Thursday, August 31, 2006

Face-Lift 173

Guess the Plot

Witches, Wings, and Other Things

1. The 1500th Annual Ogre’s Scavenger Hunt is under way. However, the list this year is a little vague.

2. Lucia is never going to get her cookbook entry completed in time - without a chrono-spell. Is a Betty Crocker Bake-Off Award worth destroying the fabric of time?

3. What starts as an itchy back turns into two wings, and Rose Nesbit's dream of becoming a witch disappears. Instead of casting the spells, she's running - or rather flying – away from them.

4. Black-hatted, wart-chinned Esmeralda Grue was shunned by everybody...until her recipe for Buffalo Wings appeared in Gourmet magazine. Now everyone's angling for an invitation to her Super Bowl party, but Esmeralda's out for revenge.

5. Thanks to a centuries-old curse, if literature teacher Fortessa Stein doesn't find a husband within six weeks, she'll have to marry a man chosen by a guy named Milt.

6. When pilot Andy Martin, guest speaker at the annual witches convention, suggests that wings are more efficient than broomsticks, he soon finds himself tossed into a cauldron of boiling brew.

Original Version

Dear [agent]:

I am seeking representation for Witches, Wings and Other Things, a 65,000-word paranormal romantic comedy set in Buffalo, New York and featuring Fortessa Stein.

Fortessa is a sexy, young (okay, 199-year-old) witch with the power to have everything she wants at the snap of her magic fingers – except a husband. Thanks to a centuries-old curse imposed upon the Stein family by Milt Blyweiss (the wizard spurned by Fortessa’s great-great-great-great-great-great Grandma Sophie), the Stein women are doomed to the same dating purgatory as mere mortals. Even worse, if Fortessa doesn’t find a mate before she turns 200 (i.e. six weeks from now), [At the rate we're going, two thirds of this query will be in parentheses.] she’ll be forced to marry a man selected by 380-year-old Milt. And, as usual, Fortessa’s beloved Bills are two and eight for the season, and they haven’t even played the Dolphins in Miami yet. [I'd drop that sentence. It would be amusing as part of a list of what's going wrong for Fortessa, but you're merely stating the terms of the curse, and this feels off-topic.] [One of the hilarious moments in TV drama history came on The X-Files when the Cigarette-Smoking Man was listing the conspiracies he'd masterminded--Kennedy assassination, Area 51, etc--and finished his list by taking responsibility for the Buffalo Bills never winning the Super Bowl.] [Why doesn't Fortessa arrange for the Bills to intercept a few key passes?]

As the final six weeks before her 200th birthday play out, [You can drop the parenthetical statement in the previous paragraph that says it's six weeks till her birthday, as you have the same info here.] Fortessa tries to focus on her job as a literature teacher at Tonowanda School for Mystics. The principal’s up in arms about her “creative” reading list (“Who the hell is Jennifer Cruisie?”), [The agent will know the answer to that question, so I suggest you spell Ms. Crusie's last name correctly.] and there seems to be a conspiracy keeping her best and brightest students from getting into Harvard. Is this Ivy League admissions office immune to her spells?

But, as Fortessa’s ever-helpful mother, Saran, [Saran? She sounds like a somewhat plastic character.] [Although Fortessa probably found her clingy.] [Aren't you Glad you have EE to crack these rather transparent jokes?] [If Fortessa's mother put out a hip-hop album, they should call it Saran Rap.] [Okay, I'm done.] reminds her on a nearly hourly basis, she’s not getting any younger, and so the search for a suitable mate goes Code Red. Through speed dating, set-ups, and more “advice” from friends and family than she ever could have hoped for, Fortessa races to the alter [I'll save the eager minions the trouble of pointing out that you need to alter that spelling.] as Milt Blyweiss attempts to frustrate her progress at every turn.

Like scads of other aspiring writers, I am an attorney. [That sentence can go; it has nothing to do with the rest of this paragraph, which will be excellent without it.] My husband spent the first ten years of his life living in Buffalo, and [the past] last twenty-five years talking about it. Having no other outlet for the useless information he has imparted about his hometown, I have written Witches, Wings, and Other Things in his honor (and, hopefully, to shut him up).

If you would like to see more of Witches, Wings, and Other Things, please let me know. [More? I haven't seen any of it yet. Have you enclosed a sample?] Thank you for your consideration.

Revised Version

I am seeking representation for Witches, Wings and Other Things, a 65,000-word paranormal romantic comedy set in Buffalo, New York.

Fortessa Stein is a sexy, young (okay, 199-year-old) witch with the power to have anything she wants at the snap of her magic fingers – except a husband. Thanks to a centuries-old curse imposed upon the Stein family by Milt Blyweiss (a wizard spurned by Fortessa’s Grandma Sophie), the Stein women are doomed to the same dating purgatory as mere mortals. Making matters worse, if Fortessa doesn’t find a mate before she turns 200, she’ll be forced to marry a man selected by 380-year-old Milt.

As the final weeks before her 200th birthday play out, Fortessa’s search for a suitable mate goes Code Red. Through speed dating, set-ups, and more “advice” from friends and family than she wants, Fortessa races toward the altar, Milt tossing obstacles in her path at every turn.

My husband spent the first ten years of his life living in Buffalo, and the past twenty-five years talking about it. Having no other outlet for the useless information he has imparted about his hometown, I have written Witches, Wings, and Other Things in his honor (and in hopes of shutting him up).

Witches, Wings, and Other Things is available on request. I've enclosed a stamped envelope for your reply. Thank you for your consideration.


If witches are still young at the age of 199, then 380-year-old Milt would have known Fortessa's mother and possibly grandmother. Her great-great-great-great-great-great Grandma Sophie might have been well before Milt's time.

It seems to me a well-done query, with appropriate humorous touches. I didn't find the part about focusing on her job vital, and why bring up that she can't get her students into Harvard when you've already declared she can have anything she wants except a husband? In the book you have time to explain. Here it sounds like a contradiction. Good luck with it.

New Beginning 97

I’ve loved her for as long as I can remember. I lost her years ago, but I still see her before me. I carry the hope that I’ll find her again soon.

We first met in elementary school and became constant companions. I remember the photograph of us together outside the chapel after our First Holy Communion. In a lacy white dress with a light embroidered veil pinned to the crown of her head, both pieces painstakingly made by her mother, she looked like a miniature bride. “Stop running, you two! You’ll ruin your clothes!” My father’s voice boomed. The photograph captured us just as we came to an abrupt stop, facing each other and grinning. Even in the black and white picture, the afternoon sun made Lucy’s veil glow like a halo, surrounding her head with light.

I thought nothing of it at the time, but when I saw that same halo around her head in our school pictures, I understood. God wanted her in heaven.

And so I sent her to Him. And though I had to say eleven Hail Mary's and an Our Father for that one, I have no regrets.

Opening: anonymous.....Continuation: Virginia Miss and Kate Thornton

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Old Beginnings 13

Chick-Lit today
If you're not a chick, you'll have to pretend you are, just as you pretended you were 14 yesterday. Sources posted below.

1. I'm sorry, you must think I'm very rude. We've hardly even been introduced and here I am telling you all about the awful things that have happened to me.

Let me just give you the briefest outline of myself and I'll save details like, for example, my first day at school until later, if we have the time.

Let's see, what should I tell you? Well, my name is Claire and I'm twenty-nine and, as I mentioned, I've just had my first child two days ago (a little girl, seven pounds, four ounces, totally beautiful) and my husband (did I mention his name is James?) told me about twenty-four hours ago that he has been having an affair for the past six months, with -- and get this -- not even his secretary or someone glamorous from work, but with a married woman who lives in the apartment two floors below us. I mean, how suburban can you get! And not only is he having an affair but he wants a divorce.

I'm sorry if I'm being unnecessarily flippant about this. I'm all over the place. In a moment I'll be crying again. I'm still in shock, I suppose. Her name is Denise and I know her quite well.

Not quite as well as James does, obviously.

2. "Have you seen it?" asked Samantha.

I leaned close to my computer so my editor wouldn't hear me on a personal call.

"Seen what?"

"Oh, nothing. Never mind. We'll talk when you get home."

"Seen what?" I asked again.

"Nothing," Samantha repeated.

"Samantha, you have never once called me in the middle of the day about nothing. Now come on. Spill."

Samantha sighed. "Okay, but remember: Don't shoot the messenger."

Now I was getting worried.

"Moxie. The new issue. Cannie, you have to go get one right now."

"Why? What's up? Am I one of the Fashion Faux Pas?"

"Just go to the lobby and get it. I'll hold."

This was important. Samantha was, in addition to being my best friend, also an associate at Lewis, Dommel, and Fenick. Samantha put people on hold, or had her assistant tell them she was in a meeting. Samantha herself did not hold. "It's a sign of weakness," she'd told me. I felt a small twinge of anxiety work its way down my spine.

3. Bergdorf Blondes are a thing, you know, a New York craze. Absolutely everyone wants to be one, but it's actually très difficult. You wouldn't believe the dedication it takes to be a gorgeous, flaxen-haired, dermatologically perfect New York girl with a life that's fabulous beyond belief. Honestly, it all requires a level of commitment comparable to, say, learning Hebrew or quitting cigarettes.

Getting the hair color right is murder, for a start. It all began with my best friend, Julie Bergdorf. She's the ultimate New York girl, since glamorous, thin, blonde department-store heiresses are the chicest thing to be here. Someone heard she'd been going to Ariette at Bergdorf for her color since high school, because apparently she told her personal shopper at Calvin Klein who told all her clients. Anyway, it was rumored in certain circles that Julie got her blonde touched up every thirteen days exactly and suddenly everyone else wanted to be Thirteen-Day Blondes. The hair can't be yellow, it has to be very white, like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy's was. She's the icon, the hair to worship. It's beyond expensive. Ariette is like $450 a highlight, if you can get in with her, which obviously you can't.

4. The light hadn't even officially turned green at the intersection of 17th and Broadway before an army of overconfident yellow cabs roared past the tiny deathtrap I was attempting to navigate around the city streets. Clutch, gas, shift (neutral to first? Or first to second?), release clutch, I repeated over and over in my head, the mantra offering little comfort and even less direction amid the screeching midday traffic. The little car bucked wildly twice before it lurched forward through the intersection. My heart flip-flopped in my chest. Without warning, the lurching evened out and I began to pick up speed. Lots of speed. I glanced down to confirm visually that I was only in second gear, but the rear end of a cab loomed so large in the windshield that I could do nothing but jam my foot on the brake pedal so hard that my heel snapped off. Shit! Another pair of seven-hundred-dollar shoes sacrificed to my complete and utter lack of grace under pressure: this clocked in as my third such breakage this month.

5. I can't believe this. I can't believe I don't remember what he looks like! How can I not remember what he looks like? I mean, his tongue has been in my mouth. How could I forget what someone whose tongue has been in my mouth looks like? It's not like there've been that many guys who've had their tongues in my mouth. Only, like, three.

And one of those was in high school. And the other one turned out to be gay.

God, that is so depressing. Okay, I'm not going to think about that right now.

It isn't like it's been THAT long since I last saw him. It was just three months ago! You would think I'd remember what someone I've been dating for THREE MONTHS looks like.

Even if, you know, for most of those three months we've been in separate countries.

Still. I have his photo. Well, okay, you can't really see his face in it. Actually, you can't see his face at all, since it's a photo of his -- oh God -- naked ass.

Old Beginnings 13

1. Watermelon....Marian Keyes
2. Good in Bed....Jennifer Weiner
3. Bergdorf Blondes....Plum Sykes
4. The Devil Wears Prada....Lauren Weisberger
5. Queen of Babble....Meg Cabot

Face-Lift 172

Guess the Plot

Sudden Rain

1. 30,000 people will come out for the Mayor's annual parade on what's predicted to be a sunny and cloudless Tuesday, but only rogue meterologist Tim Durble expects - Sudden Rain!

2. A chance encounter in MacArthur Park leaves pastry chef Margella Bootny with love, loss, and sweet green icing.

3. Norma Coob has been reading up on witchcraft. But her only successful spell so far is not appreciated in the Ninth Ward.

4. The residents of Sugarville, Colorado think they have finally found a way to put their tiny town on the map: by making the world's biggest ball of cotton candy. Now the big day is here, but someone forgot to check the weather forecast.

5. Sven Johannsson, professor of meteorology, discovers that his isobars and charts are of no use to him against acid rain when he's caught in a storm and his clothes start dissolving.

6. When it rains, it pours, but who's to blame for that? Mother nature? Or manipulative totem spirits?

Original Version

Dear Mr. Such and Such,

I love fiction. Especially those novels that pull me away - the farther the better - from today’s depressing headlines. Fortunately, success in business enabled me to retire early so that I could focus full time on creating my own. [Now you've done it. Now we all hate you.] [Let's hope you don't hit an agent on a bad day, or she may be thinking, Listen, hon, I'm fighting the rat race, reading mounds of slush, trying to make ends meet, and you've already had a successful career and retired at thirty-four, and now you want me to hawk your book? Fat chance of that! This baby'll make good kindling for my barbecue tonight. I'll be grilling hot dogs, by the way, while you're eating prime rib, but at least my wieners will be smoked in the aroma of burning paper and ink.] So here I am after six drafts, with the kind of novel that I love to read, all 125,000-words, completed and seeking representation. It’s an historical/adventure tale entitled SUDDEN RAIN, part of a trilogy actually. [Actually?] But here, let me share with you the setting and premise. [Most accomodating of you.]

There was a time when North America’s bestiary made pre-colonial East Africa look like a petting zoo. When miles-thick glaciers, legacy of an atmosphere perpetually at war, prowled the northlands. When the far-flung descendants of the boldest mariners of all time, the First Americans, faced each new day with justified trepidation. Then came the fair-skinned ones from the Sunrise with their terrible fluted-stone weapons, and the world changed forever. [Is this a query letter or a documentary?]

This story is set in a harsh but mystical world where dreams, visions and reality often overlap. Motivated by a shameful secret, an unarmed healer/mystic must make the leap from outcast to rescuer when unknown foes annihilate his clan, abduct his half-sister and subsequently vanish into the depths of a trackless wilderness. But his troubles have only begun, for the few clues he’s able to turn up point belatedly to the very people to whom he’s turned for help. Moreover, as he gradually realizes, the manipulative Ani--the totem spirits of earth and sky--are behind all that’s happened to him. For while he’s ignorant of their agenda, his actions will govern the fate of the great herds upon which human life depends, drastically altering the future of an entire continent. [There are nine pronouns in that paragraph referring to one guy. You could get rid of a few by giving the guy a name.] [Not that there's anything wrong with pronouns, but if you don't tell us the characters' names, how can the minions complain about what lousy names you've chosen? Which is, as you may know, what they live for.]

My extensive research for this unusual story, covering a handful of scientific disciplines, was indeed a labor of love for I’ve long been fascinated by the intrepid souls who first peopled the Americas. Moreover, lots of on-the-ground wilderness experience, along with my insights into human nature gleaned from many years of leading others, helped me to breathe fresh life into the dry bones of a world long since vanished. A world that will prove as fascinating to a wide range of readers as it has to me.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. May I send you a synopsis together with my completed manuscript?

Best Regards,


The first paragraph is too homey and casual, and the rest is a bit too . . . far in the opposite direction. Although the vocabulary is used correctly, the phrasing makes it sound more like the actual work of fiction than a business letter. I've no idea if the book sounds like this, but if it does, it may scare off as many readers as it attracts. It almost sounds like a parody of stylish writing. Vivid phrases don't carry as much weight when they're coming at the reader in rapid succession. Ease off and write like you talk.

Can you find a happy medium between paragraph one and the rest? A good start would be to eliminate the second paragraph, which is the biggest offender. And there's not much of value in the first paragraph either. If you want to keep what's there, I'd move it to the end.

I don't have much of a sense of what happens, other than a guy's half-sister is abducted, and he goes after her. Despite the mention of the first Americans, I don't know exactly where or when this takes place. If the fair-skinned ones are the Europeans, that would set it much later than your talk of glaciers might indicate.

New Beginning 96

"You don’t want this, no more than I do."

"I don't want it." I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice. Firespark hadn't earned it. "But Terra does. We don’t start wars accidentally."

The Pathchild ambassador twined his fingers, all six hands worth moving in constantly changing patterns. I tried to keep my eyes on his face. Nervous? Confused? Angry? A year after contact, I still couldn't be sure. "Is it war, now?" he said at last. "I thought you called it a 'declaration of intent to annex.'"

"True. And if you accept the annexation, there'll be no war. I have a whole stack of agreements right here." The Interplanetary Relations Council didn't think they'd fight. Even Counselor Avrams, normally a sensible man, thought we might be able to get through this without an exchange of hostilities. I knew there wasn't a chance in hell.

The ambassador's face finally registered an emotion that was simple to parse. Defeat. "I, ah, I will look these over and consult my superiors."

I wanted to scream at the snivelling little pacifist, but I bit my tongue and instead reached nonchalantly into my pocket. Fingered my blaster. Oh, there was going to be an exchange of hostilities all right. Whether Terra wanted it or not.

Continuation: Braun

Old Beginnings 12

Young Adult books.

Would you read on? Or rather, would a 14-year-old read on? All books rated among the very best for teens by the American Library Association, and all published in the past four years. Sources at the bottom.

1. Early March 1659

I am a witch. Or so some would call me. "Spawn of the Devil," "Witch child," they hiss in the street, although I know neither father nor mother. I know only my grandmother, Eliza Nuttall; Mother Nuttall to her neighbors. She brought me up from a baby. If she knew who my parents are, she never told me.

"Daughter of the Erl King and the Elfen Queen, that's who you are."

We live in a small cottage on the very edge of the forest; Grandmother, me, and her cat and my rabbit. Lived. Live there no more.

Men came and dragged her away. Men in black coats and hats as tall as steeples. They skewered the cat on a pike; they smashed the rabbit's skull by hitting him against the wall. They said that these were not God's creatures but familiars, the Devil himself in disguise. They threw the mess of fur and flesh on to the midden and threatened to do the same to me, to her, if she did not confess her sins to them.

2. This morning, my mother didn’t get out of bed.

It meant I didn’t have to go through one of her daily pep talks which usually begin with a song that she puts on at 6.45 every morning. It’s mostly 70s and 80s retro crap, anything from ‘I Will Survive’ to some woman called Kate Bush singing, ‘Don’t Give Up’. When I question her choices she says they’re random, but I know that they are subliminal techniques designed to motivate me into being just like her. But this morning there is no song. There is no advice on how to make friends with the bold and the interesting. No twelve point plan on the best way to make a name for myself in a hostile environment. No motivational messages stuck on my mirror urging me to do something that scares me every day. There’s just silence.

And for the first time all year I go to school and my only agenda is to get to 3.15.

3. Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow's nest, being the ship's eyes. We were two nights out of Sydney, and there'd been no weather to speak of so far. I was keeping watch on a dark stack of nimbus clouds off to the northwest, but we were leaving it far behind, and it looked to be smooth going all the way back to Lionsgate City. Like riding a cloud.

The sky pulsed with stars. Some people say it makes them lonesome when they stare up at the night sky. I can't imagine why. There's no shortage of company. By now there's not a constellation I can't name. Orion. Lupus. Serpens. Hercules. Draco. My father taught me all their stories. So when I look up I see a galaxy of adventures and heroes and villains, all jostling together and trying to outdo one another, and I sometimes want to tell them to hush up and not distract me with their chatter.

4. The assassins dropped into the palace grounds at midnight, four fleet shadows dark against the wall. The fall was high, the ground was hard; they made no more sound on impact than the pattering of rain. Three seconds they crouched there, low and motionless, sniffing at the air. Then away they stole, through the dark gardens, among the tamarisks and date palms, toward the quarters where the boy lay at rest. A cheetah on a chain stirred in its sleep; far away in the desert, jackals cried.

They went on pointed toe-tips, leaving no trace in the long wet grass. Their robes flittered at their backs, fragmenting their shadows into wisps and traces. What could be seen? Nothing but leaves shifting in the breeze. What could be heard? Nothing but the wind sighing among the palm fronds. No sight, no noise. A crocodile djinni, standing sentry at the sacred pool, was undisturbed though they passed within a scale's breadth of his tail. For humans, it wasn't badly done.

5. How can some people's lives look so good when they're so foul underneath? That's the question I ask when I leaf through this photo album Macy gave me for my sixteenth birthday. I got it at my surprise party in October of sophomore year, three weeks to the day before Lani Garver showed up on Hackett.

It's full of pictures of me and Macy and our other friends, and we've got some wild and happy parade of the teeth going on. And it's not like we were faking happiness for pictures. That's what terrifies me most. If anyone had asked, my friends and I would have said in a heartbeat, "We rule the cule," and would have believed ourselves.

Macy scrawled titles by each picture in her pretty handwriting that slants backwards. The one most likely to rip our sides was "Uh-Oh, The Umbrella Ride," because of the disgusting story behind it, but like all "true brew stories," you find a place for it in your heart.

Old Beginnings 12

1. Witch Child....Celia Rees
2. Saving Francesca....Melina Marchetta
3. Airborn....Kenneth Oppel
4. Ptolemy's Gate....Jonathan Stroud
5. What Happened to Lani Garver....Carol Plum-Ucci

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New Beginning 95

One year was wasted and gone. One whole year spent tracking the thief, riding in stinking buses that coughed thick black exhaust, jotting down notes and theories and occasional ten-page rants about the unfairness of it all into a frayed and stained old journal.

One year.

Gone, just like that.

Eric, once a revered priest and now just a wasted old man with coarse gray stubble, stared blindly out the greasy window of the Quick-N-Swift bus. Behind him was a family of four and the youngest was a screaming toddler demanding ice cream, ice cream, ICE CREAM. In the tattered seat before him was a young couple, too young. She was barely out of adolescence and her open face was too innocent, too trusting. The boy could hardly be older than she was but something in the way he spoke – low and frank – told Eric that he might have a chance on the streets. He seemed practical.

Eric shook his head. He mustn't stare at the children. That's what got him into trouble in the first place.

Opening: K.D. McEntire.....Continuation: Kate Thornton

Q & A 82 Can I get agents to bid on my book?

Would it ever work to have an online "auction" type system for query letters and book proposals?

What I have in mind is the following: Currently, agents and editors must be contacted by the author on an individual basis and receive a query regarding an item to represent or publish. Authors must spend time trying to find the right agent for their work. There might be an agent who would love to rep a certain work, but this person could be number 42 on their agent list.

For the agent, the drawback of the current system is that another agent could find and rep a work before you ever had a chance to hear about it. You might have been looking for that Zombie time travel YA novel for 2 years, but if you are agent #16 on the author's list and agent #15 jumped first, well, tough luck. So, why not put the queries and proposals in a central online location?

There are a million problems to work out. How do you keep out the junk? How do you protect an author from "preditors"? I assume such issues could be handled somehow. The central idea then is to have a single slush pile that is categorized and available to all immediately.

I'm having enough trouble solving the two problems you mention; if there are a million, count me out.

I suppose sooner or later everything will be done online, but I can see how an agent would feel that it's easier to let writers know what genres she deals with, and read the ones that show up in her mailbox, than to visit a web site that has fifty times as many works to look through.

And suppose the system were up and running and showed early signs of success. Now every writer wants in. Meanwhile, the reputable agents who wanted in to begin with have picked up a few new clients, and now have all they can handle if they want to have time for their blogs. So eventually we're down to 25 interested agents, and a slush pile of 500,000 manuscripts. Not a good ratio.

If you aren't going to let everyone in, someone will have to read the books to determine which deserve to get in. They're not going to do this for nothing. Suppose they say, "For $200 we'll read your book for as long as we can stand it, and if we make it to the end without gagging, you're in." Those who don't get in (98 percent) will inevitably feel it's all a scam operation. So will those who do get in, if no agents show interest in the book. And they're probably right, unless the readers deciding what gets in are infallible.

None of that matters as much as the fact that agents don't need this. If they did, it would exist.

Face-Lift 171

Guess the Plot

Seasons of Mist

1. Althea loved the morning mist in the Highlands. It was the only reason she stayed. Well, that and the handsome Laird in the wind-whipped kilt.

2. Two young neighbors learn about a land over the mountains where people are corporeal throughout the entire year, and set off on the adventure of a lifetime to see this wonder for themselves.

3. Alisa floats on a cloud of Valium, hoping sedation will keep her from losing the baby. Maybe someone should point out to her that she's not pregnant.

4. Carolina Bupkus wants to see the leaves turn color in New England, but her husband has other ideas. His vacation plans include the steam turbine exhibits at several power plants.

5. Laura Grimble's stint as Channel 9 weather girl was rapidly going down the tubes. Even her topless reading couldn't overcome her monotonous forecasts.

6. In her quest for "Endless Damp," Gladys spends her springs in Cornwall, her summers in the Orkneys, her autumns in Seattle, and her winters in San Francisco. That is, until a sudden burst of sunshine forces her to confront her surfer-girl past.

Original Verson

Dear Agent,

Seasons of Mist is a 90,000 word novel of contemporary literary fiction.

Alisa BenSarai has tried 5 years for a baby. When the results of one more invasive fertility procedure are negative, she becomes furious at the world and her husband, Mickey, and drives away from Los Angeles. In a McDonald's parking lot, surrounded by children, Alisa has a chance meeting with a mother who [offers her three of her children.] gives her the number of an adoption facilitator. This will be the way to her baby. [Adoption! Why didn't I think of that? Thank God I stopped at McDonald's.]

Alisa begins her adoption process against the backdrop of 9-11. The events of that day give her an urgency, but unhinge her as well. As birth mother Missy goes through the various stages of pregnancy, Alisa goes through them, too, living in a trailer like the birth mother, [Living in a trailer is a highly underrated stage of pregnancy, possibly the most underrated.] making herself throw up to feel morning sickness, renting a pregnancy pillow from a make-up effects company to pretend to grow large. Using increasingly bizzare methods, Alisa induces other symptoms of pregnancy: sore breasts, heartburn, weight gain, dizziness and nausea. [I can induce three of those symptoms (heartburn, weight gain and nausea) just by going up the street and ordering the lasagna vindaloo at Ristorante Ranjudeep .] So consumed is she that toward the end of her "pregnancy," Alisa decides that she is a special case who must be sedated so she doesn't lose the child. Hiding from her husband, alone in a trailer park in Malibu, she floats on a cloud of Valium, [Doesn't she know she should be on placebos while she's pretending to be pregnant?] barely connected to the world. At last Mickey acts. He finds her near death, and rescues her. When she is recovered, together, they go to Georgia for the birth of their new baby. Missy gives up the baby because, "With you," Missy says, "this child has a chance." [I've got news for Missy: with Alisa, this child is doomed.]

I've enclosed a five page sample. A full manuscript is available upon request.


Revised Version

Dear Agent,

When the results of yet another invasive fertility procedure prove negative, Alisa BenSarai decides that five years is enough trying. Adoption is the only way to her baby.

Against the backdrop of 9-11, Alisa contacts an adoption facilitator. The events of that day fill her with a sense of urgency, but unhinge her as well. As birth mother Missy goes through the stages of pregnancy, Alisa goes through them too, making herself throw up to feel morning sickness, using a pregnancy pillow to pretend to grow large, and inducing symptoms of pregnancy: sore breasts, heartburn, weight gain, dizziness and nausea. She even starts living in a trailer, as the birth mother does.

So consumed is she that toward the end of her "pregnancy," Alisa decides that she is a special case who must be sedated so she doesn't lose the child. Hiding from her husband, alone in a trailer park in Malibu, she floats on a cloud of Valium, barely connected to the world.

Seasons of Mist is a 90,000-word novel of contemporary literary fiction. I've enclosed a five page sample. A full manuscript is available upon request.



I'm no expert, but I believe the amount of Valium that she would take to sedate herself, even if she overdoes it a bit, is not going to put her near death. Maybe you can come up with a stronger drug--unless she's trying to kill herself.

It wrapped up too neatly, so I removed the ending. I'm worried that the book wraps up too neatly as well. Hey, this is literary fiction. Either Alisa dies, or Missy finds out she's a nutcase and keeps the baby.

Apparently none of Alisa's unusual actions would have occurred if not for 9-11? When her husband rescues her, he tells her, "Hang on, honey, if you die, the terrorists win." Right?

New Beginning 94

I was tired, damnnit all, and cold. Camping is highly overrated in my book. I tossed a few more sticks onto my little fire and felt adrenaline seep out of my bones like oil from an old pickup's cracked head gasket.

Chiquita pressed close and quiet against my leg in dog aplogies, and I forgave her with an aimless skritch behind her ear, not even flinching as I pried a fat tick from her tender parts. "At least SOMEBODY'S eating good," I thought as I flinked it into the coals with a dirty fingernail.

I could smell myself over the beginning of my last coffee starting to boil in the old tin can I'd scrounged and thought about just how fast all the veneers of civilized life can fall by the wayside when you're mainly busy surviving. Dawn breezes mixed dry desert dust with rank human sweat and mangy dog sharing an old sleeping bag. Much longer and Chiquita and I would be skin and bone.

Which made me think. Maybe I could solve two problems at once.

Grabbing Chiquita, I tossed her onto the fire.

Somebody else was going to be eating good tonight. And sleeping better too.

Opening: Maggie Pistel Baker.....Continuation: McKoala

Monday, August 28, 2006

Old Beginnings 11


1.The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.

So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door until he came at last to a lawn which was cut all wrong.

No, not the grass. The salesman lifted his gaze. But two boys, far up the gentle slope, lying on the grass. Of a like size and general shape, the boys sat carving twig whistles, talking of olden or future times, content with having left their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town during summer past and their footprints on every open path between here and the lake and there and the river since school began.

2. I was shown into the attic chamber by a grave, intelligent-looking man with quiet clothes and an iron-gray beard, who spoke to me in this fashion:

"Yes, he lived here- but I don’t advise your doing anything. Your curiosity makes you irresponsible. We never come here at night, and it’s only because of his will that we keep it this way. You know what he did. That abominable society took charge at last, and we don’t know where he is buried. There was no way the law or anything else could reach the society.
"I hope you won’t stay till after dark. And I beg of you to let that thing on the table- the thing that looks like a match-box- alone. We don’t know what it is, but we suspect it has something to do with what he did. We even avoid looking at it very steadily."

3. On a very hot day in August of 1994, my wife told me she was going down to the Derry Rite Aid to pick up a refill on her sinus medicine prescription -- this is stuff you can buy over the counter these days, I believe. I'd finished my writing for the day and offered to pick it up for her. She said thanks, but she wanted to get a piece of fish at the supermarket next door anyway; two birds with one stone and all of that. She blew a kiss at me off the palm of her hand and went out. The next time I saw her, she was on TV. That's how you identify the dead here in Derry -- no walking down a subterranean corridor with green tiles on the walls and long fluorescent bars overhead, no naked body rolling out of a chilly drawer on casters; you just go into an office marked PRIVATE and look at a TV screen and say yep or nope.

4. FOR the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not --and very surely do I not dream. But tomorrow I die, and today I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified--have tortured--have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror--to many they will seem less terrible than baroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the commonplace--some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

5. Dear Reader:

In the summer of 1998, at an estate sale in Everett, Washington, I purchased a locked diary covered in dust, writings I believed to be those of Ellen Rimbauer. Beaumont University's Public Archive Department examined the paper, the ink and the binding and determined the diary to be authentic. It was then photocopied at my request. Ellen Rimbauer's diary became the subject of my master's thesis and has haunted me ever since. (Excuse the pun!) John and Ellen Rimbauer were among the elite of Seattle's turn-of-the-century high society. They built an enormous private residence at the top of Spring Street that became known as Rose Red, a structure that has been the source of much controversy. In a forty-one-year period at least twenty-six individuals either lost their lives or disappeared within its walls.

Sources posted below.
Old Beginnings 11
1. Something Wicked This Way Comes....Ray Bradbury
2. "The Evil Clergyman"....H.P. Lovecraft
3. Bag of Bones....Stephen King
4. "The Black Cat"....Edgar Allen Poe
5. The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer....Joyce Reardon?

Face-Lift 170

Guess the Plot


1. Father Joseph put his green chasuble away and took out the purple one. Today he would give up his shameful vices, at least for forty days. A strange feeling of peace came over him - no more drinking, no more gambling, no more loaning money to Sister Grevillia.

2. Sophie Filch hiked up her skirt and smiled at her new boss. She tossed her messy curls and leaned over so he could get a better look down her blouse. But Mr. Wincher was not amused. She was just on loan from the Accounting Department, for crying out loud.

3. Over the years, Michael's neighbor George has borrowed his snow shovel, his socket wrench, his bathroom scale, his mailbox and his first edition of Grapes of Wrath, forever promising to return them "next Tuesday". Finally, this Wednesday, Michael is going over to lend George a bullet, no return necessary.

4. Marla gives up everything for Lent - until she discovers charismatic Father Jake. But Father Jake isn't really available for a relationship, he's just on loan from the Church.

5. Joanne is the kind of woman who has anything anyone needs and she's always willing to let others borrow. One day Beelzebub knocks on her door with a smile and a proposition. He wants to borrow Joanne's soul for the afternoon.

6. An engaging literary novel in which Jed, Sarah, and Paul struggle through Lent. Whale attempts to swim across bay, too.

Original Version

Dear Ms. Agent:

From forty days in the wilderness, through temptation, miracles, homecoming, betrayal, denial, crucifixion, descent into Hell, and resurrection, Lent is a heavy time. [You left out root canals, having your flesh eaten by zombies, and Adam Sandler movies.] Lent is a pilgrimage from detachment to ultimate engagement with fate. The 108,000-word Southern-tinged literary novel, "Lent," pieces together disparate episodes of four characters' lives as they make it through one Lenten period, struggling through the constant choice between detachment and engagement, discovering the importance of their context in time, in place, and in each other. [That's two "detachments" and two "engagements" in two sentences. And I had no idea what you were talking about either time.] [I certainly hope there won't be an engagement or a detachment in the next sentence.]

Jed is a directionless young grocery store security guard in Mobile, Alabama, who confronts his father's suicide and untangles the knot of detachment [Isn't Detachment a better title for a literary novel than Lent?] at the core of his middle-class upbringing. Paul is a blue-blooded banker boy in the same town, who faces conflicting loyalties between his corrupted upper-crust family and his desire to bring dignity to himself and the family name. Sarah is the orphaned young woman from across Mobile Bay whom Paul has married, [No, no, to whom Paul is engaged.] and who has sought refuge from her new high-society world by working as a checkout girl in the grocery store guarded by Jed. [No self-respecting blue-blooded banker boy lets his wife work as a grocery store checkout girl.] Whale is an aging-hippie, ex-con, paranoid schizophrenic[, lactose intolerant, toad-licking Republican,] whose mysterious quest to swim across Mobile Bay brings resolution for all of the characters in the novel. [That's it? Does anything happen in the book?] [Do you have any idea how hard it is to put together the real plot for Guess the Plot, when you tell me little more than the characters' names?]

I began my writing career in 1988 as a weekly education columnist for the "Selma Times-Journal" in Selma, Alabama. I graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, in 1994 with a B.A. in creative writing and theater. I earned four awards for poetry published in Spring Hill's literary magazine, "The Motley." After teaching and taking classes in the English M.A. program at the University of Alabama, I worked two years as a magazine copy editor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For the next eight years, I attended law school at Tulane University and practiced law in New Orleans, publishing numerous articles in law reviews and [on] bar [napkins.] journals. In June 2005, [What is this, your credits, or your autobiography?] I took a year's sabbatical from my practice to write "Lent." I have begun work on two other novel-length projects, both drawing from my experiences during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Enclosed with this query is the chapter synopsis for "Lent," and a SASE. I would like to send the "Lent" manuscript for your review, and look forward to further discussion of this project.

Yours very truly,


Okay, you're enclosing a synopsis, but I would still like to see more about the plot in the letter. What is it about this Lenten period that's so significant? You could (should) trim the last two paragraphs down to something like this:

My writing has appeared in literary magazines and law reviews. I've taught in the English M.A. program at the University of Alabama, and worked two years as a magazine copy editor. I wrote Lent during a sabbatical from my law practice, and have since begun work on two novel-length projects, each drawing on my experiences in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Enclosed with this query is a chapter synopsis for Lent, and a SASE. Thank you.

That gives you about eight extra lines to tell us about your story. If you need more, trim the paragraph about your characters. Most of what's there can be worked into the synopsis. All novels have characters. It's your story that makes your novel unique.

New Beginning 93

The neurotically cleaned hospital room smelled of ammonia and lemons.

"So, in short," said Dyson, trying to change positions without his bandaged wounds crying out in pain, "that is where my date went horribly wrong."

Zz leaned forward and pushed her single lock of bangs off of her forehead. "Wow, a whole bottle of hot sauce?"

"But where did she get that many ferrets at that hour?" asked Bane.

Dyson carefully reached his arms to the sides of the bed and pushed himself upright. Jolts of pain shot through him, but he kept his grip until he finished sitting up. "I didn't ask her," he said. "I was to busy trying to get out of the bear trap while wearing boxing gloves."

"And you say she was playing the accordion the whole time?" Bane asked.

"Yes. While lying in a hammock."

"What song?" Zz asked.

"'Pop goes the Weasel.' Over and over."

"Wait a minute," Bane said. "Don't you see? They weren't ferrets, they were weasels!"

"My God." Dyson slapped his forehead. "Of course. Suddenly . . . it all makes sense."

Opening: Karen Rei Pease.....Continuation: Evil Editor

New Beginning 92

He pushed the play button again. She appeared on the screen, smiling from her make believe kitchen, skillfully dicing leeks while explaining the intricacies of preparing vichyssoise. She held the classic 10-inch chef’s knife perfectly balanced in her hand, her stokes, smooth, rapid and precise.

Reclining in his chair, his hand dropped to grip and caress, while her voice flowed over him. He watched, captivated by her beauty and her ability to talk, smile and teach while wielding that amazing blade with such proficiently.

This time would be different. She would be the one to stay as long as he wanted, maybe forever. And if not forever, there was the blade, an equally tantalizing thought. Either way, soon, she’d be his.

The others . . . didn't understand, didn't have the passion, the technique, the nerve. This one, though . . . He watched her slender hands dart over the cutting board like small predators, her smile all for him. It was there in the way she chopped the leeks. He felt it. She was the one, the one who would do as he asked, and cut off his penis.

Opening: anonymous.....Continuation: Writtenwyrdd and Kathleen

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Old Beginnings 10

Nonfiction Books today. The hook of a nonfiction book is probably in the title and the subject and the back cover, but if you're sending a partial, it doesn't hurt to have a catchy opening. These five books made Modern Library's list of the 100 greatest English-language nonfiction books (1900-1999). Sources posted below.

1. I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant. Since I had conceived six months earlier, one might have thought that the news would have sunk in before then, and in many ways it had, but it was on that early morning in May that I first realized how severely pregnant I was. What tipped me off was that, lying on my side and needing to turn over, I found myself unable to move. My first thought was that I had had a stroke. Nowadays I go around being aware that I am pregnant with the same constancy and lack of surprise with which I go around being aware that I have teeth. But a few times a day the information actually causes me to gasp-how on earth did I come to be in this condition? Well, I have a few suspicions. I mean, I am beginning to put two and two together. See, there was this guy. But the guy is no longer around, and my stomach is noticeably bigger every few days.

2. In London, where Southampton Row passes Russell Square, across from the British Museum in Bloomsbury, Leo Szilard waited irritably one gray Depression morning for the stoplight to change. A trace of rain had fallen during the night; Tuesday, September 12, 1933, dawned cool, humid and dull. Drizzling rain would begin again in early afternoon. When Szilard told the story later he never mentioned his destination that morning. He may have had none; he often walked to think. In any case another destination intervened. The stoplight changed to green. Szilard stepped off the curb. As he crossed the street time cracked open before him and he saw a way to the future, death into the world and all our woe, the shape of things to come.

3. I was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia. I am not quite sure of the exact place or exact date of my birth, but at any rate I suspect I must have been born somewhere and at some time. As nearly as I have been able to learn, I was born near a cross-roads post-office called Hale's Ford, and the year was 1858 or 1859. I do not know the month or the day. The earliest impressions I can now recall are of the plantation and the slave quarters--the latter being the part of the plantation where the slaves had their cabins.

My life had its beginning in the midst of the most miserable, desolate, and discouraging surroundings. This was so, however, not because my owners were especially cruel, for they were not, as compared with many others. I was born in a typical log cabin, about fourteen by sixteen feet square. In this cabin I lived with my mother and a brother and sister till after the Civil War, when we were all declared free.

4. I was born the 30th of November, 1835, in the almost invisible village of Florida, Monroe County, Missouri. My parents removed to Missouri in the early 'thirties; I do not remember just when, for I was not born then and cared nothing for such things. It was a long journey in those days and must have been a rough and tiresome one. The village contained a hundred people and I increased the population by 1 per cent. It is more than many of the best men in history could have done for a town. It may not be modest in me to refer to this but it is true. There is no record of a person doing as much-not even Shakespeare. But I did it for Florida and it shows that I could have done it for any place-even London, I suppose.

Recently some one in Missouri has sent me a picture of the house I was born in. Heretofore I have always stated that it was a palace but I shall be more guarded now.

5. So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens--four dowager and three regnant--and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.

Old Beginnings 10

1. Operating Instructions....Anne LaMott
2. The Making of the Atomic Bomb....Richard Rhodes
3. Up From Slavery....Booker T. Washington
4. The Autobiography of Mark Twain....Mark Twain
5. The Guns of August....Barbara Tuchman

Face-Lift 169

Guess the Plot

Harry's Landing

1. In this science fiction trilogy, human colonists on the planet known as Harry's Landing conflict with the native inhabitants: telepathic elephants.

2. In this romantic comedy, old flames are rekindled in the bayou, but can Harry's bar--and his newfound love--survive an alligator with a taste for gin?

3. In this literary novel, Harry's apartment is the only place for his and Velma's forbidden love to express itself. But as the cabbage smells from Mrs. Velaski's apartment drift up in a wet cloud through the air conditioning ducts, they choose an alternative.

4. In this slapstick farce, Margot Pestmeyer's apartment is tiny, but the view is worth the $3K a month New York rent. Every evening she pours a glass of wine and watches her neighbor, Harry, attempt to fly from his fire escape, three floors above the dense landscaping across the quad.

5. In this urban novel, when crack dealers invade his building in the projects and threaten to take over the stairways, young Harry makes a stand: this square meter of concrete belongs to him.

6. In this YA tragedy, Harry has called the press, Harry has staged the plane jump, and Harry is not going to let little Mary Sue steal his thunder again, even if that means substituting a knapsack for her parachute.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I hope that you will consider representing my novel "Harry's Landing", a space opera with supernatural elements. Merchant starship captain Chernoi finds that in the covert conflict among humans, aliens and demons on a lost colony world, an outsider's questions can be more dangerous than guns. This is the first book of a trilogy, with #2 [Wilbur's Balcony,] completed and #3 [Carlotta's Veranda,] in progress. It is not under consideration elsewhere.

Captain Chernoi and her crew are dodging trouble at home when they agree to take on Aaron, a passenger to an unknown destination. [Even Chekov would have had trouble navigating to an unknown destination.] [A starship captain agrees to take a passenger somewhere, and doesn't insist on knowing where?]

[Aaron: I need a ride.
Captain: Where to?
Aaron: I can't reveal that information.
Captain: Well, it's highly irregular, but my mother always told me, you can trust a man with tusks and a trunk. You have the con.]

Aaron's homeworld is disputed territory among paranoid human colonists, telepathic elephant-like natives, and an infestation of nightmarish creatures that the colonists call demons. When the colonists refuse to give Chernoi the route-map she needs to guide her ship home, [What?! Blast 'em with a photon torpedo.] she and her crew are drawn into onworld politics. Her willingness to deal with the natives only worsens the colonists' suspicions. [Let me get this straight. They're at home (dodging trouble). They take Aaron to his home planet, where the telepathic elephant men are. And now they can't get back home without a map? Wouldn't their ship log have a record of the route they just took? Couldn't they navigate by the stars? If the colonists have a map, this can't be uncharted space, so a starship should have access to the data on the map.] [I assume this map is three dimensional?]

When Aaron disappears, Chernoi turns to the natives, [They dropped Aaron at his homeworld, why shouldn't he disappear? Why would he continue to hang out on the starship? Why do they care that he disappeared? They were just giving him a ride.] who deliver him to her battered and half-mad. Her ship's psychologist heals him, [A merchant ship has a psychologist?] at the cost of forming a tight psychic bond between them, and learns that the colony leadership has been infiltrated by demons. The conspirators [What conspirators?] try to kill Aaron, then send a demon to possess one of Chernoi's crew. [This paragraph feels like a list of stuff that we don't need to know. Maybe you should jump to the next paragraph (in which case you'll have to change "the demon on board" to "a demon who has infiltrated the ship.")]

Throwing her backing behind the least compromised human leader she can find, Chernoi triggers open conflict groundside while struggling to deal with the demon on board. The loyalist faction emerges on top, [Who are the loyalists loyal to? Who emerges on the bottom? Are the factions human, or is there an elephant man faction? Do telepathic elephant men ever forget?] although Chernoi's pursuit of the chief conspirator is foiled by a massed demon attack. Chernoi finally gets her route-map home, but the situation remains critical, and her sense of responsibility to her new allies will eventually drive her back.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


[It may be helpful to know that "Harry's Landing" is the name of the planet.]


At the beginning you say "in the covert conflict among humans, aliens and demons on a lost colony world, an outsider's questions can be more dangerous than guns." Yet later it reads "Chernoi triggers open conflict groundside." So is the conflict covert or open? And it's not clear what "questions can be more dangerous than guns" means; but maybe that won't bother anyone. Does that bother anyone?

Who would name a planet Harry's Landing? Only one person would have the gall: Harry Mudd.

New Beginning 91

A leather-clad, frying pan-sized hand slithers over Abraham Lincoln’s mouth. His eyes snap open. Abe can’t remember having ever gone from such a deep sleep to complete awareness so quickly, but a creepy, huge hand will have that effect. When his eyes finally focus, and adjust to the moonlit room, Abe sees a mustachioed face, and presumed owner of the leather-clad hand, creeping down toward him.

“Don’t struggle or scream or we’ll kill you,” the man whispers, his mouth inches from Abe’s face. He is pressing his hand firmly, but not harshly, over Abe’s mouth. The man has a creamy coffee smooth voice, and the hot breath seeping into Abe’s nostrils smells strongly of tuna fish. He does not know why, but the odor is calming. “Do you understand?”

Abe nods and lets his eyes drift over the mustachioed man’s shoulder. Standing behind the man, barely distinguishable in the shadows, is a woman with shoulder length hair and a black patch covering her right eye socket. Her left eye is probing Abe with such intrusiveness that he feels like he’s at a proctology exam. Her skin is so pale that her face looks like the floating glow-in-the-dark skull of a pirate. This too, is oddly calming.

The woman produces a strip of fine, glistening cloth. One moment she's pressing it firmly under Abe’s nose, and in the next she's ripping it away with a swift, powerful yank.

Through the pain, Abe sees her press the other side of the cloth onto her own lip, mounting her magnificent prize there, and now he realizes who these people are. The Mustache Pirates. Inexplicably, this realization is somehow calming.

Continuation: Jason

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Old Beginnings 9

Science Fiction Today. Intrigued by these beginnings, or moving on? Sources posted at the bottom.

1. Let's set the existence-of-God issues aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo-which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn't a stupendous badass was dead.

2. "Tonight we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man." The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn't look five years older than me. So if he'd ever killed a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he'd done it as an infant.

I already knew eighty ways to kill people, but most of them were pretty noisy. I sat up straight in my chair and assumed a look of polite attention and fell asleep with my eyes open. So did most everybody else. We'd learned that they never scheduled anything important for these after-chop classes.

The projector woke me up and I sat through a short tape showing the "eight silent ways." Some of the actors must have been brainwipes, since they were actually killed.

3. As he glided by the extremely small, out-of-the-way cemetery in his airborne prowl car, late at night, Officer Joseph Tinbane heard unfortunate and familiar sounds. A voice. At once he sent his prowl car up over the spiked iron poles of the badly maintained cemetery fence, descended on the far side, listened.

The voice said, muffled and faint, "My name is Mrs. Tilly M. Benton, and I want to get out. Can anybody hear me?"Officer Tinbane flashed his light. The voice came from beneath the grass. As he had expected: Mrs. Tilly M. Benton was underground.

Snapping on the microphone of his car radio Tinbane said, "I'm at Forest Knolls Cemetery--I think it's called--and I have a 1206, here. Better send an ambulance out with a digging crew; from the sound of her voice it's urgent."

"Chang," the radio said in answer. "Our digging crew will be out before morning. Can you sink a temporary emergency shaft to give her adequate air? Until our crew gets there--say nine or ten a.m."

4. Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages. The village was a comfortable mud-walled place surrounded by grasslands and scattered trees. But Doro realized even before he reached it that its people were gone. Slavers had been to it before him. With their guns and their greed, they had undone in a few hours the work of a thousand years. Those villagers they had not herded away, they had slaughtered. Doro found human bones, hair, bits of desiccated flesh missed by scavengers. He stood over a very small skeleton-the bones of a child-and wondered where the survivors had been taken. Which country or New World colony? How far would he have to travel to find the remnants of what had been a healthy, vigorous people?

5. The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses. Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner atmosphere, when thought runs gracefully free of the trammels of precision. And he put it to us in this way - marking the points with a lean forefinger - as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it) and his fecundity.

"You must follow me carefully. I shall have to controvert one or two ideas that are almost universally accepted. The geometry, for instance, they taught you at school is founded on a misconception."

Old Beginnings 9

1. Cryptonomicon....Neal Stephenson
2. The Forever War....Joe Haldeman
3. Counter-Clock World....Philip K. Dick
4. Wild Seed....Octavia Butler
5. The Time Machine....H.G. Wells

Face-Lift 168

Guess the Plot

Over Their Heads

1. When Professor Hanson spends the entire period spouting complete nonsense and nobody in his General Relativity course notices, it's just as he suspected -- the material is "over their heads."

2. When he gets into salt water, Garrett sprouts gills and a scaly tail and becomes a merman. What will his girlfriend Frances say when she finds out?

3. Angus McPhee is inspired to teach partial differential equations, representation theory, and algebraic topology to fourth-graders. But is this quest too quixotic even for so dedicated an educator?

4. Susan makes a dreadful mistake when she enrolls her "special" twins in a program she thought would help them with their learning disability. The other students, budding young astrophysicists all, are not amused.

5. Carol and Tim could never understand why their dinner guests always ran away screaming. Why didn't the guests just keep their eyes downcast, if it was so upsetting to see the mounted heads of Carol's deceased relatives?

6. The memoir of MIT professor-turned-comedian Stanley Menschowitz and how his career based on the humor of quantum physics never really took off.

Original Version

It's 1905 in a small seacoast town in Maine. Frances Schmidt, one of the few female graduate students of her era, has traveled north to read Garrett Hathaway's huge library of books about mermen and mermaids. [I'm not sure whether to express disbelief at the claim that a huge library of books about mermen and mermaids exists, or at the claim that someone wants to read all of it.] Armed with her grandmother's cookie recipes, she's ready to charm Garrett and to best her academic nemesis, Norbert. [She needs to charm Garrett why? Has he invited her to read his library of books, or is she just showing up unannounced?] [Learning all about mermaids and mermen is going to help her best Norbert? What is this, a science project? Wait, I know where this is going, she shows up at the grad school science fair with a merman, figuring first place is in the bag, but then Norbert walks in with a centaur.] [It's just a hunch, but if the first woman graduate student at the University of Maine insists on writing her Masters thesis on mermen, I'm guessing they won't let another woman into graduate school for forty years.] But when she falls in love with Garrett, she doesn't realize that he's hiding a terrible secret. [Once you've revealed to a woman that you own an entire library of books about mermaids and mermen, and she hasn't slowly backed out of the room, chances are she can handle any other secret you're keeping.]

No one knows that Garrett Hathaway is a merman. [I would like to retract my previous statement.] When he touches salt water, he sprouts gills and a blue, scaly tail. [I always wondered how Aquaman could swim really fast without a fish tail. I mean, the guy had just feet. You'd think he would have had enough brains to put on swim fins.] Despite his growing love for Frances, he is certain that she will see him as a monster if she ever learns the truth. [She'll learn the truth when he takes her home to meet his parents and she discovers that his father's a fisherman and his mother's the flounder in the bathtub.]

Over their Heads is a completed YA romance novel. [How many 15-year-olds are gonna read a book about a 22-year-old woman who's in love with a fish? Maybe she should be in high school.] Under my pen name, my short stories have appeared the magazine Night to Dawn, the anthology In the Outposts of Beyond, and on a can of Story House Coffee. [Evil Editor has the complete set of those. My library has one wall of books and three walls of coffee cans.] When I'm not writing fiction, I'm a historian with a PhD in the History of American Civilization from Harvard. I have published an essay in the Journal of the Early Republic, and I am under contract with ABC-Clio to write and edit a book about the Industrial Revolution.

I would be delighted to send you my sample chapters. Thank you very much for your time.


Not clear why that last sentence in paragraph 1 begins with "But."

Not clear how reading books about mermaids will help her best Norbert.

Also, I'm not sure what the time frame is, but she seems to fall in love awfully fast with this guy, considering that she's probably been granted a limited amount of time to read his library, and is probably spending most of her time reading.

Fortunately, it's fairly brief, so you have space in which to expand your plot description with additional information.

New Beginning 90

No one heard the gun shots that fired the two bullets into Russ Thorton's chest that Sunday evening. Aside from the murderer and Russ, the closest humans were at least half a mile away in a sports bar. At that time of year ESPN was running a football game. With all the screaming and shouting you would have to have had super hearing to hear the shots.

If you asked Russ, he would have said that it was like a tremendous explosion and then silence; plus it hurt like hell. Russ is dead now so you won't get that information from him, even if you wanted to.Russ got to his offices that Sunday evening to get some work done. Most people don't work on Sunday night, but business is business and he was expecting a visitor around 7:30 PM.

When he first got into his office, Russ picked up the phone and speed dialed his house on Lake Murry in South Carolina. The phone range four times and then the message machine came on.

Russ spoke slowly, "Honey, I'm in Charlotte a the office, I'll be home tomorrow after lunch, love ya, bye."

Jannie Thornton looked at the phone while Russ was leaving his message. Then she grabed her car keys and with a wry smile on her face, headed out the door.

If she drove like crazy, she could get up to the office, blow the bastard to kingdom come, and still have time for a facial and a salt wrap at the spa.

Russ didn't know it, but the visitor he was expecting was Jannie. And she was bringing a .45-caliber friend.

Continuation: Kate Thornton

Friday, August 25, 2006

Old Beginnings 8

Evil Editor was accused of lacking class, and as penance, I've decided to class up today's Old Beginnings. We can all use a little culture every month or so. So, put on your best dress or your tux, pour yourself a cup of tea, and appreciate these five beginnings to novels by authors who've won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the 2000's. Sources are posted at the bottom.

1. For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well. On Thursday afternoons he drives to Green Point. Punctually at two p.m. he presses the buzzer at the entrance to Windsor Mansions, speaks his name, and enters. Waiting for him at the door of No. 113 is Soraya. He goes straight through to the bedroom, which is pleasant-smelling and softly lit, and undresses. Soraya emerges from the bathroom, drops her robe, slides into bed beside him. "Have you missed me?" she asks. "I miss you all the time," he replies. He strokes her honey-brown body, unmarked by the sun; he stretches her out, kisses her breasts; they make love.

Soraya is tall and slim, with long black hair and dark, liquid eyes. Technically he is old enough to be her father; but then, technically, one can be a father at twelve. He has been on her books for over a year; he finds her entirely satisfactory. In the desert of the week Thursday has become an oasis of luxe et volupté.

2. Let us call our man, the hero of this story, Kingbitter. We imagine a man, and a name to go with him. Or conversely, let us imagine the name, and the man to go with it. Though this may all be avoided anyway since our man, the hero of this story, really is called Kingbitter.

Even his father was already called that.

His grandfather too.

Kingbitter was accordingly registered on his birth certificate under the name Kingbitter: that, therefore, is the reality, on which--reality, that is to say--Kingbitter did not set too much store nowadays. Nowadays--a late year of the passing millennium, in the early spring of, let us say, 1999, on a sunny morning at that--reality had become a problematic concept for Kingbitter, but, more serious still, a problematic state. A state from which, on the report of Kingbitter's most private feelings, it was reality above all that was lacking. If he were in some way compelled to make use of the word, Kingbitter invariably added "so-called reality." That, however, was a very meager satisfaction; nor indeed did it satisfy Kingbitter.

3. Shortly before he was born there had been another quarrel between Mr. Biswas's mother Bipti and his father Raghu, and Bipti had taken her three children and walked all the way in the hot sun to the village where her mother Bissoondaye lived. There Bipti had cried and told the old story of Raghu's miserliness: how he kept a check on every cent he gave her, counted every biscuit in the tin, and how he would walk ten miles rather than pay a cart a penny.

Bipti's father, futile with asthma, propped himself up on his string bed and said, as he always did on unhappy occasions, "Fate. There is nothing we can do about it."

No one paid him any attention. Fate had brought him from India to the sugar-estate, aged him quickly and left him to die in a crumbling mud hut in the swamplands; yet he spoke of Fate often and affectionately, as though, merely by surviving, he had been particularly favoured.

4. The old bus is a city reject. After shaking in it for twelve hours on the potholed highway since early morning, you arrive in this mountain county town in the South.

In the bus station, which is littered with ice-block wrappers and sugar cane scraps, you stand with your backpack and a bag and look around for a while. People are getting off the bus or walking past, men humping sacks and women carrying babies. A crowd of youths, unhampered by sacks or baskets, have their hands free. They take sunflower seeds out of their pockets, toss them one at a time into their mouths and spit out the shells. With a loud crack the kernels are expertly eaten. To be leisurely and carefree is endemic to the place. They are locals and life has made them like this, they have been here for many generations and you wouldn't need to go looking anywhere else for them. The earliest to leave the place traveled by river in black canopy boats and overland in hired carts, or by foot if they didn't have the money. Of course at that time there were no buses and no bus stations.

5. The piano teacher, Erika Kohut, bursts like a whirlwind into the apartment she shares with her mother. Mama likes calling Erika her little whirlwind, for the child can be an absolute speed demon. She is trying to escape her mother. Erika is in her late thirties. Her mother is old enough to be her grandmother. The baby was born after long and difficult years of marriage. Her father promptly left, passing the torch to his daughter. Erika entered, her father exited. Eventually, Erika learned how to move swiftly. She had to. Now she bursts into the apartment like a swarm of autumn leaves, hoping to get to her room without being seen. But her mother looms before her, confronts her. She puts Erika against the wall, under interrogation – inquisitor and executioner in one, unanimously recognized as Mother by the State and by the Family. She investigates: Why has Erika come home so late?

Old Beginnings 8

1. Disgrace....J.M. Coetzee
2. Liquidation....Imre Kertesz
3. A House for Mr. Biswas....V.S. Naipaul
4. Soul Mountain....Gao Xingjian
5. The Piano Teacher....Elfriede Jelinek

Face-Lift 167

Guess the Plot

Until Death Do Us Part

1. The wedding is over. All the planning, the excitement, the spectacle is over. Mrs. Cynthia Lin wonders what to do now.

2. Conjoined twins James and Joseph share a liver, a pancreas -- and a girlfriend. But when Lily is found murdered, they vow to find a doctor to separate them, so they can fight a duel to the death.

3. True accounts of divorces from the most bizarre and hilarious period in the long and illustrious history of matrimonial failure: the late 19th century.

4. Wieder Braun has been married to nagging, thrifty, boring Frau Rosa for more than 50 years. And he's not waiting one more day for freedom.

5. Reverend L. J. Jones tires of the hypocrisy of young love. The divorce rate among couples he's married is 70%. So now he helps newlyweds keep their vows by parting them with death, mafia-style.

6. Tom and Larry couldn't get jobs at the circus... until they had themselves surgically conjoined to become the first Latvian Siamese Twins.

Original Version

Dear Name of Agent: (Evil Editor in this case)

I am a recent graduate of North Dakota State University and have had the opportunity to write a proposal for an almost entirely unique book. I am confident with this statement because the book’s historical source has never before been read or written about. These original historical documents contain the bizarre and fascinating stories of America’s earliest known divorces. I would like to invite you to review my proposal and consider representing Until Death Do Us Part: The Strange True Stories of America's First Divorces. [Framing American Divorce is a boldly innovative exploration of the multiple meanings of divorce in American life during the formative years of both the nation and its law, roughly 1770 to 1870. --Description of a book available at, which also offers The Road to Reno: A History of Divorce in the United States, and A History of Divorce. Which is not to say that these books are similar to yours, merely that "unique" and "America's first divorces" may be overstating it, insofar as your history begins in the 1880's.]

I have easy and unlimited access to many of the oldest divorce court records in American history. They range from the 1880’s to the early 1900’s and are all original documents that have never before been searched through. [I stole them from the basement of the Stutsman County courthouse.] The proposed book is to be a compilation of entertaining and fluent retellings of the most unique, interesting, emotionally striking, humorous, and strange of these divorce cases. The book will also contain brief discussions of early American divorce and an overview of modern divorce. I searched through approximately 100 of the divorce cases for a historical research paper and discovered that many resemble micro soap operas. [That's true even today; the difference is, today you can file citing irreconcilable differences, whereas in the old days you needed specific reasons like He's sleeping with both my sisters, or She poisoned my stew.] The divorce stories in my small sampling from the 1890’s are tales peppered with exotic locales such as Australia, Europe, and India, humor, emotional and physical abuse committed by husbands and wives, adultery, shootings, crime, alcoholism, tragedy, family and class disputes, decadence, and any other such element of resonant storytelling.

The book will be, simply put, a veritable pantheon of intimate human-interest stories from America’s past. The stories have all certainly never been told before, and are arguably some of the first well-documented cases of domestic dysfunction in American history. [All right already. At least write the book before gushing over its magnificence.] They are narratives involving people from a wide variety of geographical regions, in particular the east coast. In addition, the book, although drawn from the country’s past, is still quite relevant today, given the current debates and discussions surrounding marriage, divorce, and the “American family.”

I graduated from Minot High School in 2001 and labored in choosing a profession to pursue. [I narrowed it down to historian, divorce lawyer, and scandalmonger. Then I realized I could have my cake and eat it too.] This was difficult because I have too many interests, the most immediate being literature, history, popular culture, and art. I decided upon a career in history education, as art and writing can both be enjoyed in my leisure time, therefore avoiding the suffocation of my creativity with career pressure. [Which is exactly the reason Stephen King and Nora Roberts have never quit their day jobs as a bag boy and a laundress.] My qualifications to write this book include first and foremost a B.S. in History Education from North Dakota State University. The degree, however, serves only as documentation of my interest and knowledge of history. My true qualifications for writing this book are my undying and undeniable passion for history, literature, writing, and the human experience. I also have easy access to the divorce files [You said that at the beginning of paragraph 2.] and a strong desire to pour myself into researching the files, with or without a book. Quite simply, I just enjoy reading them. [Quite simply, you are stark, raving mad.] [Seriously. The guy who ate 35 pancakes a day for 13 years in the last query had nothing on you, obsession-wise.]

I would be more than thrilled to have you represent me. If you would like to view my proposal, please contact me as soon as your schedule permits. You may contact me anytime by phone at _________ or by email at ___________. I look forward to hearing from you and wish to extend my appreciation for your time and consideration.

Revised Version

Dear Name of Agent: (Evil Editor in this case)

I would like to invite you to review my proposal and consider representing Till Death Do Us Part: True Stories of America's First Divorces.

I have access to many of the oldest divorce court records in American history, dating from the 1880’s to the early 1900’s. My book will consist of entertaining retellings of the most emotionally striking, humorous, and bizarre of these divorce cases. It will also contain brief discussions of early American divorce and an overview of modern divorce.

I searched through approximately 100 divorce cases for a historical research paper and discovered that many resemble mini soap operas. The small sampling from the 1890’s, which I used for my paper, is peppered with more emotional and physical abuse, adultery, shootings, crime, alcoholism, tragedy, family and class disputes, and decadence than would be found in the most dissolute of fictional works.

The book will be, simply put, a compilation of intimate human-interest stories, arguably some of the first well-documented cases of domestic dysfunction in American history. These stories, although drawn from the country’s past, are relevant today, given the current debates and discussions surrounding marriage, divorce, and the “American family."

My qualifications to write this book include a B.S. in History Education from North Dakota State University, and an undying passion for history, literature, writing, and the human experience.
I would be more than thrilled to have you represent me. If you would like to view my proposal, please contact me as soon as your schedule permits. Thank you.


It sounds like it could be interesting, but there's way too much hyperbole and repetition in the query. If it's now so short you want to add something, you might explain (very briefly) how it is that you have unlimited access to these records. Or include an example of a fascinating case, rather than a list of causes for the divorces.

New Beginning 89

Bad Thing Coming

Fall in northern Arizona is crisp and bright and filled with the promise of change and change was why she came home.

Lindsey Hunt walked across the leaf-strewn NAU campus and into the faculty office building. Matt was there, in the lobby, chatting with a pretty coed. She stood watching the exchange, marveling at the irony of it and remembering that first day, all those years ago, when she’d been the pretty coed.

He saw her, grinned and excused himself. “You look good Lindsey,” he said, crossing the room and engulfing her in a hug.

She steeled herself against the familiar response to the feel and smell of her now ex-husband. “You too Matt…damn it.”

He laughed, took her arm and led her down the hall into his office. “Have a seat. I’ve got everything ready for you.”

She sat, watching as he rounded the desk and sat across from her. The defused sunlight from the window behind him erased the years, reminding her exactly how she’d felt, that first day.

Matt took a breath. "How can I help you, miss?" he began, straightening his posture and patting down the front of his shirt.

"I left . . ." she stammered, falling into the familiar part, "I left two shirts and a pair of slacks last Tuesday." She looked up into his eyes. "I'd like to pick them up now."

Matt gave a soft smile and reached out his hand. "Do you have your stub, miss?"

No one could play Dry Cleaner like Matt. No one.

Opening: anonymous.....Continuation: Jason

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Old Beginnings 7

Fantasy books today. Science fiction another day. Do you want to read more, or is it time to pick up a different book? Sources posted at the bottom.

1. Kahlan stood quietly in the shadows, watching, as evil knocked softly on the door. Huddled under the small overhang, off to the side, she hoped that no one would answer that knock. As much as she would like to spend the night in out of the rain, she didn't want trouble to visit innocent people. She knew, though, that she had no say in the matter.

The light of a single lantern flickered weakly through the slender windows to either side of the door, reflecting a pale, shimmering glow off the wet floor of the portico. The sign overhead, hung by two iron rings, grated and squealed each time it swung back and forth in the wind-borne rain. Kahlan was able to make out the spectral white shape of a horse painted on the dark, wet sign. The light from the windows wasn't enough to enable her to read the name, but because the other three women with her had talked of little else for days, Kahlan knew that the name would be the White Horse Inn.

2. At the height of her singing career, which some will say came up to Billie Holiday’s rumpled ankle socks, Echo’s voice was sweet breath through a straw, a straw poked up among swamp water reeds, as predators cruised the surface; a high-yellow voice that matched her tightly stretched teenaged skin, but not her short white hair, and most certainly not those pale gray eyes, startled and ready to bolt, eyes that did not belong in any human face.

King Z and Lady Juno first saw her in the Delphi, a photo negative wandering among the zydeco musicians on a board-and-cinder-block stage. At first they couldn’t hear her; then barely could; and then Z surprised himself when he raised a hand to silence the two thugs arguing about the best place for a manicure and a blow job. The place went silent, all six odds-and-ends tables with their mismatched chairs, and their clueless tourists who knew only that they felt a hard hand gripping their hearts, with just the implication of a squeeze.

3. Todd adjusted his leather power seat and smiled. Now, this was the good life -- driving along the California coast, road stretching empty before him, cruise control set at fifty, climate control at sixty-eight, Brazilian coffee keeping warm in its heated cup-holder. Some might say it'd be even better to be the guy lounging in the back seat instead of his driver, but Todd liked being where he was. Better to be the bodyguard than the guy who needed one.

His predecessor, Russ, had been the more ambitious type, which may explain why Russ had been missing for two months. Odds around the office water-cooler were split fifty-fifty between those who assumed Kristof Nast had finally tired of his bodyguard's insubordination and those who thought Russ had fallen victim to Todd's own ambitions. Bullshit, of course. Not that Todd wouldn't have killed to get this job, but Russ was a Ferratus. Todd wouldn't even know how to kill him.

4. Lessa woke, cold. Cold with more than the chill of the everlastingly clammy stone walls. Cold with the prescience of a danger stronger than the one ten full Turns ago that had then sent her, whimpering with terror, to hide in the watch-wher's odorous lair. Rigid with concentration, Lessa lay in the straw of the redolent cheeseroom she shared as sleeping quarters with the other kitchen drudges.

There was an urgency in the ominous portent unlike any other forewarning. She touched the awareness of the watch-wher, slithering on its rounds in the courtyard. It circled at the choke limit of its chain. It was restless, but oblivious to anything unusual in the predawn darkness.

Lessa curled into a tight knot of bones, hugging herself to ease the strain across her tense shoulders. Then, forcing herself to relax, muscle by muscle, joint by joint, she tried to feel what subtle menace it might be that could rouse her, yet not distress the sensitive watch-wher.

5. The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it "the Riddle House," even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine-looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict, and unoccupied.

The Little Hangletons all agreed that the old house was "creepy." Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce. The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was anymore. Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: Fifty years before, at daybreak on a fine summer's morning, when the Riddle House had still been well kept and impressive, a maid had entered the drawing room to find all three Riddles dead.

Old Beginnings 7

1. Phantom....Terry Goodkind
2. Echo and Narcissus....Mark Siegel
3. Dime Store Magic....Kelley Armstrong
4. Dragonflight....Anne McCaffrey
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire....J.K. Rowling