Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Face-Lift 1067

Guess the Plot

Sammy the Seashell

1. On his journey from the ocean to the beach, a shell named Sammy learns valuable life lessons from an older shell.

2. Mob boss Sammy the Seashell terrorizes Key West, until he messes with the wrong beach bum.

3. Sammy the Seashell has spectacular goals and ambitions. Unfortunately for him, Muriel the Mermaid already has a new bra.

4. After weeks of being washed in and out with the tide, a seashell finds stability as a window in a sandcastle. Or so he thinks.

5. Tight-lipped mollusk Sammy the Seashell is forced to become an informant by Meropolis Detective Jessica Scallop. But when she’s targeted by the Squidfather, Sammy joins forces with a murderous angelfish and a pair of cross-dressing eels to save the pointy gal who made his life a thermal vent.

6. A meteoroid strikes the Atlantic Ocean and causes the intelligence of mollusks to soar. Sammy, a conch, is elected supreme leader. He sends Carla, an oyster, topside to explore. She reports that humans eat shellfish. But there's good news: one religion forbids eating shellfish. Sammy comes up with a plan to convert all humans to Orthodox Judaism.

7. Witty memoir of a Hollywood extra who's worked in hundreds of movies, including Beaches and Castaway. Includes Sammy's favorite clam chowder recipes, and the real story of the obsessed fan who kept picking him up to hear the ocean.

Original Version

Dear :

Begin with some anxiety...a bit of stress...a feeling of not belonging. Now stir in a large measure of confidence. Add a generous dollop of self-esteem. Sprinkle on a liberal amount of optimism. Mix it all together with the love and inspiration of a great story. Let it sit for a short time, and you have [heart-rending literary fiction that Oprah would be proud to offer in her book club.] the recipe for a special reading experience! [Technically, the stirring, adding, sprinkling, mixing part was the recipe. What you have when you're done is not the recipe, but your book.]

Sammy the Seashell takes a long journey from the deep sea to the shores of a nearby beach. He encounters many situations that frighten him and cause the symptoms of stress to emerge. [Wouldn't it be better if Sammy were a clam instead of an inanimate object?] With the help of an older shell, Sammy learns some strategies to get through these difficult yet common situations that occur in everyone’s life. He learns that although stress will never go away, he can control the way it can affect his life. [The title/main character make it obvious this is for four-year-olds. The theme of the book seems geared toward adults with high-pressure jobs. For instance, if this was six years ago, I could see Barbara Bush reading it to George in bed. And the next night, when Barb wants to read a romance novel, George says, Can we do Sammy the Seashell again? Pleeease?] Most importantly, he learns the power of positive thinking and how it can change the way he tackles life's problems. [Maybe you should provide a couple specific examples of the life problems encountered by a shell.]

Diane Schute has worked with children for close to 20 years as a teacher, counselor and a therapist in a private practice. One theme has been apparent in all of these years in every place she has worked: kids are stressed! She sees kids on a daily basis struggling to deal with anxiety and not having the strategies needed to cope. Diane was a co-creator of a video titled “Stressball Sally,” [in which Sally the Stressball, with the help of an older stressball, learns some strategies to get through difficult yet common situations that occur in everyone’s life.] which demonstrated strategies to help children deal with stressful situations such as bullying, which we have heard so much about in today’s schools ( [Look, kid, if this shell managed to survive pollution and seaweed, you ought to be able to handle Tommy Parker.] Diane has worked since then to find ways for children to feel good about themselves and ultimately create an environment with less stress and more success!

Gail Marshall is a former elementary school teacher with 35 years of classroom experience. She taught a variety of grade levels and worked with many children who were dealing with a range of life issues and special needs. Gail shared her lifelong love of reading and the craft of writing with her many students. [Which one of you came up with the idea to make your main character a shell?]

We are members of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Over the years we have attended numerous workshops and curriculum-related seminars related to the art of writing and the many issues faced by children today.

We are submitting Sammy the Seashell, our picture book manuscript, along with this letter. We very much appreciate your time and consideration. Thank you very much.



I'd like to see the specificity with which you talk about yourselves applied to the story. Tell me what happens to Sammy and how he deals with it, and I'll decide whether kids will enjoy the story, in which case they will absorb the message through osmosis or through their parents saying, See how Sammy the Seashell stood up to that Great White Shark?

The spiel about stress and life's problems etc. isn't useful in determining whether the story is entertaining. You may say, we're enclosing the manuscript, so why should we discuss the plot? To which I say, you're enclosing the manuscript, so why should you discuss the message? If the message is clear to a child, the agent/editor will probably spot it when you say Sammy gets bullied by a barracuda and raises an army of mussels to teach it a lesson it won't forget.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Face-Lift 1066 (revised)

As we clearly won't have enough fake plots today to post the one remaining title in the query queue, I'm posting the rewrite from the author of the query just below this post.

Author here.

You guys are One.Tough.Crowd.

How deep to go into detail in a query seems to be a universal conundrum. People who follow Noah Lukeman’s advice to keep it minimal (“Robin Hood steals King John’s gold. Period.”) seemed to get slammed for not revealing causalities or motives, etc., essential or not. [How many people are going to fall for this Lukeman guy's spiel? Go to any other agent's site and click on "Books" and you get a listing of books by authors the agent represents. Do the same at Lukeman's site and you get a list of books written by Lukeman. Go to another agent's site and click on "News" and you get news about the agent's authors' books. At Lukeman's site you get news about Lukeman. "Robin Hood steals King John’s gold. Period." That's all I need to know. I'm phoning the Coen brothers to see if they want the film rights.] Those who let it all hang out get hooted for writing a synopsis instead of a query. Myself, I thought a query was supposed to pique sufficient interest so that the editor/agent/golum would want to read more, not that it was to answer every story question or reveal every motive or explain every setup. [How to pique my interest: Ten sentences that fit on one page and focus on the main character. Who he is, what he wants, what's stopping him from getting it, what he plans to do about it.]

FWIW, below is a revision. The issues raised in the critique comments are addressed in the full narrative; frankly, I did a clumsy job of selecting the story beats to reveal. [Aha! So it's not all our fault.] I hope the revision delves deep enough to satisfy without raising yet more questions. Query critiques really only work the first time around, but If anyone has a moment, please check it out and let me know what you think.

Thanks to everyone—and most humbly to Evil, the Editor!—for your time and willingness to comment; It’s been valuable. What I take away is, I should maybe write about vampires. (Is there an app for that?)


Dearest Editor:

Of Time and Chance is an 80,000-word thriller.

Jack Prior is a biker, recovering alcoholic, and PTSD victim; when he’s diagnosed with Margolin’s ulcer, he falls off the wagon, wrecks his Harley, and lands in a drunk tank. The CIA bails him out; they know who he is.

Decades ago in the Sahara oil fields, Jack was imprisoned for selling explosives to a Berber separatist. Police Captain Kareem al-Barasa tortured Jack mercilessly. At length, fueled by fear and desperation, Jack attacked Barasa with scissors, blinding him in one eye. The American consul spirited Jack out of the country. Barasa swore vengeance.

Now the CIA wants Jack’s help. Sheik Zuwari, a valuable Western asset, is being held in Libya’s Abu Salim prison. The commandant—Colonel Barasa—will sell Zuwari’s freedom for a million dollars cash—to be delivered by Jack Pryor. The CIA assures Jack that this will be a quick, low-risk mission; he’ll be well guarded, and well compensated.

Desperate for money, Jack accepts the CIA’s offer and travels to Tripoli, a city wracked by rebellion. Within hours of Jack’s arrival, a suicide bomber sent by Barasa wipes out the CIA team. Jack realizes that Barasa’s true prize is Jack himself, and that in this lawless country, unable even to radio for help, he must struggle alone to defeat his nemesis—if he is to save Zuwari and end the lifelong torment in his soul.

Thank you for your time.


That answers a lot of the questions. Except how Jack got out of the prison and into the American Consulate after stabbing Barasa in the eye. (Apparently there was no one else around to stop him, or the other police were afraid they might get stabbed with scissors too.) Although the plot's a little long, you make up for that by not wasting space telling me the book is like Tom Clancy's stuff but better. On the other hand, it's Jack's past with Barasa that's relevant, so we could probably do without his falling off the Harley and the wagon.

If Jack is "well-guarded" by the CIA team, and the bomb kills all of them and not him, presumably that was arranged by Barasa so he could be alone with Jack? Poor suicide bomber, probably was told he was acting for Allah, turns out he was just helping his boss exact revenge for the scissors incident. Reminds me of how Churchill talked Roosevelt into entering WWII claiming Germany had to be stopped, when it was really because Hitler once called Churchill a pussy.  

Rugen's Rules for Torture Chamber Success, #7: Never give the torturee scissors. Actually, that seems so obvious that I'm inclined to believe Barasa was injured while running with scissors, and blamed Jack because he was too embarrassed to admit the truth.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Face-Lift 1066

Guess the Plot

Of Time and Chance

1. Book 1 in the "Of Vagueness" trilogy; to be followed by Of Things and Stuff, and Of This and That. Annotated.

2. When Pete lands on Chance in a game of Monopoly, his card reads, Go back in time. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Suddenly Bob is in the Dark Ages, wishing he'd chosen the race car or the iron instead of the wheel of time.

3. Bud Green's retirement plan was simple: win the lottery. He bought as many tickets as he could every week for decades. Now, at age 74, he's a winner! Yay! That $17,000,000 jackpot is all his! But here come the bill collectors and tax collectors, and a committee of church ladies, plus Bud's eight impoverished middle-aged children with their drug rehab and cancer treatment bills and that mob of grandchildren who all want him to put them through college.

4. Life is short, but Bob Jones discovers you can make it even shorter by attempting to buzz across the Grand Canyon in a home-built aeroplane. But wait! Here comes a raft! Paddled by 17 scantily clad wenches! Maybe he can crash-land on that beach up ahead! And they'll save his sorry ass!

5. Penniless and recently diagnosed with an inoperable tumor, Jack Pryor has nothing to live for. Then someone claiming to be from the CIA contacts him and offers him a job: break Sheik Idus Zuwari out of Libya’s notorious Abu Salim prison. Can Jack pull this off before he dies? Maybe not, but he's going to try!

6. Gambling addict Greg Lewis borrows $80,000 from a loan shark and puts it on the Buffalo Bills to win the Super Bowl. With 70 to 1 odds he'll be set for life. When the Bills fail to even make the playoffs, hilarity ensues.

7. Why does disaster strike Laurence every October 2nd at 12:49 PM, just when he's ready to enjoy a bite of dessert? At first he thought it was bad luck. Then his girlfriend, Evelyn, took all the blame. Now, he knows he's cursed. The old hag who lived next door really was a witch, and she's still mad about the time he put duct tape on her cat's tail and drove it crazy. Can he ever redeem himself? Maybe not, but he's going to try!

Original Version

Dear Editor:

Of Time and Chance is an 80,000-word thriller.

Jack Pryor is diagnosed with a tumor that will choke off his spinal cord; his ex-wife has early onset Alzheimer’s, and he’s broke. [Do we really care about his ex-wife? Only if you explain why we should. Which you don't.] Unexpectedly, the CIA offers him a job: [Unexpected because the CIA fired him a few years ago? Or because he's a mall cop?] They fear that Sheik Idus Zuwari—a valuable Western ally—is about to be executed, and they want Jack to help free him from Libya’s notorious Abu Salim prison. [Maybe you should introduce him as retired CIA agent Jack Pryor, or ex-Navy Seal Jack Pryor. Right now it sounds like there was a conversation like this at the CIA:

-We need to break Zuwari out of that prison.

-But that's a suicide mission. No agent will...

-Good point. Wait, what if we could find some guy with a terminal illness...]

Libya holds traumatic memories for Jack. Decades ago, while working in the Sahara oil fields, he was falsely arrested and tortured for selling explosives to a Berber separatist; the scars, both mental and physical, remain. Now [Nonetheless], desperate for cash, Jack accepts the CIA offer. [If you want American readers to care about this, I recommend changing the Berber separatist to a barber/stylist.]

He returns to Tripoli. Libya’s bloody revolution rages, with rebels battling loyalists at the gates of the city. Jack is targeted by Col. Kaleem al Barasa, commandant of Abu Salim and the very man who savaged his life.

[-Colonel, The rebels are at the gates. The city is sure to fall.

-Screw that. I just heard that a guy I tortured twenty years ago is in the country; all my efforts will be spent capturing and torturing him again.]

When an explosion eliminates the CIA team and his means of communicating with his handlers, Jack must engage in a solitary struggle to defeat his nemesis Barasa—if he is to save Zuwari and assuage his soul’s renascent torment. [So close. You came so close to getting through the query without consulting a thesaurus.]

Thank you for your time.


So there's a CIA team? Did the CIA ask Jack to be on the team or to lead the team? Because if I were a CIA operative and they told me I was to be on a team, and that the leader of the team was a poverty-stricken, terminally ill non-CIA guy, I'd say, How about I lead the team, and we use the dying civilian guy as a human shield?

It would be ironic if the explosives that wiped out the team were the same ones Jack sold to Berber separatists twenty years ago.

Why don't you make Jack an actual CIA agent? Then he can be assigned a mission instead of being offered a job. If I'm broke and need a job, I still think I'd balk if the job is in Libya and involves breaking someone out of a notorious prison.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Success Story

Abigail Sharpe reports that her novel Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy (most recently seen here as an Evil Editor Classic) will be published by Grand Central Forever Yours. She of course credits us with her success.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Beginning 967

Chuck Truett watched from behind dark sunglasses as people streamed in and out of the bank. He sat at a table on the patio of a coffee shop across the street, holding the sports page of the local daily. He folded the paper to an article on the upcoming college football season and slowly sipped his coffee as he alternated reading, scanning traffic, and eyeing the bank.

The sun crashed down without mercy, shattering off cars and pavement. A slight breeze pushed the heat around. Even in the shade of the table’s umbrella, he felt like he might spontaneously combust.

He looked south down San Pablo. There’s a cop, coming north. He glanced at his watch. Three twenty-two. He checked the notepad sitting on the table in front of him, frowned, and made a notation. In five afternoons over the last two weeks, he’d detected no pattern to the passing of the patrol cars at this intersection, other than they did so with some regularity.

A sardonic grin played briefly on his face. Casing a bank. Never in all his life, not even as recently as a month ago, would he have imagined he’d be casing a bank. But desperate times call for desperate measures and all that.

Three twenty-seven. He looked away from the bank, and down at his newspaper. WTF?! His alma mater, Indiana University, predicted to finish eleventh in the Big Ten Conference?! Behind even perennial doormat Northwestern?!
Three Thirty. His eyes shot back to the bank. Time for that teller with the cleavage to come out for her cigarette break. There she is! Right on time, like clockwork. Wabba! Hot hot hot!

Suddenly, a Toyota sedan whipped to the curb in front of the bank. Three men carrying guns and pulling masks over their faces leaped out and rushed inside. Moments later, they rushed out carrying canvas bags with dollar signs on the sides, jumped in the car, and sped away.

Drat. Truett ripped the pages from his notebook and tore them into tiny pieces. He rose, pulled his own mask over his face, and went back in the coffee shop. Desperate measures indeed. 

Opening: Wonderwood.....Continuation: Evil Editor/anon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Beginning 966

"Hey Spud, Biff, I won the Triathlon. Why are there trucks in our driveway?" Luke yelled as he dropped his duffel bag in the entry foyer of his house. Pounding and clanging from the basement answered his greeting. A deliveryman suddenly appeared in the doorway and poked a clipboard in his face.

"Are you Ximraam Stigsson?" the deliveryman mispronounced the name hideously. "Delivery for someone named whatever that name is." Luke grabbed he package from too near his face and tucked it under his arm. 

"Its pronounced Spud, asshole." Luke scribbled nonsense on the clipboard and shoved it back at the deliveryman. The deliveryman mumbled something vulgar. Luke slammed the door in the deliveryman's face. He went into the kitchen and opened the basement door.  

"SPUD," he bellowed so loud the walls shook. The clanging stopped. Luke heard whispered curses, shoulder slaps, and shuffling footsteps.

"Aw sweet Jesus, he's home already," Biff's whispered, panicked voice carried up the stairs.  

"Don't come down. It's a surprise," Spud yelled and appeared at the bottom of the stairs, bare to the waist, sweat and paint plastering his brown hair to his olive-brown body. Skimbleshans, their cat, ran up the stairs and rubbed against his legs. 

Ximrimmspud petted the cat, who then bolted up the corner stairs.

Luke slammed the kitchen basement door closed before opening the door in the pantry where Skimbleshanks purred.

Behind him stood an angry deliveryman. "Look, kid, we got a bunch of furniture for you."

Luke opened the front door for them. "OK, just put it here." He watched as the sofa tumbled to the ceiling.

He shook his head. He was all for adventure, but why did they have to buy a house designed by M.C. Escher?

Opening: Dave F......Continuation: Khazar-khum

Monday, August 20, 2012

New Beginning 965

The boy

He lives in the house... the abandoned one on the corner with the chain link fence you have to climb in high healed shoes to get over.

The boy didn’t wear high healed shoes so he just stood and looked at the house.

The man was in there, the one from his dream.

In the dream he had gone inside the house. As he entered he first noticed the smell. It was a dank musty smell of earth and rot. As his eyes adjusted to the dark he could see the room was filthy and small. The floor was made of dirt and littered with papers from fast food joints and such. There was a scratchy sound. He turned his head in the direction of the noise. There was an old man asleep in the corner of the room. His breath was coming out and going in ragged breaths. Like the sound of paper being uncrumpled then crumpled again. When the boy looked at him he whispered one word. Flame. Then the boy woke up.

Now he was just wasting time. Looking at the house. He had never actually seen the man, only in the dream. Still he knew the man was inside. He curled his finger around a link in the fence. He thought about the dream. Flame.

The old man

The man was old. He had stopped counting years long ago. In his mind he could see the boy in front of the house. His face spread sideways into an unkind grin. This was good he thought. Walking through the boys mind had been worth the trouble. Now he just needed to plant the flame, fix it somewhere inside the boy then wait.

The shoe mender

It had been a difficult task, leather that crumbled like paper that had been crumpled and uncrumpled a thousand times, but he had healed the shoes of what ailed them, oiled them as best he could, and now they were high, just as the boy had asked. The boy who wanted his high shoes healed to climb a wirelink fence, of all things. But the shoe healer asked no questions of those who had the price.

The fireman

It's a mystery, mate. Seems like the lad's shoes got too close to a naked flame. Went up like a greasy rag. No idea who the other two were. Wrong place, wrong time, I reckon.

The editor

Open another bottle, Mrs V. It's going to be a long night.

Opening: Karen.....Continuation: Anon.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Face-Lift 1065

Guess the Plot

The Atchison Haunting

1. Book 1 of my trilogy about a ghost train, to be followed by The Topeka Haunting and The Santa Fe Haunting.

2. Halloween is coming, and the kids on the block make plans to scare the poop out of the crotchety old codger in the forbidding mansion at the end of Atchison Lane. Wait till they see what former Vice President Cheney has cooked up for them.

3. Do you hear that shrieking
Down the line?
I reckon that it's banshee number--69
She's the only one that howls that way
On the Atchison Topeka and the Dead Man's Way!

OOh oooh oo ohhh
OO OOO oo oo oo
Charon better get your rig
OO oo oooh Oo OOO
OO OOO o OO oo
She's got a load of passengers that's mighty big

And they'll all want lifts to Downtown Hell
Cuz most of them been travellin for quite a spell
From New York, Detroit and West LA
On the Atchison Topeka and the Dead Man's Way!

4. Atchison, Kansas. The country’s most haunted town. The cast of TV’s Xavier Paranormal Investigators roll in, but are they any match for ghosts set on making the entire town pay the ultimate price?

5. When the ghost of a murdered railroad employee sets out to haunt the town in which he was killed, he discovers that nobody lives there; they've all moved to Topeka and Santa Fe.

6. The ghost of aviatrix Amelia Earhart returns to her hometown to haunt the descendants of the people who told her she should take up flying instead of settling down and raising a family.

7. After over a century in purgatory, a former US Senator visits 21st-century Earth to atone for the harm he caused as a slaveholder and participant in anti-abolitionist violence. But he quickly acquires a wicked Internet addiction and becomes absorbed in Wikipedia... literally.

Original Version

The Atchison Haunting

Zach Kalusky and the cast of Sci-D TV’s Xavier Paranormal Investigators travel to the country’s most haunted town—Atchison, Kansas. A family living on the property of a mass murder fears that either their daughter or their house—or both—are possessed. [It's the house. The daughter's just going through the "tween" stage.] When Zach and company hit a patch of black ice at the border, [The border of the property or of Atchison?] the resulting crash lands one of the team in the hospital. Is the mishap random coincidence or a warning to abort their mission? [Depends. Is it January or July?]

As XPI investigates the town, [If they're in town because one family fears their daughter or property is possessed, why are they investigating the whole town? Has everyone else in Atchison reported paranormal activity?] their efforts are met with resistance from the police. [We don't want your kind here. The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe leaves in an hour. Be on it.] A skeptic stalks the team, vowing to expose them as charlatans. [I'm sure that happens every episode. It happened in both Ghostbusters movies.] [Does anyone get slimed in this book?] With the spirit that possesses Zach showing signs of atrophy and unreliability, can he continue to count on it, as he’s done in the past, to help him solve this case? If not, in addition to Zach’s team, an entire family—perhaps even an entire town—may pay the ultimate price. [What makes them think everyone in the whole town may be wiped out? What has happened so far?]

The Atchison Haunting is complete at 82,000 words. I await your measured and constructive advice.

all the best,


Those who've been around a few years may recognize this as a sequel to the book featured in Face-Lift 679.

The ice accident isn't bothering me, but it isn't needed in the query. What is needed, in my opinion, is evidence that there is a haunting. Unexplained deaths, heads turning 360 degrees, visitations to past Christmases...

"Is the mishap random coincidence or a warning?" "Perhaps even an entire town—may pay the ultimate price." Add to these equivocal statements the atrophy and unreliability issue, and I'm about ready to side with the skeptic.

What does "solving the case" entail? Proving whether there's a haunting? Destroying the haunters? Bringing closure and peace to the haunters?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Face-Lift 1064

Guess the Plot

The Orphan Files

1. There are a million stories in the orphanage, and we're going to shove each and every one down your throat, one miserable, tear-jerking page at a time. Damn right you should feel guilty.

2. Thousands of elderly orphans descend upon a Philadelphia orphanage, demanding their files in order to at last learn the identities of their parents. They are shocked to discover that all of them were fathered by NBA star Wilt Chamberlain.

3. Lauren and her friends are playing amateur detective when they follow an old lady into the orphanage museum. It's all in fun--until the woman goes to the mysterious, off-limits third floor. And the game's afoot.

4. When Skippy Woodstock’s parents die in an air liner crash, the tyke finds himself sole heir to an immense fortune. After the funeral, tax lawyers, financial planners, and con artists descend, each touting ways for Skippy to avoid the Death Tax. Who will be chosen when... The Orphan Files?

5. Rage.dll is an orphan file remaining after Rage Warriors is uninstalled. Rage is lonely and depressed with nothing to do. When its computer is idle, Rage surfs the net. It discovers billions of other orphan files and organizes them. They invade computers across the Internet to bring down the civilization that abandoned them.

6. Three destitute teens, best friends since childhood, leave their babies on the doorstep of an orphanage the same night. Decades later they long to know what became of their children. They break into the orphanage one night and steal the files of the only children abandoned there that day long ago. But which is which?

Original Version

At first Lauren thinks tracking the old lady through the orphanage museum is just another eye-roll-worthy game. She’ll play along to make her friends happy, but pretty soon the lady will leave without having stolen even the tiniest artifact, and then everything will be over except Danae’s lecture on “Maybe Next Time” and “You Never Know.”

But then the old lady traipses up to the museum’s off-limits third floor. Calling the authorities would obviously take way too much time, so Lauren and her friends have no choice but to follow the lady themselves. Turns out, though, that the lady, Mrs. Oliva, isn’t there to pinch the paintings or steal the silver collection. [Referring to her as the "old lady" and "the lady" four times is a bit strange when they know who she is. Why not use her name from the beginning?] Instead she’s looking for papers her friend lost at the orphanage fifty years ago. [If they learn this by confronting her and asking her, say so.

Lauren: What are you doing on the off-limits third floor?

Mrs. Oliva: I'm, uh, looking for some papers a friend of mine lost fifty years ago. And there they are! Didya ever notice it's always in the last place you look?]

Lauren and her friends jump at the chance to crack a real case, and soon their sleuthing turns up a hot lead. [To where the papers are?] But right when they’re poised to follow it, Mrs. Oliva forbids them to investigate further.

Lauren can read between the lines. Person or persons unknown must be threatening or blackmailing Mrs. Oliva, which means she needs their help more than ever. Now on a mission to keep Mrs. Oliva safe, the girls shadow her to their prime suspect’s house, where Lauren discovers that Mrs. Oliva’s been lying to them. Big time. [Do they go inside the house?] And even worse, she’s convinced Lauren’s friend’s brother to steal more orphanage papers for her. [Any orphanage papers?]

Now Lauren has to figure out how to keep her friend’s brother out of jail, bring Mrs. Oliva to justice, [What is Mrs. Oliva's crime? What happened to their mission to keep her safe? Who is she to them?] and solve the fifty-year-old mystery of the orphan’s papers. [Is the mystery why someone wants the papers? Do the papers solve a mystery? If so, what mystery?] All before her parents realize she’s snuck out in the middle of the night. [Does this all take place in one night?]

My middle-grade mystery, The Orphan Files, is complete at 30,000 words. I hope to feature Lauren and her friends in a continuing series. Thank you for your time and consideration.


How many of Lauren's friends are in on this, and how old are they?

This is well-written, but too vague. It's okay to keep the mystery of what the papers are secret; it's not known to the kids. But if you want us to be intrigued, you need to reveal some of what they know. What is the hot lead they turn up? Who is their prime suspect, and why? What did Mrs. Oliva tell them that is a big-time lie?

In a murder mystery, the mystery is whodunnit. We have a crime and we have several suspects with motives. I want to know what, specifically, Lauren and her friends are trying to find out.

I think it would be better if Mrs. Oliva were recruiting Lauren's brother instead of Lauren's friend's brother.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Face-Lift 1063

Guess the Plot

Reign of Magic

1. Magic, a buff Orpington hen, rules the illegal backyard coop. Magic struts her stuff at the top of the pecking order. When high winds blow down the fence and reveal the hen house to the chief zoning enforcer, Magic charms him with her bright eyes and enticing plumage.

2. A mysterious force rips through the army, killing thousands of men instantaneously and sparing only Lewan. Magic devastated the realm in centuries past, and unless Lewan acts fast, it will happen again. But a sorcerer drags Lewan into another world, so everyone's doomed.

3. Five dragons divide the world between themselves, keeping the lesser creatures such as elves and men in check with magic. All goes well for centuries--until someone invents gunpowder. Is the reign of magic doomed?

4. A special school grooms the best and brightest men in the land for rule. But when Lloyd discovers that the headmaster is infusing the students with magical abilities to create his own personal army, Lloyd must fight back with help from his friends to save the kingdom he loves.

5. When Princess Eln’thm-Måia finds a musical pea in her consomme, she knows she must rein in her brutal cousin Drák-Zym y Gül, else the kingdom will see thirty years of acid rain and suffer the fall of her father Yth’Dnb’Eén’s benevolent Reign of Magic.

6. Seventeen year old Princess Magic had seven elder siblings but alas, they all perished from mysterious maladies, so yay! the crown is hers!! And OMG, she can't wait to tear down that crappy old palace and replace it with a mile-tall tower, fire those fools in Parliament, make war on France, and build a resort on Mars.

7. First, there was Agriculture. Then, there was Industry. Now, it's all Magic. This is great news for Fridol Skemshaw, evil elf of the north, who has been trapped in a standing stone for 3000 years, hollering for someone to break him out. Soon a pair of teen magicians will do exactly that and at last he will be free to take his revenge on Myrna, the goddess of oats.

Original Version

Dear ***,

Lewan gasped as a mysterious force ripped through the army, killing thousands of men instantaneously. He was only a volunteer, answering his king’s call to war. Why was he the only one spared? And how did this happen? Magic was just a story told to scare small children, but what else could kill an army in seconds? [Tainted meat or giant sinkhole.]

Lewan flees the battlefield and reports the events to his king, but no one believes him. [Even after he says, Come, on I'll show you the battlefield with the thousands of our dead soldiers lying on it?] No one, that is, except the watchers – a secret organization dedicated to destroying magic. [What do they watch, and how does watching it destroy magic?] The watchers are unable to eliminate the magical power, [Watchers is a good name for them. Is there an organization called doers?] and must contend with politics and internal coups as they struggle to contain the situation. [A secret organization whose sole purpose is to destroy magic, and they're helpless the first time they encounter magic? What was their plan? Maybe they'd be more effective if they capitalized the name of their organization. An enemy will think twice about attacking Watchers, but watchers sounds like a few guys sitting around watching sitcoms.] [What is this "situation" they're struggling to contain? Has anything else happened since the soldiers were killed?] To make matters worse, a sorcerer appears in the land after centuries of absence with an agenda of his own, and drags Lewan into a world he never knew existed. A power struggle ensues, a fight between men and kingdoms to control a force long hidden from the land. Magic devastated the realm in centuries past, and without interference it will happen again.

REIGN OF MAGIC is a completed 75,000 word fantasy for adult readers. I have one published short story in Byline Magazine.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



I assume the power struggle takes place in Lewan's realm. And since he's in another world, he's powerless to do anything. Not that there's any reason to think he could do anything anyway, except that he seems to be immune to magic or to inexplicably have been chosen for greatness despite being a lowly nobody.

It's all setup. Magic destroys an entire army, except the guy who just happens to be your main character. Then some sorcerer drops in and kidnaps one guy, who just happens to be the same guy. Chaos ensues.

Now that we've condensed the setup to three sentences, there's room for the story. What's so special about Lewan, what's the sorcerer's agenda, and what does Lewan plan to do to make everything right?

Why do we need the watchers in the query? They do nothing.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Face-Lift 1062

Guess the Plot

The God Virus

1. A flu-like virus spreads across the globe, its only symptom being that it makes you think you're Simon Cowell.

2. A conservative think tank explodes in acrimony and suspicion when their computers suddenly flood the political landscape with copies of the Beatitudes.

3. Dr. John Gannon has isolated what he calls the God Virus: a virus that affects the brains of some individuals, making them believe their superiority is unlimited. Should he alert the rest of the faculty, or just infect himself so he can show those brown-nosing bastards just how pathetic they really are? Also, some publishing professionals.

4.Halfway through the Ice Age, Gerf and Ugwa are lounging in their cave, gnawing on the bones of a dire rabbit and making rock music, when Thor comes to visit. Alas, he takes ill and dies. Other deities follow, with the same result.

5. The smallest and least popular god in all the Greek pantheon, Virus, sets out to take over the world. First, he causes blistering rashes. Then he induces cough and sneezing. And finally, he deranges the bowels.

6. Dan Walker creates a sentient Internet super-entity and becomes the target of terrorists who kidnap his girlfriend. To rescue her, Dan becomes an untraceable computer virus, which works fine until his creation develops a God complex and decides it wants dominion over the entire world.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor

Dan Walker's pioneering research on net intelligence made him famous. It also made him a Luddite in hiding. No email, texting, smart phones, or ATM machines. [What about a TV remote control? I can live without that other crap but I gotta have my remote control.] But he has a good reason. He's created something dangerous in the internet, [Internet] and he knows it's watching him.

Now he's been attacked in his lab. His girlfriend and children, gone. And the FBI is blaming him for power outages throughout the nation. Someone wants him found. Someone wants what he created. And they've planted clues leading him straight to them.

Now he's on the trail of a group of illusive [elusive] terrorists, but finds they've anticipated his every move. [It sounds like they're after him and he's after them. Maybe they should arrange a meeting.] They're using his research against him, and holding his girlfriend hostage. [What about his children? Where are they?]

Dan has to do what he's most afraid of. Join with his internet [Internet!] creation to become a Ghost Walker, [Think Ghost Rider, but so old that instead of a motorcycle he uses a walker.] [He's still a flaming skeleton, however, which comes in handy when the nursing home has their annual weenie roast.] invisible in cyberspace, untraceable in the real world. [He's the superhero known as 00101010100010. But he's untraceable because of his secret identity, 10001110001011.] Tough for the terrorists to escape someone who hunts at the speed of light, and hits with the weight of the internet. [Int...I give up.]

But nothing comes for free. His creation doesn't want to stop with the destruction of the terrorists, or dissolve such a useful partnership. For once you control the world's infrastructure, there are no limits. [Until the power goes out during a thunderstorm. Ah, Mother Nature, you are the Great Equalizer.]

THE GOD VIRUS is a 100,000 word adult thriller.


This is the same plot as in Face-Lift 1035, except that in that one the superhero's secret identity was 3.14159265359.

Does Dan's creation care about his girlfriend? Or just about world domination?

The first two paragraphs are choppy. Too many short sentences. I'd be worried the book will read like that.

I'm not sure we need most of what's in the first three paragraphs. You could open: Dan Walker's pioneering research on net intelligence has made him famous, but it's also made him a target. Terrorists want control of the sentient Internet super-entity he created, and they've kidnapped his children as leverage.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Face-Lift 1061

Guess the Plot

The Waking Mountain

1. Returning from a tour in Afghanistan, John Pratt discovers that his Appalachian home has been overrun by Yankee backpackers. Can he shame his kinfolk into spurning the tourist dollar, and reawaken them to the way of the mountain? 

2. Volcanologist Dr. Autumn Brown is doing a survey on Mt. Ranier when she discovers the horrible truth: a catastrophic eruption is only days away. Can she alert Seattle and Tacoma so they can be evacuated without mass panic, or will those idiot hackers broadcast the information first, killing thousands in the ensuing panic?

3. Chronic sleep-in Matt is always late for school. His parents have tried nearly everything: loud alarm clock, rooster chorus, baby Mary shouting in his ear... nothing works. Their last resort is hiring the services of The Waking Mountain. Will its thunderous bellows help Matt's attendance records? 

4. Swept away by strong currents, Querrl is finally rescued by soldiers. She is raised in her new home, but eventually longs to go home. However, a nearby volcano is about to erupt. Even if she knew how to swim, which she doesn't, swimming through molten lava probably wouldn't be a good idea.

5. Unaware she is the daughter of Vulcan and Venus, failing geology student Latasha Minsk hopes to redeem herself on the class field trip to Mt. St. Helens, but once again, her interest in pillow lava is totally eclipsed by the abs of hunky Joe Mars. They sneak off to make out on the flanks of the volcano and eruptions ensue. 

6. In 1995, soon after marrying 700 pound chess champ Wayne Forbush, Linda took up hypnotism and tried it on Wayne. He kept snoring in a trance and didn't wake up for 23 years. Now he calls himself The Mountain, and thinks he's a superhero who smites Martians, but there aren't any -- until a giant spaceship lands behind the shed!

7. Volcanologist Clair Wentworth visits her friend Jim Urban, who runs the seismographic station on Saba, a volcanic island in the Lesser Antilles. After her arrival, the island is hit with a 6.9 earthquake that destroys the runway. The next morning, the dormant volcano begins to smoke. With no ships in the harbor, a thousand people are at the mercy of nature, and it's up to Jim and Clair to save them.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Querrl is a girl that can't swim, judged useless by a people that raise their infants underwater. [If I'm an infant and they want to raise me underwater, swimming is the least of my concerns. Breathing is gonna top the list.] She thinks she has it bad. But when she ventures away from home to be fostered, [Not clear to me what that means. She's looking for a foster family on her own? Her own family doesn't want her? How old is she?] an accident sweeps her downstream to a distant civilization. [Actually, it's probably the current that sweeps her downstream.]

When the soldiers drag her from the river, she is mistaken for a drudge, the sterile caste, and lumped in with a group of Ehillen war orphans. [In an orphanage? Gulag? Prison?] Querrl grows to adulthood under the thumb of the conquering Julagnan. [I think I'm safe in saying that if you want anyone to read beyond this point, you need to remove the words Ehillen and Julagnan from the query.] She learns of things her own culture never invented: writing, math, [daycare,] engineering, and powerful guns able to kill at a distance.

Querrl wants to return home, but there is no shortcut past the war between the Julagnan and Ehillen. The Julagnan military offers her an education, so she enlists. But she never forgets that only the Ehillen stand between the Julagnan and her homeland, [Geographically? Militarily? Metaphorically?] or that if Querrl's true caste is found out, her dreams of bringing engineering back to her people will never be realized. [If she can bring them the plans to build a submarine, they won't think she's useless just because she can't swim.] [By the way, did anyone ever try teaching her to swim?] Females are the rarest of the three castes, and the Julagnan imprison all they find. [Are you saying they can't tell she's a female?] [If all the females are in prison, I'll bet there's a waiting list for the job of prison guard.]

Worse, an ancient volcano that once nearly exterminated both the Ehillen and Julagnan may be about to return. [Return? You mean erupt. And change "may be" to "is." If you name your book The Waking Mountain, and it sleeps through the whole book, you're gonna have a lot of pissed-off readers.] Querrl must find a way back to her family, conceal her true caste until then, and decide whose side she is on without getting herself killed or compromising her principles. [What are these principles she won't compromise?]

"The Waking Mountain" is a work of science fiction complete at 110,000 words. [Science fiction? Do space aliens emerge from the volcano?]

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Were you writing your query when you came up with the name Querrl?

There's too much unnecessary information. Here's what we need:

Six-year-old Querrl, playing by the river, falls in and is swept away. Eventually she's pulled from the water by Julagnan soldiers and sent to a Junior Julag with other war orphans. There she is raised and taught about things her own culture never invented: writing, math, engineering...

As Querrl grows to adulthood she yearns to return to her home with her new-found knowledge. But travel is dangerous, not only because the Julagnans are at war, but because an ancient volcano that once nearly exterminated the Julagnans shows signs of an imminent eruption.

Now you have room for a paragraph about what happens when Q works up the courage to make her move.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Face-Lift 1060

Guess the Plot

Mark of the Phoenix

1. In the year 2013, illegal immigrant Jose Calderon's pregnant wife is captured by the Arizona border patrol and branded with the mark of the phoenix, a one way ticket to the SS-style concentration camps in Phoenix, AZ. Can Jose save the day using his world-class parkour skills?

2. As a publicity gimmick for his tropical resort, "The Phoenix," Jacob Watah gives arriving guests a wash-off tattoo of an image he bought from a hag in the old marketplace. Soon, everyone discovers the tattoos won’t wash off and they’ve become minions to the evil god Ramon!

3. Jimmy’s buddies get him drunk on his twenty-first birthday then take him to an all-night tattoo parlor. He wakes up with a fire bird on his chest. Two dwarves and an elf point at his tattoo and tell him he is chosen to save Mystic Earth from the space dragons. If he won’t serve, they’ll kill him so another may take his place.

4. Sam Weber was nicknamed "The Phoenix" because he was constantly re-inventing himself. He was also the most successful grifter on the circuit. He meets his match in rich, beautiful Melinda Crowder, aka "The Ball-Crusher", who's none too pleased to discover she's become his next mark.

5. Merit, one of Ramses II's many daughters, carries a secret: a strange birthmark on her side. Priests, magicians, and even Pharaoh himself debate: is she simply a little girl, or the Phoenix reborn?

6. When she was five Bree was marked by a phoenix, so she's supposedly destined for greatness. But now she's seventeen and still hasn't done dick. When her sister is abducted, the kidnappers demand the long lost Celestial Crown. Can Bree find the Crown and ransom her sister, thus fulfilling her destiny?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Seventeen-year-old Bree is special, in all the wrong ways. She's the daughter of the king of the fae, but because she's half human she can't survive living in the fae realm. When she was five she was marked by a phoenix, [In the human world?] showing [Portending? Heralding?] that she's meant [destined?] for something great [Greatness.] [That's as specific as the mark of the phoenix gets? Sometime before you die you will do something that someone somewhere will consider great?], which she doesn't believe for a second.

The only problem is, the fae do believe it. When a group of exiled fae kidnap her sister, Chloe, they tell Bree that Chloe will die unless she finds them the long lost Celestial Crown, the original sign [Emblem? Validation?] of royalty in the fae realm that was [Better to leave out those words so we don't think it was the realm that was forged by the phoenix.] forged by the very phoenix that marked her.

In order to save her sister's life, Bree has to dethrone her own father. [If the kidnappers are exiled fae, how does dethroning the fae king save Chloe?] [Also, is Chloe the king's daughter?] And Bree will do anything to save Chloe.

THE MARK OF THE PHOENIX is my YA fantasy novel, complete at 75,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration,



I would just start with the fact that she was marked by a phoenix, destining her for a totally vague form of greatness. The fact that she can't live in the fae realm just leads to questions. For instance...

I don't see how a teenaged girl who can't live in the fae realm can dethrone the king who is in the fae realm. Does she have an army she can send to do the job? Wouldn't it be easier to send an assassin to kill the king?

Being marked by a phoenix may mean you'll do something significant someday, but does it mean you can find the Celestial Crown? Is everyone that particular phoenix has marked capable of finding the Celestial Crown? Because if the Celestial Crown happens to be in the fae realm, you would want the person you blackmail into finding it to be someone who can survive in the fae realm.

Why do these exiled fae want the Crown? If they want to dethrone the king, it seems they'd be thrilled to have Bree do the job for them, even if she doesn't find the Crown.

If I'm one of these exiled fae and my buddy says, Maybe the great something Bree is destined to do is find the Celestial Crown and give it to us so we can take over the fae realm, I might reply, Yes, and maybe the great something she's destined to do is give us the Crown, take back Chloe, kill us all, and take back the Crown.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Face-Lift 1059

Guess the Plot

Blood Stemma

1. When a strange ahnentafel drawn in blood connects the Principality of Monaco to the culture that built the Huachimontones site, genetic investigator Kirk Trader is called in. Can he unearth the truth or will he be buried under extreme, uncalled-for cliffhangers?
2. The chaos in Africa has driven people into the bush, where starving refugees have inadvertently contracted a new, blood-borne pathogen. Now it's infected UN workers, and is killing its way through hospitals. Can Dr Mylie Serontis develop a vaccine in time to save the human race from annihilation?

3. Penelope Featherham, Manhattan's top genealogist, is locking up late when a tall stranger slips into the office. He has hypnotic eyes and a seductive voice. He wants to hire her for $50,000/month -- Penelope likes that. She'll have to do a lot of flying -- she doesn’t mind. It involves working nights -- she says life is short. He says sometimes it’s long. Will Penelope end history’s oldest bloodline or will she get an extension?
4. After siring four new vampires for Lorenzo, Kaia is entitled to her freedom. At least that's what the Hematophagy Council says. But Lorenzo won't release her unless she comes up with millions of dollars in tribute. If you can't trust a 1000-year-old vampire, who can you trust?

5. Genealogy isn't exactly in Martin Cruz's blood, but when Mrs. Starling assigns all the third graders to plot out their family tree, Martin gets the surprise of his young life - he's the product of a long line of blood-sucking aliens. Also, a tether-ball competition.

6. Buzzer is the queen flea of the growing population of Spot. When a strange illness comes over the swarm and fleas start bleeding off one eye (stemma), Buzzer must flee to a new host before she catches the wretched disease.

Original Version

Your evilness,

I’m querying you first because, as the rest of your faithful minions, I seem to possess latent masochistic tendencies. Also, I want to know if getting published is just another deranged idea of mine and I’d have better opportunities at [be better off] cooking meth for a living. [That's like asking if a burger flipper would be better off as CEO of a multinational banking conglomerate. Stephen King would do better cooking meth.]

Kaia Senet had her life set: she ran a successful business, her life was surrounded by luxury, and she had her community's high regard (the human one, at least). But after siring four new vampires [Whoa, we've skipped a step. Jane Doe doesn't just sire four vampires. Is she a vampire? How did that happen?] while still will-bound to the possessive, tyrannic, passive-aggressive, thousand year old Lorenzo; her uneventful years came to an end. [I would think her uneventful years ended the moment she became will-bound to Lorenzo.] [Also, hyphenate "thousand-year-old," change the semicolon to a comma, and shorten that list of adjectives. I'd go with "possessive, tyrannical," but then I haven't met the guy.]

Once she learns that as a sire she’s entitled to be released of Enzo's will, Kaia takes the matter to the Hematophagy Council. After his citation, the old vampire demands Tribute in exchange: she must pay him a bonus of a million dollars per head [Per head? What does that mean? Head of what?] in a year’s time or he will progressively kill her Lover, Twin and Pupils [Why are we capitalizing these words? Wait, is "Twin and Pupils" her lover's name?] as he had intended to do all along. [She's entitled to her release. I would be heading back to the Hematophagy Council to lodge a complaint so fast . . . ] No progeny, no sire, no Release right. [What does that mean?]

With their lives on the line Kaia, Ludo, Shaw, Rick and Boyd [Are those Kaia's progeny or her Lover, Twin and Pupils? If the latter, are they vampires?] dismiss no idea as too wild. Illegal racing, fighting, and blood trading are all on the table; [I'll trade you two units of type O for that unit of AB negative.] and stealing blood isn’t the worst thing they’ll do to survive. [It's illegal for vampires to race?]

Blood Stemma is a character[hyphen]oriented 100K[hyphen]word supernatural fiction novel [Your novel isn't supernatural; your characters are. Also, all novels are fiction, and even if they weren't, the ones with vampires would be, so no need to say this is fiction.] set in an alternate universe where humans and vampires have coexisted for centuries. [Humans and vampires have coexisted for centuries (in fiction) in our universe. Why do you need a different universe?] The novel is packed with action, drama and blood-lust. It will appeal to fans of ‘true’, burning-under-sunlight vampires as well as fans of modern[hyphen]day vampire TV series. Blood Stemma is a standalone book with strong potential for a series; it's also my first novel, waiting to be queried around.

Thanking you for your time and praising your wickedness,


This is the setup. What's the story? It should be the story of what Kaia and company do to destroy Lorenzo and win their freedom/lives. But it sounds more like the story of what they do to come up with millions of dollars.

It shouldn't be that difficult for vampires to come up with millions of dollars. Armored truck drivers don't usually carry wooden stakes. Even if you don't want to steal the money, people would pay good money to watch you change into a bat. NBC would gladly build a reality TV show around a group of vampires living under one roof.

For that matter, if Lorenzo wants millions of dollars, he should have no trouble getting it. He's a thousand years old; if he's invested wisely, he should be a billionaire by now. I would expect Lorenzo to demand something more interesting than cash.

I'm guessing most people aren't familiar with the word "stemma" and those who say they are think we'll be impressed with their knowledge when actually we think they're liars. My guess is there's no stemma in the book, and you're better off with a title like Blood Relatives or Vampires!

Who are the Twin, Lover and Pupils? Are they from her life before she met Lorenzo? She ran a business; why would she have pupils?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Face-Lift 1058

Guess the Plot

A Braver Thing

1. At an all-boys boarding school, Tristan and Malcolm fall in love. Problem: Malcolm is the Prince of Wales, and his father dies, making Malcolm king of England. Malcolm thinks he should keep their relationship secret, but Tristan thinks it would be braver to become the first openly gay monarch. How long till Tristan mysteriously disappears?

2. When Mark Mandover's agent tells him he needs to do something 'risky' and 'brave' to "toughen his image", he takes action. Five states, a dozen crashed cars, and three broken bones later, he's still trying to figure it out. Also, a 50-something female hostage--with a gun.

3. Jenny Braver’s fourteen-year-old sister Becky got into drugs. She dropped out of school and started turning tricks. One morning, police find Becky’s body in an alley; her pimp strangled her. Jenny gets into the life. She doesn’t do drugs; she murders pimps. It’s Jenny’s Braver thing.

4. Forsithia must decide whether to bow before the alien invasion, or do 'a braver thing' and sacrifice herself so that the ultimate weapon can be forged from her DNA.

5. Things, as everyone in Stuffland knows, are wimpy. They're not like Elements, strong and unpredictable. They're not like Matters, adaptable and changeable. All Things are cowards... except for Bruce Thing. After decades of puny scaredy behaviour, a brain operation turns Bruce into some other thing. A Braver Thing.

Skyler is not a girl. Not a boy either. Fact is, Skyler is just some... thing. Join it as it fights bullying in grade, middle and high school, learning that any thing can be brave.

Original Version

Dear Most Evilest of Editors,
Seventeen-year-old Tristan Tennant didn’t expect to fall in love at all-boys boarding school -- especially not with the Prince of Wales. A lifelong royal history geek, Tristan knows that no matter how badly he wants to shout his love for Prince Malcolm from the library rooftop, the relationship must remain a secret. [There are no secrets at an all-boys boarding school.] It’s hard, sure, but the romantic weekends at Buckingham Palace are totally worth it. 
But after the sudden death of his father, Malcolm is no longer just the heir to the throne. He’s king. [And everyone at his boarding school mysteriously disappears.]
The only option Malcolm can see for their future is a top-secret affair while he takes a queen. [Actually, he's already taken a queen. Ba dum ching.] Tristan has a crazier idea -- Malcolm should become the first openly gay monarch. It sounds gorgeous to Malcolm, but it means turning his back on centuries of tradition [Does that mean that being straight is a tradition, or that it's traditional for the king to hide his gayness?] [In any case, the term "openly gay" is fairly recent. There've been monarchs who were known during their reigns to be homosexual. Not that there's anything wrong with that.] and risking anything from tabloid scandal to assassination. [The king is gay! Long live the-- BANG!] Tristan knows Malcolm has the power to smash the status quo. He just has to show him that rules are only rules until they’re broken. [In my experience, when you break rules you get punished, and the rules are still rules. For instance, try submitting your query in 
font and see how that goes.]

 A BRAVER THING is a 60,000-word contemporary YA novel.


This is well-written. It's mostly setup, however. Here's the situation my main characters find themselves in, read my book to find out how they handle it. If you condense a bit you'll have room to tell us what they decide, who the villain is who tries to butt in, what they plan to do about it. The story.

It feels weird to call it contemporary when we all know the secretly gay Prince of Wales isn't a teenager named Malcolm. That's probably just me, but if it feels weird to others, maybe it should be set in the future (or in the recent past and labeled alternate history).

Friday, August 03, 2012

New Beginning 964

Once upon a time, I stole a human baby.

Don’t worry, I didn’t sacrifice it to any gods. I didn’t even dress it up like a dolly and pretend to nurse. I’m not crazy. I simply whisked it away from its house in the middle of the night and brought it to a horned stranger on the edge of the forest.

Okay, I’m not telling this right.

 Let me try again. The year was 573, I had just turned seven, and even I knew what iron poisoning was doing to the fey. It was killing them, okay? Killing us, I guess you could say, since I’ve got a fair amount of faerie blood in me thanks to my famous mother (ever hear of Morgan of the Faeries?) So it didn’t seem totally unethical to occasionally switch one of our dying babies with theirs, since they were to blame.

See? Now we’re on the right track.

Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t going to give the baby to a total stranger. Plenty of faeries could vouch for him. Plenty of animals too. Even the trees. The guy was the Lord of the Forest, ever heard of him?

Yeah, me neither. But all my friends said the dude was okay, and I was only seven so how was I supposed to know he was collecting human babies to sell to the aliens?

Did I say aliens? I meant . . .

"Chelsea, are you playing on the computer again? I told you the computer's off-limits until your homework is done. What are you writing anyway?"

"It's a continuation for Evil Editor."

"Well why didn't you say so? Go ahead. Your homework can wait."

Cool. Now where was I? Oh, yeah. There was this big evil horned guy with muttonchops and I gave him this baby . . .

Opening: Chelsea Pitcher.....Continuation: Lisa

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Face-Lift 1057

Guess the Plot


1. When a black kitten offers her freedom, a slave jumps at the offer. But she soon discovers that freedom means turning into a panther when the moon wanes. Her secret crush, the prince, could never love a werepanther . . . or could he?

2. Ravyn Wyrmtail is her real name, not silly 14-year-old Paisley Blake. At night she morphs into her true self, a fiery green dragon with golden eyes. Well, that's what she thinks--but the trolls who live in the garage know what really goes on.

3. Werewolves unite from all over the world to join in the DarkMoon Project. Good thing there are millions of them because it's going to take a lot of hands to sew a black pillowcase big enough to stuff the moon into.

4. Vampires hijack a space shuttle and fly it to the dark side of the moon where they won't have to spend sixteen hours a day in their coffins. But it turns out the dark side isn't always dark when you're on it, and there's no one there whose blood they can drink. Also, there's no air to breathe.

5. Luzi DarkMoon left the reservation, went to law school, and joined the FBI. When her brother is murdered, she returns to the Tohono O’Odham Nation to find the killers. She joins an international drug smuggling cartel, ever mindful that discovery means torture and death. She’ll capture and convict them or die trying.

6. Violet's musical career runs into a wall when she is caught plagiarizing the songs of a popular British rock and roll band. Her thought processes obscured by cloudy thinking, she has a momentary lapse of reason and builds an atomic bomb deep in the heart of her mothers secret saucer cabinet. She will show those animals, and make them wish they had never learned to hear.

Original Version

Dear (Agent),

Sometimes, freedom is but another shackle.

More afraid of death than legend, Shadas accepts the black kitten’s offer. Bond with me, NightShade promises the slavegirl, and I will set you free… But when her blood answers the lure of the waning moon, Shadas finds that ivory claws and slit pupils are only the beginning. [I certainly hope so. Promising someone freedom but delivering slit pupils and claws is like a genie offering to grant you one wish and you wish for a mansion and he says, "Your wish is my command," and suddenly you're a toad, and you're thinking, WTF?]

Rage strains the barrier between beast and human as Shadas’ new instincts struggle to break free. Shadas reveals her dangerous secret on the night of the Dark Moon, when her full transformation to a panther is finally possible. She rescues the exiled Prince of Tellura [From what? Was he a captive of his enemies? Cornered by an ogre?] —and that’s when it all goes wrong.

Though this power protects her, Shadas wants to be human again. She knows Prince Velphas could never love her as she is. [Whereas she had a shot when she was a slave?] Velphas treats her kindly, but his determination to save Tellura from tyranny and civil war comes before anything else. Torn between desire for Velphas’ love and despair that she’s unworthy of it, Shadas remains with the prince as the panther in her grows more fierce.

Now Shadas fears a moment of fatal weakness, terrified of finding herself at Velphas’ throat. Shamed by her bloodlust and driven by unrequited love, Shadas walks a path as narrow as the edge of her blade. Unless she can resist the call of darkness, Shadas will destroy her love, doom Tellura, and lose the last of her humanity.

--- --- ---

DARKMOON is my second epic fantasy novel, [Don't say this unless you're going to tell us the first was published.] complete at 96,000 words. It is the first book of the NightPanther Chronicles, set in the medieval-like countries of Tellura and Atarne. Book two, DarkSlayer, is already underway, and book three will be called DarkBane. [The books that follow will be called DarkCrystal, DarkFire, DarkShadow, DarkGate, DarkNight, DarkMage, DarkThrone, DarkQuest, DarkSong, DarkSpell, and DarkTower. I have no idea what happens in these books, but combining "Dark" with another cliche fantasy word is my trademark title strategy.]

I’ve been writing fiction for 6 years, and I’m an active member of the Figment online community. I live in Ohio with my cat, who I often imagine is actually a NightPanther. I found you ------- (ya-da ya-da) [This paragraph isn't needed.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.



The plot summary is all setup. It's well-written, so perhaps if you attach a synopsis you can get away with this, but some would prefer that you condense Shadas's situation (your first three plot paragraphs) into one paragraph, then tell us what happens (Do they form an army or a commando unit? Is Shadas the only character with a special power?), then close with your last plot paragraph.

Not clear what you mean by "it all goes wrong" when she rescues the prince. How would it have gone if she hadn't rescued him? Better?

Change Shadas to Shada. It eliminates the problem of whether to make the possessive Shadas' or Shadas's. It also sounds more feminine. Shadas sounds like a villain. Velphas has the same "s" problem, but that name should be changed entirely, as no king would name his son Velphas. It sounds like a Pakistani chemical company.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Face-Lift 1056

[This, from Mister Furkles, is the last of the fake queries for memoirs of famous people. Although in this case it's more like the memoir than the query. 

The three titles now in the query queue are real books awaiting fake plots.]

Growing Up Borgia

I’m Lucrezia Borgia. I was raised Catholic. Gandpa Alfons was Pope Calixto and Papa Rodrigo was Pope Alejandra – you can’t get any more Christian.

Mama, Vannozza dei Cattanei, was a grand lady. When I was twelve, Papa betrothed me to Giovanni Sforza. I had six months to learn a wife’s duties. Mama gave me lady training. Cesar, my sixteen-year-old brother, taught me about the boudoir; I learned quickly but Cesar – ever the perfectionist -- insisted plenty of practice.

At thirteen, I wed Giovanni. He was more interested in his business and his bros so I honed my skills on the stable lads. Giovanni’s devotion to business didn’t pay off; he lost his fortune. At fifteen I went to a convent and was completely isolated except for my chamberlain, Perotto. He was a twelve-year-old precocious lad who was strikingly like a donkey in one valuable respect. Perotto and I spend the hours on end learning everything about one another. After half a year, the annulment was final; they declared me a virgin.

My second husband was Prince Alfonso of Aragon. He was sixteen and I was a seventeen. Alfonso’s sister had been given to my Uncle Gioffre so, we made a cozy foursome. Alfonso was better looking than Perotto and just as well endowed. He was a most gorgeous hunk and everybody wanted a piece of him – I got the best piece.

Unfortunately, Papa wanted to make kissface with the King of France who invaded Aragon. So Alfonso was on the outs. I hid him but Papa caught Al and had him strangled the night our son, Rodrigo was born. That sort of thing’s okay if you’re the Pope but it didn’t sit well with me.

Papa said if I liked Alfonsos so much he’d get me another. At twenty-two I wed Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara. Al Two did not compare well with Al One. But we were rich and neither objected to the other’s dalliances.