Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Beginning 780

The sunlight behind us faded as the cave twisted and turned in on itself, farther and farther into Zayt Mountain, until I looked over and I couldn’t see Sheridan’s face for the dark.

Then lights flashed on, blinking and bulbous: Welcome to Zayt Mountain Fun Park. Sheridan poled the boat over the side of the cave and we hopped out onto the ledge and clocked in.

“Want to get Death Falls over with first?” I asked, crossing my fingers, and Sheridan nodded. I took my time getting into my boots, and Sheridan was already sploshing down the ledge into Death Falls by the time I grabbed my net and followed.

Death Falls started out slowly enough; my headlamp flickered over the lazy water as it followed the narrow tunnel toward the rapids. I raked my net over the bottom, but there wasn’t much trash that hadn’t already been carried down to the pools.

There it was again—the light. The edges of the rocks across the stream glowed faintly. I checked the stream’s depth with my net: too deep for my boots, but shallow enough to wade. And Sheridan was around a bend in the tunnel, so she wouldn’t see.

Using the pole of my net for support, I felt my way across the stream, leaning slightly against the current so I wouldn't slip and get carried down to the rapids. I was careful to step over the metal rails that guided the gondolas through the caves.

The light shone out from a crack between the rocks. I pushed on a boulder and it pivoted away from me, revealing a room where Sheridan and two other people were gathered around a machine.

In the corner was a pile of garbage collected from the stream -- papers, burger boxes, lost hats and park maps, the usual stuff. They were feeding all this into the machine, which was belching a thick, gray paste into a bubbling cauldron.

"What are you doing?" I said.

"Duh," Sheridan replied. "Getting ready for tomorrow, of course. What? You think the Churros make themselves?"

Opening: -*Rachel*-.....Continuation: anon.

Cartoon 720

Caption: Marissa Doyle

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Face-Lift 814

Guess the Plot

The Seven Swords

1. It starts when Maria finds a tarot card with seven swords on it outside a church with a broken stained glass window. Now she's being followed by some dude with horns. Maybe she shouldn't be working her way down the list of deadly sins trying to commit them all.

2. To fulfill an ancient prophecy and save his kingdom from destruction, Amir must collect the seven swords of the famous Kings of Olde. If only they weren't guarded by dragons, goblins, angry mage kings, and other creatures who, for no apparent reason, refuse to make this easy for him.

3. While searching for the seven swords of power with which to defeat an evil mage, Syvran encounters some onionpeople who tell her that her quest may be misguided. Perhaps it's not the mage who's evil, but the gods. Or the talking dragon that sent her on her quest.

4. As midnight looms over Bud's Haunted Bar & Grill in Cincinnati, Iggy the busboy must go to the basement to get the mop. Once there, he hears hideous sounds in the dark and calls to Loretta Muldoon, the savvy waitress, for only she can wield the Seven Swords needed to subdue the Horrible One who lurks below.

5. Her life threatened by an evil queen, princess White Snow escapes to an armory in the forest where she discovers seven swords: Sharpy, Slicey, Cutty, Hacky, Stabby, Slashy, and Gladius.

6. When Sir Gilgebar presents the Eight Sacred Swords of the Dragon of the Eternal Temple from the Mountain of the Magic Emerald to Princess Morleiea of the Northern Fae, she snaps. "Seven swords, you idiots! Not eight, not six, not daggers, not pistols! Seven -- swords! Either read the random rules of my fantasy world or quit wasting my time." Hilarity continues.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Syvrus has only one desire: to become immortal.

Luckily - or perhaps not - she is given that opportunity by a snobby dragon named RubyFlame, but with one condition: first she must live among immortals for several years. During this highly pleasant - in other words, bloody terrifying - time, Syvrus learns that that there is a threat to her lovable - in other words, bloody crazy - immortal friends. [Your desire to use the word "bloody" as often as possible suggests that you've read:

Evil Editor's List of Words
that Make a Query Irresistible

Antichrist, Wolfman, brain-eating,
Corpses, Giant Squid, Autopsy, Sharks,
Bloody, Murder, Bag of human heads,
Gelatinous, Belgian, Trout-like, Severed,
Purplish, Upthrust, Shoulderless

However, I had a different kind of "bloody" in mind, the kind that comes before nouns like "war," "corpse," and "bag of human heads." In any case, I don't see the point of saying highly pleasant means terrifying and lovable means crazy. If she's terrified and they're crazy, where are pleasant and lovable coming from? Are those the dragon's words?

Syvrus: I seek immortality.
RubyFlame: I can give you that, but you'll have to complete a dangerous task to prove you're worthy.
Syvrus: What do I have to do?
RubyFlame: Spend several pleasant years living with lovable people.
Syvrus. Kill me now.]

A powerful mage named Raven wants to destroy all the immortals in the world - and the gods as well. [Has anyone ever defined "immortal" for this Raven guy?]

The only way he can do this, though, is with the help of a legendary weapon created from seven swords - swords that he has thus far been unable to find, even after decades of irritated searching. [It's not the searching that's irritated, it's Raven. The searching is "irritating." Although a better word would be futile or fruitless. Fruitless? Swordless!] [The reason Raven can't find the seven swords is because the legendary weapon was created from the seven swords. That is, the seven were melted down and the legendary weapon created from their molten steel. I know this from reading the first half of the sentence. You may argue that what you meant is that Raven needs to find the seven swords so that he can melt them down and create the legendary weapon from them, but I counter that argument by asking, If the legendary weapon hasn't even been created yet, how can it already be legendary?] This explains why RubyFlame promises Syvrus that if she finds these swords and (of course) destroys Raven first, she will finally be made immortal. [I get it. RubyFlame = Wizard, Syvrus = Dorothy, Raven = witch, swords = broomstick, and immortality = Kansas. I haven't yet figured out who's playing the scarecrow, tin man and lion, but I'm sure we'll find out very soon.] With this irresistible enticement, Syvrus agrees.

But her journey has barely begun. As she searches for the seven swords, Syvrus meets various bawdy, majestic, and onion-like characters, [Onion-like characters? Shrek described ogres as being like onions: "Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers." Are your characters ogres? Because we were expecting a scarecrow.] [Also, it's not clear if you mean some are bawdy, some majestic and some, like these on the right, onion-like, or if you mean all the characters are, like that on the left, bawdy and majestic and onion-like.] all with different stories to tell. Many of these stories are not ones that Syvrus is happy to hear, especially since they go against her beliefs about the immortals and the gods. [The belief that they're bloody crazy or the belief that they're lovable?] She learns that while much courage is necessary to tell these stories, even more is necessary to truly listen to them. [This is too vague. What message do the stories convey?] As her journey continues, she discovers that there is more to Raven's desire to destroy the immortals and the gods than simple evil [--in other words, bloody complicated good]. And it is Syvrus who must eventually decide the fate of the world's beings - not all of which can survive. [One thing's for sure: the immortals will survive. Right? Right?] [I hope they don't send the onion-like characters to the guillotine, or everyone will be crying! Ba dum ching.]

The Seven Swords is a completed 135,000 word fantasy novel [--in other words, two bloody 67,000-word fantasy novels--] (directed at young adults) with philosophical undertones. Thank you for your time and consideration,


Either tell us up front that it's YA or tell us Syvran's age. Usually it's not young adults who are worried about their mortality, so we might assume she's older; often snobby dragons and talking onions appear in children's books, so we might assume she's younger.

How is Syvran supposed to know when she's found the seven swords? How are they different from other swords? Did the dragon give her any idea where to look or how to identify them?

How is Syvran supposed to defeat a powerful mage? Does she know how to convert the seven swords into one legendary weapon? It would be hard to defeat anyone while wielding seven swords.

If your philosophical undertones make it into the query, you don't need to tell us they're in the book.

If someone is telling me stories that go against my beliefs, it would take tolerance and patience to listen. I don't see why it would take courage. If the stories the onions tell are about actual things the gods and immortals have done, tell us what these things are so we better understand Syvran's conflict.

Cartoon 719

Caption: M.G.E./Angela Robbins/Mother (Re)produces

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Feature 3


We had about 80 captions submitted for the six cartoons. Apparently a lot more people consider themselves qualified to write for a super-intellectual audience than for the usual riffraff. A few of the submissions were funny, in my opinion, even to those who aren't geniuses, so I'm holding onto those and will use them as our regular daily cartoons in the future. I'll also be posting another batch of super-intellectual cartoons next Sunday, at which time I'll also post all unchosen captions, many of which are excellent. Rather than post the same drawing more than once, I found a few similar drawings that work just as well with some of your captions.


Caption: Vivian Whetham

Caption: Roger Eschbacher

Caption: Anon.

Caption: Dave F.

Caption: M.G.E.

Caption: M.G.E.

Caption: Paul Penna

Caption: Anon.

Caption: Whirlochre

Caption: Gwen Ever

Caption: Evil Editor

Caption: arhooley

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Face-Lift 813

Guess the Plot

Demon Horn

1. Klaxons. Trumpets. Air horns. All are ear-splittingly loud. But as Lois McGillicuddy is about to discover, nothing can compare to the abject horror of a possessed vuvuzela.

2. Hearing glorious tales of the potency of human horn, but not wishing to resort to cannibalism, adult film star Dick Swingin challenges the evil creatures of hell itself in his quest for the ultimate aphrodisiac.

3. The demon horn casts its red light across the land until it falls upon a poor tavern waiter named Aden. Suddenly Aden challenges a squire to a sword fight, except Aden's "sword" is a broom. Little does anyone suspect that the outcome of this fight will decide the fate of nations.

4. When Julio's mother makes him join middle school band, he thinks all he has to fear is social humiliation. But then he picks out his instrument at that weird pawn shop. Now he plays like an angel, but the rest of the brass section are disappearing one by one.

5. Ada Parker’s newest sax student is hot. Literally. He leaves scorch marks on the couch, wisps of smoke wherever he walks, and his horn always glows when he plays. Though he pays her only what she charges her other students, she can’t help but get the feeling he wants more from her than great sax.

6. Dison Alu, the leader of the World Heritage Foundation anti-poaching task force in Kenya, faces his toughest task yet when one of the protected rhinos begins killing every local it sees, and they in turn decide to kill every rhino they can find.

Original version

Dear Evil Editor,

It is a time of war and prophecy. The demon horn casts its red light over the land. But none of that matters to the tavern boy Aden. Filthy and poor, he is too busy serving tables and hoping for a decent meal. [After hearing about the mysterious and powerful demon horn with its far-reaching scarlet radiance, it's a bit of a letdown to realize the query will focus on a filthy waiter in a bar. But that's just me.]

The great hall is loud with boisterous drinkers. Aden lingers to admire the knights who fought so well at tournament. A group of wealthy youths mock and insult him. Furious, Aden blindly throws himself at Paulo without considering the consequences. [If "blindly" means without considering the consequences, you can delete it. If it means he had his eyes closed, okay.] A tavern boy, who is only familiar with using a broom, has no business (or future) sword fighting a squire. [Or does he? Let's read on and find out.]

Ramon, the blacksmith, leaves the company of his favourite girl and follows the fight outside. No one pays him any attention or guesses at how much he knows. [There's a fight going on; of course no one's paying attention to anything else. If you're in a bar and a fight breaks out, do you look at some guy off to the side and guess at how much he knows?] Unlike the king, Ramon fears that a terrible new enemy is coming. [That's true of those insane bearded guys you see in cartoons, carrying signs that say The end is near. Why should we believe this blacksmith has better information than the king?]

From the shadows Ramon watches Aden struggle. [Normally a bunch of people pour out of the tavern and surround the fighters, cheering them on and placing bets. Why is Ramon in the shadows?] He knows Aden is special but sees a fire in him as dangerous as it is powerful. Can he forge this reckless boy into the weapon they need or is it better to let him die? [If the dangerous powerful fire in Aden isn't enough to defeat one squire, perhaps he isn't so special after all. Let him die.]

A fantasy, DEMON HORN is complete at 88,000 words.

This is my first novel. I believe it is a fresh view on a medieval world with colourful characters and Portuguese influences. [Boisterous drinkers. The wealthy mocking the poor. A muscular shirtless blacksmith named Ramon who'd rather watch guys wrestle than be with a woman. Yep, this has Portugal written all over it.]

Thank you for your time.



We want to know what happens in the whole book. This sounds like what happens on page 1. Of the prologue.

Is the book set in Portugal? Is the terrible enemy Ramon foresees an actual historical enemy that attacked Portugal? Is it a demon? Is there a Portuguese legend involving a demon horn? Is the horn the kind that grows out of a demon's head? Did Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan pass through Cape Horn?

Presumably the setup is Ramon forging Aden into a controllable weapon of mass destruction. Which makes this scene the setup of the setup. It gives a sense of what's coming, but so does this: There's a storm brewing, and it's going to be a big one. Dorothy should be in the storm shelter, but she's gone off to search for her dog Toto. Doesn't really give a complete picture of the book. Apparently Aden will develop some skills that make him the key to defeating some enemy. For all we can tell from this query, Aden gets conked on the head by Paulo's sword and wakes up in Oz.

Cartoon 718

Caption: arhooley

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Face-Lift 812

Guess the Plot

Black, Brown and Red

1. After losing her beloved poodle in a bus crash, museum curator Nancy Smith goes on vacation and discovers the artist of the century -- 14 year old hillbilly genius Buddy Boone. His parents are too poor to buy paint, so he uses materials he finds in the fields and forest.

2. In a world where mages are ranked by the color of the crystals they wear, Joran seeks revenge against a black-crystal mage for the death of his family. But first he must work his way up the ladder through red and brown, or he'll never have a chance.

3. Top-tier fashion designer Lola Heaven gets walloped by a window-washer's dropped squeegee, and now she's color-blind. Will her spring line-up get panned, or will black, brown, and red become the new pastels? Also, a finicky schnauzer.

4. After many misadventures on their dirt-bikes Pat and Ryan decide to start a blog to catalog their accidents and injuries. To their surprise, their site -- called Black, Brown, and Red for their wound colors -- develops a following. To impress their fans, they try bigger and bigger stunts. But to Ryan at least, Pat's latest ideas sound a bit crazy.

5. Ku Klux Klansman Willy Shea and the missus can't have kids, but there are no white babies available for adoption. Reluctantly, they start a diverse little family, which leads to heart-warming lessons in life and love.

6. Geronimo Williams suffers from synesthesia; he can literally see scents as a pattern of colors overlaid on his otherwise normal vision. He uses this talent to find missing persons. Now, he's taken his toughest case yet, to find a billionaire's rebellious daughter who smells like . . . black, brown, and red.

Original Version

Greetings Almighty Evil One,

Joran's family is murdered and the mage responsible leads an alliance of great nations in war against his homeland. [Joran is the name of that insane criminal who's been in the news lately. Change it to Jor-el as an homage to Superman.]

At seventeen, Joran was happy living the simple life. Soon to be given his father's cattle farm, he longs for the day when he can call this land his own. Nechalyn, a mage whose black crystal shows him to be of the highest rank, destroys this life in a single night when he leads a party of raiders who murder every villager they find. Joran escapes death by hiding in a secret hole in the basement, but finds only one other man alive: A brown ranked mage named Nectat [Sounds too much like a beverage; change it to Necktie.] who has been following the raiders. Joran's wish to avenge his parents' deaths causes him to go with Nectat to be trained in the art of magic.

They return together to the mages' city of Lhenn to find action being stalled by political deadlock. Unbeknownst to all others the head of the council, Chayton, is under the direct control of Nechalyn, who seeks to destroy Lhenn. Once Nechalyn's forces are ready, Chayton empties Lhenn of its most powerful mages under the subterfuge of mobilizing for war. He sends Joran into a trap accompanied by Nectat and his son Farafel. [Farafel? Change his name to Falafel. And change your other characters' names to Tahini, Tabouleh, and Hummus. These sound much more like people's names than the ones you've chosen.] Nectat is killed and Farafel is captured, but Joran escapes to Lhenn with the knowledge that Chayton is the betrayer. [Jor-el wants his revenge. He's a kid. He doesn't care about all this political crap, so neither do we. Focus on what he wants, how he can get it, and what's stopping him.]

He is too late. In their absence Nechalyn has razed Lhenn and killed all he could find. Enraged, Joran risks eternal undeath by destroying his body in a ritual that marks the transition of a mage to the black. [A ritual is all it takes to attain black crystalness? Don't you have to work your way through the color spectrum for years while your instructor cleans out your bank account?] He is successful, forming a new body through strength of will. With his power greatly increased, he returns to fight for Farafel's release and Nechalyn's defeat. Will his newly found abilities prove potent enough to inflict vengeance upon the aged sorcerer?

Black, Brown and Red is a 90,000 word YA Fantasy novel. It is my first novel, with my publishing history consisting of mostly non-fiction articles in IT magazines. I'd be happy to send a manuscript at your request.

P.S. All the character names have been changed for posting on your blog. [What?! The minions like nothing better than telling authors what bad names they've chosen for their characters, and they were ready to tear into yours like weredingos into falafel. Plus, I spent hours thinking up better names for your characters.]


Too many names to keep track of. Sentences like "Nectat is killed and Farafel is captured, but Joran escapes to Lhenn with the knowledge that Chayton is the betrayer." don't bother you because you know who all these people are. I, on the other hand, am forced to either go back and look up who everyone is, or just toss the query into the Decomposer, which is what I call my new composting machine. And I think you know which choice I'll make. Falafel can go. Dump Chayton or just refer to him as the Council if he's that important. Necktie doesn't do much except die; you can probably work around his absence.

We don't need so much plot detail. Supermage kills Jor-el's family. He seeks revenge by training to become Superdupermage. Usually the big question is whether his new abilities will go to his head and he'll become power-hungry, rather than whether he'll get strong enough to defeat Supermage. Of course he will.

It seems to me that a mage who's attained the highest rank would have better things to do than lead a raid on a cattle farm. If you want an alliance of great nations to follow you, you need better stuff on your resume than killing a bunch of villagers. Also, I can see a green- or purple-crystal mage being unable to sense that there's a guy hiding in a hole in the basement, but a black-crystal mage? Humiliating.

Cartoon 717

Caption: M.G.E.

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cartoons for the Super-intellectual

That's the plan for this Sunday, assuming cartoon caption writers come through. The cartoons are in the usual place (link in sidebar). Your job is to come up with captions that would be understood only by the geniuses among you. In fact, it could be argued that if anyone actually "gets" your joke, it just wasn't intellectual enough.

Cartoon 716

Caption: Marissa Doyle

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Face-Lift 811

Guess the Plot

Walk the Broken Road

1. It's not easy to get to Ambercross. Mostly because it's a fictional world created by author Casey Winter. But Casey's ex-husband, a well-known pastor, has gotten there, and he's planning to destroy the place with C4 and Napalm. Which will pretty much ruin Casey's writing career. Can she find her way to Ambercross in time to save her novel ? Also, a cannibal.

2. Isolated since 1917, when floods washed the road out, everyone in Ridgeville is paranoid of the Outside. But 14-year-old hillbilly genius Buddy Boone is determined to take his banjo to Nashville and embrace modernity. First he must invent an inflatable raft using pigskin glued with tree sap. Or maybe he'll just . . . walk the broken road.

3. Hunter Jones is on the verge of country music stardom with an album about growing up on a farm in Kentucky. Only one problem: Hunter is actually part of the British peerage. How long can he keep up the charade before that cute reporter digs up the truth?

4. Road worker Melanie is having a bad day. Her civil engineering degree hangs useless on the caravan wall as the sun blazes down on her. A bunch of drunk and disorderly giants have stolen all the road signs on route 43. And as Melanie fills another foot-shaped pothole, she fails to notice the spaceship descending toward her.

5. One day Josh oversleeps and wakes up to find zombies attacking the city. What's worse, his brain has already been eaten, yet somehow he's still walking around. Being dead feels great! He decides to help others find the same undead bliss he's discovered--while at the same time satisfying his craving for grey matter.

6. With Dorothy gone you'd think Oz had been set straight. But with her sisters out of the way, the good witch Glinda has become the wicked bitch of the South, and she's ruling Oz with an iron wand. Can the once-cowardly Lion convince the Scarecrow to stop waxing philosophic as he wanders the poppy-fields, and to drag Tinman away from crying over his tv-soaps and rusting himself, so they can finally free Oz from the last despotic witch-sister?

Original Version

Dear Evil Ed.,

Fantasy novelist Casey Winter isn’t a hero. She just writes about them. Jack, her violent ex-husband, is the famous pastor of a powerful mega-church and wants her to defend his abusive history on national television. [My husband abused me throughout our miserable marriage, Oprah, but I defend to the death his right to do so.] [He wants her to defend his abusive history? What does that mean? I can only guess that instead of "defend" you mean "disavow." Or maybe "forgive." Either way, if she does this on national television, won't that just call more attention to his abusive history? Is that what he wants? You wouldn't think a guy with a widely known abusive history would have enough parishioners to fill a mega-church.] [Which is bigger, a mega-church or a humongo-mosque?] He attempts legal blackmail, threatening to seize her house if she doesn’t co-operate. [If they're divorced, surely the ownership of the house has been settled. If it's her house, how can he seize it?] [Also, if I were Jack, I would be seriously worried that Casey would go on national television and say, "Jack has threatened to seize my house if I don't disavow his abuse, but I can't lie, he brutalized me like Mike Tyson brutalizes his cellmate," and then pastor Jack loses whatever reputation he had. I'd feel safer buying her a new house in New Zealand than putting her on television.] When she contacts his former lawyer, [Why not contact his current lawyer? What's in it (whatever "it" is) for his former lawyer?] she receives a letter from a younger, saner Jack. He left Casey a set of magical paintings in the event of his death, and his artwork and letters lead to a startling discovery: her fictional world, Ambercross, is real and in need of her help. [You've lost me. If the paintings go to Casey when Jack dies, and he's still alive, how has his artwork led anywhere? Presumably she hasn't inherited it yet.] [Also, it's a little late in the query for such a radical turn of events. If your main character is a mermaid, reveal it up front.]

Her novel’s protagonist is framed for an attack on the King of the Faeries and can’t defend himself, as he’s currently stuck in the villain’s body. The King is MIA. His temporary regent is in her ex’s employ and will gladly trade the treasury for a chance to turn humans into slaves (and the occasional snack). When the King’s attacker appears in Casey’s living room, she realizes fairy-tale bad-guys don’t wear Nikes or carry .45s. [That makes no logical sense. Well, it makes sense if what you mean is that Casey used to think fairy tale bad guys wore Nikes and carried .45s, but now that a fairy tale bad guy who's not wearing Nikes and carrying a .45 has appeared before her, she realizes she's been wrong all these years; but what I think you mean is that someone claiming to be the fairy tale bad guy has appeared before her, except he's wearing Nikes and carrying a .45, so he can't possibly be the fairy tale bad guy, in which case you might tweak the sentence to read, When the King’s attacker appears in Casey’s living room, she quickly realizes he's an impostor--fairy-tale bad-guys don’t wear Nikes or carry .45s.] Pastor Jack’s on the prowl, and she’s the only one who can warn Ambercross before he introduces it to C4 and Napalm. And when Jack reveals that he’s actually the disembodied villain, Casey realizes she must fight for more than just her fiction. The fate of two worlds hangs on her choices, and whatever happens, it had better make one hell of a book.

WALK THE BROKEN ROAD is complete at just under 85,000 words. It is intended as the first of a trilogy. This is my first novel. I am a commercial baker in the trenches of a large grocery chain. I also do digital, fantasy themed artwork and have done several covers for a small press. Thank you for your time.


Not part of query: (The title comes from the main theme of faith, and the MC's realization that no matter how nasty things get, she has to keep going.) [The title and its origin sound like literary fiction. The plot summary sounds more like Who Framed Roger Rabbit.]


The first paragraph sounds like a bunch of random backstory plot threads about a woman whose violent ex-husband is making her life miserable. Then suddenly she's tasked with saving the king of the Faeries from her ex while saving humanity from cannibals. That may work in the book, but in the query it's a bit much. I'd base the query mainly in one world, starting:

Fantasy novelist Casey Winter isn’t a hero; she just writes about them. But that all changes when she discovers that her "fictional" world of Ambercross suddenly exists, and her despicable ex-husband Jack is plotting to blow it up.

The second paragraph is a list of the absurd things that are happening in Toon Town, but I think you can work some of that in without losing the main thread. Perhaps by finishing up something like:

This is not the Ambercross Casey created. Her protagonist is stuck in her villain’s body. The King of the faeries is MIA. And his temporary replacement is a cannibal working for Jack! She can't write her way out of this one; she's going to have to go to Ambercross if she wants to save her world . . . and her book.

In between those paragraphs you can have the character show up in Casey's living room to tell her what's happening in Ambercross (I assume that's how she finds out?).

Cartoon 715

Caption: Paul Penna

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Beginning 779

Dinwitty, our computer nerd, died last night. Six quick parries with an old-fashioned hunting knife to his torso and no one saw the killer. Dinwitty went to the rave parade wearing his facemask and swim fins along with a skin-tight, rainbow cat suit, his signature black duster and slicked back hair. He'll return in a shroud. Miss Silvia, Duchess of New Claysburg, stood aghast that anyone would try to assassinate her or hurt her adoring fans.

"Will no one be my Kavalier?" her voice echoed plaintively across the gray of Calder Benson Boulevard in the village of West Hovingshire. "The evening must have a Kavalier to deliver my gift to the party." Five of her followers stepped forward like modern-day Sir Walters and retrieved the marble heavy sack full of frozen Suzie's Brand Cream Cheese lying next to Dinwitty. She silenced the applause so the musicians and performers could harmonize a few soft chords of Libera me, of requiescant in pace and In paradisum deducant te Angeli over Dinwitty's dead body. Order and harmony restored, she pointed to the rave site where she would celebrate her twenty-first birthday.

Not far away, where Calder Benson crossed Dave Jenkins Avenue, the man in the Animal Collective tee shirt sat astride his fixed gear bicycle and watched her. He absently ran a hand over his upper lip, the moustache tattooed on his index finger lending his gaunt face a sinister air. I caught his eye and nodded. He made no response, save to pull his ski goggles into place and readjust his Walkman headphones before pedaling away. He disappeared behind the Tao Lin Teahouse as the techno quintet launched into the theme song from Alf.

It was a shame about Dinwitty, but in the game of checkers you sometimes have to sacrifice your battleship. And I was playing a high-stakes game of checkers, indeed. Miss Silvia would merely be the first to fall, followed by New Claysburg and then the Kingdom of Nova Brooklyn itself.

A cruel fate, but such was the way of the Hipsterpocalypse.

Opening: Dave F......Continuation: Sean

Cartoon 714

Caption: M.G.E.

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Feature 2

Q & A

with Mrs. Varmighan

When you first saw EE naked, did you faint or throw up?

I have to admit I threw up. But I should explain. I had dropped by his house to pick up some manuscripts he wanted burned, and when he didn't answer my knock I went in. Suddenly the eggplant Parmesan and chef's salad I'd had for dinner decided they didn't want to stay down, so I ran for the bathroom. Turned out EE was sitting on the commode reading query letters in the nude. You should have seen the look on his face when I burst through the door and blew chunks all over him. Priceless.

Whenever I'm lost in sadness or just plain doubt of all my life, I wonder what the meaning of didactic existentialism is, as presented in Camus novels and contrasted with Nietzsche's thoughts of man and superman. I find it helps me gain a new outlook on life. What do you and EE do when the world looks to be against you?

EE orders a dozen hot doughnuts from the bakery in our building. He lets me have first choice! (Which is always the dark chocolate glazed one with raspberry filling.) And he eats the other eleven.

Was your hair styled by the same guys responsible for the zero grav training facilities at NASA? It's like the leaning tower of Pisa — or some crazy, crazy stuntman-cum-acrobat!

Glad you like it. I used to wear my hair longer, as you can see in this photo taken at my wedding reception. The late Mr. Varmighan isn't in the photo, as he died in the limo taking us from the church to the reception hall. I tried to tell him limo sex would be too much for a guy with a bad ticker. Poor guy never got to find out, as he checked into the Dirt Nap Hotel soon as I gave him a glimpse of my cleavage. Lucky for me Evil Editor offered to fill in, or I'd have been doing my first dance with a broomstick.

Anyway, when Marge Simpson came along, I didn't like my hairdo being compared to hers, which is, let's face it, almost cartoonish. So I lopped off the top three fourths. Which required a chain saw, partly because of all the hairspray, but mostly because I was carrying a 31-inch Louisville Slugger in there for protection. Now that I'm wearing it shorter, all I have in there is a can of mace. Oh, and a pack of Twinkies for emergencies.

Unfortunately, now everyone compares me to this chick, which is a joke, because my hair is perfectly permed and she looks like she's been electrocuted or something. No way she gets a comb or a brush through that wasp's nest.

What time do you start work? Does the Evilness wear boxers or those little red thongy things? What do you prefer for lunch? Salad or tuna on toasted whole wheat and does his Lordship allow you time to eat while he snoozes on his blood red leather couch? Have you ever gotten angry and snapped his suspenders? How many times should I submit my manuscript before I give up? Also, can you comment on the market for obnoxious fairies at the moment? Hopeless? Should I give up and go for occluded payphones?

Here's a tip, hon: lay off the caffeine.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Face-Lift 810

Guess the Plot


1. A meta-literary romp in which the author meanders plotlessly--until the characters revolt and plot against him! Unfortunately, their plot involves him bagging his writing career and getting a nine to five job!!

2. When Deanna gets lost on a hike in the Pyrenees, she stumbles into a pristine painted cave, a cave occupied by . . . cannibal cavemen!! Can she convince them she's their goddess before they decide she's . . . their dessert?!

3. Jolana has spent her life in prayer, fasting, and meditation on the holy book The Way of Rom. Which is why she's taken aback when Rom shows up at her convent . . . as a beer swilling eighty-year-old woman with a taste for younger men and terrible puns!!

4. After Helena Wayward suddenly develops magical powers, she runs away to work on her motorcycle. Her family plead with her to return and kill . . . an immortal sorcerer! But Helena knows that once the sorcerer's out of the way, her family will be able to . . . enslave the human race!!

5. "Got no class and take no sass" is the motto of Dakota McGill, a 23-year-old former runaway. But will she change her tune when handsome sheriff Joe Karodzik needs her help in solving . . . a rash of alien abductions?! A little voice keeps telling her No . . . in Martian!!

6. Minerva has always been wayward: cigarettes at thirteen, booze at fourteen, and motherhood at fifteen! That, however, proves to be only apprentice waywardness, for when she turns sixteen, she experiences . . . the waywardness of the undead!!

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

The Wayward family is the Cosa Nostra of all things that go bump in the night: magical malfeasance, soul stealing, show business -- you name it. Born without magic, seventeen-year-old Helena "Hex" Wayward is an embarrassment to her power-hungry relatives. When her dormant magic erupts in an uncontrollable display that kills a member of a rival family she has to make a choice: embrace the powers that threaten to destroy her soul or run away to escape the inevitable vengeance. [The show biz joke isn't working because "things that go bump in the night" isn't strong enough. If you want it to work, you could change it to . . . all things inherently evil: black magic, soul stealing, show business . . . But I don't think you want to open with a joke when the story is about a serious threat to all of humanity. Thus I would go with something like this:

The Wayward family are the Corleones of the black arts. And seventeen-year-old Helena "Hex" Wayward, born without magic, has long been an embarrassment to her power-hungry relatives. When Hex's dormant magic suddenly erupts--in an uncontrollable display that kills a member of a rival family--she must choose: embrace powers that could destroy her soul; or flee inevitable vengeance.]

Life hidden amongst the humans isn't so bad. The boys are cute, there's plenty of time to work on her beloved motorcycle [, the boys are really cute,] and no one's tried to kill her for at least a month. [Did I mention that the boys are cute?] When the past finally catches up with her, instead of the expected attack, an emissary comes bearing an offer. The families need her power to settle a centuries-old feud that will finally cement their control over the entire world. In exchange for her help, Hex will be left in peace.

Returning to her old life is easier than it should be. [Possibly because she doesn't have a steady boyfriend yet, possibly because she accidentally kills every boy she goes out with.] But when she comes face-to-face with the enemy, an immortal sorceror [sorcerer] who is equal parts seductive and deadly, fulfilling her part of the bargain becomes less than simple. [Killing the immortal always looks simpler than it is.] He calls to the terrible darkness inside of her but destroying him will remove the only barrier between the magical families and enslaving the human race. Sparing him means having what's left of her own humanity consumed. [Not clear. I would think sparing him means she can go back to the cute boys and her motorcycle, with no fear that all humanity will become slaves, while destroying him, thus causing the enslavement of humanity, would consume her remaining humanity.]

WAYWARD is a YA paranormal novel, complete at 75,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration.


It's well-written, but perhaps it needs an indication that Hex has grown attached to the human world, instead of the claim that returning to her own world is easy.

I don't see why these two (or more) highly experienced magical families are helpless against the sorcerer, but this one girl who's shown no ability to control her magic is much more powerful than the sorcerer. What's so special about her?

You claim the families need Hex's power to settle a centuries-old feud, but from what I can see she is there to destroy the sorcerer, not to settle a feud. What does the sorcerer have to do with the feud? What are they feuding about?

Does "wayward" describe Helena, or is that the title just because her last name is Wayward? It's kind of a ridiculous last name, one that sounds like it was chosen just to match what you wanted the title to be. The main character of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot isn't Prince Lev Nikolayevich Idiot. That would sound even sillier than Helena Wayward. John Jakes wrote a novel called The Bastard, but his main character was named Philip Kent, not Philip Bastard. Think about it.

Cartoon 713

Caption: Paul Penna

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Beginning 778

Clara Dietrich’s heart was still.

The point of her sketching pencil quivered above the page. It itched to draw, but she dared not move a millimeter. She might frighten it.

A pair of black eyes housed in a tufted red face regarded her. The cardinal tilted its head, deciding the level of threat she posed. After a moment of serious deliberation, it came to the conclusion that she was neither a hawk nor a cat, and continued to peck at the seed she’d spread on the ground before her bench.

With a whoosh, she released her breath into the cool October air and allowed herself a smile. The park near Old St. Mary’s was her favorite place to sit and observe local wildlife. There was so little of it in the city outside of the parks – brief respites of color caged between the gray and brown buildings.

Careful to move as little as possible, she shifted her day dress so she could lift her leg to use as a makeshift table. Her pencil flew over the creamy page as her eyes absorbed the cardinal, drinking in every claw and marking before he took flight.

She didn’t have long to wait.

"Sorry about that."

Clara jumped at the voice behind her.

"Oh. Sorry again. Didn't mean to startle you. Just wanted to say, sorry about the cardinal."

Clara smiled. "It was quite something. I've never seen anything quite like it before."

"I know, I know. Really quite curious. He's new here, and frankly, I'm rather worried about him, as is the bishop."
Father Murphy waved goodbye and followed the cardinal back to St. Mary's.

Opening: Steph.....Continuation: anon.

Cartoon 712

Caption: Anon.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cure for Writer's Block?

Dr. Wicked's Write or Die is a program available online which allows you to type some of your WIP, and then cut and paste it into your own file. But before you start, you declare your word/time goal. If you stop typing the screen turns red and if you don't start up quickly the computer starts making an unpleasant noise that you won't want to listen to and if you still don't get back to work . . . I don't think you die, but I doubt anyone's risked it. You can purchase a version with additional features for 10 bucks, but you'll want to see if it works for you before considering that.

Face-Lift 809

Guess the Plot

Hidden in Shadows

1. Adam is an online dating conman, pimping with an army of fake female profiles, waiting for the next lonely male to take the bait. The last thing he expects is the attentions of a bisexual redhead whose words burn in his inbox. Should he risk everything and break anonymity to find her? Will she still be interested when she finds out he is a he?

2. Assassin Lorna McCloud has an advantage over her victims: the power to create and hide in artificial shadows. She heads for an island nation where many people want the king dead, hoping for a lucrative assignment. When she falls for the monarch, will she give him her heart . . . or put a bullet through his?

3. When the mangled bodies of teen prostitutes are found by the La Brea tar pits, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: These kids weren't mangled by Mastodons, and he'd better stop by the gift shop and get something for his son.

4. There's a whole species of Shadow-Beings who live in a parallel existence to ours. They huddle next to buildings, linger under trees, and avoid the Equator. When Darkwyn, the Shadow King, seeks to extend his rule, his first objective is a human queen: Mandy, the waitress at the local all-nite diner.

5. Jennie's dying mom will never get a lifesaving operation if Jennie doesn't rustle up some cash and fast. Unskilled and a recovering sex addict, Jennie slides into prostitution, her only option, but her fear of relapsing into addiction keeps her . . . hidden in shadows.

6. Avenging the stalking death of his sister, scientist James Fraille releases a phosphorous chemical into the air which eliminates shadows. No one can lurk in shadows; no one can spy from shadows. No one can sweep rice cake crumbs into shadows. One unexpected drawback—the air is losing oxygen and everyone will soon suffocate.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I would love for you to consider [That goes without saying. Or at least it should.] HIDDEN IN SHADOWS, a 96,000-word urban fantasy romance novel.

Lorna McCloud is an assassin hell bent on avenging her father's murder only she has no leads [except the knowledge that the murderer has six fingers on his right hand]. Soon she has more important issues to deal with than whether to use a dagger or a gun to kill her next target. [The connection between those sentences isn't there. Either drop the father and begin: Assassin Lorna McCloud has more important issues to deal with than whether to use a dagger or a gun on her next target. For one thing, she's been captured by... Or, drop the dagger/gun "issue" and begin: Lorna McCloud is an assassin hell-bent on avenging her father's murder, but right now she has more important issues to deal with; she's been captured by...]

First, she's captured by the Paranormal Intelligence Agency, a shady, clandestine organization. A PIA henchman tells Lorna that she has the ability to create and hide in artificial shadows, a power she had unknowingly used during her nightly killings. [If she kills at night, what does she need artificial shadows for? It's dark at night.] Lorna distrusts the agency, and manages to escape.

Then Lorna heads to a small island where many of her potential clients want the king dead. [Each paragraph is a different plot. Tie them together with more than Lorna being in them.] Lorna hasn't felt the stirrings of love in a long time, but something about the noble Alaric makes her long for the light after her lifetime spent in shadow. [I assume the noble Alaric is the king? How is it that Lorna is getting to know him? You don't just go to some country and start socializing with the king.]

Torn between murder and love, Lorna has never been able to escape her past or her ardent desire for revenge, and now they may prevent her from her only chance of living a normal, happy life. [Somehow it's hard to imagine someone who longs for a normal, happy life making nightly kills. It would be easier to buy her sincerity if she'd already cut back to twice-weekly kills.]

[You have two plots, the revenge-seeking and the kill him/marry him conflict. The query doesn't need both. As you're calling this a romance, I'd dump the father/revenge angle. It's barely mentioned anyway, and you need to focus on the main plot.]

I am the author of a medieval fantasy romance series, The Kingdom of Arnhem – Woman of Honor (2009) and Knight of Glory (2010) published with Desert Breeze Publishing. I have also sold six short stories for anthologies, two of which are under the pen name Nicolette Zamora.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,


First you tell us about her father, then you drop that and move on to the PIA, and then you drop that. Why use an entire paragraph to tell us how she found out she has her shadow power, when you can just tell us she has it? The correct "Guess the Plot" tells us everything that's in the query in three sentences, leaving plenty of room to go into how the Lorna/Alaric romance develops, or what an artificial shadow is.

I assume when you get hired to kill someone you get at least partial payment in advance, so when you decide you'd rather not kill him, wouldn't you have to worry that your client wants his money back? And will immediately hire another assassin to kill your true love? And will also have you killed because you know he's the one behind the assassination?

The PIA sounds like a CIA that handles paranormal stuff, like the FBI branch on The X-Files. I assume they aren't just a gang of small-time thugs. Thus it seems odd to refer to one of their agents as a henchman. It's like referring to an MI-6 goon or a Secret Service gorilla.

Cartoon 711

Caption: M.G.E.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Beginning 777

I curled over in my stateroom bed, trying to get some shuteye, trying to think of anything but the roll of the ship and the scrambled eggs inside me threatening a U-turn. It finally hit me why Dr. von Tinkerbaum insisted I sail back to the states instead of fly. My nerves couldn’t get to me if my guts had first dibs.

When I heard a rap at the door, I figured it was the steward with a fifth of whiskey, my only resort for a good knockout out since the doc said he didn’t trust me with goofballs. “Come in.”

The door swung open to a nifty-looking pair of gams. My eyes traveled up, past the cigarette skirt and the wide-brimmed hat she held in her hand, liking what I saw on the way, until I hit the dame’s face—or, rather, it hit me. The broad was a two-bagger. She had big bucked teeth, nearly no chin, and a crooked nose. Her brow flesh sagged over the left eye and the right side of her mouth looked like it was in a perpetual smile. Even her dark hair was frizzy.

She musta noticed me staring at her mug, cause she said, "What're you starin' at, Shamus?" I was about to apologize when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror over my dresser. She said, "What the fuck? How did the gutted carcass of a blobfish get over my head?"

I helped her yank the thing off. Underneath she looked like
Rita Hayworth. "Christ," she said, "no wonder my auditions have all gone south lately."

Anyway, that's how I met my wife, and we've never been happier, right Rita?

Opening: Vivian Davenport.....Continuation: Evil Editor

Cartoon 710

Caption: arhooley

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Face-Lift 808

Guess the Plot

Nine Worlds to Midnight

1. Take nine girls, each a princess in her world. Add nine boys, each a homicidal maniac in those same worlds. Throw in some werewolves, ninjas, talking cats, and a bloodthirsty ancient pharaoh. Mix it all together at midnight and you get Norse mythology.

2. Grover Holden is on a scavenger hunt for his life. If he doesn't collect nine items from nine churches across the city before midnight, a sadistic televangelist will consign him to hell.

3. When Doctor What shows up with his time-traveling (and sweet smelling) port-o-potty and accidentally spills Janie's drink all over her, he offers to make it up to her with a trip to another planet or nine. But, can she make it back home before her midnight curfew?

4. Jason wants to go to Six Flags ("More flags, more fun!") but his dad insists on Nine Worlds. Little do they know a ride-operating vampire will take control of the Vampire Bat Hellcoaster and roll them into the Tenth World at midnight.

5. When the stars around Earth blink out one by one, astronomer and lapsed Catholic priest Ken Layton sets out to discover why. He finds himself faced with a galactic case of insomnia: God is sick of trying to sleep with all the lights on. Can Ken find a big-enough sleep mask before God snuffs out the sun?

6. Young Dolores, tired of being mocked at school for having a name that rhymes with a female body-part, decides to switch to the school by her dad's house. But mom will only let her move out if, tonight, she babysits step-brother Troy, the kid from hell. Can Dolores bamboozle him with stories until he falls asleep, to keep him from wrecking the house and ruining her moving plans?

Original Version

Dear Evil Agent,

I am seeking representation for my YA fantasy trilogy, Nine Worlds to Midnight. The first volume is complete at 80,000 words, and I have complete drafts of the next two novels. Together they tell a story about love, friendship, ninjas, clockwork, werewolves, causality, talking cats, parallel worlds, [Zzzzzzzzz.] Ragnarok, and the past-life stalker from hell. [I recommend three items per list in a query letter. In this case, I'd go with friendship, parallel worlds and talking cats. If you call it a story about clockwork, causality and Ragnarok, you may as well make this the last sentence.]

Princess Ankhet is afraid of only two things: that she's too scatterbrained to be a good princess, and that she won't have the courage to tell her childhood friend Finn that she likes him. [You forgot snakes. Surely she's afraid of snakes.] [Also, ancient pharaohs who want to cut out her heart.] Then she accidentally wakes an ancient pharaoh who enslaves her kingdom, [This guy works fast.] brainwashes Finn, and wants to cut out her heart. Ankhet escapes, but with Finn on her heels, she has nowhere to hide--until a mysterious white cat makes her an offer: "Come with me across worlds. Find the eight other princesses, and you can save your friend."

Irena Sigynsdottir [Translation: Daughter of the Sidhe gynocologist.] has always known exactly what she's going to do with her life: she'll [change her last name to Smith and] join the Order that protects her world from incursions, and she'll prove to Kjaran--the aloof older boy who's been her guardian since her parents died--that she's grown up and he should marry her. Nothing can stop her--[Anytime an author says "Nothing can stop her," it's a sure bet something will stop her, often before the end of the sentence.] until the night Kjaran slaughters their entire village [That always puts a damper on a relationship.] and uses the blood in a spell to make her a human weapon. He says he'll let her run a little while: "And if you eat the hearts of the eight other princesses, you might be strong enough to survive my return." Irena can't bear to use such abominable magic, but she's determined to get revenge. Then a black cat makes her an offer: "Come with me across worlds. I know another way for you to grow strong [and for once it doesn't involve removal and consumption of anyone's heart]."

As the two girls journey [Together?] between worlds, they learn there is more at stake than their own personal quests. Aeons ago, the most powerful of all worlds--Asgard--was destroyed. [Turned out, it was the second most powerful of all worlds.] On the night it fell, the prince and princess of Asgard had their hearts shattered. [I'm starting to think it's the author who's obsessed with hearts and not the characters.] In every world, a boy and a girl have been born with fragments of those hearts inside them. In every world, [that girl has become a princess and had her heart removed and eaten, and that boy has become a mass murderer.] tragedy has followed them. And from somewhere beyond the worlds, the one who destroyed Asgard is manipulating them all for his own ends. [What are his own ends? You claim there's more at stake than the girls' personal quests, and then you don't tell us what it is.]

In 2007 I attended [reputable writing workshop.] [On the last day of the workshop we all drew straws to see whose heart we would remove and eat. I got lucky; that's the last time I go to a horror writing workshop.] This is my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Luckily I didn't suggest including ninjas and werewolves on your list, as they aren't mentioned at all. Meanwhile, the bloodthirsty pharaoh and the evil magician/mass murderer didn't even make the list?

Are Irena and Ankhet the main characters, or do the other seven princesses get equal screen time? If the latter, these two are getting too much query time.

I suggest dropping the first paragraph entirely. You can put your word count and genre at the end.

The plot is what happens after the cats make their appearances. The rest is the setup, and we want less setup and more plot. The Irena paragraph could be shortened to something like:

Irena Sigynsdottir longs to prove to Kjaran--the aloof older boy who's been her guardian since her parents died--that she's grown up and he should marry her. But she begins to have second thoughts when Kjaran slaughters their entire village and uses the blood in a spell to make her a human weapon. As she plots her revenge, a black cat makes her an offer: "Come with me across worlds. I know a way for you to grow strong.

The Ankhet paragraph can do without "childhood" and "with Finn on her heels."

It would be an interesting experiment to start the query:

Aeons ago, the most powerful of all worlds--Asgard--was destroyed. On the night it fell, the prince and princess of Asgard had their hearts shattered. In every world, a boy and a girl have been born with fragments of those hearts inside them. And from somewhere beyond the worlds, the one who destroyed Asgard is manipulating them all for his own ends.

That's your setup, and you can jump to the part where the nine princesses are doing whatever they must do to save their worlds and get their men.