Friday, December 14, 2018

Face-Lift 1388

Guess the Plot

An Army of One

1. When all the 0's in computer binary land go on strike, it's up to one 1 to save the universe or destroy it. Think of a cross between _The Dot and the Line_ and _Tron_, stone-age style.

2. During the Daco-Romano wars of 101 to 106 A.D., one man, Darius, decides to take on the Roman Empire. He knows this would be easier with an army, but his fellow villagers refuse to help because they suspect Darius of murdering a shepherd. So now Darius has two enemies: his fellow villagers . . . and the 300,000-man army of the Roman Empire.

3. Sir Charles has declared war upon the kingdom of Ponce. As the sun rises on the first day of battle, the archers and swordsmen of Ponce are lined up on the western edge of the Valley of Death. Standing alone on the eastern edge, Sir Charles has just realized he may have been a bit hasty. Also, a dragon, not that it helps Sir Charles in any way.

4. Hannibal has been assigned to this remote outpost in the pass for two years running. After the plague took everyone else, he is the lone survivor running it, and the latest message indicates an army is on its way. What is one poor soldier to do?

5. Horace Steampuff loves being a keyboard warrior. Feminists, greens, religious minorities, people of colour, anti-gun lobby, anybody who uses the word 'privilege' . . . he blasts them all mercilessly in the comments section. Until one day he emerges from his mother's basement . . . 

6. When you're the sole life form on a planet, you're the only army you've got when aliens invade. Fortunately, these Lialian invaders mistakenly believe Eli-Eli to be the sole means of saving their species, so he'll be safe, at least until they realize he's a criminal who was abandoned here for crimes against the galaxy.

Original Version

Dear Mrs. Jackson:

Darius Komozai, the leader of a small village in southern Dacia named Aricdava, is on the defensive forefront with the most powerful regime on earth. The Roman Empire. Although, defending won’t come easy as Darius is accused of murdering his own shepeard [shepherd] by his town rival, Thiamarkos, In a plot to overthrow Darius for power. [If those last eight words are supposed to be a sentence, there should be a period instead of a comma after Thiamarkos. However, those last eight words aren't a sentence, so you should un-capitalize "In."] Furthermore, stirring up conflict and tension within the village. [That isn't a sentence either. I'd just delete it, since you've already made it clear that there's conflict and tension in the village.] [Also, it's hard to buy the murder of a shepherd as the reason defending a small village against the approaching Roman army won't come easy.]

With Darius’s popularity in the village going down, he sets out into [for] the neighboring villages in an attempt to put together a defense group against the approaching Roman Army. All while back in Arcidava, [That's not how you spelled in in the 1st sentence.] Thiamarkos strikes a deal with the Romans. In which if he and the village ally against Darius, It would result in Thaimarkos [That's not how you spelled it the first two times.] being the new ruler. [I usually think of kings and queens when I see the term "ruler."] [Similar punctuation issues. Why is "It" capitalized if it's not a new sentence?] [I don't see what advantage this deal gives the Roman Empire. They don't need an alliance against Darius and his few recruits. They could overrun the village, killing everyone in it as if they're ants.]

With Darius set to come back to the village with freshly recruited men, he is not welcomed back and is kicked out. Forcing him to relocate with his militia to another village. [Not a sentence; part of the previous sentence.] He is now forced to remake his plans, as he not only has one enemy in the Romans; but an enemy in his town. [That's like saying, Not only is he trapped in a pit full of tigers, there's an annoying fruit fly buzzing around his head.]

Complete at 90,000 words, THE ARMY OF ONE is a young adult historical fiction that is based on the Daco-Romano wars of 101 to 106 A.D.

As Romanian-American, I feel as If [Don't capitalize "If."] Romania is often overlooked  [known more] for its problems rather than It’s [its] rich history. [Actually, it's not known for its problems; it's known for Dracula. And to a lesser extent, Nadia Com─âneci.] This story is my attempt at bringing awareness to Romania’s history, the struggles, and how much blood was shed in the making of this country. [You haven't actually mentioned Romania until now, and while what was once known as Dacia does include modern day Romania, Moldova, and parts of a half dozen other countries, the person reading the query may never have heard of Dacia. Perhaps when the first sentence mentions southern Dacia, you might add (modern-day Romania) so we know what part of the world you're bringing awareness to. Is Romania ever mentioned by name in the book?]

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

Best regards,


I hope this wasn't an attempt to get me to do your homework.

Writing a 90,000-word book is a major accomplishment, but you need a stronger command of English before trying to sell it. Or . . . Can you write in Romanian? 

As for the story, setting this village's political conflict during the time of the Roman Empire is fine, but when the Roman army moves on the village, we tend to stop caring whether Darius or Thiamarkos is the mayor. Is your story 300 vs The Roman Empire, or Darius vs Thiamarkos? 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Face-Lift 1387

Guess the Plot

Infinitely Stranger

1. On the scale of ordinary to bizarre, Billy Bledsoe's talking thumb is something else. 

2. It started with a bird on her ceiling. Then her doorbell ringing at 5 past 6 o'clock every night. Now there's a holly bush growing in her kitchen. Molly is regretting saving that fairy from a fox last Tuesday. 

3. First there was the partridge. Then more birds. The rings were okay, but the geese and swans were a nuisance. Now the drummers and pipers and leaping men are driving Eloise crazy. She's beginning to think Bradley isn't her true love, after all.

4. Cellist Cameron Rhone has discovered that a man he knows is actually a robot. An investigation reveals that other people he knows are also robots. What the...? In fact, robots are permeating all of society! And taking over people's minds! Only Cameron can save humanity, but what can one 12-year-old kid do?

 5. Adam has just met a wonderful woman. They laughed and danced and talked for hours. He told her everything about his life. The next day, she can't remember any of it, but he happily goes through it all over again. The day after, she's forgotten it all again. Will he have the patience to keep this up, or are they destined to be strangers forever? Also … something. I forget what.

Time traveling, world hopping, shape changing, genre bending--no, it's not sci-fi: it's American political studies from a historian-turned-philosopher-turned-anarchist.

7. Joe Miles lives in an average house in suburbia, works an average job in a small town, and has an average family. Then things get so strange that by the end of the story you'll wonder if Joe is crazy, or they are (but the author isn't, honest).

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Twelve year-old Cameron Rhone has served his share of detention, usually for skipping class to practice his cello in the music room. But nothing prepares him for the trouble he gets into when he accidentally hits the strange new principal, Mr. Haley, in the head with a golf ball—and the principal short circuits.

To keep Cameron quiet about what he knows now [now knows], Mr. Haley threatens to implant an electric-shock training device in his skull that’ll turn him into a perfect, obedient student. As the principal alters the curriculum, adds new rules, and gradually replaces human staff members with more robots, Cameron’s frustration grows. Fearing his beloved music teacher, Mrs. Kessum, will soon be replaced by an artless machine, he teams up with his cousin Sing, a self-proclaimed superhero, and searches for answers. ["and searches for answers" is vague. Answers to how to stop it? To what Haley is up to? Something like: "to nip Mr. Haley's scheme in the bud" or "to foil Mr. Haley's master plan" would be more specific.]

As secrets are uncovered, Cameron begins to realize [That could be more specific as well: While spying on an after-school teachers meeting, Cameron discovers that] the robots are not only invading his school but permeating society—and the minds of everyone. With the help of a mysterious girl who may have psychic powers, [What's mysterious about her? I would just call her a psychic girl. If it turns out in the book that she's not psychic, no one will care what you said in the query.] a rouge android, [We don't need to know the android's color. Oh, wait, did you mean a rogue android?] and his cousin Sing, Cameron, while struggling to deal with his parents’ separation, sets out to reclaim his life—and humanity—from the Machines.

INFINITELY STRANGER, a 68,000-word Middle grade science-fiction novel, is available upon request. I have a Bachelor’s in English and a Master’s in Library Science. I am currently a librarian on Long Island. (As far as I know, my neighbors are human). This is my first MG novel.

Thank you for your consideration,

[The title comes from a quotation by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man can invent."]


A good query. I mostly nit-picked.

While I don't think it's much of a concern that the reader might interpret "the principal short circuits" metaphorically (i.e. to mean loses his temper), I thought paragraph 2 might be giving examples of things the principal does because of the short circuiting, but it turns out whatever damage was caused by the golf ball has somehow been repaired between P1 and P2. 

Now if "the principal short circuits" were changed to "sparks fly from Mr. Haley's eyes and ears. Holy Moly! Mr. Haley's . . . a robot?!"  it might fix a couple issues that probably don't need fixing.

"While struggling to deal with his parents’ separation," seems out of place in the sentence it's in. If we need to know that at all, maybe it could be worked into the first paragraph.

I guess you consider the story too serious for an amusing title like WTF? Our Principal's a Robot?!

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Face-Lift 1386

Guess the Plot

Pickled Punk

1. Mike Maloney, a circus punk from Detroit grew up cleaning up after elephants and alcoholic clowns. When his ideas on modernizing the circus destroy it instead, he goes into hiding from the furious clown cabal. How long can he escape the swift justice of the International Clown Court?

2. There's this guy named Bob, and the author is way overqualified to be writing this, so the book should fly off the shelves, and any and all persons involved in its publication will be living the high life aboard a twenty-foot yacht with three years of booze included. 

3. Detective Martinez has the case of a lifetime. The punk found dead at the pickle factory turns out to be the heir to a billionaire. Dozens are suspect, but he can't get past a single question: How many pickled peppers did the pickled punk pilfer? 

4. When their only hit from the 70's is used as a movie theme song, the band Pickled Punk are suddenly awash with cash. And groupies. Then Rory Rotten agrees to transport a package home from Thailand for his cute new girlfriend, and the guy in customs makes him open the package, and this punk is in a real pickle.

5. Amanda Green couldn't be happier when her animated character Tickled Pink goes viral on the Internet. But where there's success, there's parody, and soon the poorly drawn, foul-mouthed "Pickled Punk" comes on the scene. When Punk becomes more popular than Pink, Amanda declares war on his creator- her brother. Their sibling rivalry divides the Internet and makes family gatherings much more interesting.

6. After some punk robs Amanda at gunpoint, he takes off running, but he trips and falls into a vat of balsamic vinegar. He can't swim, and he asks Amanda to help him, but she wants her purse back first, so he gives it to her and she still lets him drown. Also, an appearance by Emperor Tojo.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

A secret society of circus clowns, formed in reaction to the Nazi clown ban in occupied France, has infiltrated the Chambers of Commerce, Lions Clubs, VFW halls, and popular family restaurants throughout midwestern America. [Why?]

[Bozo: The Nazis have banned clowns in France.

Krusty: Then we must unite in a secret society here in the midwestern USA.

Pennywise: Makes sense. And we should infiltrate family restaurants.

Ronald:  How? I can't cook. I can't even make a decent hamburger.]

Pickled Punk tells the story of Mike Maloney, a circus punk from Detroit who grows up cleaning up after elephants and clowns, [Are clowns that messy? I'd clean up after a dozen clowns before I'd clean up after one elephant. Although I suppose most clowns would create a lot of empty liquor bottles and puke-covered bedsheets and bloody costumes from butchering children.] learns about heavy drinking and irresponsible sex from his dwarf coworkers, and gets promoted to business manager of the Great Western Circus of the Americas. [Was he qualified for this job?] Mike goes into hiding from the furious clown cabal after his grandiose ideas about how to modernize the circus end up destroying it instead. [Never mind previous question.]

Mike manages to avoid the certain and swift justice of the International Clown Court for twenty years. It's not until his secret protector in the circus dies and he's betrayed by his own sister that Mike is forced to go on the run. [Are the clowns he's on the run from driving a clown car? Just asking. ] [Why is it only the clowns who want revenge? If he destroyed the circus, I would think the lion tamers and guys who get shot out of cannons would also be pissed at him. Perhaps it's only clowns who've unionized.] Along the way, he's poisoned by a mysterious stranger, he picks up a con-woman companion, and he befriends the illegitimate son of a famous Russian entertainer.

Pickled Punk is my second novel and is complete at 103,000 words. I'm a professional technical writer and computer programming teacher, and I've authored or co-authored over a dozen published technical books.

I self-published my first novel in 2017, and it received good reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. I recorded an audiobook, built a website, and created a Facebook page that today has more than 5,000 followers.

The experience of self-publishing convinced me to seek representation by an agent for my second novel so that I can benefit from the help of an experienced editor and the distribution of a publisher. [This red stuff is unlikely to matter to an agent.]

I'd be happy to send you the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,


There's a lot of stuff that sounds like it's really funny, and this could appeal to some agents, but I think the query is too listy. All three plot paragraphs include lists. Plus, many of the items being listed don't seem important enough to be in the query. Better to connect ideas so that you tell the main story. I can't tell if the story is mostly what happens after Mike goes on the run, or during the twenty years he's in hiding, or something else. 

Is there a second character important enough to be named, maybe the con-woman or Mike's secret protector in the circus, or his sister?

What does Mike want, what's keeping him from getting it, what's his plan to overcome this obstacle, what's at stake if he fails? Once you work all of that into a cohesive summary of the plot, you can embellish to show your humorous voice. But we need to know you have a story.

You could start: Mike Maloney, a one-time circus punk from Detroit, has risen through the ranks from cleaning up after elephants to apprentice clown to business manager of the Great Western Circus of the Americas. But when his grandiose ideas for modernizing the circus end up destroying it instead, he's forced into hiding by the furious clown cabal. 

Where you go from there depends. Maybe the circus is in his blood and he'll do whatever he has to to keep his feet in his giant shoes, which he does with the help of his secret protector. Or maybe he infiltrates Denny's and his ideas on how to modernize the restaurant make him a millionaire, but then his jealous sister rats him out to the International Clown Court.