Monday, March 31, 2008

Book Chat 1

Book Chat 1: Sean Stewart/ Perfect Circle

March, 2008

William "Dead" Kennedy has problems. He's haunted by family, by dead people with unfinished business, and by those perfect pop songs that you can't get out of your head. He's a 32-year-old Texan still in love with his ex-wife. He just lost his job at Pet-Co for eating cat food. His air-conditioning is broken, there's no good music on the radio, and he's been dreaming about ghost roads.

Sean Stewart won the World Fantasy Award for his novel Galveston. He has garnered many other award nominations. Perfect Circle was a Nebula and World Fantasy Award finalist, A Book Sense Notable Book, and made Best of the Year lists with: Booklist, Locus and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Stewart's bio and more about Perfect Circle may be found at his web site: .

An edited (for clarity) version of the chat transcript:

Sean said...All right. I'm here. --Sean

Evil Editor said...Welcome, and thank you.

Sean said...I thought maybe I could try to provide a bit of a framework first... I am a little hesitant to put forth a lot of Official Authorial Opinions about any of my books. Mark Twain’s comment that explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog—it can be done, but the frog tends to die in the process—applies to novels as well, and makes me want to tread very lightly through these kinds of questions. (Also, there’s Samuel Delaney’s memorable, “For an opinion about a book that *really* misses the point, ask the author.”) I can tell you that a ghost is a tricky antagonist; a climactic scene where a human “fights” a ghost by casting counter-curses or whatever strikes me as missing some essential element of being haunted. It treats ghosts as if they were dragons or Mafia hitmen or something. One of the central insights of the book—one it hit me over the head with right after I had decided to chuck the whole project as a dumb idea—is that a ghost never “does something to you.” It makes you do something to yourself.

When you start there, at the proposition that Will himself is the only real weapon the ghost has, I hope the book begins to make sense. In a very blunt synopsis:1) Will is very very very very angry and hurt

2) Will is very very very scared of feeling that anger and hurt

3) Paralysis feels like a really good option

4) Feeling returns to Will—often externalized or projected onto “ghosts” like AJ and Hanlon--and those feelings are every bit as dangerous and hurtful as he had feared

5) In the end, Will is back in the world of feeling; he is no longer a ghost himself, a memory, a haunting. Time starts. Life goes on.

Except, you know, denial doesn’t last forever. (Or makes for a boring book, anyway…)

Robin S. said...The baptismal scene at the end of the book – Will wonders (to his dead uncle) if being a nonbeliever will render moot his river baptism. But he is reborn, and he can feel it, sense it, see the colors change and brighten with a new kind of sight – one that isn’t murky and dark. Will’s redemption/rebirth leads the reader to believe that he will have an easier time of it from this time forward, even though he’ll still see the dead (a good thing, given his new and potentially successful career path). When you wrote the book, what did you feel would be the cause of his redemption? Did you already have the confluence of events/wakeup calls that changed him in mind, or did they grow organically as you wrote the novel?

Sean said...A book that’s any good is an act of exploration; the book is always smarter than you are, and a lot of writing is writing down your dumb ideas quickly and then listening carefully as the book tries to tell you more clearly what you screwed up and what actually it wants to be. (You can think of Michaelangelo’s “shape inside the marble” saying, “That’s my ELBOW, moron! Watch it with the chisel already…”)

Robin S. said...Hi Sean- Great answer to my question- thanks-I was surprised to see Hanlon manipulating Will to kill Josie - but it made sense - for the reasons you just mentioned.

Dave F. said...I thought the baptism was more of a reward for DK's coming to terms with his dead girlfriend.

Robin S. said...The narrative style you chose for this novel- scenes and flashbacks, rather than a straight “historical” narrative – I thought as I read that you might have chosen this style to fit the way Will’s mind worked, with his ghost road encounters and his scattershot approach to life. Is that right?

Sean said...On narrative flashback technique:Well, sure, I’ll take any credit I can get. Seriously, the key point of being haunted is that there is something in your past you can’t let go. That paralysis, that way of seeing the world through the lens of unfinished business, is as much part of Will as seeing ghosts. You could say, in fact, that the two things are the same….

Robin S. said...So the ideas did grow organically, then? You had a general idea, and then the rest followed on?

Dave F. said...His Grandfather keeps saying you've left a pert of yourself behind and he has. He's given up his wife, he's given up his child, and he just seems to say, I'm going to live alone, unwanted and miserable by my own choosing. He uses his seeing of the dead as an excuse not to live, not to drive, not to marry, not to have a job, not to see the dead. You can't give up that much of yourself.

Jenna Black said...I hope it's considered on topic for me to say: hey Sean, your books rock! I've been a huge fan for many years now. I was really glad EE was around to point me toward PERFECT CIRCLE!

Evil Editor said...So, Jenna, which Sean Stewart book should those who've read only this one read next?

Jenna Black said...Wow, tough question! I'd probably have to say RESURRECTION MAN. (But I also really love PASSION PLAY and NOBODY'S SON.)

Sean said...First of all, Jenna, flattery is never off topic, at least with any entertainer I know. :)Generally speaking, I think PERFECT CIRCLE generally aligns with MOCKINGBIRD and RESURRECTION MAN. But Jenna is kind enough to read the straight up SF/F stuff as well.

Evil Editor said...Passion Play is a mystery...sort of?

BuffySquirrel said...Passion Play is a mystery. EE, you rock. Sean, are you a fan of REM or is it just DK? Just askin'.

Evil Editor said...If REM produced DK's favorite album ever, I would expect him to listen to a lot of U2, Springsteen...REM. DK's taste in other music seems less mainstream.

Wes said...Sean, your depiction of redneck culture was marvelous. Spot on, fresh, colorful, insightful, etc.

Wes said...Your portrayal of dialect with idiom and word choice rather than phonetics was excellent. It caused me to rewrite some of my stuff.

Evil Editor said...While we wait, topic for discussion: Fish hooks: clever fighting ploy or profound symbol?

BuffySquirrel said...They can't be both, EE?I suppose they might symbolise the fact that threats in the book are hidden from others--only DK can see the ghosts.

Jenna Black said...A fishing lure plays a major role in RESURRECTION MAN as well. I was wondering if there's some deep meaning behind the fishing implements, or if it's just a coincidence. They seem to have a somewhat sinister role in both books.

Sean said...Sorry, Blogger punted me there for a sec.Dave, I think your read on the book is very sharp.Sqrl, you caught me. I am probably a bigger fan of REM than Will is; he listens to a lot of hardcore stuff. One of us has a bunch of Gun Club albums, and it isn't me...Vis a vis redneck culture...This is my family, for better or worse. Most of the characters in the book are probably uncomfortably true to life.

Xenith said...Now that's what I was going to ask. It did have an insider's flavour to it.

Dave F. said...As someone who grew up from Elvis and standard 50's bar music (my musician wannabe days), I have to ask the SCI FI question...I grew up on Isaac Asimov, AC Clark, Bester and Heinlein, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits,- - Why is this Sci Fi? To my mind it's a ghost story and those were not Sci Fi that many years ago. Yet suddenly, ghost stories are Sci Fi.

Sean said...Heck if I know. But then, I don't think that term was ever a useful one, except for marketers. Certainly "The Handmaid's Tale" (never marketed as such) qualifies far more than "Perfect Circle"The real answer is an exercise in field biology more than in tasonomy: my first book was an SF novel from an SF publisher, therefore I am an SF writer......for all the same reasons and to about the same degree as, say, Karen Joy Fowler (author of that noted SF classic, The Jane Austen Book Club)genre fiction and non-genre fiction have been steadily folding back together, really ever since 100 Years of solitude, but unmistakably in the last decade. Genre SF is also all but dead as a commercial sector of publishing; expect to see anything that might get a lot of readers reclassified as YA, Contemporary, Slipstream, or just Another Cool Michael Chabon Book

Evil Editor said...Somehow Vonnegut wrote SF without being classified as such. What was his first book?

Xenith said...Because Vonnegut was first published before the whole "marketing divisions genre is everything" thing took off?

Sean said...Player Piano, in Vonnegut's case. The funny thing is, a lot of his early books include references to Kilgore Trout (who is PK Dick, who used to be an SF writer, and then became a Post Modern Master of Pop Culture, and is now a Hollywood Engine.)A comparable case is DF Wallace, whose Infinite Jest is steeped in SF six ways to sunday, but started at Atlantic Grove. Go figure.(Actually, SF superstar Neal Stephenson started at Atlantic, too, but only hit commercial success with his Very SF book Snow Crash from ...Bantam, I think. Meanwhile, he was writing pseudonymous technothrillers like Interface (which I like a lot) that were very similar but courted the Tom Clancy market instead.Authors are, I think, consistently bemused by the ways in which the industry tries to pigeonhole what we do.That isn't to say they are wrong: with 6 zillion books to choose from, there have to be some shorthands employed in the hope that people can find what they will like.As it happens, the tags have never applied very well to me.

BuffySquirrel said...Yeah, but Dick's mainstream novels--which the agent for his estate is finally getting published--are shelved under SFF, at least here in the UK.

Dave F. said...I got this off Wikipedia: Vonnegut's first short story, "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" appeared in the February 11, 1950 edition of Collier's. His first novel was the dystopian novel Player Piano (1952), in which human workers have been largely replaced by machines. He continued to write short stories before his second novel, The Sirens of Titan, was published in 1959.[22] Through the 1960s, the form of his work changed, from the relatively orthodox structure of Cat's Cradle (which in 1971 earned him a master's degree) to the acclaimed, semiautobiographical Slaughterhouse-Five, given a more experimental structure by using time travel as a plot device.

Robin S. said...Are you thinking of doing a follow-on novel with Will?

Evil Editor said...Am I the only one who would want to read a book starring DK as a successful businessman?

Wes said...Actually, DK would be a great negotiator as a business person because he can see the ghosts haunting his adversaries.

Robin S. said...I agree, xenith. Same with some of Margaret Atwood's stuff, as mentioned earlier.Good writing is good writing. too bad'good writing' isn't simply its own genre. That would solve a lot of problems.

Robin S. said...I liked the style of the book. it seemed that I was reading in Will's 'style' of thinking.

BuffySquirrel said...I'd like to discuss the concept of "loving a woman enough to kill her", which I find very creepy, but does seem to be at the heart of the book. How can that be viewed as the ultimate expression of love?

Sean said...First of all, you have to take any idea that comes out of Hanlon’s mouth with a hefty dose of salt. In Will’s case, the risk of feeling at all is the risk of feeling some very dark things. Hanlon’s words, like those of the witches in MacBeth, are whispers aimed not at the conscious man, but at the dark places he carries inside himself. Personally, I don’t buy that “loving a woman enough to kill her” stuff for a second: but art always acknowledges that passion can be a dark magic, terribly dangerous to everyone involved. (cf. Medea, Othello, Wuthering Heights, Nine Inch Nails, etc…)

Wes said...Re: loving a woman enough to kill her-----There is a tradition in English folk music and American mountain music of men killing the women they love. Don't blame me, I didn't write it. Someone help me, what is the old traditional song Johnny Cash redid----Deep in the Dungeon????Sean, is this a reflection of redneck culture, or a coincidenc

BuffySquirrel said...I suppose in a way DK decides that he loves a woman enough not to kill her, lol

Sean said...Wes made a very interesting comment about folk music, to which the answer would be, "I dunno." I can say that I wrote large portions of this book with a song on autorepeat playing ICREDIBLY LOUDLY on autorepeat. The three songs wereWerewolves in LondonWho are You...and a dobro/steel guitar/mandolin version of Hey Joe that is about as incendiary a cover as you will ever hear: this chattering, chiming machine gun with this country voice howling, "Gonna shoot my old lady, caught her messin' around with another man."The management does not endorse this view. (Happily married for 21 years, 2 kids, swear to god.)

BuffySquirrel said...Werewolves of London? Wooh!

ril said...Sean,I find if I take the view there aren't any such things as ghosts, and they're all in Will's mind, the book still works for me, though it makes Will a somewhat different character. There's no real confirmation even that the ghost Hanlon hears and the ghost Will sees in Hanlon's house are the same. Was it your intent for this to be ambiguous, or would you say "yeah, Will sees the ghosts and the ghosts roads; they're there"?

Sean know this is probably a frustrating answer, but I actually don't care if there "are real ghosts" It's like the question "do you believe in god" -- it's asking the wrong question in the wrong way.Will has a certain experience, finis.Put another way, there is a set-piece in fantastic writing in which the character puts their head between their knees and says, OMG, Am I GOING CRAZY? It's always a dull interlude in a book because of course they aren't, or the story wouldn't be happening. So I have always been allergic to that real/not real dichotomy. Characters have the experiences they have: and with luck, those experiences are not just the ticking of the plot clock, but things that have real emotional meaning to them as people.

ril said...Sean,Thanks - not frustrating at all. I felt there was ambiguity in much of the book, in the plot, in the characters and their experiences, and I like ambiguity -- that's reality.

Jenna Black said...I'm glad to hear there's someone else who doesn't like those "am I going crazy?" scenes! I've always avoided them like the plague. (Except when my editor insisted I put one in. Gak!)

BuffySquirrel said...I like the scenes where someone convinces the protagonist that they're crazy--or tries to--for Some Nefarious Purpose.

Evil Editor said...Many of your books were published by small presses, even after you'd won major awards. Is this your choice?

Robin S. said...Oh - I'm very interested in your answer to EE's last question re: small publishers.

Sean said...whoa, a run of great questions:first, small presses:Long tiresome story with this book. Short version, it was time to try a new publisher, so I left Ace, which had done the first 7 books, on an offer from a powerful editor at a big house for Perfect Circle. I wrote the book and turned it in: at which point said editor left for another job. At my old publisher. So now a junior editor was suddenly trying to figure out what to do with this book she hadn’t asked for. She said they might still be willing to publish the book, as long as I took out all the humor and the stuff about family.…At that point, I kinda decided that the money on the table wasn’t enough to justify wrecking the book I had wanted to write. I had a long-standing offer from Kelly & Gavin at Small Beer, so I called them up and asked if they would like to do the book. They did, and subsequently reissued another one of my books, Mockingbird.

Dave F. said...I really enjoyed the TON of exposition about Hanlon as he burned to death and DK tried to leave the house before he passed out. That's a great way to shove all that backstory inside and yet not bore the reader. And still, the ghost is tied to the past and a ghost ties the one they haunt to the past.

Xenith said...I was interested in the way you use specific details to paint the pictures e.g. "My father isn't wild about spending forty-eight hours sharing two campground porta-potties with upwards of a hundred Smithers, depending on how many are out on patrol", rather than "My father isn't keen about spending all weekend at a (insert adjective) family reunion".Is something you learnt or do naturally?

Sean said...using specific details rather than generic stuff:Many writers believe that the particular is always more compelling than the generic; it's sharper and more to the point. It's also (as in the example you quote) funnier, and the book kind of needed to be funny (cuz otherwise it's kind of a depressing journey)And I absolutely had to force myself to learn to do this. A great deal ofthe discipline of revision is replacing the generic with the specific, at least for me.

Wes said...Why is AJ's speech not in quotation marks?

Sean said...No quote marks for AJIt's almost as if it was DK's thoughts, rather than a second character speaking, isn't it?(and here I would put a smile or something only Blogger has been severe with me when I tried stuff like that...)

Wes said...Clever use of no quotes.......

Dave F. said...And you must answer the Brian Lamb question: Where and how do you write? meaning do you have a special place? or time? or pen and ink? computer? The physicality of it.

Xenith said...So who gets to ask "where do you get your ideas?" ;)

Robin S. said...Hi Sean,I think I read on your website that you have input re: the covers, right? I'd love that kind of interaction and input. (At this point, I'd love ANYthing coming my way, but still...)ANDWhat about the fish hooks?

Sean input on coversI have never had, or tried to exercise, iron control on covers. For one thing, I am extremely color blind, so not the guy you want making those calls.That said, most of my editors have been willing to talk about covers, and, you know, worried about it if they proposed something I absolutely hated.It also depends on what you are publishing, perhaps. If you are writing epic fantasy for DAW, they pretty much think they know how to sell that stuff, so they might not be so interested in your opinion.Book designers feel like they went to school to learn graphic design, and they don't tell you how to punctuate, so why don't you let them do their job and try to make a cover that sells the product. Authors don't help themselves much when they complain at length about, "It says on p. 153 that here hair is AUBURN, not BROWN" -- as that is missing the point of what a book cover is for.(Tying together the last two comments, you know the old joke: the purpose of a great fishing lure is to catch fisherman. Fish don't put money in anybody's hand...)

Evil Editor said...I was highly annoyed when DK's ex warned Don about the fish hooks.

BuffySquirrel said...Yes, EE, me too! It's not like DK had a lot of chance to win otherwise!

ril said...Josie had a tough choice. Be sympathetic to Will and keep quiet or be loyal to her husband and warn Don. I kind of wanted Don to lose, but I pretty much understand why Josie couldn't let Will win in that way.

Sean said...I can chat for a little longer, but I can also shut up and go away if our host needs to split.Re: warning Don. I'm glad if people can see that Don isn't a wholly bad guy...even if, in our heart of hearts, we want Will to kick the crap out of him.Josie *is* in a hard spot; in fact, there has just never been anything easy about being with DK.

Sean said...Fish-hooks(forgive me if I miss stuff and thanks for reposting the Q)I had a friend who spent a year in Edinburgh and gang there do that trick, with the fishooks under the lapels. Stuck with me; vivid detail, isn't it?And then again, a fishhook is a small sharp wicked thing you can't get away from, however much you thrash.And of course, the only time I ever went fishing was in Texas, so there's that, too.

ril said...When I was growing up in England, it was the peak of the "football hooliganism" era. I knew at least one person who (claimed he) did the lapel trick, but with razor blades, not fish hooks. Nasty.

Evil Editor said...I believe there are ghosts.

BuffySquirrel said...EE is haunted by the ghosts of manuscripts past.

Robin S. said...Sean,I also believe there are ghosts. Probably because I want to believe.That, and you made them believablewith Will's trip down the ghost road with the little girl, when he was young. That was one of my favorite parts. I loved it.

Dave F. said...I get the impression from a whole bunch of bloggin that between editors and agents, you need one to have faith in the book you wrote and not the book they want. (that might win me friends out there)

Dave F. said...Well, AJ is his own personal ghost. There is no guarantee that anyone else experiences her. Whenever I read a newspaper story about someone who saw Jesus in a piece of toast, or a stain on wood, or a tree stump - I never doubt. That can be their personal revelation. As existentialist as I am, I still believe that all that spooky, religious stuff is personal and YOUR revelation is YOURS, and not mine.

Robin S. said...So you've got a little art imitating life going on there, huh?Good!
Funny how some of refer to Will Kennedy as DK and some as Will.I'm wondering if that means anything.AND...I'd love to see Will in a second novel. Any chance of that?

Evil Editor said...We shouldn't keep our guest more than an hour if he has anything else to do.

Dave F. said...
Several years ago, the magazine HEAVY METAL was asked shy it always but barely clothed women on its cover. They answered simply: sex sells more magazines.

Robin S. said...Yeah- I wanted that damn Don gone.

Evil Editor said...But not taking Josie and the kid with him.

Robin S. said...Exactly. Leave Josie and the daughter with the one they should be with.

Wes said...Don was a good antagonist. He had realistic reasons for his actions, and he was sympathetic in that he didn't know Will was shooting at a ghost and Don had lost his job.

Robin S. said...I hated Don.

ril said...The self-destructive loser. Yes.;)

Sean said...I would actually like to write another book about Will. For one thing, those who suffered through his loserdom might enjoy seeing him get his act together a little bit.And, honestly, it's one of the few ideas I've had that lends itself to A Series Of Adventures.That said, you'd have to find some way to keep the books psychologically relevant, I think.The other small sad true fact is that I have to make a living and put kids through college, and unless a miracle occurs, nobody is going to offer me enough money to write another book about DK to do that.In my Alternate Identity as New Media Guru Dude, I have thought of bringing Will back for one of the online projects, but there are No Firm Plans right now.Oh--side story. So this is the only one of my books ever to be optioned by a film company: Jim Henson enterprises.They SAID they were thinking live action: but can't you just see Kermit as Will, with Miss Piggy as, as, as...(gives up)

Robin S. said...Hey- I think this would make a powerful film in the right hands.And I think a second novel - with Will in the driver's seat- and learning how to be there - and that it isn't all it seems - complete with ghosts- would be amazingly good.

Dave F. said...The SCI FI series FARSCAPE featured muppets. That was a Jim Henson Company thing.

Evil Editor said...You have a long-standing offer from Evil Editor publications for the sequel. If it's funny.

ril said...Sean,I did see from your website that you're doing some experimental(?), new-media type stuff. Is this the future of publishing, or just your future?

Sean said...Re: new mediaYeah, it's the future, but not exactly the future of publishing. Traditional books aren't going away: but just as they lost market share to movies and TV, they are going to lose market share to storytelling that is built for the wired world.By pure fluke I fell down the rabbit hole into a chance to be in on the ground floor of this stuff, for which I will be eternally gratful.Cathy's Book is an example of bok 2.0 (kinda) -- Cathy's phone number is on the front, and you can dial it and hear her voicemail and leave a message. The websites in the book are real, and the email addresses, etc., so the story spills off the page and into the world of, frankly, blogs and forums and chit chat generally.The defining art form of the 21st century is going to acknowledge and participate in the interactive, community-oriented world of the web. To quote myself (sorry) the internet is a printing press, and that's the kind of art it wants to make.Now, that doesn't mean that books will go away, any more than movies will... but everyone will roll toward the side of the bed, and sooner or later some folks (epic poetry, anyone?) will fall out.

Evil Editor said...That sounds cool. I assume everything we need to know to check it out is at your web site?

Robin S. said...Sean,I see what you mean about the new stuff coming along - but God, I love books. I love the look, the feel, the keepablity, even the smell. How could that ever be fully replaced?

Wes said...Would you consider a series like the Stephanie Plum series where you have a likeable loser who sees ghosts who get him wildly funny situations?

Evil Editor said...Like shooting at his ex-wife's husband.

Sean said...I have enjoyed the hell out of Stephanie Plum, personally (except the D & D murder game one, c'mon, Janet, get a grip)I think you could do something very fun with Will in a similar vein: but I also feel that I would want to... respect the gravitas of the first book. Does that make sense? I don't think it could be Pure Hijinx; there would have to be some emotional weight to it.And thanks, EE, for the editorial option. I will try to bring the funny. (But seriously, it's white trash texas: that's just funny, ain't it?)Passion Play, I should warn you, is *not* especially funny. ahem. Although it is, in a weird way, a precursor for PC.I saw someone mention that book a week or two ago. I wrote the first draft exactly half my life ago. Hard to believe anyone even knows it existed anymore...

ril said...I think one of the things I liked about this book was that it was more about Will's ghosts than everybody else's ghosts. Like I said, I respect the ambiguity.

BuffySquirrel said...I thought the scene where AJ almost gets DK to kill himself was the strongest part of the book. Truly scary.

Dave F. said...AJ is a whole truckload of regret. DK or Will feels guilty that he couldn't prevent her death. He feels responsible for it. It's written all over his behavior.

Sean said...I like the scene between AJ and DK too. (If like is the word I mean). I sat there breaking CDs in my hands to see what would happen, and when I wrote the last line-it's something like, "they say no love lasts forever. Sometimes it does." i got that creepy hair-crawling feeling on my neck, such as has only happened a couple of times for me.(Another one was a line from Resurrection Man: "God hissed through the vents at Auschwitz." )

Evil Editor said...If not by just showing up, then through some very thoughtful answers/comments, I think you've made some new fans who will be reading your backlist. And those who forgot or couldn't make it will read the comments in the next few days.

BuffySquirrel said......and they shall rue the day they were not here!

Xenith said...Thank you for coming & sharing with us, it makes the book much more meaningful now (in an extra layers way).

Sean said...Thank you all very much for reading the book, and of course I am particularly grateful to our host. It was very nice that you guys decided to take a chance on the book, and I hope it mostly rewarded you for that.

ril said...It was a great book that I probably would never have stumbled upon but for this event. I do plan to read more of your work. Thanks for indulging us.

Evil Editor said...I hope all of our Chats go as well. Thanks again, sir.

uffySquirrel said...Thanks, Sean!

Evil Editor said...May the spike in sales from this push it onto the NYtimes bestseller list.

ril said...Thanks, EE, for pulling this together.

Robin S. said...Thanks so much!

BuffySquirrel said...We should do this again!Oh, wait...we are doing it again!

Evil Editor said...Yes soon.

Dave F. said...Good discussion, EE. Thanks

Wes said...Thanks, EE.

Evil Editor said...Darryl Ponicsan ( pronounced PAHN-i-son ) (born May 26, 1938) is an American writer.Ponicsan is best known as the author of the 1971 novel The Last Detail, which was adapted into a 1973 movie starring Jack Nicholson; and for the 1973 novel and screenplay Cinderella Liberty, starring James Caan. The films of those two novels were multiple Oscar nominees, including best screenplay for The Last Detail (the screenplay of Cinderella Liberty was nominated for a Golden Globe).

His pen name is Anne Argula, author of our next book, Homicide My Own.
I think she (he) will be able to attend. See you next month.

BuffySquirrel said...Nice job, EE :).

Brenda Bradshaw said...I wasn't able to be here but I loved reading every single comment. Thanks to Sean and to EE. (I don't see an open option to me...~cries~)

Ali said...Good discussion, sorry I missed it, I somehow managed to remember the time wrong. (Any chance you could post a reminder the day before for the next one, EE?).

Whirlochre said...I wasn't able to join in with this one but I've clearly missed out on a throbber.As fledgling ventures go, this bodes well for the future.I'm sure there were problems along the way, but given that this is not a chat room, it seems to have gone well in terms of do-ability.EE has moderated and directed things admirably, the nimions have been concise and thoughtful with their questions and Sean has got the whole enterprise off to a good start with the generosity of his responses and insights.Great stuff.

sylvia said...Sorry I missed it - I was a bit the worse for wear last night and didn't like to inflict myself on anyone. I did start reading then and just finished up today. Great stuff.

Face-Lift 508

Guess the Plot

Tony's Horrible Journey Throughout the Universe

1. First, the spaceship only served Lox and Bagels and they weren't even the good bagels, they were the cheap kind. Then they lost his luggage in a solar flare. Now, they can't even find his planet?

2. Tony's pizza business has gone sour since Vito's moved in down the street. Now his quest to find the best pizza recipe in the universe takes him on a perilous journey across seven galaxies and through Hell itself.

3. From the polyp clusters of Mucodromeda to the fecal swamps of Slakkbauul, android Tony is pursued through the cosmos by badly programmed cyber-harpies hungry for the 43.7 grams of pure Cerebretanium at the molecular core of his carapace.

4. Tony, a sub-microscopic ion, recounts in crisp and snappy monologue his birth at the center of a flaming plasma-jet in deep space, and his subsequent journeys being squeezed through the glowing torturous hell-like plasma threads that lace the universe together until he arrives at Earth's gentle sun and is spat toward the planet.

5. A decade of study with Tibetan monks hasn't prepared Tony Declan for the reality of enlightment. Turns out, the universe literally IS God...and life's journey is through His alimentary tract.

6. When Tony makes a wish--to get out of town--he has no idea his wish will be granted. And he definitely has no idea how far out of town he's about to end up. Or for how long. Or that he'll endure so much human torment he'll wish he was never born.

Original Version

Dear Agent or Publisher,

"Tony's Horrible Journey Throughout the Universe" is a middle-grade novel complete at 30,000 words.

Poor Tony is unhappy with life. Four older sisters and bossy, no-good parents....UGH! So when he makes a wish to get outta town, Wink-the-mouse happily obliges with his magical powers. Trouble is, Wink is a bad, bad seed, and he loves getting into trouble. Every time Tony makes a wish, Wink adds his own personal touch. [For instance, when Tony wishes his sisters and parents were dead, Wink kills them, which is good, but then he frames Tony for mass murder, which is typical Wink.]

Tony doesn't realize the depths of Wink's mischeviousness (sp.) until it's almost too late. When they both find themselves in the midst of the most horrible adventure of their lives, they will have to work together to arrive home safely. Will they make it? Will Mother Mouse put Wink in the time-out of his life for tormenting a human kid? [Spoiler alert.] Probably yes to both.

Time-outs have never worked for Wink, and there are lots of kids wishing they could start over with nicer parents, better brothers and sisters, and definitely cooler toys. This could be a series that goes on forever. Or at least until Wink grows up. [This makes it sound like the series will be about Wink but not Tony. If that's not the case, I'd replace "and there are lots of kids wishing they could start over with nicer parents, better brothers and sisters, and definitely cooler toys" with "so". If it is the case, I think it's Wink and not Tony who deserves his name in the title.]

Thank you for considering my work.


There isn't enough about what happens. What's "no good" about Tony's parents? How about an example of Wink's "personal touch" when granting a wish? What's the "most horrible adventure of their lives" that they find themselves in the midst of? What's this about "throughout the universe"? For all we can tell they don't get past the county line.

In short, more specifics.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cartoon 38

Caption: Anonymous

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cartoon 37

Caption: Tracey S. Rosenberg

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New Beginning 475

Mike let himself into the lab for the last time, noticing everything as if for the first time. The way the key wouldn't fit easily into the lock, but yawed this way and that. The stench of disinfectant. At least the lighting hadn't changed. He glanced down at the scuffed floor, newly cleared of his equipment. Apart from fresh scratches on the grey vinyl, it looked the same. Sterile. Finished with. He stepped inside and pushed the door shut. Even his lab coat was gone from the hook on the back of the door. He wondered if he'd reached a stage beyond anger. Or if resignation had set in.

They'd taken everything down from the walls, too. Not neatly--too much to ask. Diagrams, charts, little "happy notes", all gone.

The door creaked, then opened slowly, as if unsure it should be opening it at all.

"It's okay," he said. "I won't bite." A head came round the door, appearing first as a pointy little nose topped by a pair of glasses. Then adding some close-cropped brown hair. Fitch smiled a little frightened smile, still keeping everything beyond her ears out of sight.

"I'm so sorry," she said, glancing nervously around. Then she stepped into the room. "We'll miss you."

They hugged, an awkward, quiet moment. "It's okay," Mike said. "Now that I'm gone, I wish you the best."

Then the director cut to commercial, and that was the end of Mike's run on the poorly-rated America's Next Top Chemist.

Opening: BuffySquirrel.....Continuation: freddie

Cartoon 36

Caption: Anonymous

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Friday, March 28, 2008

New Beginning 474

She raised her head from her forearm in a slow arc, screening her barely open eyes both with the fall of her hair and the shadows across her face from the dying fire. The slight movement allowed a cold draft into the warm sleeping bag and helped to jolt her to full awareness. She breathed slowly, shallowly, thinking I’m Still Sleeping thoughts and hoping the thing stalking her campsite was fooled, even as her fingers shifted to close about the grip of the pistol. It was just a small noise, but a chilling one nonetheless. Something from out of nightmares. Something she’d hoped never to hear again.

It came again, the slow scrape of a clawed foot, something like fingernails on chalkboard crossed with the whine of a rusty hinge. A noise you didn’t forget. An image you didn’t forget. Iron claws on granite, a creature that should have been impossible… They weren’t supposed to be able to follow her here.

But one had. Now, the question was what to do about it before the graindall decided to attack.

But the graindall that had decided to follow her, the graindall that would soon decide to attack, had another thing coming.

Because iron claws on granite might be one frightening sound, but the screams of animal fury welling up and about to explode from she who had just returned from the land of Still Sleeping made the fingernails on chalkboard granite-walking sound of the graindall seem like a sonic vacation destination.

There would be some scraping sounds this night. Yes. And they would be chilling. But they’d be coming from the sleepy psycho bitch who had just started her period and who was, this night, looking for something on which to release her wrath.

That testosterone-loaded graindall was soon to be . . . fucking toast.

Opening: Writtenwyrdd.....Continuation: Robin S.

Cartoon 35

Caption: Whirlochre

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Face-Lift 507

Guess the Plot

An American in London

1. This edgy travel memoir is loaded with fascinating anecdotes about British vs. American culture, like when the author goes grocery shopping and when she samples England's gourmet foods. Also, traveling with children.

2. This traveler's dictionary provides useful translations of the phrases the American tourist is most likely to hear when interacting with the people of London, alphabetically arranged, from Arsehole to Wanker.

3. Set to the plaintive strains of Hayden's London Trio, a pack of plaid shorts, Hawaiian shirts, gartered socks and flabby arms in muscle tees invades Piccadilly Circus while the new Minister for Cultural Sensitivity quietly climbs to the top of Big Ben and blows his brains out.

4. After years of dreaming and saving, Mabel Abeline from Houston is able to realize her dream -- a two week trip to London, England. At first, though, she is disappointed. Everything is so much smaller than back home, yet so expensive. Then, visiting Trafalgar Square, she finds Nelson and is mighty impressed by the size of his column.

5. Don Liebnitz is overweight and looks ridiculous in his Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. His camera lens is way too big, he wears sunglasses even though it's raining and he tries to start conversations in the tube (I mean, really!). He goes to expensive restaurants, talks too loudly to the waiters and orders with everything "on the side". Why can't he go back to Yankee-land where he belongs? Wanker.

6. Jovial American tourist Hoagy Williams Jr. mistakes the Queen for a hooker he bedded in college and is sentenced to twenty years in prison for thrusting his tongue into her ear as she presides over the opening of a new branch of Shoppers' Nirvana in East Acton.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Two years ago my husband, our two small children, and I moved from Kansas (98% culture-free) to London (diverse metropolis) and I was eager to experience a different country's culture. However, I was surprised that in the process of learning about British culture, I also made a few discoveries about my own.

[Things I learned about British culture and my own:

1. Once you leave London, the place is just like Kansas, except they call it moors and we call it a wasteland.

2. Steak tastes better on a grill than in kidney pie.

3. Counter to assumptions I made thanks to Hugh Grant and Sean Connery, most guys with British accents are not sexy.]

I have completed a 44,000-word manuscript, titled An American in London, describing the joys, surprises and frustrations I encountered as we adjusted to our new European home. Instead of a day-to-day account of our tenure overseas, my travel memoir is more of a collection of essays that lovingly compare and contrast American and British cultures. Humorous, irreverent, and sometimes edgy, [(Did you know they call an eraser a rubber?!)] think of David Sedaris meets Bill Bryson, and then they get into a death match and are coached by Elizabeth Gilbert and Rebecca Ramsey, respectively, and Frances Mayes is the referee. [If that was supposed to give me a better idea of what you meant by "humorous, irreverent, and sometimes edgy," it failed. Right now all I'm thinking about is Elizabeth Gilbert, Rebecca Ramsey, and Frances Mayes mud wrestling.] In fact, this book will rock your world…okay, maybe not. But you will enjoy the journey I take you on and perhaps even laugh out loud. You will walk with me as I learn to do grocery shopping without a car, [I was about to suggest you provide some specifics, but if that's the best you've got, forget it.] taste blood pudding (two words that shouldn't even be in the same sentence let alone describe something you eat),

[Wrong. Sentences that include the words "blood" and "pudding":

"Eat your pudding, Bobby, and then we'll get to your daily blood-letting."

"I don't know what that was, but it tasted like blood and had the consistency of pudding; can I have some more?"

"Mommy, there's the blood of a Chinese man in my tapioca pudding."]

travel around Europe with an infant and a four-year old (a task not for the faint of heart), and ponder the question at the forefront of every Brit's mind: Is James Hewitt Prince Harry's real biological father? [You don't need "real" there . . . unless there are imaginary biological fathers.]

I chose you as the first agent to solicit (you lucky bastard) [Yes, I was just thinking that myself.] for numerous reasons (okay, two):

1) I thoroughly enjoy your blog and have learned from it.
2) You represent Iwanna Beyou, the author of Expat Fever, which is similar to my manuscript (yet different; see above comments).

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Is your audience people who love to travel, or people who never travel? The former group might not find your experiences any more interesting than their own, unless you're holding back your best stuff. And it might be hard to find an agent who handles travel books and wants to handle one for the latter group.

Even if this is going to someone who mainly handles travel writers and is thus familiar with all the authors you name, that space would be better utilized making your adventures sound exciting and hilarious. Tasting blood pudding may be amusing in the book, but in the query it's no big deal unless you also puked it up on David Beckham.

Maybe that's the way to go: embellish your mundane experiences. Like you go grocery shopping without a car, and buy so much you can't carry it, but then Clive Owen happens along and gives you a ride back to your flat and kisses you. And you puke blood pudding all over him.

Note that I said Clive Owen "gives you a ride" rather than "gives you a lift." To those crazy Brits, a lift is an elevator!

If you can prove James Hewitt knew Princess Di nine months before Prince Harry was born, you've got a bestseller. Otherwise you'd better enclose a couple of your essays with the query, as it's a better way to demonstrate your voice than through frequent use of parentheses.

Also, the title sounds too much like An American Werewolf in London. Either add a werewolf (recommended) or change the title to Blood Pudding? Am I in London or Transylvania?

Cartoon 34

Caption: Peter

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

New Beginning 473

Chance McCloud had been in Paris when news came of his brother Jim's death. Unfortunately, Chance didn't do the kind of work that could be walked away from in an afternoon. He had been forced to supervise the winding up of Jim's modest estate from a distance, scrambling to wrap up his own business so that he could get back and make sure that his brother would rest in peace. Waiting now, in a Paris cafe at an outdoor table, sipping coffee and hoping his employer would be on time, Chance took out the newspaper article he carried in his wallet and studied it again.

RIDGECREST, CA - The death of seven men, including the pilot, in a small twin-engine commuter plane, has been confirmed by the US Navy. The men were all civil employees at the China Lake Naval Base, except for the pilot. There was no sign of foul play in relation to the crash. The plane apparently developed engine trouble in the mountains, and crashed into the side of Burton's Peak at approximately 2:15 pm on Sunday. Names of the deceased are being withheld pending the notification of family.

See, now that's style, Chance thought. That's how Jim should have bought the farm. A plane crash, or lost at sea. He read on.

MODESTO, CA - Home improvement enthusiast and Darwin Award nominee, Jim McCloud, did it himself for the last time yesterday when he tried to fix a leaky fuel oil tank by welding it. Fireman Bill McIntyre, first to the scene, described it as an inferno, adding: "The guy really should have emptied the tank first. Here's hoping he was the last swimmer in his gene pool."
Time to move on, Chance thought. He unscrewed the wick from the small light on the table and poured a little of the lamp fuel on to the newspaper clipping. The smell made him sneeze and he spilled oil on the tablecloth and in his lap. Shit, he thought. My new pants. He shrugged and reached for his lighter.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: ril

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cartoon 33

Caption: Evil Editor

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

New Beginning 472


Jerome whirled to deflect the sword thrust with his rapier. Soon the last attacker lay in a pool of blood on the cobblestones. The lanky man scanned the street for threats before he stomped over to where Kit huddled behind a rain barrel. "Why the hell are you still following me? Did you think I was out for a pleasure stroll and wanted a child for company?"

Kit shook her head so hard that her braids flew. "No, never thought that." She couldn't understand why her brother wanted her to follow this mean fellow, but the man fit the description he had given her. She frowned. "You are Jerome, right?"

Jerome gave a bitter laugh. "Yeah. I'm out to avenge my father, and it's dangerous to be around me. So why are you still hanging about? I don't need your help."

Kit gave him a reproachful look.

"What?" Jerome peered at the little girl. "Do you think with all my years of training, I still need the protection of a ragamuffin?"

Kit scowled and shook her head until her eyes rattled. "No, never thought that."

"Then why, little girl, do you follow me?"

She narrowed her eyes and took a deep breath. "My brother said to find you and tell you he misheard; your father's okay, the Smythe boys didn't do 'im in, they just beat 'im at Gin. His bad."

Jerome looked at the bodies sprawled across the cobbles. Bugger.

Opening: Deborah K. White.....Continuation: Anonymous

Cartoon 32

Caption: Freddie

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Face-Lift 506

Guess the Plot

The Way of Dispossession

1. When an honest yet poor Nigerian actually finds $10 million US in a dead account, he tries desperately to find someone somewhere in the world willing to help him get it so he can use his ten percent share to get his dying mother a kidney transplant. Why will no one help him?

2. Alaina Gredeinian is a leader in the Sancian resistance, fighting the occupying Fredians. Her roommate Cathy Donaldson is a pacifist. When Alaina's cell blows up a major bridge in the capital city, will it put a strain on their living arrangement?

3. Allan Keanes is a financial "Mr. Fix It". When he's called into one of the country's biggest banks to help sort out their sub-prime losses, he thinks it's just a matter of foreclosure--until he discovers the money markets are in fact possessed by an evil spirit.

4. Harry knows his life is in the dumper, what with the alcoholism, the drug abuse and the trans-gender issues he refuses to face. But when his family stages an intervention with the order of the Monks of Forced Enlightenment, things get a little out of hand.

5. Adex is a mid-level demon inhabiting a 12-year-old girl in Fresno when he is unexpectedly evicted from his home by an exorcist. He finds himself in a shadow realm occupied by displaced fiends, imps, and fallen angels. Only one thing to do: Form a rock band!

6. After giving all his wealth away to a cult, Luke realizes that he has been scammed and that he will never find inner tranquility until he gets his money back. Follow him as he breaks into the cult HQ and faces the leader with only his head, hands and feet as weapons.

7. Rich, successful and empty, Daniel Piermont cannot get his life on track; everything he worked for means nothing. In a bid to find his true self, he dispossesses himself of everything he owns; but when he falls in love with Liana, he realizes happiness is more easily attained with wealth. That's when he remembers his twenty-million-dollar off-shore account in Bimini.

Original Version

Dear Almighty Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my novel, The Way of Dispossession.

For almost three years, the nation of Sancia has been ruled by Fredia, its neighboring country. During that time, the underground movement has worked to bring down Fredia’s oppressive regime. The story revolves around Alaina Gredeinian, a leader in the Sancian resistance; Cathy Donaldson, her roommate, a pacifist; and Terrence Harlin, her long-time friend and partner in the resistance. When Alaina’s cell blows up one of the capital city’s major bridges, the government threatens to shut down the city. [Attention, residents of the capital: we're closed. Everybody out. Oh, and it's recommended that you not leave via the western bridge.] In response, the resistance steps up its efforts to smuggle food and other supplies into the city. [Why does food have to be smuggled into the city? Surely shutting down the city doesn't mean no more food for anyone?] Alaina finds herself being run ragged [How about "runs herself ragged," or "is run ragged"? "Finds herself being" is a long way to say "is," and makes it sound like a surprising discovery.] to support this effort, and during one mission, she accidentally reveals her identity to a Fredian soldier. [In other words, she makes a Fredian slip.]

[Soldier: Halt! Who are you and where are you taking that food?

Alaina: I'm Alaina Gredeinian and . . . doh!]

She, Cathy, and Terrence are all imprisoned and interrogated, and Alaina’s family is arrested in retaliation for her involvement with the resistance.

Just before Alaina’s execution date, [Oppressive regimes shoot first, then set the execution date.] the resistance rescues them; however, they are still in danger. Ronnie Hartson, a wilderness guide, [Ronnie Hartson is no name for a Sancian wilderness guide, and Grizzly Adams is taken. How about Wolverine McGuff?] is assigned to help them get to Laucasia, another neighboring country. But hiking over mountains, relying on a chain of “safe houses,” and avoiding Fredian troops are just part of their journey. Alaina deals with her family’s arrest and the aftermath of her prison experience, which was more brutal than either of her friends’. Terrence struggles with his feelings for Alaina and her tendency to push him away. Cathy tries to figure out whether, in light of her beliefs, her minimal participation in the resistance was justified. [Also, she must deal with her unexpected crush on Ronnie Hartson, wilderness guide, right?]

Even arriving in Laucasia does not alleviate their problems. [It may not solve all their problems, but if it doesn't even alleviate them, what was the point of going there?] And when they are eventually called back to Sancia for a final attempt to completely overthrow the Fredian government, they all must confront their fears and issues head-on.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



I'm not finding it that exciting, though I feel I should be. Maybe more about the rescue or the danger and less about the details. How many Fredians are they up against? How many are in the resistance? Their comrades rescue them from prison, their guide gets them to Laucasia . . . when do they do something to help the cause, and what is it? If these three people are ultimately responsible for victory, I'd rather hear about that than about how incompetent they are.

Are these three people so vital to the final attempt to overthrow the Fredians that the assault is being put off while they make their way back through a string of mountain safe houses?

If they can safely return to the capital and stay safe during the final attempt, why couldn't they stay safe after being rescued from prison? Going all the way to Laucasia only to turn around and head back accomplished what?

For some reason I find it jarring that a character named Alaina Gredeinian, a leader in the Sancian resistance, has a roommate named Cathy Donaldson and a wilderness guide named Ronnie Hartson. It's like reading a book about a high school girl named Madison and her BFF is named M'lota Larg and her guidance counselor is D'Ghor of the house of Kanjis.

You write Fredia, but I think Frieda, the Peanuts character with naturally curly hair.

Have you considered making the countries Freudia and Jungia?

Klingon names generated here.

Cartoon 31

Caption: Evil Editor

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

New Beginning 471

After shoehorning himself into the space along the curb, Graham tried deciphering the sign above his car to determine his risk of being towed. Which Tuesday of the month was it? The pavement was rapidly burning a hole in his shoes, so he hoped for the best and set off in search of the office. He wasn't far from Faneuil Hall, and he heard the echoes of a street performer barking through a fuzzed-out amplifier. He crossed behind the Customs House and found the address - a dingy five story building crammed in among the banking towers like a dirty paperback on a shelf full of classics.

He opened the door, hoping for a gust of air conditioning, but was instead rewarded with a musty lobby that seemed sliced out of time. A directory of plastic letters pressed into faded brown felt listed the building's occupants. Lawyers, dentists, and oculists. Graham blinked. He hadn't heard of an oculist since Gatsby. Some of the directory's letters had fallen to an alphabet soup jumble at the bottom of the case, leaving darkened silhouettes in the fabric.

Well, this was the place Kurt had recommended. If anyone could get the grasping hands of the IRS from up Graham's arse, supposedly this guy could.

Three hours later, Graham winced his way down three flights of steps. It had been more painful than he'd expected. He glanced again at the directory on his way out. An honest mistake; there's not that many letters difference between Tax Attorney and Taxidermy.

At least the guy had thrown in a pretty nice Elk's head once they realized the error.

Opening: Benwah.....Continuation: Anonymous

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cartoon 30

Caption: Freddie

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Fake Query 11

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

Dear Editor:

When Hope, her pet banana slug, goes missing, Suze Hanford is despondent, not only because she loves the cute little bugger, but because Hope has helped parlay Suze's lemonade stand profits into a three-million-dollar nest egg. Hope uses her slime trail to spell out stock tips, and so far the little detritivore is batting a thousand. Without Hope, Suze knows she'll squander her fortune and end up working for a living when she grows up, possibly as a prostitute.

Day-trader Snidely Turkovich, Suze's next-door neighbor has been as successful as a three-legged greyhound lately, and if he doesn't start picking winners, he'll lose his house. Snidely is the obvious suspect; with Hope in his corner, his luck would surely change. But when Suze catches the slimeball with Hope, he claims it's not Hope, but Warren, his own banana slug stock forecaster.

Suze calls in a favor from the CSI squad, who discover that every banana slug has a slime trail as unique as a fingerprint. They compare Snidely's slug's slime trail with a slime trail in Hope's terrarium. A perfect match. Hope and Suze are joyfully reunited, and the now-hopeless Snidely is ruined.

Trail of Hope is a 95,000-word commercial novel that should appeal to those who enjoyed Mollusk Fever and I, Gastropod. Thank you.


Fake Query 10

Porn stars Viv Lickum and Gary Coonch are shoe-ins to win the year's Best Love Scene Award, until they learn of a young couple who are burning up the cameras. Can Viv and Gary turn the heat even higher in their new movie Love Inferno, or will they have to kill the competition?

Dear Evil Editor:

Never one to (only) lay down on the job, when Viv Lickum discovers that her dreams of winning the year’s Best Love Scene Award, a milestone achievement in her long and illustrious career in the porn industry, are threatened by a young, up-and-coming actress, she takes matters into her own hands -- and bludgeons the competition to death with the “Daddy from the ‘Natti,” a vibrating rabbit she can always trust to get the job done…

LOVE INFERNO explores the nastier side of the porn industry, giving the readers the inside story of the people behind the cameras. The players are vicious, competitive, and will screw anybody in the pursuit of making it to the top . . . to earn the title “porn star.”

Can Viv get away with murder and win the award she’s coveted for so long? Will she find true love with her on-screen lover, Gary Coonch, and finally have the happily-ever-after of a Herpes medication commercial? She’s guaranteed to end up in handcuffs . . . but will they be in furtherance of her career, or will they mean the end?

Upon your request, I will be delighted to send you sample chapters of LOVE INFERNO (and a photograph of me with the Daddy from the 'Natti, if you so desire). Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,


Fake Query 9

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

Dear Mr. Editor,

Virginal accountant Carmichael Krebs has a new Wall Street job, finding rationales for the executive luxuries piling up on company credit cards. When he uncovers the brokerage’s expense account at an exclusive pleasure house, Carmichael starts slipping into brothel bedrooms booked in his bosses’ names, romping with five-diamond hookers five days a week in ever-bawdier adventures.

Strung up by Mistress Madison and her Whip of Wails, he soon confesses his misuse of the company account. Then he learns it’s on digital video. He must obey her every command, including those involving insider trading, or he’ll be on Youtube and then on trial. Can Casanova Krebs wiggle out of bondage to the Machiavellian Mistress, or will he be paying restitution from prison on every one of those high-class Stolen Pieces?

Stolen Pieces is complete at 69,000 words.

My previous writing credits include Expense Accounting for Fun and Profit, The Auditor’s Nightmare, and My Months with Mistress M (a memoir). Research for this novel was accomplished during my three years in a Wall Street accounting department, and the manuscript was workshopped extensively at a fine federal retreat recently redecorated by Martha Stewart. Erotic adventures were field-tested for accuracy prior to incar-- my writers retreat. Video verification is available on request (you keep the videos if I get the publishing contract).

Yours truly,


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fake Query 8

His Majesty could have driven a Jaguar or a Mercedes, so why is he so obsessed with the rusted Ford Falcon that once belonged to Steven King? He claims that it talks to him, but is King George insane, or is an automobile running the kingdom?

O Highest Evil One:

The warden may make the rules, and the guards may enforce them, but everyone knows former gang leader George “King” Ramone is the true ruler of San Antonio’s California State Prison. His ruthless ways have made him feared and respected—but mostly feared. Even the guards are forced to call him “Your Majesty,” especially when they find themselves backed into a tight corner.

One fateful day, an old rusted Ford Falcon comes through the prison shop to be fixed. The car, George learns, can talk, and used to belong to Stephen King, who just happens to be George’s favorite writer. It’s not long before the car reveals its diabolical plan: get George to escape prison and drive to Maine so it can be reunited with its former owner.

But George has problems of his own. He can only hold on to his power so much longer, what with all the gangs and factions plotting against him all the time. Soon he’s taking advice from the car, and everyone in the prison notices a change. Can George make a correctional facility a kinder, gentler place for his own sake? Or will he follow the car’s and start killing those who are plotting against him?

I have been published in Dweeb’s Journal and Sci-Fi for the Lonely Guy, as well as other publications you’ve probably never heard of. King’s Falcon is 122,000 words long. I have enclosed the first ten pages and would be thrilled to send you the rest of the manuscript.

Best Regards,


Fake Query 5

A knight with OCD causes the collapse of the kingdom when he stays at home to re-polish his armor instead of leading his men into battle. (In Shining Armor)

Nights in the arms of the Countess of Lovelace have helped Sir Richard of Rotsbury forget the stench of the battlefield. But now, she has closed her legs to him until his assets are suitably increased. The king, who could grant Sir Richard the largess he requires to get back in his lady’s favor, has instead threatened Sir Richard with the loss of his head if his troops do not end the war on the morrow. Having less knights to feed is one answer to the royal purse growing thin, however Sir Richard would prefer to keep his head, his lover, and earn a bit of silver with daily battles.

Sir Lancelot offers Sir Richard a solution - one in which he keeps his head, gains more land, and returns to his lover’s soft charms. It is tempting, but can Sir Richard continually polish his armor while his troops are slaughtered to a man and the kingdom is overrun by the barbarian horde? Or will his conscience prod him to don his shining armor and lead his troops to ultimate victory? And will he decide in time to save the men who serve under him?


Fake Query 4

In this Socratic dialogue between an oak tree and a large rock, the main characters discuss the nature of man and his effects on the environment.


I am seeking representation for my 65,000 word literary novel 'Oak and Stone'.

When a hurricane hits Five Oaks village, only one of the namesake oaks survives. The remaining tree, Robur, has to deal with being alone for the first time since he was planted. His solitude ends when the villagers install Socrates, a sandstone memorial to the lost oaks. Robur and Socrates become friends as they debate human nature.

A child littering sparks a discussion about humans affecting the environment. Robur realises that global warming may have caused the storm that killed his family. As he is recovering from this revelation, he discovers that Socrates is dying from acid rain corrosion. A second hurricane approaches, but Robur is preoccupied with thoughts of revenge against humanity. Unless he puts revenge aside and starts preparing, he risks becoming a victim of the storm.


Fake Query 3

Disgruntled manticore-mucker Janie runs away from the Cirque Obscure, taking one of the sideshows with her. . . and endangering her entire kingdom.

In my romantic fantasy, THE DEMON TAMER, Janie joined the Cirque Obscure because they provided her a safe way out of the capital of the kingdom of Vastness. Now, they're threatening to take away her quiet backstage job of manticore-mucker and put her center ring as one of the glamour girls. Worse, the king's guards are searching the tents and are sure to find her. As she's throwing together necessities, the manticores speak, asking to be released from their cages.

Startled by the evidence of their intelligence, Janie agrees. Escaped manticores will cover her disappearance nicely. Instead, they join her. It's like traveling with tigers, except manticores don't leave bones when they eat you. On their journey, pursued by the handsome half-breed dwarf in charge of the circus menagerie, Janie learns why the manticores haven¹t eaten her, and why the king wants her.

She is a lost member of the legendary demon tamers, a race of people who bonded with the vicious manticores to control the hell-gates at the heart of the world and the demons that leak through them. The king has mad dreams of using the hell-gates to create an empire. Now that Janie and the manticores have joined forces, they must evade the king's men with the help of Stretch, the half-dwarf, while journeying to the heart of the world to tame the escaping demons.

I've had five books published, two of them award-winners, and am currently contracted with another publisher for a different romantic fantasy series. THE DEMON TAMER should be complete at around 100,000 words.



Fake Query 1

A séance sounds like fun, right? RIGHT? Well, not for Snotgurgle Mcflop. It's bad enough he has a mom who plays soccer, but when his mother decides to take a class on Basic Witchery, what's a troll to do? Eat her, of course!

Dear Sir,

I am seeking representation for my 950,469 word novel, My Soccer Mom’s Seance - a masterpiece I guarantee will compel you to prostate yourself in wonder at my unparalleled talent.

My idea is outstanding and incredible and fantastic, being loosely based on a plot I came across on your blog while surfing for porn.

A séance sounds like fun, right? RIGHT? Well, not for Snotgurgle Mcflop. It's bad enough he has a mom who plays soccer, but when his mother decides to take a class on Basic Witchery, what's a troll to do? Eat her, of course!

It’s a good start, but my ideas are much, much more original. My protagonist is called Snotgurgle McFlip, the Witchery class is upgraded to Advanced (how brilliant is that?) and in my genius, I have substituted a gremlin for the troll. Even better, this masterwork is set in the fantasy kingdom of Pain Land, a mystical world in which I have sought refuge since being diagnosed as a psychopath when I was four.

I plan to write this epic bestseller in PainLandian hieroglyphs the moment I am released from prison. I have selected my next victim from MySpace and will render the work in ink distilled from her blood on papyrus woven from her beautiful blonde hair.

I have no publishing credits of which to speak, but as I am descended from Satan, I expect to encounter no obstacles. NONE!

If you ignore this query, you will burn in Hell.

Hear Me!


Face-Lift 505

Guess the Plot

Zaught Green

1. Martha loves her knitting but when the parson is murdered she rallies all the ladies of Zaught Green to search out the killer. Who will find him first: the professional and highly trained detectives or the little old ladies with their walking frames? Or will the killer turn out to be one of them?

2. As a Galactic Star Warrior, it's Jeleth's task to identify those stars in the zaught green phase, which a red dwarf enters just before reaching the point of supernova, and evacuate the vicinity. When she meets Callou, a scientist who believes that zaught green is a disease transmitted from star to star, he insists on staying to test his theory. Jeleth must choose between safety . . . and the man she loves.

3. In a world of magic where everything has a soul, a little girl named Zaught Green is identified as the nexus of time travel itself. She's not, really, and she gets so pissed at the misconception that she creates an army of zombies to take over the world. Also, a vicious pack of meerkats selling bubble gum ice cream.

4. After Coach Green was found buried under the soccer pitch, the Zaught sports field was abandoned. But when Danny and Shelley discover all that short grass just begging to be run over, they ignore the rumours and start a kickaround. Suddenly, ghostly hands appear and try to drag them down into the earth. Will anyone believe their tale of . . . Zaught Green?

5. Two aliens take possession of the Earth and rename it Zaught. Then, for laughs, they torment Zack Sterling, making fire hydrants and wood mulch attack him. Which, as it happens, is an improvement in Zack's life.

6. Chazton Huston once thought that the biofuel made at the factory came from corn. He has uncovered the secret of zaught green and he wants to tell the world. Can he escape from security guards who have orders to kill anyone who discovers that zaught green is made from . . .

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When every other kid began to tackle him, Zack was in a fix. It was already hard enough surviving past twelve years old: what do you do when the kids beating you up are from another world? Zaught Green is a work of middle grade fantasy in a contemporary setting. It is approximately 56,000 words with series potential. [You've made two statements here:

1. Every other kid is tackling Zack.

2. The kids beating Zack up are from another world.

This could lead one to believe that all the other kids are from another world, which I, having read ahead, know is not the case. You have two hooks. You need only one: What do you do when you discover that the bullies who've been beating you up are from another world?]

The mysterious rumor started five years ago: knock Zackary Sterling to the earth, earn $3.00 a take-down. It turned out to be true. Thanks to the trouble that follows him, he's seen seven foster parents and twelve different schools. [That's almost two schools per year.] [Every other kid tackles him, but no one does anything about it? Don't teachers know what's going on?] At his latest home near Indianapolis, two boys in strange clothes show up, causing fire hydrants and wood mulch to attack him. [Now that there's just one hook, maybe you should start the plot here: Zack's been bullied by the other kids for years, but when fire hydrants and wood mulch start attacking him, he's had enough. Now there's plenty of room to tell us about the boys in strange clothing.] Zack's had enough! With the help of Van, his tiny but tough girl friend (but not girlfriend!) [with a boy's name], Zack sets out to solve the mystery behind his two new attackers—Brown and Blue. He learns not only to stand up for himself, but to stand up for others—even if it includes his antagonists. Told in fresh voice and snappy dialogue, their unique adventure combines the quirky humor of Maniac Magee and the heart-capturing adventure of A Wrinkle in Time. [It's always dangerous to compare your book to a true classic, so I recommend getting rid of the reference to Maniac Magee.] [Their "unique adventure" combines the "heart-capturing adventure" is too much adventure for a query that hasn't described an adventure. Tell us about the adventure.]

A member of SCBWI, I hold a BA in English Literature. I currently and have always worked in the non-profit sector to bring aid to needy families. [Thus . . . ?] While the situations in the novel have a fantastical bent, many were inspired by the real ones that I've encountered. [Like the time I fell into a mulch pit and the time I tripped over a fire hydrant.] [Why the hell do they have to have a fire hydrant right where I always park my car?] The first three chapters or the full manuscript of Zaught Green are available upon request. Thank you for your valuable time.

On the title: yes, it's a non-sensical word followed by a subscript color. One of the otherworldly boys renames the earth Zaught. He owns the planet, after all. [Who owns the planet? Blue or Brown? Why isn't the title Zaught Blue or Zaught Brown? Who's Green?]


It begins: When every other kid began to tackle him, Zack was in a fix. But that was five years ago. Usually when you're in a fix you don't wait five years to take action. Fortunately we're getting rid of that line anyway.

What's the connection between getting tackled and getting new foster parents? Is getting knocked down the trouble that follows Zack? His foster parents are saying they don't want Zack because he gets knocked down too much? Fortunately, we're getting rid of the foster parents anyway.

If an alien owns the planet Earth, you might want to mention it in the query. It's an intriguing plot point. In fact, when beings from another world are on the scene, everything else in the story takes a back seat in the query. Just like with zombies and wolfmen.

Another intriguing plot point: Why would an alien being who owns the Earth single out a twelve-year-old kid as a victim?

I'm not crazy about the title, even knowing where it comes from. Maybe middle-graders will like it. Or maybe they'd prefer Zack Sterling and the Bullies from Outer Space.