Friday, January 26, 2018

New Beginning 1076

I was binge watching season three of Fargo when I got the call from my burner phone that hadn't rang in eight months. I kept it behind a skull bookend inside a mahogany bookcase built into my apartment wall. If I pushed the bookcase, I would enter a secret passage that led down to a gothic nightclub, or so I imagined.

I rolled off my sofa and slid across my shiny marble floor to the bookcase. I'd practiced my Risky Business slide for this day too many times. And I just so happened to be wearing an oversized pink oxford shirt with a pair of white cashmere socks.

"At your service," I said into the flip phone, my heart pounding.

"Verity," said the man on the other end. It was my manager Enoch. I pictured what his disguise might be today. A bartender in Paris with a handlebar moustache, a bearded fishmonger in Seattle, and a homeless man chasing birds around a fountain in Rome were new impersonations he'd told me about the last time we spoke. I was never sure if these were for his amusement or business-related.

"Okay. I don't know who might be watching you. Your target is the IN-And-Out on Third."

This is it. I'm going to prove myself worthy.

"Get a Double-Double, inside and out. Got your wig? Hat? Camera? Thermometer? Cash?"

"Oh boy do I!"

"Good. Get there by 12:45. Millions of consumers are counting on you."

I dashed to my car, where I kept my kit. I was no longer Verity Spivak, IT drone. No more. Now I was Verity Spivak, Super Secret Shopper!

Opening: Elizabeth Tudor.....Continuation: Khazar-khum


P1: "rung," not "rang." 

P2: If I rolled off my sofa I'd end up lying on the floor, not the optimum position from which to go into a Risky Business slide. I would leap off my sofa. But that's me. "Too many times" suggests that something goes wrong. As in: I ate too many cookies, so I puked on my sofa. I'd change "too many" to "a hundred" or "a thousand."

P4: Not clear why Enoch would be in disguise to make a phone call. Then again, it's not clear that any of this is actually happening. That "or so I imagined" at the end of paragraph 1 could mean that the narrator is just lying on the sofa imagining everything. If that's not the case, and there is a skull bookend hiding a phone that rings with Enoch on the other end, I'd get rid of the "or so I imagined," as it leaves me wondering whether to trust anything Verity (if that's even her/his real name) says. 

In the unlikely case that this is all Walter Mitty-type imagination, with the narrator pretending to be an assassin or a spy when she's actually a receptionist, you still should get rid of "or so I imagined," as you want her to be so engrossed in her fantasy that she doesn't let on that she knows it's a fantasy. But you also don't want to carry this far enough to get the reader engrossed in the spy story that doesn't exist. Tricky. If it's all a fantasy, maybe  start in the real world and open chapter 2 with the fantasy.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1367 would like feedback on the following version:

Dear Mr. E. Editor,

The gods have always chosen Rilia's next ruler from among the last ruler's children. When King Richard the Sensible died, they tried to choose Princess Five, who was soon crushed under a falling balcony. Then Princess Two drowned. Prince Four choked. And some fatherless youth got trampled by a horse. [If this youth was being considered as the next ruler, King Richard the Sensible was his father, according to the first sentence. How can he be fatherless?]

'Muriel Snick' doesn't know i fit's [if it's] a full-or half-sibling killing for the throne. [How do they know these deaths weren't accidents?] Running seems smarter than going on the murder [victim] list. As the family disgrace, she's never been happy as nobility, [Royalty?] and jumps on the chance [decides] to reinvent herself as a commoner. In the lower classes, her skills as a cook will give her a life, a chance, and happiness she could never get at home... but if she doesn't get out of the country, Snick could still become the next murdered queen-to-be.

A commoner group calling themselves the Truth Seekers may have the answer. Their goals are to take care of the country until someone takes the throne, and find and protect missing nobility--including Snick, if anyone recognizes her. But they've also kept one of the borders open, and are going to send a few hundred scared Rilians to a neighboring country to work in exchange for assistance. They need one more skilled cook, a leader who can work even with bad ingredients and little help. [Preferably a Chopped champion.] If Snick can stay unrecognized, she has a chance to prove she's that cook.

But thrlee [three] things happen while Snick cooks for everyone from farmers to flood victims: she makes friends who don't care about her station. She sees the problems that royalty's long ignored. And she realizes someone could, should, change things. But if she stays, sooner or later, she'll end up dead.

TRUTH SEEKERS is a YA Fantasy, complete at 90,000 words. The somewhat unreliable narrator never acknowledges her real name. [Is it Princess 6?] While this book stands alone, it is the proposed first in a trilogy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



The first two paragraphs are an improvement. The third bothers me. Why do royalty or nobility need to be found and protected by a group of commoners? They should have people whose jobs it is to protect them. Armies or bodyguards. Also, if protecting the royals is their goal, they suck at it. The top royals are being murdered right and left. 

What are these hundreds of Rilian farmers and flood victims being sent to a neighboring country afraid of? 

Why does Snick have to stay unrecognized if she's with a group whose goal is to protect royalty? She's royalty. Can't she just say, I'm Princess 6; can I act as your cook under an assumed name because someone wants to kill me?

This stuff about the border crossing and cooking with bad ingredients isn't needed. Just tell us Muriel signs on as a cook with a group of patriotic commoners, and then go to the three things that happen that convince her she can do more good as queen. What's being done to expose the murderer?

Not sure what the point of never acknowledging her name is, but it's not worth mentioning in the query. Do Princess 5 and Princess 2 and Prince 4 have names?

Surely you have spell-check? Turn it on.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Face-Lift 1368

Guess the Plot


1. Wear a wig and make-up to practice. Streak around the quad. Have a fling with Coach. Bring us the mascot's head . . . wait, WHAT?

2. Step out of your coffin and wash your hands in a skull full of blood. Lick clean the hairy toes of your master. Join your brethren in a circle around the fires of hell. Take the branding iron like a man. 

3. Defeat incense-spawned snakes. Escape shadow wolves. Survive animated scorpion tattoos. And never tell your mother about any of this.

4. Miraculous plagues. Prima-donna storms. Wriggling cafeteria food. Aernst Zinjess, 2nd son of a wealthy family, wasn't expecting any of this when he was sent to become a priest in the church of Notali. Nor did he expect to be rooming with the god Notali, who's trying to infiltrate the church that kicked him out 500 years ago. 

5. Sylvester Manchusen thought he was just jumping through the hoops to get into a popular frat house with hot chicks and a wall-sized tv showing 24/7 sports. Three succubi, a portal to hell, and an international man-hunt later, he finally thinks to ask which sports and what was meant by "hot." 

6. Jason always wanted to be 'one of the guys'. So why is he the only one whose initiation requires him to be tied up in the woods, naked? 

7. Philip just won a scholarship to study medieval history at an exclusive private school. However, just when he sees his future becoming bright, he gets the papers in the mail. First, he must pass a series of deadly tests involving medieval torture devices, including the Judas cradle, the brazen bull, and the pear of anguish.

  Original Version

Dear Evil Editor Supreme:

It's a race against time after twelve-year-old Adam Newman writes in an ancient journal and opens a realm where he must journey for twelve keys that unlock the portals leading to the mountains that possess the ordering force his world needs to exist. [Too much verbiage. Also, too much nouniage. Reminds me of the childhood rhyme: 
This is the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.] His first task, however, is to collect three keys in forty days to initiate him for the journey. If he fails, the ancient book will permanently lock, effectively sealing the fate of the world—a daunting quest for a boy not quite thirteen, especially [We already know his age.] considering the journey take[s] place only when Adam sleeps.  [It seems to me that the whole point of the three-key task is to determine whether the person who opened the realm is up to performing the twelve-key task. If he fails, someone else tries the three-key task, and this continues until someone succeeds, demonstrating that he's got the right stuff. Otherwise some complete moron might write in the ancient journal and open the realm and attempt the three-key task, and doom us all. So the three-key task qualifies you, rather than initiates you. Or, if Adam is the only one who can save us, the three-key task trains him for the twelve-key task. A practice run, so to speak. Even if he fails at the three-key task, he can use the lessons learned in failure to succeed at the twelve-key task. Dooming us all without even giving Adam or someone else a shot at completing the twelve-key task would be totally unfair.] [Also, is Adam's goal merely to find the keys and unlock the portals that lead to the mountains, or must he also go into these mountains and perform some additional task to save the world? Kind of like when Dorothy goes through hell and finally makes it all the way to Oz and the Wizard says, "I'll grant your wishes . . . if you bring me the witch's broomstick. Which she does. Then:
Dorothy: We brought you the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. We melted her. So we'd like you to keep your promises, if you please, sir.
Wizard: Not so fast, NOT SO FAST! I'll have to give the matter a little thought. Go away and come back tomorrow.]
Writing bedtime entries, Adam searches for keys in Nubeer, Zenbulu, and Joseph’s Plateau where he’s pitted against colorful, incense-spawned snakes; shadow-wolves that solidify into gnarling, [Gnarling? Definition?] lupine creatures; [Shadows that solidify into wolves.] and an inked adversary whose scorpion tattoos animate to do their host’s bidding. [According to that sentence, Adam does all this while writing bedtime entries. Earlier you said he did everything while sleeping.] Adam's daytime routine is less noteworthy. He lives with his single-parent mother (who’s dealing with her own issues) and resides in a neighborhood that’s devoid of kids his age. His only friend is the elderly Mr. King who, living next door, is his nighttime guardian and the journal’s previous owner. 
When Mr. King falls gravely ill, Adam’s world is turned upside-down. His mother strands him at camp without his approval and without the journal. [Does he need the journal now that he's opened the realm? Does he have to write in the journal every night before going to sleep? Does what he writes determine/affect what happens in this other realm?] Suddenly, the obstacles outside of the journal are as insurmountable as the ones in the ancient book's realm. [For instance, he has to paddle a canoe across the lake and back, and he's worthless in the tug of war contest.] If Adam can overcome the challenges, however, he may not only complete the Initiation and buy more time for his world, he may gain new friends and a new perspective on his less-than-ideal life. Even so, nothing can guarantee a fairytale—happily ever after—ending when a story’s more than mere fantasy. Compelled to reconsider everything that he has experienced, Adam (and his reader) must ultimately choose whether or not to believe in the ancient book’s journey.
At 76,000 words, KINGDOM OF THE KEYS: THE INITIATION is an upper middle grade adventure where contemporary fiction meets fantasy in a realm of familiar-looking strangers. While the story’s conclusion allows the book to stand alone, it is the first in a proposed trilogy (with the manuscript for the second book in revision).  

Thank you for your time and consideration.


If we knew from the beginning that the title of the series is The Kingdom of the Keys, we might be less bothered by a plot that requires finding three keys in order to win the opportunity to go after another twelve keys. That's a lot of keys.  

I'm not crazy about the use of the word "journey" in either of these cases:

he must journey for twelve keys (search for, hunt for, locate)

to believe in the ancient book’s journey (quest? Is it the journey he must choose whether to believe in or the existence of this other realm?)

Maybe the query should start something like:

Adam Newman lives with his mother in a neighborhood devoid of other kids his age. His life is pretty boring, until the day his next-door neighbor, the elderly Mr. King, gives him an ancient journal. Turns out the adventures Adam writes about in the journal become reality while he's sleeping . . . with Adam as the main character.

Which would be cool, except in Adam's latest story he must locate twelve hidden keys -- or the world will cease to exist. A daunting responsibility for a twelve-year-old.

Then mention a couple of the obstacles Adam must overcome in his waking and sleeping worlds, and how he plans to save us all.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Face-Lift 1367

Guess the Plot

Truth Seekers

1. It's out there . . . but you can't handle it.

2. A history of interrogation methods from Egyptian times to modern. 

3. When conspiracy theorist Myra Sanford is found dead at a charity banquet, Homicide Detective Zack Martinez knows two things. All the politicians there were actually somewhere else, and he better get guest-of-honor pop star Viennana's autograph before he proves she committed the murder.

4. Best friends sixth-graders Jake and Robbie have a great idea for the Science Fair: they'll bust some myths, just like on TV. But when Robbie's sister Rene is accused of stealing Kaylee's purse, the boys decide to turn their attention to solving the crime. Can they do it in time for the Science Fair?

5. When you're next in line for the throne, and you don't want the throne, so you change your name and your appearance hoping you can get out of Dodge, it's probably not a good idea to hook up with a group of people calling themselves the Truth Seekers. That was Muriel Snick's first mistake.

6. Conman Billy Winks can spot a lie without any mystical abilities, which makes impersonating a Truth Seeker easy money ... until he's sent on a quest where he'll die without said mystical abilities. At least he'll be out of town when the duke gets back from his year-long crusade and finds his wife pregnant.

7. When David Dadison, star of the TV paranormal hit "Truth Seekers", is found with a stake through his heart, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, whoever did it left a broken fingernail at the scene, and two, maybe now his daughter will stop with the vampire crap.

8. When Puddy McPhee gets fed kibble, because there is ‘no Fancy Feast in the cupboard today’, she enlists canine rival Ozface McPhee to open the heavy cupboard door. Was the human Lying? When Puddy finds out the truth, one way or the other there is going to be hell to pay.

Original Version

Dear Mr. E. Editor,

Alias 'Muriel Snick' doesn't want the throne, [Wait, what? Assuming the character's name isn't Alias 'Muriel Snick' and 'Muriel Snick' is the character's alias, what's with the punctuation around Muriel Snick? If the punctuation is there to show Muriel Snick isn't her real name, the word "alias" isn't needed.] but if her family keeps dying, she might end up with it. Her best hope is to leave the country. [Who gets the throne if alias 'Muriel Snick' is out of the country?] The god choosing rulers can't reach her there. [Where is "there"? Anywhere outside the country?] Course, between last month's riots and her four dead siblings (so far), the borders are closed. And even commoners are antsy enough to be forming groups, taking charge, and failing to keep order. [Forming groups and taking charge sounds like an attempt to keep order.]

One commoner group, called the Truth Seekers, may be Snick's ticket out. They need a third good cook to accompany a group of immigrants, [Emigrants?] and unlike everyone else, they're in no position to fuss over Snick's age. [What is her age?] They're also looking for some missing nobility, including a missing princess, [No need to tell us the princess is missing if she's one of the missing nobility.] not that anyone knows what that princess looks like. If Snick keeps her head down [Assuming Muriel is the princess, if no one knows what the princess looks like, why does she have to keep her head down?] and does the work she's always loved, none of it will be her problem soon enough.

There's one problem with making plans to leave everything, even her old self, behind: the life Snick lives to leave is the one she's always wanted. [And the leeks Snick likes to lick are the ones she's always lacking.] 

Truth Seekers is a YA Fantasy, complete at 90,000 words. The somewhat unreliable narrator never acknowledges her real name. [Is Muriel's real name ever mentioned in the book? Hard to believe the Truth Seekers never mention the name if they're actively looking for the missing princess.] While this book stands alone, it is the proposed first in a trilogy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



The tone is nice, but it's confusing, starting with the first three words. How about:

Muriel Snick doesn't want the throne, which is why she's using the alias Muriel Snick, and why she's signed on as a cook with the Truth Seekers, a group of commoners emigrating from Mochatania. If Muriel can get across the border before her last living sibling dies, the ruler-choosing god won't be able to choose her as queen. What Muriel doesn't know is that the Truth Seekers are looking for a missing princess in hopes of claiming a big reward.

That pretty much sums up your whole plot description, though not necessarily with accuracy, leaving room to explain why Muriel wants out, why it would be good/bad for her/the country if she were chosen, what happens that threatens to foil her plan, what difficult decision she must make to reach her goal.

Why are a group of commoner immigrants looking for missing nobility?

How can the Truth Seekers, a group so large they need three cooks, leave the country if the borders are closed?

If the rulers are chosen by a god rather than through a line of succession, why is Muriel likely to be chosen?

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1366 would like feedback on the following version of the query:

Dear Agent ----

Nathaniel Tillack has recently awoken to the piercing electric lights and roaring cars of 1994, after residing underground for 122 years. Though the world has changed since 1872, Nat has not. He still feels drawn to complete the death that started a century ago. [A century ago meaning 1894?] [What caused him to wake up at this time?]

Nurturing that desire, Nat returns to the place where he died, a secluded road in the small mountain town of Toolangi, but facing the possibility of his own demise, he finds his desire for blood is still too strong to choose that death. [I was with you up to Toolangi; after that I got lost.] Standing by the river, conflicted about his unreachable goal, he realizes he is not alone. A fourteen-year-old girl walks out from behind the trees and she appears to mirror his preternatural torment to a T. [No need to say "to a T." If it's not to a T, it's not mirrored.]

How is this possible? The girl is human. Liz Morton is empathic. Fascinated by her ability and fearful that her connection to him might kill the girl, Nat becomes Liz’s guide, attempting to help her overcome the empathic bond caused by her sixth sense. [In the previous paragraph his desire for blood was so irresistible he couldn't complete one simple task. Now he's able to hang out with a girl who has delicious human blood coursing through her veins?] No mean feat when she isn't even aware she possesses it. But friendships between humans and vampires always end in disaster. Can Nat cure Liz of his own self-destructive drive before it kills her? He couldn’t bear more innocent blood on his hands. Once was enough.

Thank you for your time and consideration, 


How does Nat know Liz's torment mirrors his? 

What did Nat do a century ago that started his death, and what must he do to complete it?

Liz Morton doesn't sound like the name of someone who lives near the small mountain town of Toolangi.

Has Liz always been an empath, or did this develop because Nat just arrived? Maybe if he goes away she'll be cured. What other means does he try in attempting to help her overcome the empathic bond caused by her sixth sense?

If her 6th sense is so weak she doesn't even know she has it, maybe she doesn't need to be cured. Maybe being an empath would be useful once she knows how to handle it. 

Presumably you're aware you failed to include the title and word count.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Face-Lift 1366

Guess the Plot


1. Jeremy loves little children . . .  a little too much.

2. Open it and step through into a place very different from where you are now. But don't close it behind you or you might never find your way back. Also, a lesson about homonyms. 

3. When the body of Instagram influencer Adore Habibi is found floating in the water tank at the Airport Hilton, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, she didn't get into that tank by herself, and two, so this is what his daughter means when she says she wants to be on Instagram--and he'll be damned if he lets that happen.

4. The true love of Eros, Psyche, died before he could reveal himself to her. Lost to despair, love dies in the world. Yet when a woman is born hundreds of years later who resembles Psyche, has his love returned? Or is a trick of the gods to return true love? 

5. Liz feels a sudden ache in her heart, consuming her. To cure herself, she prepares to jump into a freezing river. But then a 400-year-old German redhead shows up, and everything changes. Also, an adorable vampire.

 6. Adore Stevens always wanted a career in veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, the animals she heals all fall madly in love with her, making their owners jealous enough to stop visiting the clinic where she interns. Can she convince hunky head vet Damian Falstaff she's worth it or does her true calling lie with militant environmentalists? 

7. In this retelling of the Cinderella tale, Adore, the stepsister who'd been presumed lost in infancy, reappears just in the nick of time - and she's gorgeous. Prince Charming slams the door in Cinderella's face and whisks Adore away to the castle - but how long before he finds out she's a vampire? 

Original Version

Dear Agent ___

My YA Urban Fantasy novel, 'ADORE,' is 92,000 words, Present Tense, and set in 1994, in [a] small mountain town in Australia. [No need to capitalize "urban fantasy" or "present tense."] 

Liz Morton, 14, gets home from school and immediately knows something is wrong. A sudden ache in her heart pulls inside her chest, consuming her. Desperate for a solution [Solution isn't the right word. If it's just the physical sensation bothering her, "remedy" might work. If it's emotional/mental, etc: "Desperate for relief."] Liz follows her instincts and walks to the river where she plunges her hands into the water hoping the cold will shock the feeling out of her. When nothing works and the sun sets, Liz comes out from behind the trees and meets a vampire. [I thought she was at the river's edge. Now it sounds like she's in the woods.] [Is there something magical about this river? If I thought putting my hands in cold water was what I needed, I'd fill a bowl with water and add some ice, not go to the nearest river.] He stands in the centre of the clearing exactly where sh [she] envisioned her solution would be. [If she envisioned her solution at the center of this clearing, why didn't she go there first instead of trying the river and other things that didn't work? When I feel a hunger in my stomach, and I envision the solution being a trip to Dunkin Donuts, I don't head straight for Abercrombie and Fitch.] 

Nat says he knows exactly how Liz feels. Nathaniel Tillack is a 122 year old vampire starving himself for Longsleep, the only escape from the longing he feels, that is caused by his ‘permanent feeling’. Incompletion, [Incompletion, comma? Is that supposed to be there? Are you saying the vampire "permanently feels" incomplete? He's looking for someone who completes him? Someone like Liz? If so, a colon after "feeling" and a period after incompletion, although a better idea is to just end the sentence after "the longing he feels."] 

Hosting Nat’s feeling, Liz must scramble to survive empathizing with a vampire. [Empathizing usually doesn't involve hosting feelings; just understanding them. Of course there was that Star Trek TNG where the empath took on the emotions of other people. Is that what's going on here?] [Also, "scramble" doesn't seem like the right word. Maybe "struggle"?] Nat is a comfort and relief, but when 400 year old German red-head Isaskia Braun shows up when Liz is alone under the bridge about to jump into the river to cure herself as a last resort, [If Nat provided comfort and relief, why does she need this last resort?] Isaskia flips things [What things?] on it’s ["It's" means "it is." You meant "its," except that's wrong too, as "things" is plural, so you want "their."] head. Nat isn’t all he seems, and Liz must decide who to trust as she searches for a way to stay alive. 

Can Liz find the solution? Or was Liz the solution all along. [You're asking if the solution to the ache in Liz's heart was Liz?] 

Thankyou [Thank you] for your time,


Is it explained why Liz doesn't consult her parents or a doctor or WebMD before deciding plunging her hands into a river will take care of everything?

Nat was standing exactly where her "solution" was expected to be, and he provides comfort and relief, yet Liz is still searching for a way to stay alive? Is she hosting his feelings permanently? And this is killing her? None of this is clear from the query. 

Liz was already looking for relief from the aching in her heart before she met Nat. Is that still her goal? Or has her goal changed to escaping from hosting Nat's feelings? I would think that in 92,000 words, there's more happening than Liz searching for a cure to the vague way she feels. Tell us the story.

Even if the plot were described with crystal clarity, there are too many minor errors to expect someone to want to read the book, as they'll assume the book has annoying errors on every page.