Thursday, March 16, 2023

Face-Lift 1431

Guess the Plot

Captive of the Sea

1. Robert was not expecting to be made a captive groom after rescuing a mermaid. Life under the sea is not as glamorous as expected. He would give anything to taste the juice of a lemon again.

2. In 15th-century London, a fair maiden falls for a sailor just before he leaves on a years-long voyage. Unable to find a suitable husband, she waits for her crush to return. But will he still want her when he discovers she's working in a house of ill repute?

3. Captured and placed in the Cleveland Aquarium, Nemo finds himself in the same tank with the barracuda that ate his mom. He escapes into the aquarium castle, only to end up behind bars in the castle's dungeon. Can Bruce the shark rescue him?

4. When feisty aqua-humanoid Namor wins a trip to the Moon, will his essentially pseudo-amphibian physiology hold him back from realising his dreams? Join the plucky fish-man in his quest to become the next Neil Armstrong and discover how easily laser-powered jet packs can incinerate your thighs.

5. Mara is stranded on a desert island. Her only way off is to marry the merprince and live forever 20,000 leagues below the waves. She's fine with long walks on the sand at sunset. By herself. And the occasional airdrop from the mythopoetic society.

6. A marine biology degree was supposed to help Patsy Greene save the whales. Instead it leads to life-and-death survival with killer hurricanes, cutthroat pirates, and watery tea. At least she can fill out a few more of the never-ending grant applications while waiting to meet Davy Jones. Also, ornery dolphins.

Original Version

Mawdlen [Cunnick] was born on King Arthur's grave.

That is the story her father told her, [Was Mawdlen's mother onboard with giving birth on King Arthur's grave?] along with legends of the King and his daring knights, who fell afoul of lovely maidens and fought their way through perils back into grace and favour. Then the battles of the kings of her own time begin anew, and Master Cunnick packs up his household and brings them to the teeming, reeking city of London. After some years, though the Wars of the Roses continue, [Presumably you don't refer to them as the Wars of the Roses, as they weren't called this till more than a century after they ended, or so I'm told.] their own hardships ease as Master Cunnick finds a measure of success as a merchant. One day, delivering her father's noon meal at his warehouse, Mawdlen meets a young sailor named [Mawkesh.] Santiago. He wins her heart, because he too speaks of knights and of errantry, but he is not yet master of his own ship, and when his captain sails, he must leave, too. [Or he could stay and become a knight, much more impressive to Mawdlen than just speaking of knights.]

The years pass and Mawdlen is now over late to be married, but she fancies none of her suitors, no matter how many fetes and dances she attends at the home of wealthier friends. Wealthier, because Master Cunnick's fortune has failed him, and every day the family's luck and prosperity dwindle further and her father sinks into dissolution. Mawdlen finds an opportunity to help and, unbeknownst to her family, begins to deliver goods for a back street merchant, not a member of any guild. She is unaware of the other businesses operating from the establishment.   [Perhaps she should have looked at the sign on the front of the building.]

Santiago, having finally achieved his fortune [by leading the other sailors in mutiny and killing his captain,]– a ship to call his own – and returning to claim his long-awaited maiden, sees Mawdlen emerge from the back door of the merchant's and assumes the worst. [As if Santiago wasn't bedding the strumpets in every port of call for the past few years.] [In fact, what was Santiago doing at the back door if not preparing to go inside for a homecoming roll in the hay before claiming his long-awaited maiden?] But the fate that brought them together is too strong to be thwarted. They meet again at a costume party, where, despite their masks, their loving hearts each recognise the other. They must rescue both themselves and Mawdlen’s family from the clutches of the wily merchant and his nefarious gang, before they can deem all perils vanquished, and be free to celebrate the bliss of their union in marriage. [I was under the impression Mawdlen was employed as a delivery person for a businessman. An unscrupulous businessman, apparently, but I missed the part where she and her family were in the clutches of his crime syndicate.] 

CAPTIVE OF THE SEA is a historical complete at 58,600 words.


While Mawdlen was admittedly a known name in the 1500's, using it may lead readers to think you gave her that name because "maudlin," which means self-pitying or sentimental, often through drunkenness, is an apt description of her.

This is a bit long for a query summary, and the first two paragraphs are spent setting up the situation. They could be reduced to: 

As Mawdlen Cunnick awaits the return of her beau/true love Santiago from a lengthy sea voyage, she aids her increasingly destitute family by taking a job delivering goods for a London merchant. A merchant who, unbeknownst to Mawdlen, has his hands in numerous corrupt and illegal businesses, from a prostitution ring to a gang of thieves.

Now there's plenty of room to get to your plot, which I assume is how Mawdlen's family becomes entangled in the villain's clutches and how M & S can escape those clutches. What's their plan, what are the obstacles, what will happen if they fail?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Face-Lift 1430

Guess the Plot

Becoming Lainie

1. After escaping from a cult, Elaine fears that the cult leader is still searching for her. So she cleverly changes her name . . . to Lainie. Problem solved.

2. When Mel's identical twin sister, Lainie, more popular, more talented, more everything, dies in a freak accident, Mel decides to pull the old switcheroo: Let everyone believe she's Lainie and Mel's the dead one. But can she pull it off?

3. Robert's beard stopped growing. Then he noticed his jaw line was changing. When he made that sarcastic comment to what he thought was a dream genie, he didn't think it would count as his third wish! Now he's becoming someone else!

4. Lance is the sexiest guy in the high school. All the girls want to date him. But none of the girls knows Lance has begun transitioning into Lainie. Once he becomes a girl, he figures all the guys will want to date her. She's kind of naive.

5. A morbid coming-of-age story about becoming the you you know you aren't but want to be but can't be. Because. Also, slime molds.

6. In this long-awaited sequel to Being John Malkovich, a ventriloquist finds herself inhabiting the body of singer Lainie Kazan.

Original Version

Artist Elaine Montague is a painter of houses. [The last house painter I hired thought he was an artist too. Namely, Jackson Pollock. The Homeowners Association wasn't impressed.] Houses with roots reaching into rocky earth, houses like circus tents balancing on a corner, windowless houses tumbling through whitewater. [Monet had his water lilies. Montague has her houses. Which are easier to draw than water lilies, especially if they're windowless; all you need is a rectangle with a triangle on top. And another rectangle for the door, unless the houses are also doorless.] Her art is a revelation, even to Elaine; it gives voice to her trauma, tells her where she is in her healing. Five years in a cult, she’s been ten years in hiding and believes Michel, the charismatic leader of the Aum Brotherhood has been searching for her. [If he's been searching for Elaine for ten years, the other members of his cult dispersed long ago.] In Colorado, her fifth state in ten years, she meets and befriends Mary, a purported therapist and the only other person living at 10,000 feet up a long, dirt road. [If Mary is the person who did the purporting, I'd go with "self-proclaimed."] [Also, there's no reason to call her a "purported" therapist unless she isn't a therapist. But it would be odd to meet and befriend someone, and have them lie about being a therapist. Unless it's a ruse to get you to reveal your darkest secrets so they can blackmail you. Hmm, have I stumbled upon your plot?] Elaine may have found the perfect audience to hear her story. Or not. [No need to say both "may have" and "Or not," as one implies the other.] 

When Elaine’s ex-boyfriend, James, locates her after eleven years [Wait, her ex-boyfriend has been trying to locate her for eleven years? I'd be more worried about that guy than the cult leader. He sounds like the worst kind of stalker.] and needs help in retrieving his wife and four-year-old daughter from the Brotherhood, she fears being drawn back in by Michel, the powerful leader. [Okay, I didn't stumble upon your plot, but I stumbled upon a better plot. You can use it, no charge.] [What are the odds that one guy loses his girlfriend when she joins a cult, and years later loses his wife when she joins a cult? And it's the same cult?! This James guy must be a real prize; women keep joining cults just to get away from him.] [Was James ever in the cult, or was it just his wife and daughter? How long has James's wife been in the cult? Long enough that her daughter was born there? Did the Elaine/James relationship end when she joined the cult, or did it start when they were both in the cult?] When she unexpectedly comes face to face with him, Elaine must gather all her resources to resist what she fell so hard for eleven years earlier. [Shouldn't that be fifteen years earlier? Five in the cult plus ten in hiding?] She believed Mary was helping her. Now she's not so sure. [Are you saying she's not sure the free therapy sessions Mary's giving her are helping? Or are you saying she suspects Mary is in cahoots with Michel? Like Michel installed Mary 10,000 feet up a dirt road with orders to report to him if Elaine ever showed up there?] To keep her carefully built foundation from cracking she must dredge up the gems she’d learned at the Brotherhood and leave the rubble behind. [She left the rubble behind ten years ago. Can you provide an example of a gem?] Some days the only safe place to stand is at her [bullet-proof] easel. 

Becoming Lainie, a suspenseful, literary novel complete at 100,000 words told from two perspectives (Elaine’s and Mary’s), 

[Elaine's perspective: I'm a survivor.

Mary's perspective: This chick is wacko.] 

is equal part present and past; Elaine’s life as a teen-to-young woman enthralled with her burgeoning spirituality and the eventual dark intimacy with her teacher. [Her teacher being Mary or Michel? I assume Mary, as otherwise it wouldn't be equal part present, but you do say Elaine learned useful gems from Michel, and don't mention anything Mary taught her.] From beginning to end, Elaine’s haunting paintings [Does she ever paint haunted houses?] depict her inner journey. [Are her paintings going to be in the book? That's worth mentioning, if so.]


In the spirit of My Dark Vanessa, this story is one of obsession and power dynamics. This may also appeal to fans of Evie’s interiority in The Girls, [I didn't realize the interiorities of fictional characters even had fan clubs. Though I will admit I wasn't crazy about The Catcher in the Rye, but I was a big fan of Holden Caulfield's interiority.] and (a much less noir) The Last Housewife. The novel was inspired by stories of people close to me, one who committed suicide after leaving a cult. [For once an author claims to have been inspired by a close friend, and I don't suspect she's really talking about herself.]

I’m a longtime writer whose fiction and poetry have been published in Earth Daughters, Raven’s Perch, and Harbinger magazine. I’ve received an Honorable Mention from the So las Awards-Traveler’s Tales (2020-21) for my short story, The Bathroom. [I'm currently working on a sequel, titled "The Closet."] I participated (2020) in the Community of Writers (formerly Squaw Valley) writer’s conference with Gail Tsukiyama as my instructor. With this novel (and another in its second draft),  I am ready to seek representation. [These credits aren't going to sway an agent either way. Just say you've had several short stories published in literary magazines, and this is your first novel.]

And as a result of my involvement in the writing community and as a successful artist, entrepreneur, and teacher of art retreats around the world, I have an extensive mailing list as well as connections through social media. I understand the value of promotion and look forward to doing that.


I think I need to see a timeline graph covering the last 20 years. It could have dates along the x axis, and places along the y axis, and different-colored lines for Elaine, Mary, James, Michel, and James's wife, so we know who was where, when. In other words, this isn't clear enough.

Is there one main plot to this novel? Something to focus the query on? For instance the attempt to "rescue" James's wife and daughter? With the Michel parts and the running away parts thrown in as backstory? Trying to squeeze five years in a cult and ten on the run and whatever Mary has to do with it and the rescue is a lot for a query.

A standard format of the query would cover who's the main character (Elaine) What's her goal? (Rescuing James's wife? Surviving?) What's her biggest obstacle? (Michel's charisma?) What's at stake? (Her sanity? James's family?)

Did you consider making the two people in whose perspectives you tell the story be Elaine and James? They're connected to each other and to the cult. It's not clear that Mary is connected to them or the cult. She comes across as a hermit who may or may not be important to the story. Connect her or leave her out.