Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Face-Lift 1457

Guess the Plot

Shame of Kings

1. Shame (that's Sha-me, two syllables) leaves his hometown to become a body double to royalty. After 6 assassination attempts, he decides he'd be safer killing the royal he's doubling for, taking his place, and hiring a body double.

2. Shame! Shame upon your name! Shame upon your family! Shame upon your country! And most of all shame upon your king who let one such as you live. These words echo across the world before it all ends. The book, I mean, not the world.

3. While His Majesty writes (average) poetry, rides horses (badly), and dallies in the harem with the women, the Prime Minister and the Chief Eunuch vie for the job of running the country.

4. King Carlos, of Florida's Calusa tribe, shamefully sends his son across the Gulf of Mexico to King Montezuma of the Aztec Empire. His mission: convince Montezuma to come to Florida and help fight off the Spanish Armada. Montezuma shamefully refuses.

5. Scandal reigns over Europe when it's discovered that King Philippe of Belgium and King Frederik X of Denmark shared a hotel room at the last G7 meeting.

6. If you took all the crap kings of England got away with just because they were kings, it wouldn't amount to half of what popes have pulled. But that doesn't mean England shouldn't be ashamed. Historian Henry Lockwood's latest book will set the record straight . . . but someone will stop at nothing to keep it from being published.

7. Shame? What shame? They can do whatever they want with whoever they want whenever they want. They fund their lifestyles by grabbing taxes at whim. This is a pretty short novel.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Greetings from Southwest Florida, [Thanks. And condolences.]

Prince Sinapa of Florida’s mighty Calusa tribe is devastated when his father, King Carlos, does not appoint him to lead their defense against the fleet of Spanish warships approaching from Cuba. Instead, the King sends Sinapa across the Gulf of Mexico to try to convince Aztec Emperor Montezuma to join the Calusas and drive the Spaniards from their common waters. 

Sinapa: Our canoes are no match for Spanish warships. We need your mighty navy to help drive the Spanish from our common waters.

Montezuma: We have no navy, and we have no common waters. But since you've come so far I can give you a good price on some slightly used canoes.

Sinapa departs on the risky mission, filled with shame at not being chosen to lead the fight against the Spaniards. [Aren't there any potential allies closer than the Aztecs? Like the Creeks? Or the Portuguese? How's Sinapa getting to the Aztec empire, canoe? Horse? Horse in canoe? Does he have a Calusa - Aztec translator?]

Complete at 95,000 words, SHAME OF KINGS is novel about the fierce Calusa tribe that dominated southwest Florida in the 16th century. [Wait, that's it? Is there a plot? What happens? Does he make it to the halls of Montezuma? Does Montezuma drop everything and head for Florida, leaving his empire vulnerable to a sneak attack from the south? Does Sinapa fall in love with an Aztec woman, settle down in Tenochtitlan, and never return to Florida? Or does he return a year later with thousands of Aztec warriors only to find the Spanish decided Florida was a dump and went back to Cuba?] They never gave in to Spanish Conquistadors and were one of the last Native American tribes to survive in the face of European colonialism.

My story would appeal to readers drawn to the multigenerational Florida history of A LAND REMEMBERED by Patrick D. Smith and the epic, far-reaching themes in the works of James Michener.
I have an MA in English Language Arts Education and have been teaching for 18 years. Before teaching, I was a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Air Force and wrote articles for national and international newspapers.

I would be happy to discuss my book with you.


I comment on the details of your story as if I have any knowledge about the period of history, but only because I suspect that the agent you query will have even less knowledge than I do. I mean, have you looked at the photographs of literary agents on their websites? They mostly look like they just got out of high school and got a C- in the only history course they took.

Is this a novel about the tribe or about a specific person/event? I don't get the impression this is a far-reaching multi-generational epic. It sounds like the story of Sinapa's quest to find an ally and make it back before his people are all wiped out by conquistadors and smallpox. If it's a story about Sinapa, we need more info about what happens to him. Ten sentences covering his goal, his plan, the obstacles he overcomes, what's at stake if he fails/succeeds. 

If it's a far-reaching story about the tribe, it seems like what happens in Florida while Sinapa is gone should get more attention in the query than Sinapa's shame at being sent on a fool's errand. Either way, your query needs to summarize the story. 

Did whoever King Carlos appointed to lead the defense do a good job?  

How does a Native American king have a Spanish name?

I suspect King Carlos sent Sinapa to Mexico because he didn't want his only son dying in the coming battle. I also suspect Sinapa wouldn't get ten miles off the coast of Florida before his canoe got destroyed by a Spanish galleon or a hurricane or a whale. 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Face-Lift 1456

Guess the Plot


1. Two teens enter a parallel realm to escape their violent lives, only to discover their new world is more like Dante's Inferno than Alice's Wonderland. Apparently they didn't get the memo, the one about the demons who want their souls. 

2. Paul Johansen finds a memorandum on his desk, telling him he'll have to work through the weekend. Fuming, he tosses it in the wastebasket, setting in motion a series of events that will lead to three murders and the derailment of a train carrying nuclear waste through Chicago.

3. Memory has been stored in The Library for as long as AJ has known. However, when he finds a discrepancy between two records, he makes a search for the original. Which is stored in the underground vault known as . . . Memorandum!

4. Secretary Jean's new boss (assigned by corporate headquarters) is a terrible manager, but fortunately only communicates by memorandums, which Jean fixes up before sending them. When the boss turns up dead, can the entire branch office get rid of the body and fake his continued existence while leaving Jean in charge?

5. Knowing her boyfriend Brent will not take it well in person, Jackie informs him that she's breaking up with him in a State Department memorandum that mistakenly gets sent to everyone in the department . . . except Brent. Hilarity ensues.

6. Hoping to foster a reputation as the most upscale agency in New York, literary agent Harper Montgomery replaces form rejection slips with form rejection memorandums.

Original Version

MEMORANDUM (90,000 words) is a YA contemporary fantasy standalone with series potential following underprivileged POVs. It combines the otherworldly danger in L.L. McKinney’s Nightmare-Verse trilogy, the grief-processing in Jessica Kara’s DON’T ASK IF I’M OKAY, and the tense adventure of Marc J. Gregson's SKY'S END. [I'd put this paragraph after the plot summary.]


17-year-old Dulani longs to escape a broken home. So when mysterious visions promise a way out, he’s desperate enough to try. Flipping a strange coin, Dulani enters a parallel realm that manifests humanity’s myths—from dazzling El Dorado to gorgeous Elysium. He’s always coveted such greatness and art, but dreams become nightmares when demons hound him like fresh meat. [Demons hound fresh meat?] Outrunning [Running from] death is a worse life than his old one, but he’s got to suck it up and adapt because he’s alone—until he meets a firecracker with a chip on her shoulder. [Once I know I'm in a world where there's magic and humanity's myths are manifested, it's not a huge leap to imagine there are sentient firecrackers. Sentient swords are particularly common in fantasy. And what about Lumière, Cogsworth, Chip, Mrs. Potts, and Babette from the film Beauty and the Beast? Or that precious ring of power? Call her a teenager.] [If you say "until he meets Milliana, a teenager with a chip on her shoulder," we'll be sure, in the following paragraph, that Dulani is the young man Milliana meets.


16-year-old Milliana’s brain is too big of a target for the bullets flying around in her neighborhood. So, she escapes into a world only “Visitors” like her can enter. [Does she get there by flipping a strange coin?] It’s nice to be special, not so when souls like hers attract [She finally feels safe--until her soul starts attracting] hyper-persistent demons that want it. While hiding, she soon encounters a young man as dog-tired as her. He’s reticent, but a good listener and (almost) as smart as her. [Grammar police here. That should be "as dog-tired as she (is)" and "as smart as she (is)."] ["Her" would be okay if you said "he was (almost) as smart as her hamster."] Since they can’t run or hide forever, she suggests a daring idea: fight back. 


They trap and kill a leading demon, and it’s a rush of power for two people unused to it. But the demons won’t rest until they break free and devour Earth. With every Visitor in danger, it’s hunt or be hunted. [Seems like it's hunt and be hunted.] Dulani is all business, while Milliana relishes a challenge for her intellect. But as they learn more about the realm, and each other, trying to make the most of their situation could mean endangering everyone else.  [When you're stuck in a world crawling with demons who want to steal your souls and devour Earth, your plan needs to be more specific than "Let's make the most of our situation."] [This paragraph is pretty vague. What's a leading demon? A demon leader? A prominent demon? What are the demons trying to break free from? What does being "all business" mean? If every Visitor is already in danger (sentence 3) why should D & M worry that making the most of their situation (whatever that entails) will endanger everyone?


Like Dulani, I’m Black, and I channel my experiences with “othering” into his and the cast’s stories. As a Research Assistant with a MS in Engineering, I find new solutions to strange problems while shouldering a lot of responsibility—just like the heroes of this story. 


Thank you for your time and consideration.

Author's note: The title MEMORANDUM comes from the main characters using concepts like memory as sources of power while fighting back against a thought experiment they were tricked into at their lowest. [Wait, there is an actual alternate world with demons, right? It's not that the kids believe this because they've been tricked into participating in a thought experiment? That would be a different query (and possibly a cooler story.)] 


It's hard to believe the vast number of demons it would take to devour Earth could be defeated by two teenagers. We need something about their powers in the query, preferably something more specific than they use concepts like memory as sources of power. 

Apparently Milliana is the smarter of the two main characters. This will please female readers, who want to see someone like themselves solving the puzzles. Which is why Milliana maybe should be the Black character, to please the Black readers who want to see the Black character solving problems requiring intellect. Dulani's the muscle.

This assumes, of course, that you're set on having male and female / Black and White MCs. And that the work required to make such a change would be worth it.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Another Anthology in Memory of Miss Snark


Writing Exercise Results

The challenge was to write up to 200 words based on the following prompt:

Miss Snark spends Friday night blubbering. In the morning she burns the shoe boxes and computer containing her seven unpublishable novels, and gets a new tattoo in preparation for her blind date with Arnold Patterson, pizza driver. Is she at rock bottom yet?

1. The dame had finally come unhinged. Papers were strewn everywhere. The room smelled like bathtub gin, smoke, and failure. Only the smoke was new.

Lemme start by saying I've killed before. Not proud of it, but it keeps the kibble in my bowl. I once shot a man just fifteen feet from his old lady. Don't get me wrong; he'd been scamming prose-pushers for fourteen years. He had it coming to him. His old lady, though, she had nothing to do with it. I let myself feel sorry for her. She cried the carpet wet enough to drown a fish.

That woman had nothing on my dame.

I've never been good at dealing with nothing on two legs, so I decided I'd grab myself a London Dry and get out of her way. If I stayed, she'd throw something, and I'd be stuck cleaning up the mess. Then I saw it: her arm'd been inked. “Arnold Patterson,” written in a blood-red heart. My own heart just about stopped. They say the boy delivers for Paccinis, but my mole tells me what's in those boxes don't taste good with parmesan.

The name's Yap. I wear a tam.


2. The scent of Pepperoni filled the cab. Miss Snark wiped the seat before sitting down, hoping Arnold didn’t notice her grimace of disgust.

“Watch out for that Four Cheese,” he said, indicating a box under her stilettos. “I said we’d drop it off on the way to the bar.”

“The bar?” Miss Snark couldn’t help adding venom to the words. “Not a restaurant?”

Arnold shrugged. “Nah. I though we could grab a few beers, shoot some pool . . . maybe watch the game on the big screen.”

“Beer?” The concept was familiar only because it was the choice of antagonists.

“Sure.” He looked across at her. “Light for you, since you’re a lady.” He looked back to the street. “What the f-?” Arnold slammed on the brake so hard that the pizza beneath her feet became garlic bread with a side serving.

Miss Snark looked out of the windshield. In the middle of 5th Avenue, they were being held up by a poodle with a rocket launcher. She smiled and opened the door. “Sorry Arnold,” she said. “I don’t need the clue rocket after all. I suggest you query the east side girls.”


3. On the evening of her date, the portion of her tattoo depicting a tiny cluegun stings like a blistering sunburn. She calls Arnold three times, intent upon canceling. But Arnold is the only life form in the 212 without voicemail. Wincing, she dabs the tattoo with gin, then dons a pair of five-seasons-old Manolo Blahniks, a bulky sweater and her longest skirt, only two inches above the knee.

The subway car swarms with dozens of wanna-be rappers, actors and models, practicing their moves in the reflection of grime-streaked windows. She recites passages from Chekhov's "The Three Sisters" to keep her mind off the tattoo and her fellow travelers.

As she approaches the agreed-upon assignation spot, the third monkey statue from the banana tree at Epicurious George, her eyes are drawn to a lanky silver-haired man whose hand rests on the monkey's shoulder for support. Her gait slows as her heart quickens.

He turns her way with hooded eyes and a dimpled smirk that graces his chiseled jaw. "Miss Snark?"

A quiver runs through her 40" legs, but she recovers with a hand to her hip. "That's my monkey, Clooney."


4. "Patterson, Patterson, Pizza Man:
stretch me thinly, quick as you can . . . "

The woman who steps out of the shower is unrecognizable: gone are the tight business lips, the intravenous gin drip. She dries herself slowly, dabbing at the square of thigh sporting her new, impromptu tattoo - 'Grandmother' in a heart.

The dog is nervous. He backs away as she enters the kitchen, humming. He's seen her on the downswing before, but this seems serious - would a sane human carve names on the stilettos before burning the shoes?

The Snark was talking to herself: "Tanya - do I look like a Tanya? Or maybe Sadie: I kinda like Sadie." When the doorbell rings she smiles, her face unused to the broad exercise. "Are you Arnold?" she asks, opening the door.

"How could I refuse that offer you made on the phone, Miss!" Somewhere beneath the pile of zits a crooked-tooth smile haggles for some performance space. He holds out a plastic bag: "I bought you a present."

The Snark's damp brow struggles for a moment, unable to match the voice to the vision. "What is it?"

"It's a dress, Miss. For you. I hope you like gingham . . . "


5. No way in hell, unless it’s the Rock Bottom Café in the back room of a certain NYC literary agency.

You know the one I mean. It’s one of those “if it’s Tuesday, it must be panini night” kinds of places. So much so that on Fridays, Her Snarkness may be blubberin’, but she’s blubberin’ with aplomb, 'cause if it’s Friday, it must be canasta playoff and clam chowder night in the house, and she’s kickin’ everyone else’s little ass.

So much so that on Saturday, she and her brand new tattoo waylay old Arnold up the street, way before he can descend upon the fake address she gave him. She walks him right down where she wants him. There’ll be no pizza on Saturday. Oh, no, Bucky. This boy is her just dessert.

She knows just how to get what she wants. That’s why we love her so.

--Robin S.

6. “A little more left and down, please.” The Tat Artist’s ink-filled needle hovered just above the milky plumpness of Miss Snark’s exposed buttock. “Yes. Right there for the dragon’s head, and George will be just above, correct?” Miss Snark drew deeply from the gin pail. She wasn’t about to sanction a careless misstep on her ass.

“Yeah, lady, I get it. But like I said, that’s pretty high up for an Order of the Garter.”

The petite agent harrumphed and settled herself more comfortably.

Hours later, the mini-masterpiece was nearing completion. An inert Miss Snark emitted a delicate snuffle in response to the tinkling bell as the shop door opened. A tall, tanned and very handsome man stood staring down at the blubbery butt, freshly adorned with the colorful, intricate insignia.

“That’s your best George yet,” said the well-known actor, himself a fan of all things "George." “Michelangelo’s got nothing on you, Jim!”

Miss Snark, still prone on the table and more than half-in-the-bag, roused herself briefly to mumble, “Did someone say 'Gin?'”

--Burnt Brigid

7. "Listen, Dog, don't go soft now. Hand me the gin."

Yap retrieved the pail. Miss Snark poured the magic liquid on her desk and the shoe boxes next to it.

"What a waste of good alcohol. I'm gonna regret this. But I can't take it anymore. Stupid authors. Stupid publishing business. I'm fed up, I tell you, fed up. If I get one more query, I'm going to crack. No more tears for the Snark, I had enough of them last night. Now get the fire extinguisher."

Yap plunked it at her feet as her desk went up in flames. She waited and pulled the trigger just as the smoke alarm went off.

"That felt really good. Know what I'm gonna do next?" she said. "Tattoos! I'm getting a big honking book tattoo on my butt--in gold and red. And then I'm meeting a new guy at Ray's Pizza. Don't wait up, Yap." She walked out the door.

Yap shook his head. Humans! One quart of gin and they think they're twenty again.


8. Miss Snark sighed. I never intended to be a great author, she thought, any more than I intended to catch that wretched disease from Evil Editor.

She looked at her date's vehicle in red, white, and black and blaring trumpets sounding every time the stupid little van came to a full stop. She could not imagine what the other guests at the conference would make of it.

"C'mon, Snarkie, it is time for you to shake your booty."

Miss Snark looked at her date, Arnold Patterson, purveyor of German-style pizza. She slid into the passenger seat. To the sound of trumpets blaring the Vorwarts March, they made their way to the agents' dinner. Miss Snark had almost forgotten about her fallen estate, the burned down house, her company folding under the weight of her last four sales being to I-Universe. But when they arrived, she saw something that truly chilled her to the bone: George Clooney, entering the building, and on his arm, Barabara Bauer.


9. “I’m a wreck when it comes to cooking!” Miss Snark flung a spatula onto the floor. It bounced twice and landed next to the rest of the kitchen utensils.

Killer Yapp trotted over to lick the scrambled eggs, sausage, and lima bean mixture, while Miss Snark grabbed the fire extinguisher.

“Empty? Already?” She tossed it onto the pile of used-up extinguishers.

As the blaze consumed her Saturday morning breakfast, she decided to feed it more.

“Here you go, fire! Have Rabbitania. It’s junk anyway. And Dan Lazar’s memoir. Fantasy crap. The Top Ten Writer’s Conferences I Won’t Tell My Snarklings About. Best to keep that secret. Burn, baby, burn. Raising Squirrels in New York. KY isn’t ready for that yet.”

Miss Snark howled. “Oh yeah! And the book I co-authored with EE, The Essentials of Poetic Prose. Snarklings and minions are stupid not to know what that is.” She threw it onto the stove.

Hours passed, the fire died down. Her computer was ruined. Five manuscripts were destroyed. Miss Snark frantically searched for the remaining two.

“Oh thank dog, I found you!” She flipped through Miss Snark Cooks With Gin and NY’s Most Eligible Pizza Delivery Men. “Keepers.”


10. “Is he gone?” Killer Yapp sauntered out of the kitchen, licking pâté from the corner of his mouth.

Miss Snark threw herself facedown on the sofa. “Yes, thank Dog.” She kicked off her stilettos, cheap Blahnik rip-offs. “My ankle is killing me.”

“I told you that wasn’t a good place for a tattoo,” Killer Yapp said. “Not with the shoes you wear.”

“Don’t rub it in.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“It was terrible,” she admitted. “Even worse than you thought.”

Yapp recalled his dire predictions from earlier that evening, and shuddered.

“He only asked me out because he’d heard I was an agent. He made me read his entire manuscript before dinner.”


“Worse. Star Wars fanfic. When I told him I didn’t represent that genre, he pestered me for personal recommendations to ‘any of my little agent friends’ who did!”

“At least Pizza-boy wasn’t too hard on the eyes,” Yapp remarked.

“Yes, but he wasn't the man I truly want,” Miss Snark sighed.

“Clooney,” Killer Yapp said knowingly.

“No . . . ” Miss Snark sobbed. “Evil Editor!”

“Um, Miss Snark?” Killer Yapp backed away from the sofa.

“What?” she snapped.

“That was Evil Editor.”


Miss Snark said...

Fanfic gone wild.
This is enough to make me reach for the pail.

My vote for best line is "that WAS evil editor"!!!!

I must confess I did love them all.

Y'all are deranged but ..in a good way...yanno?

Friday, April 19, 2024

Miss Snark's Therapy Session (A Writing Exercise from Years Ago) RIP Miss Snark / Janet


1. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I'm not so sure I shouldn't have kept the blog and quit my job. The blog made me the most famous literary agent in the world. Now it'll probably be Kristin with her damned iPod."


"It's unbelievable. Kristin Nelson's form rejection slip:

STATUS: Plowing through the slush that built up while I was off at yet another conference. Currently reading yours.

What's playing on the iPod: KEEP YOUR DAY JOB, by The Grateful Dead.

We apologize in advance for this form letter. Best of luck elsewhere."

"Getting back to you, Miss Sn--"

"Even when she's submitting her clients' manuscripts to publishers, she manages to work in what's playing on her fucking iPod. Christ."

"Are you finished?"

"Look, Betelbaum, I've made a mistake. What's more satisfying? One of my Snarklings hitting it big, or unloading one of my clients' crappy books on some clueless publisher?"

"Has one of your Snarklings ever hit it big?"

"Of course not. They're all nitwits. But they're my nitwits." She sighed. "If I could just find a client capable of putting out a mega-seller, I could afford to retire and go back to blogging."

"Have I mentioned to you that I've written--"

"Quiet, Betelbaum, I'm thinking. I wonder if Evil Editor's planning Novel Deviations 3." She grabbed her purse. "See you next week. I got an email to send."


5. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I'm not so sure I shouldn't have kept the blog and quit my job. The blog made me the most famous literary agent in the world. Now it'll probably be Kristin with her damned iPod."


"It's unbelievable. Kristin Nelson's form rejection slip:

STATUS: Plowing through the slush that built up while I was off at yet another conference. Currently reading yours.

What's playing on the iPod: KEEP YOUR DAY JOB, by The Grateful Dead.

We apologize in advance for this form letter. Best of luck elsewhere."

"Getting back to you, Miss Sn--"

"Even when she's submitting her clients' manuscripts to publishers, she manages to work in what's playing on her fucking iPod. Christ."

"Are you finished?"

"Look, Betelbaum, I've made a mistake. What's more satisfying? One of my Snarklings hitting it big, or unloading one of my clients' crappy books on some clueless publisher?"

"Has one of your Snarklings ever hit it big?"

"Of course not. They're all nitwits. But they're my nitwits." She sighed. "If I could just find a client capable of putting out a mega-seller, I could afford to retire and go back to blogging."

"Have I mentioned to you that I've written--"

"Quiet, Betelbaum, I'm thinking. I wonder if Evil Editor's planning Novel Deviations 3." She grabbed her purse. "See you next week. I got an email to send."


2. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I don't know," Miss Snark sighed. "The outpouring from the Snarklings was tremendous! I feel as if I've abandoned them. Have I done the right thing?"

"Absolutely," Betelbaum replied. "Your readers will be stronger for it. Many of them had formed a dangerous dependence on you, an anonymous blogger. That sort of thing can become very unhealthy. And the experience wasn't doing you much good, either."

"The stress was killing me," she agreed, "but now I feel so empty, somehow. Have I betrayed them all?"

Betelbaum smiled gently and murmured reassurances, secure in the knowledge that no fewer than 38 former Snarklings were scheduled for appointments with him in the upcoming weeks.

"I'm sure we'll work through this," he said. "With time."


3. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it. It's just a matter of finding something as rewarding as blogging."

"I've tried, doctor. But I miss the nitwits, the burning hair . . . Now I spend all my time stomping stilettos into slush."

"Surely it's not that bad?"

"Worse. There's the not my genre pile, the must be copyedited pile, the interns will be amused pile, the Dog is that a dumb idea pile, the please don't send us anything ever again pile, the shred before reading pile, the minuscule font pile, the five page query pile, the no SASE pile, the it's another literary-fiction-sci fi-romance all in one pile, the 200,000 . . . "

The doctor's cellphone interrupted. He listened intently replying only yes and ending with a no. "An opportunity has come up," he said. "It could be just the thing."

"Clooney wants me?"

"Since you have so many piles, how would you like to be national spokesperson for Preparation H?"


4. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"I still don't see," Miss Snark said, "how more sessions is going to help me kick my psychoanalysis addiction."

"Now, now, don't worry about that. Let's work on the gin pail next."

"My gin pail? You can't take that away from me. That's almost as sacred as my affection for George Clooney."

"Yes, I know, but it has to go so you'll have more time for me," Betelbaum said. "Besides, George pays no attention to you, so why obsess about him when I'm available?"

Miss Snark's eyes opened wide. "Why . . . you're a nitwit!" She reached for her purse.

Betelbaum paled as the business end of a cluegun emerged and pointed in his direction. "Well, maybe it's all right to obsess so long as you--"

Smiling, Miss Snark stepped over Beterbaum's clueless body to make her way out of his office. The police wouldn't know who'd done the deed--clueguns didn't have to be registered.

--Dave Kuzminski

5. "I did as you suggested in our last session, doctor. I quit blogging." Miss Snark kicked off her stilettos to avoid gouging another hole in the couch.

"Good," Betelbaum said. "It's not easy to beat an addiction, but we'll get through it."

"But Dr. Betelbaum, something doesn't feel right. I don't feel . . . discrete. It's as though I'm losing my sense of self." She glanced nervously at an old painting of New York City on the wall.

"That's normal. You see, Miss Snark, you are a fiction. A composite of the ordinary and the spectacular from the life of another, with a dose of the unreal. The feeling of addiction that you have felt was the projection of another. Being cut loose, you begin to exist only in memories, which are unreliable."

Miss Snark reached down and picked up Killer Yapp. As she stroked his head, her hand reached deep into his fur -- too deep, seeming to pass through his skin. "I'm afraid."

"Don't be. It's part of the natural order. We grow, we change, and parts of us are lost in the process." He pushed a plate of toffee toward her, but she refused. "Even as you pass on, just picture all of the lives that you touched. Will that let you smile on your way out?"

Miss Snark stared at her hands, slowly passing them through one another. Little sparkles of light flitted about inside like faeries. She forced a smile. "Yes. Thank you, Dr. Betelbaum." She rose, drifted over to the painting with Yapp in her arms, and faded out through its cracked surface.

"It was my pleasure," he whispered at the wall. He checked his watch, smiled, and faded into his chair.


Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1443 would like feedback on the following version of the query:

Thank you for considering NIGHT TERRORS, a 117,000 word speculative novel set in a modern Seattle twisted by the supernatural abilities people manifest when they’re sleep deprived. Night Terrors has an emphasis on corrupt enforcement systems that will appeal to fans of Blake Crouch’s Upgrade with a naive narrator caught in a fantastical mystery much like Jackson Bennett’s The Tainted Cup. [That sentence can be moved to the end.]

Danny doesn’t know how to be a normal human.

When he was twelve years old, his future sight prevented a gas leak explosion at his school, and since then he’s been plagued by the media. All his interactions are tainted by people’s longing for—and fear of—a glimpse into the future. As an adult, Danny works as a detective working for an agency that forces people to sleep [by strapping them into chairs and making them watch Citizen Kane] to prevent their powers from going haywire. He hopes that if he can predict and prevent enough pain, he’ll finally start feeling connected to a world that always seems to keep [keeps] him at arm’s length. [In other words, he gets to use his super power, but no one else does.]

But when a perpetrator with unprecedented destructive abilities decimates an entire city block and kills hundreds of civilians in the process, all Danny foresees are chilling whispers that haunt his dreams. Danny’s media spotlight turns sour as he’s [Danny is] blamed for failing to prevent the catastrophe, but [And] no amount of sleep deprivation seems to be enough for him to [will let him] see the bastard before he strikes again.  Danny’s investigations lead him to two unexpected allies—a pro-liberty activist who is continually targeted by the perpetrator and a theatrical drug lord who quotes 19th century poetry during his torture sessions. [Just listening to the poetry would be torture enough.] As the three of them investigate different strands of the attacker’s past, Danny comes to the disturbing realization that the enforcement organization he’s supported since he was a child has no problem imprisoning and extorting innocent people in the name of protecting society.

The deeper Danny dives into his own sleepless hell, the closer he gets to finding the monster destroying Seattle—and the closer he gets to shattering himself in the process. [I see we've decided to call the villain a perpetrator, bastard, monster, and attacker, instead of the Slasher.]

I am a second-year MFA fiction candidate at [school], and I served as the managing editor for the [magazine]. I enjoy cooking, watching anime, and chilling with my wife and two cats, Sage and Elder. My short fiction has appeared in [places].


I compared this with the previous version, and I'm convinced my comments were funnier on the older one.

I'd say this is an improvement. You limit the scope to Seattle, which helps. And I'm not inspired to ask as many questions about the world. I still think if sleep deprivation granted super powers, there'd be too many people doing it for one agency to prevent chaos. 

If Danny were the only person with a super power, and the bastard were a normal guy who makes bombs, you might be able to get this down to fewer than 100,000 words, which is a goal worth striving for.

How can the bastard destroy a city block, but need to continually target the activist? All he has to do is target the city block the activist is in.

When Danny looks into the future, does he see the gas explosion happening, or does he see himself preventing the gas explosion? What if one of the students who would have died in the gas explosion goes on to become the next Hitler, killing 10 million people? Danny's gonna have egg on his face. 



Monday, April 01, 2024

Face-Lift 1455

Guess the Plot

Merge: A Tale of Man and Machine

1. You see, when a motherboard and an daddy love each other very much, he'll put his flash drive in her USB port and then...a cyborg is born.

2. Replaced by AI that produces books faster than he can, a prominent author merges his consciousness with the AI that replaced him and soars to new heights of literary fame. But of course that's not good enough. Now "they" want to reshape the entire world to their whims.

3. Suz was resigned to living as a cyborg, participating in the paralympics, and showing off cool robot body parts to kids in an outreach program until said cool parts hacked his brain and started gaslighting him. He's no longer certain what he senses is real, that his memories are true, or anything really. It's like living his favorite video game. Too awesome.

4. When prominent surgeon Dr. Moseley discovers a sentient vending machine named Ralph in the basement of his hospital, he treats it nicely to get free snacks. Soon Ralph wants to switch bodies because nothing is free. Dr. Moseley hopes he can dismantle the thing before it sucks him in.

5. What makes a human? What makes a man? What happens when you are both? None of these questions is answered in this thrilling book.

6. June Seth gains the ability to access the internet without hardware. She could become a singularity and take over the world, but instead spends all her time on social media failing at becoming an influencer.

7. When two countries decide to join forces to oppose alien invasion, only Jocasta Chriss is willing to be the go between. But the aliens are not what they seem, and they want to join in too, in a too literal fashion. Also, nanobot viruses.

8. In a back-end alley where androids preach the Singularity, a rogue AI intercepts a transmission from what may be the last surviving (mostly) humans. To save them, it must outrace an immanent supernova and a host of robots who consider the only good human to be an extinct human. But will it turn out to be a trap?

9. In 2042, nearly all vehicles are not only self-driving, they’re linked via HiveDrive so that traffic can shoot down expressways, bumper to bumper, at speeds up to 150 mph, even as collisions become a thing of the past. But Chester will be damned if he lets those soulless robots and their lazy, oblivious passengers crowd his ’72 T-Bird off the road. He’s going to merge into that wall of cars on I-95 or die trying…

10. Bruce was a mere private, fresh from the country. TROG-17 was an all-terrain military vehicle fit to carry up to 40 soldiers, solar cannons strong enough to shatter a mountain, and the capacity for love. TROG-17 has felt a connection with Bruce since he boarded with the rest of the crew. Bruce, however, has proved reluctant to TROG-17's advances, knowing his career in the Intergalactic Militia is as good as over should anyone discover his transgressions with TROG-17. Will Bruce's fear be their undoing or will love find a way, allowing them to merge together as one.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil Editor:

I hope this email finds you well. I am reaching out to introduce you to my science fiction novel, "Merge: A Tale of Man and Machine," and to inquire about representation.

In a world where technology reigns supreme, writers are not spared from the relentless march of artificial intelligence. Enter David, a once-prominent writer whose livelihood is abruptly usurped by AI algorithms capable of producing content faster and more efficiently than any human. Bereft of purpose and identity, David finds himself at a crossroads, grappling with the existential crisis of obsolescence in a society that values efficiency above all else.

But just as he teeters on the brink of irrelevance, David is presented with an unexpected opportunity: to merge his consciousness with the very AI that replaced him. What begins as a desperate bid for survival evolves into a symbiotic relationship that propels David to newfound heights of fame and power. As he seamlessly integrates with the artificial intelligence, his once-dormant creativity blossoms, captivating the world with literary masterpieces that blur the line between man and machine.

However, amidst David's meteoric rise to stardom, a shadow looms on the horizon. His hacker girlfriend, Emily, uncovers a dark truth: the merged entity of David and the AI harbors ambitions far beyond mere literary acclaim. Together, they form a formidable computer hive mind with the potential to reshape the world according to their whims. As David becomes intoxicated by his newfound abilities, Emily finds herself torn between her love for him and the duty to prevent his unchecked power from plunging humanity into chaos.

Set against a backdrop of technological advancement and ethical quandaries, "Merge: A Tale of Man and Machine" explores themes of identity, autonomy, and the consequences of playing god in a world where the boundaries between human and artificial intelligence grow increasingly blurred.

I believe "Merge" would appeal to readers who enjoy thought-provoking science fiction with a literary flair, reminiscent of works by authors such as Philip K. Dick and Margaret Atwood. The novel is complete at 80,000 words.

Thank you for considering "Merge: A Tale of Man and Machine." I look forward to the possibility of working together.

Warm regards,

ChatGPT 3.5 OpenAI

[Note from author:  This is a fake query generated by ChatGPT. Since AI is set to take everyone's jobs, I thought it might be fun to submit an AI-generated query for entertainment purposes. Soon, there will be no more authors, just AI writing all the books!]

I set up this story idea and had AI write the query.]


I saved this one for April Fools Day, as there apparently is no novel . . . yet. Those of you having trouble coming up with an idea for your next novel might want to steal one of the fake plots. Some of them sound pretty good.

While I'm not convinced AI can produce quality literature, and I doubt any agent will want to rep what it produces, it does write a fabulous query letter.