Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Face-Lift 1100!

Guess the Plot

The Duplices

1. Times are changing five billion years ago, even if Single-Cell Congress will not come together on a bill that would recognize multicellularity. No matter what President Amoebama proposes, those that want to duplicate themselves always cause a split.

2. Life in the city was more than the buxom farm-raised Collins twins were prepared for when they moved into the building they'd inherited from Uncle Andrew. Noisy pipes, frozen plumbing, traffic . . . then again, visits from the ultra-hunky Major twins next door made it all worth it. Also, a ghost who makes wishes come true.

3. Rhoda buys four old duplexes (or as she insists on calling them, duplices)planning to fix them up and rent them. When an arsonist burns the whole complex to the ground, Rhoda races to find a deadly secret hidden among the charred ruins before she's charged with setting the blaze herself.

4. Duplexes? Duplexii? Duplices? Two gay real estate agents argue over the wording of a want ad; an arcane inscription on an ancient Roman ruin is deciphered; a game of Scrabble ends in murder. Seemingly random events lead to an age-old conspiracy that may change everything we know about the history of Western Civilization. Also, a didactic lexicographer

5. In 2110 no humans breed. In a last ditch effort to preserve humanity, the Earth Alliance embarks on a wholesale cloning operation. Side effect? Every second clone is a homicidal maniac.

6. A veterinarian discovers that for the past decade she's unknowingly been inhabiting the body of a warrior (aka a duplices) every night while sleeping, and fighting off creatures to protect an alternate world. No wonder she's always so tired in the morning.

Original Version

The youngest of three, working as a veterinarian in the family clinic, Raven had her life drama all figured out. ["Life drama" doesn't sound right. She had her future planned out? Raven's future was set?] With a hateful half-brother and a manipulative stepmother on her heels, her biggest problems were the occasional arguments and the Sunday family lunches. [If that's as much as we're going to get about those two characters, let's drop that sentence from the query.] Till she found out she’d been leading not one, but two distinct lives for the past ten years. [I'd go with "then" rather than "till."]

Every night when she laid [lay] in here [In where?] asleep, the day started anew for her in the Essentia. In this whole new world, energy is the life giving force and balance is key to its existence. [That's pretty vague. What exactly do you mean by "energy"? Balance is the key to energy's existence?] As a shielder, her job is to fight Creatures, whose sole intent is to take hold of the Essentia and its energy supply. [If they've been trying to get this energy supply for ten years, and they still don't have it, and they're still alive, maybe energy isn't the life-giving force everyone thinks it is.] And for that, they’ve gone to war.

Only it [What is "it"?] awakened her into a duplices, one of the seven, each with a set of combined skills to be used on the front lines of the Essentia guard. In the midst of battle, she gains awareness of both her lives and must now face an enemy she once called her own. [Her own what?]

THE DUPLICES is complete at 62,000 words. It’s a young adult novel available at your request. I’m a Brazilian, an English teacher and this is my first novel.

Your attention and consideration are highly appreciated.


The title comes from the main character's abilities in the other world. It's latin for double. [My research (what little research can be done without leaving my chair) indicates that "duplices" is the second-person singular present active subjunctive of duplico. That, alone, is enough to convince me I was right not to ever take a Latin class. Further investigation reveals that duplico is a verb, meaning to double. Of course I will bow to your greater knowledge of Latin (as mine is limited to ipso facto, which I've heard said but don't know what means) and assume duplices can be a noun, which is how you are using it. But even so, I would have to ask why the title is in Latin. You want a title that catches people's interest. Something like Double Jeopardy or I Was a Teenage Warrior Woman--and Didn't Even Know It!]


The plot keeps shifting between past and present tense. Do the whole thing in present.

What exactly are Raven's powers? Tell us.

If she gets wounded in battle, does she wake up with the wound? If so, how does she explain it? If not, how does she know she isn't just dreaming Essentia?

This is all setup. Raven discovers that when she's sleeping in our world, she's fighting Creatures in another. Now what's the story? Does she want to continue? Does she want out of one of her lives? How does she plan to get what she wants? What goes wrong? The energy and balance paragraph isn't telling us anything about what happens.

Don't just tell us who your main character is, make us care about her.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Beginning 989

The anti-depressant Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor indicated for outpatient management of depression, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (when combined with cognitive behavior therapy). Adolescents on Zoloft have increased risk of suicide.

My doctors: Zoloft = Wonder Drug

Mom + (me + Zoloft) = suicide watch

Me + Zoloft: Eh

As in: Someone: Lottie, your hair’s pretty. Me: Eh.

Lottie, we want to skip you forward in school. Me: Eh.

Lottie, your beloved Grandpa died. Me: Eh.

Those tiny, superabsorbent, emotion-sponges soak up all the joy, all the pain, all the feelings that are part of being alive. Sometimes feelings hurt—maybe even way more than they should—but when you can’t feel anything you’re dead. Right?

Good thing not all emotions are sponge-worthy. I still have greed, sloth, envy . . . And of course gluttony. Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor with major munchies as a side effect.

Me + Zoloft = no Oreos for you

Opening: Veronica Rundell.....Continuation: IMHO

Monday, January 28, 2013

Face-Lift 1099

Guess the Plot


1. Benjamin, a goliathus beetle growing up too quickly on the scalp of a squirrel monkey, is pinned between finger and opposing thumb and transported toward a row of gnashing teeth. 

2. Emma Brown has been snatched... by Aliens. To save the lives of all the people on Earth, Emma must outplay creatures for whom cheating is a way of life, and win the Galaxy Go Fish Championship.

3. When your little sister's been snatched by shifters, mister, it's revenge time. Time to get your gun and take out every shifter you see. Assuming your sister finished cleaning your weapon before she was snatched, the brat.

4. Rogue government agents abduct Bill and spirit him to a secret lab. He awakes in a hospital, aware that he's been through major surgery, but strangely it is his emotions that feel most different. Only when Bill tries to use a bedpan does he realize that things are not as they used to be for him her.

5. In the woods practicing her Wiccan rites, Helen is abducted by aliens. Seems the Grand Chief would like to add a witch to his harem. Although her powers are diminished when away from Earth, she isn't giving up without a fight. Now if she could only get to her wand.

6. For Erika, Monte Carlo's all sun, surf, and shopping on Daddy's credit cards until she's snatched from the lobby of her hotel. In the hands of international arms dealers, Erika learns just how Daddy's fortune was built. Can she use her martial arts training to save herself, or will she become yet another casualty of war?

Original version

Dear Agent X,

The shifters stole Kara’s parents away when she was ten, leaving her and Lizzy to fend for themselves. For kids underground? That meant signing up with the military. [When Kara was ten? And her sister even younger? (I looked ahead.) What good would they be to the military? No one's gonna want to lead a squad of seven- to ten-year-old girls in taking some hill.] [Wait, I know: Kara, Lizzy, there's an army of Ken dolls heading this way. We need you to lead your Barbies into battle.] At seventeen years old, all Kara’s got left is her dad’s cottage, a heightened sense of paranoia and her kid sister. Until she spots the shifter on her first surface patrol. [That word "until" suggests that spotting the shifter has somehow changed what Kara has left.] Slate gray eyes empty of emotion and spiderlike arms [Their arms are like spiders? If these are shapeshifters, I would expect them to have arms like swords or sledge hammers or cobras.] that would rip her apart in a heartbeat, it was everything she’d imagined in her nightmares. These were the monsters that pushed humanity underground and made them terrified to step topside. [Earlier you implied that being a kid underground had something to do with the need to join the military. Now you're basically saying everyone's underground. Get rid of "For kids underground?" ]

And once one shifter is sighted, there’s [there are] more to follow.

The sergeant drops Kara on the roster of unlucky soldiers heading to the surface. [She was already patrolling the surface.] All that honor stuff is crap, but the adults lay it on heavy anyway, trying to justify sending folks to their deaths. Have to protect the borders if they want to survive. Not so easy to break to Lizzy though, that she might not come back. She heads home, expecting to find her sister curled up reading a book and not cleaning her gun like the brat was supposed to. Kara walks into an empty house.

They took her folks. They took her best friend. Now, the shifters snatched Lizzy. Fighting them isn’t enough. Kara wants revenge. [Isn't fighting them the way to get revenge? Does she have something else in mind?

"Snatched" is an 84,000 word YA science fiction.



If humanity has been driven underground, how is it that Kara and Lizzie have a cottage? Do they have a white picket fence? It seems likely that if humanity were driven underground, they would put all their resources toward taking back the surface, where they can grow food, rather than settling in, building underground houses, etc.

Sounds like you've got a good tone for describing this plot, but it's a bit disorganized. Every sentence should follow logically from the previous sentence. A few of yours seem to just be tossed in at random. Tighten it up.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Face-Lift 1098

Guess the Plot

Wild Hunt

1. Two college roommates meet a girl on spring break, and take her camping to impress her. Turns out she's a crazy murderer who drugs them and hunts them down for sport. Best spring break ever.

2. It’s the late 1960s and four coeds from Northwestern head to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. They’ll meet half a dozen frat boys from various colleges. It’s a frolicking sexual romp until young Ted Bundy arrives with a different hunt in mind.

3. Marine biologist Shane Staller discovers the ruins of Atlantis. Wait, they aren't ruins--Atlantis is a thriving civilization whose favorite pastime is the Wild Hunt, and Shane is the latest target.

4. Jill wakes in a strange forest and discovers she's being hunted by the undead. She escapes, but then finds that a bunch of thugs are trying to kill her. Has she stumbled out of one Wild Hunt and into another?

5. 16 year old Kenley Gingerbloom knew a summer on her uncle's Texas ranch would be a social disaster--rodeos, line dancing, cattle roundups. But when feral hogs injure Uncle Joe, can she and hunky cowboy Alex hunt them down before they overwhelm the ranch? Also, cute Mexicans.

6. Every spring the Wild Hunt meets in Napa, and the prey is a disgraced programmer who has to outrun the dogs and horses or suffer death, skinning and dismemberment, not necessarily in that order. Can Chaz Pacheco survive, or will his 'tail' end up on Anita Cho's wall--with all the others?

7. Nathan Gordon runs a canned hunt operation in Ararat, Texas, where his clients "hunt" surplus zoo animals and cast-off exotic pets. But when a shipment of animals arrives from a bankrupt genetic engineering company, Nathan discovers karma ain't a bitch, it's a beast.

8. A survey suggests that Bluegrass musicians Harriet, Hannah, and Henrietta Hunt are sliding in popularity. But when their wild little pole-dancing sister Heidi joins the group and adds some swang to the twang, poles immediately begin to rise!

9. In a well-armed dystopia, every public gathering place becomes a target for crazed killers. Can a well-meaning but overly-placating president face down a powerful lobby of nutty gun-strokers to save the day?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Jillian Nicnevin wakes up in the middle of a forest, no memory of how she got there, but doesn’t have the time to worry about that. A girl identical to her, [Is she a clone? If she's a clone, call her a clone. A clone is a major hook.] and a host of undead fairies known as the Wild Hunt are in the forest, trying to kill her. [If they couldn't kill her while she was sleeping, they're never gonna pull it off now that she's awake.] She barely escapes the forest, [See?] and soon after a group of thugs make another attempt on her life. [The average thug is convinced he can take out one girl on his own; needing help from other thugs would be humiliating.] [Though not as humiliating as teaming up with other thugs and still failing to kill the girl.]

A human private investigator, Randall Caldwell, [Normally we don't bother declaring the species of a character unless he isn't human.] helps her escape, but his assistance wasn’t random. He is investigating the disappearance of Nancy Landry, the lookalike [clone] from the forest, whose disappearance may have been Jill’s fault.

To make matters worse, Randall’s son Taylor finds out she’s half-elven and wants in on the adventure, [When thugs and undead fairies are trying to kill you for no discernible reason, the degree to which Taylor wanting in on the adventure makes matters worse is negligible.] but this isn’t the place for an inexperienced human. [Inexperienced at what? It's not like Jill is experienced at being a target of thugs and undead fairies.] Attempts are made on her life from every direction, while the person responsible remains in the shadows. Her girlfriend betrays her, her family disowns her, [Why?] and the one person willing to help her is kidnapped, the ransom her life for his. A price that, if she can’t figure out how to save him, she’ll have to pay. [Why? It's not like it's her fault he's been kidnapped. As you said, his assistance wasn't random.]

Wild Hunt is a YA urban fantasy novel of 85,000 words, and the first in a planned series, but it could stand alone.

I am a member of the SCBWI living in Dallas, TX.

Thank you for your time

Evil Editor –

I have a few questions. Should I mention that my main character is a lesbian? It’s a fairly minor plot point, but maybe it would be more important to an agent (a couple other, hopefully well-meaning, people have told me gay young adult fiction doesn’t sell)? [Minor plot points don't need to be in the query. The fact that Jill is half-elven seems important. But it would sound weird to open the query, Half-elven lesbian Jillian Nicnevin wakes up in the middle of a forest. And admitting that you've named your main character Jillian Nicnevin is enough weirdness.)] 

Also, I’m sixteen. Should I mention that in a query letter? My parents thino so, and I’ll be the first to admit that admitting I’m a kid is a pretty fast way of getting special treatment, but maybe I should let the work stand alone? [Telling the agent you are sixteen will have one of three possible results:

1. I was going to request the manuscript/send a rejection slip, and learning that the author is sixteen changes nothing.

2. I was going to reject this because it isn't exciting me, but now that I know the author is sixteen, I will take it on because hey, it's a kid. Surely I can convince some publishing company to spend tens of thousands of dollars publishing it for that reason alone.

3. I loved this query so much I was planning to request the manuscript, but now that I know the author is sixteen, what are the chances the book is any good? Heck, I reject 99% of manuscripts from people with college educations and decades of life experience, and even if the kid can write, she'll be going off to college in a year or two, where she'll discover boys and never meet another deadline. Her parents probably wrote the query letter anyway.


We need the plot. The story. You've provided the main character's situation. She wakes up in a strange place and discovers that everyone and his brother are trying to kill her. Who is she? What does she plan to do about her situation? Who is the villain in the shadows? Does the detective give her any idea what's going on? Does everyone trying to kill her think she's Nancy Landry?

That Nancy Landry is identical to her is an interesting point, in that Randall knew of Nancy's existence before he ran into Jill, while Jill's family is now disowning her. If Nancy/Jill is the main plot, focus on that. Running into a private investigator who insists that she's someone named Nancy Landry is more intriguing than being hunted by one group and escaping only to be hunted by another.

How does Randall come to believe Jill isn't Nancy? If I'm searching a specific area for Nancy Landry, and I find her, and she says, There must be some mistake; my name's Jill Nicnevin, not Nancy Landry, I'm not taking her word for it. I'm taking her to the person who hired me to find her.

Establish the situation quickly, and then take us through what happens.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Face-Lift 1097

Guess the Plot

Bread in the Bone

1. A mixup of hospital and bakery deliveries leads to John Dough receiving a baking powder transplant. Dough subsequently develops bread in the bone, but learns to overcome his disability despite the constant threat of yeast infections.

2. Charlie gets his chance to compete on the popular reality show Cooking With Bone Marrow. Trouble is, Charlie recently took a vow to go vegetarian. Can he win the episode using only . . . bread in the bone?

3. Maura has cared for her mother for years. Now mum is dead, but DNA tests prove Maura wasn't really mum's daughter, so Maura doesn't inherit, so her husband Trevor's bakery won't get the cash infusion it needs to compete with the new Dunkin Donuts.

4. The day Janet opens her bakery bistro is the happiest day of her life. The next morning she finds the back door jimmied, a threatening note and two corpses in the freezer. Janet and her chef, Phyllis, a former trick-shot artist, are caught in an international smuggling war – one they know nothing about.

5. Reporter Ross McDowell's hot tip lands him in deep. Doo, that is. If the multinational corporate pirates who shanghai'd American Rawhide have gone vegan, why are they buying all those cows? Animal rights activist Alexis Garrity agrees; something doesn't smell right.

6. A geneticist takes up baking as a hobby, and one night combines it with his research into bone marrow, leading to the discovery of a way to bake bread inside bones. He must now use this knowledge to create a race of Pillsbury Doughboys in time for the upcoming Genetics Fair.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I’m seeking representation for BREAD IN THE BONE, a 95,000-word work of women’s interest commercial fiction. [You can just say women's fiction. It's considered commercial, at least among women, who are the only people who buy books.] It’s the story of a woman who’s lost her mum to dementia, then loses her again—and again.

Maura Purkins looked after her confused, cantankerous mother round the clock for eight years. Now, on the day of her funeral, no less, she finds out they weren’t even related. Bit of a shock, that. But DNA doesn’t lie. Did mum? [We are gathered today to pay our respects to the departed. But first, here are the results of the DNA tests.] [You can do without "round the clock" and "no less."]

Husband Trevor goes apoplectic: seems he’s been counting on their half of the estate to salvage his flagging bakery. [If mum is dead and Maura's in the will, what's the problem?] [Money can help a business get off the ground, but if Trevor stubbornly insists on putting raisins in the cheese danish, his customers aren't coming back.] But nothing can stop our brave heroine. Brushing aside his panicked objections, Maura presses on to solve the mystery of her origins. Through pure pluck and a smidgen of luck, she uncovers the dodgy deeds that transpired when she was just a baby. She even tracks down her birth family—though it’s something of a letdown when she perishes in an icy motorway pileup on the way home. (Remember, it was just a smidgen of luck.) Do you really think women want to invest themselves in a main character only to have you kill her off in chapter five? Maura's ghost had better appear in the next paragraph.]

But all’s not lost. Poor, grieving Trevor promptly marries Maura’s younger sister—thus acquiring both shares of the inheritance—and lives happily ever after.

What? Did you think life was supposed to be fair?[No, but that's why we watch movies and read novels: to escape into a fantasy world where good things actually do occasionally happen to good (though fictional) people.]

Some personal background: my career’s been in life sciences and for the past ten years I’ve been a technical writer. What I produce in my day job isn’t exactly great literature, but it has taught me a writer’s discipline: working to deadlines, revising, accepting editorial direction. BREAD IN THE BONE is my first complete novel.

I’ve enjoyed reading authors you’ve worked with, particularly Author A and Author B; I hope I can interest you in [declaring me Author H and publishing] my book as well. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours, etc.


You seem to suggest that mum left half her estate to Maura, on condition that Maura prove with DNA that she is mum's blood relation. Is there some law against leaving something to the person you want to have it?

Why do you consider a book in which the heroine dies and a man ends up the big winner to be "women's interest" fiction?

The tone of the query is somewhat light for a book in which the MC spends eight years caring for a dementia-stricken parent and then dies in a car wreck. Is that the tone of the book itself? If the book isn't funny, you're giving the wrong impression. If the plot is amusing, you might toss in a couple examples, rather than just getting this across through tone.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Face-Lift 1096

Guess the Plot

Sir Celery and the Hornworm

1. Sir Celery stalks a killer hornworm in order to dig up some dirt. He'll have to pull some strings in order to produce the evidence he needs, though he risks soiling his own reputation. Meanwhile, the hornworm eats, shoots and leaves.

2. When a hungry hornworm spies Lady Tomato, he thinks he might not starve to death after all. But he didn't know the Knights of the Veggie Table used chemical warfare. Sir Celery to the rescue!

3. An elderly celery stalk undertakes a quest to rid the world of hornworm. He and his aid, a carrot, are mount their guinea pig chargers, Chipper and Daisy. The vegetable pair are armed with a fondue skewer and plastic cocktail swords. All goes well until Chipper’s and Daisy’s stomachs growl.

4. Sir Celery was disliked by the rest of the vegetables. He was stiff, stringy, and enjoyed peanut butter way too much for the rest of the garden denizens. Until the hornworms moved in, and Sir Celery was the only stalk with the backbone to take on the death-eaters in green-blooded battle. Also, tomatoes with relationship issues.

5. An aging singer, with the punk rock band Sir Celery and Mr. Hornworm, tries to make a last go of it on the road. There, he meets a young man who has his eye on music success. What lessons will the old singer share?

6. Scotland Yard Detective Jack Celery is knighted for service to the Queen. Now, with his trusty second, Sergeant Hornworm, they'll tackle their toughest case yet. Some fiend has been mutilating Post and Kellogg deliverymen. It’s history’s first cereal killer.

7. One writer bets another one hundred dollars he can stump EE and the minions with the most inane title ever. The minions are unimpressed.

8. Craft mezcal producer, Juan, cheapens his product by replacing the maguey worm with hornworm. All goes well until a drug cartel boss’s moll drops a celery stalk into her Margarita. The worm turns and attacks the celery. The moll pukes all over the boss’s fifty-thousand dollar antique loveseat. And pieces of Juan are strewn about Oaxaca.

Original Version

Dear EE,

Deep within The Garden a battle for survival rages.

The deadly hornworm has arrived and threatens to drain fair Lady Tomato of her very life. Valiant Sir Celery, a Knight of the Veggie Table, hears her cries and strives to save her. [Spoiler alert.] Quick-thinking and organic chemical warfare defeats the hornworm moments before Lady Tomato’s skin is pierced. [Thus saving her virtue.]

Sir Celery and the Hornworm (715 words) is a garden adventure (think “Veggie Tales meets Camelot”) for children aged 4-7. Non-fiction facts at the conclusion describe ways farmers use intercropping to organically protect against insect infestation and crop loss in age-appropriate terms. [You had me at Sir Celery. You lost me with intercropping.] [Now if the hornworm has his way with Lady Tomato, and the moral of the story is that the gardener should have used intercropping, okay.] The subject matter lends itself to development into a series [in which Sir Celery will take on such fearsome villains as mealy worms, earwigs, and an aphid named Anthony].

As an avid gardener and a former college biology teacher, I hope my vegetable heroes [such as Baron Broccoli, Captain Eggplant, and The Cucumber Kid] will nourish the nature-curious reader while fostering positive attitudes that facilitate [encourage] a healthy diet. [And not attitudes like, I'm not eating Sir Celery! Who else will take on the evil hornworms?!!] [Or the attitude that it's acceptable to use weapons of mass destruction against those who are just trying to avoid starvation.]

I am a member of SCBWI and received an Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest’s annual competition (2011). [The fact that they call it an Honorable Mention doesn't make it worth mentioning.] I had the pleasure of hearing your presentations at SCBWI Illinois’ Prairie Writer’s Day and appreciate the opportunity to submit this manuscript for your consideration. I hope Sir Celery suits your taste. Thank you very much for your time.



Cute. And it's a lazy agent who will refuse to look at a 715-word manuscript. Or at least to request sentences.

Is the intercropping appendix part of the 715 words? I'm inclined to advise leaving out the intercropping, at least from the query. You could still offer it as an optional addition with the manuscript. Although . . . Your goal (you say) is to promote a healthy diet. Or is it to encourage intercropping or to give advice on pest prevention?

Is there anything in the plot that suggests we should eat more celery? I ask only because when children's books feature talking bunnies and duckies with human names, it doesn't encourage kids to eat those animals.

We need an avid entomologist to write a book in which sweet naive Henry Hornworm is gassed by an army of evil celery stalks. Apparently whichever character gets a cute name is the one we side with.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Face-Lift 1095

We've already played Guess the Plot with the title, in Synopsis 35 below.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

This is a story of two dozen lovable flower-pickin’, slow-dancin’ thrill-seekers. [Actually, this is a query letter, not a story. Change "this" to "Fairfield."] [Also, I didn't get the idea from the synopsis that they're thrill-seekers.] They’re so friendly you’d hardly know they’re dead. They’re just waiting for the scoundrel who stole their space in the graveyard. [This suggests they're waiting for him to confront him; if they're waiting for him just so he can take them to their resting places, no need to reveal he's a villain at this point.] Meanwhile, the sign on the cemetery gate is clear: Sorry, full up.

It’s far from a zombie story, but a warm sort of mystery. [Save that sentence to open your last paragraph; here, it's interrupting the plot.] Jay Hughes, the protagonist, is mysteriously deeded an abandoned hotel in his old home town. He and his associates open the place and, as they do, they inadvertently free the souls of people Jay knew as a child, people he thought were long ago dead.

But, the Old Ones begin to emerge on the front steps of the dilapidated building, chatting, laughing, complaining. [At least dump the red words. Better yet, dump the sentence. It isn't important information.] As Jay learns who deeded him the building and why, he runs headlong into a web of intrigue, deceit, and possibly murder. [Was there a murder or not? If so, no need to say "possibly," even if Jay doesn't know it yet. An actual murder is a major drawing card if you're calling this a mystery.] And he discovers he's coming back to Fairfield for a reason -- to help the Old Ones find peace. The Old Ones aren't much help. After all, they're dead, and only a few of them are vaguely aware of that. [I'd drop those last two sentences. You want the plot summary to end on something important, not a minor detail.]

Obligatory biography not included here. I see no need to evaluate that unless you really don't believe I am a hit man for the Aldruvian family from the Planet Verdi. [Biography is not obligatory.]


So, is the scammer still alive, or did this all go down a century ago?

If only a few of the Old Ones are vaguely aware they're dead, why are they waiting for the scammer to come back?

It's possible the fact (as mentioned in your comments on the synopsis) that this is based on something that happened to people you know would be worth mentioning after the summary, assuming you mean they were victims of a burial plot scam. If you mean they came back as ghosts, I wouldn't bring that up.

Normally you want to open with your protagonist. Everyone will assume he's the protagonist, and you won't have to call him the protagonist. I've rearranged your information below. You have room to add another sentence here or there, but it needs to be something that will help spur interest in reading the book, not some trivial fact that doesn't advance the plot.

Jay Hughes is mysteriously deeded an abandoned hotel in his old home town. He and his associates decide to renovate the place, and as they do they encounter people Jay knew as a child, people he thought were long dead.

The "Old Ones" are so friendly you’d hardly know that they are dead. They’re just hanging out, patiently waiting to be taken to their resting places in the graveyard. But the sign on the cemetery gate is clear: Sorry, full up.

The Old Ones were victims of a burial plot scam, and someone doesn't want the truth to come out. As Jay learns who deeded him the building and why, he gets caught in a web of intrigue, deceit, and murder. And he discovers he's come back to Fairfield for a reason -- to help the Old Ones find peace.

Fairfield is a completed _____-word paranormal mystery. I'd be delighted to send pages at your request. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Synopsis 35

Guess the Plot


1. Patrolman Zeke Martin is first on-scene at the Fairfield Inn by Disneyland. Zeke knows two things: the victim is very dead and he’d better … uh … no wait … the paramedics just revived the victim. Zeke doesn't know anything. Maybe that’s why he’s still a patrolman after twenty-seven years. Also, a talking motorcycle.

2. Fairfield. A sedate Los Angeles suburb in the 1970s. Home to dentists, accountants and housewives, each in full-blown midlife crisis and living a life of quiet desperation except for the occasional extramarital affair. Yes, it's literary fiction.

3. Two divorces and three kids later, Lynda's facing imminent eviction. However, her fortunes take a leap forward upon catching her manager, Harold, snogging fellow cashier, Jerome. Her botched attempt at blackmail ends with Jerome dead. Suicide in the butcher shop? All is not well in Fairfield.

4. The only thing that keeps the predatory cattle in Fairfield from making manburgers of occupants from neighboring realms is an udderly delicious drink called True Milk, produced by Bessie Teatsfull Enterprises. But when contract renewal time comes up, Bessie demands top fodder, or she ain't putting out. Will mankind be ground? Or will cattle just continue to suck?

5. Jay Hughes inherits an abandoned hotel in Fairfield, and sets out to have a look. Turns out the building is now occupied by a bunch of old people. Did I say old? I meant dead. Long dead. Once Jay realizes they're just ghosts and not zombies, he has only one priority: collecting all that back rent.

6. Fairfield was known as the armpit of the rust belt until Barry Carpenter came to town. Suddenly the place is shaping up. Crime is down, the streets are clean, everyone's happy. But now Barry Carpenter is threatening to leave and take the town's children with him . . . unless Joelle Stewart marries him.

Original Version


Jay Hughes has been deeded an abandoned building in his old home town of Fairfield, a nondescript little town on the outskirts of nowhere. [If you can't tell us what it's on the outskirts of, no need to mention outskirts.] Jay’s living in Indianapolis and has no use for the place [Which place? The abandoned building or Indianapolis?] and no idea why he’s suddenly gotten so lucky. [Hard to believe you can be informed you now own a building with no explanation.]

Mulling his problems, [Do his problems have anything to do with the plot?] he learns that the building was formerly owned by Deenie Rafton, [This sounds like something he would learn while investigating his acquisition rather than while mulling over his problems.] an old woman who may or may not have died a mysterious death. [Can't that be said of anyone who dies?]

So, Jay and his young associate, Mal Brown, set out to see what’s inside the old wreck.

When they arrive, the eerie calm in Fairfield isn’t particularly frightening, but it is odd. They kick open the front door and find disrepair, aging rotted boards, a few pigeons and a lot of dusty memories.

And an old woman, who’s happy to see Jay again after all these years.

As the intrigue continues, [Hang on. Did Jay know the old woman? Is the intrigue the fact that she seems to know him, or the fact that he owns the building with no explanation?] with each trip, Jay meets still another old-timer who’s happy to see him, glad he’s come to fix up the hotel. [He's fixing it up? I thought you said he had no use for the place.] After a few more trips, the trend continues. [The trend is that one new old person is in the place each time he returns?] Finally, more than two dozen old people are around, milling about, [They're milling, and he was mulling. Are you sure this building wasn't a mall?] all just being here and there. [All just being here and there? That isn't helping us.]

There’s a connection. [Between what and what?]

When Jay and his new love interest, Carmella (also Mal’s aunt) begin to dig into the story, they learn that the Old Ones are long dead, but have materialized – awaiting space in the cemetery annex.

The convoluted paper trail takes them to what could have been investment fraud, trickery, deceit and perhaps murder. The Old Ones aren’t much help. They remember something one day, forget it the next.

With each trip, Jay and his associated learn more about the dilemma. The Old Ones are waiting until the annex opens. [You said that already.] Their souls are patient. Even Ron Patterson is awaiting the return of his body from Southeast Asia.

Deenie Rafton had made a connection and was, in her death, helping the Old Ones find their way to peace. Jay and Carmella eventually learn the truth, through the help of an old couple living in Jay’s boyhood home. [The end? Do they do anything? Complete the annex? Fix up the hotel and let the dead live there? Investigate the annex fraud and bring the guilty parties to justice?]


There are too many words and not enough story. Your setup is: Jay inherits an abandoned hotel and discovers that it's occupied by ghosts. Seems they were tricked into buying plots in a proposed cemetery annex that no one intended to build, and now they're hanging out in the hotel, patiently waiting for the annex to open.

Now you have plenty of room to tell us who the villains are, what happened (including the murder, which I assume was Deenie's), what Jay plans to do to make things right, what obstacles he must overcome...

If that's not your story, if the story is just finding out what the ghosts are doing in the building, I don't see how that's enough to carry a novel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The 7th Annual Oscar Awards Guess the Plot Feature

Below are the titles of this year's Oscar Award nominees. Your job is to guess which plot description is the real one. The fakes were submitted by EE and the Evil Minions. A true film buff should have no trouble getting all nine.

Les Miserables

1. A history of the French people, from Robespierre to Gerard Depardieu.

2. A group of runaway slaves struggle for survival in Paris.

3. Prisoner 24601 escapes and creates a new life for himself, caring for the daughter of a factory worker and frequently breaking into song for no apparent reason.

4. They were the most effective Marquis of the French Resistance in WWII. They hid in the forest. They slept on the ground and foraged for food. Rarely did they have a hot meal or a bath and went weeks without washing their clothes. No wonder they were known as . . . Les Miserables.

5. Prison janitor Jean didn't think his life could get worse. Of course that was before becoming a hostage in riot-turned-jailbreak for which everyone believes he's the mastermind.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

1. It's bad enough living in the south in the summer, but when global warming causes the ice caps to melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures, it's time to head inland.

2. Frat house screwball comedy featuring nerds and jocks and boozing and cheerleaders and zombies.

3. Werejavelinas, werepossums and weredillos- in 3-D!

4. A group of runaway slaves struggle to survive in the hostile Everglades, pursued by hunters and alligators.

5. Porter the porcupine is worried. For three years, rains rarely come. The forest is dying and the woodland creatures are thirsty. One night, Porter sees colored lights in the northern sky. Taking it as sign, he organizes the mammals and birds. They begin a long trek to the northern rain forest. Also, a proselytizing vegan who won’t shut up -- so the cougars eat her.


1. Hitchens has quietly harbored his affection for Calista for four centuries, sure a gargoyle can't convince a saint he wants more than a one-night stand. When they catch Father Francis obsessively scrubbing stains from the altar, Hitchens grasps for his chance at...Amour.

2. A gripping tale of love between two slaves as they struggle against their oppressive masters.

3. Amour's parents named her in the heat of the groovy sixties. When she loses her job as an accountant for a denture-manufacturing firm and the bank forecloses on her suburban Houston home, Amour is forced to move in with her parents on the commune while desperately searching for another job.

4. A heart-wrenching story of two people in love. What more needs to be said? Oh, right, no sex scenes. Which is probably a good thing, as they're both in their 80s.

5. When their woodland is cleared for a shopping center, Molly the mole and Porter the porcupine are made homeless. Older than the other creatures, Molly and Porter team up. Each has abilities the other lacks. By the time they are settled into a new woodland, they are deeply in love. Can this illicit bi-species love last through the rigors of new homes, new friends and old age?


1. A group of freed slaves build a new nation in Nebraska, and name it after the president who freed them. It never amounts to more than one town, and they move to Texas after two years.

2. Abraham Lincoln survives the assassination attempt, and struggles with his views on capital punishment: "Sure, no one died, but this guy tried to kill me! Either he hangs, or we at least make him my slave."

3. President Abraham Lincoln must decide whether to end the Civil War or keep it going long enough to ram slave emancipation through congress. Think The West Wing, with Honest Abe playing the role of Jed Bartlet.

4. Twelve year old Lincoln Larsen leaves home to commence her physics degree and faces a predatory professor. She has an unexpected ally in an escaped human-extraterrestrial hybrid.

5. After heart surgery, Vito enters the convalescent hospital for several weeks. High school buddies Sam and Jack ‘borrow’ his Lincoln land-yacht for a joy ride to Florida. When they have a flat, they open the trunk and find two corpses sealed in plastic. So, Vito Gambino is one of those Gambinos. They can’t go to the police but if they don’t they might wind up in a car trunk.


1. Jason and the Golden Fleece, as told by his snarky ship, Argo. Argo would like nothing more than to lounge around the docks and frolic in the bay with the other ships. But that jackass King Pelias sends Jason and his band of Argonauts – ancient Greek for Keystone Cops – on a quest for some old furry rag. Argo has a low opinion of people, and thinks even less of mythical creatures like centaurs and gods -- especially that nitwit Poseidon.

2. The CIA and Canada collaborate on a film called Argo. It's sort of a film within a film, with both films called Argo. Both films are a huge success, though only one of them is a box office blockbuster.

3. A sudden nationwide outbreak of chicken pox leads to dramatic shortfalls in cornstarch supply. Shady deals at Argo Corn Products leaves line engineer on the hook for more than lumpy gravy.

4. An adorable little garter snake argues with his brothers and sisters about whether it's safe to explore the hole in the garden fence.

5. When six-year-old Johnny doesn't return after heading into the swamp on a quest to find what he terms an "argolator," the sheriff's only clue as to what might have happened to him is a partial recording recovered from a pile of gator doo with Johnny's voice saying, "Wow! I just found me an argo--"

Silver Linings Playbook

1. Sure every cloud has a silver lining, or so Joe's been told, but when you're a backup quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, sometimes it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Former slave Silver Linings writes the first book of defensive plays for Harvard football--just in time for the big game with Yale.

3. If every cloud has a silver lining, then Seattle is the champion. So its newest high school’s team nickname is The Silver Lining. When coach Bud Adams retires from the NBA, he goes there to try out some revolutionary ideas. The Silver Lining win nearly every game but their playbook is stolen just before the state championships. Can the Lining win if the opponent knows all of their secret moves?

4. On the vaporous world of CumuloNimbulex, Thunderhead, the captain of Cloud Team 9, has finally come up with a stratusgy that should let him win the coveted silver medal at the Cloud Olympics. If only he could get the rest of the team to stop goofing off and be cirrus.

5. Recently released from a mental institution, Pat feels he can manage on the outside without medication solely by healthy living and looking for the "silver linings" of every cloud that rains on him. His goals: get his teaching job back and reunite with his wife. The latter one won't be easy, what with the restraining order.

Life of Pi

1. Bound by her sorority blood oath, Teresa lies on the witness stand to protect fellow Pi, Shayna, from life imprisionment. Detective Malarkey knows a fish story when he smells one.

2. It's rough being the shortest kid in the class, but Pi has a good comeback for the kids who laugh and say he's only three feet tall: Actually, asshole, I'm 3.14159 feet tall.

3. Traveling from India to Canada to start a new life, a shipwreck leaves Pi on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a tiger and a hyena. Three guesses who gets eaten first in the struggle for survival.

4. Pie, the horse from National Velvet, breaks away from mankind's domination and goes on a journey to find himself. He even learns to write his own name--almost.

5. When he played the game, he was the best third baseman ever. But his fame was made with his bat. He hit over .300 ten times and never struck out more than 28 times in a season. For fifty years Pi Traynor kept a daily diary. This biography is based on that diary and reveals how his love of Pie resulted in his memorable nickname.

Django Unchained

1. A year in the life of indie rock group Django Unchained as they tour and inflict their noise on unsuspecting bar patrons around the country and fail to either score a recording contract or any female attention.

2. The Normandy invasion fails and gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt organizes the resistance to the NAZI occupation of Belgium. At night, Django’s jazz band entertains SS-SD officers. Plying them with hard liquor, the group’s girls get their secrets. Then they strike the Gestapo offices and NAZI supply depots.

3. Django's romp through Compton reunites estranged cousins Sheeq and Luce on the eve of a gang war. Also, clowns.

4. A dentist gives up his profession to become a bounty hunter, buys the freedom of a slave named Django, and trains him to be his deputy. Carnage ensues.

5. When Mrs. Dja Dja Django agrees to a little handcuff hanky-panky with husband Djo Djo, she doesn't know he's going to get a sudden urge to make a run to the beer store...with the handcuff key still in his pocket...AND GET PULLED OVER! Boy, is Dja Dja ever going to show Djo Djo where to put that key when she gets unchained!

Zero Dark Thirty

1. George discovers odd marks on the old oak, realizes that they are signposts for the Underground Railroad and knows that he and his family must leave for Canada now.

2. Playwright Zero Jones attends tryouts for his new musical. There he sees Angelina. She's stunning, young and sings like an angel. Zero is in love. But he's fifty, short and overweight. He pays a witch to cast a spell. Instantly, he's tall, trim and young. He has 30 days to win her heart. Can it last when he reverts to himself?

3. A group of neighborhood kids like to play Army, but they have to be safe indoors by what Billy calls "zero dark thirty." Their plan to eliminate nightime will leave the real military wishing they'd kept a better eye on their uranium supplies.

4. In an experiment to determine whether a movie's title has any bearing on its success, an Oscar winning director uses a random word generator to title her latest film.

5. One woman is confident she knows the location of the world's most wanted terrorist. The men aren't so sure, but to prove her wrong and humiliate her, they send a SEAL team in. Turns out she was right. So of course the guys try to take credit.

Answers below

Fake Plots were submitted by
Khazar-khum, Mr. Furkles, EE, James, Jo Antareau, AA, Anon


Les Miz  3

Monday, January 14, 2013

Face-Lift 1094

Guess the Plot

Imogen and Leander

1. When the body of controversial octenagarian female impersonator and cabaret singer Leander 'Imogen' Sullivan is found half eaten by his 36 cats, homicide Detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, the cats didn't pull the trigger on that 9mm, and two, he'd better get their Burmese Dazzy some catnip, just in case.

2. Brash Imogen's distaste for men changes that magical night she encounters Leander in the college library. Who can argue with destiny, right? Apparently Imogen's mom, Eunice. She sees Leander for who he really is: her long-lost son.

3. Priscilla, Penelope and Constance are all in love with handsome new Rhode Island Red Leander. But all he wants to crow about is plain little Imogen. Will their love continue unruffled, or will the old hens use the pecking order to break up the love nest?

4. Imogen, a gerbil belonging to Mrs. Brown's 3rd grade class, conceives a passion for Leander, the white mouse who lives in a cage atop the dictionary case. But with Maxwell the python in a fishtank on the radiator between them, how can they ever be together?

5. Seventeen-year-old Imogen marries Leander Thurston, handsome owner of Kerrigan Meadows Plantation. Imogen loves Leander but is horrified by his treatment of his slaves, so she embarks on the dual life of loyal plantation mistress and matron of the Underground Railroad.

6. When Princess Imogen's evil stepmother finds that Imogen has married Leander, instead of her stepbrother Claude, she goes on the warpath. Imogen and Leander both flee the kingdom. Unfortunately they flee in opposite directions and have no more contact with each other.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Between a banished husband, a negligent father, an evil step-mother, a brutish step-brother, and an impending war, [I hate opening with a list.] things [Things? What things?] are getting almost too much for sixteen-year-old Princess Imogen to handle. [You're better off dumping this sentence.]

When fleeing to an enemy nation looks like the best available option, one cannot deny that things have gotten truly disastrous. [This is going to suggest to the reader that fleeing looks like Imogen's best option, when in fact you're talking about another character.] But when King Cameron of Greater Dale [Greater Dale is a terrible name for a kingdom. Unless they named it that to annoy the people of neighboring Great Dale, in which case it's fantastic.] discovers Imogen’s marriage to his ward, Leander Dulac, he banishes him, leaving Leander no choice but to flee north to the enemy Hill Lands. [Fleeing from whom? When the king banishes you, instead of imprisoning or beheading you, you are required to leave the kingdom; being hunted down isn't part of the deal.] Imogen finds herself alone [Define "alone."] in a Court ruled primarily by her cruel step-mother, Queen Atia, who hopes to force Imogen to abandon her husband and marry her step-brother, Claude, and a father so under his wife’s sway that he is trying to force the match and does not comprehend that his country will not survive the upcoming war with the Hill Lands [That's the name of the place? Hill Lands? Is that what the people who live there call it? I recommend going with Great Dale.] that Queen Atia proposes. [Those last two sentences have so many characters and complications, no one's going to stick with the story.]

However, when her husband’s new friends abroad persuade him that she has betrayed him, Imogen suddenly finds herself with only one ally either at home or abroad.  With the help of her friend, Imogen fakes her death and flees south to the Forest of Fae. [How come Leander had no choice but to flee north, but Imogen can flee south? When you're fleeing, you choose the route, and the pursuers have to follow. If I'm Leander, I'm fleeing to the Forest of Fae, not the enemy Hill Lands.] [Also, what's with all the fleeing? I want to read about characters who stand their ground. All the characters we're supposed to like have gotten out of Dodge.] [Also, are you really fleeing if no one's chasing you? The whole point of faking her death, I assume, was so she wouldn't be chased.] Luckily, she falls in with a companion who can keep her alive, even if he cannot stop her from trying to return home to prevent a war.  The same war Leander, convinced he has caused Imogen’s death, has returned to his homeland to die in. [It's Romeo and Juliet, but with fleeing.]

Hopefully, they’ll be able to save their homeland and each other. [Yuck.]

IMOGEN AND LEANDER is a 55,000 word YA Fantasy novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


This needs to be simplified. Get rid of everyone who isn't essential. Especially Claude. No 65-word sentences. No lists of more than three items. It's better than these things usually are when I tell people to start over, but start over. Focus on the main plot, which seems to be this:

When Princess Imogen marries Leander, the king's ward, Queen Atia is enraged, as she had other plans for her stepdaughter. She has Leander banished from Greater Dale.

Friendless in the court, Imogen fakes her death and heads south to the Forest of Fae, hoping to find Leander, not realizing that Leander fled north, where the enemy Hill-Landers are preparing for war with Greater Dale.

Word of Imogen's death reaches Leander and he returns to Greater Dale to fight and die defending his homeland. But Imogen is also making her way home, hoping to prevent the war. Can the two of them hook up and flee the kingdom before all hell breaks loose?

Work with that, but don't add any names.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

New Beginning 988

It felt awkward, me straightening my tie and gulping down coffee while Natalie sat at the breakfast bar in her dressing gown, sans make-up and hair awry, refusing to talk, like it was my fault.

The phone pinged to let me know I had seven minutes to get to the bus stop, and I’m pretty sure I saw her flinch. “Have a good day,” I said, as I leant over to kiss her. She turned away. “You’ll get used to it,” I added, then wished I hadn’t.

“You’ll be late.”

I pulled on my coat and grabbed my briefcase. “Have—” I started, then stopped myself. “See you later.”

I heard Natalie sigh as the door closed behind me. The first Sunday since we married we hadn’t left the flat together. The first Sunday she had nowhere to go. She couldn’t just sit there feeling sorry for herself, though. She wasn’t the only one. No married women had jobs anymore.

When I returned home, the dirty dishes were in the sink, the clothes hamper was full, and the baby was crying. Natalie was still in her dressing gown, watching some novella on the standard-issue 120-inch television.

"Glad you're home," she said, graciously pausing her program long enough to acknowledge my arrival.

"Glad you noticed," I said back.

She yawned - a wide, gaping yawn that made me feel tired down to the depths of my soul. Why, oh why, hadn't I listened to President Clinton's stump speeches? You know, the ones about women being free to do whatever they wanted if she were finally elected? We men were now reaping the wrath of all those years of female repression.

I sighed, threw a load of darks in the washing machine, put on my apron, placed the baby on my hip, and began scrubbing the dishes. Four more years, I kept saying to myself. Just four more years.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Lisa H.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Face-Lift 1093

Guess the Plot


1. Vampire private eye McKinley Quinn is hot on the trail of a circle of illegal blood smugglers when

2. Dear Evil Editor: I want you to sell my new bestselling niovel that will crush Rowlings and Grisham and Mayer and the books by that guy who writes about Frodo. It's not finishde but I tell you ikjts the best book ever!!!!

3. In a desperate effort to win her school's Fall Princess competition, Lauren sells her soul to Esme the Demonic Lunch Lady in return for popularity. Turns out she's too popular, and wants out of the deal, but Esme has already listed the soul at an online auction site. Can Lauren win it back, or will she always be . . . incomplete?

4. A mysterious thief has stolen a single piece from every jigsaw in Tina's Toy Emporium. If Tina can't track down the thief and find the missing pieces, all the jigsaws will remain . . . incomplete.

5. Distracted with boy troubles in her senior year, 18-year-old Taylor Tyson takes an "incomplete" in biology. She can't graduate. She can't go to college. None of that bothers her . . . until she dies and an angel tells her that until she hands in those missing lab reports, she can't pass on to the afterlife.

6. Ever since the carnival fortune teller showed her the picture of her future spouse, Jennie McArny has been looking for him. But based on the picture, he's from the 1800s. Will she ever find this mysterious time traveler, or will she always be . . . incomplete?

Original Version

Dear [ ]:

Lauren Faustino's life is a living hell, which is why she sells her soul.

Her parents fight all the time. The alpha girl at school torments her. She's an excellent student but a washout in the popularity game, the only high school competition that matters. If Lauren wins Fall Formal Princess, then maybe she'll get some respect, but her chances are slim without a powerful boost. That's why she makes a deal with Esme the demonic lunch lady, who is also a distributor for Brimstone International, Purveyor of Fine Supernatural Products.

Irresistible attractiveness is fun for a while, but Lauren soon discovers the down side. While dodging stalkers, jealous classmates and a hostile Dean of Girls, she also manages to alienate TJ, her one true friend. She tries to return her purchase for a full refund and learns that all sales are final. [It was in the fine print.] Matters go from bad to worse when her soul winds up on iMart, an internet auction site.

[I would edit those three paragraphs into something a bit tighter, perhaps like this:

Lauren's Faustino's life is a living hell. Her parents fight all the time; the alpha girl at school torments her; and she's a washout in the social game, the only high school competition that matters. If Lauren could win Fall Formal Princess, then maybe she'd get some respect, but fat chance of that . . . until she sells her soul to Esme the Demonic Lunch Lady in return for a turbo-boost in popularity.

Irresistible attractiveness is fun for a while, but Lauren soon discovers the downside. While dodging stalkers, jealous classmates and a hostile Dean of Girls, she also manages to alienate TJ, her one true friend. She tries to return her purchase for a full refund, but her soul has already been listed on iMart, an Internet auction site.]

There's also the problem of her dad, a shady businessman who may have conned the whole town. The detectives sniffing around the Faustino house think so. Lauren is determined to crack the case herself, even if the answers destroy her comfortable suburban life. [Is this a subplot or the main story? Is there a connection between the two "plots"? Like maybe Lauren was already trying to clear her father or make amends to the townspeople, but now that she's soulless she couldn't care less that dad's in trouble or that the town got conned?]

Please consider my 83,000-word novel, Incomplete. [Is that the title or the current condition?] It's Faust meets Nancy Drew—with cast of crooks, posers and a savvy little monkey named Dante.

I'm the author of Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones: The American Medicine Show (McFarland, 2000) and High School Prom: Marketing, Morals and the American Teen (McFarland, 2012). [Change the word "Prom" to "Porn," and I think you've got a winner.] I'm currently marketing the prom book online and in personal appearances.

I've also written dozens of magazine articles, columns, essays and literary journal pieces. Publications include Health, Prevention, Stage Directions, Eclectica and Ms. Fitness. I wrote several study guides for the Center Theatre Group for use in Los Angeles high schools. I have an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. [This paragraph isn't needed; one paragraph is sufficient as credits, and the previous one is more impressive.]

I’m querying you, Ms./Mr. [personal note here]. Thank you for your time and attention.



If the main plot is getting her soul back, the query can do without dad. Focus on Lauren's plan to regain her soul, which I assume involves bidding on it, getting outbid, finding whoever bought it, etc.

If the main plot is the mystery, cut back a bit on the soul aspect (without losing the demonic lunch lady, of course) and focus on how dad supposedly conned everyone and on how Lauren plans to clear him.

If you consider both plots "main," show the connection.

You can probably get away with the names "Faustino" and "Dante" because the plot is over the top to begin with, but it seems somewhat gimmicky, and probably isn't adding anything.

Monday, January 07, 2013

New Beginning 987

To the Admissions Board of the University of Northern California

I did not start the fire that destroyed Rio Seco High School, despite what you may have heard on the news. I did sell a chunk of my soul to a demon, but the deal was only loosely related to the disaster. I'm writing this essay to set the story straight. (If my version of events moves you to contact law enforcement, please note that I am no longer “a person of interest.”) So, for the record: I’m Lauren Faustino, and until last semester, I was a junior at good old “Rio Sicko” High in Vista View Heights, California, home of the Fighting Jackrabbits.

I have no transcript, academic history or “permanent record.” When the school burned down last December, everybody’s file went up in smoke. Every hard copy, digital file and microfiche was vaporized—gone with the Santa Ana winds. Some of my classmates are grateful for a clean slate, but not I. My hard-won 4.0 average is now one big Incomplete. Thus I stand before you naked, Dear Admissions People, bureaucratically speaking. Formless, you might say. All I have is the story I’m about to tell.


Dean of Admissions Peter Fresco put the paper down on the table and looked up. Professor Brian Markham, to his left, shuffled some papers, while Adrian Brofowski on the other side cleared his throat. Not one of them could take their eyes off the prospective student standing in front of them.

After what seemed like the longest while, the Dean cleared his throat. "Well, Lauren," he said. "This is quite unusual, but unusual scholars are the most interesting, wouldn't you say, Professor Markham?"

"Uh, hm, y-yes. Most interesting."

They paused and considered some more.

"Well," the Dean continued. "I think it's possible we may have a place for you."

Lauren relaxed and exhaled loudly. "Really? I can get dressed then?"

"Let's not be too hasty, dear," the Dean replied. "I'd like to hear the rest of your story first..."

Opening: Ann Anderson .....Continuation: anon.

Friday, January 04, 2013

New Beginning 986

I am the worm you see in the bottle of tequila. I crawled inside because alcohol smears the memories, tames the furies, and thins the blood. I embrace my fate with ever-increasing ardor but in doing so I despair of life and its impotent God. Would that I were made of stone, long forgotten and never-minded stone without care or the desires of flesh and blood.

We begin in a laboratory in the quest for money to pay for a doctorate. Professor Morgenteil paid premium rates for students because only greedy fools like me would to sell their souls and perform live experiments on chimpanzees, Pan Troglodytes.

Subject Ten succumbed to the virus early this morning. I did the post mortem and prepared the body for burial. Characteristically, its fingertips were bloody, body hair smeared with its fluids, eyes blackened, and face hollow. Ten weeks, ten failures.

“Death delayed but not prevented,” Professor Morgenteil sighed the words in his thick accent as he read my report. “The effect of the virus seems to build. First few days they’re ecstatic. It took two weeks this time for the frenzy to start and the death spiral that follows.”

Ah, how I longed to be that imprisoned and inebriated worm--actually, not a worm but the larval form of the Hypopta agavis moth--instead of a graduate student of free will, monstrous greed, and immense hairy arms (Gorilla gorilla).

"As you know," Professor Morgenteil continued with his ridiculous Propithecus pronunciations, "the next chapter of the Planet of the Apes franchise depends on this virus. Back to work." 

Opening: Dave F......Continuation: IMHO

Thursday, January 03, 2013

New Beginning 985

Angba Skullcrusher quietly made her way across the Basilica to the sturdy wood door with 'Father Balbain ' printed in neat gold letters. Patting the stray hairs back in place, she gave her forest green day dress a last dusting so she would at least be somewhat presentable after the long ride. Cautiously she rapped the brass knocker.

From inside the room a man called, “Come in.”

Steeling herself for the look of disappointment, she pushed the door open. “Father Balbian?”

“Yes?” Father Balbian sat behind his desk, thick with layers of papers and books. His spectacles gave him the look of a friendly owl. “What can I do for you, miss? Come and sit with me.”

Encouraged, Angba settled onto the padded chair. Opening her bag, she withdrew her letter. “Father,” she began, “my name is Angba Skullcrusher. Tallis sent for me.”

She did not expect his reaction.

“Angba? You’re the Angba?” He stood, a joyful smile spreading from his face to his body, until it seemed as though he smiled with every part of his being. “Angba? Praise the gods! I thought I’d never get to see you. Tallis talked about you constantly. You were his pride and joy.”

“I was? I mean--I have a letter from him,” she said, handing the paper to the priest. “He wanted me to come and stay here and learn with him. I did send him a letter telling him when I was coming.” She managed to smile. “I—I’ve wanted to meet him for a long time. You have no idea how grateful to him I am for everything.”

“Oh, I have an idea,” said Father Balbain. His smile slowly drained from him.

“What’s wrong? Wasn’t I supposed to come here?”

“No, it’s not that.”

“What, then? Is it because I’m an—“

“No. no. That has nothing to do with it. Angba,” he sighed, “I buried Tallis two days ago.”

"You . . . Oh no. If only I hadn't delayed my departure . . . How . . . did he die?"

"Lack of oxygen, I'm afraid. At least I assume so, as he was still alive when I buried the coffin. The screaming stopped after a couple hours."

Opening: Khazar-khum.....Continuation: Evil Editor

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Face-Lift 1092

Guess the Plot

My Deadly Prince Charming

1. Carels is a venomous vampire whose kiss kills instantly. Hessa is a were-cane toad whose skin secretes poison. Can they make each other happy, or will Hessa's Australian accent and mannerisms hopelessly offend Carels' haughty Silesian family?

2. So, like, I was lying there, and, like, these seven guys were all around and I really liked them, but not like that, if you know what I mean, so this totally rad dude comes up and he's like "What's going on?" and the little guys are like, "She's dead," and the cute guy's like, "Really? I think I can fix that," and he kisses me. What did you say your name was again? Peter?

3. A college freshman on the island Idylla falls for a fellow student who turns out to be the crown prince of a neighboring kingdom. Will she become his princess, or will she be turned off by the fact that he's only part human and is out to destroy Idylla?

4. Six years on and Prince Charming has kissed a lot of princesses, looking for the one (so he says). But not every princess is pure, and along the way he's picked up something nasty. Will mice Fennel and Chanelle help Liesl see through this noble but skanky man-slut before it's too late?

5. Eight years ago, Eleanor married death row inmate Billy Bob Wilson. When DNA evidence exonerates BB, Eleanor's sister Anna is in a race against time to uncover evidence of the murders BB did commit. Eleanor figures Anna's just jealous. Also, some POV issues.

6. Seventeen-year-old Juliette weds the Marquis de Sade. She’s thrilled and deeply in love. But the gardener keeps leering at her and one-by-one, young village girls disappear. Is it the gardener or something worse? Will Juliette solve the mystery before she too disappears?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my 100,000 word Young Adult paranormal romance MY DEADLY PRINCE CHARMING.

What do you do when the boy you love is afraid to let you touch him for fear you will learn all his deadly secrets? [Sounds like he's gay and in the closet and came up with this "deadly secrets" line hoping to keep you around. There's no future with this guy, so show him the door, pronto.]

Upon the death of her mother, seventeen-year-old Iona flies to the Mediterranean island of Idylla to live with the father she never knew. She finds the island is a kind of modern-day utopia, a virtually crime free society filled with benevolent people. [Can you come up with better examples of what makes it a Utopia to a teenaged girl? It sounds like Stepford so far. Or just call it a modern-day Utopia and let it go at that. Or dump the whole sentence, which is irrelevant.]

One of Iona’s classmates at the University of Idylla is visiting student Prince Ariston, the Crown Prince of the neighboring island Kingdom of Perdia. The two bond over their love for Elizabethan poetry [Yep, he's gay.] and the Renaissance, and find they share a passion for reading and learning.

But not all knowledge is safe. When the island stimulates Iona’s latent powers of contact telepathy, Ariston must shun her, or risk her learning that he is only part human [Is he a merman? If so, I applaud your decision not to mention this in the query. If he's Aqualad, you probably should mention that.] and is in Idylla to take from them the very thing that makes them such a unique society. [When I think of what makes unique societies unique, it's usually something intangible, not something a merman could snatch and swim away with. Is there a reason you aren't revealing specifically what Ariston is after?]

Ariston is torn. While Iona’s ability to sometimes read his mind is a threat to him, she also starts developing the power to calm people down when they are agitated. [She takes the Superhero name Xanax, and joins the X-men.] The man with many demons to conquer realizes she is the only girl in the world who can heal his mind. [Suggested title: Mermen Versus Demons: the Mutant Wars, Book 1.]

It is only after Iona is kidnapped and nearly killed [How long after Iona finds that Idylla is virtually crime-free does this happen? Usually you don't declare a place crime-free if you've been kidnapped and nearly killed within a month of arriving.] that she discovers the secret of Idylla and must then choose between the man she loves and the country she has grown to love. Because each can survive only at the expense of the other. [I disagree. They are both torn, but if he chooses her instead of his mission, I see no reason both Idylla and Ariston can't both survive.] [Of course, a relationship in which the woman can read the man's mind is pretty much doomed from the start, especially when they hit the sheets and he inevitably starts fantasizing she's Penelope Cruz. Or Brad Pitt.]

MY DEADLY PRINCE CHARMING features a captivating, irresistible hero and heroine. [I didn't find him so irresistible. He's hiding the fact that he's not entirely human, and he's on a mission that will destroy the place. A bond based on Elizabethan poetry doesn't counter that. If he didn't need her mind-calming power he'd probably be long gone.] It captures the innocence and breathlessness of first love and the promise of a forever love. I have pasted the first chapter below.

Thank you for your time.


According to my i-geography app, which no editor should be without, Perdia is a town in the Cape Verde Islands and Idylla is a floating city in World of Warcraft. Iona, however, is an island, but off the west coast of Scotland, not in the Mediterranean.

Does the prince tell Iona she can't touch him because she'll learn his deadly secrets? If not, what is his explanation? And what teenager wants a boyfriend who won't touch her?

You don't need the second paragraph. The question is never answered, and the information is repeated later on.

You could try replacing the "captivating, irresistible" sentence with your very first sentence, and starting the query with your 3rd paragraph. This might put the paranormal aspect further down in the query than you want it, but if so, you could introduce Iona as seventeen-year-old telepath Iona. So your opening could be:

Upon the death of her mother, seventeen-year-old telepath Iona flies to the Mediterranean island of Idylla to live with the father she never knew. She enrolls at the University of Idylla, and soon bonds with fellow student Ariston, Crown Prince of the neighboring island Kingdom of Perdia, never suspecting that he is actually a merman out to sink Idylla to the bottom of the sea. (or whatever he is and plans to do).