Tuesday, February 23, 2021

New Beginning 1093

The three of them marched purposefully to a halt and peered over the black-and-silver waves.

“I can see it,” said the first one, nodding at some spot not too far out on the water. He pointed with four fingers, his hand held out like a cleaver. “There.”

“So half the ground is covered,” said the second one.

“Which means,” said the third one, “that nothing remains except that final, fickle, determinative one percent.”

The first one gave an ironic wince. “If it happens, it happens.” He cupped his hands around his mouth and blew a long, soft breath out at the ocean. The wind picked it up and carried it just beyond the breakers, where the water stilled and something compact and formless floated upward from the depths. A pale oval. As it neared the surface, its topology and colors were resolved by the moonlight: a human face, detached from whatever body might have carried it to warmth and firmness, staring up in pain and horror from beneath the cold salt sea.

"Well, that's not entirely true," another voice affirmed.

The first three turned rapidly at the unexpected voice. The fifth one just wore a contemptuous smile. (No, he was the fifth one. The fourth one was the one who floated up from the sea. Although it was just a face, so not really a whole fourth one. Maybe just ten percent or so. So the fifth one was probably just four and two tenths.)

"What is your meaning?" The second one asked in a questioning voice.

The fifth one, or more accurately 4.2, shrugged and replied, "Well, if half the ground was covered, that means a headmost, reasonable, stable forty percent remains."

"Forty?" the first one questioned. They all looked at each other. Except 0.2 (the head), who let out a wail and sank back to the depths, knowing these four fools could never make him whole because they're all shit at math.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: ril

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Feedback Request

 The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1411 would like feedback on the following revision:

Dear Evil Editor,

The blood on her hands no longer troubles Leudora. What keeps her awake at night is the chilling suspicion that her crimes might have been in vain. 


A decade ago, Leudora had her major enemies eliminated - the scientist known as the Dalmatian Serpent, and his followers, who sought her people’s blood. A ruthless guardian of her kin and an unscrupulous politician, Leudora lived with her guilty conscience for as long as the invisible barrier that shields civilization from madness remained intact. Only [But] it is no longer so. When the Veil starts to fade, slowly poisoning the air and endangering those, [no comma] whom she once sought to protect, Leudora wants answers.


She does not expect her answers to confirm the Dalmatian Serpent’s theories: those are Leudora’s own people, who conduct bloody experiments to protect themselves from their powerful neighbors, causing the Veil’s degradation. Once rumors about their affairs spread, not only the culprits, but all her people will become scapegoats. Trying to prevent a war and stop the Veil’s decay, Leudora turns to her enemy’s works and searches for the culprits. [I don't like "culprits" twice in two sentences. In fact I don't like it either time. I'd shorten this paragraph to: 

She does not expect it when the answers confirm the Dalmatian Serpent’s theories: Leudora’s own people, conducting bloody experiments to protect themselves from their powerful neighbors, are causing the Veil’s degradation. If this gets out, not only the guilty, but all her people will be blamed. Trying to prevent a war and stop the Veil’s decay, Leudora turns to her enemy’s works. 


Is it odd to refer to "her enemy" when talking about a guy she eliminated a decade ago? Maybe She turns to the Serpent's spellbook (or research or whatever it is, more specific than "works."] 

The deeper she delves into the Dalmatian Serpent’s secrets, the more Leudora finds herself drawn to his fascinating mind and dark science. If she follows in his footsteps, her kin will turn against her. [All of them, or just the "culprits"?] If Leudora stays loyal to her people, she will have to side with those, [no comma] who may bring them all to the verge of extinction, betraying the legacy of a man,[no comma] whom she knows to be right. 

Byzantine Purple is an adult fantasy set in an alternative version of Eastern Europe[comma] complete at 103,000 words. The novel stands alone but is envisioned as the first book in a trilogy. It combines the conflicted protagonist of The Masquerade Series and the political intrigue of A Memory called Empire. 


Thank you for your time and consideration, 


Much better. I mostly nit-picked.

If she knows what's causing the veil problem, seems like she should know who's causing it. If it's just a few of Leudora's people who are causing it, and they refuse to stop, eliminating them seems like an easier solution for this ruthless unscrupulous character than hoping to find some magical way to save the veil.


Do the people causing the degradation of the veil know they're causing it? They can't want their air poisoned, so why don't they stop? Don't they care?

Friday, February 12, 2021

Face-Lift 1414

Guess the Plot

The Pilot of Aros

1. Ronaldo Cauchon pilots commercial freighters through the treacherous waters surrounding Aros Harbor using only a raft and pole. But even that pales in comparison to the exhausting task of piloting Captain Fanny Astley’s heart through the straits of her blueblood family’s objections to Ronaldo's cable knit turtlenecks.

2. Every ship needs a pilot just like every pilot needs a ship, but why did Versa, with the lowest scores at the academy, get assigned Aros, the psycho ship that's killed its last fifteen pilots for being incompetent? Alien invasion? Versa needs to survive her own ship first.

3. Pilot Asha Glix has a thriving business, and that's all she ever wanted. So it's little annoying when criminals and politicians send powerful warships to attack her passenger ship. But she'll survive through grit, determination, and inexplicable luck..

4. The memoir of Burton Ross, who served as the only active pilot on the tiny island of Aros. He and his self-built “Windcharm” Newport II served the local community from 1908 until his untimely death in 1988. A collection of anecdotes from his former passengers. Includes photographs.

5. Crail is 20 years old and he knows every current, shoal, and sandbar of Aros, the river that leads to to the dreaded Isle of Fire, where traitors and rebels against the emperor are taken. He's grown up working as a hand on the ferry that transports the wretches, and now he's inheriting the job of pilot. Will he find it within himself to continue -- especially now that he's fallen in love with one of his passengers?

6. If you want to be immortalized, you have to be the best at what you do. Which, for Sven, means removing any pilots better than him in "accidents." When he's caught, rather than go to prison, he becomes the literal heart and brains of an experimental fighter ship. Without the body parts for lust, can he find true love with his captain?

Original Version

Dear [Insert name of Query-Inundated Agent Here], 

I am currently seeking representation for my space opera, THE PILOT OF AROS. Given [whatever made me submit to them], I thought it might be a good fit for your list. 

Captain Asha Glix is the most famous interstellar passenger pilot in the Tork Arm of the galaxy. [Impressive. But I'd rather read about the most famous interstellar passenger pilot in the entire galaxy.] Her unorthodox style and swift ship, the Superstition, are known in posh elite and rowdy underground circles alike. Clients and benefactors whisper of her “preternatural luck” without ever guessing its source - and as far as Asha is concerned, they can keep guessing. [Until they eventually guess right, and then she'll have to kill them.] Her reputation has built a booming business and secured the livelihoods of her crew. That’s all Asha ever wanted. 

When a mysterious stranger stumbles upon the old secret that Asha has buried deeper than any other, he offers her what seems to be the opportunity of a lifetime - even though taking it would force her to resume an identity she left behind long ago. [Way too vague. What's mysterious about the stranger, what's Asha's old secret, what's the opportunity, what was her identity?Compare your paragraph with the following, which may or may not be correct:

When a stranger wearing a foggy fishbowl over his head and a black cloak tells Asha he knows she's the actress who popularized Human/Tork soft-core porn, and he can get her a screen test for Star Wars, Episode 29: The Empire Strikes Back Yet Again, she's thrilled--until she realizes being on the big screen means she'll be recognized as the disgraced empress of Aros.]

Unfortunately, the Captain isn’t left to contemplate the stranger’s offer in peace. Powerful unmarked ships have begun attacking the Superstition and menacing her best customer; 
drawing Asha against her will into the snarled interface between organized crime, politics, and dispassionate practicality. And when one of their friends commits the most perilous of treacheries, [Inciting an insurrection.] Asha and her crew are forced to face the fact that surviving may not always mean surviving intact. [This sounds less vague, but outside of the fact that powerful ships are attacking the Superstition, there's little specificity.]

THE PILOT OF AROS is complete at 90,000 words, and is the first novel in a planned trilogy. I have included the first [#] pages and a synopsis below. The remainder of the manuscript is available, in part or full, upon request. 

The author is an opera singer, chemistry geek, and recovering grad student shocked to find herself in her mid-20's. She adores complex female villains, concept cars, and chatting about politics and power dynamics. [First of all, aren't you the author? Second, this would be highly effective in your Tinder profile, but it'll sway a limited number of agents to request your manuscript.

Thank you for your time and consideration!


As an opera singer, surely it's occurred to you that you should convert this space opera into an actual opera. The title even sounds like an opera. The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, The Pilot of Aros. All you need is a bunch of songs, one of which has to have a catchy melody, and a set that looks like the bridge of the starship Enterprise.

There must be a reason that a passenger ship would be attacked by several powerful ships. If your cargo is passengers and your mission is transportation, you normally aren't equipped to defend against warships. If a Delta Airlines plane were attacked by several F-15 fighter jets, it wouldn't have a chance, even if the pilot had preternatural luck. Of course things are different in space.

I'm not sure why we bring up the stranger's opportunity if Asha doesn't even have time to contemplate it. Is it connected to the attacking ships? To organized crime, politics and... dispassionate practicality? If it's all interrelated, show it. Otherwise focus on what's most important.  

What is Aros?

Monday, February 08, 2021

New Beginning 1092

Hooves thundered down the hillside, as Samantha and Snowflake galloped after the fleeing soldiers. The men had a head start but that was no matter. They were heavy and their horses were not bred for speed. Snowflake was.

Samantha allowed the front runners to escape. Let them tell the tale. A straggler though; he would serve a different purpose.

She pulled an arrow from its quiver and nocked it against the bowstring. Drew. Relaxed into the rhythm of the horse beneath her. Aimed. Felt the wind. Gauged the distance. Adjusted. Loosed.

The arrow whizzed beside the ear of the soldier's horse, a mosquito’s buzz without the bite. The spooked horse whirled, throwing the rider.

Snowflake slowed and Samantha leapt down, landing in a crouch. She dropped her bow to the ground and gripped the hilt of Justiciana.

The soldier groaned. On seeing her striding toward him, he hauled himself to his feet. She smiled to see it, lips curling back from her teeth.

Samantha unsheathed her rapier, relishing the whisper of steel on leather. She flourished her blade at him as he fumbled for his own.

No need to bloody Justiciana on this bumbling oaf, she thought, tossing the sword aside. Feeling the wind again, she gauged the distance. Aimed. Adjusted. Loosed. With a loud rumbling the stench traveled to the soldier's nostrils and filled his lungs.

Samantha's foe dropped dead to the ground without a drop of blood shed. She thanked her spirit guardian for the offal stew she ate last night then turned for the long and tiring ride home.

But to her horror she found her adjustment had been poorly judged: such was the power of Fartistica's magic, Snowflake had melted clean away.

Opening: Amanda Barrett..... Continuation: ril

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Face-Lift 1413

Guess the Plot

The Rooster Sutra

1. A serial killer who kills only occultists is targeting Tanya, an aspiring occultist who resembles a rooster. Can Tanya's Buddhist mentor, the only pacifist in the occultism industry, set aside her beliefs long enough to rescue Tanya? Also, a beatnik.

2. An illustrated collection of proverbs for children, recited in anuṣṭubh meter by a rooster named Shakuntala and his barnyard pals.

3. Bo-Jo's family has been running a chicken farm for six generations. Rather than a sweeping family saga full of passion and drama, here are the rules they've lived by. And how to cover up a murder.

4. This is not your mother's Ugly Duckling or Chicken Little. Barnyard birds are getting into it, and the other inhabitants of Old MacDonald's Farm are braying, barking, and oinking in prurient glee.

5. Tarragon is a backyard chicken and reincarnation of -- well, Sanskrit isn't easy when you're a bird. Can he convey his wisdom to the world, or will the neighbors convince his owners that the path to his next incarnation should be coq au vin? 

6. Ginger-haired Detective Gallus’s latest case is a fraternity student found dead in a rooster costume on campus. When a second student turns up dead under similar circumstances, Gallus goes undercover into the underground world of a new society known as “The Cockfighters.”

7. Studies show that 4 hours of sleeping upright yields the same benefits as lying prone for 8. Find techniques for "roosting" in this self-help sleep guide to self inducing a trance-like state and selecting a perch for you and your lovebird(s).

8. Sutras, suitors, sutures.... All Bantam knows is that when the chicken hits the fryer (i.e. his Bollywood-style wedding goes up in flames when his fiancée elopes with a Cornish hen), a rooster's gotta do what a rooster's gotta do.

9. Old Man MacDougall is fed up. His hens are hysterical, he's seeing twice the usual number of feathers around the coop, and his precious eggs have actually been hatching... The only clue: mysterious chicken scratches on the wall of the coop. The perpetrator: an ordinary-looking rooster who has discovered that attracting ladies isn't just about looks. This rooster Casanova will give his all to help his sexy hen babes escape the farm.

Original Version

Dear Ruinous Reviser:

Only one of Keket Cheshire’s teammates has died on the job, and she is resolved that that number doesn’t go up. Still, only one death is an impressive record for the only pacifist in the occultism industry, with its 40% mortality rate and sociopathic competition. [Logging and commercial fishing, the two most dangerous professions (besides occultism), have a combined mortality rate of about 1%. The US Civil War had a mortality rate of 20%.] [Is that 40% annually? Because that would wipe out the industry in short order.] 


During a mission gone sour, a high-school girl named Tanya Gallo is nearly killed by Keket’s slip-up. [Does this happen after Keket resolves that the number of her teammates she kills won't go up? Sure, almost killing your teammates is an improvement over killing them, but . . .] [Also, I need to look up "occultist" and find out why they get involved in so many missions that lead to death.]  . . .  [Okay, Wikipedia's List of Occultists is pretty long, but here's a sampling: Plato, Nostradamus, Sir Isaac Newton, Marquis de Sade, Arthur Conan Doyle, Adolf Hitler, Jim Morrison, David Bowie . . . Hmm, what do they all have in common? They're all dead! 100% mortality rate! Why hasn't anyone else looked into the connection between occultists and death?] Tanya is smitten, with Keket, and even moreso [more so. There seems to be some controversy over whether moreso is a word, but Blogger has underlined it in red, and that's good enough for me.] [Of course Blogger also underlines Keket in red, and my phone's auto-correct thinks Keket is kookoo.] with her profession. [Occultism is a profession? I wonder if it's hard for employment recruiters to convince people to go into a profession with a 40% mortality rate.] Occultism promises escape from a reality where Tanya is mired in poverty and powerlessness. [She has a 40% chance of escaping.] Wanting to impress Keket and become an occultist herself, Tanya seeks out tantric magic. An aging beatnik takes her on as a student and encourages her to use magic without hesitation… or concern for its consequences. [Use it to do what?] [Also, since when do high school students listen to any advice from an adult?]


Meanwhile, a moralizing serial killer is spring cleaning the occultism industry of anyone he deems unworthy, with Keket the only exception. [If he kills every occultist except Keket, the mortality rate of occultism will be approximately 100%.] [How do we know Keket is the only exception? Just because she hasn't been killed yet? Or has the killer informed her that she's not a target, and she believes him?] Tanya and the killer soon end up on a collision course and Keket is forced to decide: Is she willing to put her pacifism aside and her teammates at risk to clean up a mess she created, or [will she] turn a blind eye and preserve the life she worked so hard to cultivate? [Not clear how Keket created the mess. There seem to be two messes, one caused by the aging beatnik and the other by the serial killer.] 


THE ROOSTER SUTRA is an upmarket urban fantasy marrying Buddhist doctrine with drugs, sex, and violence [I give that marriage three weeks, tops.] from the alternating viewpoints of Tanya and Keket. It is complete at 97,000 words and will appeal to fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Dead Astronauts and N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became.


Thank you for your time and consideration.

[P.S. The title comes from roosters being a symbol of greed and desire in Buddhism, and also Tanya's hair is a red mohawk, so she looks kinda like a rooster. ]


First of all, a serial killer who's killing everyone in a certain profession should be the centerpiece of your query. Look how far it got Jack the Ripper. 

Up until the serial killer arrives, I have more questions than answers. Like what kind of missions do teams of occultists go on? Why do so many die? What did Keket do that almost killed Tanya? What is the job description of an occultist?

We know who's in your book but we don't know much of what happens. 

High school student Tanya Gallo wants to be an occultist, like her idol and mentor Keket Cheshire. Even when Kekel informs Tanya that a serial killer has been targeting occultists, Tanya still wants in. In fact she joins the team of occultists hunting the killer.

Something like that would be a way to start this off if it were what actually happens in your book, which it probably isn't, but you get the idea. 

Are all the occultists in the occultism industry in one city or even country? If not, this serial killer seems to have taken on an impossible task. Maybe we should narrow it down geographically.

The decision Kekel must make doesn't strike me as difficult. Ignore a serial killer while he continues killing and could be coming after you next, or engage temporarily in activities designed to neutralize him. I know what the Buddha would do.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Face-Lift 1412

Guess the Plot

The Wearable Wolf

1. Old Man Farragut has long had the hots for Red Riding Hood's Grandma, but she's more interested in bad boy types than a wuss like Farragut. Will he win her over when he shows up at her house in his wolf costume?

2. Susan was walking in the woods when she discovered a discarded wolf skin. Not thinking much of it she brought it home. Now some guy is knocking on her door saying he is now her husband. Can she get rid of him before he eats her out of house and home?

3. Being killed and skinned hasn't stopped Lyle from being a were or hitting on the ladies. Only now, instead of doing it in style, he's a fashion accessory. 

4. Suzee Swank -- star of the slopes and darling of the apres-ski scene -- never goes out without her signature wolf's-fur parka. Most people think it's a fashion statement, but in reality it's Suzee's sidekick, Wolfboy, who springs off her shoulders and into action whenever a criminal mastermind happens to turn up at a snowy resort or chalet -- which is surprisingly often. 

5. Joan Carson, consultant fashionista, is "The Wearable Wolf". If you can get her to dress you, admiring gasps will follow wherever you go. If you're a teenager trying to impress at the prom even though you don't have a date, or an aging star trying to recapture the adulation you can't live without, the Wearable Wolf's art is guaranteed to make your dreams come true. But -- is the lupine artist's price too high to pay?

6. While developing a nature exploration VR game, Tom Thompson becomes trapped inside his avatar, a gray wolf. What's worse, he's transported to a parallel world of talking animals, elemental fairies, and environmental exploitation, where he becomes the eco-avenger known as The Lupinator.

7. John Fourier has a problem. His invention, a wearable suit that harnesses the lunar cycle and gives humans werewolf powers, offends the actual werewolves of Boston. They've marked their territory, and it looks like there's going to be one heck of a dogfight.

8. River & Shield's fur-covered condom is designed to let your beast howl at the moon. When animal rights activist Guadalupe Blanc learns the fur isn’t synthetic, she and her ‘wolf pack’ break into the lab to free the wolves. But it seems other experiments are being conducted here...

Original Version

Dear [agent] 

I'm sending you this query for THE WEARABLE WOLF, with # of pages attached as requested by your guidelines.  I appreciate your time and effort in reviewing it. THE WEARABLE WOLF is a [paranormal thriller?] of about 115,000 words.  It is a standalone novel, although I have two more books in mind to follow it. [Lose the first two sentences, and put the other two at the end of the plot summary.] 

Graduate student John Fourier has plenty on his plate with classes in Transformations and Necroptics at an elite engineering institution.  He'd love to be able to harness the lunar cycle for small-scale practical magics, which he believes could have saved his younger sister from an early death.  But some of the city's werewolves are threatened and offended by what they see as John's meddling in their revered relationship with the Moon, and a few may be willing to kill him for it.  [Having looked ahead, I believe "John Fourier has plenty on his plate" works better as the start of the next paragraph, which lists a lot of stuff on his plate. In fact the two items on his plate in this paragraph (school and unhappy werewolves) are among the items listed in the next paragraph.]

There’s the Free City werewolf pack, who’ve transformed on the Boston Common since the Colonial era and prize their tradition above new technology.  There’s the Leominster Investment Group, who want to use John’s inventions to take power for themselves.  And then there’s the normal stressors of graduate school -- Necroptics Lab, keeping one’s advisor and one’s girlfriend happy at the same time, the varying tolerances of roommates, and finding enough to eat.  Over it all, the mysterious figure of the Laughing Dog, the goddess Coyote, watches and plays games of her own.  It’s almost enough to make one go back to architecture school, but John is a graduate student, and that means he's ready to take on any establishment to see his research through. 

I (PhD neuroscience, 1998) am a successful survivor of graduate school, and minored in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.  I have previously edited a college SFF literary magazine, published science fiction and fantasy poetry and short stories, and been an invited reader and panelist on topics lycanthropic at science-fiction conventions.  I have taught experimental design to wearable-technology engineers, practiced Aikido for decades, and several times prayed to the Moon. [I'd cut the bio down to this:

My PhD in neuroscience and my experience teaching experimental design to wearable-technology engineers brings credibility to the book's science. I have published science fiction and fantasy short stories and been an invited reader and panelist on topics lycanthropic at science-fiction conventions.]


Basically, your plot summary is a list of the obstacles your main character faces in his quest to . . . prevent early deaths while earning his degree? Rather than list obstacles, focus on the main one, which is that some werewolves don't want humans horning in on their act. That'll leave more room to tell us . . . what happens in the book. Here's a possible opening paragraph:

When John Fourier invented the "wearable wolf," a contraption that gives the wearer such werewolf powers as rapid healing and physical strength, he wanted to help people like his sister, Liz, who died too young. He had no idea his project would offend anyone, least of all the Free City werewolf pack, who've been transforming on the Boston Common since the Colonial era, and prize their tradition above new technology. And some of whom are willing to kill anyone who meddles in their revered relationship with the moon. 

Now there's room to switch to present tense and tell us about the leader of the opposition werewolves foiling John's plans by kidnapping his girlfriend and demanding he shelve his project and replace it with a wearable bat to give humans vampire powers. (Just a guess. Did I get it right?)

We do need to know what he's up against, but we also want to know what he does, what goes wrong, how he plans to deal with it.