Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Feedback Request


The author of the book whose query appeared in Face-Lift 1439 would like feedback on the following revision of the plot summary.

Eighteen-year-old Harlow is the last corrupted human alive. She's managed to contain the curse within her, but a single touch will spread dark magic and turn anyone into ash. [That "but" doesn't feel right. It should be followed (as it is in the original) by "her strength is slipping." This might work a bit better:

Eighteen-year-old Harlow is the last corrupted human alive. Thanks to the curse within her, a single touch will spread dark magic and turn anyone to ash. So far, she's managed to contain the curse. But her strength is slipping.]

When her older brother, Len, is accused of stealing an ancient relic, he mysteriously disappears. Branded as his accomplice, Harlow tries to run, but her secret is revealed when she turns the queen's soldiers into dust. Desperate to flee [escape] execution, she escapes [flees] with the help of an assassin who takes her into a secret society. [I don't think you take someone into a society. He leads her to the  lair/hideaway/headquarters of his secret society.] His leader explains the [her] curse is a gift. It has the ability to find corrupted objects like the one Len stole. He'll let her go if she recovers it, and might even tell her how to remove the curse.

Caught between the queen's executioner and other fierce enemies, she has no choice but to trust the assassin. As their uneasy alliance forges an undeniable spark, Harlow discovers the relic's true purpose: a power that devours all light. [Not sure what that means. All light everywhere? Permanently? Why would anyone want to do that? Does Len know what it does?] [In any case, I would say its power is to devour all light, rather than its purpose is the power...] Now, she faces an impossible choice to save the kingdom, save Len, or save herself. That's if the curse doesn't consume her first. [It's gonna be hard to save anybody if Len accidentally causes the relic to consume all light.]


Does Harlow have to physically touch a person to turn them to ash? If so, how many soldiers does she have to kill before the rest of them smarten up and start shooting arrows or other projectiles at her?

How does she discover the relic's power? 

This is an improvement, but I'm still finding myself asking a few questions you may or may not have room to answer. If you can't answer them here, try to prevent them from coming up.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Face-Lift 1454

Guess the Plot 

Mission Intolerable 

1. The Impossible Missions Team is given their toughest assignment yet: clean the men's bathroom at exit 4 of the New Jersey Turnpike (southbound).

2. Sent back in time to kill Hitler, an assassin discovers that Hitler got a bum rap. He was set up and framed by Winston Churchill. But will assassinating Churchill change history for the better or worse?

3. A Mormon missionary’s pocket guide to overcoming temptation during a global mission. You’ll learn how to spurn loose women in Amsterdam, bring a deviant partner back to the Lord anywhere, keep your magic underwear clean without water, and escape drunken brawls in Satan’s favorite Mexican bars. Includes 700 prayers! 

4.An assassin is assigned to kill a human trafficker but before the assassin succeeds, the trafficker happens to kidnap the assassin's sister. A ticklish situation.

5.  A spoof of a spoof of a spoof of a spoof, which somehow comes around to being an action adventure in a gender-reversed, bedroom farce, every-day-life-taken-to-extremes sort of way. Think Walter Mitty, the psychological novel, not either of the films. 

6. When super spy Ethel Hunter gives up gambling, Lady Luck throws a hissy fit and sics Maxwell's demon on her with orders to enforce Murphy's law, which triggers paranoia in Ethel's entire team while they're trying to aid a defector in preventing WWIII. And then the pixies get involved. 

Original Version 

Dear (Mr./Ms. Agent): 

Based on your interest in (tailored to the agent being queried), I’m excited to share with you MISSION INTOLERABLE, a 75,000-word upmarket suspense novel with romantic elements. Think Luke Jenning's Codename Villanelle series meets the criminal tone found in FIRST LIE WINS by Ashley Elston. 

Liv Ruelle's wolflike instincts and gorgeous smile have made her a valuable assassin capable of seducing the most coldhearted criminal, but she has a problem. After a severe hangover made her miss her mark on her last assignment, compromising her identity, her employer thinks her nightclub habit is an issue and her next job will include a performance review. [It sounds like her last job included a performance review, if her employer knew she had a hangover after a nightclub outing.] Killing leaders of a human trafficking organization in Geneva requires teamwork, and Liv hopes her partner sent to supervise her plays nice. [Normally I wouldn't call a supervisor a partner, as he apparently outranks her. And "plays nice" suggests something more like "doesn't cheat" than "works as a team." Maybe: it requires teamwork, and she hopes her new partner knows this.]

Liv’s new partner Cy treats her like an assistant instead of an equal and expects her to agree with everything he says. Unfortunately for her, he’s hot, and according to protocol, has permission to kill her at his discretion. She can tell he’s attracted to her, but his refusal to respect her process makes them bicker about everything from dinner to the weather, and God forbid they agree on a strategy. [I think "God forbid" isn't right, as it conveys she doesn't want them to agree, when in fact she hopes they'll agree, but believes they never will. You're trying to convey hell will freeze over before they agree on a strategy, or pigs will fly before...]

Liv can think of a hundred ways to kill him but she’d rather stay employed. Needing a break from each other before the mission, Cy lets Liv visit her sister in Paris for a night, if she promises they’ll stay in. They don’t, of course, and their evening ends in disaster when Liv’s sister gets kidnapped from a nightclub by one of her targets. Devastated, Liv hopes Cy will help clean up her mess, because if not, he might just kill her for putting them in such a bad situation. And their assignment has only just begun. 

I'm a wholehearted bookworm who lives in Bellevue, WA. I’ve been a copywriter for nearly a decade, but have been telling stories since I could talk. I currently work full-time as a senior writer and editor for Microsoft. 

Thank you for considering my work!


Some may recognize this as a rewrite of the query in Face-Lift 1360, which was improved and resubmitted here

Liv is in Geneva to kill her targets, but first she makes an unplanned trip to Paris to go to a nightclub with her sister, (even though that's what just got her into trouble) and while she's there, one of her targets, who apparently also traveled from Geneva to Paris, kidnaps her sister from the nightclub? Does this target choose his kidnap victim at random, to traffic her? Too coincidental. But how could he know Liv was assigned to assassinate him? Did Cy tell him? Does he know Liv is out to get him and follow her to Paris and to the nightclub, and kidnap her sister as leverage? If he can do all that, he ought to be able to just kill Liv. Problem solved.

I feel like, at least in the query where you don't have room to explain everything, Liv's sister should just get kidnapped, period. Don't say by her target. This still creates a bad situation, as she wants to rescue her sister, so she can't return to Geneva, which pisses Cy off, especially when Liv asks him to come help her, putting off their mission.

It doesn't feel right that Liv and Cy are working for the good guys, but Cy has permission to kill Liv if he feels like it.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Face-Lift 1453

Guess the Plot

The Black Circle

1. He's lived a long life, always spinning until it was too much to bear. Now he's become unhinged and can't even stand on his own without spinning out of control. It's sad when you lose your one purpose in life, especially when you're a sentient revolving door.

2. When Rideroc thrusts Val into the center of a plot to breed an army of magic-infused shapeshifters, she must decide whether to put her nation at risk or start a romantic relationship with the guy. 

3. When a black circle appears one day in the car park of Green Valley High, everybody assumes it’s the work of bored students. Only Sharla, daughter of vampire hunters knows it’s true meaning- and knows the terrifying threat that all the good looking students will shortly face.

4. When mankind moves into space, the black spot, given to condemned traitors on a pirate vessel, is updated to a black circle for the space age. Alin has no desire to go out an airlock light years from any planets with or without a space suit. He has no recourse but to mutiny all by himself. With the ship's hacked AI of course.

5. A diverse group of Gen Alpha preteens break into an old, decrepit house where they discover an abandoned collection of vinyl records. Soon afterward they begin cancelling their Spotify accounts, sneering at people wearing AirPods, and blathering about “superior sound quality” …until a heroic GenXer takes them to task, smashes their albums, and saves the day because this is a feel-good story, not some Stephen King coming-of-age ripoff.

6. Ever since that trip to South America that Ferdi was too drunk to remember, she's been seeing a black spot show up here, there, on her doorstep, on her pillowcase. Might it have something to do with the Vodun cult she may have visited? It's probably just too much tequila. She should switch to rum.

7. Karen just wants to write novels for a living, but literary agents won’t acknowledge her existence. She already got rid of the pentagram under her bed, the homunculus in her basement, and the monkey’s paw she stole. What else could be giving her such bad luck? Unless . . . Maybe it's all those crows circling her house.

Original Version

Dear [Agent’s name],

Vallinore, a scholar dispatched to renegotiate a truce with a city ruled by a brutal king, [A city with a king? Wait, is this based on that TV show, The King of Queens?] was always marginalized due to her status as the emperor’s bastard. Fed up, she plans to abandon her duties post-mission and defect. 

Rideroc, the city’s Lord Commander, is hell-bent on liberating his people from the king’s tyranny. He ropes in Vallinore’s unique expertise in ancient languages to track down the only artefact capable of toppling the king, going so far as to threaten war on her nation if she refuses to help. [Either you translate these cuneiform passages, or my city will attack your nation.] [The king rules a city, Vallinore hails from a nation, Vallinore's father is an emperor, presumably of an empire? 

And the Lord Commander of the city is threatening war?]

Vallinore doesn’t plan for [figure on] Rideroc’s gravitational pull. As they peel back layers of pretence and forge a deeper bond, a shocking prophecy emerges, thrusting Vallinore at [into] the centre of an ancient lineage and making her the target of the king’s plot to breed an army of magic-infused shapeshifters. [Whoa, just when I was thinking Roman Empire, it's become Galactic Empire.] [Though I must admit that was one of the most amazing sentences in query history.] 

Rideroc and Vallinore must choose whether to flee and protecting Vallinore from the King’s relentless pursuit, or risk everything in a daring attempt to liberate the city.

THE BLACK CIRCLE is a dual POV Adult Romantic Fantasy complete at 118,000 words with series potential. It combines Jennifer L. Armentrout’s FALL OF RUIN AND WRATH's exploitative relationship between the protagonists and those in authority with Rebecca Yarros’s THE FOURTH WING’s enemies-to-lovers dynamic.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Not clear to me why this scholar who has studied ancient languages is the target of a plot to create an army of shapeshifters. Is "target of" the right phrase? Maybe "key to"? What does the shocking prophecy predict, exactly? That a woman will arrive in the city and translate some Sanskrit glyph instructions on how to create thousands of magical shapeshifters?

Lord Commander Rideroc sounds like the perfect name for your villain. Your hero should be the king's son, Prince Lenny. 

Also, Rideroc sounds a lot like Roderick. 

Vallinore plans to defect . . . to where? The brutal king's city? 

You call this a romantic fantasy, but there's little about romance here, just a vague mention of forging a bond and a gravitational pull (that Vallinore somehow feels right after Rideroc threatens war with her nation). 

Rideroc: Do as I ask, or my army will invade your country. 

Vallinore: Are you seeing anyone?

If you can get the romance angle in earlier it would help: 

Dispatched to negotiate a truce with a city ruled by a brutal king, Vallinore meets with the city’s handsome Lord Commander, Rideroc, who is hell-bent on liberating his people from the king’s tyranny. Rideroc makes a bad first impression, threatening war on Vallinore's nation unless she helps him topple the king. But though Rideroc seems like a real a-hole, Vallinore can't help finding him lovable, sort of like Hugh Grant.

Wait, replace that last line with: But though Vallinore finds Rideroc lacking in social graces, she can't help admiring his passion for helping his people--not to mention his ripped 6'3" frame. No, not quite that, but we're getting closer.