Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1442 would like feedback on the following revised version of the query

Dear agent, 

I am seeking representation for Phoebe, a literary fiction novel that is 84k words in length. 

Phoebe is a second generation Vietnamese-American in 2019 Southern California coping with the melancholy of her late twenties. She finds herself needing to live with her adoptive sister, Gigi, once again, after to a series of regrettable decisions. 

For reasons that Phoebe refuses to divulge, she was arrested and dropped out of her PhD program. When Gigi comes to bail her out of jail, Phoebe finds out for the first time that Gigi has been hiding a pregnancy for eight months. The novel follows Phoebe’s court mandated therapy sessions as she’s forced to recount the events of her life which caused her dramatic downfall while Gigi is stuck at home in the minutia of her newfound motherhood. [A bit of specificity would help. What kind of regrettable decisions? What was she arrested for? I would rearrange these paragraphs to:]

Phoebe is a second-generation Vietnamese-American in 2019 Southern California, coping with the melancholy of her late twenties. After being arrested for prostitution/drunk driving, Phoebe drops out of her PhD program and reluctantly moves in with her adoptive sister, Gigi, who is eight months pregnant.

 The novel follows Phoebe's court-mandated therapy sessions as she’s forced to recount the events of her life which caused her dramatic downfall, while Gigi is stuck at home in the minutia of her newfound motherhood. 

As Phoebe unravels the shame and guilt of her past, she becomes lost in her traumatic memories, unable to discern the difference between the choices she made and the parts of her life which were impacted by her mother’s abandonment and an unsettling betrayal from a childhood friend. The [one] reality she is certain of, however, is that her tenuous living situation can’t last, especially not with whatever else that [while] Gigi is still clearly hiding [something] from her. 

Phoebe is a story that explores the experiences of first-born immigrant daughters as they walk the tightrope between familial obligation and their own desires while at the same time navigating the ill defined transition from girlhood to womanhood. It is also about the complexities of female friendship and what it means to have a difficult love for another person. 

There is nothing currently on the market just like Phoebe, but it would sit on readers’ shelves somewhere between Milk Fed by Melissa Broder, for its dreamy, sexual prose and psychological musings, and Banyan Moon by Thao Thai, for its reflection on strained relationships between mothers and daughters. If Phoebe were a tiktok, it would be a video of a girl’s exhausted face overlayed [overlaid] with relatable text and a song from Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS album playing in the background. 

Thank you for your consideration. 


Better than the previous incarnation. It's not clear if Phoebe can't live with Gigi only because Gigi is hiding something. Many people manage to live together successfully without revealing all their secrets.

You're still not italicizing book titles.

Hyphen between two words combined to create one adjective (second-generation, court-mandated, ill-defined)

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Face-Lift 1447

Guess the Plot

Notes and Bolts from the Otherworlds

1. In a fictional world where musical talent translates to superpowers, and the right guitar notes can cause sheep to explode, Rose plays a magical Beatles record and is immediately transported to an otherworld where a universe-hopping, Hendrix-obsessed piano-playing hitchhiker tries to convince her to sing a duet with him. 

2. When one is a nigh-omnipotent deity, one is expected to start with building inhabited worlds and work one's way up to multiverses. But Jin-el started its deity-ness as a singularity--it needs remedial education on fleshy types. Join it and its nanobot colony as they attempt to build afterlives in an internship program.

3. Chit-Chitter-Chi-Chee was a squirrel obsessed with acorns until she tried to cross Highway 666. Now she haunts an engineer trying to date a haberdasher. Fortunately a freak portal puts them all in a world where animals speak like humans, cogs are power, and fashion is an up-and-coming trend. Sadly, without acorns.

4. Jim is a computer programmer. Except that being one in the Otherworlds, where AI has made humans obsolete, he sits all day in an electrified barber's chair, mentally playing PacMan and Donkey Kong while AI robots study his primitive brain waves and laugh. Also, genius dolphins.

5. Post-it notes and lightning bolts, model trains and dog sleds. Clown shoes and beach balls and sundaes and bunk beds. Plastic violas and green trampolines. These are a few of Bob Fahrquahr's favorite things. And while they seem unrelated out of context, they all come together in his memoir.

6. When lightning strikes a bagpipe factory, bringing the instruments to life, it's up to crack marksman Trevor McTavish to pop the bags and silence the pipes before everyone is Glasgow is driven insane.

7. Join the V.A.N.D.A.L. interstellar rover in this imaginative non-fiction exploration of our solar system and beyond. Includes fun science experiments, astronomical charts, and math.

Original Version


Rose Bergeron wants to know what happened to her husband. When his battered body is found in his car, nobody has an explanation. [The police do have a theory, however: somebody battered him while he was in his car.] After months with no answers, she starts finding notes from him all over his office, directing her to read his unfinished novel hidden in his desk. [Even if she hasn't been in his office for two months, the police probably would have searched it for clues to who wanted him killed. Thus I assume these notes appeared out of thin air, after two months?] [If the dead guy is leaving the notes, maybe he should be putting them on the refrigerator or her bathroom mirror instead of in the one room she never goes in.] [I don't care if she was married to him, no one wants to read an unfinished novel. That's why bookstores and libraries never have sections for unfinished novels.] [Though if they did, they'd probably be the biggest sections.] [Ironically, though agents and editors demand that you finish writing your novel before submitting it, they almost never finish reading it.]

She laughs as she reads the opening scene, where a lead guitar solo explodes a sheep, kicking off a battle for a magical Beatles record in a world where musical talent translates to superpowers. [My singing voice can clear everyone else out of a room. Not sure you'd call that a superpower, but I find it more useful than, say, talking to fish or shooting webs out of my wrists.] The story entertains her, but gives no clues to its author’s death. [Why do I think you're gonna contradict that statement immediately?]

Until the music in the book begins to invade her world. 

While Rose is reading a scene where the Beatles record lifts people off the ground, she feels herself levitate and drop back to her bed. [Like in The Exorcist, except with the Beatles instead of the demon king Pazuzu.] She feverishly reads to the end, where she finds one last note from her husband. [Instead of making her slog through his entire manuscript, he could have just told her to go to the last page.] When she reads it, she throws a previously cracked door wide open between her world and that of her husband’s book. [Like in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy also ends up in a fictional world where characters frequently break into musical numbers.]

In the firelight of this Otherworld, a universe-hopping, Hendrix-obsessed hitchhiker looks up from a piano and grins. Everything he’s done, creating beautiful music (and sometimes killing with it), has been for this cosmic event. [No offense, author, but I'm starting to think I'd rather read Rose's husband's novel than yours.] The trouble is, in order for him to get back to Earth for good, he needs Rose to trust him and sing along.

She gets the chance to play the Beatles record [How does she have this record that everyone's been trying to get?] and takes it, blasting across the universe and landing right next to the hitchhiker. He does his best to smooth talk her with a chance to see her dead husband again. As much as she wants to trust him, she has to decide whether the prospect of another moment with her husband is worth the fate of his very real fictional world. [I don't see why she believes that singing along with the hitchhiker would adversely affect the otherworld.]

NOTES AND BOLTS FROM THE OTHERWORLDS is a blend of speculative fiction and magical realism, complete at 109,000 words. It combines the alternating perspectives of Mark Lawrence’s “The Book That Wouldn’t Burn”, with the mystery and magic of Adrienne Young’s “The Unmaking of June Farrow”. Along the way, cosmic versions of the Beatles, Jack White, Bowie and more fight like they’re battling in Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. Two comp books is plenty without adding a movie based on a comic book.] [If you really want that information in the query, work it into the plot summary.]

I live in Wisconsin with my wife, toddler and two cats. This would be my first published work. Thank you for your consideration.


I'd drop "and Bolts" from the title, even if there are bolts in the plot. The double meaning of "Notes" is enough cleverness, without the added play on "nuts and bolts."

The query starts out like this is a police procedural or a murder mystery. If it is, as you say, a blend of speculative fiction and magical realism, do we need Rose's husband to be battered in his car? Even if we do in the book, we don't in the query. (I'm assuming most of the book is set in this Otherworld.) Possible rewrite:

While reading her recently deceased husband's fantastical, unfinished novel, Rose Bergeron is somehow transported into the book's world, a wondrous place where musical talent translates to superpowers and rock stars battle for a magical Beatles record that will make them the "Zappa," imperious overlord of the Otherworld. Rose has many adventures in this musical land, and meets many of her favorite musicians, including Jack White and Jack Black and Bowie.

Meanwhile, across the universe, a Hendrix-obsessed hitchhiker looks up from a piano and grins. Everything he’s done, creating beautiful music (and sometimes killing with it), has been for this cosmic event. He, like Rose, wants to get back to Earth. And all they have to do is play the magic Beatles record while singing along. 

There's just one catch. Doing so will destroy the incredible Otherworld that Rose's husband conceived and created in his novel, along with all of its characters and music. When Rose hesitates, the hitchhiker sweetens the pot: He offers to Bring Rose and her husband together again. Is time with her husband worth the fate of his very real world?

Okay, I realize there's a flaw in this version. Namely, the hitchhiker has the magic Beatles record, which means he's the Zappa. Would he give that up to get to Earth?

On the other hand, in your version the hitchhiker arranges for Rose to play the record, so he must have some way to get it to her, so maybe he is the Zappa. 

Wouldn't it be better for the hitchhiker and the record and Rose to all be in the same place instead of having to blast Rose across the universe?