Sunday, September 21, 2014

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Summer of the Flood

1. When a hurricane leaves Galveston Island flooded, residents are forced to wade to school and work. The wet clothes and shoes are bad enough, but the worst part? Sharks.

2. Sixth-grader Annie wants to stage a production of Hamlet with local children, while her cousin Maggie wants to jump in the rising river and drown herself. Either way, there's gonna be a tragedy.

3. Abby and Jake may be only 14 years old, but they know they're in love. Can Abby get her dad, Noah, to give Jake a place on his precious ark?

4. That was the year. The year we all despaired. The year red heels were found washed up on the beach. The year glue-on mutton chops sold on e-bay. The year NaNoWriMo happened in June.

5. Everyone in the valley is making fun of that crazy old religious man, for building that giant boat. When storm clouds roll in, however, and a parade of paired animals begins making its way through town, folks start getting nervous.

6. Stranded on the roof when the river breaks its banks, Elsa bludgeons her abusive husband and casts him into the deluge below. But her actions are witnessed by a ghostly child who taunts and goads Elsa the entire summer.

Original Version

Dear E.E.,

The summer before Annie starts sixth grade, her cousin Maggie goes crazy. The kind of crazy where she runs away from home and tries to commit suicide.

Maggie’s parents don’t know what to do with her. They think a summer in Northern England with her recluse grandparents – former Shakespearean actors who sing to their sheep [Baa baa baa, baa baa baa ram.] and haven’t left their house in six years – will [inspire her to get it right this time.] clear her head and get her out of their hair. [Nice. Their kid tries to kill herself and they want her out of their hair.] 

Annie – she’s coming too, with a grand plan for their English summer that includes finding clues about the mother she never knew, getting Maggie’s mind off jumping in another river, and convincing her grandmother to stage Hamlet in their backyard, cast with children from the local village.

[Quotes from 6th-grade Hamlet:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be
You may not borrow nor shall I lend my iPod.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy comic books.

Something is rotten in the refrigerator.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than football cards, Barbie dolls and Xboxes.

Get thee to a video arcade.

Bieber or the Biebs -- that is the question.]

Maggie – she’s not having any of it. Her heart’s still set on running.

SUMMER OF THE FLOOD is a middle grade novel of 51,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


How old is Maggie?

You've given us the characters: Maggie, Annie, reclusive grandparents. You've set up the situation: the two girls are spending the summer in England. Now . . . What happens?

You can cut the setup to something like:

The summer before Annie starts sixth grade, her cousin Maggie runs away from home and tries to commit suicide. Maggie’s parents decide a summer in Northern England with her reclusive grandparents will set her on the right track, and Annie goes along, hoping to find clues about the mother she never knew--and to keep Maggie’s mind off jumping in another river.

Now give us two more paragraphs in which you relate the plot.

Selected Comments

AlaskaRavenclaw said...See if you can tweak the phrasing slightly to acknowledge that 
you know Maggie's parents are totally lame.

I know and you know that parents really do things like send a seriously troubled kid to stay with whacko relatives in a foreign country instead of getting help for 'em, but the neutral "don't know what to do" makes it sound like you consider their choice an acceptable one.

And then, yeah, say what happens.

And why Hamlet? I mean I get that its discussion of suicide works for your story, but most sixth graders haven't even read the play. Why is this kid so interested in it?
Anonymous AlaskaRavenclaw said...
ps-- nothing against the UK, and not meaning to imply that it contains relatives any more whacko than those we enjoy here in the US. But the point is the parents are getting the kid to a place where, when the @#$# hits the fan, they won't be the ones dealing with it.
Anonymous vkw said...Yeah, about the parents. I know of parents who have done exactly this. 
However, I don't think they did it to get the kid out of their hair. They did it because 
after months and months, perhaps even years, of dealing with a trouble child that 
climaxes with a serious suicide attempt they are exhausted and overwhelmed and at 
their wit's end. And, a change of scenery has falsely been thought of a cure for 
problems of every kind. And, grandparents are notoriously nice, most of the time, 
wanting to save/help their children and grandchildren. All that love and not giving up 
on family members gets in the way of their thinking.

Of course, maybe that's not the case with Maggie's parents or grandparents but I get it. I wouldn't be flippant about it, though. Either glance at it the way EE did or explain it better if it is part of the story or understanding your characters' motivation.

This is a good setup. I am notoriously bad about not liking middle grade queries because I think they sound shallow. But, this doesn't sound shallow, this sounds interesting and deep and even fun.

Please rewrite your query to convince me I am right.

Blogger BuffySquirrel said...Once upon a time, when depression was known as melancholia, a common cure was the sea change. You go on a nice long cruise and by the time you get back home you're better.
I can't imagine an intercontinental flight having *quite* the same effect.

Boy is Annie going to be disappointed when she finds out what the North's idea of 'summer' is. Hope her theatre isn't outdoors.
Blogger BuffySquirrel said...
Oh, wait, just noticed the title. Guess that answers the question about the author's familiarity with Northern summers.
Blogger AA said...
I agree with AlaskaRavenclaw- I only read Romeo and Juliet in high school (and didn't like it). Hamlet is much better, but most kids have no experience with it. I hadn't been exposed to Shakespeare before high school except for pop culture references like tv shows.

A line about how grandpa recites some of it to Annie, or whatever, would be good. For believability, I want to know why this has to be THE play.

I do think it sounds interesting. I'd also like a hint if Annie finds anything surprising about her mother, or maybe something she didn't want to know.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Face-Lift 1222

Guess the Plot


1. A mommy blogger tries to parody Lewis Carroll's the Jabberwocky and can't think of a rhyme for "blog".

2. The secret son of Evil Editor and Julia Roberts is starting his own blog…and he’s going to reveal lot of shocking news about his parents.

3. Piper and Chad are assigned to work together on a blog, but they both refuse. Will their teacher make good on her threat to fail them both? Or will she decide her job security is more important?

4. Private Investigator Amanda Socci sets up Kidblog, a decoy kiddie-porn site with enough spyware to positively identify any creep who tries to download from it. Then she figures that blackmailing high-profile creeps is far more lucrative than handing them in to the authorities. But she didn't figure that mega-creep Senator Giles could trace the technology straight back to her.

5. First we had PBSKids, then NBCKids and National Geographic kids, and any number of shows pandering to the younger set. Then a plucky, comic-relief kind of character suddenly gets his big break, and squanders it all tackling the most vile evil of all: Wordpress! Hilarity and grammatical errors ensue…

6. Eight-year-old Ricky starts a blog dealing with life at Fontana Elementary school. Tough tests, tough teachers, Tough-Luck Bobby (Maria likes Finn). Meanwhile, mommyblogger Cindy Sharon starts a blog about raising her home-schooled genderneutral child Moon as a vaccine free, gluten free, and religion free vegan. Everything's fine until Ricky and Moon email each other.

Original Version

Dear Evilicious Editor.

I am seeking representation for my realistic fiction Middle Grade manuscript, Kidblog, complete at 21,100 words. The story is told through a dual-voiced narrative, blog entries and comments, online chats, and text messages. [What, no tweets?] [When it comes to fiction, kids have always been ahead of adults in the technology fields. Back in the 1870s it seemed like every other middle-grade query was told through telegraph messages, smoke signals, and hand-written letters, none of which today's kids have ever heard of.] [Am I showing my age?] [If archaeologists ever find a middle-grade query from prehistoric times it'll probably claim the story is told through cave paintings, cuneiform, and signs from the gods.] [Also, "dual-voiced narrative" sounds pretentious. Just say much of it is told through...and list the other stuff.]

Play-it-cool Chad has big plans for seventh grade: smooth talking his way to decent grades and acing the basketball team tryouts. Play-by-the-rules Piper has big plans, too: keeping up her straight-A streak and crafting a surprise birthday gift [for?]. Neither plans on being partners for a clutch English assignment. But their kazoo-tooting [Play-the-kazoo] teacher insists they must work on the class Kidblog together – or fail! [Does she tell them this with the kazoo in her mouth? Because that would seem a bit disrespectful.] [And yet I'm not sure why the teacher's only trait worthy of mention is her kazoo tooting if she does it only in a respectful manner.]

A Slurpee versus m & m-fueled battle of wills ensues when first Chad then Piper decides collaboration WILL NOT HAPPEN. [There'd be more conflict if only one of them refused to collaborate. If they both refuse, it's a win-win situation. Or lose-lose, if the teacher makes good on her threats to fail them both, though that's unlikely, as it would cost her her job when the parents sue the school system.] With the clock ticking, conflicts pile up at school and problems bubble up at home. Then, with their plans unraveling fast, Chad and Piper face twin family emergencies that force them to find common ground – and even friendship – in the unlikeliest of places. [This would be much more interesting if you were specific about the conflicts, problems, plans, emergencies and places.]

Writing credits include x, y, and z. I’m an active lurker, if not poster, on FB, Twitter and Instagram. [Lurking is not a credit.] My website, currently being updated, is [If you hurry up and finish updating it you won't have to admit it's being updated.] [Also, I went there, and it's all about TV shows and nothing about your book.]

Attached are the first x pages/y chapters of my manuscript.

Thank you for your consideration.



The setup is okay, but  once you get into the story it becomes vague. We can sympathize with specific problems and emergencies, but we don't know what they are. We need something besides the format that hooks our interest.

Not sure what Slurpees and m & ms have to do with the battle of wills.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Immortal Island

1. On an island inhabited by warlocks, werecreatures, shapeshifters, witches, etc., Sarah's life is constantly in peril. How many times can she expect the strange angelic man who's actually a vampire to save her neck?

2. Isla de Santa Susanna is not found on any maps. When fat, homely Isabel washes up on its beach after a plane crash, she's surprised to find a colony of people only too glad to welcome her. But are they normal . . . or vampires?

3. When a plane crash lands Marsha and her two friends on a strange island, they know they're in major trouble. But, they didn't expect that trouble to include hiding from a mad scientist intent on capturing them to use as subjects in his human immortality experiments. Are they fated to die in pursuit of eternal life?

4. 13-year-old Danny dreads the annual summer vacation on Immortal Island. But this year is going to be different, what with the rumors of buried treasure, disappearing gardeners, suspiciously smart dogs, and the help of a cute pyromaniac named Kimberly.

5. In an alternate-history 1970’s, a small island off the English coast becomes a haven for wannabe revolutionaries and small-time crooks. When an international arms incident catapults the island into the spotlight, thief Jerome and rabble-rouser David must choose between their ideals and their love for each other.

6. The network has spoken, and they've voted off survival reality show host Guy Sly. In a plot of cold revenge Guy orchestrates a mass kidnapping of network big wigs and plants them on an remote island full of immortal beings. Which fat cat will be dinner first? Will Guy redeem himself during sweeps week? Vampires, zombies and faeries galore!

Original Version

Dear Evil editor,

Please consider my mss that I have completed entitled, ‘IMMORTAL ISLAND - Spellbound/Midnight Masquerade’ first book is part one and two. [Your first sentence is a sure deal killer--and not just because it isn't a sentence. The title is three titles; choose one. We don't care about parts one and two. Ms. is the abbreviation for manuscript. My mss that I have completed would be more concise as my completed ms.] [The good news is that you've got an excellent shot at the Least Effective Opening Sentence Award (an Evil Editor coffee mug), though you're in a tight battle with Face-Lift 333.]

It is about a young woman named Sarah Daniels who discovers secrets about her friends and family that changes [change] her life forever.

Sarah begins having visions that she cannot explain. At first they appear as dreams, but when she has them while awake she realizes what they really are. [Which is?] The first vision she has is of the parents [her parents'] death, when they don't return from their vacation she goes to the town sheriff to report them missing. [The sheriff of her town or of the town where they went for vacation?] She meets a handsome yet mysterious Undersheriff
named Chase Gavenport, who she has a unique attraction to. Things slowly start to unravel every day that she spends on the island.
 [What island? Immortal Island? I had no idea they were on an island.] Then a strange man dressed in all black begins to stalk her while at her parents [parents'] place. (Zadkiel).[Zadkiel? Is that the name of her parents' place? The name of the stalker? An exclamation, like Gadzooks?]When he finally reveals himself to her he tries to kill her but Chase comes to her rescue. They become close and Chase eventually reveals to her that he is a vampire and also tells her what the man in black wants. [(Zounds).]

Sarah’s ex-boyfriend decide [decides] to complicate things even more by adding himself to the equation. He reveals that he is still in love with her and wants her back. [The word "reveals" appears more often in the last four sentences than it does in the entire book of Revelations.] Sarah is torn and can’t decide what she really wants. [No need to say the same thing twice in one sentence.] They [Who?] share a house just off campus [Campus? I had no idea they were on a campus.] with close friends and things start to really heat up. She must choose but who will it be, the vampire who brings with him a life filled with uncertainty or her best friend and ex-boyfriend who loves her for everything he thinks she is. [Which is what?]

But now preternatural beings of Sarah's new world seem to be drawn to her. Her life is in constant peril, she cannot turn to her human friends. With witches, warlocks, were-animals, shape-shifters, [zombies, sharks,] to name a few, come to claim, and the power that dwells inside her begins to grow. [That sentence made no sense to me, apparently because I'm unfamiliar with the expression "come to claim."] A power Sarah does not know how to control.

Now Chase has disappeared and no one will give her any answers as to his whereabouts. [When you ask someone where the vampire is, you seldom get a straight answer.] Who will keep her safe from the nightmare that has become her life. Wait a minute there is always a white knight…Right? Erick the strange angelic man.Who always seems to rise to the occasion mainly when she is in harm’s way? Three times he saves her but why, he is a vampire too. [Making your most compelling character a vampire is a mistake. I liked him better when he was just Erick the strange angelic man. In fact, my desire to read more about Erick the strange angelic man leads me to insert this week's writing exercise here. Write a scene involving Evil Editor and Erick the strange angelic man. Don't make Erick a vampire. 300 words max; deadline: Sunday, 10 AM eastern.]

Then one night after giving up all hope she receives a mysterious letter. A Midnight Masquerade ball? Being thrown by the vilest of creatures out there. He has no sympathy for human kind and would rather rid his world of them. [Naturally she accepts the invitation.] Sarah must do what she can to save her life and the life now inside her as she comes face to face with the man who will take her life…Chase? [You're asking me?]

Sarah survives the Masquerade but not before her unborn child or is it children are infected with vampire blood. Now it's a waiting game. To see whether or not her children will live and be vampires killing her in the process with their savage birth, or if they are healthy and unharmed by the blood that was so easily given to her by the same vampire who on many occasions attempted [to] take her life. Ambrose and Sarah will forever be connected from that day forward. [Ambrose? Who's Ambrose?] Now she must tell the father that his babies could be vampires. How will Jeff [Jeff? Who's Jeff?] take the news that vampires exist and that his unborn children may be one [two] of them?

Turns out that the twins are affected by the vampire virus yet in different ways. Alaina is half vampire and half human, she prefers to drink blood. Wyatt is human but has all the abilities a vampire has, [If you have all the abilities a vampire has, you're pretty much a vampire.] however he is more unique than they know... His blood is the key, the cure to vampirism.

This is four parts all together book two is complete but not ready for viewing just yet.

Please contact me if you would like to review my complete mss.

word count -> 84,328

Urban Fantasy fiction for YA or Adults. There are intimate scenes that can be altered to fit YA.



A query letter should fit on one page. Trash the whole thing, start over, limit your plot summary to ten sentences.

It's riddled with errors. This leads the reader to assume the book is also riddled with errors. Even if cleaning up the query got a request for the manuscript, no one will read far into a manuscript full of spelling, usage and grammar errors.

Your opening hook is that this is a book about a woman who discovers secrets about her friends and family that change her life forever. Her family isn't in the query at all as they disappear while on vacation and never get mentioned again, and the only friend in the query is her ex-boyfriend, and I didn't see any secrets about him.

The hook might be something like this: Pregnant with twins, Sarah Daniels attends a masquerade ball at which she is bitten by a vampire. The pregnancy, birth and aftermath sound like they could make an interesting story. The witches and werecreatures and island and parents and campus and man in black and Zadkiel are cluttering the query. And possibly the book.

I decided you would rather view Erick the Strange Angelic Man's pitch session than read selected comments (which may be viewed by searching for immortal island on this blog).


Friday, September 12, 2014

Feedback Request

The author of the query featured in Face-Lift 1218 has posted a revision in the comments there, and awaits your feedback. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chris Eldin Fellowship

Some former minions, and others, are running a fundraiser to set up an annual fellowship for middle grade writers in the name of the late minion, Chris Eldin (aka Takoda/Church Lady) who passed away in 2012. Chris was very active in promoting the work of new writers and we thought that setting up a fellowship in her name was a good way for us, and others, to remember her.

We’ve got some great donations to the fundraiser, including goodies from Hugh Howey, Ken Follett, Jonathan Franzen, and many other authors.

We’re trying to promote the fundraiser at the moment – it only runs until the end of September.
And the fellowship itself is now open for entries: 

New Beginning 1031

The hospital reeked of blood. It filled Morcant’s nose even before the doors opened, pulling him from the shocked stupor he’d been in ever since he got the call from his son.

He lurched toward the reception desk, shoving people out of the way. “Where is she?” he demanded, his voice hoarse and broken.

The receptionist leaned away from him. “Sir, you can’t just—”

“My wife, damn it! Where is she?” He clenched his eyes shut, willing them not to turn silver.

“Dad.” Enid pulled at his arm. How could she be so calm?

A doctor came through a pair of doors. Mid-forties, African-American. “Morcant. Enid. I’m so sorry.”

In two steps he was in front of her, ignoring the stares of those in the waiting room. “Where is she, Helen?”

Sympathy filled her gaze. “Morcant, no. You don’t want to see her. The accident was ... It was bad. I thought Geraint told you.”

If Morcant’s heart could have beat, it would have cracked his ribs. Instead, his stomach heaved. “I need to see her.” 

The doctor sighed. "You would have seen her already if your eyes weren't clenched shut. Open them and look around."

Morcant's eyes, which had so far not changed into any precious metal, opened slowly and took in the waiting room. Now he understood why the place reeked of blood.

"She's right there in the corner," the doctor said in a gentle voice. "And on the ceiling, and a bit near the receptionist desk, and on what's left of the carpet."

Morcant's stomach heaved again. "You say this was an accident?"

"Well, drinking the gasoline was an accident. Apparently the bottle was mislabeled. Having her wait for treatment in a seat next to a dragon with hiccups was ... well, let's just blame Obamacare, shall we?" 

Opening: SB.....Continuation: JRMosher

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Face-Lift 1221

Guess the Plot

Boats, Boys and Other Water Hazards

1. Sarah has had the hots for Rodney Reel since they were kids, so she's thrilled to land a job on his father's fishing boat. But can she navigate the uncharted waters of a relationship or will she and Rod drift through the doldrums like ships that pass in the night?

2. Against a hostile takeover bid by a worldwide amusement conglomerate, one family attempts to keep its privately owned miniature golf course afloat. 

3. Archie Spellman asked his bored teenage niece Shelby to write a booklet about the hazards in tourist-trap Lake Anglers. Unfortunately, she spells 'buoys' as 'boys'. Hilarity ensues.

4. Charlie has seen all types at her parents' time share on Lake Arrowhead. This summer will be different, though. She's 16, has her first real bikini, and right next door is a hot piece named Jacob.

5. Noise pollution in the marine environment has become too much for Swishy to cope with, and while contemplating suicide by beaching herself, she gets rammed by a boy on a jet ski. Forget suicide, Swishy embarks on a mission to clear the waterways of all humans by raising an army of sharks.

6. Do guys want to use Kate for her body, her dad's yacht, or both? What happens after college graduation and her trust fund/birthday party? Who poured bong water in a champagne Magnum bottle again? Who still smokes from a bong? Who's the dead guy in the head?

7. Donnie, sixteen, takes Bridget, fifteen, diving off the Florida Keys. A whale attacks their boat and it sinks. Donnie and Bridget lash themselves together. They’re carried further out. They fight off sharks. A storm blows them back toward shore. They cling to a buoy for twenty-nine hours. The Coast Guard rescues them. The shared experience leaves them hating each other.

8. During a weekend at the lake, Janine tries to impress her boyfriend with her mad boat-driving skills. It works ... until he falls overboard and gets caught in the propeller. He manages not to die, but everyone at school knows what happened, and now Janine's having trouble finding a new boyfriend.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Sarah “Plain-and-Tall” Conway [That's her nickname? Kind of unwieldy. I can't see people calling someone Plain-and-Tall.] has always fit snugly in the Good Box—good student, good athlete, good liar—and she wants out. This just isn’t how she imagined it happening. [I'm not crazy about the term "Good Box," as it could mean stuff she's good at or stuff that indicates she's a good person. If it's the former, wanting out makes little sense: she doesn't want to be good at history or volleyball? If it's the latter,  being a good liar doesn't belong on the list.] [As you haven't revealed what "this" is in that last sentence, and all we know about "it" is that it stands for getting out of this Good Box, I'm thinking we can do without the paragraph.]

When a motorboat meets a summer storm and catapults her into the uncharted waters of Orphanism, [When her parents are killed in a motorboat accident] she’s going to have to navigate the foster system, the open roads of Florida, and a boy with a secret all on her own: Sink or Swim. [All orphans navigate the foster system without their parents. Whether they have to do it all on their own depends. Does she want to do it alone? Does anyone want to help her?] [Navigate, uncharted waters, sink or swim... Don't go overboard with the nautical terms. On the other hand, I may join in, it sounds like fun.]

Enter the boy: Rodney Reel Treakle. Intelligent, a bit cocky, and freaking gorgeous, he’s been the stuff of Sarah’s dreams since they were kids. [How old are they now?] When she lands a summer job aboard his dad’s fishing boat, Sarah starts to find herself—the girl she knew existed, but never entertained: confident, steady, [even-keeled] and a bit rude. And Rod notices. [Basically, she's morphed from someone who's a good student, athlete and liar to someone who's confident, steady and rude. As good student/athletes are often steady and confident, the before/after comparison doesn't work. Was she unsteady, lacking confidence, polite before her transformation?] 

Armed with her notebook, [What notebook?] a pocket full of anger, and a well-hidden Jar-O-Mom, [What the--?] Sarah struggles to let anyone in. Even Rod. [Is she struggling to let people in? Or struggling to keep a wide berth?]  She can feel herself falling—but in love? Or is she just drowning?

An impromptu July road trip sends Sarah on a quest [voyage] for the truth. [The truth about what?] The truth about a certain wedding picture. The truth about Rod. [Time to deep six this bilge-sucking dog.] The truth about the Good Box.

Sarah-Plain-and-Tall may have been a lie, [She's actually only 5 foot 1.] but will Sarah be able to reconcile the girl her parents knew with the girl she may actually be? [Or will she remain trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea?] [Will she stem the tide or run aground?]

BOATS, BOYS AND OTHER WATER HAZARDS, my young adult novel, is complete at 105,000 words.

With a BA in anthropology and eight years of medical practice under my belt, I have spent my entire academic and professional careers immersed in other peoples’ stories. [Well, screw other people.] It’s refreshing to craft my own.

Thank you for your consideration.



I think you can inject some voice into the query without going totally adrift. Some of the attempts to be clever are better left for the book.

This is mostly setup. Parents die, girl takes job on fishing boat, begins finding herself. That's the setup, and a three-sentence paragraph can handle it. Then, though I know nothing about it, I suspect most of the summary should focus on that road trip. It's the part where something seems to happen. What wedding picture? What truth about Rod? These seem like crucial points in Sarah's growth or coming of age, so don't toss them out just to tease us. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1219 has submitted a revision, and seeks your feedback. It's in the comments there.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

The Hot Season

1. When a slight shift in the Earth's axis leaves the UK closer to the sun, the race is on for a new SPF formula. Can British scientist Tony Edwards save his countrymen or is this the end of paleness as we know it?

2. Every season is the hot season in Thailand. Especially when your visiting cousin is found dead and the police don't care and you get involved with a ring of human traffickers in Cambodia. Hey, every season is the hot season in Cambodia.

3. Marine Biologist Sam Whittaker has had enough of single living. He joins and flies Bruna over, but her Latin temper threatens the ice cap when she learns Antarctica is not America.

4. For Alaska native Will Parker, the worst thing about returning to Earth from the International Space Station is that it's August and he now lives in Houston, which is one step up from the Sahara Desert. So you can imagine how he feels when a booster rocket malfunctions, throwing the shuttle way off course and forcing Parker to crash-land on Mercury.

5. After growing up in Antarctica with her scientist parents, Alberta-Marie is ready for warmer weather. A move to tropical Ecuador means she will finally buy a swim suit. But in the hottest summer in 20 years surrounded by even hotter men, which heat will she succumb to first?

6. CeeBee knew the job at Disneyland was going to be tough. Screaming kids, crying parents, meltdowns, high humidity, and pure misery at the Happiest Place on Earth. She just didn't expect to find them all at the toll booth for the parking lot. Now it's August, and if she hears one more whining kid, that .38 is coming out.

Original Version

Dear ….,

I'm writing to ask if you would accept a submission for The Hot Season, a mystery novel of 83,000 words. It's the story of an American journalist in Thailand who confronts ancient superstitions and modern day crime, as she searches for the truth behind her cousin’s death.

I’m currently based in Bangkok, and before devoting myself to writing I spent over fifteen years as a journalist with organizations such as NPR and the BBC. I’m also a published author in Australia. My first book, XXX (XX, 20XX), [For those who've forgotten their Roman numerals, allow me to translate: 30 (20, 2020).] is a narrative non-fiction account of my experiences living in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. It was shortlisted for the XXX Literary Awards.

[I Googled XXX Awards and it took me six hours to pry myself away and back to this blog. Fascinating stuff.] 

In The Hot Season, Sam Beckman, [Hang on a minute, switching my mouse to my left hand as my right is inexplicably inflamed.] [Okay, ready.] a foreign correspondent for a US radio network, is visited by a teenage cousin who’s backpacking through Thailand. She’s delighted [Readers may assume "she" is the cousin, as the cousin is the most recently mentioned character.] at the chance to mend some of her frayed family ties, but within days her cousin is found dead on the banks of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River.

Worried about damage to the lucrative tourism industry, Thai police write the death off as a drug overdose. [The lucrative tourism industry isn't aided by reports that corpses of drug overdosers occasionally wash up on the river bank. Unless you're trying to attract drug addict tourists, wouldn't it be better to write it off as a boating accident?] When Sam suspects foul play, she’s warned to stop meddling. But keeping quiet and playing dumb are not in her nature. [Playing dumb is generally considered a smart strategy.] She’s quickly drawn into a web of human trafficking stretching from Bangkok’s urban jungle to the killing fields of Cambodia and beyond.

Sam’s search is helped and hindered by three men – a Thai policeman trying to balance loyalty to the force with his desire to find the truth, a charming but roguish British journalist
 addicted to life in the fast lane, and Sugar, her driver, who, like most Thais, sees a supernatural explanation behind everything. [Thai food will give anyone hallucinations. Travel tip: Don't order Neua Pad Prik in Phuket.]

A good dose of humor and a sassy heroine counterbalance the serious issues in The Hot Season. I hope this novel will be the first in a series of mysteries set in locations where I’ve lived and worked including Iraq, Sri Lanka, Australia and New York.

If you would like to read more of my work or have any other questions, please email me at XXXXXXX. You can also call me in Thailand on XXXXXX [(Monday)]. [On XXXXXXX I'll be in Somalia. Then XXXXXXXXX I'm off to North Korea for a well-deserved vacation.] I look forward very much to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,


This might be better described as a thriller. I usually expect a mystery to have several suspects. As the cousin didn't know anyone, Sam is basically trying to get to the bottom of what happened, not whodunnit.

The plot summary is three paragraphs. The other stuff is four paragraphs. Cut those four down to two. One way to do this is to open with:

The Hot Season is a stand-alone mystery novel of 83,000 words, and the first in a series of mysteries set in locations where I’ve lived and worked, including Iraq, Sri Lanka, Australia and New York.

Then: Sam Beckman, a foreign correspondent for a US radio network . . . Run through the plot, and finish with:

I've spent over fifteen years as a journalist with organizations such as NPR and the BBC. My first book, ______________, a narrative non-fiction account of my experiences living in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein, was shortlisted for the XXX Literary Awards. If you would like to consider The Hot Season, please email me at XXXXXXX.

Selected Comments

Faceless Minion said...
The main plot here seems to be the search for the Truth. I'd be interested in hearing either a consequence for not finding the truth or what she plans on doing once she'd found it.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...Are "the killing fields of Cambodia" still a going concern? Because I thought that all went out with the Khmer Rouge, 30-some years ago.

Don't open with your qualifications; you may give the impression that you're relying more on them than on the story you're telling.

Laurie said...What everyone else has said - there are some confusing bits (as your heroine is named "Sam," I also defaulted to the "she" referring to the visiting cousin). And yes, your qualifications go at the end.

But that being said, I'd like to read this book.

Rashad Pharaon said...Being a Thailand lover and having visited just a few months ago, I'm immediately drawn to this.

But instead of saying "a good dose of humor and a sassy heroine"-- why don't you inject some of those qualities into the query? Humor? Is there a ladyboy cop?

Anonymous said...Trivializing the Killing Fields (and the international trial that is ongoing) is offensive and insensitive.

There are very few people over the age of 45 left in Cambodia today.

Author, I like the opening, good luck. I like the suggestion of a ladyboy tossed into your mix of characters.

ozgirl said...Thanks very much for the feedback! Those points will be very useful in revising my query.

Re: the killing fields...even though Pol Pot was ousted some 30 years ago, the impact of his rule is still being felt today in terms of poverty, injuries from the millions of landmines left over from that period, damage to society and so on. This will take many more decades to overcome. The terrible legacy of the Khmer Rouge is one of the reasons why even today Cambodians are vulnerable to human trafficking. I don't see why it is insensitive or offensive to discuss serious issues like human trafficking in a novel. The humor in the book comes mostly from self-depreciating wisecracks by the protagonist - it does not contain jokes about human trafficking or genocide or trivialize these issues. I agree, that WOULD be offensive.

Thanks again for the feedback!

[The first few pages are online at;wap2

Don't know when they were posted or if the author checks there anymore, but if you want to read them . . . 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Face-Lift 1220

Guess the Plot


1. In the sequel to the award-winning Drifter, Dustin Leahry finally settles down and gets a job.

2. HVAC technician Cinna is the only person who can fix the capital city's broken heat source. But if the heat isn't repaired, residents of the capital will freeze to death and then Cinna can make the repairs and move to the capital. Tough decision.

3. Luigi is a brilliant businessman in Providence. He owns a seven-bedroom house overlooking the marina, has an Olympic pool, and buys a new Cadillac every year. All this from a small automotive repair shop. Whenever he returns from a business trip, he brings everybody gifts. Nobody can figure out how he does it until Tommy Gambino stops to say “Hi” one afternoon.

4. They told him opening a medical practice on a space station was an idiotic idea. No one would put their life in the hands of an android doctor. But the way Clink figured it, machines had human mechanics, and weren't humans just another type of machine?

5. Don't know what to do with that MA in Modern Literary Poetry? This handy booklet is all you need to get out of that fast-food uniform and into a paying career!

6. By day he's a mechanic, rebuilding Volvo engines for fifteen dollars an hour. By night he's the Mechanic, the superhero who can fix any machine, and the mortal enemy of the villain known as Rustman.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Seventeen-year-old Cinna is a mechanic. Born with dragon's blood, she's the only one in her village who can repair the dragonstone that's their sole source of heat. She has plenty of talent, but with so few resources it's a struggle keeping the deadly Ice of her frozen world in check.

Then Prince Skye comes to her village. The stones in the capital are dying and he wants Cinna to fix them. He can give her people everything she never could: food, supplies. Life. All she has to do is go with him. To save the capital that's never lifted a finger to help the villages. [But which now offers to provide food, supplies. Life. What's the problem? Have the villages done anything for the capital in the past? Did Cinna ever offer the capital a dragonstone maintenance program in return for resources for her village?]

But the massive city isn't the evil incarnate she first thought. Neither is Prince Skye. His fight to keep his people from freezing is disturbingly similar to her own. When Cinna finds a way to fix the stones, she's faced with a choice: save the capital and hundreds of lives, or turn her back on them and give the villages a chance to rise. Because in her world, heat means power, and it's all in her hands. [If heat means power, why hasn't Cinna's village already risen? Heat's the one thing they have.]

MECHANIC is my 83,000 word young adult novel. It's a standalone with series potential, and will appeal to readers of the Graceling series.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



While your story is probably nothing like The Hunger Games, you have a main character who lives in the hinterlands and who agrees to journey to a capital city that never does anything to help the villages. Thus I recommend not naming your main character Cinna, which is the name of the Hunger Games character who "fixes" Katniss so that she'll appeal to the populace. I suppose the name Prince Skye won't evoke President Snow--though if people are already thinking Hunger Games, it might. What I'm saying is, if your story opens with a tornado that knocks out the main character, you don't name her Glinda. Or The Great and Powerful Oz.

Here's how commerce works. You have something I want, like all of your oil. I have something you want, like all of my money. We make a trade and everyone's happy. Win - win. Here Cinna needs resources and Skye needs stonework. That Cinna even considers letting hundreds of people die when there's a win - win offer on the table doesn't make her a sympathetic character. I don't see that her village will rise anyway, as they still won't have resources, unless her plan is for everyone in the capital to die so her people can move there.

Are these dragonstones mechanisms? With parts that need repairing? If they're just some sort of magical stones, you'd think there'd be a better term than "mechanic." Like "thermal engineer" or "Stonemage."

I think you need to make it clear how the capital has been keeping the villages down (if they have). Canada is richer than Uruguay, but without evidence that Canada is responsible for Uruguay's poverty, you're unlikely to see Uruguayans bad-mouthing Canadians or letting them die unnecessarily. How does it help Cinna's village if a few hundred capital city people -- people she's now discovered aren't so bad after all -- freeze to death? Make that clear, or her decision is easy. It's pretty easy anyway, if she has a shred of decency.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Face-Lift 1219

Guess the Plot


1. Jacob is a Drifter, a man who is not anchored in time but instead slides, or drifts, from year to year, often centuries apart. And then one day it's 1939, and Adolph Hitler just handed him a gun.

2. Drifting scross Texas in the 1800's, Dustin spots windmills and heads toward them. He reaches the Cartwright's Ranch, where he spots a naked woman bathing, and Hoss and Little Joe nowhere to be seen. Maybe it's time to finally settle down.

3. Dewey's the big cat curator at Wildcat Safari. He loves the big cats and they love him. When the park is forced into receivership, the bankruptcy administrator sells what he can and plans to euthanize the rest. At 3 A.M. Dewey takes his favorites—two lions, a tiger, and two snow leopards—into his RV and hits the road. Hilarity ensues.

4. When hang-gliding stoner Airey Weedpipe catches the ultimate drift in the Himalayas his seemingly endless ride becomes a metaphor for the world's hopes and dreams. Will he be joined by millions of would-be gliderphobes . . . or shot down by the Russkies?

5. Selene's mother keeps telling her she needs to find a nice man, settle down, and have a family--but it's not like Selene's some irresponsible wild child. It's just that when you're literally light as a feather, settling down is easier said than done.

6. The broken hull of the boat lies at the bottom of the ocean. The leg of the water-skiing frat boy sits partially digested in the shark's stomach. Annie sits in the tiny life raft cursing the day her dead boyfriend challenged fate and named the damn boat DRIFTER. Asshole.

Original Version

Dear E.E.,

Dustin Leahry is good at three things: drifting, helping people, and using his gun. [His metaphorical gun?]

Craving the adventure of his childhood heroes, Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok, Leahry set out for the untamed land west of the Mississippi;[,] taking with him his gun and his best friend – his horse Baker.

Years later the thrill is tempered by the reality of trudging through the dusty cactus[-] and yucca[-]filled plains of Texas after Baker loses a shoe. The Drifter would rather have a cool drink and a black smith’s [blacksmith's] forge than excitement as he plods toward distant windmills that hint at relief. [Blacksmith, shmacksmith. What self-respecting drifter would ride through the old west without spare horseshoes and nails in his saddlebag?]

Trouble finds Leahry when he arrives at the Cartwright Ranch [It's called the Ponderosa.] and catches sight of Shelly Cartwright taking an outdoor bath. He knows he’s in deep trouble when Shelly uses his distraction to center a rifle’s sights on his chest. Something about a woman wrapped in a towel holding a gun on him convinces Leahry to stay instead of continuing to drift. [Wait, what about the trouble he was in one sentence ago? What happened?]

His trouble escalates when he goes to work for Shelly. [What is this trouble that escalates? He can get a new shoe for Baker at the ranch; Shelly didn't shoot him; he finally has a job... He's got less trouble than ever, far as I can tell.] His penchant for helping people soon puts him in the middle of her struggle to keep the ranch from being taken over by August Benson. Benson is determined to own the city of San Angelo and the surrounding countryside. Naturally the Cartwright Ranch is the last obstacle.

Leahry finds himself in confrontations with Benson’s men, on a horse drive to earn ranch-saving money, and in a war between the ranches. After the deaths of several of Shelly’s men, he resorts to the thing [what] he’s best at as he heads to San Angelo and a showdown with Benson.

Drifter: San Angelo Showdown is set in 1898 Texas and is approximately 119,000 words. Drifter pays homage to classic TV Westerns while adding new characters to the fold. [Shouldn't you pay homage to classic western novels and let TV pay homage to TV westerns?]

Thank you very much for your time.



This horse drive to earn ranch-saving money suggests that the ranch will be saved if Shelly can pay her bills. The confrontations/war/showdown suggest that ownership of the ranch is more than a financial/legal matter. How has Benson come to own everything except this ranch? By taking it at gunpoint or buying it? Was this San Angelo area totally lawless as late as 1898? My guess is 1885 would be better, but I've been wrong before, or so I'm told.

The word count is kinda high for a western novel.

Instead of spending three paragraphs on Dustin's arrival at the ranch, try compressing that into one paragraph and devoting more space to what happens after he gets there.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 954 has posted a new version in the comments there. See what you think.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Beginning 1030

It promised to be a beautiful day on Dirtyrock Farm. The sun rose at dawn, as was its wont, and would stayed up until just before dusk. But not Billie Jane.

She awoke just before noon and in no sunny disposition. Her tongue was swollen and dry. Her breath stank and she smelled like a sweat-hog. She stumbled into the bathroom wishing to shower herself down the drain.

“Billie, how was the senior prom?” Her cheerful mom called from the kitchen below Billie's bedroom.

She turned on the shower to drown out her mother's morning joy. While disrobing, she tried to remember last night. She remembered dancing with Eddie Fitzmore, her date, and a couple of other boys. She also remembered drinking with Eddie in his dad's 150 pickup. They drank Southern Comfort mixed with Gordon's Gin and Diet Dr. Pepper--Billie thought Eddie obsessed over his weight which was insufficient to make the varsity six-man football squad.

That's it. She couldn't remember what happened next or how she got home. Billie sat on the edge of the tub and tried. Nothing came to her. Maybe someone put a date-rape drug in her drink. Did she had sex with Eddie? Or with anyone? Maybe she'd been raped. She wondered if urgent care could test for date-rape drugs.

* * *

The sun came bright through the pickup window, but somehow didn't reach Eddie Fitzmore's white knuckles gripping the wheel. Eddie just sat there, unmoving, like what he'd been for the past six hours, staring right ahead, eyes watering from the burning in his crotch. He tried not to think about the two broken bodies in the flatbed, and what had happened to them. And worse, to him.

So that's what the old woman had meant, when she looked at Billie Jane and touched his arm and hissed in his ear. It wasn't nothing to do with her cankles at all. And buying diet didn't help nothin. "Mark my words, boy, whatever you do, don't be giving Dr. Pepper to that there were-hog."

Opening: Mister Furkles.....Continuation: Anonymous

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Face-Lift 1218

Guess the Plot,


1. A panel of octogenarians debate as to whether a famous American novelist should begin his new book with I awoke; I woke up; Awakened, I; Awake, I; Woken, I...or something else entirely! Complicating the matter: the main character is a Wiccan.

2. Audrey's fiance has been in a coma for ten months, and she's scared they'll lose the non-refundable deposit on the reception venue if he sleeps through their wedding. Just what will it take for him to . . . awaken?

3. Ogzhal is an Awakener, one of a special caste of elite warlocks whose task it is to select new corpses for life among the undead. When his wife leaves him for a vampire, he turns to formaldehyde to drown his sorrows. Can sweet ghoul Loretta help turn his life around before it's too late?

4. Seventeen-year-old Emsley finds the new kid at her school intriguing. She knows junior year can be intense, but would it be so bad to have a boyfriend? No, not when the forces of Hades have somehow gotten the idea that Emsley possesses the Key, a mysterious object that can kill a god, and they'll do whatever they have to to get it so they can destroy the Olympians and all of humanity, and the new kid just might be Emsley's--and our--only hope.

5. When the body of actor Jason Mitchell is found hanging in the restaurant of the airport Hilton at six A.M., homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, the star didn't carve that pentagram into his own back, and two, the Hilton puts out a pretty decent breakfast buffet.

6. The morning after the senior prom, Laura wakes at noon with a hangover. The police are downstairs asking about her date. They found his headless body in a drainage ditch and Laura can't remember a thing after her first sip of Southern Comfort. Because of her sword- juggling talent she's a “person of interest” and two of her swords are missing.

7. When a desperate Gervalynn drinks the elixir Wizard Raeferen said would awaken her magic, she never expected to become the essence of magic. Now, if she can’t find a way to reverse the spell, she will cease to exist at midnight when he can bind her to him forever.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Emsley didn’t plan on falling for Henry, the new guy in school. She didn’t plan on discovering that her past is intertwined with a war between Gods, and she didn’t plan on holding the key to their destruction. [So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that none of these things happened. Except the falling for Henry part, but that didn't matter because Henry was cute so Emsley didn't have a chance with him.] [My point being, there's no need for this paragraph. Nobody plans on stuff like that. It just happens.]

Seventeen-year-old Emsley is, well, ordinary. She is expecting her junior year to be academically intense, but what she isn’t expecting [More about what Emsley isn't expecting? You'll save a lot of space if you don't preface everything that happens with the stipulation that Emsley didn't expect it to happen.] is Henry, the new, seemingly unordinary, perfect boy in her quaint, mid-west island town. [He's seemingly unordinary? "Seemingly unordinary" without the italics would suggest that he only seems unordinary, i.e. that he actually is ordinary. If that's not what you mean, and you thought italicizing "seemingly" would suggest that he doesn't seem unordinary but actually is, I don't think it's working. Why don't you just tell us what it is about him that seems unordinary?] [Also, is "unordinary" even a word?] Since losing her parents at the age of seven, Emsley had [has] kept her heart closed with the exception of [to all but] her two best friends. But the further Henry seeks her out, the further she is intrigued.  [Is "further" the best word there? I was thinking "more" would be better, but I bow to any high school English teachers in the audience.] And the closer she comes to letting him in, the closer she comes to discovering Henry’s true identity. [Is it a secret identity? Or is he simply not telling her because she'd never believe he's Robin, the boy wonder, anyway?]

When Emsley’s life is put in danger, twice, Henry is forced to confess [reveal] that not everything she learned in 9th grade Mythology was a myth. [For instance, that movie, Thor? A documentary.] ["You know those myths where Zeus comes to Earth and has sex with mortal women, Emsley? Well, I'm back."] The Underworld is waging war against the Olympians for control over the human world, and according to the three Fates, whichever side possesses the Key, a mysterious object that can weaken or even kill a God, is the side that will prevail. [That's all well and good, but you haven't explained why anyone would want control over the human world.]

After centuries of searching, Hades believes the Key to be in Emsley’s possession. [For centuries they couldn't find it, but now suddenly they have reason to believe this high school kid has it? Why? Is Emsley a newly awakened goddess?] When Emsley is attacked by a creature from the Underworld demanding that she hand it over, the secrets begin to unravel. [This is season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Especially if it turns out that Emsley is the Key.] She discovers that not only was Henry sent to protect her, but that he and his family have a secret - a secret that could destroy her relationship with Henry and force Emsley into a world with an ancient grudge and imminent battle in order to stop Hades from controlling and ultimately destroying humanity.

I am submitting for your consideration a 67,200-word YA urban fantasy. Awaken is a stand-alone novel with the potential to be the first novel in what I entitled my Spark series. It will appeal to fans of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instrument series and Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed.

I am a high school English teacher with a BA in English, Language and Literature and a [an] MA in Reading. [Reading? I haven't taken a Reading class since 4th grade, and now you can get a Masters in it? Do they also have Masters programs in Arithmetic and Spelling?] [Required courses for an MA in Reading: Reading 401: The Poetry of Suess; Reading 560: Deciphering Physician Penmanship; Reading 587: How to Correctly Guess What the Bottom Line of an Optician's Eye Chart Says. And of course for your Masters thesis you have to muddle your way through the Cliff Notes for Finnegans Wake.]

Thank you for taking the time to become part of my new fantasy world. [Not crazy about that line.] Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. I'd be honored if you would consider Awaken for representation.



Is humanity better off if the Olympians have the Key? Because if I'm Emsley, I'm thinking the Olympians have a better chance of protecting it from the forces of Hades than I do. On the other hand, apparently the Olympians also want control of the human world, so I'm worried that Henry is actually Hedylogos, the Greek god of sweet talk and flattery, and he wants the Key so the Olympians can regain the power they had before humanity decided it was less work to believe in only one god.

Questions that occur to me, and that you probably answer in the book and could answer in the query if you wanted to: If Emsley has an object that can weaken or kill a god, why don't the gods just take it from her? What is the secret Henry and his family have? What happens if the Olympians win the war for control of the human world?

It's not as bad as all the blue words make it look. Just get rid of the 1st paragraph and answer a couple of the questions. Young adults who've studied mythology will probably dig it.