Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Guess the Plot Quiz

Below are a number of fake plots that appeared here in recent times. But wait! They weren't all fakes. Four of them turned out to be the actual plots of minions' novels. Which ones?

1. A Vermont coven of witches discover how to travel into the past as ghosts. They decide to right the wrongs of New England’s past by building goodwill for witches, but they also break a barrier holding back a clutch of demons. As the witches right wrongs, the demons wreak havoc and frame the witches.

2. I was murdered a century ago, so you'd think I'd be dead, but I'm immortal. Since I never look any older I have to move to a new town every time I graduate from high school. That's why immortality is a curse, at least when you're 16. If I have to read Paradise Lost one more time I think I'll jam a stake through my heart. 

3. Son Son is sick of his obsessive compulsive parents who repeat every action to make sure they got it right, including the time they submitted his birth certificate. He wreaks vengeance on them by murdering them both twice - once as humans and once as zombies.

4. Terrorized by bullies at school and my abusive mother at home, I begged a vampire to bite me and give me power. Instead the vampire bit my mother, then passed out, drunk. So I found a werewolf, who promptly ran off with the vampire.

5. When you live in Skeleton Gorge, the biggest worry is landslides. So when a mage named Landslide shows up with an army of zombie skeletons and starts causing landslides, it's up to the Skeleton to protect the gorge. 

6. Cassandra is a witch, which is against the law, so she lives in isolation. But she'll have to expose herself if she wants to rescue her grandmother from kidnappers. Although her grandmother's also a witch, so maybe she can rescue herself. Also, a talking dog and cat. 

7. 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. 

8. When Henri the pirate captures Kadi and puts the moves on her, she wonders if she should tell him that she's the queen of the vampires? He's pretty handsome, and something like that can be a stumbling block to a relationship.

9. Kelsey, third-year student at Rugglesbottom Witch School, is fed up. The other girls are snotty, the boys are jerks, and Master Snoftrun just gave her alchemy final a C. When she finds a strange wand in the library, she fools with it until she knows what it does. Fourth year is going to be much, much better.

10. A vampire, mummy, zombie, werewolf, and alien walk into a dive bar. No one seems to care. Then the loneliest, most ordinary teen girl on the planet walks in and all hell breaks loose.

11. The day after he was cursed by a witch, Jack lost both legs in a mysterious accident. She cursed him again, and this time he was attacked by a vampire. But in bat form, he didn't need legs and lived happily ever after.

12. It was the forbidden song. Throughout the ages its words were sung surreptitiously wherever there was oppression and hearts longed for revolution and freedom. So the wizard overlord cursed the song so that its lyrics now invoke the dreaded steel vampire.

13. Searching for some missing fellow witches, Marling comes face-to-face with Viktor, the only man in the world she can love (because the unlove spell she cast on herself prevents her from loving all others). But just because she can love him doesn't mean she does. Does she? 

14. Ogzhal is an Awakener, one of a special caste of elite warlocks whose task it is to select new corpses for life among the undead. When his wife leaves him for a vampire, he turns to formaldehyde to drown his sorrows. Can sweet ghoul Loretta help turn his life around before it's too late?

15. Welcome to Underland, where the Vampires are arrogant bastards, the Zombies do all the dirty jobs, and the Skeletons dominate the music and art scene. But when a human teenager enrolls at Underland High, will everything go to Hell?

16. Prydain was once handsome, but now he's a clumsy giant, thanks to a mean witch. Penny thinks Prydain is cute, and leaves flowers on his doorstep. Now she's trapped in his underground lair, and he won't let her go until she kisses him.

17. Archaeologist Ben Hutton is both amused and intrigued by the Medieval 'vampire' burial his team found at a crossroads near Warsaw. Once back in the lab, you know the vampire will come back and start biting everyone while looking for his lost love, so why am I bothering to tell you this?

Answers below.

The actual plots are numbers

2, 5, 6, and 13.

Happy Halloween

Click strips to enlarge.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Face-Lift 1231

Guess the Plot

Forgotten Rage

1. Xandra doesn't remember anything when she wakes up in an unfamiliar hospital, except that the guy at her bedside, who was supposed to marry her best friend, ended up killing her. So why is he calling Xandra "Sweetheart"?

2. Flowers and group hugs, and butterflies and meditation, and aromatherapy and happy places… Also, puppies… Lots and lots of puppies.

3. The new school librarian, Ann Gray, has a dastardly superpower: she telepathically dredges up long-dead emotional wounds. Cutting words, petty slights, unkept promises--her victims get angrier and angrier the longer they dwell, until they go insane! Can our lovable gang of sixth-grade superheroes take Ann down, or will the team break up as they succumb to their...Forgotten Rage?

4. Awaking from a 2-year-long coma, Martin meets his mother, his wife, and his children. He strains for some memory of any of them, but finds none. When his best friend Steve visits him in the hospital, Martin again has no memory, but he does have an inexplicable and uncontrollable rage. It takes two orderlies, a doctor, and a hypodermic needle to keep Martin from choking his friend to death.

5. They’d played me for a sap once too often. Left me out on a limb. If they thought I’d fall for the same old trick, they were barking up the wrong tree. I was gonna fix their wagon, if it was the last thing I ever did. I’ve forgotten more about the revenge business than they’ll ever know. If only I could remember who ‘they’ were…

6. Archaeologist Ben Hutton is both amused and intrigued by the Medieval 'vampire' burial his team found at a crossroads near Warsaw. Once back in the lab, you know the vampire will come back and start biting everyone while looking for his lost love, so why am I bothering to tell you this?

Original Version

Synopsis: Xandra Donato doesn't remember anything when she wakes up in an unfamiliar hospital, especially not the fact that she was born in France over 600 years ago. [If you don't remember anything, I don't see how there can be an "especially."] So when an oddly familiar boy shows up asking for her help to stop the upcoming war she has to rely on what she does have. An ancient locket, a list of rules written in Latin, and an adventurous and haunted past. Might as well throw in a southern soldier and paranormal abilities, right?

Excerpt - " Took me 600 years to find you Xandra Donato and I don't plan on letting you go now. " The guard removes his helmet with a grim smile. Cold chills run down my back, it's a face all too familiar. " Remember me sweetheart? " " I'm not sure, weren't you that guy who never amounted to anything? The guy who was supposed to marry my best friend and ended up killing her? " " Ahh yes, that I remember. " [So, it's a comedy.]

The title is Forgotten Rage because she had forgotten all of her past grudges and experiences when her memory was erased. [I'm assuming this is not a Nanowrimo book, as there's already an excerpt.]


Don't put a space after opening quotation marks or before closing quotation marks.

P1: Change period after "have" to a colon. P2: Change commas after "back" and "sure" to periods (or semicolons). You can get away with sentence structure errors occasionally, but at this stage of your relationship with the recipient of the query letter, you don't want to give the impression you don't know what a sentence is.

Excerpts are rarely welcome in a query. What information we glean from the excerpt can easily be conveyed in an expository paragraph.

This is supposed to be a business letter in which you provide the title, word count, genre, and a brief summary of what happens in the book, focusing on the main character's situation, goals, plans, obstacles, and what's at stake.  Check out some of the hundreds of other "Face-Lifts" on this blog for samples.

The situation is intriguing, though if it's set in modern times it's hard to see how this girl can help stop an upcoming war. Who is she? Is she immortal? A vampire? Rightful heir to the throne of England? What war are we talking about? We need information.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Face-Lift 1230

Guess the Plot


1. There was trouble in the Security checkpoint line at Terminal 1. But then, there was always some kinda trouble. And that was when eccentric inventor Cornelius Crankpot had his epiphany. It was only a matter of time before fingerprints could be circumvented. But since people had their shoes off anyway, why not surreptitiously verify their identity, by their . . . FOOTPRINTS.

2. Leroy has the job of his dreams: dressing up as a Jesus at The Holy Land Experience (he gets to carry people across sand!) When another Jesus shows Leroy how easy it is to get big tips from older women, will Leroy open his robe for them, or resist temptation? 

3. The MO is always the same. Bloody swim-fin footprints led to a victim completely devoid of blood. A deranged, bloodthirsty surfer/killer was on the loose. The local police, the state police, and even the FBI came up empty. Then the 11th bloody trail led down the pier, and two-headed, squid-like creatures with webbed feet emerged on the beach, leaving a trail of bloodless victims in their wake.

4. There are only a few sets of footprints on the Moon, all left over from NASA's glory days. So when 12-year-old Scott Welpern spots a different, new set of prints, he's ready to call NASA--until he realizes that they aren't human.

5. Knowing she is not long for this world, Ella vows to reduce her carbon footprint. But what can she do about the carbon that returns to the Earth when her body decomposes? Also, a bizarre tarot reading.

6. Ryan Carver analyzes footprint molds for the FBI. He's also a foot fetishist. And Washington DC's latest serial killer has the most heart-stopping size 7s he has ever seen. 

7. On every park sign is the signature phrase: Take only pictures and leave only footprints. "Screw That!" says Smokey the Bear. After fifty-plus-years of "Shoot yourself in the Foot" National Park administration, Smokey's going postal. In a tell-all memoir for the ages, he describes riotous bonfires, by-the-ton littering and free sex with rangers. "Only you can stop...Smokey from baring it all.

Original Version

[Just the plot summary from a possible query for a projected NaNoWriMo novel.]

Ella Rosbury's empty nest is almost unbearable, and while comtemplating ending it all, she finds a lump that might do the job for her. 

Upon discovering the lump is cancer, she chooses to fight to live instead, and to live as ethically as possible in the time she has left. She gives most of her possessions away, turns her yard into an organic haven, reduces her carbon footprint and offers her spare rooms free of rent to people in need. 

She chooses three very different women to share her home with her, each of whom is fighting their [her] own internal battles. Clara, a 25 year-old alcoholic, who reminds Ella of her own estranged daughter. [Because her daughter is an alcoholic?] Mickie, whose obsession with cleaning rituals and routines is so overwhelming she has been out of work for 10 years and only left her own home because she was evicted. And Kyra,
 [a 40-year-old serial killer/heroin addict. Because when you're dying you want to be surrounded by those you care for the most.] a herbalist hippy who occasionally forgets that it's no longer the '60s. [I just realized, it's now closer to the 2060s than the 1960s.]

Kyra's bizarre tarot readings strike a chord with the housemates and act as the catalyst for their own journeys of healing as they face their past traumas. 

Ella in particular realises she has to forgive herself for not seeing the abuse of her own daughter happening under her [own] nose for years at the hands of her [own] late husband. As her illness progresses, time is running out for Ella to find her lost daughter and to heal the fractured relationship. [If you name her daughter in paragraph 2 when you first mention her, you can use the name from then on, instead of calling her her daughter.]


Seems like the story is mainly set in Ella's house, which has me wondering what she's doing to find her lost daughter. Googling her?

You could throw in a mention of the hopefulness or joy experienced together by these women so that it doesn't sound like a total downer.

Presumably this will be one of those character-driven litfic novels without much of a plot. Otherwise you'd have told us more about what happens. Of course, maybe you don't yet know what happens.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Synopsis 42

On her sixteenth-birthday, Junie’s best friend Joe warns her of her gangster-leaning, hip-hop singing, driving habits, but Junie won’t listen. She ends up crashing her birthday car into a ditch, almost killing herself. [Joe was right. The accident was caused by Junie's poor taste in music.] On top of her accident, Junie is attacked by a cello-toting homeless guy named Hagi who leaves her a cryptic note. When Junie gets to school the next day, [She has a car wreck so horrendous she almost dies, yet she's back in school the next day? I'd expect at least a two-week hospital stay.] she narrowly avoids a hair-pulling, nail-scratching catfight with her school’s bully, Rebecca Umpteenth, [Umpteenth? Really?] because Viscount appears in the school office. [Was she about to engage in this "cat fight" in the school office?] [And who is Viscount?] Viscount is one of the 25 immortals, [You're assuming I know who you mean by the 25 immortals, which I do, having read the query, but I think the synopsis should work independently.] and he tells her that she is in danger and she must leave the school now and go with him. [A stranger telling a 16-year-old to leave school is like a stranger telling a 4-year-old to come with him and he'll give her candy. Irresistible.]

Junie finds out from Viscount that because of her accident and almost-death the other day, the men become aware of her presence. She is the reincarnation of a witch named Riveya, who poisoned 25 men with her love potion in order to gain control of Crown Realm. [Whoa. And she buys this? Does he offer any evidence that this isn't just a wild fantasy story he made up to get her to follow him?] Viscount tells her that some men want to kill Riveya, and since she is her reincarnation, she is in danger. When Viscount leaves to protect Junie’s parents, [From what?] Junie searches through his base and finds evidence that she cannot trust his words. [This is backwards. If someone tells you you're the incarnation of a witch, you don't look for evidence that he's lying; you demand evidence that he isn't lying.] She finds evidence Viscount stalked her far earlier than her past birthday.

Eventually, Junie decides she can no longer be normal and teams up with Viscount, transporting herself to Crown Realm [Transporting herself? What does that mean?] to discover how to end the curse. Junie has to lie to her best friend Joe, who knows something is wrong and calls her trying to find out. [Apparently Crown Realm has excellent cell phone service. I was thinking it was in another dimension or something. Where is it?] She also has to lie to Rebecca, who has become suspicious and more aggressive following her kidnapping from Tev. [Tev? What's Tev?] Plus, Junie has no idea what to tell her parents about her sudden behavior. [I thought Junie was in Crown Realm. Where are her parents?] The police tail her [The Crown Realm police?] because of her connection with Tev's actions in kidnapping Rebecca. [You said Rebecca was kidnapped from Tev. Now it sounds like she was kidnapped by Tev.] [Why was Rebecca kidnapped?]

Junie’s efforts to uncover the cure for the love potion are thwarted by another boyfriend, Aren, who has is the reigning King of Crown Realm. Aren does not want to be cured of the love potion, because he likes being immortal. Aren wants to use Junie to kill the other immortals- or rather, immobilize them by decapitation. [The king should have an army at his disposal, which would be more efficient at decapitating 25 guys than one 16-year-old girl would.]

Finally, Junie comes head-to-head with Tev, saving police officers from his destruction. She wins with no help from anyone else. Her victory is cut short when she finds out her best friend Joe has been transformed into an immortal boyfriend himself by a witch from Riveya’s plan. [A witch from Riveya's plan? What does that mean?]


The synopsis seems highly disorganized. This will convince the reader that the book has the same problem. If you're convinced this book is ready to be published, I recommend going through an agent or publisher that doesn't require a synopsis.

A better idea might be to set the book aside while you work on another project or two and then read it and decide if it's salvageable. If the synopsis is an accurate summary of Junie's story, the plot may need an overhaul.

NaNoWriMo Prep Time

It's almost time for National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. It's been proven that those least likely to complete their novel within the month of November are those who've waited until November 1 to even think about it. A successful NaNoWriMo author is one who plans ahead, by putting together a query and the first 150 words in advance and submitting them to Evil Editor so you can get some feedback lest you go down the path to disaster.

I've cleared the queues so that we can focus on your project. Submit to EE and let his minions brainstorm your novel.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

New Beginning 1032

After my sixteenth birthday, I learned three life lessons: 1.) Buckle your seatbelt. 2.) Karma sucks. 3.) I am NOT adopted.

Don’t get me wrong: my parents did an outstanding job raising a stubborn, aggravating, whimsical little girl from teeny to teens. I had a happy life with my family, and by ‘happy’, I mean no one was trying to kill me. Especially not my boyfriends.

My Dad left my sixteenth-birthday gift parked on the street outside of my apartment, its copper sheen glistening in the sun and causing our neighbors to scrunch their noses in jealousy. My car was the best new thing in our apartment complex. My parents must have been planning this for months, because I’m not sure how they could afford it.

“I can’t believe he’s agreed,” Joe said when he saw my car parked along the street outside of the apartment complex. Joe was my nerdy next-door neighbor; he had been my best friend since middle-school. He was exceptionally smart, wore glasses, sweaters, and his eyes shined like diamonds in a tunnel, and I liked him but since we were friends I would never tell him.

"Let's go for a ride!" I said, and me and Joe jumped into the car.

Moments after I turned the ignition on, the ground shook like the world was ending. I glanced in the side mirror and saw what looked like a giant squid barreling toward us, using four of its tentacles as legs.

"Jesus," I shouted. "We've got to get out of here." But I was strapped in and in my panic, I couldn't work the catch on the seat belt. Suddenly the squid creature breathed in then blew out a blast of air that shattered the car's windows.

"What the fuck is that!" Joe shouted, totally out of character.

“I— I don’t—“ I stuttered, as a tentacle reached in and attached itself to me.

"My name is Karma!" the vile creature screeched in a harridan's voice, pulling me from the car. "I am your natural mother, and I have come to take you home."

Opening: Brittney Brown.....Continuation: Anonymous

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Face-Lift 1229

Guess the Plot

Love to the 25th Power

1. High school mathematics genius Tim has always been too interested in ones and zeroes to pay attention to girls. But when he tweaks a new formula he's working on it has unexpected consequences - the Binary girl of his dreams comes to life from the paper. Hilarity ensues.

2. Junie Jasmine has 25 boyfriends, and the only way to get rid of them is cannibalism. But eating the flesh of 25 guys won't be easy, not unless she has some delicious apple juice to wash them down. Also, a homeless guy with a cello.

3. After months of calculations, adjustments, and equations, ubernerd Felix Snodgrass has finally found the Holy Grail of Nerddom: The mathematical formula that, when performed, gets girls to instantly fall in love with you. Now all he has to do is leave the basement and find a girl to try it on.

4. Delbert is tired of never having a date for prom, or any other dance. This year will be different. All summer he toils creating his perfect girl. She's beautiful, and witty, and his. But when senior year begins, she falls for Jason, star quarterback. Now Delbert's on a mission to destroy them both.

5. Love Potion No. 9? The Magnificent Seven? Sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six? Amateurs. When it came to a love of math, Music Professor Studdly McMuffintops would show them a thing or two. He would give them a Love to the 25th Power. Trouble was, he’d never been very good with differential equations… and how in the heck was he gonna work that into a hot, sexy sax solo?

6. Snerdly Butterschnokin had never been much of a people person. But when sweater-wearing Swanoula moved to town, Snerdly’s goose was cooked. He needed to up his game, and fast, before any arrogant hunters could move in on his territory. Trouble was, he’d been stuck at the first level of power ever since he could remember. Let’s see… if breathing was the 1st power, then what was second? And how was he ever to develop his Love . . . to the 25th Power?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my YA fantasy/suspense novel, 70k words, Love to the 25th Power.

Sixteen-year old Junie Jasmine Wilshire’s got 25 boyfriends, all at the same time. And most of them want to kill her. [What's stopping them?]

Ex-boyfriends is more like it.

But, as far as she can remember Junie's never even had a date, let alone a boyfriend. But one of her exes swears she's been with him for years. Her only clue, giving to her by a silent, cello-toting, homeless guy is a note with a single word written on it "Haven."[I think I'd rather know the explanation for this seeming contradiction than who gave her the clue.]

No girl wants to eat the flesh of her ex-boyfriend to heal her wounds, but cannibalism of past lovers is the least of Junie’s worries. [What the--? Where is this coming from? You can't bring up cannibalism of past lovers without laying some groundwork or immediately explaining yourself.] Junie Jasmine Wilshire only wants to be herself- a non-conforming, irresponsible, teenage tomboy who likes urban hip-hop and apple juice. Yet, when the reigning high school cat-fight champion crashes her sixteenth birthday car into a ditch, Junie realizes she is not immortal. [Did she think she was immortal up until then? If so, why?] [The sentences in that paragraph don't seem connected to one another.

But, the many men hunting her very well could be.

A thousand years ago, a witch poisoned 25 men with a potion that captured every romantic ideal of love in its spell: long-lasting youth, emotional intimacy, soul bindings, and last but not least, duration--forever. [This "poison" doesn't sound so bad to me. It's like your doctor tells you you've contracted an STD and, horrified, you ask what the symptoms are and she says, "Eternal youth, a much-improved sex life, and no side effects.] [Maybe you can just say she gave 25 men a potion.] [Maybe you should start the query here, as up to now everything's been sounding nuts.] Like 25 blood vessels connected to one heart, the men will survive as long as she, the heart, survives.

But there’s a problem: men hate forced commitment, and when the spell lifts after a thousand years, [What was that about "duration--forever"?] they want revenge. Now, the witch is sixteen years reincarnated, and Junie Wilshire is their new (and improved!) soul-mate. [Are you saying she's the witch? If so, she would have had to die in order to be reincarnated. If she died, why didn't the 25 "blood vessels?]

Junie’s got to figure out what's going on, who she is, and how to break up with her exes once and for all. And fast. The past has come back to haunt her. Karma is a real, and the men are out for blood. She’s got to drop the mean-girl act, [What mean-girl act? She's been described as a a non-conforming, irresponsible, teenage tomboy who's never had a date, not as a mean girl.] protect her friends and frienemies [From what?] or bring her immortal soulmates down with her. [Are her soul mates immortal despite the spell being lifted?] [I don't see why she has to drop the mean-girl act or why she has to protect her friends. What does she have to do to thwart those hunting her? Leave town and go into hiding? Can she put them under another spell? Can't her witchy powers protect her from them?]


This is all over the place, confusing, disorganized, and full of extraneous information. If you use only the last three paragraphs it'll sound decent, something like this:

A thousand years ago, a witch put a spell on 25 men, granting them eternal youth but also binding their souls to hers. Problem is, the men didn't all want to be romantically committed to the witch.

Fast-forward to modern times. The witch has taken the persona of 16-year-old high school student Junie Jasmine Wilshire. The spell, which lasts a thousand years is about to be lifted. And Junie's "soulmates" want revenge.

Junie’s got to figure out how to break up with her exes once and for all. And fast. The past has come back to haunt her, and the men are out for blood.

Build on that, especially with the stakes. What must she do and what happens if she fails to do it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New Book

Over the years, many have asked me why I haven't put out a book containing the funniest Face-Lifts from this blog. A big reason was that they wouldn't be the same in black and white, with no blue words or color illustrations. And color printing is expensive. However, during the lull in submissions over the past month I've put together such a book, and while color printing still costs a lot, my experience with Evil Editor Strips, Evil Editor Strips Again, and Schliegelman Saves the Universe has convinced me that it's worth it.

Who would want such a book?

Possibly only myself, but that's no deterrent, as I'll be having it printed by Blurb, a photo-book printer, and they regularly print single copies for customers.

Possibly people who've been with us for many years and like the idea of a collection of just the funniest query critiques. For nostalgic reasons. Like buying a collection of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips even though you read them all when they first appeared in the newspaper.

Possibly people who are new to the blog and would like to catch up, but find the idea of reading 6500 posts or even just 1228 queries too daunting.

And of course there are those who feel they might absorb some useful information.

Still working on a title. I'm thinking Dear Literary Agent...

With the subtitle: 50 Query Letters and Why They Fail.

I'm leaving out the fake plots so I can fit each query onto no more than two pages. I've created new artwork for those critiques that didn't already have illustrations (a few won't be illustrated because they fill the full two pages. The pages are 8 by 10, glossy photo paper. The book has 100 pages. Blurb will create such a book for about $40 (paperback) and $50 (hardcover). They offer volume discounts, but that requires ordering 20 copies, and I'm guessing there aren't even 10 of you willing to spring for a copy. If you're one of those few, let me know with an email or a comment and I'll keep you apprised.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Missing Element

1. Dmitri warned his wife about not tidying up his lab, but Mrs. Mendeleev's fanatical cleanliness knows no bounds. Now Dmitri has to start from scratch--unless he can get to the dumpster before the garbagemen do.

2. Roger Groobney's fantastic new murder mystery was rejected by every agent in the known universe, all with the same hand-written message: "It's gotta have a murder in it, Roger!"

3. Yes, we have no beryllium; we have no beryllium today.

4. With a supply of deuterium from a North Korean friend, Physicist Elmo Lurp agrees to build a nuclear device in the basement of his apartment building. But he realizes his need for a more sophisticated laboratory when he discovers his wife has used all the heavy water for the laundry.

5. In this nineteenth book in the Miss Amelia Pettipants series, the doughty spinster discovers why none of the village's electric stoves are working.

6. Teaching the Periodic Table by each day removing one element from the laboratory and letting the students discover the Missing Element was not such a good idea after all. Or perhaps the problem, Professor Eavull realizes, was starting with oxygen, thereby asphyxiating the entire class.

Original Version

Dear (Agent’s Name Spelled Correctly)

(One sentence explaining why I’m querying this particular agent … liked a book one of his or her authors wrote, recommended by a friend, met at a conference, [have already tried all the agents who aren't on the 20 worst agents list,] etc.)

In MISSING ELEMENT, an Air Force officer turned corporate trouble-shooter uncovers an illicit link between an American weapons firm and an African dictator planning to foment genocide to protect an illegal but highly profitable venture. To prevent the killings, Dr. Eleanor Swan must team with an FBI agent, despite her antipathy toward the Bureau since it investigated her father’s supposed death 20 years earlier and branded him a traitor. [Is Eleanor Swan the corporate trouble-shooter? If not, who is she? If so, I'd stick her name in the first sentence, right after the title, so it's clear.] [Why would she be involved in preventing this genocide? Wouldn't she just report the illicit link to the authorities and bow out?]

[Eleanor: I've discovered that an American weapons manufacturer is working with an African dictator on a project that will foment genocide.

FBI: Hmm, okay we'll provide one agent to eliminate this threat to the lives of millions.

Eleanor: Only one?

FBI: Plus you. Who did you say you were again?]

Four women with father issues drive the plot. The National Security Council staffer wants revenge on her father. [Who did what?] The Médecins Sans Frontières doctor has given her life to medicine since her dad’s death. The African President’s daughter must choose between loyalty to her father and her country. And Eleanor Swan must live down her father’s notorious past to derail the conspiracy that stretches from the deserts of East Africa to the highest offices of the U.S. government. [This sounds more like a job for the NSC staffer (or Superman) than the corporate trouble-shooter. Does Eleanor go to Africa? How can she hope to succeed against such powerful entities? I'm more interested in what the plot is than in who drives it.] Two will die. One will lose her career. One will save a nation.

I spent twenty years as an Air Force intelligence officer and am published in book-length non-fiction (Title and Publisher of book, 2003). I speak to a variety of forums on military topics including women in the military, ethics, and leadership.

MISSING ELEMENT is a 90,000-word geopolitical thriller. May I send you sample chapters and a synopsis or the complete manuscript?

[My title, MISSING ELEMENT, refers both to my protagonist’s missing father and to beryllium, a strategic element necessary for making various parts of nuclear weapons. In the novel, an American weapons manufacturer is mining beryllium illegally in a fictional African country and selling it to the Iranians.]


An additional paragraph between your plot and character paragraphs would be helpful in clarifying the issues I've brought up. More facts about the bad guys' plot (the information on where you got your title is a good start) and the good guys' plan (presumably Eleanor calls in a favor from her days in the Air Force, and arranges B-52 carpet bombings of the beryllium mine, the American weapons manufacturer, and Iran) would be a major improvement.

Selected Comments

GutterBall said...Great. Now I'm gonna be humming the "no beryllium" theme all day. Juuuuust great.

jfk said...And here I thought GTP#2 was really clever thinking on someone's part. (Actually, I do think it is; I like how it relates to the title, which is why I think it's a shame that information wasn't in the query.)

I had some difficulty finding a plot in here. The characters are there, but I'm not entirely sure what they're planning to do. A few more names would help in that regard. (Alternatively, I could try to lengthen my attention span ... what was I talking about again?)

My favourite part of the query was this:

Two will die. One will lose her career. One will save a nation.

That alone makes me want to read this. I find it's quite rare for major characters to die, so that's unusual enough to attract my attention. And it tells me something about the story without ruining it, because I still don't know which characters die. (I'm betting on the President's daughter. No reason.)

This sentence though, I would cut:

Four women with father issues drive the plot.

Once these four characters are mentioned, I assume they're important to the plot. (A dangerous assumption perhaps, but there.)

Good luck!

Anonymous said...Usually the biggest problem with books involving the Air Force (or any military branch) is the author knows nothing about the military and end up making them (us) look like inept idiots instead of the top notch professionals we are. If this author can lend credibility to the military side of the story it may be worth reading. Although having worked with intel folks for the last 2.5 years I'm still not sure the author would know anything about the real AF (Just kidding. heh, heh.) -JTC

Anonymous said...I thought the whole appeal of the dictator gig was so you could make everything you want to do legal with no need to get the lame approval of some wimpy congress. So why would any enterprise or genocide the dictator wants to engage in be "illegal"? He's the creep in charge, he's writing the rules, he just kills the opposition, doesn't he? Or else he's not villianous enough to make it as a Hollywood dictator. Go read about 20th century Uganda again. The crimes of Enron are trivial in comparison. Your description of the "profitable enterprise" needs to be more visceral in order for it to be more repungent than genocide, which sounds here like some sort of secondary concern.

Dave said...The book "centers on 4 women with father issues" and missing element serves both the missing beryllium and missing fathers in their lives.

Where is the focus? On the geopolitical thriller or on the tragedies in the four women's lives. That is quite a chunk to handle in a novel. Think of it, four major characters with lives, a villain and several minor characters. What do you focus on?

Malia said...Is it a good thing to be killing off two of your main characters? I could be wrong, but I thought that it's a no-no to kill characters the reader has become invested in...unless they're the bad guys. ;)

GutterBall said...Malia, if that were the case, Shakespeare would have never been read. It's only taboo to kill a main character in romance, and that's only because the current definition of romance must end Happily Ever After.

Author said...
Dear :

Dr. Eleanor Swan, an Air Force cop who fled the military for corporate life after her actions in a shoot-out cost a sergeant her leg, receives a package from her cousin Robert two days after his murder. It contains schematics for a faulty microwave weapon and a map only she can decipher. Reluctantly accepting the mission Robert handed her from the grave, Eleanor must team with an FBI agent, despite her antipathy toward the Bureau since it investigated her father’s supposed death 20 years earlier and branded him a traitor. Eleanor and Special Agent Guy Archer travel to the Horn of Africa to uncover the link between the CEO of an American weapons firm and a dictator planning to foment genocide to protect an illegal venture. The men are mining beryllium, a strategic mineral necessary for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, and selling it to the Iranians. They’ll do anything--including assassinate a key political figure to incite genocide--to maintain control of the mine.

Eleanor’s friendship with three women (all of whom have complicated father-daughter relationships) underlies the plot. The National Security Council staffer (who arranged for the export of the microwave weapons to Africa) wants revenge on her father for causing her mother’s death. The Médecins Sans Frontières doctor (who uncovered evidence of beryllium poisoning in African workers) has given her life to medicine since her dad contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease. The African President’s daughter (who stumbles on the assassination plot) must choose between loyalty to her father and her country. And Eleanor Swan must live down her father’s notorious past and her own failure in a crisis to derail the conspiracy that stretches from the deserts of East Africa to the highest offices of the U.S. government. Two will die. One will lose her career. One will save a nation.

I spent twenty years as an Air Force intelligence officer and am published in book-length non-fiction (Winning the Retention Wars, Air University Press, 2003). I speak to a variety of forums on military topics including women in the military, ethics, and leadership.

May I send you sample chapters or the completed, 95,000-word manuscript of MISSING ELEMENT?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Rain Coming

1. In the ancient land of Krjaksja, there is a myth of a thing called Rain – when water comes from the sky, instead of the big river across the desert. An intrepid explorer sets out to debunk the myth.

2. Not a drop of rain has fallen at Stony Grange in 10,000 years. When Brad and Diane take each other's virginity in the middle of the rock, they release a curse that could destroy the world.

3. When Cathleen takes a job at a desert bar called Centerfolds, she has a premonition that something big is about to happen - but her expectations don’t include meeting Bubba Mac.

4. Any one of Rain Penumbra's used-up lovers could have told you that she was a passionate woman, and that she needed her own space--or an apartment with soundproofed walls.

5. Waiting out the monsoons in a run-down tropical resort, a motley group of travelers decide not to tell each other their stories, but to listen to their ipods and do crossword puzzles instead.

6. When down-and-out flower-child Rain washed up in the desert town of Scapegoat, she was surprised by how friendly the locals were. She didn't know that her arrival portended the end of Scapegoat's drought and the beginning of prosperity--after her heart's blood was sprinkled on the withered fields, of course.

Original Version

Dear Agent of My Dreams (that would be Ms. Snark, at her office, the proper way):

Into each life some rain must fall. [Interesting. Apparently Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is querying Evil Editor from beyond the grave.] United by destiny, torn apart by tragedy, a group of former friends resists the reunion hoped for by one of their own who comes looking for answers, and finds unexpected miracles. [You lost me already. Let's start over.] Truth is stranger than fiction [Now a Mark Twain quote? Clearly this is from a literature major.] in Rain Coming, a story of love, loss and the unbreakable bonds of friendship, played out against a backdrop of sex, drugs and rock and roll. [Ian Dury and the Blockheads. If this is a game of Identify that Quote, you'll have to do better than this to stump Evil Editor.]

Cathleen Carrington is a refugee from a dysfunctional family. When she’s offered a job at a bar called Centerfolds, she has a premonition that something big is about to happen - but her expectations don’t include meeting Bubba Mac. [No one in history ever had expectations of meeting someone named Bubba Mac.] Brutally handsome, charming to a fault, he’s the Pied Piper of the group: [The one who leads the rats out of town? The one who steals all the children?] the one all the women want to sleep with, and all the men claim as their best friend [while secretly also wanting to sleep with him.] [Different Pied Piper, obviously.]
As Cat is drawn in by the near-magical group of friends who frequent Centerfolds, she plunges into a steamy relationship with Bubba – until a devious trick played by a rival for his attention forces her to leave Memphis and cut herself off from the friends who have become her family. [Something that forces a woman to leave her home and abandon her family of friends sounds a lot worse than a "devious trick."] When she realizes she must return home to win Bubba’s heart, she calls to announce her decision – only to find out there’s been a fatal accident that has driven the friends apart and scattered them to the winds. [Bubba Mac's pickup truck blew up when it ran into Billy Bob's still.]

With her world shattered, Cat picks up the pieces and moves on, eventually settling in Colorado; but the past refuses to be laid to rest. Twenty years later, [in my sequel, Rain Gone,] [The past was happy to be laid to rest for twenty years; now, like a zombie, it's back.] she must return to Memphis, where she receives messages that are unmistakably from beyond the grave; [Maybe they're from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.] [Wait, they're from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's zombie!] [I hope Longfellow liked the name Henry, because going by his middle name was not an option.] and one by one, long-buried secrets, betrayals and esoteric mysteries are revealed as she struggles to reunite the friends in this paranormal tale of love and redemption that will leave you wondering what is real[Evil Editor has received entire query letters that were shorter than that one sentence.] I have been a daily columnist for the Vail Daily and Summit Daily newspapers in Colorado, recently sold two ghost stories to Firefox News, and have been both student and tutor of metaphysics for more than twenty-five years.

Selected Comments

BuffySquirrel said...That's Miss Snark, unless your evil dream is to be stilettoed by a tam-wearing poodle.

busywriter said...I bet if the author started at '20 years later' and wove the rest in as backstory, she/he could cut a significant number of words. According to the query, that's where the real story begins anyway, right?

Then again, maybe the author's already done this....

Rei said...A 155,000 word paranormal romance is like a 54,000 word SF/F novel ;) Sure, it's possible, but if this is your first novel, I wouldn't bet on it.

One issue, however:

"Twenty years later, back in Memphis, she receives messages that are unmistakably from beyond the grave; and one by one, long-buried secrets, bitter betrayals and arcane mysteries are brought to light."

EE: Please correct me if I'm wrong on this, but while semicolons are allowed when there's ambiguity due to commas, it is still awkward to begin the clause after a semicolon with a conjunction. Furthermore, semicolons suggest a strong degree of correlation between the clauses -- stronger than that of a period. Certainly the two clauses here are related, but not as much as say:

"I am in Washington; I had to travel for business."
"Bob programs computers for a living; he uses the printer all the time."
"Microsoft stock was a good buy in the early '90s; it's value rose significantly every year."

I don't see that degree of correlation here -- do you?

I'm just curious as to your take on this. I'm a grammar nazi at heart, although I still have much to learn. :) I also used to have a problem with using semicolons too often, so I might just be oversensitive.

Evil Editor said...I rarely micro-edit down to the punctuation level here; but since you asked, a comma would be fine; although I felt there was a strong correlation, namely that the messages from beyond the grave were messages revealing secrets, betrayals and mysteries. Of course it may be that the secrets etc. are coming to light through some other means; and the messages from beyond the grave are things like, "My God, it's hot down here!"

Umbrella Girl said...Ouch! Thank you, Evil Editor. I'm grateful to have you trash my query letter and I've got my little snipping scissors right here, ready to cut some more. You'd personally give birth to a cow if you had any idea how long it was before I cut it. Somehow, I thought if I got it down to 155K it would be all right because that's the same size as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I don't think of it as being a very long book at all.

Rei - where does it say this is a romance novel? While it does have a romantic element, it's mainstream. Think The Mercy of Thin Air, The Problem with Murmer Lee, or The Lovely Bones. However, you are so right about the semicolons. One of my crit partners is a punctuation nazi, too (thank dog), and she's always getting onto me about it. I'm surprised she didn't point them out to me first.

Thanks again, Evil Editor. I remain your faithful minion.

Pat Brown said...I'd like to know how anyone thinks you could take a lover called Bubba Mac seriously. I can just imagine her in the throws of passion calling his name "Oh, Bubba, Bubba darling..."

Amra Pajalic said...Pat-I don't think it would be "Bubba darling." It would be "Do me, Bubba." The name just conjures up images of a good ole boy with a mullett. The only other Bubba I've come across in fiction is in Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series. He's Elvis brought back to life as a vampire and so a bit dim so I guess that's where that connotation comes for me. At least it's a pretty memorable name for a character.

kis said...For me, the name Bubba will always conjure an image of two cowboys on a dusty main street, tumble-weeds blowing in the distance. They chaw frantically, then blow. Bigger, bigger, bigger--POP! The loser's gum explodes all over his face and sticks. And the victor--well, HE chews Hubba Bubba.

Lauren said...Oh, good god. Cliche City. Or is it Quote City. Or both? It's hard to believe this writer is a columnist, though I do love the Bubba Mac part.

Umbrella Girl said...At the risk of inviting every ignorant incest joke you know, and for the purpose of educating you, Bubba is a very common name in the South, which means “brother,” particularly “little brother.” Not everyone in the South is a redneck. We happen to have turned out some fine writers like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham, Fannie Flagg, Larry Brown, Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, Robert Harling, and Beth Henley.

Lauren – “Good God,” and “Cliché City” are cliché. Duh.

And Pat, it’s the throes of passion, not the throws of passion. And for a man named Pat, you don’t have much room to be talking.

And finally, for those of you who make rude comments and don’t leave a link back to anything you’ve written so that others can learn from your Royal Hindass, we can only surmise that you either haven’t written anything, or you’re ashamed of what you have written. I’m torn between two more clichés – one with a moral; people who live in glass houses … and one that simply states how I feel – f**k off.

Anonymous said...You go, umbrellagirl (is that a cliche?).

Anonymous said...Umbrellagirl, lighten up a little. You gotta admit the name Bubba has a certain, special something. As for cliches, everyone uses them, that's why they're cliche. That doesn't mean I don't cringe every time one comes out of my mouth. (Or my keyboard.)

Cliches are like that third glass of wine--I know I shouldn't, but for some reason, I just can't help myself.

Now personally, I haven't submitted my query to EE. That's because it's currently circulating among agents, and I don't want them to see it picked apart and ridiculed here until they've found some other reason to reject me. I did use EE's wisdom to tweak it, and think I have something decent.

What you need to do is close your eyes, count backwards from twenty, and realize that we're laughing at ourselves too. And maybe Bubba, just a little.

S. W. Vaughn said...Can't we all just get along? :-)

I think Umbrella Girl has a point. The problem with this; with query letters in general, actually; is that it's so hard to get a sense of the actual writing when you have to condense everything to a few paragraphs...

And, of course, separating the personal issues from the professional ones is gut-wrenching. We're all writers here, and we're all struggling toward the same goal. Let's be supportive.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Face-Lift 1228

Guess the Plot


1. Whisked by a natural phenomenon to a place where it rains poison, Azran realizes there's no place like home. But to get home, he'll need to find a machine that can create a natural phenomenon that will whisk him there. Also, a wyvern.

2. Halloween always sucked for Chuck. It's that time of the year, the kids are whining for new costumes for themselves and the goddamned dog, and his wife is bitching in the kitchen. He's getting the treats this year, and it's time for...revenge.

3. In a world without adjectives, without adverbs or articles; there can be only one result when murder comes to dinner. Administer, and stand back.

4. According to the latest statistical analysis, more people disappear in October than any other month. Looking at these disturbing trends, Detective Zack Martinez knew two things for certain. Somebody had a pumpkin fetish to die for. And he wouldn’t have any trouble finding a good Halloween costume this year.

5. Gilthoniel, Elven Queen of the Golden Forest, has kept her lands in a perpetual state of the autumnal weather she loves for millenia. But when human housing developers begin bulldozing the edges of her forest, she has no choice but to make those beautiful, fluttering leaves deadly. With the workers dying en masse on site, will the humans finally leave her beloved land alone?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Eighteen-year-old Azlan lives in Dunia—a [combination of Dune and Narnia.] [I would rather read the Narnia stories set in a world with giant sand worms than the Dune plot set in a fantasy world of talking animals, but they both have appeal.] world at peace, untainted by wars or the poisonfall. He yearns to escape his troublesome family and plans for a heedless adventure to travel the world. When he visits a restricted beach in spite of warnings from his friends, a natural phenomenon sends him on a one-way trip to another world—Tragaska. [What do you mean by "sends him"? Is it like a tornado picks him up and drops him in Oz? Or like he enters a portal that instantly takes him to Narnia? Is he warned away from this beach because the phenomenon is there (in which case I would expect the phenomenon to have a nearby sign saying CAUTION! STAY BACK UNLESS YOU WANT TO GO TO TRAGASKA!)?]

Tragaska is a world plagued by the poisonfall. The meadows are red and docile creatures have been deformed into mutants. [Sounds like a pretty cool place. How do I find the phenomenon?] Much of the population has dwindled, and the remaining survivors seek refuge in underground bunkers to escape the poisonous rain.

Having witnessed the realities the Tragaskans face day by day, Azlan sets out on a journey to find a way back to Dunia—a journey which requires him to cross the mutant-abundant lands and avoid nations fighting over resources made scarce by the poisonfall. Suddenly, the idea of an adventure no longer seems fun.

He enlists the help of Raqnas, an obnoxious wyvern capable of speaking human-tongue. Raqnas is a mercenary working for one of the warring nations, though is dissatisfied living his life around humans who only seem to think of him as a mutant, despite his intelligence. He agrees to help Azlan, enticed by the promise of peace and safety Dunia offers him.

However, Raqnas is controlling and Azlan loathes authority. They hate each other, though cannot make the journey to Dunia without the [each] other; Raqnas knows the way to the forbidden machine capable of recreating the phenomenon, which can only be operated with human fingers. [Why recreate the phenomenon if it sends the user to Tragaska? They just left Tragaska. Or does the machine-made phenomenon send the user anywhere he wants to go? You'd think a world where they've developed a machine that can send you anywhere would also have invented a Siri-like interface allowing Raqnas to just say Send me to Dunia, instead of needing fingers. Then he could eat Azlan and still go to Dunia.] [How far are they from Dunia, as the wyvern flies?] [How far are they from the forbidden machine, as the wyvern flies? Can't they just fly over the mutants and warring nations?]

And with the war within Tragaska coming to a close—where both sides would lose to the poisonfall—the two are forced to work together, to escape a world destined for destruction. Azlan hopes to reach Dunia before Raqnas eats him out of temper. [As I understand it, they need each other, so there's no danger of being eaten until after the machine transports them to Dunia.]

POISONFALL is a 92,000-word adventure fantasy novel with series potential.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



So the trip from Dunia to Tragaska happens via a natural phenomenon, while the return trip requires the same phenomenon, but created by a machine? Does this phenomenon have a name? The word seems vague, like calling a character "the entity."

So the plot basically is Azlan, who wants out of Dunia, gets whisked to a place that's much worse than Dunia, and decides Dunia is bearable after all? He doesn't even stick around awhile and save a few doomed Tragaskans? At least Dorothy made a few friends and helped them out before going home to Kansas.

Are Tragaska and Dunia on the same planet or in the same universe or dimension? Just because Tragaska sucks doesn't mean there aren't hundreds of places better than Dunia, so I'm not sure what's been accomplished in the end. Someone needs to do something. Or learn something of value besides that poisonfall is bad.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Face-Lift 1227

Guess the Plot

The Layer

1. She was the most prolific worker in this horror house of reproduction, which was quite the feather in her cap. But can she escape before her brains become scrambled? With the help of a handsome stranger, she’ll win her freedom, or die trying. Yet there was something sinister in his over-easy manner, which didn’t quite jibe with her sunny-side-up disposition…

2. Henrietta consistently produces double yolkers. She's the pride of White's Egg Farm. But when newcomer Chicka starts pushing out triple yolkers, sometimes twice daily, watch the feathers fly as these two battle it out for the title of . . . The Layer.

3. When one of Farmer Brown's hens starts laying golden eggs, a custody battle breaks out between Farmer Brown, his ex-wife, and the farm supply store that sold them a dozen chicks.

4. Since she was hatched, Eulabelle has been groomed to be a champion. Calamity strikes when she is infested with lice. With the state fair just around the corner, can she get clean in time to win the coveted grand prize?

5. Sticks and stones may break his bones… but bricks are his trade. Drifting from town to town, looking for trouble; and usually finding it… Bond’s the name. Flemish Bond. He is… The Layer.

6. There is a layer of matter separating the world of the dead from that of the living. When Dr Fran Borden accidentally pierces it during an experiment, the two worlds meet in a violent cataclysm of lust, anger, wait, that's not this book. This book is about the lives and loves of Wisconsin bricklayer Eddy Elliot, Esq.

7. John is a bricklayer with a troubled past. It wasn't until a demolition crew imploded one of John's buildings that Detective Lewis learned just how troubled. How many bodies had John entombed in concrete in his lifetime?

8. Pat makes beautiful cakes for the aging rich in Tampa, FL. Despite the hundred dollar tips, he wants a new life. Will his five-foot-tall cake with the "magic" hidden layer get him on a national cooking show?

9. After flying from Rome to London, Aria is abducted at the airport and forced through a portal to another dimension known as the Layer. But do they want her because of her ability to breathe underwater or because of her uncanny resemblance to the princess? She doesn't know, and they're not talking.

10. Gilthoniel, Elven Queen of the Golden Forest, has kept her lands in a perpetual state of the autumnal weather she loves for millenia. But when human housing developers begin bulldozing the edges of her forest, she has no choice but to make those beautiful, fluttering leaves deadly. With the workers dying en masse on site, will the humans finally leave her beloved land alone?

11. Everyone in the little town of Big Knob loves using good old George McFee for their odd jobs. But as the number of red-headed children increases, some are beginning to wonder if the dear old Irishman isn't a bit too loved.

Original Version

Dear [Mr./Ms. Name of Agent],

[Refer to agent's representation of specific YA fantasy novels, depending on agent] I am submitting for your consideration THE LAYER, an 89,000 word YA fantasy that will resonate with fans of Obert Skye's Leven Thumps and Michael Scott's The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series. [I would either put this whole thing after the plot summary, or cut it to: I am submitting for your consideration THE LAYER, an 89,000-word YA fantasy.]

Aria visualizes her Roman-sun-soaked life as a near-perfect watercolor that is drowned by the chance to meet her biological parents. [I can't tell from that sentence whether she wants to meet them or doesn't.] Aria tells herself that the scenario is simple. She will travel to England, say, “Hey, what’s up, bio-parents?” and return home. Landing at Heathrow Airport, you can only picture her torrent of rage  [Wait, what am I doing at Heathrow airport?] when she discovers that her supposedly “simple” trip—is a fraud.

Forced through a portal, Aria finds herself on the Layer, a dimension where the Mylaurdian species thrives. [My Lord!] [Hang on. We were in the middle of a YA book about a teen meeting her biological parents. If it's gonna turn out she was lured to London by someone who knows she's never met her biological parents and who has a vested interest in forcing her through a portal, you need to prepare us for this. Instead of opening with the watercolor life, open with something like: When Aria receives a plane ticket in the mail, along with an invitation to visit the biological parents she's never met, she never dreams she's being lured to London by an alien species known as the Mylaurdians. Then tell us what the Mylaurdians want with her.] [Is this portal in the airport? Can anyone go through it or do you have to be forced through?] While their aquatic counterparts have dried up, the human-like Mylaurdians develop only land animal abilities. [Are we talking about their dried-up aquatic counterparts on the Layer or on our side of the portal?] To them, riding elephants, talking to koalas, and monkey librarians are mainstream. [Actually, riding elephants is mainstream in our dimension. So is talking to koalas, although here they don't talk back. As for the librarians, are they, themselves, monkeys, or are their patrons monkeys, or do they work in monkey libraries (libraries that house monkeys instead of books)?] [I'm not sure, even after reading your examples, what you mean by "develop only land-animal abilities."] At first, all Aria craves is a ticket home—it's not her fault that the Mylaurdian king's daughter is missing—and it's definitely not Aria's fault that she looks exactly like her. [No, it's your fault.]

But as much as she resists, Aria cannot avert her mind from the Layer due to a secret that whets her thirst for her heritage—She can breathe underwater. [She's Aquawoman. Or a mermaid? I prefer Aquawoman. It's about time two superheroes hooked up. I mean, celebrities are always getting romantically involved with other celebrities, and superheroes would be major celebrities, so it's totally unrealistic that Superman digs Lois Lane instead of Wonder Woman. A comic in which Aquaman and Aquawoman fight super villains together and also argue over whose turn it is to do the laundry would sell big.] [Can you do laundry in salt water? Probably, as long as your detergent is Tide.] [Could she breathe underwater in our dimension?] [Breathing underwater is useful if someone is trying to drown you, but since it's hard to speak, hear, see, read, walk, or out-swim sharks, it's not that big a deal.]

I have studied under Eileen G'Sell, winner of the American Literary Review's 2012 prize for poetry. Like Aria, I have lived in Rome my whole life.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.



Aria is abducted, forced through a portal to another dimension, and we never find out why? Do they think she's the king's daughter? Do they want her to impersonate the king's daughter for political reasons? Do they need someone who can breathe underwater? Surely they tell her what they want from her.

We want the story. You've provided a few random facts about this other dimension, but nothing about what happens after Aria goes through the portal. That's your story.

Who calls this dimension the Layer? If it had a cooler name, your book would have a cooler name, and people wouldn't think it's about a hen.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot


1. When retired chemist Roger Gusty begins converting his farts into ghosts, his love affair with octagenarian heiress Madeleine Crinkly takes a disturbing new turn. Set in a crumbling mansion, this hair-raising tale literally stinks.

2. Dolores knows she's going to die. That's because she's a Mysta, or "Mystic Sista," one of a sisterhood of urban psychics. Her daughter Rosalie is having trouble accepting the inevitable, so the Mystas take her on a road trip. Psychic revelations ensue.

3. Supermodel Mysta is having memories of a past life as a Valkyrie warrior goddess. Then her friend Kieran declares that he's actually an ancient warrior. Kieran's brother, a Navy SEAL shows up, and both brothers want Mysta. But can she figure out which one of them is possessed by a demon who wants to wreak havoc on mankind?

4. Mystie, a Bostonian with a secret, finally achieves her lifelong dream of becoming a parochial school teacher. But her new career is in jeopardy when her nosy students figure out that Mystie is actually a Mysta.

5. In a nearly empty strip mall, the only occupied storefront is for a laser-tag arena, Mysta. Not much happens there, until smoldering corpses drilled with neat, cauterized holes start piling up in the parking lot.

6. Mysta is the fad of the moment only no one can agree what exactly it is: A drink? A drug? A celebrity? Only Pansy knows it's an invasion from another dimension where mind control satellites, death rays, and fate controlled by astrology are real.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor

An attack by a jilted rock star-turned-stalker nearly kills Supermodel Mysta. After surgery to repair her crushed larynx, she’s sure the drugs [The drugs? "Her painkillers" or whatever would be more specific.] are causing memories of a past life as Myst, Valkyrie warrior goddess.

Until she displays paranormal powers related to this previous existence. ["Until" suggests that she stops believing the drugs are causing memories of a past life as a Valkyrie warrior goddess when she displays paranormal powers. I would expect these powers to confirm that she has goddess DNA.] [Also, what are her powers?]

The assault reunites her with old friend, Kieran Sigard,[Change his name to Koren Sierkegaard.] who assures [her]he is her prior love, the warrior Sigvarðr. [Did he just find this out, or has he been keeping it from her? Did she tell him about her memories before he told her this?

How that conversation went if she told him first:

Mysta: I've been having these strange visions or dreams or memories of myself as a Valkyrie warrior goddess named Myst.

Kieran: I . . . see . . . Hey, guess what, I'm an ancient Icelandic warrior myself. So you have nothing to worry about. Excuse me, I just remembered there's something I need to tell your doctor before I disappear forever.

How that conversation went if she didn't tell him first:

Kieran: I'm glad you've recovered form the attack on your voice box. By the way, I'm the warrior Sigvarðr, your love from a past life.

Mysta: Welcome to Earth. I have just one question. What's that little thing over the "o" in your warrior name?]

She longs for the passion they share–[Who are "they"?] that is until his Navy SEAL brother arrives. Lieutenant Commander Kaelan Sigard [Giving your children two such similar names may not be uncommon, especially if they're twins, but giving two key characters in the same book such similar names is going to cause confusion.] is temptation incarnate, and offers protection when assassination and kidnapping attempts are made. [It's always nice to have a Navy SEAL visiting you when assassins attack. Especially if, in a past life, the Navy SEAL was Thor.] That isn’t the only thing he offers, but his indifference regarding a lasting relationship compels her to keep her distance. He thrives on a challenge, refusing to give up. This sparks a dormant[awakens a latent] rivalry between brothers, mixing a recipe for disaster as [and] they begin a deadly competition to win her. [Define "deadly."]

Unbeknownst to Mysta, a demon is using one of the brothers for its own centuries-old nefarious scheme. [This just keeps getting better.] [Amazingly, this demon with a centuries-old nefarious scheme somehow doesn't seem as out of place as the Navy SEAL.] It blames her for being cast into the underworld, intends to steal her powers, and wreak havoc on mankind. [Can you really steal someone's powers? Powers aren't like false teeth, that you leave in a cup on the bedside table overnight. Ah, research reveals that a supervillain known as The Parasite stole Superman's powers once. And a mythical staff on exhibit in Metropolis had the ability to steal Superman’s powers and transfer them to some evil character. It was up to Batman to locate and rescue Superman. How humiliating for the Man of Steel to have to be rescued by Batman, with his silly toys like his batarangs and bat pellets.]

As the young woman deciphers [investigates] her past, a twist of events causes her present love to [Kieran/Kaelin]become[s] possessed by the very demon she must destroy.[Which brother is her present love?] This heartbreaking challenge [dilemma] could be her unraveling.

MYSTA, my completed paranormal romantic suspense of approximately 92,500 words, is the first in a series where the couple [What couple?] becomes a paranormal investigative team. In book two, while investigating the homicide of a friend’s relative, ties to the underworld are discovered, luring the couple [Mysta and Kieran or Mysta and Kaelan?] into a devastating trap. In book three, Mysta is a month away from delivering their first baby when she is abducted by those who wish to use herand her child, for evil purposes. [Never mind books 2 and 3 for now. It has series potential is enough.]

My short story, MURDER IN MIDTOWN, has been accepted for an anthology to be published later this year.

Thank you for your creative criticism. I look forward to being publicly ridiculed soon.



At first reading, one could think, Why does this demon think this supermodel is responsible for casting him into the underworld? If you refer to the demon as a Norse demon, and perhaps give it a Norse demon name, it won't sound like an anachronism to those who consider demons a Christian idea. Did she cause the demon to be cast into the underworld? If so, say so instead of saying it blames her. You can say it wants revenge on her for sending it to the underworld.

It's a romance, but I'm not sure who the romantic couple is. It sounds like Mysta wants a lasting relationship with Kaelin and only stays away because he's indifferent. So when the brothers enter into a rivalry for her, Kieran might not want to be involved with her, knowing she has the hots for his brother. Which is why I can't be sure which brother she ends up with. And for some reason you're not telling.

I wasn't thinking Kieran had any interest in Mysta. Is he an old boyfriend or just an old friend?

We can do without the stalker/larynx bit. She doesn't understand why she's experiencing strange visions, but when she develops X-ray vision and super strength there can be only one explanation: she's the reincarnation of a Valkyrie warrior goddess.

Selected Comments

BuffySquirrel said...When supermodel Mysta starts recovering memories of a past life as a Valkyrie, she's convinced it's due to medication prescribed following emergency surgery.

Her conviction wavers when she starts to demonstrate paranormal powers, and when old flame Kieran Sigard reveals they were lovers in that former life, she's forced to the realisation that she is the warrior goddess Myst reincarnated.

The arrival of Kieran's Navy SEAL brother plunges Mysta into a deadly love triangle. For the brothers are being used by a demon seeking revenge on Mysta for casting him into the underworld centuries before.

In order to steal Mysta's powers and use them to wreak havoc, the demon possesses one of the brothers. Now destroying the demon risks the life of the man she loves, yet her own eternal soul is in danger if she fails to recover the memories that will enable her to cast the demon out once again.

Got a bit wavery on the dilemma there, because I'm not really sure what it is :). But eh.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Dear writer, there are two problems here as I see it.

The first, and I say this with love: reading your sentences is like trying to load the back of a van with enormous catatonic boa constrictors. They're awkward. They're very awkward. I think you need to work on them.

The second is your storyline. It really does help to sum your story up in a single sentence, under 20 words in length. But I don't know if it can be done with this story. At least not as you've described it. It seems to be headed off in too many directions at once, much like the poor snakes in my second paragraph.

150 said...Well, shoot, Buffy's version doesn't sound NEARLY as ridiculous. The power of a good edit!

If the anthology is well-paying, include the title and publisher. If not, it's not a credit that will help you, so don't bring it up.

arhooley said...Wow, what is it with these complicated Norse mythology plots? I expect to see Mysta with metal cups on her breasts and one of those horn-helmets.

Author, here's an example of an awkward expression you need to fix: "She longs for the passion they share." You can only "long for" something that you don't have. The sentence is jarring because of this contradiction. Maybe "she's reveling in her romance with Brother #1, until Brother #2 shows up." You need to look at each and every word you've written and consider whether it's the right one.

khazar-khum said...I admit I'm jealous of anyone who has a keyboard that permits the use of the medieval letters.

Anonymous said...Yes, well, impressive use of accented letters, but mostly your readers of the English language version won't make use of them. We dunno what it means/is for.

What they said about delete the sequel plots but do tell who = demon and who = Romeo.

This has some great ideas, but the query sounds like maybe your plotline is a bit convoluted and the book might benefit from trimming a few subplots and episodes that you wrote early on and then sort of eliminated the need for, but didn't have the heart to cut.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Anonymous, the "accented letter" is an eth, once a respected component of the English alphabet, but, like thorn, it got fired in the Middle Ages, though it still finds work in Scandinavia. Both represent "th" sounds, hard and soft respectively.

BuffySquirrel said...Ah, yes, and the next edition of the dictionary will be 'this thick'.

kbradley67 said...Dear EE:

Okay, WOW. I guess I wasn't as ready to query as I thought. Some fine points made all around.

EE, I chose those names for their meaning, not thinking that the similarities could confuse readers. I will change them at a later time.

Now that my wounds have healed, I'm actually willing to submit myself for more abuse.

So, is this an improvement or am I spinning my wheels?

Supermodel Mysta is in deep trouble.

An attack by a stalker sparks not only memories of a past life as Mist, Valkyrie warrior goddess, but the ability to shift into fog. The assault reunites her with high school friend, Kieran, who carries his own secret.

He is her prior love.

Mysta is ready to reignite the passion they once shared–that is until his Navy SEAL brother arrives, plunging her into a bizarre love triangle.

Lieutenant Commander Kaelan Sigard is temptation incarnate, and offers protection when assassination and kidnapping attempts are made. That isn’t the only thing he offers, but Mysta wants to remain true to Kieran, with whom she shared a past.

Kaelan thrives on a challenge, refusing to give up.

Unbeknownst to Mysta, a demi-god is using one of the brothers for its own centuries-old, nefarious scheme. It blames her, and seeks revenge for being cast into the underworld. The plan is to bind her with an ancient ritual that will share her powers, allowing it to escape, and wreak havoc on mankind.

As the young woman investigates, she discovers her past love is actually Kaelan, only to have him befall possession by the very fiend she must destroy.

This heartbreaking dilemma could be her unraveling.

Rachel6 said...Hey, kbradley, nice rewrite! Your sentences are much sleeker, the plot is more coherently told...all in all, much improved!

I have two tiny nits to pick. The first is this clause: "only to have him befall possession by the very fiend she must destroy." May I suggest something briefer like, "see him possessed by..."?

The other was your final sentence, about her heartbreaking dilemma. IMHO, I think you can lose that sentence altogether. It's a little melodramatic, and it tells me what I've already figured out.

But hey, now I want to read your book!

AA said...I'm not sure you should say "He is her prior love" if it turns out he isn't. Maybe he tells her he is?

"The plan is to bind her with an ancient ritual that will share her powers, allowing it to escape, and wreak havoc on mankind." Allowing what to escape? The plan? The ritual?

Also, too much passivity in the writing. (No, I did NOT mean passive voice, especially.) For instance:

An attack by

but the ability to

Mysta is ready to

brother arrives

attempts are made

allowing it to

only to have him befall

and so forth. It makes it seem like your story is full of attempts being made, things befalling people, people wanting to do things or being ready to do things, people arriving, things being allowed to happen, etc. What it doesn't show is whether or not anyone actually DOES anything.

This is not necessarily "bad" writing, but it does create emotional distance, and you don't want that.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Yes, the sentences are better, as Rachel says. I noticed the same thing AA did about the passivity. There are only a couple sentences of which your protagonist is actually the subject.

Rewrite each sentence with your protagonist as the subject. See where that takes you. It won't give you a finished query, but it will help you see how to focus the query on your protagonist.