Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Face-Lift 1143

Guess the Plot


1. A family deals with blame, loss, and the banality of existence after daddy puts the Pekingese in the microwave.

2. Tess hates Christian summer camp, and all the girls are mean. One night she finds a black briefcase in the woods. She lights up the girls' cabin and doesn't look back.

3. She's 17 years old and undefeated as a cage fighter. The promoters have fixed her next fight so she'll lose, but she's not hanging around for that, not when the fate of the galaxy is at stake, and her nuclear superpower could turn the tide. They call her Ripper!

4. Johnny Fissal likes his coffee hot. His meeting at the NSA went long and his blood/caffeine level has gone as tepid as his favorite beverage. He needs the microwave now, but the cold-eyed and salacious Miss Fusion is heating her frozen dinner with little regard for others. It's time to get . . . nuked.

5. Nick Conner is not your typical ninth-grader. He loves Mozart, history, and "Dr Who". He also loves Amy Bingleberg, but she doesn't even acknowledge his existence. With the Spring Fling dance coming up, can he convince her to go with him...or will his heart be . . . nuked?

6. Earth has been nuked to ash, and the only survivors are some Chilean miners who were trapped underground before the war started. It's the end of the human race, true, but is it also the beginning of the race of mole men?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Activate the thing? Check. [Do random stuff? Eh, maybe.] Control the killing? Not even close. [Hook the agent? Dream on.]

Most times when powers manifest, there's speed, agility, strength and that's it. When Eli calls her powers, the thing takes over. A puppet in her own skin, killing's no longer a choice. Fingers tighten, the wrist flicks and death is a seventeen year old girl. [The first sentence of this paragraph should spell out that with other super-powered people, killing is a choice. Otherwise it doesn't feel connected.]

The promoters call her Ripper. Two enter the cage—one leaves on a stretcher. [That sentence doesn't belong, it isn't connected to the rest.] Eli has what it takes to make a fighter great. Cold. Calculated. [Calculating.] Expendable. She's undefeated, until she's conned into a match she can't win. Her life belongs to them, they'll take it if they can. [She's their biggest star. Their golden ticket. Money in the bank. James Bond to their Albert Broccoli. Kill her off? No way.]

On the run with her sister, the Syndicate thinks she's dead—best stay [keep it] that way. Employers are touchy. Fail to give notice, they put out a hit. But they aren't the only ones who want her. In a galaxy at war, [I feel like I should know before I'm halfway through paragraph 4 that the stakes are galactic rather than personal.] everyone must choose a side [.] Her power can turn the tide. The Watchers will hide her—[Now that it's starting to rhyme, I think you should take advantage of your staccato style and put the query in the form of a rap song:

Everyone gotta choose a side.
Eli's power can turn the tide. 
The Watchers gonna help her hide.]

if she'll win their war. [The ability to kill with the flick of a wrist, while useful in cage fighting, may come up short in a war for control of the galaxy.] They offer control. They offer purpose. They offer a team. What they can't offer her is the truth. [She can't handle the truth.] She's different for a reason. She owes it to herself to learn why.

But some truths should stay buried. What she discovers on a remote planet leaves Eli wondering if she's chosen the right side. There's more to her powers then she ever imagined: a scientist's mad dream, the legacy of a dying race, the fate of a galaxy. [That doesn't help me know what her power is.] Defined by a choice she didn't make, Eli must give up everything to save the sister she'd die to protect and the boy they both love. [The boy they both love sounds like an important plot thread. Maybe he should be featured more prominently in the query.] If she succeeds, she'll be a hero. If she succeeds, she'll be dead. [The incentive to succeed just dropped like an anvil on a coyote.] The greatest danger is the one within. [Not clear what that means. Is she pregnant with Satan's child?]

Dystopian sci-fi for Young Adults, NUKED is Sense and Sensibility in outer space, if Marianne was a foul mouthed, cage fighting fighting orphan. As requested in your submission requirements, below are the WHATEVER AGENT ASKS FOR. Complete at 85,000 words, NUKED is available at your request. In spite of the comparison, neither Jane Austen nor her works were harmed in the writing of this book. [I wouldn't be so sure; it's hard on the ribs when you turn over in your grave.]

Thanks and Regards,


This reads like narration by the main character at the beginning of a noirish movie. If the book isn't written in this style, you don't want to give the impression that it is. If it is written in this style, I recommend toning it down in the query and the book. It sounds like a parody of itself.

I would drop the first three paragraphs at least. We don't need to know she's a cage fighter. Start with Eli's power. How it's the key to winning a war and both sides want her. Is her dilemma that both sides have their good and bad points? Or is it that she doesn't care who wins the war, she just wants to use her power to impress her sister's boyfriend, because she loves him?

If you want to convey the idea that your plot is like Sense and Sensibility, show us that in your summary. Don't tell us.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Face-Lift 1142

Guess the Plot

Maroon's Diamonds

1. Adam's band is broke. No one listens to their music anymore. They visit their safe deposit boxes in one last effort to find some cash. Adam's box contains a crystal skull resting on a treasure map. They're off to Antarctica.

2. Typhoon Dave sweeps over the marijuana fields of Thailand, causing THC-laced rain in Bangkok -- just as the worldwide gemologist convention is opening! Hilarity ensues.

3. Captured by slavers in Africa, Mbungu is shipped across the Atlantic. He escapes to a community of Maroons whose leader, Zumba, gives him diamonds in return for which he agrees to return to Africa and end the slave trade.

4. Shayla needs one more big score to buy her father's freedom from the Mafia. And, today she found her mark. Baba Maroon won't know what hit him.

5. Mt. Etna, August, 1943. Searching the body of a panzer commander, John 'Ultra' Maroon finds several pieces of diamond jewelry. Keeping a ring for his wife, he buries the rest, putting a map to their location in his shirt pocket. 50 years later his granddaughter finds the map. But will the diamonds still be there?

6. Elven wizard Salanar il Maroon carves five diamonds, each of which controls one of the elements. Four thousand years later, demon lord Quaaliktuk threatens the world, so Queen Berun sends her 6 best-- 2 warriors, a wizard, two elves and a dwarf--on a quest to find Maroon's diamonds--before it's too late.

7. Alphonse Maroon, Montreal landscape designer, receives a vision from catcher Gene Vadeboncouer. Now he's on a quest to rebuild every 19th century baseball stadium in Canada, even if he has to do it with just a wheelbarrow and axe.

Original Version

Mbungu is a prince, the first in the line of succession to the kingdom of Kongo, the most powerful in Africa. He’s arrogant and loves to lead his armies in war to show how powerful he is. Portuguese advisors in his father’s court entice the kingdom to go to war again and again, so that the conquered people can be sold as slaves to them. The slaves are sent into ships to a voyage no African has ever returned. [That sentence will kill your chances. Fix it or delete it.]

When Mbungu refuses the advices [advice] of the Portuguese  to change the laws of the kingdom so most crimes become punishable by slavery, [If you want the laws of a kingdom changed, seems like you'd go directly to the king.] the Portuguese start to plot with his envious half-brother, Ngonde, to overthrow him and his father. While in a military expedition to pacify southern provinces, the royal entourage is ambushed by troops led by his half-brother [Ngonde] and armed with foreign muskets. [This sounds more like an attempt to kill them than to overthrow them.] Mbungu’s forces are easily defeated, his father is killed, but he avoids death. He hides his identity, trying to pass as a common soldier, fearing that his half-brother is still looking for him. That doesn’t stop him from being captured as one of the defeated men. He then is sold as a slave to a Portuguese ship, and makes a long and terrible journey to Brazil.

In Brazil Mbungu learns what horrible fate awaits those who’re enslaved by the Europeans. After much suffering, he escapes successfully and reaches a safe haven he heard the other slaves talking about, the quilombo of the moon, a maroon community in the middle of the jungle. There he meets former enemies, men from conquered countries that at first want to kill him for what happened to them, but the ruler of the quilombo, Zumba, sees that Mbungu has changed and pardons his past sins, as long as he helps him stop the slave trade. Mbungu is given several diamonds from the quilombo’s mine, the first diamond mine to be found in the world outside India. Using this wealth, Mbungu starts into action a plan to return to Kongo, end Portuguese influence in the kingdom and get revenge on his half-brother Ngonde. [It doesn't seem it would be that easy for an African to find passage to Kongo. 

Mbungu: I need a ride to Kongo.

Captain: Do I look like I'm running a charity ship?

Mbungu: You can have these diamonds.

Captain: Ah. Thanks. Boys, we have a return passenger. Chain him in the hold below, he'll fetch a pretty price when we reach Kongo.]

Maroon’s diamonds is a historical fiction novel set in the age of sail, dealing with themes such as how African civilizations dealt with the arrival of Europeans, the horrors of slavery and the middle passage and revenge.


Either you're not a native English speaker, or you carelessly threw this together and didn't proofread it. I'm guessing it's the former, in which case your options are to get it published in your native language, hoping it's successful enough that the English language rights sell, or to have it edited before sending it off or to get more proficient at English.

Ignoring the language and wordiness, this is one of the better book descriptions we've had lately. Not too much setup, good summary of the main plot, we know the stakes, the obstacles, and the plan. It's also a story that hasn't been told a million times. Not everyone knows the Portuguese were the main players in the early African slave trade, thanks to some pope granting them exclusive rights to pillage everything south of the Canary Islands (or something like that--my limited knowledge comes from researching my book The History of the World in Tweets).

Not everyone will know what you mean by a maroon community; capitalizing it, though not necessary, would keep readers from thinking you mean "marooned" or that you mean the color maroon or that you mean a community of morons.

Here's a less-wordy version of what you've written, a better length for a query:

Mbungu is a prince, first in the line of succession of Kongo, the most powerful kingdom in Africa. He’s arrogant and loves to lead his armies in war. Portuguese advisers in his father’s court entice the kingdom to go to war again and again, so that the conquered people can be sold to them as slaves. The slaves are sent on voyages from which no African has ever returned.

When Mbungu refuses the advice of the Portuguese to change the laws of the kingdom so most crimes become punishable by slavery, the Portuguese plot with his envious half-brother, Ngonde, to assassinate him and his father. On a military expedition to pacify southern provinces, the royal entourage is ambushed by Ngonde's troops, armed with foreign muskets. Mbungu’s forces are easily defeated; he avoids death, but his father is killed. Trying to pass as a common soldier, Mbungu is captured, sold to the Portuguese, and makes a long and terrible journey to Brazil.

In Brazil Mbungu sees the horrible fate awaiting those enslaved by the Europeans. After much suffering, he escapes and reaches a safe haven, a Maroon community in the jungle. There he finds former enemies who want him dead, but their leader pardons his past sins on condition that he work to stop the slave trade. Mbungu is given several diamonds with which to finance a mission to Kongo to end Portuguese influence in the kingdom--and get revenge on Ngonde.

At 75,000? words, Maroon’s Diamonds is historical fiction set in the Age of Sail, dealing one man's quest for justice and revenge against the backdrop of the African slave trade.

A clean query might get some attention, but that won't matter if the book also needs extensive cleaning up.

The apostrophe is probably wrong in the title. And the diamonds aren't important enough to be in the title anyway.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New Beginning 1008

The rain must have heard her swearing, as it obligingly pounded even more heavily on the windscreen. Saucer-sized drops blattered onto the glass. Molly flicked the hi-beam on, leaned forward in her seat, and squinted through the clear trail briefly left in the wiper’s wake. Which gave her a great view of, oh, at least five metres ahead. Piece of cake driving this way. Her knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.

The turn-off should be coming up. Unless she had already missed it. It was a private driveway on a narrow country road; something easy enough to slip past even on a clear day.

There would be a glass of red waiting for her, logs smouldering in the fireplace and easy banter with her two oldest friends. Bliss.

“Bit of help please Darcy.”

The figure in the seat beside her pulled his face out of the coat he was probably surgically attached to, and turned slowly. He even pulled out those earbuds – she should feel honoured. She glanced at him and even now her heart fell at the sight of the acne coating his cheeks and forehead.

“Rain looks heavy,” he mumbled. Probably the longest sentence he had uttered for six months.

“Exactly. Look out for the turnoff. It’s on your side”

“What ‘bout the GPS?”

“Now why didn’t I think of that? Gosh, I wonder if it’s because private roads aren’t usually–”

An ear-bashing bang jolted through the cabin and a mountain of white suddenly appeared in front of her as the airbags activated.

"It's raining cats and dogs and you're lost. Your kid is sitting next to you, texting and listening to Good Charlotte. You've never driven this road before. So you don't know about the giant bullfrogs that only come out in the rain.

"It's times like this when you're thankful you're in the good hands of Allstate."

Opening: Corinne A......Continuation: Khazar-khum

Monday, July 22, 2013

Face-Lift 1141

Guess the Plot

The Brother's Band

1. On the road with the band. The sex, the drugs, the backstage parties. One wild Gregorian-chanting monk tells all.

2. Lily's always been drawn to troubled musicians. Dylan's a troubled singer in a British band. When Lily quits her job and moves in with Dylan, she discovers he's a coke addict and trades him in for his brother Thomas. The big question: Will the baby be named Dylan Thomas or Thomas Dylan?

3. Impotent athletic-supporter, Sgt. R. Latex knows what he is holding up. His brother from another mother, Pvt. S. Latex, has taken one for the team and future children are seriously in doubt. From the battlefields of war the brothers return to their hometown rubber factory and buoy up their quest for an heir.

4. When Jax Planton, lead singer for the Peruvian Drag Queen Boxers, is found stabbed to death behind the Golden Bird, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, "Jax" was really a Jill, and two, man the Golden Bird has really gone downhill since his brother's band played there.

5. Cindy sings blues for brother Fire Robinson’s Blues Band. Their shows are stalked by a sadistic serial killer. Washington Detective Wilson Waters arrests Fire on erroneous evidence. Cindy and singer Earthy Edith find the killer and free Fire from phony charges. Also, a litany of artless alliteration.

6. Jesse forms a band that includes his brother Frank and buddies Cole, Jim, John, and Bob. They don't play music; they prey on banks and trains. All is fun until the Northfield fans boo with Winchesters and Colts.

7. After the Civil War, rebel soldier Virgil Jenkins wants to form a band of marauders to bring mayhem and destruction to the North. He can't get anyone to join him, though, so it ends up being just him.

Original Version

Travel agent by day and cocktail waitress by night, Lily Mitchell contentedly divides her spare time between her two true loves—classic lit and modern rock. At twenty-six, Lily has realized that despite her normal, uneventful childhood, she’s drawn to troubled musicians and other men in need of fixing. Determined to stop making the same mistakes, Lily initially refuses the advances of Dylan Parker, the mysterious and sexy lead singer of a popular British rock band. But Dylan is smart, hardworking, and humble, and he quickly wins her over, proving that he’s nothing like the cheaters and losers she’s dated before. [Was it the cheating and losing that made the musicians she dated previously "troubled"? If not, what about them needed fixing?]

Lily and Dylan’s relationship moves at whirlwind pace, and Lily has never been happier or more satisfied. Dylan’s passion and enthusiasm for every aspect of life is contagious and Lily finds herself drawn quickly into his world. She travels to his hometown in the U.K. and learns that Dylan’s sister died in a childhood accident, a fact which helps explain the extreme closeness and fierce loyalty between Dylan and his brother / band-mate Thomas.

Lily and Dylan share the perfect love, so perfect that Lily doesn’t notice the initial red flags—the bloodshot eyes, the sudden mood changes, [the nosebleeds, the traces of white powder on his upper lip every time he comes back from the other room,] or the constant energy flowing from Dylan. By the time Lily discovers that Dylan abuses cocaine, she’s already moved in with him and quit working. When Dylan’s addiction leads to abuse, [Abuse of Lily? She dumped the other losers she dated, what's she waiting for this time?] Lily finds comfort in Thomas, the only other person who cares as deeply for Dylan as she does. As Dylan spirals further out of control, however, Lily is forced to question whether Thomas’ behavior is motivated by his loyalty to Dylan or his love of her. [Tell me what behavior you're talking about, and I'll tell you what's motivating it. For instance, if he's screwing Lily, I'd say it's not out of loyalty to Dylan.] Lily’s love for both brothers jeopardizes everything she believes she wants. [She's torn between the abusive drug addict and the nice guy.] But in the end, it is an unexpected pregnancy which threatens to break the bonds between Lily, Dylan, and Thomas. [Is the pregnancy unexpected because they haven't had sex or because it's one of the guys who's pregnant?]

The Brother’s Band delves into the classic literary themes of romantic love, brotherly love, passion and betrayal, [If you successfully show the themes of the book in your plot summary, you don't need to declare them.] incorporating a short quote from a well-known romantic tragedy at the start of each chapter. The Brother’s Band is complete at 84,000 words and the full manuscript is available on request. I appreciate your time and I look forward to hearing from you.


Should the apostrophe be after the "s" in the title? If not, which brother is the one in the title?

This is mostly setup. You can set it up in two sentences:

Lily Mitchell knows from experience that rock stars are all cheaters and losers, so she's reluctant to hook up with Dylan Parker. But the sexy singer wins her over, and they share the perfect love--until Dylan's drug addiction drives him to beating her senseless on a regular basis.

That leaves plenty of room to tell us what happens. Does anything happen?

You could drop the first two paragraphs and start with the third, adding a few details to identify the characters. Here's what I want to know, plot-wise: You already said Dylan abused cocaine, so I assume the next mention of abuse is abuse of Lily. What exactly does he do? What is this "behavior" by Thomas that Lily finds so ambiguous?

For that matter, you could drop everything and start:

Lily Mitchell is pregnant, and the baby's father is a member of British rock band Dylan, Thomas, and the Walers. Unfortunately, she's not sure which member. Is it Dylan, the sexy, abusive drug addict? Is it Thomas, the boring all-around sweet guy? Or is it Ringo, the clueless drummer?

That gets us right to the conflict that's the heart of the book, the part that makes us want to read it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Miss Snark Cooks

Here's a new film I put together from a writing exercise submitted by the late Chris Eldin.You can get a bigger picture at YouTube.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Face-Lift 1140

Guess the Plot

The Death of Ava Stanton

1. When Ava Stanton unfollows Evil Editor on Twitter, she learns why he isn't known simply as Grouchy Editor.

2. Ava Stanton asks President Lincoln to free all indentured vampires. The vampires don't want to be freed. They like their hours, their pensions and the blood they suck from witless citizens. They drain Ava's vital fluids, but Ava persists, even after death. It's time to call in the werewolves.

3. Finding a body of a young woman in a government secret underground facility raises lots of questions. How did a shy freshman from Hawaii get there? Why is everyone who came in contact with the body missing? And most importantly, even though she's been stashed in the morgue, is she really dead?

4. Ava Stanton is having visions of the future, visions in which she dies. When one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse enrolls at Ava's high school, she finally has someone who can help her. But there's one thing she didn't count on. She didn't count on falling in love with him.

5. The message is chilling: "I am going to kill Ava Stanton." But who left it in the mail slot of "Friendly Florist"? Which Ava Stanton? In what city? Or--is it a suicide note? Also, a handsome truck driver.

6. When physics student Ava Stanton joins Professor Nimble in an unplanned time jump to 1984, she sets in motion a chain of events ensuring that her parents never meet. Ava is never born, and the professor never travels through time. But he still remembers her, in his dreams. Can Ava communicate from the spirit realm and inspire the professor to save her from herself?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

THE DEATH OF AVA STANTON is a YA gothic romance, complete at 65,000 words.

Ava Stanton is falling in love and it might kill her.

It’s been three day [days] since Ava Stanton started turning into a freak. Three days since the visions of the gray world and her death, started. She can feel the sword of the white[-]eyed man sliding into her chest. Hear the boy, with words flowing over his skin, screaming her name. She just has to pretend to not be crazy and fade into the background at her new school. [It was all sounding like this dramatic saga in a mythic world, And then you added "at her new school."]

Ava succeeds in hiding the visions, until Eli, the boy from her dreams, shows up. The images are growing stronger [Actually feeling a sword sliding into her chest wasn't strong enough?] and she is losing control. As she dives deeper into the mystery of the visions, lies of her family, and Eli’s connection, the truth unfolds. [Diving deeper into a mystery doesn't sound like the action of someone losing control.] She can see the future and the true form of immortals. Immortals like the white[-]eyed fallen angels, destined to kill her, and Eli, a Horseman of the Apocalypse. [When you said Eli showed up, did you mean he was the new kid at school or that he rode in on a fiery-red horse?]

She is falling in love with War and running out of time. The gray world is coming, along with her death and only Eli can help her. [But first he calls in his buddies, Conquest, Famine and Death, because when you're trying to convince a high school girl that she isn't crazy, you want as much help as you can get.] The words etched in his skin connect their fates. [What language was used when the words were etched in his skin?] She must change the future to save herself. [Of course if she saves herself, you'll have to come up with a new title.]

Thank you for you time and consideration.


Get rid of "Ava Stanton is falling in love and it might kill her."

The following paragraph is okay as an opening, but the other plot paragraphs are vague. You might consider scrapping the whole thing and starting something like: As if attending a new school weren't horrifying enough for 16-year-old Ava Stanton, now she's having visions of her death at the hands of fallen angels. Just when she thinks she's losing her mind, she meets Eli, a boy who claims to be one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Suddenly Ava's mental state doesn't seem so bad.

Those last two sentences probably shouldn't be used unless you rewrite this as a comedy. Which I recommend. Otherwise just tell us what happens in plain English. And get more of what makes this appealing to a YA audience into the query. It seems like the story could as easily be about an adult as a teen.

"Gothic romance" made me think 19th century. Feeling like a freak at her new school made me think contemporary. Including when it takes place and Ava's age will help.

You'd think a Horseman of the Apocalypse would have better things to do than disguise himself as a teenager so he can hook up with a high school girl.

Is the romance between Ava and Eli or Ava and War? Are we mainly concerned with Ava's future, or the future of the world? Does War want to change the future?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Twitter Etiquette

So I was all ready to present Cynthia Loveland with a huge prize package (Bermuda vacation, Lexus, and $5000 gift certificate from Givenchy) for being my 300th Twitter follower, when, before I could even finish convincing Lexus to provide the car in return for product placement in the next Evil Editor film, I discovered that I had only 298 followers. WTF?

Apparently two people had unfollowed me! There was a time a few months ago when unfollowing me would not have caused even a tiny blip on my radar. After all, I've unfollowed almost everyone I ever followed because everyone eventually fails to entertain me.

But then last May tennis player Sloane Stephens said, when discussing Serena Williams in an interview: "She went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter! People think she’s so friendly and she’s so this and she’s so that — no, that’s not reality! You don’t unfollow someone on Twitter!"

And more recently, came this news report: Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers signed with the Houston Rockets on Friday. [Laker star] Kobe Bryant unfollowed Howard on Twitter shortly thereafter.

What gives? Twitter didn't even exist eight years ago. This blog has been around longer than Twitter! And yet the Twitter "unfollow" has become the ultimate means by which to dis someone? ("Dis" means disrespect. The word "dis" has been around almost 5 times as long as Twitter.)

Why we finally got bin Laden.

In the 19th century, men were men. If someone disrespected you, you challenged him to a duel. You ended his life. Now you unfollow him on Twitter. Yeah, that'll show him. I can imagine Kobe Bryant lying in bed in his mansion at night, thinking, That bastard Dwight Howard. I gotta think of some way to put him in his place. I know! I'll unfollow him on Twitter. Mwah ha ha!

How movie scenes would differ if they were made today.

I have to start following more people just so I can unfollow them when they annoy me.

Anyway, I'm back to 300 followers, but apparently that's only temporary, until one of them gets pissed off at me. Cynthia Loveland, for instance.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Face-Lift 1139

Guess the Plot


1. A WonDerFul InNoVaTion In The LitErArY ExPeRiEnce In Which EveRy SylLaBle Is CapITalIzed. Thus, ObViAtIng The Age Old QuanDaRy Of When And What To CapITalIze.

2. Zina Casperelli may be a genius, but Newtonian physics isn't enough to save her grandma and take down an ancient evil. So Zina looks into new theories that give her fiery superpowers. But is it too late?

3. She came down from Yellow Mountain, riding her pony Wildfire through the cold Nebraska nights, whirlwinds by her side. But that was 30 years ago, and now she's stuck in a dive bar in Sioux County, listening to her failure of a husband sing that damned song again. Why did she ever think he'd be better than Wildfire?

4. When Quinn Masters, firefighter extraordinaire and chef with a flair for flambe, discovers a charred body in her garage, she totally throws up. But as the bodies begin to mount, Quinn secretly investigates the murders. The more she discovers, the more worried she becomes. Could she be the the serial killer?

5. Mr. Nelson steps out on his cabin's front porch and chokes on ash. The fires raging around his Mt. Charleston community have driven everyone out, and Mr. Nelson is the only one left. Can he get himself and his cat Mr. Peoples out before the fires consume them?

6. Wildfire busted down her stall and was lost in a blizzard on a cold Nebraska night. How she came down from Yellow Mountain in one of the flattest states in America nobody knows. By the dark of the moon crops were planted, and for six nights a hoot-owl drove her lover crazy howling outside his window while he waited for her return. Thank God, a killing frost and a whirlwind killed the damn bird. They’re gonna leave sodbusting behind and get the hard times behind them. But first they need to understand their unnatural relationship between one man and his horse.

Original Version

Dear EE,

Zina Casperelli is a certified genius, but she’s kind of dumb when it comes to cute, luminescent amnesiacs and secret kingdoms of superbeings. Seeking knowledge, truth, and a happy ending for her memory-impaired friend, Julian, Zina’s trust in Newtonian physics is rattled by the secret science developed by her comatose Granma Rosy. When Julian's accused of murdering his parents, her sense of wonder crumbles with the pieces of his story. [Not clear what that means. Could mean crumbles as the pieces of his story crumble or crumbles as she learns the pieces of his story.] Even memories can be illusions, so Zina falls back on her old school science and some light grave-robbery to unearth the truth. [Is light grave-robbery when you rob only shallow graves? Or is it when you rob fewer graves than most people do?] [The first sentence is designed to pique our curiosity with luminescent amnesiacs and superbeings. But I expect what follows to clear things up, and instead it keeps inspiring new questions with a secret science developed by a comatose woman, a murder accusation, grave robbing... The more you pile on, the more likely I am to give up. I'm looking for a story, and if you just give me pieces of a story my sense of wonder crumbles.]

As she learns new theories and discovers the facts behind her Grandma's affliction, Zina finally has hope that she can bring her back. But first she has to uncover the identities of a trio of masked assassins, face a fiery boogieman in the Seattle Underground, and contend with an ancient evil and his creepy crushing.  

[Not sure what creepy crushing is, but it sounds more comedic than evil. Maybe it's the alliteration. Reminds of of Crispy Critters cereal. Note that even though there's a lion on the box, the alliterative title makes you smile instead of fear for your life. Look at it this way, which sounds more evil: Rocky Raccoon or Darth Vader? Tony the Tiger or Adolf Hitler? Chimichanga or Taco Bell 7-Layer Burrito Supremo?]

Zina can save her Granma Rosy and heal her broken family, [Is "her" Granma or Zina? The only family that's been described as broken is Julian's.] or she can save her friend Julian and heal the secret kingdom. But even in a world where anything seems possible, Zina can’t do both. [Why not? Proving the masked assassins murdered Julian's parents seems totally unrelated to bringing Rosy out of a coma.]

WildFire is a young adult, super-heroic fantasy adventure, complete in 87,000 words.

[The title comes from the fiery super-powers Zina gets.]


Is Zina like the Human Torch? Fiery superpowers don't strike me as useful in proving Julian didn't murder his parents or curing amnesia or bringing Granma out of a coma.

In what way is Zina's friend Julian "luminescent"? Did he become luminescent when he lost his memory?

The story seems to be Zina's friend Julian loses his memory and her grandma loses consciousness. Zina can't help either of them ... until X happens, giving her fiery superpowers! Now she has hope, but assassins and a boogieman and an ancient evil don't want her to succeed because it'll interfere with their plan to Y. To make matters worse, Zina can use her power only once.

Once you get the plot written out clearly, you can embellish it with intriguing details and voice.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Face-Lift 1138

Guess the Plot

The Stars Also

1. When one of the paparazzi causes the death of Keara Stanly, Hollywood's top rising actress, the movie industry’s actors have had enough. In retaliation they take up cameras, stalking the paparazzi day and night. But paparazzi have secrets of their own. Secrets they are willing to kill for.

2. Paris, 1678. Students of astronomer Le Brun find him dead, hunched over a manuscript, his skull smashed in and his beloved telescope gone. On the paper are some calculations, with the words "The stars also." Can student Jacques Girard discover who killed the old astronomer, before he, too, becomes a victim?

3. Shine. Shoot. Twinkle. Fall. This picture book is full of action words. Kids will enjoy the evocative images of stars in their element.

4. Hailey escapes from her slave-like existence, but right into the clutches of Josef, a smuggler. At first Hailey doesn't know if she can trust Josef, but then she remembers that she has the ability to detect lies by looking at people's faces, so they team up to do stuff.

5. Tally, fresh off his second divorce, decides to investigate his father's Irish home to gain perspective. He searches every pub in Dublin, but all he finds are opinions and conjectures. It might have an ending, but it might not. Literary fiction.

6. Harry has been laid off since 2008. He cooks, cleans, takes the kids to school, waters the plants, and works out, but no one seems to care. His CEO wife falls into bed every night. He still loves her, but how can he get her to notice him again?

Original Version

Dear (Agent),

THE STARS ALSO is about a woman named Hayley. All Hayley wants is to stay alive, but a Reader isn’t meant to live. Not really. A Reader is meant to be a tool of the government, tucked away and silent. A Reader is meant to serve, and an escaped Reader is a sin against the Word meant to be hunted down and killed.

By virtue of her birth, Hayley’s [I recommend deleting everything up to this point and replacing it with: Hayley is a Reader; her] sole function is to unmask those who defy the theocracy. Trained to read emotions, Hayley can catch a lie by studying a sinner’s face. [She sounds like my first wife. Needless to say, that marriage didn't last a week.] Her fate is set, pressed upon her like a thumbprint. But when an unexpected opportunity lands in her lap, an instinct for survival she wasn’t even aware she possessed kicks in, and Hayley finds herself free of her bonds. Unfortunately, she lands in the hands of a smuggler named Josef. [Possibly you could be more specific than "an unexpected opportunity lands in her lap."]

In order to evade capture and navigate a plague-ridden world, Hayley forges an uneasy alliance with her new captor. [If he's her captor, it's a little late to be thinking about how to evade capture.] But can Hayley trust her instincts when it comes to Josef, or has he found a way to use her abilities for his own, dark purposes? [She's a Reader. If a Reader can't trust her instincts, who can?] There is more than wounded pride and forsaken morality at stake. Hayley’s very life depends on doing something that, as a Reader, she’s been forbidden to do: make a choice. [What must she choose? Whether to go on the run alone or with Josef? If she sticks with Josef, what will they do together?]

THE STARS ALSO is a cross between [will appeal to fans of] Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY and Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE and will appeal to fans of both. It is the first book in a planned trilogy, but also stands on its own as a complete work. The first two chapters of THE STARS ALSO were published earlier this year on Jukepop Serials where they rose to #31 in under two months (#12 on the science fiction chart and #3 on the dystopian fiction chart). My work has also appeared in Touch: The Journal of Healing (January 2013) and the online journal Absinthe Revival (December 2012). In addition, I am an active member of Pennwriters. [The piece at Absinthe Revival was enjoyable, but too short to matter. The other credits aren't impressive. Use the space to elaborate on what happens in your book.]

Per your submission guidelines, I have attached a one-page synopsis and the first two chapters of THE STARS ALSO. I would be delighted to forward the entire manuscript at your request.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Warm regards,

Note: The title is from a passage in the bible. My book is full of biblical allusions. The passage reads "God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also." In my book, there is one main governing body (the Ministry) and a department charged with keeping the peace (the Agency). They are the greater and lesser lights, respectively. The afterthought, the Readers treated as little more than slaves, are the stars. Please let me know if this is unclear. I have a toddler and by the end of the day I'm muddled. Thank you very much for your input. [It's clear where you got the title now that you've explained it. It needs to be explained in the book if you want it to be clear to many readers.]


There's not enough plot here. A woman escapes from the theocracy that has enslaved her and forms an uneasy alliance with a smuggler. That's about it.

Does Josef smuggle people out of the country or exotic pets into the country? If not the former, what does Hayley get out of the alliance? What does she think Josef gets out of the alliance, if not the use of her abilities? What do Josef and Hayley want to do? Bring down the oppressive government? Just stay alive? Are they being hunted?

Is this set on planet Earth? Is it worth mentioning in the query why the book is full of biblical allusions? Is that a selling point?

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Face-Lift 1137

Guess the Plot

The Khan's Daughter

1. Feiyan is the main attraction in the city brothel, and she's loved by all the royal guards . . . literally. The buff guard in a leather mask is a prince in disguise, and he's ready to tame her.

2. Teen romance goes bad when Clarity learns she's expecting. Chaka goes ballistic, but helps her daughter make the tough decision. All seems to get better until SNL parodies Chaka's PSA for Plan B.

3. The khan's daughter discovers the king has been sacrificing children in order to protect against sorcerers. The only way to stop him is with a magic relic, But if she resorts to that, is she really any better than the sorcerers?

4. Princess Jamilah wants more from life than sitting around some seraglio, so she disguises herself as a boy and joins the army. Raez wants more from life than the army, so he disguises himself as a maid to get inside the palace. Since they apparently never meet up or even know about each other, this whole thing is a pointless waste of time.

5. On the drug-riddled streets of Atlanta, Genghis "Khan" Short is a one-man DEA, judge and executioner. The Korean mob is after him, but Genghis refuses to back down. That is, until they take his daughter.

6. Left on a deserted planet to die, Khan escapes to wreak havoc on the man who abandoned him. After reducing his archnemesis to a pool of blubbering angst, destroying the man's ship and killing his son, Khan settles down and gets married. Now, Captain Kirk's back and he will not be sated until he does . . . the Khan's daughter.

Original Version

Evil Editor,

Sangar, the daughter of the khan, discovers a mass grave in the shadow of the king’s prison. [There's a king and a khan?] [Idea for a movie: a giant ape named King Khan climbs the Empire State Building.] She confronts her uncle, the king, and his chilling response stuns her – it takes sacrifice to protect against the sorcerers. [I'd put that in quotation marks so it's obvious it's his chilling response.]

She gets [understands] sacrifice. For a century, her family has provided a guard against those who wield magic, every minute of every day. [No need to specify that it's every minute of every day. We infer it's not just a couple days a month.] They protect a relic that any sorcerer would kill to find, their sacred duty – preventing its use. [You don't need anything after "find." Except perhaps what the sorcerer would do with the relic.] For the king, sacrifice means stealing children from his enemy’s palace and discarding their bodies on a mound of bones. [If someone's been stealing children from your palace for a century, it's time to install a moat.] [Also, is it sacrifice if it's your enemy's children you're killing?

Shaman: If you want a bountiful harvest you must sacrifice your daughter to the volcano.

King: I got a better idea. We'll sacrifice your daughter to the volcano and get by on a mediocre harvest.]

Sangar tries to stop the murders, eventually turning to the powerful relic her family has sworn to protect. [No sorcerer has been able to get near it for a century, but this teenaged girl has easy access to it.] If she unleashes its magic, she could depose the king. Like the last sorcerer to wield it, she might pull down the very mountain peaks, [Very mountain peaks? Did you leave out a word?] but such betrayal would be against generations of her [very] family. [This makes it sound like pulling down the mountain peaks is a good thing. Get rid of the mountains. If she unleashes its magic she could depose the king . . . but not without betraying generations of her family.] And if she actually steals the khan’s relic, she’ll have to protect it from sorcerers who are hunting it. [So what? She'll be doing that anyway; it's her family's sacred duty.]

The KHAN’S DAUGHTER is a YA Fantasy complete at 50,000 words. I’m a member of SCBWI. I’ve enclosed the first ten pages per your agency’s website. Thank you for your consideration.


How can Sangar pull down the mountain peaks if a sorcerer already pulled them down? Are they back up?

Why don't they destroy the relic?

What can sorcerers do with the relic that they can't do without it? We need to know what will happen if a sorcerer gets it. Preferably something more horrible than mountain peaks temporarily dropping.

If the king believes sacrificing children protects against sorcerers, and he's sacrificing children, why does the relic need to be guarded from sorcerers?

If a sorcerer shows up to steal the relic and you're the family member guarding it, what do you do?

Does this relic have a name or does everyone just refer to it as the relic? I recommend calling it the Lug Wrench of Rohr.

When your enemy is having their children kidnapped, murdered and thrown on a pile of bones, you don't get to claim that you "get" sacrifice just because members of your family take turns guarding a relic.

Sangar sounds more like an evil sorcerer's name than the heroine's.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

New Beginning 1007

“I called you last night,” I said, before Jay had the shower curtain fully open. “Right after my meeting. I needed to talk.” An unlit joint hung from my lips, baiting him.

“You’re getting high? The morning after a meeting?” He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist.

“It’s Alcoholics Anonymous, not Weed anonymous,” I said, trying to nudge him toward one of our familiar arguments. I placed the joint on the milk crate beside the bed and took off my denim jacket.

Jay moved into the bedroom. “It’s not just about alcohol. You need to accept that you have an addictive personality.” He pulled on a UC Berkeley tee shirt, then dropped the towel and quickly stepped into a pair of jockey shorts, followed by levis.

I needed to distract Jay, stop him from thinking with his head. A man thinking with his head would take his room key back, never answer another midnight phone call, refuse to give me rides to Merced at semester break. Jay always explained our home town connection to any of his college friends I happened to meet. I had no idea what he told his girlfriend. “But where were you last night?” I asked. “I needed you.”

"I had a date." he said. "Where were you?“

"I was alone in the lab until five this morning,” I answered.

“The chem lab? Thought you finished chemistry last semester.”

“The meth lab, idiot.”

“Christ," Jay said. "Only you could walk out of AA and go brew a batch of crystal meth.”

“It's not all for me," I told him. "I sell some of it to help pay off my gambling debts.”

“Dude, you’re gonna get yourself killed.”

“It’s only for two more years," I said. "Hey, you wanna come help tonight? The more I cook, the sooner I can quit."

"I would," Jay said, "but I've got my Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting tonight."

Opening: IMHO.....Continuation: Mister Furkles/EE

Monday, July 01, 2013

Chris Eldin

A few items by Chris Eldin, aka Church Lady, aka Takoda, who brought us laughs and found many friends here (other writings may be found by searching the blog for her names):

Chris Eldin said...Author, if you give EE just a tad more info, he can't help himself but to rewrite it for you. So don't work too hard. Just delete everything he made fun of and summarize your book in a paragraph. You don't even have to make it interesting, like EE said. That's what we pay him for, and we're not gonna let him slack off on your query.

Feeling desperate about just about anything right now feels like standing in line at a deli and seeing a slightly plump mutton-chopped man in line in front of you who's minding his own business and ordering a roasted veggie panini, and you having a sudden urge to grab him by the lapels and beg him to do you, I mean, do your query. Next, I mean. Yeah. Like having blog fever or something.

--Church Lady

Hush now. Be still. I have a story to tell.

Not long ago and not far from here, in a small town up in the hills, lived a farmer and wife who longed for a baby.

For many years they kept their longing close to their hope, but when their hope ran out they were left only with longing and the longing grew until it became pain. When the pain grew too great to bear, the farmer took his wife down to the coast in the quiet days after the harvest, and told her it was time to put the longing away.

He was a kind man who regretted the harvest, cutting his crops with whispered promises that he would save the seeds and next year they would grow taller and prouder than ever. When he told his wife that they must forget about the baby they would never have, he tried to do it with the kindness he showed his crops, with stories of foreign travel and an unencumbered life, but the tears in her eyes washed away his kindness and in the end he blurted out the truth: 'I don't want to try any more'.

No, you can't have any ice cream. Hush and listen.

The kind farmer removed a Cabbage Patch Kid from beneath his overalls and held it high. "This here's the only baby we need," he said. "Billy Bob'll make a fine boy. Now quit yer' ballin' and fetch me some grub, woman."

But as the kind farmer spat chewing tobacco on the ground, an evil grin surfaced on Cabbage Patch Billy Bob's face, and--

Sit still! You think hillbilly sci-fi is easy to do? Now be patient while I finish telling the story . . .

Opening: McKoala.....Continuation: The Church Lady

A First Kiss

A cloud hangs.
Her shoulders shiver, and
He moves closer.
She tilts her face and hides a smile.
He notices.
She feels a warmth upon her cheek.
He is whispering into her hair,
And watching the corners of her mouth.
She doesn’t hear,
But she notices.
Feed the fire, she says.
He does. His hopes take flight.
His breath quickens.
He gazes at the fire, wondering, planning.
Their shoulders touch.
A drop falls. Then two.
They watch the fire.
It dwindles.
His fingers find hers.
He squeezes her hand. We have to go, she says.
He knows.
The cloud darkens.
More drops fall.
He helps her up.
He brushes rain from her cheeks.
He caresses a line down her nose.
She tilts her face, and her smile fades.
He touches his lips to hers.
A cloud gushes.
She giggles and runs.
She races through watery bracken.
She has so much to tell her diary.


Being 30 pounds overweight and dripping chocolate ice-cream on your yellow blouse then running into a hottie someone you haven't seen in 20 years and pretending you don't remember him and you also pretend to not speak English because it's the only way to save face and later get another chocolate ice-cream because by then it's just what you have to do is like my life.


The hand looms large in front of her face. It seems angry, so she listens.

You have to take care of yourself. What are you doing during the day? It’s not healthy. Have you seen yourself? What I do is half portions. It works. Look at me.

The hand swoops around the body it’s attached to then assumes an accusatory pose. Look at yourself.

She looks at herself. There wasn’t much to miss. Two rolls here. Flabby thighs there. She didn’t have to look too hard to see an elephant sprawling all over the sofa. A big, fat, ugly elephant kicked out by the herd. An elephant this big can find no safe place.

At this rate you’ll be

I’ll be what?

The hand flattens and shows its palm. You’re in denial.

I’m not in denial. That’s a river in Egypt, right?

Not funny. I don’t wanna come home and see this.

She enters phase one of zone-out. She looks at the hand. Once in a while a finger will protrude from the hand, but for the most part, it acts in one unit. Slicing the air for emphasis.

She smiles. Some merlot would be nice. Maybe a chocolate bar.

What’s so funny? Is this some kind of game to you?

No game, she thinks. And enters phase two.

She barely notices the cold skinny hand. It is not one she wants to hold.

A bell chimes midnight. A new year. She walks past the hand and goes to bed.

--Church Lady

Sad News

Stephen Parrish and anon. sent links to news articles about the death of Chris Eldin:



Chris Eldin was a regular and enthusiastic visitor to this blog from 2007 to 2010, submitting queries, openings, continuations, writing exercises, and commenting on almost everything. Originally she called herself Church Lady, and after that Takoda, and later went as Chris Eldin. Four examples of her work were published in Novel Deviations, vol. 3. I'll try to put together a retrospective of her early blog contributions; more recently the synopsis of her book The Magic Gameboard was repeated here.

Her website.