Thursday, June 22, 2023

Face-Lift 1434

Guess the Plot

Eyes of the Starry Jewel

1. A rock band solves their slight audience-petrification problem with a sunglass advertisement contract. But when the high notes hit shattering frequency, gorgon slayers become the least of their problems. Also rabbits.

2. The Starry Jewel is the most beautiful life-like doll the Emperor commissioned. The only thing the artisan is missing is the perfect eyes. Beatrice happens to have the perfect pair, her own. Can she escape before becoming a work of art?

3. Nahim and Shamika Mahmoud are a brother-sister archaeology duo sent to the planet Coiter by the Inter-Dimensional Global Acquisitions Federation (IDGAF) to find the hidden tomb of Queen Pen-in-senas. The tomb is believed to contain jewels which could restore power to the planet, and allow for the construction of a new space port.

4. Once again the fate of mankind rests with one human, but this time it's a monk who lives in a monastery called Eyes of the Starry Jewel. He believes all he has to do to end the apocalypse is decipher the secret clues he's sure are hidden in a book that he's not allowed to read.

5. To the naked eye it's just a big sapphire. But magnified, it's a 3-D map of the galaxy and NASA, the Vatican, and the military all want it. Jody, who found it on his farm, is willing to sell it. Bidding starts at seventeen million.

6. The government calls it the Starry Jewel, a giant telescope launched into space to seek out life in distant solar systems. But conspiracy theorist Donald knows the truth: the telescope is trained on Earth, and is capable of zooming in on individual people. Can he convince the media to take him seriously? I mean besides FOX news. 

7. When you're a witch and a spy, you obviously need to run a high-price jewelry store to get your bespelled gems into clandestine government meetings so you can take a peek at who's planning what. Most days, though, it's just more soap-opera reality tv.

8. It has eyes. It follows you home. Now it has your eyes. And you will be its in finding more eyes. More and more and more and more and more eyes.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Centuries after a cataclysm, only the monastery known as the Eyes of the Starry Jewel offers protection from the pox, and the mindless creatures it afflicts. Inside, an historian monk risks expulsion and exile when he succumbs to an irresistible compulsion to study a banned book of stories hidden deep in the archives. [Are there women in this monastery? Making babies? That would seem to be the highest priority in the only place protected from the pox.]

The stories within tell of people long ago whose fates were tied to an evil empire [Like the stories of Anton Chekhov, which tell of people long ago whose fates were tied to Russia.] thought to have caused the pox. A vigilante held captive by a tyrannical fairy struggles through torture and isolation to protect his comrades. A wounded soldier ekes out his days in poverty and humiliation until he's offered one last chance to serve his country -  as the assassin of a foreign leader. A young giantess and a scientist from opposing sides of a great war team up to protect magical butterflies from a power hungry priest. A woman striving to find a place amidst the unforgiving expectations of nobility is instead lost in a hidden world of espionage and prophecy. A philosopher, grieving the tragic loss of his family, seeks purpose on an empire’s colonizing mission to a mysterious island where a god dwells. [I should have just used this list as my fake plots.] [These plots all sound better than your plot.]


As the monk reads the tales, he becomes convinced that together, they hold hidden secrets that may be key to ending the world's nightmare. But he will need to convince his brothers who see his work as heresy, while defending the monastery from the monsters he one day hopes to save. Yet the book is more than he knows, and as events unfold, he finds that written in its ancient ink may be the story of his own destiny. 

Eyes of the Starry Jewel is a 129,000 word piece of adult fantasy comprising seven stories that take place over several hundred years. [ Those must be some pretty long short stories if they add up to 129,000 words.] While this is my first novel, I have had four short stories published in independent anthologies. Two such stories, “The Aurelians’ Chronicle” and “The Godmother” appear in Eyes as tales that the monk encounters in the forbidden book. 

Thank you for your consideration.


A well-written query. And timely, what with its theme that banning books will lead to the end of civilization.

Let me see if I've got this straight. Long ago the pox almost wiped out humanity, but a few geniuses found a way to beat the pox and decided they should record how they did it so that if the pox ever returned it could be stopped from devastating the world. But they decided that instead of just publishing their findings in a medical journal, they would sprinkle enigmatic clues to their pox-beating method into a book of short stories (not unlike how da Vinci hid clues about Jesus's marriage in The Last Supper). But they didn't stop there, no, just in case someone was smart enough to decipher the clues in the book, they banned anyone from even reading the book. To read it was heresy, punishable by exile and certain death. So now the pox is back, it's wiping us out again, and only one brave monk can save us all--if he's able to find and solve a bunch of mind-boggling puzzles hidden in the banned book before his brothers throw him to the mindless monsters.

I was being facetious, but now that I think about it, my summary of your plot isn't half bad. Your list of short story log-lines featuring torture, isolation, poverty, assassination, war, and tragic loss is kinda depressing. You do have magical butterflies, which are cool, but then you add a power-hungry priest who, I assume, kills them all or uses them as weapons of mass destruction.

One could get the impression you realized you weren't gonna find a publisher for a short story collection, but if you disguised your stories as a novel by having a character from one of the stories, as part of the plot, read all the other stories out loud . . . 

This might work best if all the stories were tied together by something stronger than they all take place over a period of several hundred years in an empire "thought to have caused the pox." Like, if they all took place during the original pox outbreak in the empire that definitely caused the pox (China) and you worked the pox, at least tangentially, into each story. Wait, is the monastery in every story? If so, mention that. If not, maybe make the title of the banned book, instead of the name of the monastery, be the title of your book. Assuming you can come up with a cool title for the banned book. 

I think you'd have a better query if you eliminate paragraph 2, and expand a bit on the last sentence of paragraph 3 while making it less vague. What is the book, really? What is the most important event that unfolds, leading to the monk's eureka realization that it's all about him?

Are all seven stories necessary? Actually, I don't know if the stories are all pretty short and only 5% of the book, or really long, and 90% of the book. But this is awfully long for a first novel. 

Does the monk have a name, or is he just referred to as "the monk" throughout the book? 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Face-Lift 1433

Guess the Plot

The Wizterian Chronicles: Solana

1. Having escaped a planetary war and traveled to Earth, 14-year-old Solana finally feels safe--until her guardian inexplicably attacks her, ripping her apart. She survives, but now she must save planet Earth from a dragon.

2. The city of Solana has a new eatery run by wizards, witches, warlocks, and a dog named Ralph (pronounced Rafe). When the menu takes on a life of its own, will they  set it loose on the invading army? Also hopscotch (that is, hops! and scotch!)

3. An acclaimed mobile Japanese RPG comes to life, following Search, an androgynous young man with an uncertain past, as he chases a mysterious girl across a city in the sky to save the world from a horrible magic blight.

4. Augustus Wizter keeps a chronicle of all the romances he has pursued, both his conquests and the ones that got away. Well, so far they've pretty much all gotten away. All three of them. Solana at least showed up at Starbucks for the intro meeting.

5. The planet Solana orbits the middle star of a star triad in the Wizteria system. Which means that it's always daytime everywhere on Solana. Not good for night owls, but perfect for Brad Porter, who's vowed to finally win the "best tan in the universe" competition this year.

6. When Solana goes into her uncle's closet during a game of hide and seek, she finds herself in a strange land called Wizteria, where everything is covered in purplish flowers. Also, a tiger and a warlock.

Original Version

Mr. Agent:

Solana almost did not recognize the slick scarlet that ran down the right side of her body as blood. The piercing pain was an intrusive stranger that quickly consumed everything she knew.  [This sudden piercing pain is consuming everything I know. And this thick scarlet substance running down my body, it must be . . . a McDonalds strawberry milkshake.] Darkness teased at the edges of her sight, threatening to overtake her. Was this what death felt like? Heart-pounding fear that drowned out much else? She wouldn’t know. For the entire fourteen years of her life, she [she'd] never bled. She [She'd] never knew [known] pain. So why was the person who raised her suddenly ripping her apart? [That's an excellent question, but I don't see that it has anything to do with the fact she hasn't bled or felt pain, as that  word "so" implies.] [While I'll admit this paragraph has a lot of information that might entice Mr. Agent to to want to read more, he has probably requested that you send the first 5 or 10 or 50 pages, so devoting the longest paragraph in the query to an event that lasts about a minute might not be the best use of your limited space. Especially as the same event is recounted again in paragraph 3.] [Is "ripping her apart" an accurate description? It makes me think of being drawn and quartered. Not something one would recover from.]

THE WIZTERIAN CHRONICLES: SOLANA focuses on [Solana,] the youngest heir of Wizteria, Solana. Two years old when she fled a planetary war with her bodyguard and [her] guardian, she hid on Earth, [Whether this is set in the past, present or future, anyone who comes to Earth to escape war is in for a rude awakening. We're always at war.] waiting for the day when she was old and skilled enough to return and defend her kingdom. [Seems like most of the last twelve years would have been spent traveling from Wizteria to Earth. Must have been a wormhole thing. Or...was she traveling at the speed of light? Because as I understand it, you don't age as fast when you're traveling that fast, and maybe when she got to Earth she was still only three years old even though the war Wizteria was fighting when she left ended 50 years ago.] [Figures only approximations.]

Now, living in a small, middle-America town where nothing happens, her magic sealed, and her bodyguard breathing down her neck, Solana longs to return to the cushy life of a spoiled magical princess. [You just said she wanted to return to defend her kingdom. Now you say she wants to return to a cushy spoiled life.] That is, until one day, her guardian suddenly snaps and attacks her and leaves Solana with near-lethal injuries. [Apparently on Wizteria, the definition of "guardian" is flexible.] The bodyguard fights her off and barely escapes [This bodyguard is not impressing me.] with Solana in tow. [Including the parts of her that the guardian ripped apart?] That’s only the beginning of their troubles. [This far into the plot summary, I expect you to have gotten further along than the beginning of the main character's troubles. 

With a rogue dragon let loose on an unsuspecting world, it’s up to Solana and her bodyguard to shake off the cobwebs, get up to speed, and defend the place that she has called home for most of her life [Meaning Earth? A minute ago she wanted to go defend Wizteria but she wasn't old and skilled enough yet. But she's ready to defend us? She's 14. Just because we Earthlings didn't suspect a rogue dragon was going to attack us doesn't mean we need this 14-year old, her magic sealed, to defend us. Even if this is set in a time before we had bombs and tanks and airplanes, we still had knights whose job it was to handle our dragon problem.]—all without catching the attention of her kingdom’s enemies. [Her kingdom's enemies are in some distant solar system engaged in a planetary war. They probably aren't monitoring what's happening on Earth.] [And if they are, news of a Wizterian princess on Earth would take a hundred Earth years to reach Wizteria. (Approximation.)

The entire 100,000-word novel is available for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration.


If "her magic sealed" means she can't do magic, how does Solana plan to get back to Wizteria? Or to defeat a rogue dragon, for that matter? Can she unseal her magic? And if so, why didn't she unseal it when she was being ripped apart?

If you're gonna complain about your bodyguard always breathing down your neck, you have no right to complain if they're not around at the moment your guardian decides to rip you apart.

Is this middle grade? YA? Usually adults prefer a main character who's older than 14.

She's been living on Earth 12 years, and has never felt pain? I've been living here a lot longer than that, and I can't go two hours without feeling pain. 

Is it just a coincidence that Solana is a Japanese RPG gaming platform, that Japanese wisteria is a common plant, and Godzilla is one of your main characters? I'm surprised Solana didn't settle in small-town Japan when she got to Earth.

Why, now that she's many light years away from her enemies, does Solana have to hide? Her enemies, I assume, don't know what planet or solar system she escaped to. Wait, does she look like a 14-year-old human, or does she look like the alien in Alien? In which case she'd be hiding, but from us.

All we really know about what happens in your book is that a Wizterian princess arrives on Earth, gets ripped apart by her guardian, and recovers enough to become the only hope for humanity to survive the attack of one dragon. 

Start over. Paragraph 1: Who is Solana, how'd she get here, and what is her main goal (To get back to her kingdom? To protect her new home? To kill her guardian?) Paragraph 2: What's her plan to accomplish this one goal? What's the main obstacle to accomplishing it? What crucial decision must she make? Paragraph 3: What's at stake? What will happen if she fails? What will happen if she succeeds?

This might get you a more cohesive query, but do you have a cohesive book? Or just a stream of new threats Solana faces in random order?

Why is three fourths of the title The Wizterian Chronicles? Your main character left Wizteria when she was two. It's my understanding that much of The Chronicles of Narnia takes place in Narnia.

There's still a title in the query queue that needs fake plots.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1432 (Just below this post) would like feedback on the following version of the query.

I am seeking representation for my thriller Finding Grace (87,000-words) in which a man must avenge a murder he mustn't allow himself to remember.

Jack Foster is a London-born accountant working in Hong Kong, whose talent for visualizing financial data earns him the tough assignments. After he uncovers a triad money-laundering scheme, the gang’s enforcer brutally murders his wife Mara to derail his investigation. [I can think of a more permanent way to derail Jack's investigation, one that won't have me looking over my shoulder for a revenge-seeking accountant for the rest of my life.]

When a similar murder in Los Angeles makes the tabloids, [The Hong Kong tabloids?] Jack quits his job to travel there and track the killer down. [It would have to be more than just "similar" to convince him the same killer is in action halfway around the world. There are so many murders and serial killers in the US, there's  bound to be a similar one every day or two.] While waiting to depart, he’s sent a link to a video of Mara’s final moments. The trauma wipes all memory of her death and with it, any plans to investigate. He lands in LA, convinced he’s arrived for a new job and Mara will soon be joining him. [Does he wonder why he doesn't remember who his new employer is or when he's supposed to start?]

Jack’s repressed desire for revenge, coupled with his vivid imagination, creates a [illusory] femme fatale who blackmails him into continuing the investigation under the ruse her sister was the victim. His [This] alter ego, Grace, is a killing machine who tortures suspects to death. Together, they walk the line between reality and fantasy while hunting a killer who’s not just an enforcer but the head of a triad whose influence stretches halfway around the world. [It seems to me the head of a triad whose influence stretches halfway around the world would delegate to a henchman such tasks as killing the wife of an accountant who's onto the triad's money-laundering activities. He'd also probably have a US-based enforcer, so he wouldn't have to send his Hong Kong enforcer to LA.]

Now a deadly psychopath has to face his ultimate nightmare—a victim crazier than him [he is]. Only Jack’s strength depends on believing Mara is still alive and to avenge her murder, he must first acknowledge her death. [Those two sentences don't go together. I'm tempted to suggest changing your first paragraph to: I am seeking representation for my thriller Finding Grace (87,000-words) in which a deadly psychopath must face his ultimate nightmare—a victim crazier than he is. Seems less odd than what you have, and catchier. But it may not be an accurate description of the book. Not that that matters if it gets someone to request the manuscript.] [As for the other sentence, I'm not sure how you can say Jack's strength depends on believing Mara is still alive. When he (correctly) believed she was dead, he quit his job to go to LA and track down the killer. A remarkably strong reaction for an accountant.]

Finding Grace plays with the thriller genre like the 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle did with the mystery genre. Inspiration goes all the way back to Shutter Island and like the movie Memento, explores themes of perception, grief, and self-deception.


This is a major improvement as far as describing what happens. It clears up a lot of questions and provides continuity.

I'm not sure whether Grace's killings are as imaginary as Grace, or if Jack, in his alter ego, is killing people, or if the killer of Mara is killing people, and Jack is deluded into thinking Grace is the one behind those killings. A few words could clear this up. In the previous version Grace killed their first suspect. Now I'm wondering if there even was a suspect and if so, whether they were killed, and if so, whether Jack/Grace was the killer. 

Of course it's a rare thriller that doesn't have a few glaring plot holes, but it's best to include as few as possible in the query if there's any way to explain or delete them. For instance, there may be a good reason in the book for the enforcer to also be the head of this worldwide organization, but in the query, he/she can be just a hitman.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Face-Lift 1432

Guess the Plot

Finding Grace

1. Ballet and missing persons collide in a nunnery, 'nuff said.

2. After her cat, Grace, disappears, Jenny sets out alone to find the feline. Her quest takes her to several fantastical worlds where she meets good-hearted strangers as well as evil witches and mages. No word on how her parents handle the fact that their child is missing.

3. After listening to the song "White Rabbit," obsessive fanboy Barry Bindo claims a hookah-smoking caterpillar has called upon him to seek out and seduce singer Grace Slick. Hilarity ensues.

4. When her parents send her to a Paris charm school to cure her of her tomboy ways before she comes out to London society, Daphne rebels, causing an uproar at the school. Will she find grace and land the usual stick in the mud husband? Not if she can help it.

5. Desperate to escape his night terrors, Jack seeks out Grace, a woman he once met who hinted she could cure nightmares. But when he finally finds her, she not only doesn't cure him, she threatens to frame him for a murder she committed.

6. The Angel Sariel has lost their wings, and now they need to find them. A old lady named Grace was the last to see the wings, but keeps getting lost in her memories. Literally.

7. The true story of how Prince Rainier of Monaco, after seeing actress Grace Kelly's performance in Rear Window, kidnapped the Oscar-winning "Queen of Hollywood" and made her the princess of his puny "country" whose population is dwarfed by Hollywood's. She was never heard from again.

8. Grace is a good dog. One rainy night, she hears someone crying for help and flees into the night. She has been missing ever since. Grace's owner is a retired CIA assassin who will stop at nothing to get her back.

Original Version

I am seeking representation for my thriller Finding Grace (87,000-words) in which a man must avenge a murder he mustn’t allow himself to remember. [I forget a lot of stuff, but one thing I will never forget is something I'm making a conscious effort not to remember.]

Jack’s starting a new life in Los Angeles while waiting for his wife, Mara, to wrap up their affairs in Hong Kong. Alone in a strange city, he develops debilitating nightmares and [involving] a nameless dread lurking in shadows. He enrolls in self-defense classes where he meets [Grace,] a strangely familiar woman. Grace [who] hints at a cure for his nightmares, [Wait, she just met him and already knows about his nightmares?] but vanishes before he can learn more. 

[Who initiated their conversation? I can't imagine a woman approaching me and declaring, out of the blue, she can cure my nightmares, so maybe it went:

Jack: Hi I'm Jack. You look strangely familiar. What brings you to this class?

Grace: There've been some muggings in my neighborhood, and I want to learn to defend myself; how about you?

Jack: I'm having debilitating nightmares involving a nameless dread lurking in shadows, so I want to be ready to fight it off when it inevitably materializes.

At which point it's perfectly reasonable that Grace vanishes.]

When Grace shows up at his firing range she confides the torture-murder of her sister has given her the same nightmares plaguing Jack. She promises to cure his nightmares [If she's having the same nightmares, her claim that she can cure nightmares rings a bit hollow.] if he helps investigate her sister’s death. [If Jack was formerly a Hong Hong homicide detective, say so earlier. If he has no experience as an investigator, WTF?] Desperate for a good night’s sleep, he agrees. [I always sleep better after a day spent investigating a torture murder.] When she kills their first suspect in a frenzy, Jack wants out. Grace smirks that while Jack’s fingerprints are everywhere, she wore gloves. [No one wears gloves in Los Angeles. It's too hot for . . .

Okay I stand corrected. I did find this photo of a woman in Los Angeles grasping her best-actress Oscar while wearing gloves, but . . . Wait, isn't that Grace Kelly? So Guess the Plot #7 was the right one?! Unbelievable!]
and threatens to go to the authorities. [Maybe the title should be Losing Grace, which I assume will henceforth be Jack's goal.] 

That’s when he finds Grace lies. A lot. About her sister, about who she is, and about the whip marks across her back. [More specific would be to tell us the lies: "Seems her sister's alive, she's an undercover cop, and she fell onto a barbecue grill." Same number of words as your sentence, but much more detailed] [When someone explains to me why they have whip marks across their back, I don't try to find out if they're lying.] [Actually, I pretty much don't care if they're lying.]. Jack should take the first flight back to Hong Kong. [No, he shouldn't. Nothing says "guilty" like hopping the first flight to Hong Kong when your fingerprints are all over a murder scene.] Only Grace knows impossible details about Mara, their nice little flat, and even their first date. [Not clear what that has to do with whether he goes to Hong Kong.] She reminds him, leave and your night terrors will consume you. [Has she cured him yet?] No, Grace isn’t who she seems. [She "seems" to be a devious liar and a murderer. Are you saying she isn't?] [Those last four sentences need better connections with each other.]

But neither is Jack. 

Finding Grace plays with the thriller genre like the 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle did with the mystery genre. Inspiration goes all the way back to Shutter Island and like the movie Memento, explores themes of perception, grief, and self-deception.


Your one-sentence description of the plot is "a man must avenge a murder he mustn’t allow himself to remember." I don't see why Jack needs to avenge either of the murders mentioned in the query. If Grace demands he kill her sister's killer, that would be a better plot point to mention than that she demands he investigate the murder, which leads to questions about whether he's even qualified to investigate a murder, especially a murder in LA, when he just got there. 

Whatever this book does that's similar to Evelyn Hardcastle, Shutter Island and Memento is worthy of being spelled out clearly. It's what makes this book different from most thrillers. Don't worry about spoilers.

Instead of throwing out hints that suggest Jack and Grace have a history that he doesn't remember, you might be better off telling us what that history is and why he doesn't remember. Secrets are better left for the back cover. 

Does Grace have supernatural abilities? I'm guessing no, as it isn't mentioned, and that would make it a different genre, but one could wonder if she can wipe someone's memory, vanish, cure nightmares . . . maybe even read minds if she knows things about Jack and Mara that she couldn't possibly know, knows when he'll be at his judo class and his firing range. I can come up with explanations for each of those, but they're adding up to a lot of stuff you don't want to explain.