Saturday, March 31, 2007

24-hour Writing Exercise

Write a scene from a novel based on one of the following plots. 250 words max, deadline Sunday, 1:15 p.m. Eastern time.

1. 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?

2. 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?

3. Megan and Kylie hate their freshman year of high school--until they start stealing clothes from the girls' locker room and selling them on eBay. But things get sticky when the IRS comes snooping around.

4. Teen vampire Debbie Noogle explains her difficulties getting a date, getting a drink and getting a publisher.

The Next Line 21

Background: When the motorcycle ran out of gas, ending up in a pile of dirt by the side of the road seemed funny, at first.

Each time Vince looked at me, everything got funnier, until I finally threw myself face-down into the dirt so I wouldn’t have to look at him. I had almost gotten myself under control, when Vince patted my shoulder, then tipped my face toward his and began wiping the streaks of mud off my cheeks.

And then he kissed me.

That stopped my giggles quick. I jumped to my feet and began brushing myself off. “You shouldn’t do that.”

“Why not?”

I couldn’t think of a good reason, so I gave him the first that came to mind. “I’m married.”

“Where’s your husband?”

“I don’t know.”

“He left a pretty girl like you?”

“I’m not pretty. And no, he didn’t leave me. I left him.”

“Then it shouldn’t matter if—”

“No,” I told him. “It’s complicated. Please don’t ask me to explain.”

We both looked in silence at the no longer brand-spanking-new Harley. He sighed and gazed at me with disappointed puppy eyes, and said, "I suppose, Mrs. Williams, this means you won't be buying the bike after all?"

Dialogue: bunnygirl.....The Next Line: ril

Friday, March 30, 2007

Q & A 106

How do you know if you’ve developed a strong and distinctive voice in your writing, or if the voice you’ve worked to develop and place with such care on the pages you’ve written, well, simply sucks very large eggs?

You know – like the bloated, pickled eggs that sit in large jars in corner bars in run-down urban pioneer areas of town. The kinds of bars that seem really cool when you’re young and you like to listen to the people on the barstools in those bars talking, solving the world’s problems by the seats of their pants. Cause what they have to say seems so refreshingly candid. So real. Then you go back years later, and the same people are still sitting there solving the latest world problems with the same shtick solutions. And the eggs in the jars look like they may be the same ones as well, except maybe they’re a tad greener. Those eggs. They’re distinctive in taste, all right, but who really wants to eat one?

In short, how do you know if the voice in your writing works? If it’s distinctive in a good way, and not a bad, egg-like way?

I recommend opening a Waffle House franchise. Note how many people eat all their eggs, how many try to spice them up with hot sauce, and how many leave them on their plates. If the eggs are rotten, the customers will let you know.

Oh, and if this question is breakfast, I'd say the eggs are done just right.

The Next Line 20

Two sisters are talking over the phone while the elder, Mike, gives her toddler daughter a bath.

Gabe grunted, and Mike could almost see her scowling and crossing her arms. "You are impossible. Why did I call you again?"

"Because I know everything. You're either worried that you're getting attached to someone you can't have, or you're panicking because you're afraid of risking your precious independence by letting this guy stay with you a couple of weekends a month. Right?"

Silence. She folded Ivy into her pajamas, then sat her on the closed toilet lid to brush out the mess of curls while they were still wet and manageable.

"How do you do that?"

"How long have I known you, kiddo?"

"Yeah, yeah. Don't rub it in."

She smiled, the expression turning into a grin when her little girl bared all of her new teeth in return."

Gabe, I'm going to give you a piece of advice. I learned it the hard way, and I have no doubt that you will ignore it and learn it the hard way yourself, but I feel obliged to tell you anyway. Ready?"

"Get on with it."

"The more you fight against something, the more it crushes you when it wins."

"That's . . . damn depressing, Sis."

"Well, I think both of us should know it by now, being two women named Mike and Gabe. By the way, Debbie just got back from his Chippendale's gig, so I gotta go."

Dialogue: Gutterball.....The Next Line: Pacatrue

Face-Lift 305

Guess the Plot

The Theft of the Daidanna Dankenka Maru

1. An animal trainer, a schoolteacher and an astronaut steal Earth's first starship in order to escape the Earth's pollution and recreate Earth's biosphere on another planet. Also, a suicidal whale.

2. Dundenna Kantawanna momo dinteka wantana. Maima ratwonu titi kenka ma kenku, danna mianta Maru. Also, a vampire.

3. Alex, a two-bit street thief, determines to join the ranks of the master thieves by stealing the Daidanna Dankenka Maru, the most often stolen artifact in the world. Now, he just has to figure out two things: where it is, and what it is.

4. By the time Tony "The Stutterer" Calabrese has finished explaining the intricate details of the heist to his street crew, the cops are on to his scheme and he's on the run. Next time, he'll just rob a bank and forget about the Daidanna Dankenka Maru.

5. Police Chief Jake Martin is having no problem tracking the stolen masterpiece, the Daidanna Dankenka Maru. It's filling out the police report that's so difficult.

6. When a new Virginia class attack sub is christened USS Daidanna Dankenka Maru, some of the higher ups in the Pentagon have a conniption fit. Now it’s up to Black Ops Specialist Trick Lambert to do the one thing more difficult than pronouncing it: steal it, and send it to Davy Jones’ locker. Also, an autistic Chinese deli worker.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Editor;

Information on the Internet says you like smart, quirky science fiction, and literary writing on environmental issues. Please consider representing my 122,200-word hard/soft/ [Is this a book or a boiled egg?] literary sci-fi novel (think of Kim Stanley Robinson's work), [I tried. I spent ten minutes thinking of Kim Stanley Robinson's work, only to realize I was actually thinking of Spider Robinson; I blame it on you for calling it quirky.] The Theft of the Daidanna Dankenka Maru (DDM), in which learning to talk with orcas drives a scientist, an animal trainer, a schoolteacher and an astronaut to steal earth's first crude attempt at a starship.

2050: After ten years in captivity, Sam, a Sea-World show orca, [realizes he can no longer reach the splash zone. In a fit of depression, he] tries to suicide. His trainer, Zachary Qualar, saves him and takes him home, [Fortunately, Zack drives a 50-foot limo jacked up on earth-mover tires.] to Robson Bight on Vancouver Island. Zack and cetologist Joshua Mason rehabilitate Sam, and hire Native American schoolteacher Amy Blackstone, talented in linguistics, to help decipher his language. Amy has a secret: she's an empath, preternaturally sensitive to others' emotions. She connects, empathically then telepathically, with Sam and his father, A50, his tribe's historian, and together they write a computer program [Just to be sure I've got this straight, the orca's father is named A50, and he's a historian and he helps write a computer program?] that translates Orca to English. [At last they will know what Sam is trying to say. They jack him into the computer system and hear:

Fish again?! Can't you get me a nice tender elephant seal? Tandoori-style. No cilantro, it gives me hives. And would it kill you to spring for HBO so I could watch The Sopranos? Christ, I get sick of Animal Planet. Oh, and one more thing: there aren't any broads in this bight. I'm a mammal, not a fish. Get an orca babe in here fast, 'cause that empath chick is starting to look good to me. And what the hell's a bight, anyway?]

The "Robson Bight Crew" sets up a hospital to treat sick and injured cetaceans. Treating an orca who has miscarried, they learn that the oceans are so polluted the whales can no longer reproduce. Global warming threatens a new ice age, another species goes extinct every hour, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans threatens nuclear war. [They learn all this while treating an orca that miscarried?] Learning of this, A50 demands their help. Using the translation program, he writes a book exposing the minds and souls of orcas and asking that humans recognize the orcas' right to a tolerable planet. [Unfortunately, he can't interest an agent, and is forced to go with PublishAmerica.] His book is derided as fiction. [Unbelievable. A whale manages to write a book, and the critics pan it.]

Joshua's friend, Jeddidiah Jay, was an astronaut until a jet crash ended his career; now his aerospace engineering firm builds space vehicles and mines the asteroid belt. A sociopathic assassin on call to the CIA sabotages and spies on his company, and corrupt politicians force him to license his spaceship designs to competitors. Then a drunk driver kills his young family. Embittered, Jay plots with his Robson Bight friends to steal the Daidanna Dankenka Maru, earth's first starship, which the government is forcing him to build. He recruits 100 people from among his asteroid miners, and twelve dolphins; they raid a "frozen zoo" for genetic material to recreate earth's biosphere on a new planet, steal the ship, and on Christmas Morning, 2060, leave earth forever. [Some people go into therapy when their lives are going bad; others recruit dolphins and steal a starship.]

I have a degree in Journalism; I've written for and edited magazines and NPR broadcast copy. I spent years researching whales and dolphins and the Kwakwaka' wakw [Anagram of Waka Waka Waka, the noise Pac-Man makes.] natives of British Columbia, because I believe that the best sci-fi does not stray far from reality. My protagonists' motivation is the mass extinction event we humans are currently causing. [Except for Jeddidiah, whose motivation is revenge on The Man.] I am a science junkie, and the chapter-opening newspaper articles with which I detail the destruction of the environment are frighteningly real. [End of query. If I'm still on the fence at this point, the rest isn't going to push me in any direction you're hoping for.] You will love the depth of my characterization, my evocation of setting and emotion. And DDM (my third unpublished book) tells the story of the main plot point of my second, completed and polished sci-fi novel, which [tells the story of the main plot point of my first completed and polished sci-fi novel, which tells the story of the main plot point of Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home.] I will tell you about when you're ready.

Thank you for your time and help, Mr. EE. I hope to hear from you soon.


What whale would name its kid A50?

I've heard of pods and schools. Do whales also come in tribes?

Wouldn't it be better if Sam wrote the book? Sam seems to drop out once they dump him in the bight.

It's too long. Does the query need Sam at all? It could begin with the crew setting up a facility to study whale communication at Robson Bight. We also don't need Jeddidiah's life story.

I don't care if Jay's company is building it; it can't be easy to steal Earth's first starship. Could the head of NASA make off with a space shuttle? Probably not. And a starship is much bigger; heck, the holodeck alone is bigger than a space shuttle.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Beginning 249


As far as Maevis Daily was concerned, the Crash certainly did cause the Depression. Whenever she heard the phrase "the Crash" and thought back to that sunny, Saturday afternoon, she flipped through the mental images of falling bodies, flying $20 bills landing on the dusty road and the echos of drunken giggles floating out of the cool dimness of a huge Cadillac, she knew most people were referring to a different event, something that happened in New York City. But Maevis thought her Crash had affected her life more than the other one and substituting "Bailey Market Crash" for "Stock Market Crash" had only led to minimal confusion throughout her life. And as for the Depression, Maevis would be first to say that she struggled with it long after the 1930s. In fact, significant episodes of depression and mania pestered her life long.

“Mrs. Daily?”

Her hands were mottled with liver spots. Her hair was completely white now, not the stunning auburn that had had all the sons of farmers panting on dance night. She shed a tear for those forgotten foxtrots. Outside the window, the modern world went by: children playing on the sidewalk, young lovers arm in arm, the latest fashions in the shop window across the road. Not that she could see so clearly any more; her eyes were so sensitive to the light.

“The light, Mrs. Daily. It's green.”

A car horn tooted and she glanced behind. Bastard. She threw the Caddy into reverse and slammed into the little Chevrolet, showering the sidewalk with glass.


She started to giggle as she pulled her hip flask out of her purse. It was almost as exhilarating as ramming the Bailey Market in ’29, or that Mercury in ’42, or that fruit stand in ’54 . . . Hell, what else was a driving license good for at her age?

Opening: ME.....Continuation: ril

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Face-Lift 304

Guess the Plot

The Nature of Santa Cruz

1. Well, it's near the beach and there's nice sidewalks, but there are a lot of college kids and it sort of rains a lot.

2. Trees and stones take human form to wage a secret war in Santa Cruz. 15-year-old Cassie has the ability to bridge the gap between man and nature, tipping the balance of power. But will her mom let her go into the woods by herself?

3. Like mother, like daughter, knows Professor Irons. It's no surprise when young Jade flees the mundanity of Peoria for the glamour of the West Coast. But when she falls into the company of communal hydroponic farmers, it's up to the Professor to rescue her, before she succumbs to . . . The Nature of Santa Cruz.

4. When “undocumented worker” Carlos Cruz shows up at the day labor pool on Christmas Eve, the only guy offering work is a pequeno duende with bells on his shoes. Driving the sleigh is no problem, but will Christmas be ruined when Carlos has to take a leak at 30,000 feet? The kid who asked for the jar of marbles will probably think so.

5. Sasha, a young ecologist, fights to protect the endangered wildlife refuge near her Santa Cruz home. Things heat up, however, when she meets Don, a hunky land developer who claims to have a heart for the environment. Will Sasha have to choose between her newfound love and . . . The Nature of Santa Cruz?

6. Hot tubs, hot bikinis, and hot days on the boardwalk don't convince Marvin he's seen the real Santa Cruz. Join Marvin for a walk amid the downtrodden--migrant workers, homeless runaways, and Internet porn slaves--and learn that even these forgotten souls can cry, laugh, and love.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am looking for representation for my young adult fantasy novel, The Nature of Santa Cruz (100,000 words).

Don't talk to strangers. Stay with the group. Listen to your mother. Fifteen-year-old Cassie Ravenssen knows all the rules. In the next three months she'll break every one of them. [She'll even run with scissors.] The Nature of Santa Cruz is the story of a girl growing up, a mother facing her past, and a world about to slip into war.

Cassie hates living on the run. The frequent moves, the fake names, and the non-stop lies leave her aching for a normal existence. [You might want to mention why she's living on the run.] Her mother's over-the-top restrictions make it impossible for her to have any fun, so when a letter arrives and they head for the west coast, Cassie hopes things are finally going to change. [What's in the letter? What makes her think things might change?]

But Santa Cruz hides mysteries Cassie can't leave alone, and her search for explanations takes her way out of bounds. Who is setting fires around town? Why are there soldiers in the woods? And since when are Australians the enemy? [Since they started training kangaroos as suicide bombers.] Her new friends Stan and Hawk hold the answers. When they introduce her to their charismatic leader, Jay, Cassie knows she wants to join the shadowy Western Forest Authority on its environmental mission. [What's their mission?]

Stan, Hawk, and Jay don't just defend the natural world, however; they are part of it – Arborei and Stannen – trees and stones turned human to wage a secret war. It is no accident Cassie has come to Santa Cruz. Someone wants her there and someone else wants her dead, for Cassie is a hybrid who can bridge the gap between man and nature, a weapon that can tip the balance of power forever. [Does she know she's a weapon? Is she always on the run because she's a hybrid? Was the letter that brought her to Santa Cruz written by a human or a tree?]

If only she'd listened to her mother. Once her cover is blown and Jay knows who she is, Cassie's thrilled to be accepted into the Arborei. But the Stannen have her mom, Jay has a plan for Cassie, and she'll soon learn no one's on her side. [She can't even go to the cops:

Cassie: My mother's been kidnaped.
Officer: By whom?
Cassie: The stones.
Officer: The stones? You mean the Rolling Stones?
Cassie: No, age-old rock-people who never die.
Officer: That's what I said. The Rolling Stones.]

The Nature of Santa Cruz is the first in the Tipping Point series; one of four novels that follow Cassie as nature goes to war. Uniquely placed between man and the environment, ["Uniquely," meaning she's the only hybrid?] she'll raise her own army, fight her own battles, and forge a brand new path to peace.


Maybe it's just me, but mentioning that Cassie's a hybrid and her friends used to be rocks and trees might be done earlier. Perhaps in an introductory paragraph. As it is, it's kind of a "Whoa!" moment. If I'm reading about a world in which rocks and trees turn into teenagers, I want to know it up front. The current introductory paragraph can be dumped. Her mother's rules aren't that intriguing, and certainly aren't what I'd call "over-the-top restrictions."

Are the bad guys the soldiers or the stones and trees?

I'm more interested in the answers to some of my questions than in the questions about fires and Australians.

The book is the story of a girl growing up, a mother facing her past, and a world about to slip into war. It might be better if the query focused on one of these. We know nothing of the mother's past, little about the trials of Cassie's growing up, and the war seems more local than world-encompassing. Focus on the aspect most likely to appeal to the target audience. Is it mainly a story about trying to fit in in a new town and school when there's lots of weird stuff going on? Or is it mainly about The Chosen One trying to defeat the forces of evil who are out to destroy goodness and light?

The Next Line 19

I had an instinct that I was being set up, which is why I came to the cabin through the swamp. The ID had been blocked when the call came in. I didn’t think much about it at the time.

“Chuck Brody.”

“Hello, Mr. Brody. Pay attention. I’ve got some information regarding the case you’re working on.”

“Which case? I have several,” I lied.

“The lady.”

“Care to be more specific?”


“What kind of information?”

“Information you want to have,” he said, and something made me think Boston.

“Why don’t you just tell it to me over the phone?”

“Look, you want the information, you do it my way.”

“Who is this?”

“That’s not important. Just understand this is information you’ll want to have, and it’s urgent.” He gave me directions to the shack.


“As soon as you can get there.”

“Why do we have to meet eight miles from nowhere?”

“You’ll understand when you get there.”

“I need a better reason than that.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Get up,” said the voice belonging to the man who’d slammed me with something in the back of my head just as I’d reached the clearing near the cabin; my instincts had been right on target. “Up, Chuck. Now!”

I fingered the throbbing bulge on the back of my skull, lifted my face up out of the weeds, and hurled on his Hush Puppies, obliging him.

Dialogue: Wonderwood.....The Next Line: Robin Sinnott

New Beginning 248

If days were trains, this one would have been lying on its side at the bottom of a ravine. If the old man holding up the line at Yuri’s checkpoint wouldn’t shut up and pay his fee, she thought, it’d take an act of God to stop her from shoving his frilly collar down his throat.

Morning sunlight peered through the cracks of the old checkpoint booth -- a cutaway shack the size of an outhouse, without the comfort of a seat. Yuri struggled to keep the semblance of a smile on her face as the queue built up to the horizon.

"That's forty percent more than last week!” The man glowered. “Does the dear king of the Aya need a new palace? Or perhaps one for his dog?"

"Sir: I have no influence over the pricing policy," Yuri mumbled. “Just like the last five times you complained.”

"Getting snippy with the customers, eh?" The old man sneered and then expertly disemboweled her. There'll be less of that, he thought, now that the king of the Aya has employed the services of the Guild of Ruthless Secret Shoppers.

Opening: Karen.....Continuation: Paul Penna

New Beginning 247

“Because you can see that, can’t you, honey?” she said in her quick, nervous voice. My aunt, a woman with big, swollen, thyroid eyes and a propensity for wearing striped shirt-waisted dresses, a childless aunt-by-marriage who rattled on relentlessly about things I knew I never wanted to know, patiently and insistently explained why the name Eileen had to be spelled Ilene.

“If it starts with an E the name has to be pronounced with the sound of an E, the full sound, you know, like the word E-ven.” The Oxford English Women’s First Names Pronunciation Committee had moved its headquarters to the middle of American nowhere, and was in fact chaired by this woman who had barely managed to finish high school. Or so I'd been told - about the high school part, anyway.

She, the aunt with the logic flow of a turnip, knelt down, looked my small self dead in the eyes and asked me again, to make sure I understood. “You can see that, can’t you?”

“Why, yes,” I said, knowing and accepting I was trapped here for the time being, and counting the minutes until I was picked up. I figured maybe I had ten to go. “I can.”

It was too much; I couldn’t stand it. I reached for Auntie’s dictionary -- I loved dictionaries and the way my finger fit into the lettered thumbholes down the edge. I flipped it open to “E” and flicked the pages looking for Eileen. Strange: not there. Out of curiosity I turned to “I.” There was Ilene! Odd. I started to shuffle through the pages: Filossofer; Krissmuss; Oksfird . . . What the . . . ? This didn’t make any sense. I closed the book and looked at the front. Eevul Edditters Dikshunery.

Krapp, I thought. Dat figgers.

Opening: Robin S......Continuation: Anonymous

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Face-Lift 303

Guess the Plot

Disposable People

1. They're convenient, cheap, and easy to come by. But when the landfill starts to overflow, the consequences are worse than global warming.

2. An inside look at the publishing industry, from the politics to the heartbreak. At last, the startling truth about what editors, publishers and agents think about authors.

3. On his way home from school, fifth-grader Tyler Sykes falls through the Portal of Contrivance and finds himself in Pamperland, an enchanted world populated by sentient diapers. Can Tyler escape before he’s nappy-handled and fed to the evil People Genie™? Well . . . it depends.

4. When an engineer at Weta makes a breakthrough in artificial intelligence, it means that the computer-generated "people" in their movies become almost too real. When the engineer comes in one morning to find they've unionized and are going on strike, production on the latest epic fantasy movie grinds to a halt.

5. They're called the Disposable People--the clueless college kids who enroll when they can barely read, who come from tiny communities where crime consists of a beer run, who've never eaten Thai. And Dr. Ravitz can't wait to begin the process of eliminating those who've dared set foot on his campus.

6. When John's life and marriage begin crumbling around him, he turns to Internet chat rooms for solace, and meets a psychotic woman named Eva. Now it's just a matter of which one will orchestrate the downfall of the other one first.

Original Version

Dear [Agent/Publisher]:

When a beleaguered crime scene cleanup employee, John Leland, turns to Internet chat rooms to help deal with the stress of his job, [Though Evil Editor was unfamiliar with this job, he has been enlightened by Google, and now saves his minions the trouble of researching it themselves:

Main duties of a crime scene cleanup employee:

1. Erasing chalk outlines of dead bodies.
2. Disposing of criminals' teeth and other evidence of police brutality.
3. Scrubbing getaway-car tire treadmarks off the streets.
4. Cleaning pools of blood out of white carpeting.
5. Hanging naked corpses from meat hooks and hosing them off.]

he unwittingly befriends a psychotic woman, Eva, who ruins his life. My 65,000-word first-person novel, Disposable People, is a suspenseful contemporary story for adult readers who appreciate the work of authors such as Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis. [The only thing I know about Chuck Palahniuk is that his name is an anagram for Haiku Lack Punch. Here's a Haiku he wrote, and it definitely does lack punch:

Bret Easton Ellis
If you can stand him, you'll love
Chuck Palahniuk]

After Eva makes a simple request of Leland--clean me up when I die-- [Which Internet chat room do you go into when you're looking for someone to hose you down when you die?] his life quickly devolves in a series of seemingly disjointed incidents. Eva weasels her way into Leland's confidence before inexplicably disappearing, and John, at loose ends, turns to his new white collar ex-con neighbor, Murph Norris, for friendship. The two men hit it off, and Murph finds employment at Leland's crime scene cleanup company by covering up his past.

As John grows more detached from his family, seeking solace from his profoundly disturbing line of work on the Internet, [Move "on the Internet" after "solace."] one of his children dies. The loss sends him into a tailspin, and Leland can do nothing but watch his life and marriage fall to pieces. Staring down the barrel of crushing failure, he decides to bury his mistakes in a giant workload by starting his own cleanup company with the help of his criminally inclined neighbor, Murph. As Leland's mental devolution picks up speed in the following months, he paradoxically becomes more successful as a businessman.

Following the cast of characters through a series of criminal and tragicomic events--from Tijuana, Mexico to Anytown, America--the events [Is it the events that are following the cast of characters?] that lead to Leland's ruin become increasingly interconnected and sinister, as he spends his free time justifying growing moral compromises with magical thinking. [Magical thinking?] When Leland hits the pinnacle of pop culture success--fast cars, loose women, soaring stock price, and a ruined family--his initial relationship with Eva turns out to have been coldly premeditated, as Murph and Eva orchestrate his downfall towards their own nefarious ends. [What incredibly bad luck he had. The one time Evil Editor befriended an ex-con and a psychotic woman, everything worked out great.]

As a full-time freelance journalist I've published a wide range of articles in the areas of technology, business, and pop culture, themes that factor heavily in my novel. My short fiction has been published in the San Diego-based culture and fiction e-zine, Turbula. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Revised Version

When beleaguered crime scene cleanup employee, John Leland, starts visiting Internet chat rooms to deal with the stress of his job, he unwittingly befriends a psychotic woman, Eva, who weasels her way into his confidence before inexplicably disappearing. John, whose life and marriage have been in a tailspin, turns to his new white collar ex-con neighbor, Murph Norris, for friendship.

After one of his children dies, Leland buries his pain in a giant workload, starting his own cleanup company with the help of Murph. Strangely, the worse things get in John's personal life, the better his business does, until he reaches the pinnacle of pop culture success: fast cars, loose women, soaring stock price . . . and a ruined family.

As Leland spends his free time justifying his moral compromises, a series of criminal and tragicomic events, increasingly interconnected and sinister, lead to his ruin. His initial relationship with Eva proves to have been coldly premeditated, when Murph and Eva orchestrate his downfall to their own nefarious ends.

My 65,000-word first-person novel, Disposable People, is a suspenseful contemporary story for adult readers. As a full-time freelance journalist I've published a wide range of articles in the areas of technology, business, and pop culture, themes that factor heavily in my novel. My short fiction has been published in the San Diego-based culture and fiction e-zine, Turbula. Thank you for your time and consideration.


The following excerpt is a bit heavy on the figures of speech:

The loss sends him into a tailspin, and Leland can do nothing but watch his life and marriage fall to pieces. Staring down the barrel of crushing failure, he decides to bury his mistakes . . .

My goal was to shorten the letter, and I hoped to make the book sound less depressing by eliminating the following phrases: his life quickly devolves; crushing failure; profoundly disturbing; mental devolution; ruined family. It still sounds like a downer, however, because there isn't enough here about the suspense aspect. I think we need to know more about the scheme Eva and Murph pull off, and less about John's abject misery. Right now, it sounds like, How much misfortune can I pile on this guy before he breaks?

If the suspense lies in wondering whether the good guy or the bad guys win, we need to know what the bad guys are up to.

The Next Line 18

"Steven, what are you looking for?"

I ignored the small voice behind me, my meddling little sister, and continued to push the spade into the hard earth of our garden.

"Mom's going to be upset with you when she sees what you've done to the grass."

"Irene, go away," I said in my meanest voice and carried on digging.

"Tell me what you are looking for or else I'm telling Mom!" Her voice had that telltale whine; I knew she meant it.

I took a deep breath and put down the spade.

"Will you help me dig if I tell you?" I didn't want the help, but if she were a part of the digging then she'd be much less likely to rat me out. "It's Mrs. Lassiter, from next door. I didn't bury her deep enough and she's starting to smell. Now go get a shovel."

Dialogue: Sylvia.....The Next Line: Bunnygirl

New Beginning 246

"Never convince me it's spring – freezing rain, icy bridges, flooding streams." Detective Sergeant C. Harold Blantan adjusted his plastic rain slicker. Cold water crept inside as he walked towards the accident. Traffic patrol had found the silvery, $70,000 extravaganza of a car – no skid marks, a broken guardrail, hood crushed into a tree, fourway blinking, "What’s so special that the Chief of D's woke me? It looks like every other wreck caused by late winter storms." Steam still poured out of the engine, trying to rise but rain beat it down.

"Ice cubes, Detective. CSI says green tea cubes." Lightning illuminated six or seven policemen picking up ice cubes. Blantan's Bluetooth earpiece crackled with interference.

"What the hell?" Blantan looked at the patrolman as if he spoke some alien language.

"Each ice cube has diamonds frozen in the center. The wreck tossed them all over. We picked up over 1000 so far."

Blantan held on to his cup of Starbucks Java Blend and made his way down to the wreck, careful not to lose his footing on the slick grass. "Lexus, huh?" he said as he looked inside the car. "Figures." The driver was slumped over the wheel. Blantan leaned in and pulled a business card out of his pocket. "Ryo Kobayashi."

The detective used his free hand to wipe the rain off his face and looked up to where the patrolman was standing. "Officer, you can just write this up as an RTA. There's no crime here." He took another swig of his coffee. "This guy's just a salesman."

Blantan struggled back up to the road. He surveyed the wreckage again while he drained the last of his coffee. "Last week pearls, now diamonds. Those damned Japanese'll do anything to get us to drink their stinkin' green tea."

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Anonymous

Monday, March 26, 2007

Face-Lift 302

Guess the Plot

Time Slice

1. After months of watching that insipid infomercial, Blake Pinter gives in and orders a set of kitchen knives that can slice through aluminum cans. But when he chops his first vegetable, a rutabaga, he’s transported to the twelfth century. Can Blake find the food that will time slice him back to the present, or will he forever hop through history cursing his lost $39.95.

2. Dragged to the mall by his wife, Roy stumbles upon a metal cylinder that allows him to travel back and forth to different civilizations. Will he use it for his own pleasure, or to assist the tall, gangly creature known as . . . The Traveler?

3. In a San Antonio restaurant, Burt expected lime with his Corona, never noticing that the menu actually said "comes with a slice of time." When the waiter asked him what year he desired, he answered 1836 on a lark. Now how will he survive Santa Anna's attack on the Alamo?

4. Shady realtor Ted Cutter thought he could market vacation time-shares, but business does not take off until he develops the one hour time-slice. Trouble ensues when he merges his company with an escort service and the neighbors start to complain.

5. Nina is a small business owner, Evan is a stay-at-home dad, and Rory is a short-order cook. What do they have in common? Nothing--until a flawed time-space continuum experiment shifts each of them into the life of one of the others.

6. The Great Witch who jellified the year 1532 has decided to slice it up and sell weeks. Who is buying? Scamps, scoundrels, and devil-may-care princelings who screwed up royally the first time and would like another go. But can bonnie Prince Robert meet the witch's price?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Thank you for taking the time to review the query for my 81,000 word science fiction novel, Time Slice.

Even though Roy Washburn has [only] been retired [only] a few months, he's already bored. When he finds a small metal cylinder with odd markings on an all-too-routine trip to the mall with his wife, he can't help but investigate. With just a nudge of the cylinder's triangle shaped pointer, Roy finds he can [focus a beam of light on a nearby wall. Astounded, he calls a press conference to reveal what he calls the most remarkable discovery in the history of mankind. Three reporters show up and laugh him out of the room.] float back and forth in the time stream and learns that countless civilizations inhabit "his" Earth, each occupying their own thin slice of time. Roy also encounters a tall, gangly creature, The Traveler, who knows more than a little about the cylinder, and who needs Roy's help. [Is this the same "Traveler" who appeared three times on Star Trek: The Next Generation? The Traveler whose greatest gift to humanity was taking Wesley Crusher with him to explore the universe, and thus off the series?]

Roy's clandestine experiments with the cylinder continue even after learning that his wife, Emily, is terminally ill. [I've said it before and I'll say it again: when your spouse is terminally ill, common courtesy demands that you suspend all time travel experimentation.] Roy's daughter, Ann, sees her father's inattentiveness to Emily as further proof that he hasn't changed over the years and is self-centered as ever. The chasm between father and daughter widens.

[Emily: Your wife is dying, and you're going where?

Roy: The Etruscan civilization. But don't worry, I'll be back two months ago.]

Faced with his wife's terminal illness, a daughter who resents him, and an alien who needs his help, Roy must decide whether to use the cylinder to satisfy his own wants or to help his family and new friend through their crises. [Why is this an either/or decision? The cylinder can be used only once?] Much to Roy's surprise, the goals are not mutually exclusive.

Thank you for your time.



Where does Roy find the cylinder? In the pocket of a shirt on a rack at Abercrombie and Fitch? Is it a coincidence that he finds it, or was it preordained?

I'd like more information about what happens when Roy uses the cylinder. Also, what it is the Traveler wants from Roy.

On the other hand, less (or no) information about Emily would be fine in the query.

New Beginning 245

The dying sun spilled its light on the walls of the forbidden palace, turning the even, grey stones to beaten gold. On the high battlements, bathed in the fading warmth, Nestor propped herself up on one elbow and raised the spyglass to her eye.

She scanned the horizon in lazy swoops, considering the best way to remove the skewtle stains from her second-best kirtle. A cool breeze tickled her neck and blew a lock of sweaty hair across her face. She sighed. The sun was nearly at the horizon, soon she would be off-duty and could take a much-needed bath.

A dark smudge on the distant plain caught her eye, and she fiddled with the spyglass until the image sprang into sharp focus.

“Hedera’s tits.” Nestor scrambled to her feet, almost dropping the spyglass before she thrust it in the band at her waist. In moments she was down the rope ladder and sprinting along the deserted inner corridor. “Captain,” she yelled. “Captain!”

The Captain rose from his repose and adjusted his minkle. "What noise is this?"

Nestor retrieved the spyglass from her waistle and handed it to him. "They're coming this way! I saw them. On the horizon."

The Captain scrambled up the rope ladder and focused Nestor's spyglass. Sure enough, they were there, two distant dots on the horizon. "So . . . " he said. "At last." He leaned over the gankle and shouted, "Hedera! Come out of the bedchamber. I think we've found them."

Opening: Caitlin Macdonald.....Continuation: Anonymous

The Next Line

If you haven't been by lately, we're trying a new feature. Someone submits a dialogue excerpt and someone else contributes . . . The Next Line.

So far we've done it only with dialogue excerpts that were posted 3/16 to 3/18. The ones that already have a "Next Line" are now posted directly beneath this post. The others are still archived in the 3/16 - 3/18 range, if you'd like to try one. The goal is to come up with something unexpected and/or amusing. The next line needn't be dialogue. If you do add dialogue, you may precede it with one line of action (She threw her drink in his face. "Does that answer your question?" she asked.)

If you submit your "Next Line" as a comment to the original dialogue it'll be easier for me to see which dialogue it is.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Next Line 17

"Konichiwa Mama-san Mei-Li," Shane asked using Galen's phone.

Galen's smacked the back of Shane's head with his open palm.

"Stop using my phone, asshole." Galen grabbed the phone.

"But it's your sister."

“If she answers you're dead." Galen drew in a deep breath. "I'm going to rip your head off and shit down your fucking neck,” he bellowed. Then he listened.

"Tomorrow, the high will be 85 and the low . . . "

Galen cut the connection. Holding his hand to the side of his face with his thumb to his ear and his little finger at his mouth, Shane mocked Galen."You think-ie I phone gull-flend? No! Papa-san. I phone your sista. What you think she say, Galen-San?" Galen clenched his jaw. Shane continued without pause. "She say; Fie doll-ah, papa-san. We fuckie-fuckie all night for fie dollah.” Shane shook his hips, smacking his manhood against his stomach.

“Bastard! Your mother's a whore and your father's a psychotic degenerate." Galen slapped Shane's cock and chucked the phone into the toilet. It sizzled and hissed as the automatic sensor flushed it away.

The two men froze as they heard the locker room door open and an authoritative voice call out, "Brother Galen, Brother Shane? Are you in here? Get your vestments on, the choir's almost ready and you know we can't start without the descant."

Dialogue: Dave Fragments.....The Next Line: Anonymous

The Next Line 16

I kept looking, far longer than a polite glance.

"You're staring," he said.

"I'm sorry." I blushed. "You look like someone I knew when I was a kid."

"Could be." He scratched his chin. "I've lived here my whole life. My name's Robert Briddle."

"I'm Stephanie Maypeace. I lived here until I was six."

His eyes went wide, and I remembered where I knew him from. A cashier started to open a new line next to us, and he made a motion as if to join it.

I shook my head. "You go ahead."

"Next," the cashier said. She began ringing up my items. I handed her my credit card and turned to Rob who was already finished.

"You look good," I said.

"You too. All grown up. How old are you now? Twenty-four, twenty-five?"

"Twenty-six in a month."

He shook his head. "It doesn't seem like it could have been all that long ago."

The bag boy handed me my items, and I gave Rob a little wave. "It was nice seeing you."

"Hold up a minute." He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. "Here's my card. Call me sometime. If you'd like."

I snorted. As if! Sure, he was cute, but no way was I calling a guy I'd met in juvie.

Dialogue: Anonymous.....The Next Line: foggidawn

The Next Line 15

"Well, Mr. . . . Devlin," the guidance counselor said, checking the file in front of him. "Do you know what you want to do with your life?"

Lance had known since he was eight what he wanted to do with his life. He pointed to the ceiling, "I want to go up there."

Mr. Royer looked up. "The second floor cafeteria?" he asked. "You do seem qualified, but I don't think the school has any openings right now."

"No, I want to go into space," Lance said. He knew his dream might be silly, but who cared if this freak laughed at it.

The guidance counselor did not laugh at all; he merely lowered his head to Lance's file. After twenty seconds consideration, he looked up. "That might be tricky, Mr. Devlin. While testing shows that you have some raw intelligence, your grades are not the best."

"I've heard the University of Mars at Olympus lowered their academic standards," Lance said hopefully.

"Lowered yes," said the guidance counselor, "but not eliminated."

"Oh," said Lance. "Do you suppose there would be anywhere else that would take me?"

"Possibly. It's not a school, but it might be right up your alley: I'm told an expedition is being organized to study the crack in Uranus."

Dialogue: Anonymous.....The Next Line: Evil Editor

The Next Line 14

She’d grown to expect it. Sooner or later, everyone asked. No, that wasn’t precisely true. Sooner or later, everyone who didn’t know better, asked.

“So, what are you, anyway?”

She turned to Daniel and stared at him. “What am I?”

“You know,” he said, running his finger up and down his face. “Your looks, where do they come from?”

Why did everyone always want to know? “I don’t know, actually.”

He looked puzzled. “You don’t know? But...?”

She looked him straight in the eye. “No, I don’t.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I mean, I’m really sorry, I didn’t know that you were...” He looked to her for help.

She raised her eyebrow. Waited. Shook her head a little.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

She shrugged and walked away. Jerk, she thought. You'd think he'd never seen a six-foot tall parrot.

Dialogue: Kaylea.....The Next Line: Evil Editor

The Next Line 13

The man staggered back, hand pressed to his rapidly blackening eye. "What the hell was that for?" he slurred.

"Ye're Douglas Sinclair, aye?"


"Then be glad I dinna do more. It's only that she's chosen you that stays my hand. Take care of her, aye, and see ye do her nay harm, or by God and all that is Holy—"

"Wait." Sinclair held up an unsteady hand. "Take care of who?"

"Elspeth," he said. "My wife."

Sinclair tilted his head and frowned. "Are you . . . Alec?"

"So my friends call me. I am Alasdair Colin MacGreg—oof!" His words were cut off as Sinclair's fist impacted his midsection. This one was remarkably fast for a drunk man.

"You're supposed to be dead!" Sinclair backed away, shaking his head and dropping his voice. "She told me you were dead."

"Aye, that I am, lad, that I am." Alec gripped his stomach, trying to get his breath back. "Or at least it feels that way when ye've lived in Scotland long as I have."

Dialogue: JRC.....The Next Line: Pacatrue

The Next Line 12

Soren, a R&D engineer, and Shani, a scramjet pilot, are making out in her office behind a closed door.


"Two hours to pre-flight!" a baritone voice said.

Soren and Shani sprang apart, looking at each other guiltily. "Bastard," Shani muttered under her breath. "I've got a clock in here, James!" she shouted. "I know what time it is!"

James's chortle came through the door clearly. "Just didn't want you getting wrapped up in something."

"I can see your smirk in here," Shani retorted.

More laughter, multiple voices. Soren turned bright red and buried his face in the crook of his arm.

"I'll be there!" Shani shouted. "Jeez!"

The voices moved away; Soren breathed a sigh of relief.

"You OK?" Shani asked.

"I will be," he said, fighting the blush.

"Well, it's not like we're a secret," she pointed out.

"No, not since you got tanked and played cave woman at the Christmas party!"

"Well, you wouldn't pick me up!"

"Not in front of everybody!"

Shani laughed. "Wimpy engineer boy. It's not that hard. Here, let me show you again."

Soren let out a yelp and dodged around the desk. "No! I don't need to be bench pressed again!"

"Awh, come on. Please?"


Shani slid her palms slowly forward on the desk between them. "Come on, you know you want to. We've still got time for a nice quick clean and jerk."

Dialogue: Gerri Baxter.....The Next Line: Robin S.

The Next Line 11

“Impressive,” Michael said.

“Wasteful,” Indigo replied.

Though nearly empty at the moment, the cavernous cathedral could seat over a thousand. Behind and above them was a balcony area where two hundred more parishioners could share space with a sizeable choir. Indigo pointed these facts out cheerlessly, like a tour guide in a museum of the mundane.

“Too many empty seats?” Michael asked.

“On the contrary, the place is filled every Sunday.”

“Shouldn’t you be happy, then? I mean, to reach so many –”

“Many are here, detective, but I wonder about how many we reach. Most seem to enjoy the anonymity afforded by such a large gathering.”

“Anonymity? As if church were someplace they don’t want to be seen?”

“I think some don’t want to be noticed on the Sundays they are here so they won’t be noticeable by their absence on the Sundays when they aren't.

Michael nodded. He had never been much for attending church himself.

“They needn’t worry,” Indigo continued. “Beyond the core group that sit up front and volunteer for every project, I couldn’t name many names. Do you know how we keep track of our active parishioners, detective? Personalized envelopes. We send them out to everyone at the beginning of each month and use the ones that get dropped in the collection plate to take attendance. Can you believe that? We count the faithful like box office receipts.”

"And what are the latest trends?"

"This March saw a 15% rise compared to the previous year, due largely to the release of our double Bingo program. We expect a strong April, as we've booked a choir conductor with some of the sweetest buns this side of Jericho--he really packs the old ladies in."

Dialogue: jrmosher....The Next Line: Pacatrue

The Next Line 10

"Whoa. What's that smell?"

Tracy stepped out of the elevator behind me, sniffed deeply and gagged. "It smells like . . . " She stopped mid-sentence, her mouth opened and her fingers clenching the end of her nose.


Tracy nodded and nasaled out, "Yeah."

"Or an old folks home. Pine cleaner and rotting adult diapers and..." I paused while my heart skipped to double-time. "And death."


A ding sounded and the elevator abandoned us before we contemplated fleeing. My attention was drawn further down the hall, to a lifeless foot protruding from an alcove, and a neon sign blinking for us to LOOK HERE! LOOK HERE! Like idiots, we did.

"Oh my God, is she dead?" Tracy let go of her nose for a second before squeezing it shut again. "I'm going to puke." She looked around, apparently needing a trashcan. "And what the hell is with the smell?"

"I've heard when you die your body purges itself."

Tracy stared at me in a new kind of horror. "She shit herself? Is this what you're telling me?"

I cupped my hand over my mouth and nose but it didn't help. The smell seemed to invade the pores. "Yeah," I breathed out. "I guess no one ever told her . . . Never, never order the chili at Del Taco."

Dialogue: Brenda Bradshaw.....The Next Line: insanity

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Next Line 9

At lunch, as Melissa and Sheryl walked toward the tables, Peter caught up with them.

"It's so cool about your solo," Peter said.

Sheryl raised her eyebrows. "What solo?"

"Melissa might dance a solo in our studio's recital," he answered.

"It might not be me," Melissa said. "Jade may get it."

"Who's Jade?" Sheryl asked.

"She's this snotty girl in our class," Peter blurted out. He grinned. "Wouldn't it be great if you showed her up?"

"Yeah, it'd put her in her place," Melissa agreed, enjoying a vision of the black-haired girl stomping out of the practice room.

"What kind of dancing is it?" Sheryl asked.

When Peter hesitated, Melissa said, "Ballet." She set her lunch bag on a table.

Sheryl sat beside her. "I always wanted to learn to dance." She exhaled loudly. "But Mom says there's no money for lessons."

"I just started a year ago," Peter said. "My sister was taking lessons, and I went with her one time. They let me take the class, and I — I liked it . . . But it . . . " He broke into sobbing. "It doesn't mean I'm gay!"

Dialogue: Anonymous.....The Next Line: Evil Editor

The Next Line 8

A guy hops out of the U-Haul and stretches while I stroll down the sidewalk. He's cranking the rear rolling door open and I say, "Hey, moving in?" because I'm a banal asshole.

He turns around, smiling, wearing these gigantic black sunglasses and a huge mountain man beard. This dude looks like the kind of guy I always wanted to be. He says, "Yup, sure am. Murph Norris," he sticks a hand out.

"John Leland, nice to meet you." We shake.

"Yeah, you too."

"So…" I say. I'm bad at this sort of thing. "What brings you to town?"

"Change of pace," he says, shrugging. "Looking for a new job and this seemed like a good spot."

"Ah. Anyone else on the way?"

"Nope, just me. Don't have any family."

"Need any help with the truck?"

"Sure. Thanks." For the next couple hours while we chuck the stuff into his house, Murph tells me all about his life. He drops a bomb. "The first thing that you need to know, just so you don't hear it from someone else . . . " he says. "What I said about looking for a new job? That's true. But it's been hard because I just got out of prison."

We're hauling a couch across the middle of his lawn and I stop, holding one end, giving him this look like I'm about to take off running. He says, "No, don't worry though. It was nothing serious. You know, I didn't shoot anyone or anything. It was just embezzling."

"Oh." We start walking again. "That's rough."

Because you know, I could see myself embezzling one day with enough money on the line. Prison makes him infinitely more interesting. I want to know all the details. Look at me. The closest I ever got to prison was Sunday school. "What was it like?" I ask.

"I had it pretty easy," he says. "White collar criminals, we go to federal resorts. I had satellite television in my cell. You have no idea. I did a lot of reading."


"Yeah. It makes finding a job a bitch though."

"Yeah, you mentioned you were looking for work."

He snorts. "Yeah, but I have a felony. You know anywhere that doesn't care if you have a felony on your record?"

"Actually," I say, "I do." I pause for a moment before continuing: "I'm with the Republican party and . . . "

Dialogue: Torrey Meeks.....The Next Line: Pacatrue

The Next Line 7

"She looks closer." Was that a trick of the early morning light?

"The grubber? Aye, it's closing." Joe jerked his head towards the supply ship. "Increased its fucking speed since we braided off the bloody islands and the old Weaver is wearing it."

Des slowly nodded. "You think and it will catch us?"

Joe shrugged. "If this fucking wind keeps its way, they'll be down on us fair and all. Those barnies can work a ship, but if they try jumping us, we'll crack the bloody fuckers back to their mamas soon enough." He grinned.

The frigates had hundreds of men on board. How many more must something that big carry? "There must be hundreds of them," Des said. "They will and overrun us."

"Elf says a fucking grubber has no more hands than it bloody needs, probably balance a line with us, and fucking few of them can wag steel."

"Those that can have better weapons and training."

Joe snorted. "You fucking think so?"

The grubber approached with astonishing speed and Des could soon hear words from a loudspeaker aboard: "Second dinner seating starts in 20 minutes; thank you once again for taking a Princess cruise."

"It's fucking worse than even fucking I fucking thought," Joe fucking stated.

Dialogue: Xenith.....The Next Line: Pacatrue

The Next Line 6

There was a sound of a bolt being slid back, and the shutters opened, spilling light into the darkness. "What are you doing here?" Robert asked. "Go away, before someone sees you."

"Let me in." When he tried to close the shutters, she stopped him. "I'll make a scene!"

"You're already making one."

"Then let me in."

Robert stepped back, glaring as she hoisted herself onto the windowsill and dropped into the room. "See that rectangular object in the far wall?" he said. "It's called a door. You'll find they're convenient for—"

"I figured you'd send me away. And I need to talk to you."

"If this is anything like what you had to say to me at the church, I'd rather you leave."

Diana straightened her shoulders. "I know you hate me. But this is business."

"I don't hate you," Robert said, walking across the room.

"Then why—"

"Will you just state your business, please?"

"Fine. I want a new assignment." When Robert frowned at her, she went on. "I want something less bloody." She sat down on the edge of the bed. "I'm tired of killing people. Please, Robert . . . Can't someone else operate the guillotine?"

Dialogue: Bunnygirl.....The Next Line: Evil Editor

The Next Line 5

Dalin, a second-rate pickpocket, wants to apprentice himself to the more experienced Finneas, and has stolen some money from him in an attempt to impress him. Finneas has just discovered the theft.

"There are ten gold royals missing from my coin pouch," Finneas hissed into his ear. "Where are they?"

Dalin could hardly breathe. He tried to gasp out a reply. Finneas's grip eased a little, but the blade nicked Dalin's throat, and blood trickled down his neck. "Your cloak pocket," he managed to say. Finneas removed the blade from Dalin's throat and dragged him to where he'd hung the cloak. "It's your life if they're not," he said roughly, and began to search.

"Other pocket," urged Dalin.

Finneas found and retrieved the missing coins, counted them, and released Dalin abruptly. Dalin fell to the ground. "What sort of game do you think you're playing?" Finneas growled as he replaced the coins in his pouch.

"I wanted to show you what I'd learned," said Dalin, rubbing his throat as he stared up at Finneas. "About being invisible in plain sight."

"When did you steal from me? When you were borrowing the sword oil?" Dalin nodded. "If you thought I'd be impressed, I'm not. I don't want an apprentice, and I have no time for games."

Dalin wondered whether he should point out that while Finneas was choking him, he'd removed Finneas' pants, painted sea otters on his butt cheeks, shaved a stripe of hair from the older man's head, and tied his shoelaces together.

Maybe this wasn't the moment.

Dialogue: Anonymous.....The Next Line: Pacatrue

The Next Line 4

The sand was marbled with dark goo, and not far from us, a seagull struggled across a shallow rock pool. He toppled over again and again, flapping one wing to struggle back on to his feet and stagger a few steps, only to topple over again. The other wing hung from his side.

"What happened?"

"Listen to you, all talky talky. Don’t waste your few golden words on stupid questions. You know what happened. I’m sure you’ve never even kissed a boy, but you do biology, you know where babies come from."

"That’s not what I mean."

"I can’t tell you what happened. I promised him I wouldn’t tell anyone we were even going out, let alone . . . you know, doing it."

"Does he know about the baby?"


"You’ve got to tell him."

"I will when I get the chance." Down at the rock pool, the seagull toppled over onto his side.

"Does anyone else know?"

"Chatty today, aren’t you? Lots of questions."

"This is important. I can talk if it’s important."

She looked at the seagull for a while, and I didn’t think she would answer, but she did. "Nobody else knows. And don’t get any big ideas about telling anyone, because I will kill you, I mean, literally kill you if you open your big mouth."

"I'm not gonna tell anyone," I said. "Heck, I didn't even know it was possible to do it with a seagull."

Dialogue: McKoala.....The Next Line: Pacatrue

The Next Line 3

"Sweetie, I know the last four years have been hell, but are you sure trying to bag a hockey player is the right solution?"

Christina sighed. "Heather, don't you know me? I haven't been trolling for husbands since Reggie died, and I'm not about to start now. It's just lunch. I owe him at least that much."

"But why now? You haven't been remotely interested in dating anyone, much less a hormone-stuffed hockey player. Why this guy?"

With a wan smile, Christina said, "I think it was the way he looked at Mishayla. He looked at her with respect, and she's only six years old. It was as if he saw her future."

Her sister laid a reassuring hand on her cheek. "Whatever you do, just be careful." She stood and headed for the door, but was suddenly slammed into the boards with a ferocious crosscheck. Mr. Wonderful turned to Christina. "Ready to go back to my place for a little highsticking?"

Dialogue: Chumplet.....The Next Line: Pacatrue

The Next Line 2

Laying back, watching through the cover of the branches at the people moving far below us in the parkland at the bottom of the cliff, I asked my father what it meant to be Scotch-Irish. I hoped it was good to be that, and I hoped that he didn’t mind, as he hadn’t been included in the Scotch-Irish head count earlier in the day by an elderly relative.

“Honey, this is a dry county. That means all those people sitting there below us are pretty dry, too,” he said, with a certain look in his eye, a little bit of an eye smirk as he explained this to me.“You know that beady-eyed cow, your grandma’s mother?” I nodded, fascinated with his frankness but unsure about what this had to do with anything.

"The stupid … " He waited just a minute. “Look. She won’t even eat rum cake.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but my father wasn’t the kind of person to question. You had to be careful.

“Is that bad?”

“What’s bad is not knowing how to have a good time. But the cow’s husband liked to give it a try sometimes.” He told me a story about something that happened before I was born - how he drove my great-grandfather on a grand adventure to the next county to pick up a six-pack of beer that they drank all the way back to town. That my great-grandmother had lost her sense of smell so they knew she couldn’t smell the beer on their breath, but she had found them out anyway. “You’d have thought the goddamned devil was gonna shoot up from the gravel in their driveway and claim his beer-soaked soul. Jesus!

“No way I’d put up with that. No way,” my father said.

I believed him. But to this very day, I still don't know what it means to be Scotch-Irish.

Dialogue: Anonymous.....The Next Line: Evil Editor

The Next Line 1

"How dare that preserved codfish stash his ancient whore in my province!" Khismar swore as a servant helped him dress. "And now he wants me to fetch her to him, as if Il-Aggarhed were just down the road! Does he think I have nothing better to do than run hither and yon at his direction?"

"He knows you would rather plot against him, naturally," Markus replied. "Do you take him for an imbecile?"

Khismar smiled. "Markus, when will you realize Olgaroth is not a mindreader? He's no more powerful than I."

"He is a vile, perverted, parody of a man, but even so, I would not insult him with comparisons to you. At least he is noble born and not some bastard spawn of a diseased prostitute." Markus assisted the baron with his coat.

Khismar laughed. "I shall miss your wicked tongue when I complete the spell on you. Your free mind trapped in an enslaved body is wonderfully entertaining. It must be hell for you."

"Wicked tongue?" Markus said. "Enslaved body? If I didn't know better I'd guess you were describing my encounter last night with your wife."

Dialogue: Anonymous.....The Next Line: Pacatrue

Friday, March 23, 2007

Face-Lift 301

Guess the Plot

The College

1. When the computer industry nosedives, one geek decides to switch majors. Follow Cole, as he spends an entire biology lab attempting to dissect a computer mouse.

2. Before his death Hitler sent a guy to America to start a college, training people for leadership roles in all walks of life. Sixty years later, alumni of the college are ready to make their move, and if they succeed . . . the U.S. will have its first Nazi president.

3. This tell-all expose on the Electoral College shows what really happens on election night and in the months following: the shocking S&M parties, illicit use of hallucinogens, strip poker, and even drinking games based on FOX News shows. Is this any way to choose the leader of the free world?

4. When a group of college professors attempt to take over the world, and educate all the illiterate by force, only one thing stands in their way... some of the professors can't read.

5. The farmers didn't mind Tim setting up his "college" on the Perkins place. It was cute that all them girls wanted to get eddy-cated. Suspicions arise, however, when the girls start coming home . . . different.

6. When Tera wins a scholarship to her local community college, she is thrilled. Now she can achieve her dream of becoming a taxidermist. But soon after she starts classes, she discovers someone is practicing taxidermy on the students.

Original Version

Dear Sir,

I see on your website that you represent mystery/suspense, among others. [Be more specific: say "among other stuff."] My novel, THE COLLEGE, is complete at 80000 words.

One week before the fall of the Third Reich in 1945, Hitler secretly sent off his teacher from Berlin to America. [His teacher? Whom are we talking about? Hitler probably hadn't been in school for forty years, and when he was in school he surely had more than one teacher.] The man faded into obscurity in upstate New York while his death was faked in Istanbul. Soon after, a college more exclusive than Harvard was born in New York State with a single-minded vision of training up the next generation of white extremist leaders. More than 60 years had now gone by. In that time, THE COLLEGE had successfully placed its leaders in all areas of commerce. [Unfortunately, most of them have now taken early retirement.] [So, is THE COLLEGE the name of the college? Has the administration ever heard of lower-case letters?] [I can see not wanting to call the place Nazi University, but if you want your graduates to get jobs in all areas of commerce, it might be better if job interviews don't go:

Interviewer: And where did you get your business degree?
Applicant: THE COLLEGE.
Interviewer: What college?
Applicant: Just THE COLLEGE.
Interviewer: STOP YELLING. We'll be in touch. Next.]

Now it had its first Senator. With the Presidential elections looming in the near future, [No need to provide the definition of "looming."] THE COLLEGE’s plans were coming to a head. But all its careful planning could become undone when THE COLLEGE hired its first non-white faculty member. Lee, a top Stanford graduate, was hired to fulfill accreditation purposes. [If full accreditation requires a racially diverse faculty, I would argue that hiring one black guy isn't gonna do it.] As Lee inadvertently discovered the secrets of THE COLLEGE, [He looked through the catalog of course offerings and put two and two together:

English 212: Fantasies of Literature, from Wonderland to Oz to the Holocaust
Religion 160: Why God likes white people best
History 265: The 20th century's most benevolent leaders, from Gandhi to Hitler
Political Science 115: Getting away with genocide in the 21st century
Chemistry 101: Building your own home gas chamber]

he became a target for elimination.

[We must kill Lee.
Why, Herr Dean?
He knows too much.
But he's the only black guy on campus.
That's the other reason.]

Will he survive and expose THE COLLEGE’s past and its plans for the future before America, unknowingly, elects a Nazi President? From corrupt officials to racism, THE COLLEGE is a mystery/suspense novel that combines historical facts [Historical facts like, There was once a guy named Hitler.] with current issues.

Can I interest you in a few sample chapters?

Thank-you very much for your time and consideration.



If you don't want to put the whole thing in the present tense, at least do so with the part that takes place in modern times. It'll read much better.

Not sure why they need to fake the guy's death in Istanbul. Plenty of Germans died in Germany during the war.

I'm not sure what's involved in starting a college, but I'm pretty sure they aren't just born.

I think you've got your work cut out for you if you want people to buy into this plot. I mean, the first graduates of THE COLLEGE are now about 70. The first faculty members are probably dead. Finding new faculty members on a regular basis for a Nazi curriculum wouldn't be easy. Sure, there are neo-Nazi groups, but how many of their members are qualified to teach college classes?

New Beginning 244

Jenna knew she was in trouble when Will called asking for a favor, especially one that he needed to request in person on a Friday. As if she had no plans for the weekend. The fact that she did not have plans other than working for the weekend was beside the point. They’d been friends too long for her to ignore whatever he wanted now. So rather than ignore his latest scheme, she disregarded her better judgment and promised to make time for him. She scanned her desk and sighed, frustrated for having allowed him to distract her from the mounds of pleadings that littered her desk and whose deadlines were rapidly approaching.

“Will, I really don’t have time for this.”

She barely kept a civil tone. He kept shifting his weight from one foot to the other, something he only did when excited. Worse, after ten minutes he was still working up to the point.

"Will, really, are you going to tell me what you want?" He was jiggling up and down like an excited schoolchild; she was all but ready to get up from her desk and strangle him.

"This is kind of awkward," he said, blushing. "I . . . Ah . . . I was wondering if I could borrow some of your underwear?"

Jenna looked up at him, her mouth wide open. She thought she knew everything about Will. "What?"

He glanced away, reluctant to meet her gaze. "It's . . . It's just that I've been wearing this thong of yours ever since Mary found it under the car seat, and frankly, it's getting a bit ripe."

Opening: King's Falcon.....Continuation: Anonymous

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Q & A 105 Does No Mean Yes?

Last fall I spent some time researching literary magazines, both online and print. I sent the opening chapter of my novel, having revised it in places so it was capable of standing alone, to two print lit mags. From one, a very polite but note-free rejection. From the other, I received the following:

Thank you very much for submitting work to _____________. This piece isn’t right for the magazine, but please keep us in mind for other pieces. We are interested in reading more of your work.

I submitted a much shorter novel excerpt, reframed as a short-short story, to two online magazines. Same story, from one, a very polite but note-free rejection, and from the other:

Thank you for submitting ________ to __________. Though your story was given serious consideration, I ultimately decided not to select it for the upcoming issue of the magazine.

My question is, are these notes meaningful? Do they mean, straightforwardly, what they say?

The only way to know for sure is to send some truly horrible writing to the publications that sent you the encouraging notes, and see if you get the same responses. I've seen form rejections similar to the second note. "Your story was given serious consideration" doesn't mean it was given more serious consideration than other stories; literary magazines like to think they consider all submissions seriously. Note that they not only decided not to select it for the upcoming issue, but did not hint that they might want it for a future issue.

The first note, on the other hand, is unlikely to be something they say to everyone. The last thing Evil Editor would tell a writer is that he wants to see more of his work--unless he actually, inexplicably, did want to see more.

Of course they're hoping that if you send more, it'll be right for the magazine. Apparently it's up to you to figure out why the first submission wasn't.

Face-Lift 300!!

Guess the Plot

Chance Encounter

1. Who knew that a game of strip Monopoly would be the end of their affair? An unpleasant encounter over a Chance card, and Lyle storms out. Until he learns the meaning of "Do Not Pass Go," Kitty won't take him back, no matter how often he compliments her Community Chest.

2. Love is kindled at a Monopoly tournament, when Muffy and Ken touch hands reaching for the same Chance card. When Ken reveals he recently got out of jail, will Muffy hop on the Reading Railroad? Or will they settle down at Park Place?

3. Saxophonist Geoffrey Lunt's life is a mess. His wife has left him for a cushy lifestyle with her dentist, his children want nothing to do with him, and he keeps hearing a Kenny G solo in his head. Will a chance encounter with the famous saxophonist cure Geoffrey of his ills? Or will it make his life even more miserable?

4. Sure, her boss wants her dead, the FBI wants her in jail, and there's a hitman waiting on her sofa. But when Delia runs into an intensely handsome man, all bets are off. She slips him her card and says, "Call me." Turns out she slipped him someone else's card. It's just not her day.

5. Tracey Robinson wasn't supposed to even go to her aunt's wedding, but a last minute change of plans had her driving south. Little did she know that a chance encounter with a dashing stranger at a rest stop would end with her engaged to the antichrist, who has at his command a thousand zombies waiting to take over the world.

6. When Hillary meets Chance in a bar, her life is about to change forever. Is Chance really from another planet? Does he have superpowers beyond human comprehension? Will he take her with him when he returns to his home world? Or has Hillary just fallen for another loser with a big imagination?

Original Version

Dear Mr. Generic:

Query for A Chance Encounter, a romantic suspense novel of 72,000 words

Delia Weintraub has done something foolish. She has handed another woman's business card to an intensely handsome man, saying, "Call me." [This happens to Evil Editor a lot. It gets pretty awkward if I do call:

She: Hello?

EE: Hi. It's me. From the Star Trek convention?

She: Pardon me?

EE: You remember. I was the Klingon with the pince-nez.

She: Listen, pal, I don't know what you're--

EE: Not again. Sorry, misunderstanding. Someone apparently thought it would be funny to slip me your card. Probably didn't even realize I was Evil Editor.

She: Whatever. Now if you don't mind, I'm trying to watch Dancing with the . . . Did you say Evil Editor?

EE: I did.

She: Now I remember. I'll be in the lounge at the Ritz Carlton in a half hour.]

Now the woman whose name is on that card is lying dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs, murdered, and Delia just might be next. Adding to her woes, her boss wants her dead, [Firing an employee isn't easy for some bosses, but if the relationship has reached the point where you literally want your employee dead, you've waited too long.] the FBI wants to arrest her for murders she didn't commit, [After years of wasting resources trying to capture people and arrest them for murders they did commit, the FBI has finally realized it's much easier to capture people who didn't commit murders.] and a hired killer is relaxing on her living room sofa. [Who is this woman? Her problems seem a bit extreme if it turns out she's a manicurist or a florist.] And as if that were not enough, Brad Blackburn, the man who may have killed the woman of the business card, claims he's fallen in love with her. [There's gotta be a way to avoid the embarrassment of referring to one of your characters as "the woman of the business card."]

My published work, Samantha and the Bear, was released in 2001, by Neighborhood Press, when they were still a small but real publisher. [Now they're a small but imaginary publisher.]

I've included the synopsis, and a few pages, and as I am certain you have already guessed, I would be delighted to submit the entire manuscript.


It's awfully brief. If it answered a few of the following questions it would be more informative and less listy:

1. Did Delia pass the woman of the business card's business card intentionally, and if so, why?

2. Is Delia aware the woman of the business card has been murdered?

3. What does Delia do for a living?

4. Why does her boss want her dead?

5. Who hired the hired killer?

6. Is Delia in love with Brad? Is Brad hunky?

8. The FBI wants to arrest Delia for murders she didn't commit? Murders besides the murder of the woman of the business card? Whose murders? Why is she a suspect? If the FBI wants to arrest her, why don't they? Is she on the run?

You don't need to answer everything, but by elaborating on your points, you'll show the ability to string ideas together rather than just list them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Beginning 243

The bouncer at the door pointed me toward the back of the club, after making eyes at me only a dead man could miss. I shouldered through the tight-packed crowd, trying to ignore the overblown makeup, strategically bared flesh and studded leather. The throbbing pulse of the music made my clenched teeth buzz. And the smoke - not all of it legal - irritated my lungs.

Eyes followed me as I headed for the door leading backstage. My torn jeans and the crumpled linen jacket didn't exactly fit in. I was just edging past the dance floor when I felt hands and the brush of a hip. I jerked to a halt. A man writhed around me like he was a pole dancer and I was the pole. I smelled the sharp scent of his sweat as he raised his arms and shimmied against me.

"Excuse me," I said, my voice high like a girl's.

He put his hand behind my head, pulled me in, and thrust his tongue into my mouth. I tried to pull back, but he reached around me and gripped my ass cheeks. "Come with me," he growled into my ear.

I recognized his voice immediately. "Detective Simpkin?"

"That's right, officer." He ground his pelvis against my thigh. "Just look at the ceiling and keep moving toward the back."

I tilted my head up and tried to ignore the feeling of my boss bumping against my hip as I shuffled toward the door.

Somehow this wasn't what I'd envisioned when they said "undercover."

Opening: writtenwyrdd.....Continuation: Sylvia

Face-Lift 299

Guess the Plot

Andromeda's Tear

1. Mild-mannered astronomer Evelyn Winningham, investigating the disappearances of several other female astronomers, meets the hunky Duke of Winterset. Together they uncover a plot to snatch the fabulous diamond known as Andromeda's Tear.

2. When seamstress Sondra Blair is summoned to NASA, she is assigned the most important mission in the history of the universe. Can she stitch up the rip in the neighbouring galaxy in time to save ours?

3. Andromeda liked her clothes tight. Too tight. The morning of her first day as a White House page, she realizes she's in trouble as she hears the rip and feels the draft on her rear.

4. Okay, so her real name's Mary, she's Irish-Italian, not Greek, she was a drama major, and her crystal ball is cracked, but still -- if Andromeda bursts into tears while reading your tea leaves -- you're in trouble.

5. It's Risky Business meets The Thomas Crown Affair when a Dale, a New York aristobrat, has an unauthorized party in his father's penthouse apartment. The strippers, stiffed at the end of the party, make off with Dale's dad's original Rembrandt painting of Andromeda chained to the rock. Dale gets the painting back, but . . . was that tiny tear in the canvas there before?

6. The vanguard from the Andromeda galaxy has come to Earth, demanding the return of the sacred stone, Andromeda's Tear, and they're not leaving without it. Even if it means destroying the planet.

Original Version

Dear ________,

The obsession of one man and the protection of another--she’ll need all her strength to survive them both…

There is a legend surrounding the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda that tells of a rare comet whose charted path is the key to discovering a priceless diamond. [The diamond is buried directly beneath the comet's path.] [Whenever there's a legend surrounding a myth, you can bet there's also a fable based on a folk tale encompassing the legend surrounding the myth.] 1845 marks the return of that comet--and the sudden disappearance of several members of the Ladies’ Astronomical Society.

Mild-mannered astronomer Evelyn Winningham is determined to investigate the disappearances of her colleagues. When an intruder forces her to flee the safety of her home, she runs headlong into the arms of Alistair Bainbridge, the infamous Duke of Winterset. [Not clear what that sentence has to do with the previous one. Was she investigating the disappearances in the safety of her home?] More worrisome than her unruly attraction to the rakish Duke, however, is his ability to draw out a stubbornness she never knew she possessed.

Alistair’s aunt has enlisted his assistance in finding her missing daughter. [Is her daughter one of the missing astronomers?] Thus far, his inquiries have met with dead ends, until a bundle of silk hurdles out of the darkness and into his arms. [How does a bundle of silk change things?]Evelyn's ability to penetrate his cool exterior is making him damned uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. However, they'll need to learn to work together if there’s any hope of survival, let alone a happily ever after. [I had no idea they were in danger of not surviving. Who's the villain? What's going on?]

Andromeda’s Tear is a completed 90k word historical romance. I've been writing for ten years, and am a member of Romance Writers of America, Capital Region-RWA, and several on-line writers’ groups. I am also a reviewer for TCM Reviews, focusing on romance and erotica, and I maintain an active author web site, ________________ which currently draws more than 6,000 unique visits per month. My current work-in-progress is a dark paranormal.

The completed manuscript for Andromeda’s Tear is available upon your request. Thank your for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Revised Version

Legend tells of a comet whose charted path is the key to discovering a priceless diamond known as Andromeda's Tear. 1845 marks the return of that comet--and the sudden disappearance of several members of the Ladies’ Astronomical Society.

Mild-mannered astronomer Evelyn Winningham is determined to investigate the disappearances of her colleagues. But when she gets too close to the truth, she is forced to flee the safety of her home--and runs headlong into the arms of Alistair Bainbridge, the infamous Duke of Winterset. Alistair’s aunt has enlisted his assistance in finding her daughter, one of the missing astronomers.

Evelyn develops an attraction for the Duke that is matched only by the stubbornness he brings out in her. Meanwhile, her ability to wheedle beneath his cool exterior is making Alistair damned uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. Working together, they discover the astronomers are being used by the criminal mastermind known as The Silkworm to chart the comet's approach. But can they find The Silkworm before he finds . . . Andromeda's Tear?

Andromeda’s Tear is a completed 90k word historical romance. I am a member of Romance Writers of America, Capital Region-RWA, and several on-line writers’ groups. I am also a reviewer for TCM Reviews, focusing on romance and erotica, and I maintain an active author web site, ________________ which currently draws more than 6,000 unique visits per month.

Thank your for your time and consideration.


If you start by saying "The obsession of one man and the protection of another--she’ll need all her strength to survive them both..." you might want to mention both men in the query. I can't tell if Alistair's the Obsessor or the Protector. Likewise, if you mention the bundle of silk, you might explain its significance.

The sentences in the original didn't seem to build on each other strongly enough. There needs to be a logical progression of ideas. The revised version may not have all the facts right, but that should be easily remedied.

How many female astronomers are there in 1845 Winterset? This reminds me of the plot we had in which all the female porno film directors in Tennessee were being killed.