Monday, August 31, 2009
D Jason Cooper, author of numerous openings, several of which have been made into Evil Editor Films, reports: Ruthless Peoples Magazine has published my flash fiction, "Zombie Consciousness". It's free to download.
I'm sure the muttonchopped editor whose brains get eaten isn't based on anyone in particular.
Bishop Lamberton grasped his squire by a shoulder, pushing him toward the open doors at the end of the long, high-arched hall. James twisted out of Lamberton's grasp and whirled to face him. A youth of sixteen, dark-eyed and slender as a knife, James flushed with anger.
“I won’t swear fealty to him."
Lamberton sighed. For an obedient lad, James was being amazingly difficult. "James, do you want your lands back? Your father's title?"
James drew himself up. "You know I do. I must have them.” He shoved shaking fingers through the black tumble of his hair. "My people need me, and it's where I belong. I've sworn to get back what was stolen from my father--a sacred oath."
"Then you must bend a knee to King Edward."
James reluctantly advanced. He knelt not on the crimson carpet directly in front of the King - as a mere squire he didn’t dare presume such an honor - but on the black stone floor slightly to the side. Even as his knee touched the cold granite, it occurred to him that from this position he could strike the King down with one thrust.
To the side of the hall stood silently Sir Crispin, an ally of James’s late father and like James, clad in the black livery of James’s house. If only James were already a knight like Sir Crispin, he would fight for his birthright rather than serving as a pawn in the struggles of the powerful.
The King rose from his throne, advanced to where James knelt, and raised his sword. But instead of accepting James’s oath, he lopped the young squire’s head off with a deft stroke. Sir Crispin, livid with outrage, moved two steps to the right and one ahead, his sword menacing the King and cutting off all escape.
Thus did Myron Finkbiner, for the third year in a row, retain his title as the Association of Historical Fiction Writers’ chess champion.
Opening: J.R. Tomlin.....Continuation: John
Sunday, August 30, 2009
“How the hell does this lie-detector-shitting-thing work, anyway?”
“Rhetorical question?” An eyebrow goes up, a friendly kind of a smirk appears, but she doesn’t see it.
“Yes…” She looks up, semi-distracted and annoyed with herself, annoyed with him. “Hell yes, rhetorical. You didn’t actually expect me to expect you to tell me how to get the machine to work that would help me find out what the hell’s really going on with you, right? I mean, come on, give me some credit, Sparky.”
He smiles again. This time it looks genuine. Maybe.
“I do give you…some credit, as you say. But I’ve also known you long enough to know you have to be walked through anything technology-based.” He pauses, waits for memories to start whirring. “Remember learning to italicize in the comments? That took quite a walk-through, did it not?”
“Yes…” She doesn’t want to say it, but there you go. It’s the truth.
“And who walked you through that one?”
“You know damn well, it was you.”
“But that’s just it.” She fiddles with the straps and the gears until a fuckit and a frown, coming both from her and to her, stop her cold. But he’s still smiling. Dammit. Yah. He’s all happy. So she says: “Who the hell are you? I wouldn’t haveta mess with all these wires and clip deals and buttons…and who knows, one of them could shock you or something, and we couldn’t be having any of that.” She turns the machine off. “So just say it.”
He’s still smiling.
“Look. I’ve had more substantive conversations with you then I ever had with The Sperm Depositor a/k/a my ex, but these knowledge epiphanous ‘talks’ are feeling pretty pretend now. So….who are you?”
“Do any of us really know who we are?”
“Don’t try that shit on with me, Sparky.” She smacks her hands together. “That’s it. No more Googling. No more lie-detector crap. I’m goin’ for the masculine jugular. I’m gonna get in your pants.”
That eyebrow of his really shoots up this time, and she sees it, and this time, she’s the one smiling.
“Your ID’s gotta be in your wallet…in your back pocket. Am I right?”
“Evil, how many toes do you have?”
“All of them,” said Evil Editor.
“He's still resisting,” said Evil Journalist. “Give him another ten milliliters of truth serum...and another boot to the ribs.”
“He's almost flat-lined,” said the med tech.
“He was before we started. Do it.”
The med tech injected more serum and gave Evil Editor an enthusiastic pounding to his left rib cage.
“I think you got his attention, and broke another rib,” said Evil Journalist. “Evil, how many toes do you have?”
“Still resisting. Break another rib and--”
“No, he does have eleven toes,” said the med tech, after taking off Evil's shoes, and recovering from a faint.
“Okay, I'll do a trial question. Evil, what is the most important publisher of fiction in the world?”
“IBM,” said Evil Editor.
“The computer manufacturer?”
“They publish fiction?” asked Evil Journalist.
“They are the only publisher of fiction on the planet. They have fourteen supercomputers wired to the brain of one man who pumps out a story every ten seconds.”
“What about all the other writers and publishers?”
“They're all pseudonyms for Asimov and the other publishers are shills that market IBM's books,” said Evil Editor. "All submissions from other writers are dumped into the world's largest slush pile...the Atlantic Ocean."
“Who is this man?”
“But he's dead,” said Evil Journalist.
“Yes, but he's getting better,” said Evil Editor.
“Give him another shot to the ribs,” said Evil Journalist.
He looked at the book in my hand and blanched—but his lips remained shut. I slowly opened the book to page one and brought it close to his face, so close I could see his eyes instinctively following the words across the page. It only took three pages of reading before he broke and started babbling. I scribbled it down in my notebook as he spoke.
“StopstopstopI’lltellyoueverything! You see, years ago an agent—I think she was Miss Snark—rigged it up so every thousandth query would get a partial, and then whoever sent the partial on the right weight of paper—”
He was lying. I reached for the second Twilight book and slowly opened it. He spilled everything.
And when he was done, he sat there, trembling. “What are you going to with what I said?”
I smiled a quirky, satisfied grin. “Publish it.”
I snorted. “No. Well….”
His eyes gleamed craftily. “You’ll need an editor.”
I gulped. “I’ve got a couple hundred dollars; I can print… ten books. My mom’ll love it.”
“Mm-hmm. Send me a partial.”
Coulda been the simple flick of a switch or the tic-tic of a mouse, but when you're gouging the truth out of a bastard, you need to deploy the Full Contraption.
The twin woks riveted to Evil's ears erect his muttonchops into a thousand volt frizzscape of submission.
'I'm yours,' he drawls, his involuntary slump uncoupling his pince-nez.
I snicker, and do that mortuary thing with his face: a smile, a frown, tongue out. And when he falls off his seat, I pump his limp body full of Antihokum Serum.
‘So tell me, what’s your biggest secret? Is it true you’re just some fat guy from a backstreet liquor store? Some loser hiding behind the anonymity of the internet pretending to be something he ain’t?’
Evil’s eyes roll in their sockets like strangely sentient oysters. ‘Actually,’ he slurs, ‘I’m Satan.’
I freeze. Sure, the guys I drug come round sometimes, but they never say weird stuff like that. I tip the rest of the bottle down his throat.
‘Satan’, he repeats again, ‘I’m satin’ my thirst with a Bud when this guy marches into my office demanding I look at his manuscript...’
Suddenly I’m all ears (though not literally, of course). ‘Go on.’
‘He looks cute, kinda debonair, and I can’t resist him. And his words, so poignant, so perfect. We agree a deal there and then. For books, for movies, and those classy cook-in sauces Paul Newman had.’
‘So who’s the guy?’
Evil stares goggle-eyed at the empty serum bottle. For a second, I think maybe he’ll spill the beans but his face goes floppy as a bloodhound’s ears and he passes out on me.
So I pound the streets wondering.
Gaiman? Pynchon? Asimov? King?
I tellya, it grips like a...
"Evil Editor," said the man strapped to the lie detector. The solitary bulb flashed. "Couldn't you afford a detector with one of those little needles? They're much more entertaining to watch."
"When the W.I.P makes millions, I'll get a nice one. Now, where were you on the night of the twenty-third?"
"Faceless, the Zack Martinez exercise was last week." E.E. squirmed in his seat.
I could tell I was getting somewhere. "Just answer the question."
"If you must know, I was having dinner with Angelina Jolie. She's writing another memoir." The bulb on the lie detector remained dark.
I shoved a paper across the desk at him. "So you claim to know nothing about this?"
"Dracula's napkin?" E.E. leaned forward to get a better look.
"It's a query."
"The evil psychiatrist exercise was three weeks ago."
"Answer the question!"
"You do realize I haven't even glanced at my slush pile this year?"
I suspected as much. "For the record then, you've never seen this before?"
"No. Can I go now? Annie Wilkes is expecting me."
I glared at the dark bulb willing it to flash. It refused.
Evil paused by the door. "Faceless, you might want to pay more attention to details. Your query contains two misused homonyms and a missing comma. Also, your lie detector is unplugged." He dodged out the door.
I looked down. There was a scuff mark on the carpet across the power cord.
A moment later shots rang out and the hounds started baying. E.E. would get away, like usual, but that's what the blackmail photos were for.
Deb rented a fountain pen costume and stood at the bar. Sixty seconds later, EE hit on her. Pervert. Once she lured him home, he swigged the spiked Mai Tai and went down like an over-microwaved marshmallow. Strapping him into the chair in our cellar was exhausting, but the indignation on his face when he came round was worth it. He threatened to call our agents, our mothers, our high school English teachers.
We let him bluster until he noticed the machine. We could have filled him in then (literally) but we waited- till he noticed his pants were missing. Then I held up the probe. “See this?”
He nodded. His eyes followed the wires, one red, one black, that connected them to the machine.
“This,” I indicated the machine, “is a lie detector. This,” I put the probe under his nose, “is your incentive to tell the truth.” He squirmed and bitched and moaned, but Debbie snapped on rubber gloves and we got to work.
“Is it true the only reason you accept unsolicited manuscripts is to use them to heat your 12 room chalet in Zermatt?” I asked him.
EE looked stunned. Debbie and I had a good laugh at his big eyes and slack jaw. But then his mouth curled up at the corners. This made us nervous.
“What?” I said.
“Nothing,” he said. “Next question?”
“Uh, yeah. Is it true that you steal authors' ideas and f-”
EE smiled, his eyes half closed.
I asked Deb, “Did you put that probe-”
“Yes, as far in as it would go!”
“And the power?”
“My mother was a possum!” yelled EE.
“He he he he!” He was beginning to drool. “Stephanie Meyer is a literary genius!”
“Wah ha ha ha!”
Every light on the machine was flashing and the thing was starting to smoke.
“That's enough,” I yelled. “Pull the plug!”
“I lust after John Grish- ohhhhhhhhhh, please! Turn it back on, please! I'll tell you anything!”
Now it was our turn to smile.
“Tell us exactly what we need to write to get published.”
“That's it? That's easy...”
Debbie took notes.
Subject: Evil Editor interrogation.
ME: Are you Evil Editor?
ME: Are you a legitimate editor?
EE: What do you mean by legitimate?
EE: You’re new at this, aren’t you?
ME: What? Well, yes, I am. How did you know?
EE: You’re horrible. Quite dull and uninspiring. Of course, that doesn’t automatically make you new. I have other ways of knowing.
ME: You do? Okay. Let’s go with that then. Are you truly evil?
ME: Is your sole purpose in life to make authors/writers feel miserable about themselves?
ME: Can you really destroy things with x-ray vision?
ME: Why, this is incredible! According to the polygraph, everything you’re saying is true.
EE: Of course it’s true. Now, I’ll tell you something else that’s true.
EE: You’ll never get this published. I’ll see to that. No, I won’t have to. You don’t have the talent to write anything anyone would publish anyway. Check your polygraph now.
ME: My God! It says you’re speaking the truth.
EE: Of course it does. Now, I’m going to tell you something else. Unhook this contraption so I can be on my way.
ME: What? Oh, yes. Of course. Sorry. I mean, really, though. Do you think I ever have any chance of being published?
ME: According to the polygraph you’re still telling the truth.
EE: Of course I am. I always tell the truth. That’s what makes me so evil.
ME: There! You’re free. Can you give me any words of hope at all?
EE: Well, it goes against my nature, but how’s this: you hooked the machine up wrong. Good day to you.
Findings: What a fucking waste of time and piece of shit.
I held the key. The key to something sacred, something guarded. Alas, even the key had a lock. But the lock could be picked…
Evil Editor was strapped to a chair. I hooked him up to the polygraph machine and rubbed my hands together in anticipation, trying to suppress a maniacal laugh but failing outright.
“You are a freak,” Evil Editor said to me. I had no reason to argue.
I flipped the lie detector on.
“Now you will talk, and you will speak only the truth,” I told him. “You will spill all the dirty secrets of the publishing world. Like the time when the editor dipped his stylus in the agent’s ink well.”
“Bullshit,” Evil Editor said.
“You heard me. Listen, minion, just because you have me hooked up to a machine that will tell you if I lie, doesn’t mean you can get me to talk in the first place.”
The lie detector agreed.
“Well then will you look at my manuscript?” I asked.
“Sure. Email it to me, I’ll read it first thing in the morning.”
The lie detector exploded.
"Yes," said the man strapped to the couch.
"Good. You rejected my manuscript out of spite and jealousy, didn't you?"
There was a short silence. The writer looked at the buzzer.
"OK. Did you even read it? Any of it?"
"All of it?"
"I thought so. 275,000 words is the right length for a middle grade novel, though, isn't it?"
The writer picked up the buzzer and looked at it closely.
"All right. So it's not spite, it can't be length ... You only publish stuff by celebrities or people who offer you sexual favours, right?"
The writer frowned at the silent buzzer. He checked the connections carefully. He made sure the lie detector was plugged in.
"A rude person on my critique group said, and I quote, 'your protagonist is flat and static, your dialogue is stiff, and your plot, such as it is, moves at a pace that makes continental drift look reckless'. Would you agree with that biased and unfair assessment?"
The writer checked the plug socket again. "You didn't take my novel because you don't want it showing up the weaker books on your list, right?"
The writer shook the buzzer. "Is this damn thing even on?"
"How can I help you?" the sales clerk asked.
"It's this lie detector. I bought it here two days ago. I want to return it."
"Is there a problem?"
"I'll say there's a problem. It's broken, that's the problem. Completely useless. Doesn't work at all."
EE was tied and gagged when I began by explaining that this was not my idea and the only reason I was there was to make sure he didn’t get hurt. I could tell he did not believe me, so I expounded by explaining my views on torture – I’m against it. This took about three hours. I knew I had earned his trust when the fear in his eyes was replaced with a familiar glassy-eyed look.
We then talked about the publishing business. In about an hour or two, I explained what I knew about it, which is nothing, but that I had perused, (love that word), hundreds of editors and agents’ blogs which all said the same thing - the chances of a new writer getting published was about zero, unless they were lucky. At this point I told EE all about me, emphasizing; I was one of the luckiest people in the world. I gave examples. EE fell asleep. I woke him up to explain why people fell asleep when stressed.
Afterwards I got to my only question: Were those employed in the publishing industry really martyrs who spent 15 hours a day, seven days a week barreling through slush to find one gem in a pile of worthless trash or were they exaggerating to justify their paychecks and to increase their feelings of self-worth?
Bugged-eyed, EE nodded. I left and the next minion came in. After the gag was removed, the poor man sputtered through tears, “I’ll tell you anything, just please just don’t send her back in.”
The minion smiled, “We love our Infodump girl.”
I have no idea what that means, but I think. . . . ;)
Saturday, August 29, 2009
300 words max, deadline Sunday, 10 AM eastern.
Friday, August 28, 2009
In the year 2012, Satan rose from Hell to install his infernal kingdom on Earth, but mankind thwarted him with the help of Heaven't most powerful forces. Jesus Christ's second coming revealed the truth of Christianity, and a thousand years later there is no other religion on Earth. [Jesus is the Grover Cleveland of religious figures--he gets a second term years after his first term ended.] The world’s united government operates by means of two power-sharing entities: the Church, who rule the economy, [They volunteered.] and the Sword of God, the Earth’s holy army. [What does Earth's holy army do, now that there aren't any non-Christians to kill?]
In 2993, Earth is challenged by a hostile alien race called Perfirians. The Sword responds violently despite the Church's protestations. The resulting war sets the Church and the Sword irreperably at odds, and the Sword's conscription initiative causes a firestorm of discord between war supporters and peace advocates worldwide. [If the world has one united government and one religion, how big an army do they need? Aren't all wars caused by differences between governments and religions?]
Seraph begins by following a few conscription letters to their young addressees. Matthias, a poor boy in the slums of Lesser New York, vows to personally end the war so he can return to his ailing mother. Kenneth enlists to escape a criminal trial after killing a man in self-defense. [If anyone who is about to go on trial can get out of it by joining the holy army, the holy army must be full of serial killers and other sinners.] [Is killing in self-defense a crime in the future?] The scrappy urchin Sic [Anagram: Sin Church.] embraces the opportunity to flee poverty and boredom, and the once-celebrated pianist Kate reluctantly accepts her best career option in a world increasingly disenchanted with the arts. [Historically, Christianity has inspired great music and art almost as much as it's inspired war, murder and injustice, so I find it hard to believe the arts are out now that Christianity has no competition. Didn't Jesus, during his second term in office, say anything along the lines of, "Lay down your weapons and learn to play the organ."?] Clement, a brilliant scientist and Kate's fiancé, wants a first-hand look at the Perfirians, and Genny, a statuesque and haughty blueblood, foresees a glorious future in the military.
After their training, these six youths proceed to the space station Seraph and into frothing conflict, where they are joined by Tib, an enigmatic outsider with something to prove. Months of side-by-side danger and excitement draw Sic and Matthias closer together. [What is this frothing conflict? Battling the Perfirians? Their war ships haven't defeated our measly space station after months? Klingons they ain't.] Clement, far removed from the action on a Sword research station, [You said all six were on the Seraph station.] fears for Kate's life. He consequently makes feverish progress on a weapon powerful enough to conclude the war before it claims her. [Did Jesus sign off on the policy of making more powerful weapons? Why didn't he ordain that all disputes be settled with rock, paper, scissors? I guess he could have said, in 2012, keep that weapon research going, you're gonna need some big guns when the Perfirians show up in a thousand years.]
The seven soldiers meet the evil Perfirian generals, among them Diomedes, who seizes a Sword ship in an attempt to infiltrate Earth's atmosphere. [Infiltrate the atmosphere? If you're saying he needs a Sword ship so Earth will think he's one of them when he lands, I find it hard to believe that you can seize a ship without anyone on Earth knowing it. Even our primitive communications are good enough to prevent that deception.] Kenneth is captured in the ensuing battle. After neutralizing Diomedes on Earth, Tib is absorbed into the Sword’s excavation of a sacred relic, headed by Genny. There he learns that the Pope has organized his supporters into a rabid militia. [Is the Pope on the Sword side or the pacifist side?] It’s only a matter of time before the Church and the Sword descend into all-out war, but Genny obliviously digs on. [What should she be doing?] A supernatural force compels her to the prize buried beneath the site. [It's the ring of power.] [Too much going on in that paragraph. Change it to a paragraph about what Genny's doing, and mention no one else.]
Sic is killed rescuing Kenneth, and it takes the shock of her death for the devastated Matthias to realize how much he loved her. While undercover, Tib sees the Church supporters' mobilization firsthand, but his desperate calls to Genny go unanswered. He returns to the dig to find everything destroyed...and a terrifying demon flying off into the distance. Thinking Genny dead, he pursues the creature, which leads him across North America to the Gates of Hell. [California.]
In her tireless search for peace, Kate discovers a conspiracy: the Sword is actively perpetuating the war in order to preserve its livelihood [Did we learn nothing from Halliburton?] and curtail the Church's power. Kenneth is ordered to silence her, but he cannot countenance the heinous act, so he performs a mock assassination and sends her safely to Earth. Kate then meets up with Tib, and the two soldiers battle the demon to prevent the Gates' reopening. In vanquishing him, they learn the Perfirians' true purpose: infiltrate Hell to establish an unholy trinity with Satan, their god. With Earth on the brink of civil war, Kate and Tib must persuade the Pope that peace is not an option. [This is going on too long. It feels like a list of things that happen, with little focus on the thread that ties everything together. Maybe we need to know earlier what the enemy wants.] [The only thing shorter than an editor's attention span is an agent's, so cut, cut, cut.]
Unbeknownst to Tib, Genny returns to Seraph with a shard of the demon corrupting her soul. Clement has at last perfected a weapon capable of neutralizing the Perfirian fleet, but the demon (using Genny's body) attempts to murder him in order to subvert its activation. Clement destroys the demon, killing Genny in the process. With her dying breath, Genny thanks Clement for freeing her. Clement [, using the transporter,] then sends the vengeful Matthias into the Perfirian mothership bearing the weapon, and Matthias sacrifices himself to cripple the enemy. Sic is the last thing he sees before he dies. [Why didn't he transport out at the last second?] [Lemme guess . . . He tried, but the transporter malfunctioned again.]
With their generals killed and their mothership captured, the beleaguered alien army retreats. Kenneth and Clement cooperate to bring down the Sword's corrupt higher-ups. Kenneth then recovers Tib and leads a contingent to pursue the fleeing enemy, while Clement joins Kate on Earth in the arduous task of reuniting the human race. [This time they decide to try it with zero religions.] Seraph's epilogue summarizes their success, and the novel ends with their long-awaited wedding.
You'd think once there was concrete proof that heaven exists, sinning would be almost nonexistent, except for adultery. Yet Kenneth has to kill someone who's trying to murder him? How stupid do you have to be to attempt murder when you know there's a heaven?
On the other hand, since there are people who think the Holocaust never happened after only sixty years, how is it that everyone believes the second coming happened after a thousand years? I guarantee there'd be second coming deniers within a century.
If the militant Sword goes to war against the pacifist Church, isn't the war over in about ten minutes?
What did Jesus do after vanquishing Satan's demons? You'd think he would have stuck around a while and straightened people out. With the crime and weapons manufacture and slums and civil war, Earth doesn't seem any better. Guess we'll have to wait for the second coming of Buddha.
How do the aliens plan to infiltrate hell? Can you go there when you're alive now?
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Across the river from stately downtown Lafayette, Purdue University’s bell tower rang out alone: five o’clock.
The elevator in the Agricultural Administration Building carried a man and two women from the first floor to the third floor, sank to the second floor, and carried three men down to the first floor, where they clattered down a half-flight of steps and out the door.
The elevator hefted itself up to the second floor to pick up a woman carrying her grandchild and took them to the third floor.
Two laughing young men jogged up the main stairway and disappeared behind a rarely-used door. Though nobody used the steps behind—they were 60 degrees from the horizontal—nobody had thought to turn the lock.
The air conditioning hummed and thrummed overhead as people locked their doors and walked past the unsightly demolition of St. Thomas Aquinas to the parking garage across the street.
The bell tower finished chiming its melodies and left the air silent and humid as before.
On the ground floor of the Ag Admin Building, Aliya pondered the coke machine. Coke, cherry coke, diet coke, coke zero. The only people she could hear left in the building were the janitors; she left the machine for the elevator.
The Coke machine shuddered and sighed. Sure, he could invite the chicks for a drink, but in the end, they always got high with, or went down on, the elevator. Lucky bastard.
Opening: _*Rachel*_.....Continuation: Anon.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Guess the Plot
1. The inner dichotomies of modern America and the intricate knotwork of complex exigencies at the heart of small-town life are explored in a story which begins in Tatum, New Mexico, with a fender-bender between two uninsured vehicles.
2. After a UFO crashes in Washington D.C., strange things start happening: one couple makes the inexplicable decision to move into a condominium. A young man finds himself unable to describe a door. Is the alien from the UFO responsible? Will things get worse before they get better?
3. John is a four year old trapped in the body of a man seven times his age. He's getting through the day all right, with help from his helicopter mother, but can he get through the big board meeting this afternoon without having . . . the accident?
4. Little Jimmy Hines is getting mighty tired of being called "the accident" by his mom and dad, so he convinces his seventeen older siblings that life would be much more fun without parents.
5. When David Butterfield learns, at the tender age of 11, that he, meaning his very corporeal existence on earth, was 'an accident', caused by some kind of mysterious botch-up by his wanker of a father on a day when his poor mother had drunk all the ale in the village, not only is his mood altered, but his entire outlook on life spins around, leading to unforeseeable circumstances of reckless activity, crime, drug addiction, and eventually a shocking revenge on evil Mrs. Piggott, the heartless gossip who spewed the 'truth'.
6. Erica hadn't meant to dribble meat juice all over her brother Joe's Levis. Or leave the door to the family pitbull's run open. Besides, it was Joey's own fault; he should have fed Fluffy last night. He forgot. Oh, no, hang on; it had been her turn. Oh well...
I am writing to introduce you to my science fiction/fantasy novel THE ACCIDENT, which has a plot twist that has never appeared in any other novel or movie. [Say no more. I'm putting a six-figure contract in the mail at this exact moment, and if anyone offers more, I'll double it. I must have this book.] [Just kidding. Actually, all plot twists can be traced to The Game, Ender's Game, House of Games, or The Crying Game. I guarantee you subconsciously stole your twist from one of those.] [The only reason an agent would read beyond that sentence is in hopes that the query is a hoax and will be full of laughs.] The novel is complete at 87,500 words.
Three couples cross paths with a mysterious UFO that crashes in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park: a student, falling in love with a friend, discovers the UFO with her, but when her brother gets trapped inside the saucer, no one believes them; [Is the UFO still there? Because if someone tells me her brother's trapped in a flying saucer, once she shows me the flying saucer I'm not going to be all that skeptical about the brother part.] a bickering married couple move into a condominium with a strange neighbor; [What does that have to do with the UFO?] and a man keeps seeing a door in the sky, but doesn't know how to explain his vision to his fiancee. [I can explain it. He's watching a Twilight Zone marathon.] [Also, what does that have to do with the UFO? You were supposed to be telling how the couples crossed paths with the UFO.] While the alien adapts to the city with frightening consequences, [Apparently an alien survived the crash. I hate it when aliens pop up in the last sentence of the plot summary.] [Yes, even when, as in this case, the plot summary has only two sentences] one person stumbles upon the UFO's unique purpose.
I have enclosed an endorsement from award-winning writer XX, who read the novel and called it "wonderful." [Have you ever noticed that the more awards an author wins, the less talkative he is when describing anyone else's writing?] As for myself, my background is in advertising. I was born in Washington, D.C. and lived in the area where the novel takes place while I worked for a newspaper. Right now I am writing a sequel.
This is a simultaneous submission to several agents, but I hope to hear from you first because of your excellent reputation. [My other queries went to agents who, frankly, are likely to defraud me.] You represent the authors of several fine science fiction and fantasy novels set in ordinary cities on Earth, [It's worth noting that of the cities on Earth, Washington D.C. is among the least ordinary.] such as YY's [book title in italics] and ZZ[Top]'s [book title in italics]. Please let me know if I may send a partial or full manuscript. Thank you for your time.
Seeking an agent who represents books with a similarity to yours makes sense, but can you come up with a similarity more specific than it's set on Earth? It's a rare agent who hasn't represented a few such books.
Not only is your plot summary a mere two sentences; it's mostly just a list of characters. What's the story?
How many aliens were on that ship? One?
If a UFO crashed in D.C., there would be far more interesting goings-on than the ones you describe. Why are you focusing on these three couples?
Unless you've read all books and seen all movies, I don't see how you can claim your plot twist has never appeared anywhere. Wouldn't it be better to describe the plot twist and let the agent think, Wow, that plot twist has never been used? I mean, if you've come up with something truly unique to all literature, is that not your main selling point? Is that not the one thing that should be in your query above all else?
Start over from scratch. Tell us what happens. Leave out everything else.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Mallory looked at the two men sitting across from him. They were dressed in dark suits and wore serious faces. He didn’t know why he’d been asked -- summoned, really -- to meet Seth Davies, Chairman of the Board of the Port Authority, and Bill Donovan, a fellow board member. Or why he’d been instructed to make sure he wasn’t followed to the rendezvous point.
“This conversation is to be kept in the strictest confidence, Mr. Mallory,” Davies said. “We must have your word on that.”
“Mr. Davies, anything you choose to tell me will be treated with the utmost discretion,” Mallory said. “But you already knew that, or you wouldn’t have contacted me.”
The man stiffened. "How did you know my name?"
"Everyone knows who you are, sir." Mallory leaned back, making himself comfortable. "Your name's all over the papers, what with the . . . unfortunate allegations."
"Yes, well," Donovan huffed, cutting to the point with an admirable lack of bull. "That's why we're all here. This is a photograph of the detective in charge of the investigation. We need it to look like an accident."
And here it came, the familiar manila envelope that everybody seemed to use for these things. Mallory upended it, tactfully setting aside the cash to count later in favor of studying the photograph. An unpleasant frisson went down his back when he saw the familiar face staring up at him. The woman next to him must be the fabled wife.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Mallory?" snapped Davies.
But as Chuck snapped the folder shut he knew two things: one, this was going to be the hardest hit of his career and two, ace homicide detective Zack Martinez's wife was actually pretty cute.
Opening: Wonderwood.....Continuation: Sarah from Hawthorne
Monday, August 24, 2009
Guess the Plot
1. Rafaeno is at last a seraph, a member of the highest caste of angels. But his skills grow rusty as he manages the cherubs, virtues, and principalities. When a chance comes, to be a guardian angel again, he takes it, if only to relieve the boredom. But can he handle a foul-mouthed ninja goth by the name of Trixie Morgan?
2. Thithariel, Angel of Lisps and Speech Impediments, is finding life hard as one of the Principalities, so he asks God for a transfer to another angelic order. Unfortunately, God's in a really pithy mood.
3. edtrs always want u 2 use font with seraphs. I mene, com on, they keep rjectin my qury bc i use arial. dude, mby u can hlp/
4. 2998. Ever since the return of Jesus a thousand years ago, Earth has been completely at peace. But now the perfidious Perfirians threaten to eradicate mankind, and it's up to a handful of humans to turn back these space invaders. Can they do it? What about if a seraph helps them?
5. The angel font is a new free download from Kingdom Come ltd. What no one realizes is that when the counter hits 666,666,666 the font isn't the only thing that will be downloaded -- as hacker Nero Williams is about to find out.
6. Jack thought he'd found a stress-free calling as chapel caretaker, where his narcolepsy attacks would cause minimal damage. Then, the statues start rearranging themselves and the pews whisper at night. Can Jack stay awake long enough to solve the mystery of the shuffling . . . Seraph?
Dear Evil Editor,
Exterminating demons was hard enough back in 2012. In 2998, Earth has aliens to worry about. [I'm not sure this comparison is working for me. If it were the same people doing it, it would make sense, but with a thousand years between the demons and aliens, not so much. It's like a British soldier in 1944 saying, "Man it was hard enough fighting William the Conqueror back in 1066; now we have to take on Nazi Germany." I would probably begin: The year is 2998. After 1000 years of peaceful coexistence, mankind faces . . .] Now a septet of intrepid young recruits must risk their lives and souls to repel the extraterrestrial menace that threatens to eradicate the human race.
All Matthias wants is to end the war and return to his ailing family, and all Sic wants is Matthias. Kate and Clement must choose between their separate military careers and their future together. Tib, an outsider with something to prove, makes it his mission to stymie Genny, whose insatiable ambition sets her on a course to awaken a once-vanquished evil. The quintessential soldier Kenneth is Earth's best hope, but a loathsome conspiracy forces him to question his destiny. [Are you saying these seven people must defeat an alien invasion capable of eradicating the human race? If we're counting on seven people to save us, I propose that we dump everyone except Kenneth and start the recruitment process all over. This sounds like what would have happened if the Allies had relied on the cast of Big Brother to defeat the Axis powers.]
A thousand years ago, Jesus Christ joined forces with mankind to repel Satan and the legions of Hell. [If I were JC, I think I'd rather go it alone than join forces with mankind, who screw up everything they touch.] All of Earth is a bicameral Christian state. [All of Earth? As I find it hard to believe all Christians and Jews and atheists would become Muslims if Mohammed returned to Earth, I'm having trouble buying into everyone becoming Christian if Jesus returned.] The arrival of the rapacious Perfirians jeopardizes a millennium of world peace by spurring an ideological divide between the pacifist Church and the militant Sword of God. [Based on the adjectives "pacifist" and "militant," I would say there was an ideological divide before the Perfirians arrived.] For our heroes, the task at hand is not only to defeat the bad guys in space, but also to thwart the ones on Earth. [With Earth under attack by aliens, I can't tell whether the bad guys are the pacifists or the Sword.]
Seraph (160,000 words) merges Catholic dogma and deep space into a fast-paced and dynamic commercial fantasy. [Nothing that merges Catholic dogma with anything is fast-paced.] Game-changing revelations, stolen kisses, and jargon-laced one-liners abound. [That's too general to be helpful.] The full manuscript is available on request. I am seeking your representation because only the best editors are evil.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Even Christians would react poorly to a guy saying, "I'm Jesus, and I'm back. Yes the Jesus. What's so funny? Hey, where you taking me? Wait, watch, I'll turn water into wine." Cynical times. His best bet might be to become a stage magician.
Out of curiosity, how did Jesus dress when he returned? Flowing robes? Coat and tie? Jeans and T-shirt?
I'm not crazy about throwing away a whole paragraph to tell us the names and a tidbit about seven characters. If you have a main character or two, focus on them. Note the tagline from the movie Fellowship of the Ring and the summary of the book:
In a small village in the Shire a young Hobbit named Frodo has been entrusted with an ancient Ring. Now he must embark on an Epic quest to the Cracks of Doom in order to destroy it. (IMDB)
Frodo Baggins knew the Ringwraiths were searching for him—and the Ring of Power he bore that would enable Sauran to destroy all that was good in Middle-earth. Now it was up to Frodo and his faithful servant Sam to carry the Ring to where it could be destroyed—in the very center of Sauron's dark kingdom. (BN.com)
No mention of the other hobbits, Gandalf, Legolas, etc. Just the two main characters and the enemy. Maybe Kenneth, Earth's best hope, should be the query's focus, especially if he's the group's leader. You can get specific about the loathsome conspiracy he's dealing with.
Now, if no character has a bigger role than the others, just talk about them as a group. Here are the short and long descriptions of The Big Chill. (IMDB)
A group of seven former college friends gather for a weekend reunion at a posh South Carolina winter house after the funeral of one of their friends.
A seminal Thirty-Something movie in which a group of old college friends who are now all grown up and hardened by the big wide world come together for the funeral of Alex, a barely glimpsed corpse, who was at one time the brightest and the best of them, and yet who never managed to achieve half as much as any of the others. The friends use the occasion to reacquaint themselves with each other and to speculate as to what happened to their idealism which had been abundant when they were younger.
No names, nothing specific about any one of them. A film closer in theme to your book, The Seven Samurai, is similarly described. We don't get each Samurai's name and something about him.
Without wasting that paragraph you'll have room to tell us why the fate of the world has been placed in the hands of this particular group of people. How can they hope to defeat the aliens? Do they have the backing of a seraph?
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Neat lawn: check; trees: check; carefully pruned roses: check.
He'd seen places like this before. Hell, he'd grown up in one. He could still hear his parents arguing over what pan to use for the rice.
He looked around the living room. Overstuffed couches, soft beige carpeting, massive bloodstain from the crushed skull of the man. He didn't need to look closely at the overturned table and scattered wooden pieces to get a pretty good idea of what had happened.
He could see their old house, his brother Vic hoarding the money because he ran the bank, duking it out with Vic and Charlie over who got to have the little pewter car. Mom chainsmoking while keeping little Lucy from flinging the cards everywhere. And Dad, shouting that if he said the gaddamned top hat was a hotel, then the goddamned top hat was a hotel.
Inhaling deeply, trying to chase the memories of his childhood away, Zack knew two things, who murdered the father and that if he hurried he could pick up some take out from Wan Ho Red Dragon, for his wife and maybe, just maybe, get lucky that night. He said with a slight drawl, “Pick up the family member that had the dog. He’s the murderer. Lean on him a bit and he’ll spill his guts.”
“How do you know?” the still-wet-behind-the-ears officer asked.
“Everyone wants the damn pewter dog. It’s the only piece in the game worth fighting over except for Boardwalk and that other blue property. What's it called? Nevermind, I don't care. The game just got started, so it had to be about the dog. The collar probably still has it clutched in his hand.”
Opening: Khazar-khum.....Continuation: Vivian Whetman
And then there were the way-out weirdos who’d wandered over in the wee hours of the morning; the gorgeous babe (better not let his wife see him questioning her) who swallowed her zip drive before he could confiscate it, the soulful-eyed man in glasses who said he’d come to borrow a wrench and wouldn’t account for the heavy parcel he threw into the back of a passing dump truck, the fresh-looking college kid who came in with a stack of books to return and suddenly remembered that they all belonged to the library instead of the boy... All of them babbled about evil, though none of them mentioned downright lunacy.
And then his crew walked in. Candy with her Canon D camera and her double D bra. She started in the porn industry and moved up to crime photographer. Cyrus, the medical examiner who worked his way through college at the slaughter house and still wore a bloodstained apron always. Even the day after washday. Finally Junior Denton, the smartass new detective in the department who liked to put bandaids on bullet wounds. Guess he didn't have a joke for poisonings.
Zack Martinez closed his glassy eyes, and ran his hand glumly through his hair. How did I get stuck in a novel trying so hard to be fresh, that even I can't figure out what's going on?
Opening: Joanna......Continuation: Anon.
Martinez had two clues. The first was a slip of paper shoved in Jimmy's mouth that read "non abbastanza salsa calda" that translated to "not enough hot sauce". The second was a HIC Harold Imports wooden spoon from Italy shoved up Jimmy's ass. Either this was one sloppy Italian Job, or someone wanted Adelchi out of the topping tournament for good.
When the Medical examiner moved the body, they found a crushed 28 ounce can of imported Italian tomatoes from near Vesuvius. AH, the inspiration -- sweet tomatoes and hot peppers. How very Italian. How very Pompeian. How very Cosa Nostra. The DOP insignia was fake, unreal, misspelled. Jimmy Miller's porcine bulk crushed the tell-tale tin can. Adelchi had no gardens in Italy. He was growing hot tomatoes in Minneapolis and branding the cans as imported. If the Condiment King hadn't been so paranoid about his crown, HIC Harold imports and Adelchi might have got away with it forever, or at least until their basil ran out. Inferior tomatoes passed off as the royalty of Pomo D'Oro. More motive than my cheating unfaithful bitch, thought Martinez.
Opening: Aimee States.....Continuation: Dave F.
Detective Martinez likes his coffee black, his chocolate white and his corpses tawny, not blue-ish, so he calls in the medical examiner.
“He's definitely not alive,” says the medical examiner. “His heart hasn't beat and he hasn't breathed for at least five hours.”
“Then he's dead?”
“He's not quite dead but not alive, either,” said the M.E. “He's slightly undead. Um, if you repeat that, I'll deny I ever said it.”
Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: one, there are no almost-a-homicide laws and two, if he backs up the Peugeot over Columbo one more time, he'll get home in time for bridge with his wife, ex-wife, and her new boy-toy, Frankie.
"Hold on a minute here", rasped the undead Columbo. "What's the big deal? Elvis has gotten away with this for years!"
Martinez looked at the body on the pavement. "What the hell are you still doing down there if you're not dead dead?"
"I'm a little... stuck. But I'll tell ya, I took the quickest way down," said Columbo.
The medical examiner had already heard enough from the googly-eyed zombie. "You guys are on your own. I have to get home to my wife."
Columbo frowned at that. "My wife is gonna be mad. I worry. I mean, little things bother me. I'm a worrier. I mean, little insignificant details - I lose my appetite. I can't eat. My wife, she says to me, "you know, you can really be pain." What do you think she's gonna say about THIS"
"Sounds to me like you didn't hit your head hard enough," said Martinez. "Do you know who ran you over? Can you give me a description?"
"My wife says I'm the second smartest guy she knows. She claims there are 80 guys tied for first. She's mad at everybody. She's even mad at the ice cream man.”
Martinez climbed in his Renault and backed over Columbo's head. He'd start with the wife. It was always the damn wife.
Opening: WouldBe.....Continuation: Aimee States
Detective Zack Martinez walked around the ransacked dining room, peering suspiciously at pristinely clean dishes and untouched table settings. The dinner guests huddled in the parlor under the watchful eyes of the police, still unaware of what had happened.
All but one, according to the butler. He had seen someone in the room with Mrs. Van Arsenal only moments before the murder.
And had he done nothing? Oh, no, it was not his duty to interrupt Madame’s conversation without cause.
Now, Mrs. Van Arsenal was pincushioned with silverware. At least he could rule out little Granny Rose.
Granny Rose was a Republican. Republicans shoot. Democrats slash or poison.
“You'd think she'd have been shot with a name like that,” said Martinez.
“Her last name?” said the butler.
“No, her first name, _Mrs_. Husbands shoot. Wives, burn, dismember, field dress, vivisection--”
“You're a bitter man,” said the butler.
“Anywho, you can leave out the husband. Who'd you see with Mrs. Van Pincushion?"
"I'm not sure. I didn't see him...her!...him or her. Could've been a leprechaun for all I know," said the butler.
Martinez peeked into the parlor and returned his attention to the butler. Was he, she or it taller or shorter than, say, you?"
"Light- or dark-complexion?"
"Panted or skirted."
"Panted, no, skirted."
"Light or dark blouse or shirt?"
"Why'd she deserve to die?"
"She a b-- Um, couldn't say. Ask the killer."
"You've eliminated everyone with your descriptions, except for you...if I take the opposite of all your answers."
The butler crumbled. "She wanted me to rub her feet."
"Hell, you say?" said Martinez. "I'd have bumped her off too! But I didn't. You did. Walk with me."
Opening: _*Rachel*_.....Continuation: William Highsmith
Still there was no better way to infiltrate the secret world of theme park mascots than to dress like one, and Goofy was the only mascot Zack's height. He soon realized there were but two characters who would want Pluto dead: the duck, who suspected the dog of having an affair with Daisy, and the mouse, who had to clean up after the dog, who had become incontinent in his old age (70, but 490 in people years).
Zack called the two suspects together and started grilling them: "The cutlass had no fingerprints on it, which means the murderer wore gloves; I see you're wearing gloves, mouse."
"I always wear gloves, idiot."
"Yes, but why? Mice don't have hands."
"Neither do ducks," the mouse said.
"The duck's not wearing gloves."
"Look, dimwit, I'm a mascot, not a real mou--"
"What about you, duck?" Zack said. "I'm guessing feathers don't make fingerprints."
"They make featherprints."
"Aha! Then why didn't we find any featherprints on the cutlass?"
"Because I didn't kill the dog?"
"Hmm. Makes sense. Okay, mouse, off with the gloves. Let's get to the bottom of this."
The mouse removed his white gloves, revealing . . . human hands!
"So!" the duck yelled. "Mice do have hands. Guess you've found your killer, detective."
"You idiot!" the mouse said. "This is just a cos--"
"Take him away boys," Zack ordered.
Opening: Caitlin.....Continuation: Evil Editor
"So, what’cha think, Detective Martinez? Like we radioed—a suicide."
Zack rolled his weight onto his heels and twisted his head to look up at Officer Byers. The shine apparently hadn’t worn off the kid’s badge yet. "Think so? What’s the motive?"
The uniform shrugged uncomfortably. "His divorce is front page news. He’d already lost custody of his kids, and his business is bankrupt. Why wouldn’t he off himself?"
Fair enough. It deserved a quick nod. "You’re right. I might almost have believed the note on the table at first glance. One shot fired from a revolver registered to him, through the roof of his mouth. But—" he paused and raised his brows. "Did you happen to notice his cuffs?"
Now Byers frowned and squatted down, staring as Zack spoke. "You can never quite get the glue from duct tape off linen without a good cleaning."
"Thing is, kid," Zack said, "even with everything going wrong in his life, he still had something to live for ... and something worth killing him for. You know where to look?"
"Uh ... a diary or something?"
"Twenty years ago, maybe. Now, it's easier." Zack stepped over the body and switched on the computer.
The search was short, the results were ugly, ugly as hell. Byers took one look at the monitor and turned green. Zack couldn't blame him. A quintuple disembowelling was tame stuff compared to this.
"That's right, kid. The Pit of Voles. Our man was a regular poster on fanfiction.net." Zack shook his head. "Maybe he should have killed himself. Better than living in secret as – " he checked the account details " – 'm4ry5ue10ver'."
"But why'd someone kill him? Was it a literary critic?"
"Could you blame them? But no, it's simpler than that. Our guy was into RPS – imagined homosexual couplings between real people. Clearly, one of his fics was too close to the truth, and the people in it wanted to shut him up. For keeps."
"You mean - ?"
"Right. This is a slasher killing."
Opening: Cathy Clamp.....Continuation: Steve Wright
Friday, August 21, 2009
We now have ten openings to stories about ace homicide detective Zack Martinez. Now we need each of the stories to be completed, presumably with Zack solving the case, but you aren't required to solve it if you have a better idea. Just don't kill off the star.
You can find the openings by clicking "Continue an opening" in the sidebar. You may conclude as many as you wish. Only one conclusion will be posted on the front page with each opening; others will be posted as comments. Sometime Saturday I'll post a list of openings for which I've received no continuations (or no funny continuations).
Deadline Sunday at 10 AM eastern. 200 words max.
If you started an opening and are almost finished, send it in.
Pretty Elinore was too boisterous and spoiled to sew embroidery. She also failed at lessons and prayers. She was flighty as a sparrow. Her mother allowed her to flit about, but warned her to avoid milkmaids, travelers, kitchenmen, and most of all: the enchanted Arden. Of course the girl quickly grew desperate to wander the Arden, thanks to the Earl's cousin's wife, who told her of unicorns dwelling in that wild wood.
Evil looked up from his desk, irritated. 'Hey,' he called to Mrs. Varmighan, 'switch the goddamn hoover off. I got one with unicorns.'
'I thought you didn't go in for fantasy,' Mrs. V replied, pulling the plug.
'You kidding?' Evil waved the top page of the script. 'Two paragraphs in and we've had a Countess, some foreshadowing about vampire milkmaids — and it's set in Warwyck. That's England.'
Mrs. Varmighan folded her arms. 'I know where it is, stupid.'
'Anyway,' said EE, kicking back, 'I like it. Take the afternoon off.'
Mrs. Varmighan glowered at him, slighted as an aging football player left out of the Super Bowl. 'Let me see that,' she snapped, snatching the script from Evil's hand. 'Huh. "Flighty as a sparrow"? What the hell kind of imagery is that?'
'You trying to do my job?'
'Hell, no,' retorted Mrs Varmighan, her hairdo quivering with rage. 'But if that's all the thanks I get for trying to help, I quit.'
Evil watched her stomp past the weredingoes clustered by the door. Adjusting his pince-nez, he feigned resumed contentment and scanned down to paragraph three.
"Legend had it that Warwyck Woode was a tangled embroidery weaved long ago by giants—"
The sound of drooping muttonchops filled the office.
'Fetch me a squirrel and my Magnum revolver!' he barked into the intercom.
But she was gone.
Opening: Anon......Continuation: Whirlochre
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Guess the Plot
The Mermaid Virus
1. When a dead mermaid with open sores washes up on the beach it causes a media frenzy. Can Dr. Michaels stop the plague she carries from spreading to humanity--before Arnold Toole convinces everyone that eating mermaid flesh grants immortality?
2. In a village famous for its seafood and its smell, Kayla's scientist parents are studying a mysterious virus that kills one teen-aged girl per year. When her parents suddenly die, Kayla must finish their work before she becomes the next victim of . . . The Mermaid Virus. Also, Rastafarian surfers.
3. Kyle designed the Mermaid Virus to trail bubbles across random office monitors and to relieve boredom. But when the saucy fish-tail starts skimming the managers' accounts and transferring the money to orphanages, cancer research, and Save the Whales, Kyle isn't sure if he's created a monster or an angel.
4. For years, virologist Lyle Bodecker has been studying the "Mermaid Virus", a mysterious disease that transforms women into near-duplicates of Daryl Hannah during the filming of Splash. Now he's announced he's on the verge of finding a cure. Can he be stopped in time?
5. Navy SEAL Hank Deadle knows he and his badass comrades are the best of the best . . . until they start growing iridescent green tails. Could it have anything to do with that top-secret medical research project funded by Disney that they volunteered for?
6. When fishermen in Nova Scotia land a mermaid, they think they've hit the jackpot--until they're stricken with a mysterious illness that makes them unable to breathe except while underwater. Can fish pathologist Hank Walley decipher the genetic code of this nightmare virus and identify a cure in time to save himself? Or must he, too, soon be tanked?
Dear Evil Editor,
Sandstone is an unusual village, not just because of its uncanny success in the seafood industry [despite its location 800 miles from the ocean,] or the mysterious virus that takes the life of one teenage girl every year, but because of its smell. [There's nothing unusual about a village that's famous for seafood also being famous for its smell.] The smell of Sandstone air is the first thing that strikes Kayla as unusual when she moves to the seaside village with her parents, scientists that are determined to discover the cure for the Mermaid Virus [thus saving 100 lives per century]. [I smell a Nobel Prize in medicine coming their way.]
Kayla is soon befriended by the mysterious and green-eyed Joseph [I'd rather know what's mysterious about him than what color his eyes are.] and a delinquent crew of Rastafarian surfers. When attacks from strange water creatures [Mermaids.] begin to take their toll on the surfers and fishermen alike, Kayla starts to realize that there is more to Sandstone's annual deaths than a “virus.” When her parents meet an untimely death at the verge of scientific breakthrough, she becomes sure of it. [It's the fact that one teen-aged girl per year dies that indicates "virus" should be in quotation marks, not the fact that sea creatures are trying to rid their waters of Rastafarian surfers, or that Kayla's parents, who aren't teenagers, died. What killed her parents?] Now, under the guardianship of a woman she does not trust, Kayla must continue the work that her parents began—discovering the cause of the Mermaid Virus—before she becomes its next victim, even as she struggles with her grief over her parent's [parents'] death, the unusual nature of her relationship with Joseph, [If you aren't going to tell us what's mysterious about Joseph or what's unusual about their relationship, why is he in the query?] and the dark secrets her surfing friends fail to keep hidden. [But that you have no trouble keeping hidden.]
The Mermaid Virus is complete at 67,000 words. I have spent several years on both the East and West coast and have become an avid reader of mermaid lore. I hold a BA in Literary Studies from Brigham Young University-Idaho. [BYU Idaho? That makes as much sense as MIT at Chicago.] My shorter creative work [A Haiku and a non-rhyming limerick.] has appeared in The Claremont Review and Bottle Rockets, and has earned several awards at my university's annual pre-professional conferences. I thought that this project may be suitable for you because of your interest in folklore, cannibalism, and obscure Asian history. Thank you for your time in reviewing this query. [For the record, my interest in cannibalism isn't literary in nature; I just like the flavor of a well-seasoned grilled human thigh.]
So what's so unusual about the smell of the air? If you're going to bring it up, you have to explain.
I don't see how scientists can be so convinced there's a virus that targets one teen girl per year, that they pack up their family and move to the scene of the deaths to find a cure. It sounds more like a case for amateur sleuth Amelia Pettipants.
On the other hand, if the villagers are sacrificing one girl per year to Aquaman, how did word that there was a mysterious virus reach Kayla's parents? Was it CSI Sandstone that originally determined that the annual deaths were caused by a virus?
How can a teen-aged girl just take over the work of her scientist parents? Doesn't this work require years of training?