Sunday, December 24, 2023

Monday, December 18, 2023

Face-Lift 1446

Guess the Plot


1. Researching the ancestry a home dna kit recently informed you of can be tough. This is your guide to finding the names, the graves, and literally digging up the dirt. No, I'm not talking about vampires.

2. Maria is born to the Redwall house, yet she married into the Blackhome clan. Her vampire sire is from the Bloodclaw family. Not a huge problem . . . Except now a DNA test is proving everything she once believed wrong. Can Maria find her true family?

3. Artificial blood finally becomes a reality. Unfortunately, when inside a living human, mixed with their own blood, it transforms them into vampires. Wendy Farmann, tasked with keeping the supernatural out of the public view, must conduct her own war on drugs. But she was already killing vampires anyway, so no biggy.

4. Having racked up enormous debts to mob boss Lou Siefer, former best-selling author M.T. Page accepted a deal to dig himself out: 666 thousand dollars in advance for a sequel to Page's debut novel. Two catches: Siefer would get the only copy, and it had to be printed in Page's own blood. It should have been easy; Page already had an outline and was given six years to deliver the manuscript. But like all authors, Page procrastinated and the deadline is now two weeks away. How many chapters can he put on paper before he goes from "low ink" to dead?

5. When top fashion designer Vladimir Igorn turns up dead on the runway in a dress from his new "Bloodline," everyone blames Felicity "Floof Mallow" Mallone, a plus-size model with curves for days and ties to the mob. Proving her innocence leads to a spy vs spy caper that will take Floofy from Transylvanian crypts to Ben & Jerry's in Vermont. Also horse races.

6. You'd think a small-town police detective would be sitting around twiddling his thumbs most days, not dealing with pagan rituals, murder, revenge porn, police corruption, obstruction of justice, prostitution, and siccing big dogs on innocent people. But you'd be wrong. And that's just Addison's first day on the job.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,  

I am seeking representation for my debut novel, BLOODLINES – a standalone thriller featuring LGBTQIA+ romance, complete at 95,000 words. It will appeal to those who enjoyed the multi-POV small town setting of Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor. [Dirt Creek: great title. Sequel will be titled Water Desert.]

Róisín (it’s Ro-sheen) [Thanks. The accent marks were throwing me. But shouldn't there be an umlaut over the first i?] Connelly was sure she’d already hit rock bottom and planted a goddamned flag — she’s 30, she’s divorced, and she hasn’t seen the inside of a Confession booth since 2008 [when she drunkenly walked into one thinking it was a phone booth--Come to think of it, she was at rock bottom then, too]. But when nude photos of her are discovered on a murdered college boy’s phone, her sins start to look deadlier than most — that’s motive, right? Like, a really good one.  [Marketing tip: To improve sales, include the photos in the book.] 

It’s a small town and people talk, so Róisín does what she does best: when she realizes it’s Detective Addison Duval in charge of the case (freshly promoted and known for gazing gayly at Róisín across the bar and from inside the closet), she leans into it — makes eyes — and Detective Duval jumps at the chance to arrest someone else. [Someone else besides Róisín? Or Róisín?][She's under arrest for making eyes? Making eyes is what she does best?] Thank God. [Who's thanking God? Duval? Was she in danger of not meeting her arrest quota?] [Let me see if I've got this straight. Murdered college boy either took nude photos of Róisín, or someone else did and sent them to murdered college boy. Róisín is Detective Duval's chief suspect in the murder case, which is awkward, because everyone in town knows she has the hots for Róisín. Róisín makes goo-goo eyes at Duval, possibly hoping to get on her good side, and Duval arrests her (or someone else). I think I've got it . . . Thank God.]

But then the Chief of Police goes missing, and someone calls in the big dogs. When the Internal Investigations Division arrives [By law, the Feds are the only ones allowed to call themselves the Big Dogs.] with their fully justified suspicions of both corruption and obstruction, Róisín’s quiet rock-bottom life and Addison’s promising career are firmly in the crosshairs — along with their burgeoning, very-much-not-a-good-idea relationship. [If you've just been promoted to detective, and you arrest someone who turns out to be the prime suspect in a murder investigation,  starting a romantic relationship with her isn't just a bad idea. It could be fatal. Which is why you didn't see Clarisse Starling dating Hannibal Lecter.] 

With pressure mounting, Róisín and Addison must work together to expose the secret that murdered college-boy Aaron was dangerously — fatally — close to uncovering. [When you called this a small town, I was thinking Mayberry, a place where the secrets that get exposed involve whether Andy and Helen have done it yet, or Otis is in the drunk tank again. Now it's sounding like The Godfather or James Bond.] There’s a ritual element in the cold cases sitting stagnant in the police vault, [Not clear to me what that means.] a coverup that goes all the way to the top, [All the way to Sheriff Andy.] and with Aaron’s killer still at large they’ll need to prove it — fast.  

It’s either that or Róisín could take up praying again, but it seems pretty late for that now.   

Thank you for your time and consideration,  

Yours sincerely,  


There's some good voice in the query, but some of it is getting in the way of making the story clear. 

I don't see why Róisín and Addison must work together. Róisín has no known investigative skills, and her only involvement (assuming she's not the killer) is that the victim had photos of her. It's my understanding that detectives work with partners, but that their partners are not chosen from among the suspects.

Does Addison know what secret the college boy was close to exposing? Is the secret that someone at the top of the small-town police department has been covering up the fact that a serial killer/pagan cult/coven of human sacrificers has been preying on the residents for decades? If that's the case, you've buried the lede at the bottom of the query.

How is college boy on the verge of exposing the secret? Is he doing an in-depth report for the college newspaper? Most industrious. I spent my college days playing cards and foosball.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Feedback Request

 The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1439 would  like feedback on the following version of the query:

Harlow is the last corrupted human alive. She’s been strong enough to contain the curse within her, which forces her to spread dark magic that turns others into ash. One touch will reveal her secret [Not clear if this means touching someone turns them to ash, or if physical contact with you reveals Harlow has this curse and you better run before she's forced to turn you to ash.] [If she fails to contain the curse, does the dark magic turn everyone to ash, or everyone nearby, or everyone she touches?] and her strength is slipping. If she can reach the queen’s palace, the mages there can cure her. She hopes. [I would change to something like this: Harlow is the last corrupted human alive. So far, she’s managed to contain the curse within her, but one lapse and she'll be forced to spread dark magic that turns others into ash. Instead of "others," you might be more specific about who and how many. Also, I left out the mages, as someone else claims to have a cure, and she doesn't know if either option will work.]

When her older brother, Len, is accused of serving the banished prince and stealing an ancient relic, he mysteriously disappears. Branded as his accomplice and with her secret exposed, [How was her secret exposed? Did she turn anyone into ash?] Harlow is thrown into chaos [Thrown into chaos? What does that mean?] until an assassin intervenes and offers escape. Taken into a secret society, their leader explains her curse is a power that can find corrupted objects, just like the one Len stole. [That sentence, technically, says that the leader is taken into the secret society. Better to say Harlow is taken into a secret society whose leader explains . . . ] If she brings it to him, he’ll let her go. He might even tell her where to find a cure without the mages['] help. [how to remove the curse.]

While Harlow learns to harness the curse, she discovers the relic’s true purpose: to turn life into Corruption. Caught between the queen’s executioners and the banished prince hunting Len, she has no choice but to work with the assassin. As their uneasy alliance forges an undeniable spark, Harlow faces an impossible choice: save the kingdom, Len, or herself. That’s if the curse doesn’t force her to become a nightmare first. [Become a killer?] [I don't think you need the first sentence of this paragraph. You don't explain how discovering the relic's purpose affects anything.]


If the prince is hunting Len, why would anyone think Len is serving the prince?

Monday, December 11, 2023

Face-Lift 1445

Guess the Plot

The Edge Girls

1. The life and times of a group of roller derby girls. Just with more drama and less derby. And a knife. And a sword. And - you know what? These girls are just violent.

2. Drugs and lying and cliques and backstabbing. Your typical high school? No it's one weekend at an Aspen ski lodge. Also, a murder.

3. Three talented starry-eyed ingenues who form a girl band and find fame and fortune with their first album endure personal conflicts, scandals, affairs, alcohol and other substances that threaten to tear the band apart and . . . You know the drill.

4. Edge girls are girls on the edge of getting their first period. Ruby is one of them, and she gets over the edge just before a virus rips through the world killing every prepubescent child. She's relieved--until she realizes she won't have her younger sisters to pick on anymore.

5. The Bronte sisters become vampire hunters. When Emily falls for Vlad, a blood pack-only type, can she convince Charlotte and Anne that bleeding on the page in a non-literal manner is a worthwhile goal?

6. The Edge Girls. They're rule-breakers. Excitement junkies. They'll do anything for a thrill. Even if it means getting thrown out of third grade.

Original Version

Dear {agent}

Since you’re looking for {personalized with their MSWL}, I’m excited to present THE EDGE GIRLS. Imagine the deadly virus in The Last of Us combined with the fertility crisis of The Handmaid’s Tale. [Now imagine slogging through a book even more depressing than that.] This multi-POV speculative suspense is complete at 88,000 words and explores why we choose to have children. [We choose to have children so the children we had by accident will have someone besides us to annoy.] It would sit on the shelf between The Power by Naomi Alderman and The Measure by Nikki Erlick. [It will sit on the shelf somewhere between those books only if your last name falls alphabetically between Alderman and Erick. (Thanks for allowing me to cut and paste a comment from two queries ago.)] [As you've already likened it to The Last of Us combined with The Handmaid’s Tale, there's no need to mention additional books on the shelf. Let's get to your book.]

Late bloomer Ruby Inman finally gets her first period but her relief is cut short hours later as a contagious virus rips through the world killing nearly every prepubescent child and rendering women infertile. Ruby’s younger sisters die, as do millions of children born during a population boom caused by a government stimulus plan to combat decreasing birth rates. [So the plan to combat decreasing birth rates has brought the birth rate to approximately zero. Then again, has any government plan ever produced the results it was intended to produce?]

Three years later, the world is frantic at the potential extinction of humans. [Not the world. Just humans and some dogs and cats. The rest of the animal world are thrilled to get rid of people.] It’s discovered that only the Edge Girls – the females who’d gotten their first period just before the virus hit – are able to bear children. When now 17-year-old Ruby accidentally becomes pregnant, everyone has an opinion about what she should do with her unborn baby. [Not everyone. Republicans.] As her pregnancy progresses, she must decide if she’s going to accept her fate, fight, or flee as the government attempts to capture the Edge Girls and take their babies. [I'd let a dingo take my baby before I'd let the government.]

This is my debut novel. After two decades in corporate America, I quit my successful job with the goal of becoming a career novelist. [It's never a good idea to let an agent know you're financially  capricious. She might try to convince you she deserves 60% of your income.] [Or she might not want the pressure of having a client who quit her job to be a career novelist, believing if she can't sell your book you'll end up living under a bridge, starving.] In March, a TikTok I made about my midlife gap year went viral and led to a segment on Good Morning America and articles in Scary Mommy and Upworthy. I’m hopeful these media contacts could lead to follow ups once I’ve published a book. [Have you already had the gap year? Did you consider writing a novel about a woman who takes a midlife gap year, in which you include things that happened during your midlife gap year, but embellish them with fictional events to make the gap year seem interesting? For instance, instead of your main character lazing around the house doing nothing for a year, she moves to Paris and has a torrid affair with a handsome French artist who paints her in the nude and the painting ends up in the Louvre, and when her husband comes to visit near the end of the gap year he goes to the Louvre and sees the painting and . . . well, you can take it from there. It'll practically write itself.]  Additionally, I have a connection at Netflix who has shown interest in optioning my book for a limited series. [Once you get a connection at Random House, she can do lunch with your connection at Netflix.]

Thank you for your consideration,


I'm not saying a novel about a woman taking midlife gap year would be any easier to sell than a novel in which all the children in the world contract a virus and die a horrible agonizing death. There's an audience for that book too. I suppose. But if you're hoping for follow-ups from Scary Mommy and Upworthy, it seems more likely you'll get them with a book somewhat related to the subject that attracted them the first time. 

That paragraph about your TikTok and quitting your job doesn't seem relevant, as it might if your book were about a woman who made a TikTok and quit her job. Perhaps it would be better to give us a few more sentences about what happens in the book. Your plot summary is mostly setting up the situation: The world is dying, Ruby is pregnant, and the government wants her baby. What does she want, what's her plan to get it, what goes wrong?

Of course my comments may seem irrelevant too, as you don't currently have a gap year novel, and you do have a dystopian . . . thriller? 

Why don't the babies born to the Edge Girls die when they're exposed to the virus? Or did the virus disappear when there were no children or women left to infect?

If this were like The Handmaid's Tale, the Edge Girls would have been rounded up by the government and forced to get pregnant. Again and again. There wouldn't be any "accidentally" getting pregnant.

What is this "government" that's trying to capture Edge Girls? Is there one world government? Or is this just happening in certain countries? Is Russia kidnapping all the Ukrainian Edge Girls? As it's the countries with the most Edge Girls that will increase their populations, wars will be fought, Edge Girls being the spoils of those wars. I assume your book covers all this?

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Face-Lift 1444

Guess the Plot

Write this Down

1. Your guide to remembering everything.

2. Light Yagami's son gets hold of a lesser demon's evil book. Every time he writes someone's name in it, that person falls down on their face. He uses this to run a gambling ring on high school foot races where he makes people trip in order to fix the game.

3. Maggie has written in her journal for as long as she could write. One day, her little brother ripped out a few pages and she found that what was removed from the journal never happened. Should she repair the past or write in what she wants to happen?

4. Don Juan's fancifully embellished exploits across Europe as dictated to an unnamed scribe who adds his own sardonic commentary. The experimental narrative in triplicate has cross-dressing, fights, bad poetry, sensual dancing, chases, parkour, baroque art, a love potion mix-up, and a cat with more than nine lives. Oh, and a host of bitter women hunting their unfaithful lover down.

5. Lucas was rejected by Lydia 15 years ago, but he's still holding out hope she'll see the error of her ways. Of course he doesn't want her thinking he's still obsessed with her, so to prove he isn't, he writes her letters all the time. You know, instead of texting her all the time. She'll come around.

6. Handwriting expert Amelia Johnson is regularly called as a witness in courtrooms across the country. One look at a defendant's handwriting and she can pronounce guilt or innocence. She's never been wrong, but she's now facing her toughest case. A defendant who has no hands.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Lydia is finally a working musician–playing guitar on tour for a country diva dripping with rhinestones. [Dolly Parton.] But life on the road is lonely, and she’s in need of a friend. [From what I've heard, Dolly would gladly be her friend if Lydia just told her how lonely she is.] Lucas meant to be a starving artist [A pretty low bar, as life aspirations go.] and ended up a finance bro. [As most of the people who come to this blog are starving artists, and thus have never heard the term "finance bro," here's a video that explains the term.] In high school, they were inseparable friends. Lydia’s tour stop in New York has Luke hoping for a second chance to act on his old crush. But Lydia doesn’t date friends, not since she lost her high school ex, Matthew. And Luke,  as much as he hates to admit it, still begrudges coming in second to Matt all those years ago. [How does he know he didn't come in fourth, to Mark, Luke, and John?] [I can't tell if Matt died, or they broke up.]

Lucas promises to write Lydia letters while she’s on the road –less loneliness for her, proof he’s definitely over that crush for him. [If you're regularly writing letters to an ex-crush, I'd call that proof you're definitely not over her.] Letters turn to texts and calls and reawaken creativity they thought was gone. She has a notebook full of new songs to show an admiring record producer. He’s finally writing the next chapters of his fantasy epic. [Fantasy epic? Run, Lydia, run.] But Lucas’[s] feelings grow stronger with each letter, and Lydia’s will to stick to the rules is waning. She feels the way the air shimmers when they’re together, but saw her parents’ friends to lovers marriage end in empty beer bottles and a move to Florida. [Empty beer bottles signify only that people like beer. However, willingly moving to Florida is a major red flag.] Lucas is weighing his options too - confess his feelings or learn to live with [risk] a future where the girl he loves chooses someone else yet again. [This time, she chooses George Strait.] When they disagree on the answers, [Wait, what are the questions?

Lydia's question: If we become more than friends, will we end up in Florida? 

Luke: No.

Lydia: Yes.

Luke's question: Should I confess how I feel about you?

Luke: I should.

Lydia: Please don't.]  

15 years of history mean knowing all the wrong buttons to push. 

Once friendship turns to romance, there’s no guarantee you get to keep either.

WRITE THIS DOWN is an 89K word contemporary, epistolary rom-com [This is a comedy? I had it pegged as depressing literary fiction.] in the vein of Tessa Bailey’s Hook, Line, and Sinker or Talia Hibbert’s Get a Life Chloe Brown.

Like Lucas, I am an unrepentant trumpet player. [No self-respecting finance bro has touched a trumpet since his junior year of high school.] I’m also the friend constantly trying to sell tickets to a community theater musical. [You think you're their friend; when they see you coming they duck into an alley, thinking, If I have to sit through one more amateur production of Cats I'll slit my throat.] For work, [PROFESSIONAL BIO] [I'd rather you show some light humor in the plot summary than in your bio.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,


If I'm describing a relationship becoming closer, I'd say it progresses from texts to letters, not letters to texts. Of course, I never do either, so take that with a grain of salt. I'm thinking phone calls would relieve loneliness more than texts or letters.

Confess his feelings or risk a future where the girl he loves chooses someone else yet again. This makes it sound like these two options are opposite sides of the same coin. Actually, confessing and not confessing could both lead to a future with Lydia . . . or without Lydia. Maybe he'll get lucky and she'll confess her feelings to him.

Friday, December 01, 2023

Face-Lift 1443

Guess the Plot

Night Terrors 

1. It's 3 am. The bathroom is down the hall. There are lego blocks scattered everywhere, a small dog that yips at everything, and a fussy infant that finally got to sleep 10 minutes ago. A two liter bottle of soda at dinner was two liters too many.

2. At ten o'clock the four-year-old got up for a glass of water. At eleven-thirty the twins needed to be changed. The TV woke me at three (five-year-old watching Sesame Street -- why is that even on this time of night?) and the phone woke me at four (which my nine-year-old answered and I'm pretty sure he just read my credit card number to a scammer.) Things finally quiet down just before dawn, when my husband stumbles in and asks how I slept. Justifiable homicide, right?

3. Everybody on planet Earth has been granted special powers. One guy, the Slasher, is using his powers to ravage the city, and it's up to Danny to stop him. But Danny's power to see the future isn't working, so he teams up with someone whose power is nullifying the power of people whose power is slashing stuff. Also, a theatrical drug lord.

4. Dahlia didn't want to be a vampire, but she wasn't exactly competent as a mortal either. At least she can still run her flower shop. (Fortunately, some flowers bloom at night.) When a guy named Seymore comes in looking for plant food, it leads to a series of misunderstandings . . . and murder. 

5. In a land of perpetual light, Jankley Palmer runs an orphanage. He rejoices in the townsfolk’s mumbled adoration until one of them discovers a spell of darkness. Experiencing night for the first time, Jankley gawps as his orphans transform into carnivorous  monsters. Jankley must learn to fight literal (and metaphorical) demons.

6. Juveniles Mark, Sam, and Tim have formed the group "Night Terrors" to participate in the junior computer programming league. But when events in their new horror game start happening in the real world, they must decide: add even more zombies or create a happy ending?

7. A recurring dream of endless December darkness in Alaska leaves Jose unable to leave his room unless it's full daylight. And then he discovers what he thinks is real might be a dream and what was a dream can become real. He must navigate history to get help from Zhuangzi and his dreams of chaos butterflies.

Original Version

Danny is a young Seattle detective with the convenient ability to see the future. [He's a precog. Like in Minority Report?The only problem is he has to be sleep deprived for it to work. [It's worth staying awake three straight days to know in advance the final score of the Super Bowl.]

The whole human race received sleep-deprivation-fueled powers when the Gray Night came thirty years ago. [Change that to the Gray Knight, and you've got a winner. He's a Knight who wears gray armor. People always ask him, "Hey, what's with the gray armor?" and he always says, "Not everything is black and white." That's his catch phrase.] The enforcement agency Danny works for promises safety from the chaos of these unchecked powers by forcing the entire population to be monitored and regulated. [One agency is monitoring and regulating the entire human race?] But when a power-user called the Slasher begins ravaging the city, the agency is under fire from activists calling that promise a hollow excuse for a corrupt regime. [Does everyone have the same powers, or does each person have a unique power?] [If everyone has powers, why don't they get together and use their powers to eliminate this Slasher dude? The Justice League or the Avengers would have no trouble destroying one guy whose power is that he slashes stuff, so a team consisting of all humans would take him down in the blink of an eye.] 

His whole life, Danny has predicted and prevented catastrophes, [Does it really count as predicting something if you've seen the future and know it's gonna happen? Isn't that cheating?] and he’s come to believe that is the only thing he’s valuable for. [You make that sound like a bad thing. You think Superman sits around sulking because saving humans from super villains is all he's good for?] But he’s unable to predict the Slasher’s attacks [because he slept like a log last night]. To aid his investigation, Danny makes a rocky deal with an anti-government activist, hoping her nullification abilities will be able to fend the Slasher off. [Maybe she's already using her power to nullify Danny's power. That's why he can't predict the slasher's attacks.] [You may use that as your mind-blowing twist, but only if you mention me in the acknowledgements.] Along the way, an esoteric drug lord who is equal parts vicious and theatrical manipulates Danny’s witnesses and dangles out power-boosting drugs as a cure-all for Danny’s issues. The more Danny is drawn in by each person, the deeper he ends up diving into the harsh realities of the police state he’s spent much of his life supporting. [More like a police planet.] 

Too much sleep, and Danny loses the only thing he thinks he’s good for. Too little, and Danny loses his sanity. [Is it lack of sleep or using your powers that drives you insane?] Balancing the two will be more than a nightmare. 

NIGHT TERRORS is a contemporary fantasy novel of 116,000 words. It provides an emphasis on the veiled conflict between power-seeking organizations similar to Martha Wells’s The Witch King against a backdrop of governmental control in response to a catastrophe like in Blake Crouch’s Upgrade. [Is Danny's agency the power-seeking organization or the controlling government?] [If this paragraph describes the main plot, the query is devoting too much space to Danny and the Slasher. If the main focus of the book is saving the city from the Slasher, focus the query on that with the usual format:

Who's the main character, what's his goal? What's his plan to achieve this goal? 

What are the obstacles? What goes wrong?

What will happen if he fails? What decision must he make?

I am a BA in English currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from (school). My short fiction has appeared in (places)

Thank you for your time and consideration,


I assume there's a good reason you want powers to work only when people are sleep-deprived? It seems like a random requirement.

So among the powers the Gray Night has bestowed upon people are seeing the future (but not when you really need to), nullification, and slashing stuff. Impressive. Does every human have a unique power, or are there lots of people who can see the future and lots who can slash stuff?

I suppose the reason none of the billions of superheroes have stopped the Slasher is because Danny's agency has declared that it's illegal to use your powers, even if you're using them to prevent the ravaging of a city?

Normally I'm all for throwing an esoteric, theatrical drug lord into a plot summary, but he seems unnecessary in the query. I mean, the Slasher is ravaging the city, and we're supposed to be concerned that the esoteric, theatrical drug lord wants to sell Danny some speed or whatever?

Even if, for some unexplained reason, Danny can't see the Slasher's attacks when he looks into the future, he should be able to see the results of those attacks. Like, if he notices that the dam no longer exists in the future he could predict that the Slasher is going to destroy the dam.

Usually when I think of slashing I think of a sword. Does the Slasher have a sword?

In my opinion, if everyone had super powers that required sleep deprivation, everyone would be depriving themselves of sleep. And, apparently, going insane. Of course this would be a worldwide phenomenon, whereas you are focusing on one city.