Thursday, January 28, 2016

Face-Lift 1300!

Guess the Plot

A War Bride

1. A collection of poems written in half-awake prose with themes of nature and images as diverse as wolves and jerky. Also, includes the poem "A War Bride."

2. Six years ago, Nora married handsome American soldier Jerry and moved to New York. After enduring Jerry's crude manners, filthy socks, and creepy friends, she's starting to think that maybe she should take her chances with an American jury.

3. It's 1919, and David Smithers is returning to the little French town where he met gorgeous Marie. Entranced by the daring pilot, she quickly agreed to become his wife. But when David gets there, he runs into a few problem, namely her three brothers--and all the other daring pilots she agreed to marry.

4. Daisy O'Hara plans to marry her lifelong friend, Joe Birmingham, before he is shipped out after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, Queen Boudica who shares Daisy's body is not willing to wait at home for her man, or even join the WACs. She's got a war-ax to grind.

5. Marcella was married to the king of the neighboring kingdom to seal a peace treaty. However, she knows the incompetence of her homeland armies. She plans on poisoning her husband and leading his armies against her homeland to join the kingdoms and ensure peace. Too bad her husband's a cutie.

6. Ares, god of war, has found a spouse for each of his children. Now he just needs to find a bride for his seventh child, a son. When he finds the perfect candidate, he's torn. He may just take her for himself.

Original Version

Thirty-five poems reflect on nature as a cycle of death and life, a master who tempts subject after subject into a life of devotion; a beautiful place to wake up, and a rocky catalyst for love. [I can't tell if that list includes two items, separated by the semicolon, or four items, separated by commas and a semicolon, or if it's one lengthy description of nature.] Pictures of the woods flit in the book's half-awake rhythmic prose, trapping the reader at the same moment that they free him.  [I don't like "flit in." Maybe "flit through" or "dart throughout."] [Wait, "enshroud." Yes, it has that feeling of poetic language you're going for, the kind that inspires the reader to think, WTF?] The facet of the outdoors beams first vicious then softly caring as the reader dares himself further into the book. [WTF?]

[I've dared myself further into the query. Hope it turns out better than the time I dared myself to eat a dozen jelly doughnuts.] Until the last poem, "a war bride", the author struggles with the burden of having one foot in the civilized world and the other strapped in a snowshoe, ready to migrate. [What this book needs is a poem about an ostrich that tries to migrate while wearing one snowshoe.] From the convincing lines about fall's surreality, to the suicidal epic of "we two can't die", the poems muse through moods that meet their extreme in the wild outdoors. [You had some good alliteration going there, but you dropped the ball. How about "...they muse through moods that meet their match in Marrakesh, Morocco."?] As "A War Bride" appraises a human lover and, soon after, winks slyly at the wilderness as the true object of adoration, this book chases after images that words have yet to define until now. [I was going to say it's highly unlikely that you are the first person to describe the images in your book with words, until I realized I'm probably the first person to describe in words the image of an ostrich wearing one snowshoe.] 

The tempting and scary sense of being pursued as the sun goes down, and the urge to tear away in a hunt of one's own as spring melts the snow, plant their feet into the scenery of "A War Bride". With images of wolves, dry jerky, and affection that vows, "no matter the land / I will call to you", the poems of "A War Bride" lead the reader to the middle of the forest, where words - and the silence between them - are at their most powerful.

[Sample poem:

Ode to Dry Jerky

Whether at home or land afar,
I will call to you,
O strip of dry meat, 
Salty and lean.
Ostrich, elk or venison, 
Bacon, boar or kangaroo;
All enshroud the buds of taste
But to a poet, just one will do,
And that, of course, is turkey jerky.]


"Half-awake prose" doesn't sound like a description of poetry. Even if it is, I don't recommend being half-awake when you pen thine epistle.

If you want to impress the editor with your poetic language, include a few of the poems. This is a business letter. Start over.

Poetry books don't fly off the shelves, so few agents will bother with them. Find a poetry publisher accepting manuscripts, and not asking you to pay them. Describe your book, how the poems are connected, how long it is, previous poetry publications if any. If they haven't told you not to, include samples. It might help to submit the poems to magazines in hopes of getting some credits. Don't be surprised if you end up self-publishing.

Feel free to send us a revision of the query with a sample or two.

Also, feel free to use my sample poem in your book, but only if you mention me in the acknowledgements.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Face-Lift 1299

Guess the Plot

Wolf Heart

1. Julie and Paula have a very unusual ingredient in their award-winning pecan pie.

2. Wolfgang Hart blogs under his new assumed name. He names names (except his own) and isn't afraid to point the finger. Because nobody will guess his true identity.

3. Jack Deering's pawn shop hasn't done so well lately, but maybe the magic from this more-than-5000-year-old Sumerian wolf heart will change all that.

4. Princess Sukkia wears a diamond collar and has a pedigree that goes back a thousand years. When jealous King Lupin doubts her fidelity, he dresses as a traveling bard and tries to seduce her. 

5. Though born human, Fang Song was adopted by wolves and has the heart of a wolf. "I am wolf!" she cries. Then she meets Howling Wolf, the handsome human who makes her heart jump. Maybe she should be wolf just a couple days each month. 

6. By the light of the harvest moon, Lampton town brings in the crops. One by one people disappear. When a ravaged corpse is found, the villagers lynch Alan "Wolfgang" Shepherd. Yet, the numbers continue to dwindle. Who is harvesting the harvesters? 

7. By day, Peter is a quiet young chemistry major. Once a month, though, he transforms into yet another attempt to wring money out of the public via a hunky wolfman for the girls to swoon over.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

The wolf way says she must adapt or die, but Fang Song refuses to choose either. [You can refuse to adapt, but if refusing to die worked, we'd be packed in like sardines.] [Also, it's pretty much always better to delete a one-sentence opening and start with the second paragraph.]

According to legend, eighteen-year-old Fang Song is destined to save Heartland, her island home, from a king set on supreme magical authority. [I wasn't sure what "supreme magical authority" meant, so I Googled it. Apparently the Count in August Strindberg's most famous play, Miss Julie, is a supreme magical authority. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the play, so I'll just assume this king wants to be the leader of a team of super wizards and mages such as Merlin, Harry Potter, Gandalf, Doctor Strange, and Penn and Teller.] Born human and adopted by wolves, [Did she adapt after she was adopted?] Fang Song tenaciously cries she is wolf, but the rest of the world disagrees. [By "the rest of the world" do you mean all the people, all the wolves, or all the people and wolves?] With two wolf siblings by her side and the lines of an ancient song ["Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"] to guide her, Fang Song must convince everyone, including herself, that she is the champion Heartland needs. [Why must she convince everyone? Convincing ninety percent of everyone isn't good enough?] 

When she leaves her wolf pack and the wild places she calls home, and journeys to meet her familial tribe, the Wind Walkers, Fang Song is determined to remain untouched by the changes. [differences?] [If she's going there to recruit humans to help defeat the king, say so.] She soon discovers the human world is as beguiling as it is terrifying, and though she longs to be wolf, there is an undeniable spark calling her to be more fully human. Everything Fang Song thought was true now seems uncertain, [Everything?] and her greatest enemy remains to be fought. How much will she have to sacrifice to save her home? And what is she to make of Howling Wolf, the striking Wind Walker who makes her heart do unexpected things?

The people Fang Song trusts most [I'm surprised to find she knows any people well enough to trust them. Has she been interacting with humans on a regular basis?] have their own secrets--secrets that could shatter her dreams. When those secrets and the schemes of the king collide, will Fang Song find the key to Heartland's survival? Or will she find her own annihilation? [That paragraph is too vague. What are these secrets? What are her dreams? I don't know what you're talking about.]

WOLF HEART is complete at approximately 67,000 words, and is the first in a potential young adult fantasy series of the same title.

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



Was Fang Song adopted after she was old enough to have learned the Wind Walkers' language? Is the ancient song whose lines guide her a human song or a wolf song?

With his striking looks, Howling Wolf can have any woman in the tribe. I don't see him being attracted to a woman who's spent most of the last eighteen years living with wolves.

We need to know what life will be like on Fang Song's island home if the king attains supreme magical authority. You haven't said how it'll be any worse. Maybe he'll be a benevolent king, bringing peace and prosperity to all. Hey, maybe the king can use magic to turn Fang Song into an actual wolf. 

"According to legend, eighteen-year-old Fang Song is destined to save Heartland..." Is everyone aware of this legend? If so, why does she have to convince them she's their champion? If the legend doesn't specify who the champion is, what makes her think she's the one?

Four of the last five plot sentences are questions. You should be providing answers, not asking us questions.

Fang Song sounds more like an Asian name than a Wind Walker name. In Chinese it means to accept relaxation. Fang Song Gong is an exercise program. Fang Song is the name of several Chinese people including an accomplished actress/director. Did she get the name from the Wind Walkers or from the wolves who adopted her? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Face-Lift 1298

Guess the Plot

The Corner of Burch and Grace

1. Akshually th coroner (mispelled thet) ov birch (misspeled tat) aand grapes (misspellt that that)- uh ghyde fer whoredikulcher docters evereehwere.

2. Here's the Google Street view of "Corner of Burch and Grace." It looks like a residential neighborhood in the middle of fucking nowhere, so I'm guessing this is a coming of age story or some shit like that.

3. Six-year-old Grace Burch is tired of being a pawn in her divorced parents custody battle, so she raises money through a Kickstarter campaign, files for emancipation, and sues both her parents for child support. Told in the alternating viewpoints of her dog, Princess, and her cat, Mephistopheles.

4. Burch and Grace are conjoined twins awaiting the surgery to finally separate them. Yet their life afterwards is not as separated as they may hope.

5.  There's a little diner at the corner of Burch & Grace, where the lonely, the lost and the loveless come for food, coffee, and maybe some pathetic attempt at human interaction. And that's the way they liked it, until the night the Glam Girls of Glendale showed up.

6. Nothing of interest has ever happened at the corner of Burch and Grace in Buffalo, New York . . . until the night they dig up the children's skeletons.

7. The haunting true story of the image found in Edward Hopper's masterpiece, "Nighthawks".

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

My memoir, THE CORNER OF BURCH AND GRACE, was written about the first 14 years of my life growing up in Buffalo, New York, in the transformative 1960s. [The 1960s may have seemed to go on forever, but I'm pretty sure they didn't last 14 years.] 

While everyone will enjoy this collection of stories at face value, they are especially powerful for every adult who had a difficult childhood, and, [Commas not needed.] for every adult who ever had a relationship with someone who had a difficult childhood. Finally, these stories are for every child who became an adult and chose to never look back. [Maybe it would waste less space if you just told us who these stories aren't for.] [I'm not sure what "at face value" means in terms of enjoying a book. Is it related to judging a book by its cover?] [It sounds like what you're saying is, Everyone will enjoy this book at face value, but those who hope to enjoy it on a level other than face value must fall into one of the following three categories, which include pretty much everyone.]

From the deterioration of my mother, my family and me [If you just say "my family," we will deduce that you and your mother are included.] amidst a backdrop of shame and silence, to the heartrending testimony and rollicking humor of life lessons learned, both sweetly and harshly - in the neighborhood, at school, and at home - THE CORNER OF BURCH AND GRACE is a call for all of us to consider, both literally and metaphorically, what makes us turn out the way we do. [This is all totally vague. It's like saying, "My family: the good, the bad and the ugly, here there and everywhere." Except that would use less space, leaving more room to tell us some specific things that happen in the book.]

My wish is that these poignant and humorous tales will show every reader that it is often necessary to dig up our childhood skeletons and set them down - right alongside the happy memories. [I think the skeletons you're talking about are in the closet, so no need to bring a shovel.]

It is in the spirit of service that I offer this variety of pieces from my manuscript. [Not sure what that means. You are doing the recipient of your query a service by including pieces from the manuscript?] The book is finished and is awaiting a good literary home. I've inserted the manuscript within this email, per your guidelines. [How long is this book? Hard to believe anyone's guidelines include inserting the entire manuscript within an email.]


[Not clear if this next part is part of the query or intended solely for EE, but it doesn't belong in a letter to a literary agent. Or to EE.]

Once a journalist, I now maintain a [website where I post pieces of various genres]. I invite you to visit me there. I have chosen several pieces for your perusal – simply click on “Selections for Literary Agents” under Categories.

I am available for journalistic assignments, essays, columns and features, and of course, other books - as there are even more Tales from Burch Avenue and beyond. [What happened to Grace?]


Shame and silence; heartrending testimony and rollicking humor, sweetly and harshly; literally and metaphorically; poignant and humorous; skeletons and memories. My mother, my family and me; neighborhood, school and home. These pairings and lists of nouns, adverbs and adjectives don't tell us anything about your book. Except that everyone will enjoy it, for it is all things to all people. 

Once you call it a memoir of your childhood, I expect it to consist of vignettes starring you and your family. Possibly you don't need to also refer to it as a collection of stories, poignant and humorous tales, a variety of pieces... It sounds like something along the lines of Winesburg, Ohio, halfway between a novel and short story collection, in that it consists of stories, but with the same setting and characters. 

We need the word count so we can complain about it.

Pretty much no one wants to read about the first (or any) fourteen years of anyone's life in Buffalo, New York, so if you want to sell this, you're going to have to convince us that your first fourteen years were truly remarkable. You haven't told us anything that happened to you in those years.

Of course it's hard to describe a collection of stories in a few paragraphs, but at least these stories are unified. You could give specific brief summaries of two or three of the stories, then hint that these are but a sampling of the fascinating tales in your book. For instance:

In 1960, a young girl tosses a stone at Lake Erie and watches it skip across the surface nine times before plunging to the depths. She immediately applies for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In 1965, this same girl is swimming in Lake Erie when the surface of the lake bursts into flames, an event that inspires her to invent a delicious recipe for chicken wings.

Two years later, a singer convinces this same gal to come out of her Buffalo, New York house at night and dance by the light of the moon.

These and a dozen other stories compose my memoir of growing up in a deteriorating family in a deteriorating neighborhood in a deteriorating city in the transformative 1960s.

You can make the summaries slightly longer, but make sure they're at least as interesting as my examples.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Face-Lift 1297

Guess the Plot

Emily's Guide to Owning a Castle

1. Clean the dungeon once a century. Dust and polish armor daily. Feed the servants well. And above all, never feed the moat monsters before a big battle.

2. Don't build too near the waves on the beach. Don't let your pesky brother design the moat. Don't use all your prettiest shells. Make sure to get a picture, because you can't take it home after vacation.

3. Locate a castle. Identify the owner of the castle. Kill the owner of the castle. Defend your new domain from would-be heroes. Locate another castle.

4. Emily Perkin is ecstatic to learn she's inherited an English castle. Then she learns the pile of rubble is in the middle of a war between hunky government official Nate Burnstead who condemned it and gorgeous Harry Stone of Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, who has the hots for Nate.

5. Emily Lathinger might have passed away 437 years ago, and even her ghost is dementing, but there is no way she is going to let go of her castle. Not after all the lying, bloodshed, fornication and brown nosing she went through to inherit.

6. When Emily discovers a boy trapped in a well in the castle she just inherited, she considers him a pest--until he offers to cure her best friend of a life-threatening genetic disorder if Emily helps him. It sounds too good to be true. What's the catch?

7. My niece Emily tells adults how to adult [meme talk for being responsible owners] with castles - typical. [winky face, hearts]

8. A handy guide to any ghosts that have inhabited a place for a thousand years only to have some rich Amerians come in and try to renovate it for profit. Emily's own story of fighting and winning will be a source of hope and inspiration for ghosts everywhere!

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Emily Clare is not excited about inheriting a thousand-year-old castle from a great-grandmother she has never met. She is not excited about starting at a new school in England, a country she has never visited. And she is absolutely, positively not excited about being pestered by a mysterious boy trapped in a well beneath her castle. 

[Boy: Help!! Help!! I'm trapped in the well! Get me outta here! Lower a rope! Call your father!

Emily: Quit pestering me.]

That is, until the boy promises to magically grant Emily’s wish to cure her best friend’s life-threatening genetic disorder. All Emily has to do is find a particular gold coin as payment.

[Boy: I'll cure your best friend of her life-threatening genetic disorder if you'll rescue me from this well. 

Emily: Okay, it's a deal.

Boy: Not so fast. I have other demands.]

As Emily works with her new classmates to locate the coin, she starts to piece together the secret history of the castle and her family's links to the legendary King Arthur. [Intriguing, but vague. Instead of "she starts to piece together the secret history of the castle and her family's links to the legendary King Arthur," you could give us the specifics, i.e. "she learns that the castle belonged to the legendary King Arthur, who once had his way with one of Emily's ancestors on top of the round table.] The closer she gets to finding the coin, [If the coin's so well-hidden that no one's stumbled across it in a thousand years, how does Emily know how close she is to finding it?] the more Emily doubts the boy’s intentions. [Seems like what Emily should be doubting is his ability to magically grant wishes when he can't even get out of a well.] [What does he claim his intentions are?But once she finally discovers the boy’s true identity and how closely their fates are intertwined, it may be too late to save her castle, her family, or her friends. ["But" seems like the wrong word, as it suggests a reversal of her feelings, when she was already doubting him. I'd change "But once" to "And when."]

Emily’s Guide to Owning a Castle is a middle-grade light fantasy novel that will appeal to fans of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy and Fablehaven. It is a complete stand-alone at approximately 63,000 words, but also has series potential. [Is this novel written in the form of a guide? If people see the title and assume the book is a nonfiction guide rather than a novel, they might not even give it a look.] 

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Is Emily's best friend in England or in wherever she just moved from?

How does the kid in the well know about Emily's friend's genetic disorder?

Assuming the kid in the well is a magician from King Arthur's time and a magic spell turned him into a boy and is keeping him in the well and preventing him from doing any magic until a specific coin is found, seems like he'd have managed to talk someone else into helping him over the past thousand years. I guess no one else has been able to find the coin, and lowering a ladder or a rope hasn't worked for magical reasons, and whenever the castle owner tries to get the villagers to help free the boy, they show up and there's no boy and possibly no well, which makes the castle owner look like an idiot, so for centuries there's been an unwritten rule passed down to owners of this castle to ignore the kid in the well? How'm I doing?

The query isn't bad, although it's hard to buy anyone discovering a boy trapped in a well and recruiting her friends to hunt for a thousand-year-old coin while the boy remains in the well. Does even one of her friends suggest organizing a massive rescue operation to save the boy in the well, instead of looking for the coin? 

How does Emily recruit her friends? "I know how we can cure Ellie of her Gaucher's Disease. First we'll need a magic coin that's been missing a thousand years."? Or does she tell them about the boy in the well?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Face-Lift 1296

Guess the Plot

Wild Dreams Torment

1. Anytime Adele has a bad day, she dreams the exact opposite in her sleep. But today she won a lottery, so she's binge-drinking coffee to stay awake.

2. Warned by a man he met on a plane that just crashed that a monster is hunting him, Louis assumes it was  a dream. But later a creature crashes through Louis's dorm window, and comes at him. He thinks fast, putting the Beatles' "Get Back" on the stereo. It works, but now he's worried the monster will devour every other student at his school.

3. Fred has a boring life, a boring job, a boring wife, boring kids, and boring vacations. He likes it that way. But, his younger, much-less-boring self is using his dreams to reach across time and change all that. Also, literary fiction.

4. If all goes well, gorgeous brown poodle Wild Dreams Torment will earn enough points to take the championship at today's show. But Torment would much rather go for a romp around the park, crashing through exhibits, jumping over trophies, and leading the other dogs in a day of mayhem. Also, a nonplussed pussycat.

5. Jock Burner (that's his name) finds the last words of missing goth teen Victoria Rothea in their shared secret poetry collection. Can he find what happened to her in time for their public reading, or will he die the next victim of super villain Morphepnosis. Also, gold leaf.

6. When bisexual actor Nutzy Whelkin lands the lead roll in an erotic film about lucid dreaming, he thinks his gigolo days are through. However, the director neglected to inform him that the succubus is real, the incubus is also real, and it's a snuff film.

7. For three teenagers, a band road trip during the zombie apocalypse sounds better than sticking around Chicago with a vicious gang war raging between werewolves and vampires. But they soon learn you can't leave your problems behind . . . if you bring them with you. Also, a crystal ball.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Fifteen-year-old Louis Thorne is set for [on his way to] New York's prestigious Blackwood Academy until [when] his flight ends in a fiery wreck. But he wakes up back aboard and next to Joel, a stranger who claims to have saved the plane by bending fate. Before vanishing, Joel warns [claims] an unearthly beast is hunting Louis.

Louis figures he had a weird nightmare. Yet more intense dreams of Joel mess with his head. He can't study when his dorm room melts like a DalĂ­ painting and black stuff oozes out his laptop. His scholarship is on the line, so he ignores the hallucinations. [The Academy has a strict rule: hallucinate, and you're outta here.] Only the eldritch creature that crashes through his window is definitely real. [Change "only" to "but."] After blasting music ["Don't Come Around Here No More"] to drive the beast back, Louis runs for help and right into Joel.

Finding Joel brutalized, Louis learns his ring isn't just a keepsake. It belongs to Joel, causing [and allows] Louis to see the beast and [while causing] the blind beast to mistake him for its enemy. With the creature immune to his [Joel's] power and both weak to iron, Joel's useless against it. Not Louis. It'll take all his wits [it's up to Louis] to trap and kill the monster [it]. Failure means the beast will devour his friends and everyone else in the academy. [Hard to believe a beast small enough to fit through a dorm room window can devour an entire school's worth of students.]

But Louis doesn't know Joel's true intentions and how inhuman he really is. [Neither do we. Tell us, or get rid of the sentence.]

Complete at 62,000 words, WILD DREAMS TORMENT is a young adult horror novel with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


A guy who can bend fate and cause hallucinations sounds cool; I'm not as crazy about an invisible monster that devours people. Monsters scare little kids. A monster that scares young adults needs a name. Like Predator, Kraken, Godzilla, Slimer... This Monster Name Generator might help.

So the reason the monster is hunting Louis is because it thinks Louis is Joel because Louis is wearing Joel's ring. How and when did Louis get the ring? If Joel arranged for Louis to have the ring, why did he choose Louis instead of Rambo? Does Louis have any powers other than his wits?

The title doesn't grab me. Other possibilities: Nightmare on Elm Street 8, The Ring 3, Louis and Joel's Big Adventure, The Last Fatebender.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Synopsis 47

The Mysterious Death of Mr. Phelps: Synopsis

Fifteen-year old Lucy Brown had a happy life until age eleven when her dad walked out on her, her mother, and her two-year old twin siblings. Now, four years later, Lucy is stretched thin covering for her mom’s flaky absences, fighting off panic attacks, and desperately trying to get the grades for a college scholarship when her quiet street is rocked by a murder. Puzzling out the mystery is Lucy’s only escape from her demanding life. Lucy is also searching for her dad, but when he finally reappears, he’s a disappointment. When the police rule the death accidental, Lucy isn’t convinced. A history lecture in school makes Lucy realize not only who the killer is, [John Wilkes Booth.] but that another neighbor is about to be murdered, as well. [I would have found history more interesting if my teachers had spent less time on the Crimean War and more time predicting my neighborhood murders.] Lucy must warn her, but unless she keeps her wits about her, they may both end up dead...and her own father framed for their murders. [This paragraph is a synopsis of the synopsis. You don't need it.]

Some teenagers obsess about music and boys, but all Lucy Brown cares about is getting good enough grades for a college scholarship to rescue her from her current life. Ever since her dad abandoned the family, Lucy has taken on the burden of caring for her six-year old twin brother and sister while her mom, married straight out of high school, works two menial jobs to keep the family afloat. [If she's working two jobs and occasionally sleeping, when does she have time for "flaky" absences?]

Pretty much the only remnants left of her [Lucy's] happy childhood are her best friend, Nancy Martin, who still recalls Lucy’s fun-loving dad with fondness and Lucy’s home address on a safe, suburban street where nothing bad ever happens...until the night two gun shots ring out.

Lucy’s wheelchair-bound neighbor, Mr. Phelps, has been shot dead with a single bullet, and although Lucy is swamped by her life, she can’t help but try to puzzle out the mystery. Besides, she has an advantage over the police because she knows there were two gun shots. She told the police, but they didn’t believe her.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s crazy life doesn’t stop just because she’s solving a murder. Her guidance counselor told her that full scholarships don’t always include books or room and board, but she can’t find a job because she’s always watching the twins. Instead, she’s been skimming from her mom’s grocery money for a secret college fund. She promises herself the transgression is only temporary. She’s searching for her father online and believes his return will fix everything that’s wrong. She wants her siblings to have the same happy childhood she had; she wants her mom to only work one job; she wants to send the twins to an afterschool program so she can hang out with her friends again; and she wants her dad to be more than a fading memory.

When her father finally does appear, Lucy realizes her well-meaning dad is not as reliable as she had hoped. In fact, at fifteen she is a world [worlds] more responsible than he. As her plans for a better life fall apart, she finds another clue, a bullet hole in Mr. Phelps’ siding that seems to [have] come from Mr. Wilson’s garage next door. Lucy’s sleuthing results in Mr. Wilson’s arrest, so she is frightened when he is charged only with accidental death and released. As he explains to Lucy and her father, the gun discharged during a cleaning. [Killing someone through recklessness (negligent homicide/involuntary manslaughter) isn't taken a lightly as this suggests. Involuntary manslaughter at both the federal and state level is treated as a felony and usually carries a jail or prison sentence of at least 12 months, plus fines and probation.-- can be mitigating circumstances. If a drunk jumps in front of your car and gets killed, you might get no jail time. However, cleaning a gun while it's loaded and pointed at someone else is, I suspect, reckless enough to warrant way more than a slap on the wrist.] When Lucy mentions she heard two shots, Mr. Wilson, new father and all-around friendly neighbor, suddenly seems menacing to Lucy. But why?

She figures out why the next day, when her history teacher gives a lecture on eminent domain and land developers. The Owlins Corporation has been trying to buy homes on Lucy’s block for a development. Mr. Phelps wouldn’t sell and now he’s dead. [It's much cheaper and easier to buy land for your development than to buy all the houses on an entire block. People aren't going to sell unless you overpay wildly for houses you're just going to tear down to build new ones. (It's unlikely zoning laws would allow a quiet residential street to be gutted for a hotel or office complex.)] In the middle of the lecture, Lucy realizes who the killer is going to murder next. [The neighbor on the other side of Wilson's house. His gun needs another cleaning.] Since she’s been taking care of herself since she was eleven, asking for help never even crosses her mind. She plunges into the task of saving her neighbor, leaving nothing more than a cryptic message for best friend Nancy. [Sorry Nancy, can't study w U 2nite, busy preventing redrum.]

Sneaking out of school, Lucy arrives home but in a harrowing sequence of events, walks in on an intruder who is trying to steal a gun from her family’s gun safe. Lucy uses the techniques of her twin siblings, who are masters of hide and seek, to conceal herself from the intruder while she calls 911. [When you're so good at hide and seek that other people study your techniques, you deserve your own reality show.] The intruder flees as the police arrive. Even though Lucy never saw his face, she fingers Mr. Wilson and also reveals him as the developer trying to buy homes on her street. Owlins is an anagram for Wilson. When Mr. Phelps wouldn’t sell, Mr. Wilson killed him for his land and tried to make it look like an accident. [When you kill a person, you don't automatically get his land. That rule was responsible for the biggest decline in the murder rate in US history.] Ikf he hadn’t missed with the first shot, Mr. Wilson would have never been caught. But he had to fire twice, and Lucy heard both shots. The next neighbor to die would be Ms. Peabody, who had recently changed her mind about selling. Mr. Wilson broke into Lucy’s house to steal the Brown’s gun so that he could frame Lucy’s dad for the second murder. [Wouldn't it be easier to buy a gun at Walmart than to steal one that's locked in a safe?]

The local paper writes up a story about Lucy’s sleuthing. But Lucy’s moment of fame is shattered when Mrs. Wilson says her infant son will grow up fatherless because of Lucy. [On the other hand, if Wilson had to murder a dozen people for their land, there would have been a lot of kids without parents or grandparents.] Lucy’s own father has decided to stay in town. Lucy confesses to her mom about the money she’s been stealing. [Buying Kroger Cola instead of Coke and pocketing the difference isn't stealing; it's smart shopping.] With several homes for sale on her street, [And the owners of those that aren't for sale all marked for death,] Lucy and Nancy convince the Nancy’s parents to consider moving out of their high crime area and into suburbia. [Move out of your high-crime area and into our neighborhood where there's been a murder, a house break-in, theft...and that's just this week.]

The Mysterious Death of Mr. Phelps is a 66,000 word novel aimed at 13-16 year olds. The story is self-contained but there is series potential with best friend Nancy Martin solving another crime after she and her family move onto Lucy’s street.


This answers many of the questions the query raised, but raises plenty of its own. 

A key element of eminent domain is that the landowner is justly compensated by the government. And since your land doesn't go to the guy who shot you when you're killed, I'm not sure why a lecture on eminent domain would convince Lucy that Wilson was the killer. It's the location of the bullet hole, on Wilson's side of Phelps's house, that points to Wilson as the killer, and the fact that it's pretty much impossible to accidentally discharge a gun twice while cleaning it that convinces her he's a liar. I'd get rid of eminent domain. 

And what about the bullet that actually killed Phelps? Did that go through a window or the siding, or was Phelps outdoors? Either way, they ought to be able to determine what direction that bullet came from, whether they believe there was a second shot or not.

This could stand to be a lot shorter. For that matter, you should be able to find an agent who doesn't want a synopsis.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Face-Lift 1295

Guess the Plot

The Mysterious Death of Mr. Phelps

1. I have no idea why Mr. Phelps is dead, why there's blood all over the room, or why the axe has my fingerprints all over it. It's a complete mystery.

2. A smoldering tape recorder is the only clue to Jim's mysterious demise, and all the usual suspects - Rollin, Cinnamon, Barney and Willy - have iron-clad alibis. Could the murderer be Lalo? Impossible!

3. It isn't too strange for a body to be found on the docks of 1870s New York City. But it's not everyday that the body is a merman.

4. Actually, his death isn't that mysterious;  you often die when someone shoots you. The mysterious part is how Lucy, Mr. Phelps's 15-year-old neighbor, is going to solve the crime before the police do. 

5. The rumors of Mr. Phelps's death are greatly exaggerated: true, his body is cold in a mortuary, but he is, after all, an immortal zombie, so despite head-injury-related amnesia, he should be fine. Now, with a friendly coroner, Mr. Phelps must find who wants him dead for good.

6. When Mr. Phelps dies under mysterious circumstances, ace homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: one, the over 5,000 members of the American pawn brokers association all hated Phelps; and two, the leg-work on just the first week of questioning all of them will fill the requirements for his health insurance discount.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

High school sophomore Lucy Brown needs a new life. She remembers her happy childhood, but those days are long gone. Since her dad left when she was eleven, her mom has been treading water with low paying jobs. Lucy picks up the slack taking care of her twin brother and sister. [I took this to mean the brother was Lucy's twin. If you move the word "twin" in front of the word "siblings" below, it'll clear things up for idiots like me. Or you could just leave the kids' twin-ness out of the query.] ["Kids twin" is a great tongue twister. Say it five times fast.] Through her best friend’s eyes, Lucy sees the life she was supposed to have: two doting parents, a dinner table full of laughter, a college fund. But at Lucy’s house, her mom is never home for dinner and her six-year old siblings don’t even remember their dad. [If you're contrasting Lucy's life with her best friend's, I expect to hear what Lucy's college fund consists of, rather than that her siblings are too young to remember dad.] [Your entire summary should be about ten sentences long. You've spent six sentences telling us who your main character is, and nothing about the plot, which I assume has to do with how this Phelps guy died. You could get by with: 

Ever since Lucy Brown's dad left when she was eleven, her mom has been treading water with low paying jobs. Lucy's been picking up the slack taking care of her younger siblings, but now that she's fifteen, she's decided to become a coroner's assistant. Her first case: The mysterious death of Mr. Phelps.

Lucy has just begun to track down her father, when her neighbor, Mr. Phelps, is murdered. [Somehow the term "mysterious death" in the title led me to believe there was some question about how he died. He was murdered. Question answered.] On a quiet street inhabited by retirees, Lucy is the only one who hears the gun shots. [No need to mention it's a quiet street, since that would make it easier to hear the gunshots. A noisy street with jackhammers banging and sirens blaring would be worth mentioning if you want us to believe no one heard the shots. Also, are you suggesting that retirees are less likely to hear gunshots than people who still work? At least the retirees would be at home. And if their hearing is so bad they can't even hear gunshots, they'd have hearing aids.] The police think she heard firecrackers. [Of course they do. Retirees living on a quiet street are always setting off firecrackers.] [I don't get it. I assume Mr. Phelps's body has been found, as you've reported his murder. If the body had bullet holes in it, why are the police doubting that Lucy heard gunshots?] If Lucy just left things alone, the killer wouldn’t realize she had a clue that was key to the crime. [What clue does she have besides knowing when the shots were fired? And how does the killer know she has this clue?] But Lucy’s inquisitive mind can’t help puzzling out the circumstances of Mr. Phelps’ [Phelps's] death [The circumstances of his death are that he was somewhere within earshot of Lucy when someone shot him. The only thing that needs puzzling out is the identity of the killer.] as she searches for her dad. [He could be anywhere in the world. Is she searching the Internet or actually going out looking for him?] When her father resurfaces, [You can probably just say surfaces.] he is not quite like she remembered. [Either tell us what's different, or don't tell us he's different.] And there’s that murderer on the loose. As Lucy gets closer to unraveling what happened to Mr. Phelps, [How many times do I have to say it? Someone shot him.] the killer becomes desperate. If Lucy isn’t careful, he will strike again, this time killing Lucy and framing her disappointing dad for the murder. [How can anyone possibly know he'll do that?]

The Mysterious Death of Mr. Phelps is 66,000 words and directed at 13-15 year olds. It's the first book in a mystery series. The second book stars Lucy's best friend and her struggles as she moves into Lucy's all-white neighborhood and discovers a 60 year old secret. [We don't need to know what happens in your next book. Though I would assume it stars Lucy unless she got murdered in this book.]

Thank you for your time.


If the mystery isn't Who killed Mr. Phelps?, tell us what is it, and what Lucy is doing to get closer to unraveling it.

If the mystery is Who killed Mr. Phelps?, who had a motive? If Lucy doesn't know who the suspects are, the police are going to be way ahead of her, checking on which suspects owned weapons, which had alibis, which had secret grudges against Mr. Phelps from way back in the day. A murder mystery needs suspects so the detective can reach a brilliant conclusion. Your query needs suspects so we know there's a murder mystery.

If there's a connection between the Phelps plot and the father plot, what is it? If it's nothing stronger than the incredible theory that the killer might kill Lucy and frame her father for it (Does dad have any motive for killing Lucy that would make such a frame believable?), or the fact that Lucy is investigating both at the same time, then you probably should leave the father plot out of the query. 

Friday, January 08, 2016

Face-Lift 1294

Guess the Plot

Failure to Communicate

1. It's about stuff. And a thing. And she does this after he takes her last object. Before forever.

2. Well, er, um, you know, it's a story.

3. Dear Evil Editor: Hello? Hello? Hellllllooooo??? Aw, crap.

4. When the xenophobic Anmerilli discover that the diplomat we've sent on a first-contact mission is autistic, well, let's just say they aren't gushing with optimism for a successful negotiation.

5. This handy pocket book will have you spreken sie gente just in time to lead the rebellion against the G87^Zjio from Alpha Centauri Prime III who are invading mid-July. Includes a How To appendix on building and stocking your own bomb shelter.

6. While running a string-can phone project for her kindergarten class, teacher Mary Hale meets gorgeous widower Ali Ali who, unfortunately, doesn't speak English, hates Americans, and works for Interpol. Will winning over his daughter get her a place in his heart, or merely get her kidnapped by an organized crime syndicate?

7. The official reason for starlet Holly Wether being lost in the wild Santa Monica Mountains was that she wasn't following directions when her car plunged off of Mulholland Drive. But homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, her Porsche lost its right front wheel before she went over the cliff, and two, he really should take the kids to the Griffith Park Observatory.
8. Ty Brooks has big dreams, but for now he's stuck working at a cell-phone kiosk in the local mall. Then he meets Ava, a songwriter who is determined to bring people together through poignant lyrics.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Despite being human, Xandri Corelel is one of the stranger crew members aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. In a time when illness and disability no longer exist, she is autistic. [I don't like "Despite being human." It suggests that autistic humans are strange. I also don't think "strange" is the word you want. Maybe "unlikely."] [I'd combine those sentences into something like: Xandri Corelel is the only autistic crew member aboard the first-contact ship Carpathia.] She's also head of Xeno-liaisons aboard the Carpathia [ship], a position she earned with her unusual and hard-won [extraordinary] skill at understanding alien species.

She and the rest of the crew are on a routine first contact mission when the Alliance First Contact Division calls them in for [they are given] a special assignment. The highly xenophobic—and oddly humanoid—Anmerilli are developing a graser, a powerful weapon that would change the face of war forever. [I assume "Graser" is a combination of the words gravy and laser. Not clear how it would change the face of war, but if it keeps my gravy from getting cold, I want one.] They're considering selling it to the imperialistic and genocidal Zechak when it’s complete. [Selling super-weapons to imperialistic beings always comes back to haunt you. When you think about it, it's just common sense.] Years of diplomacy haven't persuaded the Anmerilli to join the Starsystems Alliance, but now it’s join or die, for the Alliance will stop at nothing to keep the graser out of Zechak hands. Even if it means annihilating the Anmerilli. [Maybe we should just annihilate the Zechak.] [No need for that last sentence, as "join or die" implies the same thing.]

Xandri must persuade the Anmerilli to join while keeping the Alliance’s plans a secret, [Which plans? The plans to annihilate them if they refuse to join? I would think that would be her most persuasive point.] [Although she could find a more diplomatic way to put it.] but from the moment she makes planetfall, she faces one challenge after another. The Anmerilli are stubborn, belligerent, and they know about her autism; they believe her incapable of doing her job. [We don't think this autistic person is capable of talking us into doing something we don't want to do; send us someone else to talk us into it.] Even worse is the sabotage, most likely perpetrated by one of her human allies. She’s determined to make the alliance work, but she knows she can’t succeed as long as the saboteur runs free. [We need to know what form this sabotage has taken.] As time ticks away, Xandri puts her unique perspective towards swaying the Anmerilli, and desperately tries to fathom the motives of the one species she’s never really understood: her own. [Nice finish.]

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE is a science fiction novel of 112,000 words.

I’m autistic myself. I was diagnosed at a young age, and have years of experience to lend to creating an authentic autistic voice for Xandri.

(Note: Any other necessary material will go here.)

Thank you very much for your time.



Seems like talking the Anmerilli out of selling the weapon to the Zechak could be accomplished more easily without insisting they join the Alliance. Apparently the Alliance also want the weapon for themselves. Can't the Alliance buy the weapon themselves?

Some things that some people with autism can do seem almost like super powers. If Xandri's skills are shown to be that remarkable, I could see this working as soft science fiction. Plus, the millions whose lives have been touched by autism are likely to be supportive. Surely there's a publisher who'll realize this.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Face-Lift 1293

Guess the Plot

Rachel and her Demon

1. When Rachel's mother-in-law develops Alzheimer's, Rachel discovers the woman who's made her married life a living hell is really a demon sent to kick-off the End of Days who instead fell in love and adopted a son. Unfortunately, now that the woman's senile, she remembers her original mission.

2. Rachel is sick of seeing bullies at her school get away with harassing students. So she contacts a demon she knows, and he gives her the power to summon fire. Should she wait till the next time the bullies attack, or should she just incinerate them now?

3. Five-year-old Rachel is the only kid in kindergarten who doesn't have a cute pet - Rachel's pet is uncute, vicious and evil. When she brings him to show and tell, all the class learns an important lesson about metaphysics.

4. When Rachel inherits the family vineyard she also inherits her grandmother's devil-infested dybbuk box. Oi vey. What's a Jew to do?

5. Little Rachel finally convinced her parents to let her have a pet--whichever stray she brings home next. Fluffy may have scales and wings and horns and a penchant for setting things on fire, but at least s/he/it is house broken.

6. I have a little Demon
She followed me one day
And in the late night evenings
My Demon and I play

Oh Demon Demon Demon
Your eyes so lovely red
Oh Demon Demon Demon
You sleep up on my bed.

We play with fire and water
And other things besides
But Brother saw us playing
So now we both must hide

Oh Demon Demon Demon
Listen to Mother yell
Oh Demon Demon Demon
Let's take them all to Hell!

Original Version

Dear [agent]:

My novel RACHEL AND HER DEMON is a completed 77,000-word YA fantasy novel with series potential.

Rachel Sasson, a 16-year old Jewish girl, is appalled to learn that a group of sadistic bullies in her school will face no punishment after driving another student to drop out rather than endure their abuse. Feeling a moral obligation to stand up to the bullies but aware that she cannot beat them in a fight, Rachel meets with Merihaim, a demon whom she befriended in a chance encounter as a child and whom she still talks to despite her religious beliefs. [Specifically, the belief that there's no such thing as a demon.] She finally accepts his longstanding offer of magical power, telling him the commandment of tikkun olam ('performing acts which improve the world') justifies her using his power to help people. Merihaim grants Rachel the power of summoning fire and she smashes the bullies, [I won't assault you if I can't beat you, but I'll happily assault you if you can't beat me.] taking them down before they can hurt anyone else. [Wait, by "smashes and takes down," do you mean she summons fire and burns them alive? If so, does she do this while they're tormenting their latest victim, or while they're just hanging out at the kosher deli? I mean, I'm guessing that while most bullies deserve severe punishment, even death, a few eventually turn over a new leaf, make amends, and even perform acts that improve the world, assuming they haven't been reduced to ashes.]

Rachel's use of magic, however, attracts other demons and demon-backed humans to her, most of whom are all too eager to use their powers to hurt others. As Rachel battles her newfound enemies [Wouldn't it be easier for these new demons to hurt people who can't summon fire than to take on Rachel? Or to team up with Rachel and burn some more bullies? Why are they targeting her?] she realizes she is increasingly neglecting her obligations to her friends and family, [There's a time to worry about whether you're neglecting family obligations, and when you're under attack by demons isn't it.] causing her to question if she really accepted Merihaim's power to follow a commandment and help others or if she just wanted an excuse to hurt 'deserving' people. [Merihaim's power isn't an excuse to hurt 'deserving' people; it's a means to hurt them.] She investigates those attacking her [There's a time to launch an investigation of demons, and while they're attacking you isn't it.] and discovers they are in the process of summoning an unstoppable horde of demonic allies with which they will conquer the world, but she also grows to understand that her willingness to sacrifice her other relationships has left her loved ones vulnerable, [I think they'd be vulnerable even if she hadn't been neglecting them lately.] and the demons are acutely aware of this weakness. [Those last two sentences total more than 100 words. And I don't mean short words. You'd probably need three tweets to compose either sentence, especially if you included #Sesquipedalian in each tweet.] Rachel must recover her conscience, then use all her strength to protect her closest friends, battle a legion of powerful monsters--and simultaneously deal with increasing evidence that Merihaim's motives for befriending her may have been less kindly than she thought. [You seem to suggest that this girl whose original goal was to teach a few bullies a lesson, has a chance in hell of defeating a legion of monsters and demons. If that's true, I could argue that if Merihaim's motives were unkindly, he wouldn't have given her a power so . . . powerful.]

I am a Jewish writer who has sold short fantasy stories to [pro venue] and [other pro venue] under the pen name of [pen name]. Thank you for your consideration. [Your pen name sucks. I suggest a visit to this pen name generator  for more creative suggestions.]



When you are all that stands between life as we know it and an unstoppable horde of demons, your familial relationships and obligations are put on the back burner. They may cross Rachel's mind briefly in the book, but I'd leave them out of the query. When the army of orcs was attacking Frodo, he wasn't thinking, Dammit, I forgot to thank Bilbo for the pie last week. It seems like the inner conflict of deciding whether and how to use her new power, along with the feelings of guilt over neglecting friends and family are good problems for a YA character. When her goal escalates into saving the world from a demon takeover, readers may lose interest in Rachel's other relatively insignificant problems.

This is awfully wordy. By which I mean you can say most of it with a lot fewer words. For instance:

When 16-year old Jewish girl Rachel Sasson learns that a gang of bullies in her school will face no punishment for tormenting other students, she's appalled. Feeling morally obligated to stand up to the bullies, Rachel summons Merihaim, a demon she befriended as a child. She accepts his "fire-wielding" gift, telling herself the commandment of tikkun olam ('performing acts which improve the world') justifies using any means to help people . . . and incinerates the bullies.

That's about 50 words shorter than the original paragraph, and would be shorter still without the references to Judaism, which I left in because I assume it's a major theme of the book. Although . . . since hordes of demons would be unsettling to non-Jewish readers, and performing acts which improve the world is a noble pursuit of any religion or even atheism, maybe the book would be marketable to any young adults, and the references to Judaism in the query are suggesting to the agent a narrower audience. Are you targeting a publisher of Jewish YA?