McNulty. His strong hands brought me to my feet as he told me, “Ach man, yer mucktle’s feckled twix moar ’n’ broar. Gin yon hoose ’n’ fettle fer m’ tock.”

No doubt, I thought, he's offering to carry my bags to the house. “I am grateful, sir, for your assistance,” I told him.

“Ahh,” he said as we passed through the massive doorway, “twas nicht mer ’n’ enny mon ’t’ twickle in laird ’d’dee.”

I assumed he was asking me to remove my muddied breeches and my other too-long-worn clothes so that he might wash them. I had not expected to encounter such gentle hospitality in this northern wilderness.

McNulty led me to the kitchen, where the range filled the room with warmth--enough so that I had no need to request a blanket while waiting for the return of my garments and undergarments, which lay on the floor, McNulty having thus far neglected to commence laundering them.

Being Sunday evening, the Mackays were still at chapel, but I was grateful for the company of this honest, working chap as he fed me and had me drink fine whisky. We talked for hours, and eventually I asked him in good humor, “So, tell me sir: do all the working men in these parts wear lady’s clothing?”

“’n’ dw awl thewme bee haylin’ frome tha souythe sytt ’round thir hostes’ kytchings naickit?” he replied. “Woar widja mean ta skuttle tha mittie ’n’ morah y’sassenach shithead.” Strangely his tone seemed colder than before.

Opening: Scott Jones.....Continuation: ril

Face-Lift 361

Guess the Plot

Cruise Control

1. After watching their leading man ruin Oprah's sofa, ridicule depressed people, and give his wife a pacifier during labor, movie executives decide it's time to take action.

2. Nicole has had it with her ex-husband, so she has a voodoo doll made. Now, when he appears live on TV, the world will know what she put up with.

3. The story of a Hollywood publicist, Damaj Controlle, whose desperate attempts to rein in an egomaniacal client result in Damaj's firing. The client's outrageous behavior includes jumping on couches, impregnating a brainwashed youth, and frequently using the word "glib."

4. Tom is being blackmailed into leading a religious cult, and decides the only way to end the extortion is to smear his own reputation and become hated by all. But will televised conniptions and tirades against squirt gun microphone pranksters be enough?

5. Being a Hollywood "star wrangler" is Evie's job, one she excels at. But what can even she do with a certifiably insane Scientologist?

6. Katie'd had enough. No more sofa dancing. No more weird sci-fi mumbo jumbo religion. No more hunching over in public just to appease his enormous little-man ego. She wanted her life back. So she fitted Tom with a subcutaneous behavior-modifying microchip. Now if she could only remember where she left the remote.

7. The seas are afloat with blue-haired old ladies and wannabe professional gamblers. Captain Stubing and Gopher are not at all pleased with the current demographics, believing the new crop of cruise goers are destroying the romance of moonlight strolls and heart-throbbing love trysts. So Stubing and Gopher form a committee to ban sunglasses, baseball caps and Fixodent aboard their cruise line.

8. It doesn't take long for Sadara Obi to decide what to do when he finds a time portal in the basement of his bullying friend, Fang Woo. He travels to 1945 and changes the course of history by installing cruise control on the dashboard of the Enola Gay. Welcome Back, Hiroshima, and Goodbye Shanghai!

9. When dastardly mechanic Cheesy Adams wires his remote controller into the navigational circuitry of a cruise ship, hilarity ensues. But what will happen when a boatload of angry geezers and crones arrives in Haiti?

10. Even though prostitution is legal in the desert town of Tatterville, Police Chief Roy Beauregard is sickened by the hookers strolling Venter Avenue, because that’s where the Dairy Queen is, and Roy’s daughter Lila loves Butterfinger Blizzards. Roy begs Mayor Ernie to erect “No Cruising” signs, but when Mayor Ernie refuses, Roy concocts his own plan and has all the sidewalks replaced with metal grates, the archenemy of stiletto heels!

Original Version

Dear EE,

Tom has it all; money, fame, power. He used to be a person people cheered and revered, until that fateful night. That night he found himself in the company of a peculiar science fiction writer by the name of L. Ron Hubbard, or as Tom had previously known him, Dr. L.

Dr. L knew all about Tom's crime, the crime he had worked so hard to cover up, the crime he could not let anyone ever find out about. But Dr. L's presence proved his cover-up had failed, and now he was thrown at the mercy of a deranged lunatic. Blackmailed by Dr. L into leading a religious cult, Tom's fame becomes his Achilles heal. Hew devises a plan to end his extortion. If he can smear his reputation and become hated by all, he may be set free of his cult duty. Through explosions of feeling on Oprah, tirades against squirt-gun microphone pranksters, and two divorces and marriages, Tom sets out to ruin his name, but will it be enough??????

Cruise Control is a 171-word thriller. Thanks you for your consideration and I hope to hear from you soon.


I gotta start reading these things when they come in, instead of waiting till the minions have put hours of thought into composing their GTPs, at which point I don't have the heart to ditch the query.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Face-Lift 360

Guess the Plot

The Waterhouse

1. Okay, straw, wood, even bricks had already been used. But the Fourth Little Pig had a new idea. Let's see that wolf blow this one down!

2. Their lives have been ruined by violence, shattered marriages and prison. But these three men haven't forgotten the pact they made long ago as teenagers: to one day live out their fantasy of endless water fights in . . . The Waterhouse.

3. Not content with his 800-square-foot master bathroom, lottery winner Sven Olafsson decides to build a two-story, seven-room outhouse. Now he enjoys directing his guests there when they ask for the water closet.

4. How can young architect Colleen Tiblet convince land developers that water is a viable home building material? She has experimented with all sorts of ecology-friendly substances, and water is the best solution to global warming. But when Colleen actually constructs a house made of water, she is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

5. The gas heater's drenched, the ceiling lights are zapping everyone within three blocks, and Bob Jameson is starting to think maybe a house made entirely of waterbeds filled with green Jell-O and '63 Red Burgundy wasn't such a bright idea after all.

6. Fabulous Twinky Waterhouse, sorority "princess," always uses the royal "we" in conversations on campus and is soooo popular--until her hometown nemesis arrives and blabs about "The Waterhouse" and her scandalous past. That's when Twinky realizes: Angel Jackson must die.

Original Version

Dear Evil:

Jimmy Timberlake is the idealist, Marcus Gayle, the arrogant misogynist, and Copper, Marcus’s younger brother, lost, looking for a role model. [Together they form the supervillain organization known as . . . The Cult of Injustice.] As young teenagers, they form a pact: the first one to make a million dollars will purchase The Waterhouse, a place to live out their adolescent fantasy of endless water fights.

But much happens between water fights and adulthood -- shattered marriages, violence, and sexual abuse. As Timberlake deals with the death of his mother, and a difficult decision about putting down his mother’s ill horse, Copper tries to define himself as a DJ in Colorado, coming to grips with his older brother’s violence and his own guilt over a rape he witnessed his brother commit and did nothing about. Marcus, who’s in and out of jail, continues his ritual abuse of women with little respect for his wife and child. Finally, in an attempt to find himself, Marcus attends a Promise-Keepers rally, but ends up twisting their message until it fits his own destructive views of manhood. [This is a list of events connected to each other only by the fact that each happens to one of the Cult of Injustice. We need more than an outline, we need the connections.]

Since receiving my Ph.D. in creative writing from [That's it? You're done with the plot? That's a few events, but what happens? Do these guys still know each other as adults? Does Jimmy make a million dollars by inventing the Super Soaker Water Bazooka and buy the Waterhouse, only to discover Copper drowned while failing to save Marcus from being eaten by sharks? What ties this together after they're adults?] Oklahoma State University, I have published sections of this novel-in-stories in The Florida Review, Puerto del Sol, The Baltimore Review, Oxford Magazine, Weber Studies: Voices and Viewpoints of the Contemporary West, Midland Review, Unbound, The Jabberwock Review, and Moonshine Review. The manuscript itself placed in the top 25 out of 423 manuscripts in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship in 2001. [The query would be more impressive if James Earl Jones were reading it aloud.]

Follow these young men’s lives as they weave together through failed relationships, death, jail, adopted children, ritualistic basketball games, and life-affirming love on their journey to manhood and The Waterhouse. [Another list of stuff, mostly depressing. I need a better reason to follow these men's lives than the prospect of seeing them have a water fight in chapter 28.]

Enclosed for your consideration are three sample chapters (stories) and a synopsis. Thank you for your consideration.



Take out the shattered marriages, jail, rape, ritual abuse, death, and horse, and you've got a great middle grade book. Seriously. The mean and sinister neighbor, Mr. Grimball, goes on vacation. The Cult of Injustice break into his house and have water fights for two weeks. Squirt guns, hoses, water balloons. The carpeting, floorboards and walls are all waterlogged and rotting away. Eventually Grimball comes home, opens his front door, and whoooosh! Washed down the street on a tidal wave of his possessions.

Which came first? The novel or the stories? If the agent thinks you wrote a bunch of stories, realized novels sell better, and tacked the opening with the teenagers onto the front to connect the characters, she's not going to be optimistic. Is there a connection that runs through the entire book? Do the story/chapters include all three men, or have they gone their separate ways?

I would limit my credits to the two or three most impressive, and call them excerpts, rather than stories/chapters. If you want to offer this as a novel you may have to rewrite the book to give it the feel of a novel rather than a collection of stories. And if you've already done so, just rewrite the query to give that impression by concentrating on the thread that unites the whole book. Possibly this will mean sticking with one main character (the most likable one) and how his life is affected by the others.

New Beginning 299

"Shit! What did you do that for!?"

"I'm sorry, Daddy, I didn't mean to."

"Well, sorry doesn't help me. I'm still dead."

Carol looked at the ghost of her father as it hovered above his body. She had come into the house all excited and without thinking had flipped on the light. Her father had been working on the lights - without a license - and had caught the full brunt of the renewed electricity. He fried, he fell, and then he floated above himself.

A strange sense that this was violating some aspect of reality washed over her.

"Why are you a ghost?"

"Never mind that right now. The first thing wee have to do is cover this up. There's no way my daughter is going to jail for manslaughter."

"But Daddy, I did kill you."

"So? Besides, manslaughter is the best you can hope for. You'll be lucky if some jumped up little turnip of an ADA doesn't nail you for murder."

That was when I walked in. As soon as I got the whole story, I knew exactly what to do: I called Bucky Merriwether at 1-555-LAW-GUYZ. Within the hour, one of their planes was overhead and a few minutes later, a paralegal was at the door.

They went into action straight away. With one of the most extensive law libraries in the South-East, they were soon able to prove my husband was at fault: it’s common knowledge it takes three accountants to change a light bulb.

Carol was acquitted, I got to keep the insurance money (less their twenty per cent), and they even got a restraining order on the ghost. It couldn’t have gone better. If you’re in an improbable fix, call LAW-GUYZ.

Low income? No credit? No problem! We accept food stamps, automobiles and sexual favors.

1-555-LAW-GUYZ. Because nothing’s indefensible.

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: Anonymous

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New Beginning 298

Lady Sophia sauntered through market square. She usually sent her servants to shop for her, but on this day she didn't know what she was looking for, only that she needed a distraction. That morning a letter had arrived, bearing the news that her husband was lost at sea. She didn't understand how he could leave her – the most beautiful lady in the land – in the first place. She placed a hand on her swollen stomach. Had he found her pregnant form ungainly? She shook her head in disgust. She carried his burden alone.

A glint of gold caught her eye. A merchant from the Outer Isles was setting up his wares. His dark hands held an elaborate golden frame of a mirror. He turned and the mirror faced her directly. In her reflection from the front you could hardly tell she was pregnant. She flushed, pleased at her still apparent beauty. She had to have the mirror. The only ones in the manor were small or handheld. This full-length one would do justice to her glory.

The merchant took her money and watched her saunter away, then picked up a much smaller mirror and fiddled with the curious nobs set around its frame.

"Lord Orris . . . come in, Lord Orris," he whispered into it.

The mirror brightened suddenly, and a man's face came into view. "You called?" he said.

"She bought it! My servant is bringing it to your house right now."

The man's face creased in a grim smile. "Did you direct him to set it up opposite her bed?"

"Of course, milord."

"Excellent. I'm sure we'll know who the father is inside of a week."

Opening: Mary.....Continuation: Marissa Doyle

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Face-Lift 359

Guess the Plot

A Cold, Dark Place

1. Painfully shy Norbin Wartly gets a part time job as a custodian in the Coroner's Office. But will his quest for love lead him to . . . A Cold, Dark Place?

2. The coldest, darkest place Lester Hobbs can imagine is the deep freeze in the basement. That’s where he keeps donor sperm samples after he collects them from drugged patients at the Harris Gloams mental hospital. Maybe the deep freeze isn’t the coldest, darkest place after all.

3. When a rival mold colony threatens to destroy their own, Spanky Spore and a ragtag group of misfits embark on a quest to the outer reaches of Hvacia to find help. If they can survive the high winds and lethal UV lighting, Spanky and his companions just might be able to convince the legendary Elder Warriors of the Evaporator Coil to join their cause.

4. A trail of clues has Laurel and Jackie chasing the sick bastard who killed a boy and drained his blood. But as they break down the last door, will they be capturing a killer, or entering the cold, dark lair of a vampire? Also, another vampire.

5. When he’s bad, Tommy has to take his “timeouts” in the old root cellar. His dad thinks spending time in a cold, dark place will make Tommy think before he misbehaves. Maybe so, but Tommy has tunneled to Marcie Stellar’s house next door where they play “doctor” and “house” and “guess the body part in the dark.” Needless to say, Tommy can take all the hard time his old man can dish out.

6. Two mice named Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, trapped in a refrigerator, debate the merits of Swiss Cheese versus Cheddar, whether rats really are as bad as people say, and why it gets very bright for brief periods of time. Also, a fly in the mayonnaise and an elite squad of militant cockroaches.

Original Version

I am looking for representation for my paranormal suspense manuscript which is complete at 118,000 words. A bit on the dark side, with emotionally troubled characters, and a different play on what it means to be a vampire, A Cold, Dark Place should appeal to mystery, suspense, and vampire novel readers alike. I read that you are currently looking for this kind of story.

FBI agent Jackie Rutledge has a dead boy on her hands. Some sick bastard had drained him of his blood. [Let me guess. The conversation goes:

Jackie: The victim has no blood.

C. Chan: Two possibilities. Possibility one: After murdering boy, killer risked discovery by hanging around another hour to drain victim's blood into large bucket through tiny puncture marks on neck.

Jackie: And possibility two?

C. Chan: Vampire.

Jackie: Don't be ridiculous. I'll tell the boys to be on the lookout for a sick bastard carrying a giant bucket of human blood.]

PI Nick Anderson was the sick bastard that Jackie and her psychic partner, Laurel suspected of killing the boy. [Do they suspect him because he's a sick bastard? Or is he a sick bastard only if he's guilty?] [I don't think I've ever received a query letter in which the term "sick bastard" was used so often so early . . . Though I do seem to receive more than my share of personal letters in which the phrase is tossed around more freely than I'd like.] Only, he knows who the real killer is, and knows that the FBI is no match for him. Nick knows because he has the same need of the killer; the need for blood. [We all need blood. The difference is that for some of us it's a life force, carrying oxygen to our brain cells, fighting off infection, supplying nutrients, and disposing of waste. For others it's a refreshing beverage.]

Jackie has spent her ten years in the bureau catching sociopaths, poor substitutes for the one she was never able to catch as a child. Laurel is the only agent who knows her past, and has enabled Jackie to keep it from boiling over into her current life. Nick has been chasing the killer for 140 years now, riddled with guilt over the death of his family and what he allowed himself to become in order to catch him. [Or rather, to not catch him.] [If you've spent 140 years at something with nothing to show for it, perhaps it's time to try a less-demanding task.] He refuses to be the one thing that will allow him to catch [the sick bastard named] Cornelius Drake. [You just said he allowed himself to become something in order to catch him. Now you say he refuses to become what will allow him to catch him.]

When Drake makes Laurel one of his victims, [The psychic gets killed? Shouldn't she have seen that coming? (Sometimes my job is just too easy.)] Jackie’s life begins to fall apart, and despite his best efforts to push her away, Nick finds that he needs her help if Drake is going to be caught. [In the beginning you claim Nick knows the entire FBI is no match for the killer. In the end, you claim he needs the help of only one agent to capture Drake.] Their trust for one another is pushed to the ultimate limit when they are trapped by the killer and only one option for survival remains. He must accept what he is and take them both over to the world of the dead where Drake has even more power than in the realm of the living.


So for the 140 years Nick has been chasing Drake, he hasn't accepted what he is?

The plot sounds interesting, but it's hard to tell, as the description is too general in places. Give us more specifics.

The plot might be more clear if there were fewer pronouns. Those last two paragraphs have so many his's, her's, him's, he's, she's, their's etc., it becomes work trying to figure out who's who.

Normally a murder isn't enough to bring in the FBI. But with paranormal aspects and a sociopath hunter, this is like The X-Files meets Criminal Minds. Jackie is Dana Sculley and Nick is Jason Gideon. At the beginning of each chapter Nick quotes a famous historical figure he actually knew, and Jackie refuses to believe what is painfully obvious.

New Beginning 297

Until she looked through Rebecca's front window, Tabitha had only seen three dead bodies in her life. Shifting from foot to foot, she struggled to get a better view through the crack in the curtains.

"Is she coming?"

Turning her head, Tabitha called over her shoulder, "Call 911."


"Now, Anna. There's . . . there's something wrong with Rebecca."

Not waiting for a reply, she tried the front door, which opened soundlessly. Tabitha took several reluctant steps past the door that Rebecca always kept locked and into the house. The antique mahogany hall table that Rebecca had bragged about bringing back from France lay overturned, the crystal bowl where she kept her keys in shards beneath it. Beyond that . . .


Tabitha spun around to see Anna hovering on the front steps. "Did you call?"

Anna nodded. "They said three minutes. What's--" She froze, mouth open. "Is . . . is she . . . "

Tabitha forced herself to crouch down and look at Rebecca. One look was all she needed. It was just like her dream. She stood, raced past Anna, and threw up in the bushes by the front door as the sound of sirens began to swell.

Never again, she vowed to herself. Never again will I eat anchovies after midnight. Not only did they give her frightful nightmares in which her friends died violent deaths -- nightmares that came true the next day -- but her delicate stomach just couldn't handle them.

Opening: HW.....Continuation: Bump in the Night

Face-Lift 358

Guess the Plot

Crossing Broad

1. Six foot, 300 pound Wilma Spittle has finally found the job of her dreams. Outside Herman Wooster Middle School, she rules supreme with her whistle and stop sign as . . . the Crossing Broad.

2. Mickey Spillane meets Danielle Steele meets Lon Chaney meets Mitt Romney meets Paris Hilton in this crime-romance-thriller based on the famous Sharon Stone scene in Basic Instinct.

3. Concerned for the darling kindergartners, Elsa Sykes becomes Maple Hill Elementary's first crossing guard, but she can't fit her ample bosom in the vest. No one slows down. After little Fanny Turtle is driven over like a speed bump, Elsa strips down to her birthday suit. This not only stops traffic, it earns Elsa the name that will follow her to her grave: "Crossing Broad."

4. Dirk takes his job seriously, as do all the traffic management specialists. They all agree: Busy school intersections are no place for a woman. Then along comes Priscilla Cody, fresh from Australia, with orange hair and spandex biker shorts. But Dirk’s not willing to let any broad weaken “the guard.” He has a plan, one that may permanently stop the flow of her traffic!

5. Broad Street is more than the border between Middletown and Portland. It's a socioeconomic and cultural barrier dividing the upscale WASPs on the north side from the adult book shops, massage parlors, and liquor stores on the south side. When Portland's working girls start showing up murdered, though, homicide detective Zack Martinez learns that a lot of people have something to hide, on both sides of the street.

6. You don't mess with the law when you're passing through the town of Broad. One day you're a comic strip character, the next day you've been thrown in jail for baby snatching. Cora Mae wishes she'd just stayed in the Sunday funnies, instead of . . . Crossing Broad.

Original Version

Bedlam, broken laws, and romance ensue in small-town Broad when an abandoned infant is rescued by a skateboarder, pursued by a cartoon character and stolen by a disco-diva nurse. At 57,000 words, Crossing Broad is a completed adult novel. With fantastic elements, it occupies a tidy, yet cozy, space near Christopher Moore and Darby Conley (Get Fuzzy). [Trying to get authors to quit comparing themselves to other authors is clearly a lost cause. But Get Fuzzy? The comic strip? My book should appeal to fans of Charles Dickens and Charles M. Schulz. Think of it as a cross between Catch 22 and Garfield.]

Ruby Jenkins, seductive Head Nurse of E.R. doesn’t know why she finds this particular infant so bewitching, but when cartoon character Cora Mae slips out of the comics and onto the pavement with adoption in mind, [Does she want to adopt or be adopted?] Ruby finishes her shift, conceals the infant in her tote-bag and struts headlong out of the hospital. [This makes it sound like she takes the baby because Cora Mae has slipped out of the comics. If there's any connection between the events, establish it. If there isn't, put them in different sentences.] It is not Ruby, however, who is in line as prime suspect, it is the even more flagrant in presentation, Cora Mae, [Even more flagrant in presentation? That's a lot of words to say . . . what? She's dressed more ostentatiously than a nurse?] who steps into her first dose of reality, when based on appearance, she is arrested, booked, and sent to the slammer for baby snatching. [Even though she has no baby?] With the ingenuous Cora Mae behind bars and the town befuddled into inaction, Ruby is able to fly far enough under the radar to dodge local law enforcement and a host of Broad’s most vocal citizenry. But, as her options become limited, [You can only walk around so long before someone says, "Excuse me, ma'am, but your tote bag is bawling."] Ruby is finally forced to make a decision, which ultimately proves that rules are sometimes better broken than followed, especially in a town called Broad. [What decision? What rules? Why "especially"?]


I assume Ruby was able to get access to the baby because she was a nurse. What is it about Cora Mae's appearance that makes her a suspect? Is she dressed like a nurse? Does she look like a comic strip character in reality? Olive Oyl? Broom Hilda? Mammy Yokum?

More plot would be helpful. All we have is that a nurse takes a baby from the hospital, and another woman, who used to be a comic strip character, is accused. The rest is vague. Both women seem to want a baby. Do they want the same baby?

You mentioned bedlam and romance in the opening sentence. Yet the town is befuddled into inaction--hardly bedlam--and there's not even a hint of any romance.

Maybe Cora Mae can hire Lionel Hutz* as her attorney.

*Lionel Hutz: Cartoon lawyer on The Simpsons, who once said:

He's had it in for me ever since I kinda ran over his dog . . . Well, replace the word "kinda" with the word "repeatedly," and the word "dog" with "son."

Monday, June 18, 2007

New Beginning 296

"Shoot it again." Ben said.

"Can't. That last one was our last round." I replied.

"Well we have to do something."

"I know." I threw the gun at it. It missed. "Well that didn't work."

"You idiot we might need that later."

He was right, we would need it later, and would very much miss having it. How did the saying go, better to have a gun and not need it than not have one when you do. I was pretty stupid to throw it away but at the time, it seemed like a good idea. You would think that someone who constantly gets bit in the ass for not thinking ahead would eventually start but I was a slow learner.

"Well, I'm outta here."

"But that guy on TV said to stay indoors."

"I don't think he meant for us to stay and keep that thing company. But do whatever you want." Ben was my friend, but I could care less for his opinion at the time, I was getting the hell out of there.

"Fine go, you little bitch."

"You're a bitch." I started to walk away. The silence that ensued told me that Ben was thinking hard about what to do.

"Wait up."


Ben pointed at my sneakers. "Take off your shoes."

The guy was unbelievable. "No way. If I can't hit it with a gun, there's no way I can get it with my shoes."

"No, I have an idea. Take them off." He could be real exasperating sometimes, but his idea was one more than I had, so I began to unlace my sneakers.

"Someone has to get help. They're Nikes, right?"

"Top of the line." I handed them over. "Three hundred a pair." He threw off his own loafers and began to put on my Nikes. "But there's no way you'll out run that thing, even in my . . . "

He looked at me. "Doesn't matter. So long as I can outrun you."

* * *

Ril's fingers hovered over the keys. There was no way the minions would go for such a hackneyed punchline, surely? Or would they? It is Monday, he thought. What the hell . . . He keyed in the word verification -- dntgdit -- and pressed "Publish."

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: ril

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Face-Lift 357

Guess the Plot

The Ivory Tower

1. An actual tower made of ivory looms metaphorically over a dying land in which zombies and an ice goddess try to keep a young wizard and a guy named Harold from saving the world from a mysterious plague. Also, gnomes.

2. After years of planning, Jason finally opens his upscale BDSM club 'The Ivory Tower'. But when the mayor dies in the dungeon, Jason and his clientele are branded immoral killers. How will he prove he's really the town's whipping boy?

3. The world outside her window beckoned, and Professor Horn fled The Ivory Tower to experience another way of life. Now that she knows people have to work hard out there and no one is impressed with her credentials, she can't wait to go back to her cluttered office in the Economics Department.

4. Big game hunter Dirk "Blowgun" Pratt spends a year trying to poach the elephants of the savanna armed with an empty toilet paper roll and a supply of licorice jelly beans. But the gentle animals lose patience with Dirk's shenanigans and impale him upon their tusks for a ride on . . . The Ivory Tower.

5. Ivory Tower is the hottest thing to hit Triple-X since Busty Bundtcakes. Everyone thinks Ms. Tower’s name is due to her pale Scandinavian skin and her phenomenal height, until they see her perform! It seems that Ivory is equipped for every occasion.

6. Homicide detective Zack Martinez loathed the conceited professors at the local university. And not just because he lost his ex-wife, Marie, to Marcus Denethen, head of the History department. When Marie and Marcus are discovered naked and drained of their blood in the stacks of the school library, suddenly Zack becomes a suspect.

Original Version

All David wanted was a simple life and time to grieve. When his mother died and his sister ran away, there wasn't time for such self-indulgence; the same plague claimed his uncle Merric—the town's priest and David's magical instructor. [Whattaya mean "the same plague"? You haven't mentioned a plague.] From the age of ten, he worked night and day to shield his hometown from sickness and famine.

Five years later, life has settled down, and he wants nothing more than to settle down with it, spending his days chatting with local farmers [I can buy into a world in which magic is real, but a fifteen-year-old kid who wants nothing more than to chat with farmers? Come on.] and honoring local gods. It is not to be.

His coming-of-age ceremony is interrupted by Harold, a traveler who claims to have known Merric. He confirms David's suspicion that Merric was not a hedge-mage [Hedge-mage: a gardener who's a wizard with pruning shears.] but a full wizard, and reveals what Merric never had the chance to: a prophecy that holds only David can heal the spreading wasteland in the east. David protests, but when he learns that the plague was actually spell sent by his enemies, [David has enemies? He's a kid; how did he get enemies?] David realizes he has no choice but to leave home.

Soon he's headed east to unearth the Book of Life, a spellbook with which he is meant to heal the land. Adventuring life isn't easy. He is attacked repeatedly by bandits, gnomes, and undead. [Undead?! There's your hook, right there, and you've buried it in the middle of paragraph 4. You've also left it somewhat vague. The reader can't tell from the word "undead" whether you're referring to people who are vampires, people who are zombies, or people who are alive. Just as a science fiction author will refer to normal people as "humans," hoping the agent will think, Ooh, humans, I wonder what they're like, and request the manuscript, a fantasy/horror author will refer to normal people as "undead," hoping the agent will think, Ooh, undead, could be zombies, and request the manuscript. It's a ploy as old as the hills, but it continues to pay dividends.] To save a friend, he must risk his soul confronting [Hillary,] the Ice Goddess herself. When he finally reaches a safe haven, he learns that he has been challenged to a duel [He learns this? If you're gonna challenge someone to a duel, etiquette demands you do so in person, not place a personal ad.] and has two months to make up for five years of missed training. [Two months?

I challenge you to a duel.

Accepted. When?

Let's see, my inlaws 'll be here the rest of the week, and I'm already dueling Rodriguez next Friday . . .

I've got two weddings the week after that.

Now we're running into the holiday season.

Gimme a call in a couple months, I'll see if I can clear some time.

You're on.]

David learns to deal with physical assault, but the real dangers aren't physical. [I beg to differ. The dangers are always physical when there are zombies around.] He soon discovers that everyone has secrets, and he doesn't know where to turn.

Harold, the leader, [The leader of what?] is secretly the eastern prince—and even more secretly, adopted. [More secretly than secretly? ]

Raven, the bitter sorceress, is in fact his lost sister, transformed beyond recognition by her lust for power.

David was raised to mistrust wizards and hate kings, [I was raised to trust Mr. Wizard and to love Elvis.] but is on his way to becoming both. Neither Raven nor Harold told him that the Book is not just a tool of healing—it's the weapon with which he must unify the continent.

None of this prepares him for the greatest betrayal of all. When he finally reaches the ancient spellbook, he meets the writer's ghost and learns the final secret. The prophecy was a fraud, penned only to coerce him into service. [Is this a betrayal of David or of the reader?]

The Ivory Tower is a 120,000 word humorous fantasy that addresses the question: "What happens when the prophecy isn't true? When the unlikely hero is really is unlikely?" [Come again?] It's a broad satire of quest stories—the Smalltown Savior, the Thing of Power, and the Lost Heir are all here, and all tweaked so as to reveal their underlying absurdity. Comic relief comes in the form of David's sardonic first-person narration, [If you need to put comic relief into a comedy, it's not funny enough.] but the story is not simply a big joke. It's also a coming-of-age tale about the value of choosing one's own goals and making one's own way.

[Title Note: The Ivory Tower is an actual tower, made of Ivory, that existed long ago. Although they never visit the site, the tower looms metaphorically over the characters. To Raven, who has spent years searching for it, it represents magical knowledge. To Harold, the adoptive prince, it represents his nation's fallen grandeur. [To me it represents 250,000 dead elephants.] Most tellingly, it was both built and destroyed by the Book, and serves David as a symbol of the dangers of power.]


I'm not in the camp of those who believe a humorous book demands a humorous query. But it should at least describe situations in which the reader can see the potential for humor. The book you describe sounds like the book you're supposedly satirizing. I'm more interested in how the plot's been tweaked to reveal the underlying absurdity.

To make the query funnier, always refer to Harold as "a guy named Harold."

It's too long, and it has so many paragraphs, you'll end up skipping about ten lines. Combine some of the short paragraphs. And don't bring in so many plot elements.

The third paragraph was well developed, each sentence following logically from the last. The fourth paragraph is a list of events, no development, and less interesting. Two or three well-developed paragraphs makes a more impressive query than a lot of underdeveloped ones.