Sunday, September 30, 2007

New Beginning 375

Lightspeed. That's my name.

Out here you earn your name. If you screw up you’re branded for life: Crash, Dead End, Spin Out. A score of others that never make it past the gate. You can’t escape those names, they stick with you your whole life. Lightspeed? That’s a good one.

I got my name when I was 16 and reckless, fearless. Didn't know what it was to burn out. Or burn in. I got addicted to the buzz. To the jumble of lights and the smell of scorched flesh. To the injection, most of all. That moment of pure connection. Blood pumping, synapses firing.

Yeah. That part.

When you plug in and hit the switch, hear the coils charging, feel the frame vibrating with raw power. There's nothing else like it in the world. Freeflying over the pitch in a blink, rolling the chute with a dozen others so close you can feel their draft as you pass. It's more than a rush. It's a fucking mindstorm.

Sarah smiled vacantly, her eyes glazing over as she prayed for her cell phone to ring with an "emergency." She was going to kill Alison when she got home. What the hell was Alison thinking setting her up with this freak? It sounded to her like "Lightspeed" enjoyed his job on death row waaaay too much.

Opening: Scott=.....Continuation: freddie

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Face-Lift 429

Guess the Plot

Escape from New Deseret

1. Joshua and Ruth are young and in love. But on the distant moon New Deseret, love is only for the Elders, and Ruth is slated to be Elder Brennar's twelfth wife. Can they flee to a place where love is permitted?

2. A box of broken china. Three suitcases. And one cat. That's all that washed up on the island with Jim Fortine after his boat sank. Will he ever be able to . . . Escape from New Deseret?

3. Louise Young got the house in the divorce, but the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market means she can't unload the property. After she forces the bank president to issue a loan to the only buyer she could scare up, it's time to make her Escape from New Deseret and leave her conniving, two-timing ex-husband Brigham behind.

4. The wives were all the same. The houses were all the same. They all brought Jello salads to Marjorie's house on the day she moved in. Something funny is happening in New Deseret, and Marjorie is determined to get out before she's turned into . . . a Mormon.

5. Moishin had murdered twenty eight people and earned himself a berth on New Deseret, a prison ship that orbited the dead star of Janicyth. Kept in stasis for his 400 year term while he is bombarded with rehabilitation messages, Moishin is inexplicably awakened when Janicyth suddenly bursts to life. And now Moishin isn't alone on the ship. Can he survive the alien infestation and prove his new morals by saving the nearby colonies?

6. Faced with the choice of keeping plural marriages in the closet or seeing their leaders arrested, extremist Mormons set up New Deseret, a colony on Mars. It doesn't take them long to realize they would have been better off choosing a location where there's some air.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor;

I am a new reader of your site, and would like you to consider representing my science fiction novel Escape from New Deseret, complete at 81,000 words, set on a near-future Mars.

Imagine a world where college students and retirees can afford weekend vacations on Earth-orbiting space stations, and a significant portion of Earth’s heavy industry has moved to the Moon. What kind of people would want to settle on Mars?

Mormons extremists, for one. [I did like you said and imagined a world where college students and retirees can afford weekend vacations on Earth-orbiting space stations, and a significant portion of Earth’s heavy industry has moved to the moon, but somehow I didn't follow the train of thought to Mormons moving to Mars. Which leads me to wonder why spring break in space was even brought up.] Faced with the choice of keeping plural marriages in the closet or seeing their leaders arrested, even an airless and barren Mars looks good. [Airlessness may look good for about five seconds, but after that you tend to become disenchanted with the idea.] There, they can do whatever they want, [It's like Pleasure Island in Pinocchio, right? Are they eventually transformed into donkeys?] [Of course, as I recall, on Pleasure Island they had air.]free from the interference of an un-Godly Earth. There, they can wall out the wickedness and live holy lives.

But the small colony, named New Deseret, is seriously under funded. Octavia Vutrick, 19, widowed and pregnant with her second child, has had to assume a man’s role to ensure the survival of her children and the colony. [She has to marry a dozen men.]

For a decade, Octavia’s growing independence is tolerated in the name of survival. A marriage of convenience to a respected rich colonist helps. Octavia’s oldest child Ruth reaching the marriageable age of fifteen provokes a new crisis. Ruth has discovered that wickedness, like rot, comes from within. Humans cannot wall it out. This wickedness, and a leadership crisis provoked by the death of the colony’s founding leader, put the lives of Octavia, Ruth and her brother Alex in grave danger. [Not clear what the crisis is that Ruth provokes, nor why the family is in danger.] [What is clear is that they'd be better off on Uranus.] [You didn't think we were going to get through this whole query without a Uranus crack, did you?]

Thank you for your consideration. My website above has biographical information and a link to my blog. I have enclosed a SASE for your reply, and I hope to hear from you soon.


The line about retirees being able to afford vacations on a space station isn't a good hook for this novel. I don't see that it has anything to do with the story. Octavia is your story. If you condense your setup into something like:
Octavia Vutrick, 19 and pregnant with her second child, is wondering whether moving to New Deseret, the Mormon colony on Mars, was the right decision. Sure, there are no unGodly Earthlings bugging her, but on the other hand, THERE'S NO FUCKING AIR!

there'll be plenty of room to expand on Octavia's trials. And the part about the escape.

When a Mormon on Mars goes on his two-year mission, where does he go? Where else . . . Uranus!

Wasn't the movie Mars Needs Women! about Mormons on Mars? Better title: Mars Needs Mormons!

Beyond the niche audience of Mormon science fiction fans, I'm wondering if there's a big market for this. Have you considered making it extremist Muslims on Mars?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

First a warning to those who read this blog on an outside feed that shows everything in black and white: The answers to the quiz below appear right after the questions. On the Evil Editor site they are the same color as the background, rendering them invisible, until highlighted with your cursor. If you don't want to see the answers, you'll have to come to

Second, my apologies if I didn't use any of yours. You weren't alone. The main problems were that descriptions were either so vague no one could guess them, or so specific no one familiar with the works could fail to guess them. Some described works I deemed not familiar to a high enough percentage of readers. The good news is, the fewer of yours I used, the more fun you can have guessing the ones I did use.

Guess the Title

Below are descriptions of numerous well-known films and works of literature. The descriptions were provided by EE's minions (actually, with few exceptions, they were provided by blogless_troll), who have a bad habit of being general when they should be specific, and of failing to see the forest for the trees.

If you can get half of them you're doing well. To help you get started, the first three titles have two clues each, though you may be able to get them from just one.

1a. Fantastical events, epic battles and sex, sex, sex in a 28-book series. (EE)

1b. A multi-generational epic, chronicling the paranormal encounters of a select group of nomadic exiles. (blogless_troll) The Old Testament

2a. Betraying her nation, a woman falls in love with the enemy; becoming homeless, she swears to a life of gluttony. (WitchEmber)

2b. She loves the man she can’t have and doesn’t love the one she’s got . . . or is it the other way around? Anyway, this isn’t a good day to think about it. (Bunnygirl) Gone with the Wind

3a. Not content to possess the stolen goods, a courier and his bodyguards decide they must kill the victim of the theft as well. (Khazar-khum)

3b. An interracial party of escorts figure out and accomplish the most illogical way of transporting their client and his most cherished possession from one place to another. (SzélsőFa) Lord of the Rings

4. Though mutilated bodies have been turning up at the edge of a small town, the police chief leaves to go fishing . . . only to come face to face with the killer. (Dave Kuzminski) Jaws

5. A young boy leaves home for the first time, joins a gang of criminals, and destroys government property. (blogless_troll) Star Wars

6. After an attempt on her life, an heiress shacks up with a group of male laborers. (blogless_troll) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

7. A dysfunctional family escapes their hometown to avoid punishment for their destructiveness, only to repent and ultimately save the city. (Bill Highsmith) The Simpsons Movie

8. When a weapon more powerful than a nuclear bomb falls into the wrong hands, the only person who can save the world is a professor with ophidiophobia. (blogless_troll) Raiders of the Lost Ark

9. Siblings on a simple errand encounter treacherous terrain, resulting in a medical emergency. (blogless_troll) "Jack and Jill"

10. Girl abuses boy, loves boy, mourns boy, abandons boy, hates boy, wounds boy, endangers boy, saves boy, cuckolds boy, marries boy. (WitchEmber) The Princess Bride

11. A criminal adopts socialist principles in order to impress a woman. (blogless_troll) Robin Hood

12. A criminal talks his way out of captivity through the use of a coffee cup, a bulletin board, and his remarkable powers of observation. (EE) The Usual Suspects

13. Two drunken humans and a dog become the most frequent crossword puzzle clues ever by solving a mystery. (Bill Highsmith) The Thin Man

14. A bookish professor gets all worked up upon learning that deities sometimes fuck. (blogless_troll) The Da Vinci Code

15. Hired to arrange a real estate deal, a man discovers that his client has an abnormal drinking problem. (EE) Dracula

16. The fate of an abused woman depends solely upon designer shoes. (blogless_troll) Cinderella

17. A new guy in town tries to make friends by giving them water, showing them carnival tricks, inviting them to church, and eating them before they eat him. (Bill Highsmith) Stranger in a Strange Land

18. After much debate, a frustrated loner caves in to peer pressure, consumes an unusual delicacy, and gains acceptance within the community. (blogless_troll) Green Eggs and Ham

New Beginning 374 (short story)

There is a saying in Ithulien: 'As cursed as dragon gold'. You may well look puzzled. Gold is very beautiful, after all, and I'm sure all of you would like to have a few gold coins to spend, wouldn't you now? Your mothers and fathers pledged gold rings when they married, and so did their mothers and fathers before them. So did people on Ithulien before the dragons came.

Ithulien is a small island, far far away in the West, and if it was ever famous for anything, even its own people don't now remember what it was. In the time of the dragons, though, Ithulien had all its gold stolen the same as everywhere else. Of course, there's no-one living now who's ever seen a dragon. Yet my mother's grandmother's father saw one, once, and it was great and terrible, or so my grandfather told me many years ago.

There is a saying in Draconia: 'As useless as a gold toilet seat'. No, it's not an enigma. Gold in Draconia is plentiful and goes into the building of everything mundane. I'm sure you wouldn't crave something that's as plentiful as droppings? Only fools pledge by gold in Draconia. We are green, with gold eyes and scintillating scales.

Draconia is a huge mountainous island, near the atolls of the east, and is teeming with golden arches brought here by McFafnir and McFassolt, our draconic gods. Once, my cousin's uncle's aunt's niece, third removed by coupling, saw porcelain-like humans on their porcelain pots, and it was a horrible and appalling sight. Or so my hatchling grand-père babbled when he was drunk one night.

Opening: BuffySquirrel.....Continuation: Dave F.

Face-Lift 428

Guess the Plot

Twenty Rules

1. Mr. Bishop runs the seventh-grade math labs like a drill sergeant: No talking, no late work, no excuses. When Ginny refuses to do math homework for super-popular Naomi, Naomi has her boyfriend trash Ginny's work for the Math Olympics. Can Ginny fix her project in time?

2. Heled Faust had been studying ten years for his sorcerers badge. But in his final exam he theorized, and proved, that the last of the '20 rules of magic', "Magic obeys only the command of the caster," is false. Heled fails the exam but his paper attracts the attention of Muburak. In his quest to influence the world outside of his magic-forged prison, Muburak sends his minions to kidnap Heled and obtain the knowledge he possesses.

3. Dean Miller and his buddies like to taunt Coach Magog by breaking all his silly rules. Sure, they understand why you don't slam someone's head into the floor, or why you don't set the basketball nets on fire. But what could possibly go wrong when you bust the lock off locker 43?

4. When their father dumps Ben and his sisters off at the home of a total stranger, he gives them 20 rules to follow in their new lives, rules like Don't make any friends, and Don't tell anyone I've dumped you off at the home of a complete stranger, and don't ask the host to let you watch Cinemax.

5. Twenty rules separated Gilligan Troy from a happy life. He had overcome the one about not murdering any more people, but could he come to terms with the nineteen rules about sex, mentioned explicitly in his parole papers, that always seemed to trip him up?

6. Nine people, lost at sea, starving to death, getting on each other's nerves as they drift for days in a small lifeboat. They finally make up 20 rules that none of them is allowed to break, rules like no whining, no farting, and no masturbating while ogling buxom Miss Lennox. The first to break a rule will be the first sacrificed for the greater good.

Original Version

Dear EE

For 15 year old Ben and his sisters life is one long procession of relatives’ homes while their father ‘looks’ for work. [‘Looks’ ? What does that mean? Doesn't look? I ‘think’ that's clever.]

They survive by following the rules. Rule 1: Never argue with the host family, even when you know you are right. Rule 2: Never upset the host family’s routine, even if it means going without. Rule 3: Always look neat and well groomed for school so that teachers don’t investigate your home life. Rule 4: Never make friends, because that means one day you’ll have to tell them about your home life, which you can’t. Rule 5: [Never butcher the host family because the cops will come and find out about your home life. Rule 6: No masturbating while ogling buxom Miss Lennox. Rule 7:] . . .

But this time Dad has dumped them on a total stranger. [How about that guy, kids? He looks pretty cool. You wanna live with him?]

All Ben wants to do is keep his family together and find out more about this mysterious Jason their father has foisted them off onto. [Jason? The Jason? It's a bad sign when your own father foists you off on a stranger, but it's a really bad sign when the stranger is wearing a hockey goalie mask.]

The last thing he needs is to run afoul of the bitchiest girl in the school. Particularly not when his best friend (who doesn’t seem to get the message that they can’t be friends) blurts out a secret the bitchiest girl uses to make Ben’s life, and that of his friend, absolute hell [Rule 12: Don't reveal the secret, not even in a query letter.]

Jason may just be the only one who can help them, [Wouldn't it have been great, back when we were in school, if we could have hired Jason to deal with the bitchiest girl in school?] but Ben has issues of his own with Jason right now, particularly about Jason’s relationship with their Dad. [I thought Jason was a total stranger.]

I am seeking representation for my 40,000 word young adult novel, Twenty Rules. A synopsis and sample chapters are enclosed. Would you be interested in reading more?

Yours sincerely


Where does dad go while the kids are living with relatives and total strangers?

Even if you weren't told not to make friends, it would be a while before you had a best friend or an enemy. How much time passes between the dump-off and the school troubles?

It feels like the school part comes out of nowhere, like we're in another story. You need to connect the Jason plot and the school plot, or give the less important one a smaller part in the query. Possibly the connection lies in why only Jason can help Ben and his friend.

New Beginning 373

"Thrice, the brindled cat hath mewed—" Hestia began twirling about the room before she was stopped by her sister.

"Do give that a rest, Hestia!" Camilla barked, rolling her eyes at her sister's child-like display.

"Thrice and once the hedge-pig whines," Tesira chimed, giggling along with Hestia. The two of them continued in unison, "Harpier cries, ''Tis time! 'Tis time!'"

"You fools. Why bring up that old nonsense?" Camilla opened another book and slapped it on the table. She grazed over the ingredients and frowned.

"Nonsense?" Hestia responded indignantly. "I say, it wasn't nonsense when we wrote it! It wasn't nonsense when that cad-of-a-'poet', Shakespeare, stole it from us! It isn't nonsense that that spell, our spell, has become almost a rubric for modern day, popular Western magical spells! If the laws then were what they are now, we'd be stupid-rich by syndication rights alone!"

Camilla couldn't help but smile, "Syndication rights? Off your head, you are." She fumbled down the list of ingredients again and pointed to a term. "Does that say dhole's claw?"

“Now where would we get a dhole's claw?” Hestia leaned over the table, stroking the open page of the cookbook with one long, beautifully manicured red fingernail. “Camilla, might I suggest you put your reading glasses on? It's cole slaw.”

Hestia ran her finger down the page once more, gently. “Hmm. Colonel Mustard is coming to tea this afternoon. The Colonel loves cole slaw. I’ll serve him cole slaw for his salad . . . ”

She paused, smiling. “ . . . and he’ll add some of his, shall we say, mustard seed, to my cherry pie afterwards. And though it may be thrice the brindled cat mews, it's only once a week my spindly-legged Colonel is able to spew. Forth. So I want him well-fed and happy.”

Opening: Xiexie.....Continuation: Robin S.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Face-Lift 427

Guess the Plot

The Hound in the Mine

1. From the heart of the moor came a lament of such otherworldly moans that it seared the mind and disheartened the soul, a howl of iniquity so evil that all but the brave lost faith as reason fled. Yo Quiero Taco Bell, Viva gorditas! A mi corazon!

2. When the last coal mine canary dies, the miners assume it was old age and send Bobby Joe to replace it. But the pet store has only beagles. Returning to the mine, Bobby Joe unleashes the hound, who sniffs out Bobby's co-workers, all dead.

3. Rudy's dog has a tendency to wander off, and he always turns up at the Coaldust place down in the holler. Rudy sets off in search of Ole Blue, only to come upon his mom and Mr. Coaldust in the barn. Will Rudy ever overcome the trauma of finding his saintly mother playing The Hound In The Mine with the local moonshiner?

4. Two years after the hound dog went missing, he turns up doing manual labor in the mine beneath the old mill. Rescue seems impossible, as the hound is addicted to drugs, and his only remaining friend has no arms. Can the evil miller be stopped? Also, slave trees.

5. Gwyfydd, a remote mining outpost on the very south western tip of Wales, was famous for its haunted woods and eerie standing stones. But Peter Hester was there to investigate the legend of a canine abomination. Scientist and skeptic Peter is shocked by his findings, but when he begins to receive cryptic, threatening messages from a shadowy cult, he finds the Hound is only one piece in a puzzle that links all of the town hauntings and a much, much bloodier legend.

6. Johan Kratt is "The Hound"--elite soldier, spy, member of Himmler's ultra-secret Thule Society . . . and Allied double-agent. Ordered to weaken German efforts in Russia, he must delay the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad long enough for the Soviet counter-offensive to arrive. But first he must escape Russia's most infamous gulag: The Mine.

Original Version

Please consider my YA novel "The Hound in the Mine." It is complete at 75,000 words.

The old hound went missing years ago. [I miss old Huck. Yogi and Quick Draw and Snagglepuss get all the nostalgia press, but it was Huckleberry Hound who paved the way.] By then Corvery, a young cornfield raven, was his only friend. [You're thinking of Heckle. Or Jeckle.] The hound had gotten too ornery for everyone else. He would growl and rave, and howl in the cornfields. He would snarl and froth in the ditches and bark at his reflection in the swimming hole. Everyone figured him for rabid, and Corvery thought he must have gone some place to die.

Or maybe he hadn’t been rabid after all. Just the other day there came a familiar howl from the hills. Now, Corvery is certain he can find the old hound, so he searches the hills with his friend Preston, a boy on summer vacation from school. [If you're a bird searching the hills, a boy is just going to be dead weight. Better to go it alone.] [So far this is sounding like the text of a picture book for five-year-olds. Except for the 75,000 words part.] The two of them discover a poisoned river, where any animal that drinks from it is driven vicious and insane. [How do they know this?]

The poison is seeping into the water from an old mill, but the wheel there is no longer turning saw blades. The miller is using it to dredge a mine, and the creatures of the woods, even the trees, are slaves to the tunnels below. [What does that mean? Slaves in the tunnels?] When Corvery and Preston try to rally them to destroy the mill and bury the tunnels, they find that no one is willing. The water has poisoned their minds, and they crave its taste more than freedom. [I get it. It's a 75,000-word retelling of Aesop's anti-drug fable, "The Hound and the Raven." Moral: A man who drinks from the river of madness will not listen to a talking crow.] Even the old hound is on the miller’s side.

The complete manuscript is available should you wish to see part or all of it. I look forward to hearing from you.


I see this as Animal Farm meets LOTR. Young adults aren't going to care about Corny Crow. Make the boy a hobbit, make the slaves his farmyard friends, make the miller an evil pig wizard, and make the river the ring of power.

It ends with no one wanting help. If you're addicted to joy juice, don't you have to want to be saved? There should be some indication that Corny Crow comes up with a plan.

We don't need the backstory about the hound. Open with the poison river and the miller and the slaves: When the inhabitants of a small town go missing, they are discovered working as drug-addicted slaves in the tunnels beneath the old mill. Is there no hero willing to risk everything to stop the evil miller from carrying out his sinister plot for world domination? Yes! It's Corny the Talking Crow! . . . Now that I think about it, let's leave the crow out of the query entirely.

New Beginning 372

The pain was fully gone, carried off in the swirls of cloying mist and ripples of dark water all about. It still lapped up against him, head to toe, like the intimate warmth and touch of a body, but the water had finally loosened its hold and allowed him to come awake. Stars glittered in the nighttime shroud overhead, but their light offered little to see by. At the edge of vision, where darkness reigned, mist stirred and came alive with the movement of furtive shadows.

“Who’s there?” Barr called out and rolled into a crouch, straining to see through the gloom. Mist roiled about and clung to his skin, sent a shiver down his back that conquered all warmth. “Hello?”

He saw them scatter and fade, as a whisper of magic touched his ears. His mother appeared from nowhere, stepping through the mists as if she too were a shadow given substance. Seeing her again brought back all the uncertainty he had tried to deal with the first time they met. He wasn’t sure how to react, how he was supposed to feel. All those years before his father Daroth was killed, then with Tuvrin and the elves, Barr had no idea what it was like to have a mother of his own.

At least not in this lifetime.

She stepped closer, looked up at him with pale blue eyes. She was iridescence itself, a shining light come to life. Her eyes, especially, gave Barr pause. They seemed far away, somehow, living in the other realm even as they gazed up at him. She spoke: “Like, kid, uh . . . Barr . . . bummer, dude. I mean, like, heavy, what am I supposed to do with you, huh?”


She cut him off, slicing her hand impatiently through the swirling night mist. “Drag, man. You should split, go back on the road with Tuvrin and the Elves. Bein’ a roadie is far out, dig?” She swirled her gowns, tye-dyed and strung with beads, and smiled up at him dreamily.

“Listen,” she went on, “I told that dude Daroth years ago, almost sixteen years, I wasn’t into his earth mother bag. But no, we had to do it naturally, we had to be one with the freakin’ universe, which was Daroth-speak for, ‘Oh Mary Beth, please don’t make me wear a condom.’”

Opening: Joe.....Continuation: Robin S.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New Beginning 371

She had expected disbelief. She had thought she would deny everything and find every reason to doubt her senses. But everything told Imogen the truth of it all. The sun was smaller and more yellow, the moon was tiny and had a completely different face.

Around her the noises of animals was nothing like anything she'd heard on a hundred field trips. And the plants: one had leaves divided on horizontal and vertical axes with the horizontal leaves green and the vertical purple. A clever way to maximize photosynthesis on a world with a weaker sun.

And the plant had to grow quickly. It was browsed by large quadruped herbivores. Their dung hatched small creatures like an eight legged beetle. The chitinous armor glistened in the sun with hues of red unlike any insect or arachnid on Earth.

Purple stems sent up transparent flowers which sweat something that small flying creatures feasted upon.

In the distance were huge flying creatures which seemed to defy any Earth-formed categorization.

“Welcome to my home planet,” said Steve.

Okay, now that was strange. The moon was one thing; the eight-legged beetle was another; but this guy (and he was just a regular guy, and rather hunky now that she got a look at him) was speaking English. On this "alien" planet. And he identified himself as Steve. Not Klrg'wphth, or El-dur-Blathonal, or even Gort, but Steve, for cryin' out loud.

Imogen chuckled. Those clowns running the trans-warp chamber. It was to be her first solo off-world space-shift, and this was the best they could come up with for her hazing? A weed patch on the outskirts of Barstow or someplace? A few plastic plants, an animatronic bug or two - how cornball could you get? The sun and moon weren't bad, though, she had to give them that. She'd have to worm that secret out of them when it was over.

"Come, I'll transport you to our capital city." Steve gestured to a three-wheeled contraption nearby. As he turned, his metallic tee-shirt stretched tight across his rippling abs. Hmm . . . this escapade might hold some interest after all.

Not surprisingly, the capital city consisted largely of commonplace commercial districts and strip malls. But as they traveled the streets, Imogen felt a growing unease; something wasn't quite right. Then it struck her: block after city block, building after building - there wasn't a Starbuck's in sight! Incredible! She really wasn't on Earth!

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: Paul Penna

Face-Lift 426

Guess the Plot


1. Lila's husband was run over by an armored car. Winning her lawsuit and waking up two million dollars richer ease her sorrow, but Lila doesn't find out what real sorrow is until her ungrateful children start making financial demands and the money begins to ruin her life.

2. Henry’s wife drank all his beer and ran away with the repo man, who ran over Henry’s dog while driving away with his new pickup truck. Now he’s got all the material he needs for a hit country-western song, but he thinks he’ll just go ahead and hang himself instead.

3. Dubuque emo band Grind has a hit on their hands with the florid ode to cutting, 'Sorrow.' But when a fan goes too far and commits suicide, they are suddenly embroiled in a court case. Is this the end of their dreams of stardom . . . or just good publicity?

4. When a brutal serial killer begins stalking the gilded palaces of the Empire, Count Hashii, the infamous Lord Ash, arrives to investigate the murders and to discover the identity of the assassin known only as . . . Sorrow.

5. High-profile medium Katie Flint earned the nickname "Sorrow" because of her dour, sober predictions. Now Katie is experiencing powerful cryptic visions of a catastrophe that could wipe out the town of Grivensham. Aided by an autistic palm reader and a junkie Tarot specialist, 'Sorrow' tries to ensure that this prophesy doesn't come true.

6. Sorrow's name has served as a good description of her life so far. Friendless, she's in danger of losing her job at the library because she refuses to direct patrons to any book with a happy ending. One day a ditty-singing preacher with a spring in his step walks through the door. Can Sorrow change her demeanor soon enough to find romance with Jubilation Jones?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

A new kind of killer is stalking the gilded palaces of the EroBernd Empire, striking down gentry and commoner alike with apparent impunity. His methods, efficiency, and brutality are unlike anything anyone has encountered. Count Hashii, the infamous Lord Ash, court assassin to the Superbus Tyrannus, travels to the small province of Macula Telum to investigate these murders and discover the identity of the assassin known as Sorrow. [Does the killer sign his victims with the name Sorrow? Or did the people come up with the name? Usually people come up with something scarier, like the Butcher of EroBernd or the Macula Madman.]

Faina, an orphan by assassination, lives in privileged captivity, [She lives in a cage, but she has her own chef.] relying on blood money from an unknown benefactor to maintain her safety. She is innocent, carefree, and gentle. But when the body count begins to rise in Macula Telum, Count Hashii begins to look at her in a new light [--as a possible replacement Superbus Assassin during his upcoming vacation.]

Can a 14-year old girl be the deadly Sorrow? [As she's been described as innocent, carefree and gentle, I'm guessing No.]

Sorrow is complete, a work of Fantasy/Dark Fantasy, and is 80,660 words long.

Thank you for your attention.


Fortunately this was brief; after spending seven hours creating a dinobus, I was in no mood for a drawn out query.

For those editors who don't bother to create dinobi, you might want to fill in a few holes. Like, What is it that leads Hashii to suspect Faina? Who were Faina's parents, and why would she be unsafe without blood money from an unknown benefactor? Who is keeping her captive?

So Hashii is a count, an infamous lord, a court assassin, and an investigator? That's a lot of hats.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Q & A 120

When an author is having trouble writing three good paragraphs for a query or writing a two page synopsis, no matter how often they rewrite, does it mean the problem might really be in the novel, not in the summary? Shouldn't all well-structured novels have a central theme or plot, or are some great, fun novels just not "summarizable"?

I believe anything can be summarized in the usual query length. The key is not the length of the summary, but finding the right information. The following three plot descriptions progress from vague to general to specific. The first is the longest, the last is the shortest. They all describe the same work.

Some interesting stuff happens to a bunch of characters, and one of them has to make a tough decision that will affect a lot of people.

When a man's ex-lover comes back into his life, he must decide if he wants her badly enough to risk more than just her marriage.

Rick, a cynical cafe owner in Nazi-controlled Morocco, must choose between his feelings for his ex-lover Ilsa and his once-strong sense of patriotism.

Given another sentence I would identify Ilsa's husband as a heroic figure the Nazi's would like to capture. Given another, I would bring up the letters of passage. And so on. Possibly a good way to write a summary is to summarize the book in one sentence. Then add another, as if two sentences were all you got. No cheating by saying I'll add x in sentence 2 and y in sentence 3. Choose between x and y. What is the most important idea to add to sentence 1? Keep going until you reach your predetermined maximum, which is probably nine or ten in a query letter, twenty in a short synopsis, etc.

You can't be too specific without writing too much, and you can't be too general without becoming boring. If your book is extremely complex, you may need to be more general than you would with a simple, straightforward plot. You have to find the right mix for your book.

New Beginning 370

The neighbours’ kids were out there playing with their puppy again. Sounds of laughter and tormented yips, mingled with the scent of marigolds and the coolness of summer's last breaths, carried through the open window. Dinner plates stood at ease in the drying rack, squeaky clean, no evidence of the half-eaten roast, while breaking bubbles whispered in the sink.

Emma plunged her reddened hands back into water so hot she could barely stand it: it was no less than she deserved. Her fingers found the cloth and a steak knife, and as she took the knife out of the water, orange sunlight glinted off its lifetime guaranteed serrated edge. It was one of a set, a wedding gift from one of their friends. One of his friends. She wiped off the suds and set it to dry.

The white detergent bottle perched on the window ledge brought to mind her tiny ceramic Madonna on the dining-room sill. She’d have to wash the blood off that, too.

Emma cursed the day she'd stumbled upon that article in Cosmo, "12 Ways to Spice Up Your Love Life." Number five had been, "Reenact a sexy scene from your favorite movie."

Emma had expected Phil to pick a scene from a romantic movie like 9 1/2 Weeks. But Phil had chosen the crucifix scene from The Exorcist. Not having a crucifix handy, Emma had been forced to improvise with the ceramic Madonna. She was still sore.

The only consolation was that next time it would be Emma's turn to choose the movie. And macho Phil would be spending the night on Brokeback Mountain.

Opening: ril.....Continuation: Lightsmith

Monday, September 24, 2007

Face-Lift 425

Guess the Plot

The Loathly Lady

1. Myra Bendle spent many hours knitting and pondering the following thought: Am I lonely because I'm loathly, or am I loathly because I'm lonely? Or do I smell? When she resolves to find out, she learns that not all people are of the same quality. Nor all deodorants.

2. Medievalist Geoff Hanson's been assigned to transliterate and transcribe a fragmentary text of the "Loathly Lady." Soon she comes to him in a series of visions, telling him about the location of other manuscripts. Can he gain access to the secret rooms beneath the library, or will the trustees silence him first?

3. She had the perfect face for blogging, and the perfect personality for spamming. Could her Jane Austin reading circle prepare Lola, the loathsome lady, for Lyle, the loudmouthed lout?

4. Jaida thought the apparition called the Loathly Lady was rather cute, to which the ghost took violent exception. Thus began a personal haunting that followed Jaida home from a Scottish vacation, wrecking her job and relationships, bringing her sanity into question, and threatening her life.

5. As an unseen force wipes out everyone, Brandywine, a lowly, drunken, womanizing squire, turns over a new leaf and resolves to save what remains of the kingdom. With no idea where to start, he turns to a vile old hag for answers. Yes, if anyone can save the day, it's . . . The Loathly Lady.

6. Though she's the most beautiful woman in Regency London, Lady Charlotte's personality is so repugnant she's known as the Loathly Lady. If she's to attract a husband, she'll have to change her ways. Or should she just pretend to be a mute?

Original Version

Dear EE,

Brandywine is a squire with no interest in courage, honor, or chivalry, who has no ambitions towards knighthood. Along with his close companion, the wealthy Prince Dioneo, he seeks only the sophomoric pleasures of drink, women, and childish mischief. [Hey, that's my life you're calling sophomoric.] But Brandywine’s world is changing: Dioneo has decided to settle down and announced his intention to marry their mutual friend, Princess Ettarre, daughter of their King Ceolwulph [who, every full moon, morphs into a wolfman who can balance a beach ball on its nose]. Their modest kingdom of Dagâ Dainâ is besieged and surrounded by enemies, their neighbors offended by the king’s heterodox beliefs. [Heterodox beliefs stress that having a few circumflex accents in your kingdom's name makes you more cultured than the surrounding kingdoms.] And [the] very soil of the land is shaking, shifting the face of an entire mountain valley, causing one river to die while another springs to life far away.

Tired of the low opinion he has earned, Brandywine decides to amend [mend] his ways. He breaks off his shameful, adulterous relationship with Princess Ettarre. He takes up the cause of a damsel in distress, earning the enmity of a barbarian warlord. And he volunteers to investigate the cause of the earthquake and the death of the river.

As he begins his new-found quest for honor and redemption, Brandywine’s world quickly begins to change. King Ceolwulph shames Prince Dioneo, betrothing his daughter and his kingdom to the fanatical and controlling seneschal [(werewalrus)], Sir Birrstan. A faceless army of barbarians, invisible and unstoppable, begins ravaging the kingdom’s outskirts, striking without warning with unprecedented savagery, leaving nothing in their wake. When the king leads his mightiest knights to face this threat, they are slaughtered to the man. [It's almost always a mistake to go into battle against an enemy that is invisible and unstoppable.] Ettarre [Anagram: retreat!] is left mourning her father and anxiously anticipating the marriage to a man who does not respect her.

Sir Birrstan easily settles into his position as regent. He sees this army’s deprecations as a prelude to invasion, [An army has been ravaging the kingdom with unprecedented savagery and has slaughtered the king's mightiest knights, and Sir Birrstan sees this as a prelude to invasion? What is he, psychic?]

[Barbarian general: We should invade Dagâ Dainâ.

2nd-in-command: I don't know, those circumflex accents scare me.

Barbarian general: As a prelude to the invasion, storm through their lands leaving nothing in your wake, and slaughter all of their soldiers. That should soften them up.

2nd-in-command: The accents, sir! What about the accents?]

but by what nation? Surrendering diplomacy to fanaticism, he readies his nation for multiple preemptive invasions and relies on God to see them to victory. But Brandywine’s humble investigations of a dead river have uncovered unexpected answers: The stealthy barbarian army is more than it seems. Either by artifice or accident, an ancient force was awakened, a massive storm of magic that passes from the site of one attack to the next, slaughtering man, woman, and child and befuddling the minds and memories of the survivors. It shattered the mountain valley, and now its fury has been unleashed upon the kingdom.

As Birrstan prepares to lead the kingdom to destruction--he and his armies deep under the spell of the storm--only a select few seem immune to the mind-clouding magic. Brandywine must persuade a fanatic away from his visions of holy war. He must uncover the source of the magical storm, why some are immune and others are not, and what is required to put it back to rest. And he must determine who it was that awakened it and why. [I'd concentrate on what is required to put it back to rest. We'll work out the who's and why's later.]

But the only person who appears to offer answers is Gwnhyudwy, a [Welsh] crone of repulsive visage and vile disposition [and remarkably few anagrams]. She is the Loathly Lady, and the price for her answers may be more than anyone can pay. [No one uses the word "loathly." And she doesn't sound like a lady to me. Go with The Creepy Crone or The Hideous Hag.]

[Brandywine: Sire, our kingdom is doomed unless we listen to the Loathly Lady!

Birrstan: Then it's about time you worked her into the query.]

To save a kingdom, Brandywine must solve the riddle and become the hero. The Loathly Lady is complete, 147,000 words in length.

Thank you for your attention,


Dioneo and Ettarre disappear from the query, leading me to wonder if they were needed in the first place. Meanwhile, the only hope of stopping the unstoppable lies with a character barely mentioned, except in the title.

Your plot is: As a new king prepares to lead his nation into war against an invisible and unstoppable army, lowly squire Brandywine discovers that the enemy is not an army of men, but a powerful magical force released from it's age-old confinement by a mammoth corkscrew. Only the mysterious hag Grunhilda (English pronunciation) knows how to stop the destruction, but she refuses to help unless Brandywine convinces Prince Dioneo to father her children. Expand on that with stuff that's important, like Brandywine's obstacles and heroics.

New Beginning 369

Lisa just knew it was going to be one of those days. Everyone was cranky this morning from lack of sleep. Last night, some of the inn’s local customers insisted on drinking--and talking quite loudly--until after midnight. Another set of customers wanted to leave at the crack of dawn and required that their breakfast be ready long before then. Which meant she had to fetch water from the well in the dark.

“Hurry up you lazy girl!” called Celeste, the innkeeper’s wife. Lisa glanced up from the dirt path to see Celeste’s tall, thin figure standing in the doorway. The figure disappeared, but the door remained open. Lisa walked a little faster, pleased for the bit of extra light spilling from the kitchen door. She couldn’t go much faster, though, without spilling the water. She had already stumbled once on a fallen branch and sloshed some water on her skirt.

Now, with stick woman hovering over her, and her watery, wet skirt weighing her down, Lisa didn’t know where she would find the patience or the strength to make it to bedtime. And if tonight was yet another night with the locals hanging around and drinking until the wee hours . . .

She sighed. Life was simply a bitch, that was all there was to it. One long slog in the dark, one big stumble and fumble, one big . . .

“You, lazy girl, come on!” Celeste called again.

You’d be tired and lazy too, you skinny harpy, Lisa thought, if you’d been bedding down your portly old fart of a husband as often as I have.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Robin S.

New Beginning 368

Some say stasis dreams are as close as the human mind can come to a vision of Heaven. Some say every wish is granted in the mind while the body simply exists, devoid of electrochemical function. Some even claim to faintly remember their dreams, to weep when roused from the little death required by lengthy space runs and to pine away for all that is lost upon awakening.

As far as Charles E. Stone was concerned, some were full of shit. He'd never dreamed a damn thing in stasis, never lost a moment of the time spent in a body that didn't breathe or pump blood or piss down its leg. He spent every jump fully aware and usually bored out of his skull. And planning his next escape, of course.

This time, though, cutting loose would be a miracle. Apparently tired of fucking around with him, the pigs sent Enforcers to escort him.

He stood, stretched and walked around the small space, trying to get the blood flowing back to his muscles. As usual, he'd dreamt nothing; obviously he wasn't the one full of shit. Cold fluorescent lights buzzed overhead. He turned at the sound of feet scuffing at the entrance.

The Enforcers came in, shackled him and led him to the Interrodome. The pigs were there already, lining the periphery of the vast chamber, standing on their hind legs like humans, but squealing and oinking like the feral beasts they were. The Enforcers chained Charles between two pillars. Then lights flashed and thunder boomed as the Grand Inquisitrix rose from beneath the floor, lifted on a pneumatic platform. Mist swirled around her, gradually dissipating until her face was revealed.

Charles recoiled in terror; it was Miss Piggy. Suddenly he noticed his clothes seemed stuck to his skin. No, he assured himself, Charles E. Stone isn't full of shit . . . Not any more.

Opening: Gutterball.....Continuation: Lightsmith/Anon./EE

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Face-Lift 424

Guess the Plot

The Danthian Viper

1. Petty thief Dalin Archer fears he will never get out from under the thumb of master criminal Finneas Montague, the notorious "Danthian Viper." But the tables are turned when Archer suddenly morphs into a powerful shape-shifting magician.

2. Two peoples, one rich in technology, the other steeped in mysticism, battle over a crystalline creature with the power to harness time: The Danthian Viper!

3. Gaston Wells has driven the Ferrari, the Aston Martin, and the brand new Porche Carrera GT. All stolen of course. Now he wants to drive the Danthian Viper. Trouble is, the car is sentient: it knows when it's being stolen. Can Gaston convince the Viper to unlock the doors before he's caught, or is he doomed to take a ride up the river?

4. World peace made the top-secret viral engineering facility at Danthe obsolete before it was even completed. But now someone has reactivated the old codes and Megan Chen has two days to stop them from exposing the world to . . . The Danthian Viper.

5. Rebel automaker Henry George's Danthian Viper convertible has been plagued with mysterious glitches from the start. Can he unmask the traitor on the assembly line before another Viper owner is killed by a faulty ejection seat?

6. Cleo wasn't a shy girl. A princess couldn't afford to be. Yet a visit by the prince of Danthia has her running in the opposite direction after swapping identities with her maid.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

I am seeking representation for my fantasy novel "The Danthian Viper," complete at 120,000 words.

Dalin Archer should never have made that bargain with Finneas Montague-and now he's got a death sentence over his head.

He thought Finneas was doing him a favor. Since Dalin's dismissal from the Duke's household, he'd been scratching out a living on the streets, resorting to petty theft to keep starvation at bay. When Finneas offered him an enormous sum to help out on a thieving job, Dalin thanked the Mother for his luck. But it was the wrong sort of luck: during the course of the job, Finneas killed a man and framed Dalin for the crime. [Consider changing the first plot sentence to: Dalin Archer thought Finneas Montague was doing him a favor; now he's got a death sentence hanging over him. Then put the next paragraph in present tense.]

Dalin manages to escape execution, but he can't escape Finneas, who has further plans for him. [Whattaya mean, he manages to escape execution? How? And whattaya mean he can't escape Finneas? Why not?] Dalin can't believe he ever believed this man's lies. Finneas is amoral, obnoxious and domineering. He's investigating, through illegal means, a cabal of twisters-powerful shape-changing magicians [If you're going to investigate a cabal of powerful shape-changing magicians, it's best to do so through proper legal channels--unless you want to be changed into a horned toad.] -who are taking advantage of a disputed succession and have designs on the throne. Finneas forces Dalin to assist him by acting as lookout while Finneas breaks into houses,

[Finneas: I'll be breaking into a few houses, and you will assist me.

Dalin: Ha. Last time I assisted you, you framed me for murder.

Finneas: I'll pay you well.

Dalin: That's what you said last time. I haven't seen a dime.

Finneas: If you refuse to work this job, I'll . . . I'll frame you for murder!

Dalin: All right, all right. You do have an honest face. I'll trust you this once.]

and by impersonating people Finneas is too old to pass for himself.

[Finneas: Today you'll be impersonating Lady Gwendolyn.

Dalin: Why don't you impersonate Lady Gwendolyn?

Finneas: I'm fifty years old. She's only forty-six.

Dalin: But I have a mustache!

Finneas: So does Lady Gwendolyn.

Dalin: But I'm six-foot-nine!

Finneas: Doctor Smythe will take care of that. Did you bring the saw, Doc?]

But as they settle into an uneasy working relationship, a miracle happens: Dalin discovers he has a backbone, and Finneas, a conscience.

[Finneas: Suddenly I feel really bad about investigating this cabal of powerful shape-changing magicians. I'm going to confess.

Dalin: But they'll kill us if you tell them what we've been doing.

Finneas: We? I'm going to confess what you've been doing. Perhaps they'll reward me. Oh, and if they let you live, wait till I tell you about our next job.]

When Dalin's latent magical ability surfaces and he becomes a twister himself, [he decides against thanking the Mother, at least until he sees how it goes this time.] the power structure in their relationship is turned on its end. Dalin is no longer under Finneas's thumb-in fact, Finneas is at his mercy. But the cabal of twisters Finneas was tracking have become aware of his meddling. They are determined to eliminate him, and Dalin as well. If Dalin and Finneas want to survive, they'll need to set aside their differences and face this common enemy together. [This is one impotent cabal of powerful shape-changing magicians if they can't take down an old man and a gullible kid in the blink of an eye.]

"The Danthian Viper" is my first novel. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

[The title--"The Danthian Viper"--refers to Finneas's criminal persona. Yeah, I need a better title.]


Not clear why Finneas is investigating a cabal of powerful shape-changing magicians who have designs on the throne. Is Finneas in the employ of the throne? Does he have his own designs on the throne?

Also not clear is what hold he has over Dalin.

Who's the Mother? Their god? That's almost as lame as last time, when it was "Most High." I liked it better when gods were named after planets.

Follow my lead and always refer to them as a cabal of powerful shape-changing magicians (or shape-shifting wizards) instead of "twisters." I would expect to see a cabal of twisters on a dance floor, or pretzeled around each other at a party.

Once Dalin is a twister, what does he need with Montague?

Whose houses are they breaking into? The magicians'?

The story sounds interesting, but the answers to some of my questions seem more important than some of what's here. And as it's already long enough to fill a page, here's some stuff that can go:

"The Danthian Viper" is my first novel. I look forward to hearing from you.

Dalin can't believe he ever believed this man's lies. Finneas is amoral, obnoxious and domineering.

and by impersonating people Finneas is too old to pass for himself.

Also, both "He'd been scratching out a living on the streets," and "resorting to petty theft to keep starvation at bay," give us the same impression, so one of them can go.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Writing Exercise Results

The task was to write a scene in which Evil Editor, wearing a disguise, is conducting a writing workshop for his minions aboard a cruise ship in Alaska.


She hated the cold. It always felt life threatening, which is why Alaska had never been on her hit list of places to explore. She’d been hoping for something tropical. Even the desert would’ve done.

But no, he’d mentioned the salmon fishing. Well, hey, how about salmon fishing in the Yemen? At least it was hot there, and who cared about the salmon part anyway?

Never mind, never mind, he was here. The door opened. A cold chill walked in with him.

He was disguised, of course - he’d said he would be. It looked as though he’d combined two actor’s face masks for his disguise- he was Christopher Walken, but no, no, from a slightly different angle, it seemed he was Harrison Ford. One part of his face, however, was mask free, just as she’d hoped it would be, and that was the part surrounding his beautiful mouth. Yes. There it was, just as she’d imagined…a gorgeous goatee, trimmed close, maybe a little gray.

They’d gotten together, the female minions; figuring if they acted quickly and in concert, they’d shut out any chance Paca and Dave and the other guys would have.

Five female minions on this five day cruise. One writer's workshop per day, length undetermined. Perfect.

--Robin S.


"It's as if he ordered the northern lights specially for his entrance."

I looked up through the stateroom porthole. The sky was a ballroom of dancing curtains, just as the woman in the tight, leopardskin pencil skirt had described.

"I hope he can conjure whales, too," I responded.

There were six of us in the room. Two aesthetic dandies with ruffles and matching six inch cigarette holders stood at the bar in gentle conversation. I was seated opposite leopard woman, her over-large spectacles perched on a surgically reduced nose. Her mouth was tight, I noticed, her eyes examining. A more matronly woman sat alone at the central table, her brown handbag before her. An older looking gentleman in tweeds and a nicotine-stained moustache hunched his frame into a corner seat, as if plotting suburban subversion.

Six of us in the room. I returned Ms. Nip'n'tuck's gaze: "I thought there were only five students on this cruise. Does that mean Evil Editor is already here?"

"You're quick," she replied. "Let's hope you draft as well as you deduce!" She raised her voice: "Good morning class. Welcome to my Frozen Floating Writer's Workshop. Our first assignment shall be a 200 word opening on the theme of deception!"



He paused at the doorway, drinking in the scene.

Four women--thank God--and all in what he called business casual, blouses and skirts aching for the gentle ministrations of his educated hands. He could already hear their moans of pleasure as he whispered bits of wisdom to them.

"Weredingoes, love, you must have weredingoes..."

A young man pushed him aside. "Dude," snarled the newcomer, "move your fat ass, will you? I've got a meeting to get to and I'm not giving up my chances, for some old guy!"

Evil Editor smiled. Soon, he thought, I will feed you to the sharks. And only the ladies would know that beneath this soft exterior waited a body cut like a diamond.



Paper overflows; stacks cover the floor, fill the bookcases, dribble out of mail slots and rest crumpled in the cobweb-ridden corners. Two authors sit on chairs upholstered in paper; their feet resting on the papered floor. Heaven knows what lies beneath the paper but does not wish to reveal it -- a canonical secret of semi-huge proportions.

A glamorous redhead in a peak-a-boob silk blouse and spiked heels talks to a Chubby girl with long Auburn hair rolling off her shoulders and down to her ample torso. Behind the postage desk and archaic computer sits a secretary wearing beehive hair of salt and pepper, a most unladylike Adam's apple and set of muttonchops.

"You understand, only literary writing counts. All else is commercial drivel. That's what my Master's Advisor taught me," says the redhead.

"I'm offering a boat trip to Alaska." The secretary holds out a brochure.

"My writing coach simply hated commercial writing. She said they made her uterus dry heave."

"Pacific mists parting to reveal palisades of ice rising high above the water. Ice from the last ice age. Whales breaching the waves."

"So what do we write? Middle-grade stories that get laughs with snot and vomit."

"And during the day, EE will be giving writing lessons each morning and grading them during lunch."

"Food? My last meal was over-pepperonied pizza dinners with pizza-faced kids."

"At night, the green, red and golden of the Aurora Borealis fills the sky."

"Tapas and hot chili peppers. That's all my kids eat. I swear, they're the most regular kids on the planet."

"The trip of a lifetime."

"Miss, whatever-your-name-is, just let us know when your boss is free."

"Glacier surfing?"



"EE! EE! . . . what the?"

The Der Cruisin' mit EE crowd swallowed their cheers as a funny-nosed-and-mustachioed teenage girl entered. They didn't warm up to her instantly.

"What? You patriarchal, backwater types can't take a GYRL EE? I'm talking to you women out there too, if the spikes fit. Alright, I'll get into character. You, in the pretentious, leather-elbowed sweater, get up here.

"I'm not so sure," he said.

"Synopsis me."

"Okay . . . Even as--"

"Already I'm bored. Continue."

"Even as--"

"Been there; done that. Move on."

"Edam Martin--"

"Cheesy name."



"to the store--"


"he knew it would be--"

"...a crappy story"

Suddenly, a dozen animal control agents stormed the room. "Careful! Weredingoes can slice your throat while you blink!" Two agents were offed by the weredingo, but they managed to beat it to death with a chair.

When the room was safe, a dignified gentleman with a goatee entered the room. The crowd swooned. Then, EE entered the room, too. The crowd unswooned.

"Thanks for coming," said EE. "This weredingo's hounded me to death. I needed some, friends to support me while it was captured. I'm exhausted now. Post your writing samples to my website. I'll look at them when I can."

--Bill Highsmith


The conference room on the cruise ship had floor to ceiling windows along the south wall. Dave, Phoenix, Paca and Robin munched hors d’oeuvres and stared as a walrus on an ice floe drifted along. Evil Editor strolled in (wearing Groucho Marx glasses) and began the session, “OK, glad you were on time. Where is anonymous?”

“Still in the cage. Should I--?” asked Robin.

“Yeah, yeah, go get anon.” Evil continue his monologue to the minions, instructing them on class size and writing topics, but was soon interrupted by the loud profanities emitted by anonymous.

“Your f***kin’ e-mail said ‘Cruise With Me To Alaska'. I didn't pay to sit in a cage! What kind of animal do you think I am??

“Calm down, anon. I wanted the minions to get to know each other better and you know the cage is for your own good.”

Slowly, menacingly, Anonymous aprroached EE and began speaking in a low half-growl/half-whine at the bemused Editor. “I told you about the monthly weredingo business in strictest confidence – ”

At the word "weredingo", Taserguns flashed in the hands of both Dave and Phoenix. The anonymous weredingo crumbled into a puddle on the floor as Robin hurried to shove the inert form back into the cage.

“Damn!” said Pacatrue, “I thought we were getting the anonymous vampire, not the anonymous weredingo!!”



Five minions met to discuss why they were going along with the evil plan.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska.”

“Me-I gotta know what EE looks like. It’ll round out my fantasies.”

“Got nothing better to do.”

“I need a break, you know. Just want to escape from it all for a while.”

“I’m doing research for my book-Frigid Orgies.”

There was a bit more shaking hands and laughter and overall small talk. Then the only man among the group brought up the topic of money.

“I can’t afford this.”

“Think I can? Look at my shoes.”

“My husband will kill me.”

“I spent it all in Vegas.”

“Well, I can afford it. But I’m not going to be the only one to pay.”

The mood shifted. Silence bore down upon the group of Alaska-bound minions. The minion with nothing better to do took off her blouse.

“I’ll distract him.”

“I’ll french him.”

“I’ll fondle his manhood.”

“I’ll talk about clip art.”

“I’ll pick his pocket.”

General applause, agreement, and laughter erupted. EE opened the door and walked in. The minions went into action.

EE enjoyed the attention.

By the time EE opened his credit card bill, the minions would be making plans for Hawaii.

--Church Lady


My God, I needed five minions; there must be five hundred in here. Great. Now I'll be spending so much time reading manuscripts and exercises, I won't have time for whale harpooning, polar bear hunting, seal clubbing . . . Hell, I won't even have time for my shore excursion to rendezvous with Ikniqpalagaq, my Inuit lover. Oh well, at least I won't have to eat her damn salmon croquettes. Wait a minute, nobody here knows what I look like . . . Hmm.

"Could I have your attention folks? Evil Editor has been delayed, but he asked me to give you your first assignment. You're to write a 30,000-word novella set in Nome, without using the word 'snow.' Meet back here with your final drafts in six days, and EE will look them over."

Now, if I can just find that steward who said he was at my service . . . I wonder what the going rate is for impersonating an editor?


Friday, September 21, 2007

New Beginning 367

My sister charged into the bedchamber, her candle flickering and nearly extinguishing from her haste. She smiled at me and I jumped up from my sewing – not that I’d done a stitch of course.

“Did you see him?” I asked.

“I don’t think they saw me,” she said, still catching her breath.

She enjoyed keeping me in suspense, but I was impatient.

“Just tell me! Did you see him?”

“Oh yes, and you will be pleased. He is young and very handsome.”

That was a relief to me. I’d imagined all kinds of ogres. Now that only left Anna to secure a good match. Although for her, they lined up around the earldom.

She set down her candle. “I even heard his name.”

“I know he is Sir Richard of Roxbury.”

“Sir Richard Mortimer. Of Roxbury.”

My heart felt like it dropped down to my feet, and I must have looked ill because Anna turned ashen, led me to the bed, and looked ready to call in the physician at any moment.

“Oh no,” I said. It was all I could get out. In that instant, I knew my life was going to be a nightmare. But perhaps, a delicious one.

My heart fluttered like a trapped bird as I rested my head upon my pillow. Sir Richard Mortimer of Roxbury. Oh, what sweet trepidation. When first I learned of the intended match, I had feared the worst: Sir Richard Featherstone of Roxbury, that balding, impotent cad; or Sir Richard Givvens of Roxbury, a lisping, effeminate fop of no earthly use to a woman in her prime. But Sir Richard Mortimer -- young, handsome and virile . . . I would soon be getting the best Dick in Roxbury.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Anonymous

Synopsis 4

The throne is empty, and the kingdom of Norida has been ruled by KOBRI for the last twelve years. RICA, a young commoner, is practicing sword work [Is that what they called it in days of yore?] when SANO, a heavenly being, indicates that the MOST HIGH has chosen her as the next ruler. [Indicates? Like with sign language? Pantomime?]

[Abbot and Costelllo's classic Most High routine:

Sano: Yo, Rica. You've been chosen ruler of Norida.

Rica: Chosen by who?

Sano: The Most High.

Rica: He'd have to be the most high to choose me. What's his name?]

Sano: The Most High.

Rica: Yes.

Sano: That's his name.

Rica: Who?

Sano: The Most High.

Rica: And his name is what?

Sano: No. It's the Most High.

Rica: The Most High what?

Sano: That's his name. And I'm going to recommend that he make another choice.]

[Why has the Most High waited 12 years to choose a new ruler?]

[Do all the gods have such descriptive names? Is there a Most Boring, Least Tall, Second-Most High, etc.? It would be better to give them numbers, like on The Prisoner.]

Kobri tells Rica that Lord KANTO may be abusing his power. [What is Kanto's power?] Rica commands him to investigate these rumors, but Kobri twists her words to prevent the investigation. When Rica attempts to investigate the rumors herself, two men try to kill her. Kobri urges Rica to arrest Lord Kanto for the attack, but she refuses.

The evidence actually suggests that her high officials and members of her army were behind the attack, and Rica worries that they might try again. [One gets the impression that when the Most High chooses a ruler, Most People couldn't care less. Doesn't the Most High have the power to kill those who refuse to accept the chosen ruler?] She escapes the palace in disguise and hires on as a cargo caravan guard in hopes of finding out what is really going on in her kingdom. During her travels, Rica hears rumors that Lord DARRIS, Kobri’s nephew, regularly breaks the law.

Rica leaves the caravan to investigate these rumors. She immediately discovers that Kobri illegally ordered Lord Kanto arrested for the assassination attempt, but that Kanto’s men rescued him. Then Darris’ soldiers attempt to arrest a nearby stranger, and Rica helps the stranger’s bodyguards get him to safety. The stranger explains that his son killed the previous king on Darris’ and Kobri’s orders. Kanto’s men are escorting him to the Queen to testify in the hope that she will arrest them. [I need a scorecard to keep up with this. Anyone who was still with you up to that paragraph has just abandoned you. Except EE, of course. Onward, through the fog.]

Since Rica no longer controls the royal army, she marches back to Darris’ palace determined take him down by herself. [Her and what army?] Some of Kanto's men follow Rica. [Ah. Kanto's army.] They think she may be a spy for Darris returning to report on them. When Rica instead rescues a woman from Darris' unwanted attentions, they decide to help her. The leader of an underground rebel movement against Darris also helps her escape. [Seriously. Consider attaching a scorecard to this synopsis when submitting it.]

Kanto and his forces join with Rica and the rebels to attack Darris' palace. But just hours after Darris is captured, the royal army appears outside the palace demanding that the rebels surrender. Rica goes out to confront them and shows proof that she is the queen. [The document of authenticity Sano gave her, signed by the High Guy.] The army is shocked to find her there--they thought they had been acting under her orders. Rica orders the army back to the capital to arrest Kobri and later sentences Kobri and Darris to death.

Revised Version

A heavenly messenger appears in the kingdom of Norida and declares that Rica, a young commoner, has been chosen as the next ruler. The kingdom has been ruled by Kobri for the last twelve years, ever since the previous king was assassinated.

Rica has heard rumors of widespread corruption among the leadership, and when she sets out to investigate, two men attempt to kill her. Kobri accuses his rival, Lord Kanto, of the assassination attempt, but evidence suggests that Rica's high officials and soldiers were responsible. Worried that they'll try again, she slips out of the palace in the night.

Disguised as a caravan guard, Rica travels about the kingdom seeking the truth. She discovers that Kobri has illegally arrested Lord Kanto for the assassination attempt. She also learns that Kobri and his nephew Darris were behind the assassination of the previous king.

As Rica marches to Darris’s palace, determined to take him down, she is joined by Lord Kanto's men and by members of an underground rebel movement. Darris is easily overpowered and captured . . . but the royal army appears outside the palace demanding that the rebels surrender. Rica confronts them; the soldiers are shocked to find they've been sent by Kobri to strike against their queen. Rica orders them back to the capital to arrest Kobri, and when she later sentences Kobri and Darris to death, Norida can close the books on a troubled period in her history.

If anything, this seemed more confusing than it did in Face-Lift 329.
Too many names, too many subplots.

I still don't get the point of the Most High appointing the ruler if the choice isn't respected. Surely the villains can't get the entire army to follow them instead of the chosen one.

If someone tells you they want a longer synopsis, tell them that's your plot and you're sticking to it.

Writing Exercise

Evil Editor is offered a free Alaska cruise if he can convince five of his minions to pay their way along, and if he will provide a daily writers' workshop. Write the scene as EE enters the room for the first session--wearing a disguise, of course, though not necessarily the one to the right.

200 words, deadline 2 P.M. Eastern, Saturday. Submit as a comment; include a name if you want credit.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Synopsis Procedure

The four synopses that arrived during Monday's window of opportunity will be done this week. Any that arrived since then, or that arrive in the future, will be added to the query queue. Items in the query queue are taken in the order received, unless the item at the top doesn't yet have five suitable fake plots. If you submit a synopsis for a book whose query we haven't seen, and you include the title, we'll play Guess the Plot with it. The synopsis word limit remains 400.

New Beginning 366

He howled, paused, then howled again.

“Shut up, ya daft idiot.” She hissed at him. “Do you want to wake the whole neighborhood?”

He whimpered in reply and settled in beside her, tongue hanging out as he panted. She watched him a moment longer, then got back to work on the huge padlock hanging from the gate.

“It’s got to be one of these,” she muttered. “I paid enough for ‘em.” She twisted the ring and tried another key, but this one wouldn’t even go in the hole. She lifted the keys to a patch of moonlight. “Blast! Now I can’t remember which ones I’ve already tried.” Heaving a sigh, she rummaged in her coat pocket. “Aha!” She tied the small piece of string to the ring. “Starting point.” She pointed to the bit of string and looked for comprehension in his eyes. “Right. Like asking a babe to recite the dictionary. By heart, no less.”

"Alright, that does it."

She jumped at the voice and wheeled around.

"Down here, pinhead."

Her eyes dropped to the animal at her side. He was standing on his hind legs. "I've had it," he said. I'll follow you around, because it's what dogs do, but I will not take verbal abuse from a woman who carries string in her pocket like a bloody mental patient? Got it?"

She blinked.

He woofed out a rawhide-scented sigh and dropped down on all fours. It was against the prime directive, talking to humans, but her mind was loose-woven cheesecloth. She'd forget it by morning.

Opening: Sarah.....Continuation: Lynn

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Synopsis 3

Just about everybody has secrets they carry around with them and things that are wrong that nobody else can know. [Most of these people would be surprised at how much better they'd feel if they revealed these secrets. In fact, here are mine:

1. I bite my nails in public--not that unusual, except I'm talking about my toenails.
2. I can't get to sleep at night unless I lie on my stomach with a hunk of raw calves liver in the small of my back.
3. I'm one of the world's greatest pianists, yet I've never touched a piano. I learned entirely from books.
4. I'm not actually an editor. I work for a rich guy as his house jester.
5. I have necronumismaphobia, the fear that while I'm sleeping someone will think I'm dead and put coins on my eyes.

Ah, I feel better already.] In the South, in 1965, Renae Hayes is a ten-year-old girl. And she knows enough to keep her secrets. She also knows all about navigating through the trouble in her tract house, and in her lower middle class neighborhood.

Her biggest secret is her abusive family - a violent father, Raymond;
a mother too weak to protect her children [so weak, so inconsequential, she has no name.] Raymond is bitter, unhappy.

Raymond says Renae has his ‘mean genes’. This gives them an unbreakable bond, he says.

But what Renae wants more than anything is to leave.

One fall night in the early 1970s, at a party, drunk, Renae is raped on the floor. [I just remembered why I don't have many parties. It's always so awkward for the host when the raping starts.] People watch. She doesn’t remember when she wakes up, head throbbing. The memory strikes her, hard, later that day as she leans over, legs aching, to kiss her cousin’s hand after his ordination ceremony. [You should have her throw up on his hand. Comic relief.] [Is it the fact that it was her cousin who raped her that awakens the memory? Because that would be an interesting twist.] She feels hollow. Filthy.

The next spring, Renae comes home one day to find Raymond raging, beating her brother while her mother watches, crying. No more. Enough. Renae pushes past her mother, stops her father [with a baseball bat, I hope]. Raymond is embarrassed; furious.

Renae moves out; Raymond, smirking, holds the front door for her. “You’ll be back. You can’t make it alone.” She shrugs him off, but his words stay with her. Underneath all the wanting not to stay is a fear of leaving. It’s a powerful pull.

Renae spends the next several years moving in and out of relationships. She moves away in the company of men; she always comes back. [Not clear that you mean she always comes back to Raymond.]

Tentatively, Renae takes a chance and finds another way to live, initially using and finally loving a quiet man named Geoff. Raymond forces her to choose between them. [Hmm. '07 Mercedes or '75 Pinto. I need more time to decide.] Renae chooses Geoff. Geoff assumes they’ve started a life together. Renae has another secret; she knows she’s only hiding out, waiting to go back.

Months later, Raymond has a heart attack. Geoff walks into the ICU to stand with Renae’s brother by their father’s side as breathing tubes are removed. Raymond lies dying. Renae sees for the first time, clearly, what it means to be truly weak and truly strong.

Renae stays away, in the waiting room, watching her mother chattering to herself, willing herself to remain oblivious. [Is it the mother or Renae who's willing herself to remain oblivious?] She touches her mother’s hand, then, and walks inside the room to say good [riddance] bye to her father.

Revised Version

Renae Hayes knows how to keep a secret. Her biggest secret is her abusive and violent father, Raymond, and a mother too weak to protect her children. What Renae wants more than anything is to leave. But she's only ten.

Fast-forward seven years to 1972. At her best friend's birthday party, drunk, Renae is raped on the living room floor. People watch. She doesn’t remember, when she wakes up, but later, when the memory strikes, she feels hollow. Filthy.

One day Renae comes home to find Raymond raging, beating her brother while her mother watches, crying. No more. Enough. She pushes past her mother, stops her father. He's furious.

When Renae declares she's moving out, Raymond holds the front door for her. “You’ll be back,” he tells her. She shrugs him off, but his words stay with her. Beneath her thirst for deliverance lies a fear of isolation. It’s a powerful pull, and it brings her back to Raymond every time another man lets her down.

Tentatively, Renae takes a chance on a quiet man named Geoff, and falls in love. There is joy in her life for the first time, and when Raymond forces her to choose between him and Geoff, it's an easy decision. Geoff assumes they’ve started a life together, but Renae soon begins to fear that she’s only hiding out, waiting to go back.

Months later, Raymond has a heart attack. As he lies dying in the ICU, Geoff stands with Renae’s brother as Raymond's breathing tubes are removed. In the waiting room, watching her mother chattering and willing herself to remain oblivious, Renae realizes, at last, what it means to be truly weak . . . and truly strong. She touches her mother’s hand, then, and goes to say goodbye to her father.

I suppose it's possible the tone, which is cold and dry, is intentional, reflecting the emotional vacuum of the Hayes household. But it comes across as choppy and lifeless, more like an outline than a summary. I've tried to maintain the tone while reducing the choppiness, but Dragnet's "Just the facts, ma'am" tone is always going to feel somewhat dry.

The connection between the rape and the home life could be made more clear. Renae justifiably blames the rape for her inability to connect with men. Emphasis on the number of, and reasons for, her failed relationships might help. Clearly the rape is crucial, yet you could eliminate it from the synopsis and still have a story. Connect it better.

Note that I added some specificity to sentence 2, paragraph 2. If you can do that in a few other places, I think it'll feel more engaging.

Clearly this is a novel in which character development is more important than plot. But you haven't told us much of what happens, so if there's some other event of any significance, it wouldn't hurt to work it in.

Face-Lift 423

Guess the Plot

Swimming to the Summit

1. A team of expert climbers, racing to the summit of Mount Everest to rescue a fellow mountaineer, discover that global warming is definitely no hoax.

2. For the teenagers at Orion Space Station, swimming to the summit at Ryevee is a rite of passage. But Jarrod Carruthers is convinced that those who participate come back different . . . alien even. Only trouble is, his daughter won't believe him, and she's ready to swim.

3. Denny considers his depression "drowning," and the day he tried to kill himself "the summit." Now he's swimming toward . . . Never mind. It's kind of nuts, but hey, it makes sense to Denny. Also, a princess and the Ghost of Christmas Past.

4. Survivorman Les Stroud recounts his seven day adventure to reach the summit of the Briny Deep Mountain. Hilarity ensues when he discovers that his camp at the base of the mountain is five thousand feet under the Pacific Ocean, forcing him to jerry-rig scuba gear using bubble gum, shoe laces and a screwdriver.

5. Seth is fed up with his diminutive Master Gurgl. First the "Do or do not, no try," line; and now "Swim to the summit." He's dead sick of cryptic aphorisms and wants to go slay evil.

6. Arch-villain Thor Braun, whose boyhood dream of climbing Mount Everest was crushed when an industrial accident left him with paralyzing vertigo, has hatched the ultimate plan: drop Everest into the ocean to cause flooding that will annihilate all life as we know it, and then fulfill his dream--without having to get way up high.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Denny Holmes could have been at the top of the Class of 2006. Instead, he dropped out in May to work at a gas station with his cousin Joe. Now he’s [making six times what he would have with a degree in English.] back for a fifth year and, as he writes in his journal, “it’s like touring your life with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Nobody sees you.” [Assuming we're in the northern hemisphere, if you've made it to May of your senior year and you had any chance of being at the top of your class, even flunking your final exams is unlikely to keep you from graduating. And if it does, they wouldn't make you take the entire senior year over. They'd arrange for you to pick up where you left off. Their goal is to get rid of you, ASAP.]

Denny's mind is set on surviving a second senior year, this time without the drinking, the bad attitude, [This kid could have been at the top of his class? Hey, I coulda been another Einstein if I'd been willing to ignore the fact that calculus has no real-world application, and if I'd laid off the drugs.] or the months when he couldn’t go home. In November, a flashback to the night his parents sent him to live with Joe’s family [You'll miss us, Den, but at least you'll always have plenty of gas for your car.] sparks a panic attack and Denny lashes out at himself, cutting his arm. Some friends treat it like a joke; Denny's parents and Joe assume it’s a suicide attempt. The only person who asks is Liz, [I hope it wasn't a cry for attention. When you slice open your arm and bleed all over the house as a cry for attention, and only one person bothers to ask why there's a huge gash in your arm, you'd better get on Prozac fast.] a “princess” from the rich side of town whose friendship surprises Denny, gradually evolving into love. But even with Liz by his side, Denny can’t escape the fear that he’ll find himself back in the depression he refers to as “the drowning.” Nor can he bring himself to walk away from his lifelong friends who miss the “old Denny”--the guy who was up for anything and never turned down a dare.

When Denny’s Northern Irish father must visit Belfast for the first time since escaping the violent city of his youth, his courage and honesty inspire Denny to piece together his muddled memories of “the drowning.” Instead of trying to forget the past, he begins to accept and make amends for one day up on the Summit that nearly cut short much more than Denny’s senior year.

“Swimming to the Summit” is Denny’s journal of the events that lead him to understand that in order to be trusted again he needs to be able to trust himself, and the only way to do that is to rely on the friends and family who love him. [Is it in journal form, or a novel adapted from a journal?] The 100,000 word mainstream fiction manuscript is complete and available upon request.

Thank you for your time,


So "The Summit" is the highest point his depression reached, the point at which he almost killed himself? Usually we refer to this as the lowest point. It seems like if depression is analogous to drowning, trying to break free of depression would be swimming toward the surface. But if the surface (or "summit," if you prefer, though I'd go with "surface") is when the depression was at its worst, I'm not sure I'd want to go back there. Trying to understand what was going on at your lowest point is one thing; trying to get back there is another. The easiest fix (assuming I'm making any sense) is to call the book Swiming to the Summit or Surface, but to call the place he was at when he tried to kill himself something else, like "rock bottom."

The connection between Dad going to Belfast and Denny pulling his life together is a bit tenuous. If Dad can stand to go back to the city where he grew up, I can stand to face a really bad day I had. Probably it's stronger in the book.