Friday, July 31, 2015

Dear Literary Agent... now available in digital format.

At last. The book that collects the funniest query critiques from this blog (and improves many of them with new laughs and artwork), is available in a format you can afford. You get the werewolf popes, the pay phone occlusions, the ruthless vigilante sorcerers... 50 in all.

Whether you've been here for the whole 9+ years and want the book as a memento, or you got here recently and don't have time to slog through 1200+ query letters on your computer screen, you want this book.

Of course you'd rather have the 8 by 10 full-color book, but if you don't want to spring for the higher cost, this is the next-best thing.

Click on "bookstore" in the sidebar. Then click on the picture of the book, and order the version you want. The digital version is $2.99. I'll send you the code that allows you to read it on your tablet. Or on your computer screen.

Also available in digital format: 

Schliegelman Saves the Universe (EE's award-winning novelette transformed into a graphic novel starring EE as Schliegelman)

The History of the World in Tweets (What happened, when it happened, and what's so funny about it, in 140 characters)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Face-Lift 1268

Guess the Plot

Misgivings of Pawns

1.  We're supposed to move forward little by little, but what's the point? We almost never make it to the other side. Those rooks and bishops and knights would eat us for lunch. No, we're staying put, it's too dangerous out there.

2. They are treated like pawns by their government. Yet even a lowly pawn can become a knight. Well, in chess anyway. But not in the Valnesian Empire. where they are squashed like bugs.

3. In the nightmarish not-so-distant future, humans have voluntarily subjugated themselves to a ruling elite called the Overseers. One day, 16-year-old Atricia gets too inquisitive about the hierarchy and finds herself in a Correction Camp. A mysterious, barely communicative boy rescues her and takes her to the Outlands, where rebels are preparing to restore humans as rulers of their own destiny. The fate of mankind rests on Atricia's shoulders. But first, she must figure out whether she is a Suzanne Collins character or a Stephenie Meyer character.

4. When the young wife of chess champion Feodor Wadzyk is found strangled in the family garage, homicide detective Zach Martinez knows two things. One, the 80-year-old chess master didn't use his own jock strap to kill the 20 year old model; and two, tonight is family game night, so when his Dad says the goddamn top hat is a hotel, the goddamn top hat is a hotel.

5. It was a mistake to come this close to shore. We could get caught in a net. What? Oh, I thought you said Misgivings of Prawns.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

My name is ________, and I am a recent high school graduate living in ________ in a town called ________. [I know it's unfair, but almost all of the people to whom you might send your query will lose interest after reading the phrase "recent high school graduate. Solution: Omit this sentence. They don't care where you live and if they want to know your name, it's at the bottom of the letter.] [By the way, I haven't been able to figure out what belongs in your second blank. My best guesses:

1. my parents' basement

2. a material world
3. Walmart ]

I am searching for an agent to represent my first book, Misgivings of Pawns, which is a 120,000-word epic fantasy story following a boy named Roland Traske on his journey through The Valnesian Empire. Within this book, I wanted to relate the mental hardships that losing one’s family, home, and way of life can cause while still telling an entertaining story. I ended up with a book that I’d love to read. [Excellent. That's one copy we can count on selling.] Roland, however, is an unwilling adventurer, and although his actions will decide the outcome of a conflict no one in his world saw coming, he’s nowhere near happy about it. Here’s what he has to say…

Hello, my name is Roland Traske, and this book is all about me...

…and how my life collapsed into fire and rubble.

Here, you’ll find the people, places, and events that started everything. I was barely a man in these pages, [Earlier you called him a boy. Tell us his age. Also, if he's a teen we'll be wondering whether you intend the book for a young adult audience or middle grade, or adults.] and The Valnesian Empire was being torn apart by conflicting beliefs and politics that I thought I understood. It only took one day for everything to come to a head and leave me broken, homeless and wandering.

That day and the days after doubtless had the makings of a good story, but as I ran from my ruined home and my ruined life, that was the last thing on my mind. When I fled across The Empire in the backs of wagons and on bleeding feet, I wasn’t worried about the plot. When I arrived in Watching and was sent on a hopeless errand by a desperate Lord, I wasn’t thinking about style. [I'm more interested in whether you were thinking about those things when you wrote the book.] When Fate revealed its own twisted plans for me in a place of death and darkness, I wasn’t dwelling on grammar. When I was gifted and cursed with powers I didn’t understand, I never considered symbolism. When I stood in defense of a city that wasn’t mine, I couldn’t care [have cared] less about character. [However, now that I'm trying to make a buck off my story, I'm told that all this crap I never cared about actually matters. Who knew?] [This is just a list of things that happen in the book (You left your ruined home, fled across the empire, attempted to run an errand, developed a super power and defended a city.) which you appear to be using to explain why your book isn't well-written. It also goes on too long. Three items is the most that should be on a list. Did you notice that my list of places you live had three items? Sure I could have continued:

4. luxury
5. Westeros
6. the psych ward
7. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
8. sin
9. a double-wide trailer
10. the funk

but you would have gotten bored.] 

All the way, I carried Pity at my side and a legacy on my back, but I also had a city of death on my conscience. I brought an end to ally and foe alike as I ran from my guilt, and it stung me each time, but I pressed on regardless. Now, looking back, I see that it had to be me. I was the only one who could have done what needed done [doing] and shouldered the weight that brought on. Looking back, I see that it was a good story, but I was the one who had to live every second of it. All I ask is that, as you read, remember that a good story does not always make for a good life and that I lived this one…

Because I’d give anything to change it all. [That whole section is vague. We want to know what happens in your book. What is Roland after? Who is trying to prevent him from getting it? What's his plan? What goes wrong?] 

Roland is a little morose right now, but there may still be hope for him down the road. Included are the ______ of Misgivings of Pawns, the beginning of his story. If you’re interested in the full manuscript, please contact me at this email and let me know. I’m currently preparing for college and working on my second book, Trials of a Knight.



I couldn't tell if the section from Roland's point of view was the book's prologue or was an attempt to do something clever. Most agents would rather hear the story from you than from your character. If writing queries from the POV of a character in the book led to frequent success, everyone would do it, and agents would . . .  Well, actually, they would accept it because otherwise they'd have to go back to being editors. But the point is, agents don't want you to be clever, they want to know if you have a good story. Therefor, I recommend boiling your book down to three paragraphs:

1. The setup. Who's the main character and what's his situation when the plot begins to unfold? For instance: As war, pestilence and natural disasters consume the Valnesian Empire, sixteen-year-old Roland Traske watches as a marauding army destroys his home and kills his parents. He flees on foot, hitching an occasional ride on a wagon, and finds his way to the town of Watching, where a podiatrist cures his bleeding feet.

2. The Story. What does he want? Revenge on those who killed his family? To reach Pleasantville? To save his new home from an approaching danger? What's the biggest obstacle to attaining this goal? What's his plan? How does he go about it? What's this power that presumably gives him a chance of succeeding?

3. The Dilemma. What choice must he make when the chips are down? What's the downside of each choice? 

Focus on Roland. Within each paragraph connect ideas with transitions/cause and effect. Each sentence should lead logically to the next. You're telling a story, not making a list. 

Come up with a more intriguing title. I recommend Leon Trotsky: A Life 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Beginning 1048

Sir Lancelot Knights Academy, New Camelot. Final examination for junior level of knighthood. Please, answer the following questions with clear and short sentences. You have two hours to complete the test.

Cedric took a deep breath and looked at the parchment with the academy’s emblem, a golden dragon wielding a sword.

This is it.

His last written exam as a cadet. If everything went fine, he’d be a knight in a few days. Well, not exactly a knight but a junior one, which meant more years of training. Not that he would complain. He looked forward to it.

He dipped the quill into the ink bottle and wrote in big, bold letters:

Name: Cedric William of Locksbay.

He skimmed through the long parchment. It contained sixty-three questions about every subject he’d studied at Sir Lancelot’s in the past five years. A test easy only for those cadets who had spent the last few weeks cramming. Not Cedric. He’d had other things to take care of.

The first question was about weapon-keeping. Good. Not a problem.

1. Weapon-keeping: The sword of a knight is his most precious ally.

Yes, true enough. Except that for now Cedric used one of the standard blades of the academy. Not a proper one. Anyway. Question number one…

A princess is trapped in a gaping cavern, beset by filthy orcettes, demon women, and dragon ladies 45 miles away. You and your horse can travel eighteen miles per hour. How long before you thrust your sword into hot, throbbing flesh? Show your work. 

Opening: BA.....Continuation: khazar-khum

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Face-Lift 1267

Guess the Plot

A Knight's Quest

1. In a vaguely Arthurian setting, Gawain, a newly-knighted lad of 17, sets forth on a knightly quest and does not encounter a sassy princess who must ally with her old enemies, the fae, in order to save her land from the evil Troll-people. He also doesn't need to capture a legendary weapon. Complete at 400 words.

2. When his parents threaten to throw him out, degenerate Kevin reluctantly takes a job at the local medieval fair as their newest knight. Standing in stinking armor all day is hardly "Sir" Kevin's idea of a good time, but after hearing a rumor that Allison, the fair's big-breasted princess wants to puff the magic dragon. Kevin finds himself in a desperate quest to find the sacred herbs.

3. To save his family from bankruptcy, Cedric must rescue the princess from an evil wizard and save the city from an attack by an army of immortal creatures. Hey, no one said being a fifteen-year-old was gonna be easy.

4. The dragon has captured a damsel, and it's up to Sir John to rescue her. Trouble is, his horse is afraid of dragons, his squire suffers from narcolepsy, and his shield had to be duct taped together after the last jousting match. Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Sir Lancelot Academy, New Camelot, isn’t for faint hearts. It’s a place where aspiring knights are trained, and fifteen-year-old Cedric is one of them. After years of sparring and archery lessons, he has only one more test to pass to become a knight: the Quest. If he rescues Princess Rhiannon, kidnapped by the dark wizard Mordred, [Change his name to Krissbroun.] Cedric will become a knight and receive an award of three hundred thousand crowns– enough to save his family from bankruptcy. [How did his family manage to get 300,000 crowns in debt?] [Ironically, today one crown would be enough to get them out of bankruptcy, as long as it's an 1847 Queen Victoria "Gothic" crown in mint condition.] 

Problem is Rhiannon might be a [beautiful (like diamonds in the sky)] damsel in distress, but she can deal with it. She escapes from Mordred’s dungeon and in the process saves Cedric’s life too. [I'd get rid of "Problem is."] Well, Cedric is annoyed. Knights are supposed to rescue damsels. Not the other way round. On top of that, Cedric and Rhiannon discovers Mordred’s plan to steal one of the most powerful magical artefact [artifacts] in Britannia: the Grail. Mordred needs it to build an army of dark, immortal creatures and attack the city. [It's always a good idea when building an army of creatures, to give them a three-week life span rather than immortality.]

When Cedric and Rhiannon warn the New Camelot knights, unfortunately they don’t take them seriously. The Grail is protected by state-of-the-art spells, [The term "state of the art" originated in the 20th century.] and stealing it is considered impossible. Not even Mordred can succeed. Determined to protect the city even without the knights’ help, Cedric has to work with Rhiannon to stop Mordred’s plan. [So you're saying Mordred can succeed? Does Cedric know how Mordred can overcome state-of-the-art spells? How does he plan to defeat a powerful wizard?] But if he can deal with a self-rescuer, warrior princess, fighting an evil dark wizard should be a piece of cake. [That's like saying, If he can deal with a perky kitten, a Tyrannosaurus should be a piece of cake.]

A KNIGHT’S QUEST is an upper middle grade fantasy novel, complete at 70,000 words.

Thanks for your time and consideration.


The query isn't bad, but I'm not sure I buy Cedric's ability to defeat Mordric when he couldn't even rescue Rhiannon.

According to a website I just consulted, titled "Becoming a Knight," the apprentice knight period (aka squire) was ages 14 to 21. Of course that was the real world rather than a fantasy world, but it still seems like 15 is rather young to be going into battle against adult men, much less wizards and dragons. 

If I were the king of New Camelot and my daughter the princess had been abducted by an evil wizard, I wouldn't be sending a kid who wasn't yet a knight to rescue her.

Possibly instead of calling Mordred a dark wizard and his army dark creatures, you should go with evil wizard and savage creatures. I'm not sure what "dark" means when applied to a creature or a wizard. I do know it's good when applied to chocolate.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Face-Lift 1266

Guess the Plot

One Day I Will

1. ...finish that goddamn novel I started for Nanowrimo five years ago, because I always liked that one character but could never quite find the right plot to fit, and now I think I have finally found one that will work.

2. Morton is five. You're five. Right now, Mommy is reading you a book about Morton's mommy telling him he'll do all kinds of cool and big things someday. It feels like you're going to be stuck at five forever. Yes, it's metafiction for the kid lit crowd.

3. Faye has a loveless marriage, hates her friends, and works at Kmart. Understandably, she's suicidal. Then she remembers her longtime dream of becoming a published author and starts working on a novel. If that doesn't push her over the edge, nothing will.

4. a big movie star. Or a professional golfer. Or president. Or at least rich. Or popular. But not today. Today I'm just gonna surf the Internet for cat videos.

5. ...find a husband and start a family. That's what Marion's been telling herself for two decades as she's climbed the corporate ladder while working twelve-hour days. Is it too late?

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

Please consider representing my 70,000-word Women‘s Fiction book [, title]. I’ve researched your agency through Writer’s Market and saw [see] that you handle women’s and literary fiction. [I'd dump this paragraph, put the word count with the title in the next paragraph and change "a mainstream novel" in the next paragraph to "women's fiction."]

One Day I Will is a mainstream novel in a similar vein to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar or the movie The Good Girl. It is the story of a young woman who must find a way to correct the mistakes she has made in order to improve her life and to save herself from a path of irreversible decline. [I'd move this paragraph to the end. It's general. We're much more interested in the specifics in your plot summary. Also, when you compare your book to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar or the movie The Good Girl, all I think is: Suicidal poet and romantic comedy actress Jennifer Anniston. If you must compare to something, choose one, preferably a book.]

Faye Harris, a neurotic but cynical and sharp-tongued woman, witnesses a horrific car accident that nearly kills four teenagers. This catalyst leads Faye to question the course of her own life. [Those four teenagers nearly died; I never should have majored in English.] She realizes that it’s been ten years since she graduated high school. Back then she was eagerly ready for anything. Anything but how her life turned out. The bad choices she made over the last decade plague her: marrying young, forgoing college, and relinquishing her dream of being a published novelist. [Aha! So this is autobiographical.] [You have to be a novelist before you can be a published novelist. Has she written a novel?] Her indecision has left her poor, unsuccessful, and complacent. [Bad decisions aren't indecision.]

She now struggles through a loveless marriage to Aaron, the insecure and jealous type, whose idea of a good time is a night of binge drinking and video games. She suffers at a menial and hellish retail job at Kmart, unappreciated by her bitter and chain-smoking boss Mary. The friends she has she hates: her next-door neighbors Matt and Nikki Sweeney, their epic, drunken fights worthy of the show Cops. [If nothing else, reading an entire book about this miserable dispirited woman is sure to make anyone feel better about their own life.] Plus, she feels alienated from her family: her shallow mother Jaclyn and her drug-addled brother Zack--the closest person Faye has to a confidant. 

Faye becomes desperate to find meaning in her life again. She returns to night school and bonds with a fellow classmate who later breaks her heart. Eventually she falls into a suicidal depression [I'm starting to fall into a suicidal depression. Maybe some binge drinking and video games will cheer me up.] and endeavors the cathartic task of finally writing her novel. [Uh oh. I was hoping for at least a mildly uplifting ending, but this is looking bad.] But if she can’t find a way to set things right, [What things?] she will lose herself forever and be doomed to live and die in her small, sheltered town and within her dismal marriage. [Please don't kill yourself. Many of the Evil Minions have been where you are. Tell her, people.]

Set against the backdrop of rural Maryland, One Day I Will explores the strength found in following one’s dreams and in the redemptive powers of art. Female readers will especially enjoy this book and relate to Faye’s universal hardship of a marriage gone bad and of finding love again after years of numbness. [Females who can relate to a marriage gone bad are those who've been in a marriage gone bad. Not a small number, but hardly universal.]

Thank you for your consideration.


The whole query is about how miserable Faye's life is. You can do that in one paragraph. I can do it in one sentence (After a decade of bad decisions, Faye Harris now struggles through  a loveless marriage and a hellish retail job at Kmart, friendless and alienated from her family.) but you shouldn't try that at home. 

Condensing the misery leaves room to show us how the book explores the strength found in following one’s dreams and in the redemptive powers of art and finding love again after years of numbness. Was the night school classmate an example of finding love again? Or is there a new love you haven't mentioned? Because that first fling didn't exactly turn out well. Is writing her novel an example of the redemptive powers of art? In what way? What's the novel about? Does she try to get it published? If so, how can that possibly make her any less depressed than she already is?

Writing a novel while also holding down a job is going to take a lot of time. She's in a suicidal depression now. I hope she gets some help to get her over the low points.

Maybe it should be called literary fiction. Do you have a story? In which things happen? Basically, a woman tries to find meaning in life by writing a novel? Unless there are some major events you haven't mentioned, I think you need to focus more on what it is Faye has to set right and how she plans to do that. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Help Wanted

Dear Evil Editor,

The thing about the guess-the-plots is that there are a lot of gems that get missed, since they're not the plot the query is about. This one is from Face-Lift 1222, Kidblog:

Eight-year-old Ricky starts a blog dealing with life at Fontana Elementary school. Tough tests, tough teachers, Tough-Luck Bobby (Maria likes Finn). Meanwhile, mommyblogger Cindy Sharon starts a blog about raising her home-schooled genderneutral child Moon as a vaccine free, gluten free, and religion free vegan. Everything's fine until Ricky and Moon email each other.

I thought this one would be a pretty cool MG novel if the characters were aged up a bit. (Say, from eight to eleven/twelve.) Thing is, realistic fiction is not my forte. So, if the blog readers have any suggestions for a plot I'd be really thankful.

Minion #621

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Q & A

Hey Evil--

Instead of
just query letters for novels, maybe you should request that people float their writing ideas in general past the Minions. Got an idea for a story, book, screenplay, Nanovel? Give it a query and send it out for the minions to chomp on. Maybe it will get more material incoming.

Not sure if you mean people should write the query letters for works they haven't finished (or even started), in order to get feedback on the concept rather than the query letter, while also getting feedback on what would be a rough draft of the query letter assuming the book turns out the way they currently envision it--in which case they would be sending standard query letters, or if you mean they should just lay out the concept (not in query-letter format) to get our opinions on how they can improve it or whether they should even bother trying.

I'm okay with either. Anyone who wants input from EE and his minions about anything you're writing or considering writing or have no intention of writing, don't be shy. 

EE is not responsible for anything that happens to anyone as a result of this policy. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Face-Lift 1265

Guess the Plot

A Byte of Happiness

1. R2D2 and C3PO finally consummate their forbidden love, now that droid marriage is legal on Endor.

2. The adventures of Carl, the Carnivorous Computer.

3. 7 bits was not enough, so Meka-R17 goes on a quest to the Citadel of Code to finally achieve a full byte of happiness. 

4. Lonely Gerald Haney constructs a robot he hopes to mass-market as a nanny, chef, or ???? As he's preparing to meet with investors, his beloved cat dies. His tears fall on a porous surface of Prototype 2.0, a chemical reaction takes place, and suddenly 2.0 is begging Gerald not to duplicate or sell her.

5. When Esmerelda sneaks into her brother's room to find out why he's so obsessed with his old computer from 1998, she gets sucked into the monitor, and ends up trapped in one of his games. Will her brother make her stay, or help her bring home a hidden treasure?

6. Harry Cuza has nearly broken the code for hacking the Bank of Romania database. He only needs one more character, but with 256 choices, he's afraid the wrong value will bring Interpol to his door. Instead it brings the Vampire Apocalypse.

7. As the only woman in her software engineering department, Morgan gets no respect from her coworkers or her boss. Well, except Roger. How can she justify bringing down the company with a sexual harassment lawsuit when she can barely keep her clothes on when Roger's around?  

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

In 1998, with Internet technologies gaining momentum, Morgan Turner discovers that her recently acquired electrical engineering degree is enough to get her unexpectedly reassigned to a software department on her first day of work. [What department was she originally assigned to? Did they hire her not knowing she had this degree?]

She is the only female engineer in the entire department, and her new coworkers’ reactions range from apathetic to hostile regarding her lack of programming knowledge and, not that they would admit it, her gender. [Being apathetic about her gender is a good thing, right?] Her oppressive boss, Dave, makes it clear from her first day that he views her as the team’s secretary, which forces her to fight for every scrap of technical work she gets. [No one wants her there, and it's not even her field, and presumably the department she was originally hired by needs her. Whose decision was it that she should be reassigned?] One of the established software architects, Roger, becomes her advocate, and what begins as a mentorship evolves into a deeper connection.

Morgan is determined to be accepted in her male-dominated team, and to keep her clothes on around Roger. If she succumbs to temptation, she might find her promising career [You haven't made her career sound at all promising.] over before it even begins. [The first rule of the software department is: You don't take your clothes off around Roger. The second rule of the software department is: You don't take your clothes off around Roger.]

A BYTE OF HAPPINESS is a completed, fun, [If you want us to know it's fun, show is in your plot summary.] coming of age, [What age is Morgan "coming of"? She's already an adult. Does the book begin when she's a kid? Even if it does, I wouldn't call it this unless you show the arc of her growth in the query.] 108,000 word women’s fiction novel. It will appeal to fans of Sophia Kinsella [Sophie. Not knowing how the author you're comparing your book to spells her name may suggest that you've never actually read her books.] and Jennifer Weiner, while adding the comical, collegial interactions reminiscent of The Office. [If the book is comical, showing it with an amusing event or a lighter tone is better than mentioning a TV show.] It features a strong female protagonist in a STEM field. [You've shown us this; no need to tell us. Though you could make the "strong" part more obvious. She does fight for work and she's determined and she resists, but I worry that Roger will be instrumental in her success. What does she accomplish through her strength?] Thank you for your time and consideration.



It's well-written, but it's not exactly compelling. All you've done is describe the situation Morgan finds herself in at the beginning (I assume) of the book. We want to know some of the important things that happen. Aka the plot. Do you have a story to tell? 

What's Morgan's main goal? To change the mindset of the company so other women don't experience what she has? To gain the acceptance of the men in her department? To punish the sexists who are making her miserable? What's her plan for achieving her main goal? What goes wrong? Does she have a Plan B? What will happen if that fails?

Condense your entire summary into one three-sentence paragraph (possibly starting with the first sentence of my Guess the Plot). That'll leave room for two more paragraphs telling us what happens in your book.


This image of Pluto you've probably seen by now.

But thanks to relatively primitive technology known as the magnifying glass, 
I've been able to take a closer look at the photograph. 
Specifically I zoomed in on the rectangular area marked below.

What I found looks like more than the expected rock formations and desert tundras.

In fact, using a microscope set on low power, I managed to get the following shot from near the center of the previous shot:

Looks like some kind of crystal formations.

This next one was on medium power:

And on high power:

I photographed this image, then blew up the section in the upper right corner:

Another zoom into that upper right corner, plus photo enhancement, revealed:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

What's Trending Now

Sometimes I look at what's trending on Twitter and think, how can THAT be trending? I never heard of it. For instance, right now Anoop Soni is trending. So I click on it and apparently he's an Indian celebrity who is being mocked for some reason, except I don't get any of the jokes. Which makes me realize American tweets make as little sense to the rest of the world as theirs do to us. Still it's fun to imagine what the joke is.