Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Beginning 879

I'm worried about my family picnic. Why?

My upstairs neighbor Ruth Cohen, widow on a pension, says, "such angst I've never seen" and my downstairs neighbor Patsy, a retired hit man, says, "drink a little wine, eat some linguini, take the cannoli." Cecily and Tina, the lesbian line chefs, offered to cook and pretend to be my girlfriends. That's why I’m worried.

I rented grove three in Mingo Park. Three's nice, away from the drunks at the ball fields, away from the covered bridge photographers traipsing through the poison ivy, away from the trout stream sans trout that now attracting children in leaky, poison-filled diapers. This might actually work, I think. But still, I worry Half the members of my family raise chickens and pigs and still got that big, old six-foot satellite dish rusting next to the coop, the other half are city folk, pretending they ain't related to the first half.

I might die before I stop worrying.

* * *

"That's it? That's all it says?"

"That's all it says, lieutenant. We found it next to the, ah, remains."

"Well, I guess we should be thankful we've got something to go on. Lucky the ants didn't eat that as well."

Opening: Dave F......Continuation: Anon.

Cartoon 983

Caption: Wilkins MacQueen

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Beginning 878

The broken glass of the windshield spiraled out like a web. The girl’s skull had shattered it on impact. Now her body slumped against the door of the vehicle, eyes staring out.

Even in the dim light, I knew she was dead.

Not so for the man in the driver’s seat. His breath came out in little rasps. I reached in through the window and touched his head. Just a little jolt, to blur his memories. When he came to, the scene would tell a story his mind could not place. He’d see the front of the vehicle smashed in, and the body of a buck sprawled out before it.

And he would know what had happened.

As for the girl, the one who’d climbed into his car a few miles back, well . . . He wouldn’t even remember her.

I dragged her body into the woods. Even in the darkness, she was a wonder to behold. Once a living organism, filled with possibility. Now a bag of skin containing sharp secrets.

Her blood stained my gloves.

I stripped off her clothes with less care than I’d like to admit. Underneath, she was as pale as I am. Her hair was a duller shade of red, but that was no surprise. What human would have hair like mine? If I wanted to pass as one of them, everything about me would have to be dimmed.

My wings rustled at the thought of it.

Her clothes were bigger than I anticipated and hung loosely from my body. But still it felt good, to be a little more like them. But smarter. Thanks to their genetic meddling, I was so much smarter, now.

I remembered the look on his face, as I had crossed the road in front of them. His wide eyes. The silent "Why?!" that his mouth screamed as the car swerved toward the tree.

Why? Because it's time for the oppressed to become free. Steel yourself, mankind, steel yourself for the rise of the planet of the chickens.

Opening: Chelsea P......Continuation: Anon.

Cartoon 982

Caption: Wilkins MacQueen

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Face-Lift 947

Guess the Plot

Artificial Friendship

1. When you're an editor, is there really any other kind?

2. Charlie, the lonely school geek, builds a beautiful robot companion to hang out with. When she develops an independent streak that he never programmed, he's not sure whether to press her off-switch or try to win her silicon heart.

3. Shy, geeky nerd Grover Washington hides in class, gets straight As and is routinely given wedgies by classmates. If only he were like Stormward, the Blood elf he plays in World of Warcraft where he's in a guild with Horace the Dwarf and Meg the Gnome. When he learns that they're in his math class, will hilarity ensue?

4. Cassia's father gives her the best birthday present ever: Annie, an android friend. When Annie protects Cassia from a bird attack, instead of fleeing as it was programmed to do, the android's inventor wants to dismantle it. Ha! Over Cassia's dead body!

5. It's the answer to the prayers of sad and lonely people everywhere: robots programmed to become their best friends! Roy's Robotics thinks they have a surefire winner on their hands. Then someone turns on the robots in the factory. And they all befriend each other.

6. Lonely programmer Wesley Walters invents the Friend3000, a robot with artificial intelligence that is a boon to the detached and disaffected. All is well-- until the Friend3000 wins the Republican nomination for president.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

When Cassia first meets ANNIE, her initial reaction is delight – not only did her absentminded father finally remember her birthday, he has given her a wonderful present. ANNIE is the latest prototype of the android FRIENDs, whose friendship "lasts forever", the perfect gift for a girl with few friends.

However, a freak accident at the park soon changes Cassia's joy to concern, not for herself but for ANNIE. As a prototype, ANNIE's primary programming should have sent the android away from danger, [;] instead she protected the girl from an attack of genetically altered birds. [Even if Cassia somehow knows the birds have been genetically altered, it's not clear in what way. Maybe they should be described as vicious or savage or monstrous or malevolent. Or birds that make Hitchcock's look like lovebirds.] The daughter of a scientist who works on androids, Cassia knows such programming cannot malfunction without shutting down the android itself.

What allowed ANNIE to override that programming? Cassia is not the only one who wants the answer to this question. Branston, the mysterious inventor of FRIENDs, [Mysterious in that he has only one name.] [Instead of Branston call him Brainstorm. Sounds more like a supervillain.] plans to investigate the matter thoroughly, even if it means dismantling the android. However, Cassia won't let someone [anyone] destroy ANNIE, not after what happened, and certainly not without a fight.

At 58,000 words, Artificial Friendship is a science fiction novel for teens. The completed manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for considering my work.



A nice query. To me it sounds like middle grade, even if Cassia's older, but of course I don't have the whole plot.

Perhaps the bird attack could be called an incident or an occurrence rather than an accident. And how much danger are these birds to an android?

If I invented an android friend, and I had to choose between programming it to handle danger by protecting its owner or by fleeing, I'm not sure how I'd justify choosing flight. Does this so-called "friend" also bully Cassia and steal her boyfriend?

I realize Annie's a prototype, but it's being given to a kid. It should be programmed to act like a friend forever, not a self-absorbed coward. What is Brainstorm's sales pitch when he sells Annie to Cassia's father? "It's just like the version that'll be in Best Buy, except I've programmed it to run away anytime your daughter is in danger."?

Now, if the android were programmed not to hurt humans, but shoved down a kid who was bullying Cassia, that would be a more controversial flaw. True, any flaw could mean there are others, but dismantling the kid's friend because it saved her from being pecked to death by ferocious finches? Not good.

Cartoon 981

Caption: Roger Eschbacher

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Sunday, August 28, 2011


Guess the Plot


1. Written to shame admirers of genre fiction, this novel is so deep that it is completely incomprehensible, as all true works of literature must be.

2. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, near the end of World War II, a Nazi submarine goes too deep and disappears. Presumed lost, it actually is whisked to another dimension where, with a few alien modifications, it fights in Galactic War II as the flagship of the Groodoan Spacefleet.

3. When her ship sinks, a US Navy sailor is transformed into a mermaid. Before she can even swim back to the US, she undergoes yet another transformation, this time into an inhuman goddess of the sea, heiress to all its wealth, and as cruel as its laws of survival.

4. Lovely Marine biologist Lance Corporal Tootsie LaMer has disappeared off the coast of Dry Tortuga. As Adventurer Dirk Glascock races to her rescue, an outbreak of ptomaine renders his crew useless and his bilge full. Dirk knows his greatest fear - bathophobia - has nothing to do with showering. But will it prevent him from finding the true depth of his feelings?

5. When mousy librarian Louise opens a magic book and mysteriously finds herself transported into the hip Viper Room she realizes that not only is she underdressed and over-read, she is also out of her . . . Depth.

6. Moira and Tiffany are sooo tired of being called "shallow", they convince all the Gamma Gamma Gamma sisters to wear black, read Marx and Kant, and throw a "peacenik" party which turns into a riot because most of the guests are actually undercover police.

Original Version

Dear (Ms. / Mr. Lastname):

I have completed a fantasy novel, and would like you to represent me. Depth (65,000 words) is the adventure of a young woman overcoming the sea after her transformation into a mermaid. [Those of the finned persuasion will argue that you're born a mermaid, not transformed, but you can simply respond, "It's fiction, gill-face."]

Kali W. [Amazing. Her last name is only one letter, yet it has more syllables than her first name.] [Does she always go by Kali W, like Kenny G and Mister T and Auntie M?] is 18, a US Navy sailor on her first cruise. [That's the latest strategy used by navy recruiters: tell 'em they're going on a two-year world cruise.] After her ship capsizes and sinks [Do naval ships really capsize and sink? It's gotta be pretty rare, not to mention embarrassing. I mean, you take out a naval vessel like a destroyer or an aircraft carrier for maneuvers or something, and you sink it? You're the friggin' navy, for Pete's sake, and you can't keep a four-billion-dollar ship afloat?] she finds herself breathing water, her legs replaced with a tail. Worse, she's the sole survivor of an aircraft carrier dropping into abyssal depths. [The sole survivor? There are thousands of crew members on a carrier. Aren't there any lifeboats? Does anyone know how to swim? A passenger jet has life jackets and seats that become flotation devices, but a naval carrier goes down and everyone on board drowns?] Breaking free of the ship, she's stranded in the blue desert of the pelagic Pacific [I had to look up pelagic, and now that I have, I question whether it's used correctly. It means "of the sea," as in pelagic birds, pelagic ecosystem, pelagic organisms. Can it describe the sea itself? Wouldn't that be redundant, like the arboreal trees, or the evil editor?] [Also, describing an ocean as the blue desert of the pelagic Pacific is like describing a desert as the beige ocean of the sabulous Sahara.] and left with only one choice: swim back to America.

Through challenge and trial she learns the powers of her siren form, transcends [Evolves?] from prey to predator, [Just because you evolve a tail doesn't mean you can defeat sharks on their home turf.] and masters the sea. When Kali rests at a beautiful, remote atoll, it becomes harder and harder to leave, until she accepts it as her new home. There she faces a new threat: [A shark that breathes air and has horse legs.] that of her transformation into an inhuman goddess of the sea, heiress to all its wealth, as vain as its beauty and as cruel as its laws of survival.

Depth realistically renders the Pacific's varied ecosystems and species. [Uh, except the mermaid part.] The mythology of sirens underlies real-world detail. I served as a military journalist, publishing news and features in defense and civilian publications. I've seen much of the Pacific waters detailed in the story, from both above [as a sailor] and below [as Aquaman]. This is my first novel.

An SASE is provided for your reply. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Who would win between Kali W. and Aquaman?

Okay, she's on a ship, it sinks, she becomes a mermaid. That's the setup. What's the plot? The rest is vague. She starts swimming home, rests on an atoll, decides to stay, morphs into a cruel goddess? I want to know what happens. Are there any other people in the book after the ship sinks? What does she do in her role as a goddess of the sea? Does she lead her minions in attacking fishing fleets? Melt glaciers with her heat ray to expand her realm? There is a story, right?

Selected Comments

Bernita said...Since you have siren mythology as the genesis of your plot, I think a name so similar to Kali Ma is confusing, distracting and detracting. Her "sole survivor" status ( of an aircraft carrier yet) rather disturbs my suspension as well.

Dave said...It is incredibly hard to sink an aircraft carrier. a Man-Overboard Event might occur in the Pacific. However, it's an "aircraft" carrier and it has helicopters with search teams. And don't think about storms, In the worst case, a huge typhoon washes someone overboard (very unlikely because the Navy insists they lash themselves to the deck or walk outside with life preservers already on) might be plausible. Also, no wave is going to overtop an aircraft carrier.

Sebastian Junger talks about big waves and how they sink ships in "The Perfect Storm." There is no way an aircraft carrier is going to capsize in a storm. Nothing in the world is going to create a wave that big or an ocean disturbance that profound.

Aircraft carriers are stable. They barely have a rise and fall because they are so huge. They are built to be stable. They are built to survive bombs and torpedoes, too. So it's going to be damn hard to sink one.

Drowning your helpless female requires some more thought. It's possible, but not as straightforward as your query letter describes.

phoenix said...Remember, author, the query letter is the first indication an agent/editor has of your writing talent. Notice:

Worse, she's the sole survivor of an aircraft carrier dropping into abyssal depths. So worse than being turned into a mermaid is that she survived? I don't think that's what you meant, but it's what you wrote.

When Kali rests at a beautiful, remote atoll, it becomes harder and harder to leave, until she accepts it as her new home. So, once she accepts it as home, it becomes easy to leave?

transformation into an inhuman goddess - as opposed to a human goddess?

EE pointed out some other dubious word choices. Pay strict attention to the words you use in your query. Most agents say they'll let one error slide, but keep compounding those errors and we know just how deep that query will wind up.

So, my final question is about the story rather than the query. It seems Kali's first transformation left her mind/personality intact. But when she becomes the goddess, she becomes vain and cruel? Why is this not consistent? (Staying consistent in your fantasy world is key!) And why is that transformation a threat? Who wouldn't want to be turned into a goddess with wealth and beauty? Sign me up! For the query part, give us a reason that this is a threat to her rather than a dream come true.

Bonnie said...This story sounds like it could be interesting, if it's not just the girl floating around on the ocean having revelations. I assume she's named Kali because that's the goddess she's going to transform into. If not, maybe a different name would be a good idea. And how did this one sailor happen to get picked for divinity instead of drowning? Better brand of flotation device?

Anonymous said...Kali is a goddess of another religion, yannow? Might be a good idea to change her name. That right there would put me off the book, because I'd be expecting ancient Hindu goddess and then get a mermaid!?

And you are quite likely to be sucked in and ground up by the screw if you fell overboard. She might be more likely to get lost at sea on a Coast Guard cutter or something, because they do go to other ports around the world and heavy seas would throw them around a lot more... Why not make it simple on yourself and have the gal just fall overboard because she was tipping the bottle and had one too many rounds of yo-ho-ho??

Seriously, all kidding aside, you need to tell us what actually happens to Kali. You have given us no plot. Does Kali of the skull belt and blue skin and lolling tongue show up? I imagine she'd make one hell of a sea goddess...

Anonymous sailor's sister said...The aircraft carrier thing makes it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief. Dave is pretty much right on (though I've seen footage of WWII carriers with waves breaking over the bow, modern carriers are a helluvalot bigger). Another WWII carrier had its bow completely blown off and it didn't sink. The heroine better just fall overboard or something more believable before we start into the unbelievable mermaid stuff.

Anonymous said...Did you write the whole book with just 1 character? If not, what do the other characters do? As far as I know there isn't any mythology about a special connection between aircraft carriers and mermaids and they rarely just roll over and sink so that seems like a cumbersome choice literarily. I'm guessing it seems like a natural choice to you because you spent a lot of time on such a boat wishing you could swim away. Personal escape fantasies can be great inspirations but changing a few of the particulars might make it more accessible and appealing to more readers. Or maybe it works great in the book but we're just not getting the right description to see how.

Robin S. said...Hi author, When EE said and asked: "That's the setup. What's the plot? The rest is vague," it occurred to me that he has asked that quite a bit, in various ways, through quite a few of the queries we've had. So, you're definitely not alone in this.

I'm trying to figure out why this happens again and again. (It happened to me as well, by the way. I'm pointing no fingers.)

I'd like to think we all know the plots of our novels. Why is it that we don't want to "spill the beans"? Is it that no one wants to give too much away, is it that there's a concern that while the book holds together well, a description of the plot would sound uninteresting? I don't know.

There's also conflicting advice on queries, and what constitutes a good one.

I don't mean on this blog. EE is consistent. I mean that query authors have had varied advice, depending upon the sources they've used. For instance, there's an agent (that I'd just about do something wrong to have), who prefers the hopeful querying author's description of his/her work to be three sentences at most.

Good luck with your novel.

I like the idea of it, and I'd like to know more about it. I would like to know, as others have mentioned, how the aircraft carrier is sunk. As you've served as a military journalist, you may well have an idea on how this could be accomplished that we haven't thought about.

Dave said...The oldest Daughter of the last secretary I had before I retired is stationed on the rebuilt USS Cole when she was 21 y/o. And she had a picture of the boat floating on the MV Blue Martin "dry dock" that itself was a boat. It is an incredible picture. And the USS Cole is merely a guided missile destroyer. Wikipedia has the picture.

For funsies:
a guided missile destroyer is Aegis equipped, 8000 tons, 550 feet long, 300 sailors and 18 officers.

An aircraft carrier is bigger. They are Nimitz class, 102,000 tons, 1092 ft long, 255 ft flight deck, 20 Phalanx mounts, 48 tactical aircraft and 16 support aircraft, nuclear powered, and a few cruise missiles, 700 sailors, 2500 airwing personnel.

This is all on Wikipedia. What can I say, I get all geeky on these things.

I'm not saying that the story is impossible, far from it. It's a very plausible story. Sailor falls into ocean and by some mechanism is transformed into a half-human sea creature. Fun, hilarity and evil deeds abound. Capsizing a floating gargantua like a Nimitz class aircraft carrier is really hard. Even a Destroyer is hard to sink (there's real proof of that).

Perhaps a helicopter crash, perhaps a service boat of some sort sinks. Those circumstances make the story plausible. This isn't an insurmountable obstacle. It's a chapter at most. The real story is about Kali and how she handles her iiscean goddess-ship. Or at least that's what people will be interested in.

Dave Kuzminski said...Have the ship enveloped by water where the density has been upset by a release of gas from the bed of the ocean. Such events do happen and at least one ship was believed lost that way. One moment it's there, the next it's on the bottom and there ain't likely to be any survivors so you can have your fantasy change be connected with that just to give it some plausibility, though it really won't be.

Anonymous said...Why would someone name their child Kali? Kali's not exactly a warm and fuzzy goddess. Is your character's name short for something else? And why doesn't the character get a last name? That's rather odd, in a query.

Evil Editor said...Her last name is W.

Anonymous said...Why would someone name their child Kali? I dunno! But fiction has to be more believable than reality is. Especially if it has mermaids.

Evil Editor said...As long as we're using Wikipedia, this is from their Kali entry: "Although . . . her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilation still has some influence, various Shakta Hindu cosmologies, as well as Shakta Tantric beliefs, worship her as the ultimate reality or Brahman. She is also revered as Bhavatarini (literally "redeemer of the universe"). Comparatively recent devotional movements largely conceive Kali as a benevolent mother goddess."

writtenwyrdd said...Or a Rogue Wave slaps across the ship and she's washed off the deck. These are actually documented. I have to say, the idea of getting turned into a mermaid could be interesting, but then becoming a goddess? I'd have to have you explain this bit to see if I'd be able to swallow it. Sounds like more than one novel should hold right there.

Scoot said...Ooooh, the Kraken did it. Or the giant octopus from Lord of The Rings? No, wait, the thing with the teeth that ate Cap'n Jack Sparrow ...That's why only Kali survives.

150 said...Even a Destroyer is hard to sink (there's real proof of that).

Yeah, tell me about it. You have to guess in every two-space block to find that little sucker. I'm A-6ing and E-8ing all night long.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Guess the Plot

Planet Fall

1. Seeking a place where she fits in, Autumn leaves Planet Sun and ends up on Planet Fall. She loves the remarkable beauty of leaves forever in oranges and reds, and is at peace. But when the frosts come, she must confront the witches of winter if she is to protect her perfect world.

2. Emma is enjoying her time on the planet Jellybean, because it gets her away from men. Men. They're such bastards. Then she learns that the Jellies plan to castrate every man on Earth. Emma thinks that wouldn't be so bad. Should she warn Earth that sex is in danger of becoming a distant memory?

3. Goldie tries Planet Winter but it's too cold. She tries Planet Summer but it's too hot. Planet Spring reminds her too much of California because it attracts the preternaturally young and beautifully superficial from throughout the Cosmos. But Goldie strikes gold on Planet Fall.

4. When his interstellar space car breaks down, Thor Jones drinks tea with mystic Cho bi-Gobi, until an army of giant ants swarms over the horizon and carries Screaming Mimi away. Can Thor and his new sidekick, the barking space rat Whiskers, follow the trail of frayed bikini scraps and find the anthill in time to save her from certain doom at the mandibles of these diabolical insects?

5. Jillian is hoping her new boutique, Planet Fall, will be a showcase for her classic designs. Honore is a gay jewelry designer whose elegant creations have become a hallmark for Jillian. Ned is their bisexual lover--and landlord. Can they all find happiness?

6. High above an Earth ravaged by pollution and disease, refugees of the human race live in clusters of space stations. Julia Sky has lived all her life looking down at the once blue planet. But while playing hooky from her astronomy class, she tumbles to a secret that may allow this tiny community to survive the trip down the gravity well to the planet's surface. Also, a robot dog.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

All Emma wants is to be alone and far from men but when she finds out that aliens plan to castrate every man on Earth [Bells and whistles and red flags fill the air as Evil Editor starts to consider whether this might be a hoax query letter.] she has to choose between preserving her precious solitude and saving mankind. [Ice cream or cake is a tough decision. Save mankind or don't seems pretty easy.] My science-fiction novel Planet Fall is 75,000 words long.

Emma is on Jellybean studying the colour/gesture language of the friendly natives [We've just shot up from eighty percent possibility it's a hoax to ninety-seven percent.] and enjoying the distance between her and the rest of the human race, especially the male part of it. That is, until David is sent to assist her. ["You're going to Jellybean" sounds like what you tell your four-year-old so you don't have to listen to him whine all the way to the dentist.] Through him the Jellies find out about the Earth's war-torn history [Blabbermouth.] and they decide to help out. Their solution is to engineer a virus that will interfere with the production of testosterone in humans; then they will release it into Earth's atmosphere. [What? What about the Prime Directive? True, we never obey it, but that's only because our bodies are coursing with testosterone.]

David is horrified. If the virus is released then sex will cease; the human drive to explore will vanish; [the porn industry will be in ruins, destroying the world economy;] and human societies based on the subjugation of women will be turned upside down. [What's that doing on this list of things that horrify David?] Emma thinks that's not all bad until she discovers that the Jellies have already infected her and David without their knowledge. [Apparently it took them twenty minutes to engineer the virus.] Now it's not just men that she doesn't trust. [It's also Jello.] Communications with Earth have gone down so it is up to her and David to find a way to stop the Jellies from releasing the plague onto the Earth.

The problem is that if they succeed then the Jellies will send them back home. And they are infected. [A minor problem compared to if they fail.]

Please let me know if you would like to see [whatever I'm not enclosing, depending on the publisher's guidelines]. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,


I was hoping it was a hoax so I wouldn't have to do any work, but no such luck.

"Jellybean" sounds like a planet in a book for people who wouldn't normally be reading about castration, because they're six years old. Once we've learned to communicate with the Jellies, wouldn't we ask them what they call their planet?

What do Jellies look like? The blob?

So, Emma thinks it might not be so bad to infect the entire Earth without telling anyone, but when they infect her without telling her, she's ready to go to war. Or she would be, if she still had any testosterone in her.

Being infected doesn't destroy her drive to save humanity by thwarting the Jellies' plan?

I note that you withhold the reason Emma is down on men. We might be more sympathetic if we knew what happened.

The communication/transportation between Jellybean and Earth suggests they aren't far apart. Just where is Jellybean?

Selected Comments

Anon. said..."What? WHAT???"

Anonymous said... You're sure it's not a hoax? How sure?

Evil Editor said... As sure as I am that my name is Evil Editor.

Dave F. said... But we both know your name is Matilda Burkhardt. However, IF this is a comedy or satire, then the tone that seems to come across in your query is OK. However, if this is a mystery or action type SciFi story, then the humorous tone is out of place. For a race of aliens to have space travel and advanced science and not understand reproduction and the role of hormones such as testosterone, baffles me. Now that being said, let me assume the best. You've really not written a flattering query letter because this is a first attempt. (As a scientist I learned that to imagine the worst case scenario is usually the wrong approach to any subject.) Please. This doesn't work.

benwah said... All Paul wants is to be left alone and far from women, but when he finds out that aliens plan to eliminate all the estrogen on earth, he has to choose between preserving his precious solitude and saving mankind.

Paul is an intergalactic plumber on a repair call to planet PorkRind, and while there he finds himself enjoying the natives' version of football, their free wide screen televisions that stretch across city blocks, and, most of all, the fact that nobody’s nagging him to put the toilet seat down. He’s blissful until he has to call the home office for a U-joint…and the part arrives with Betsy, an apprentice plumber. From her the PorkRindians learn of Earth’s “war of the sexes.” Their solution is to engineer a virus that will interfere with the production of estrogen in humans.

If the virus is released, shoe sales will plummet, hugs will only take place after teams win championships, and Earth may very well drown in a pissing contest. Paul doesn’t think that’s all bad until he learns that he and Betsy have already been infected -- her 5 o’clock shadow is thicker than his. Paul ponders his options. But then he remembers the copy of Maxim stuffed in the glove box of his space-van, scratches himself, and goes off to see what’s on TV.

Pages available upon request. (Please forgive the smears of pepperoni grease and motor oil.)

Sarah Laurenson said... LOL benwah's got the sequel ready! Can I just say that not all sex will stop? Consider the lesbians. The tone here is a bit hard to pin down. If this is meant to be wacky and over the top, try not to inject notes of seriousness here and there. If it's not, start over.

benwah said... Sarah - Sad to say, if there were no testosterone, all sex would likely cease. It's an important component of libido for both men and women.

writtenwyrdd said... This feels like a poorly constructed story based on the letter. We have no idea why the girl is down on men. We do not know why jelly aliens with obviously superior scientific ability use a simplistic approach that will create a genocidal result upon another species based on one member of that species' information. We have no idea why the jellies would care about mankind's issues and feel the need to fix them.

The bits you tell us are not enough for me to be able to really follow what's going on, where the story is headed. My inference is that the story is more character driven in that the girl makes choices and those affect the outcome. So I'd expect her to grow in some fashion and to have a sense of how that would occur in reading the query. (For all I know you could be spoofing some of that We Don't Need Men To Breed feminist sf from the 60s and 70s. That stuff littered the landscape and a spoof of it might be a hoot.) I do not mean to sound 100% negative but I really can't praise anything shown here--yet. Do post a revision, though.

Sarah Laurenson said... You need libido to have sex? Must be a guy thing. Procreation these days does not depend on sex. IVF is too entrenched to say that lack of sex will lead to genocide.

fairyhedgehog said... So, apart from the plot, motivation, characters, setting, writing, tone, and level of detail it's all right then? Oh, no, ww found nothing to praise. Not even "thank you for your time"? Damn. Maybe I'd be better writing GTP #4. No, this isn't a spoof but luckily it is a WIP so I can address the problems within the story not just in the query. (I checked with EE that this would be OK before I went off on my holidays.)

In case anyone is interested: the planet is named Jellybean by Earthers because the aliens have no spoken language and their colour/gesture is untranslatable. I can sort that one out, maybe call it Aldus 1 or something.

Emma distrusts men because of the way she was treated when her only child died. The aliens: a four foot blob of translucent jelly, resting on three thick limbs. "Her eyes were on stalks and all five were in constant movement. She held a book in two tentacles and the other five were empty. Her body was topped by a fringe surrounding a mouth-like hole." Aliens have a reproductive system that is different from any Earth life forms that I know of.

I won't be posting a revision any time soon as I need to go away and think about plot holes and what tone I intend the actual story to have. Maybe a full-blown spoof will be the answer. Or maybe this is another one to add to the growing pile under the bed.

Sorry it wasn't a hoax, EE. Your comments were hilarious as usual.

fairyhedgehog said... I've just realised that I didn't say "thank you" to everyone who commented on this, from anon's "What? WHAT???" to ww's thoughtful explanation of some of the main problems. I am grateful for all the comments. They help me to get a sense of how this looks to someone who isn't me. Thank you.

BuffySquirrel said... The "aliens make major decisions based on encounter with a single human" device was common in Golden Age SF, and often used to humorous effect. The feminist SF referred to predicted correctly that procreation without men would be available in the future. Where perhaps they went wrong was in believing it would be more popular than it has been so far.

writtenwyrdd said... Regarding the genocide issue, I stand by the term because of human nature. Yes, we can reproduce without sex. But obviously it is expensive--both in resources and in cash. This would probably create extreme difficulties and social upheaval as the haves get kids and the have nots would not. I picture Africa and other third world countries that we commonly ignore remaining ignored until they rise up and attack or something.

Then there's the physiological aspects of a sudden inability to produce a vital hormone. I am sure (although I'm not a doctor and I haven't researched the issue either) that testosterone is tied in with other functions. The interdependencies of the various systems in the body of a complex organism are well known; so the absence of something like testosterone would no doubt affect the body as a whole in other ways besides sexual.

Then there is the fact that testosterone is not just in humans! What about the animals who we will not be artificially breeding? They will die off, I should think.

We currently have a number of studies showing how the pollution from various plastics are mimicking estrogen with the result that some species are affected. You can extrapolate from that the side-effect of the testosterone erasure and see it's a very complicated issue.

As far as the story goes, FHH, I now understand why the letter read as impenetrable. I should have said that there could be a story there (and 'thank you for your time', lol) but it's not apparent in the letter. There's plenty of precedent for the goofy name of Jellybean given how people often name their towns and such. I think you can even keep Jellybean if you want. It does imply comedy, however.

150 said... Hmm. I'd definitely scrap the "Jellybean" name. Give it a name that its discoverers, professional astronomers, would be more likely to use: an ancient deity or a Greek letter/number combination. If you really want a shorthand for that, think of a better nickname like "Blobville" or "Planet Octopus." When I need slang like that, I always ask myself, "What would the Internets call it?"

benwah said... ww, your use of "genocide" may not be far off. if there were no testosterone, the human race would be radically altered and possibly die out. IVF, cloning, even injecting an egg with DNA might start a zygote on its way toward development, but without ANY testosterone, the result would likely not be viable. Testosterone plays a role in both men and women. Therefore, author, you may want to either a) point this more towards spoof or b) make sure you've somewhat refined the way this virus works.

Sarah Laurenson said... There are examples in SF where the name given the aliens shows a distinct lack of respect. Perhaps pointing that out in the query will change the tone. WW is really on to something about the far reaching effects to the earth. Losing animal populations will change the ecosystem and the potential for war over who gets to procreate is huge.

Dave F. said... Then there's the physiological aspects of a sudden inability to produce a vital hormone. I am sure that testosterone is tied in with other functions. I have a cousin who has prostate cancer and to stop the advance of the cancer, he takes a testosterone suppressor and maybe estrogen. He functions quite well but he has no sex drive. It's not that he's not producing sperm. That still occurs. However the aggressiveness of testosterone is not there - anger is gone, so is strong emotional responses. That doesn't come across in the query, but the effect of the alien virus would be the end of war and violence. Or most of it. It would not be the end of procreation. It might end sexual intercourse.

Anonymous said... I think what is missing is WHY Emma hates men so much. I mean if she were a refugee who had survived a rape camp, for example, then it might be a harder choice (you know, like cake or ice cream)to decide whether her own solitude is worth more than saving men from castration. But THAT would be a much more serious book than this appears to be right now. The average feminist just wants equality, not to rid the world of men. Assuming we are to treat that impulse in Emma as legit, I would assume there is something so horrible that it would make sense to paint ALL men with that brush. If she just got dumped, it all gets a little nutty. If this is a spoof, nevermind.

writtenwyrdd said... I can see the angle of the aliens coming to the conclusion that men need help to be less violent or something, to 'make them more like women' or whatnot. Then Emma sees how flawed this is when it occurs to the guy who's actually with her. Now this thing that seems a good idea is a totally bad one (especially if she's starting to look at David with a gleam in her eye and he's chemically castrated!) If that's the crux of the story, it could work as comedy while she tries to convince the aliens not to go through with the plot to 'help' humanity.

Octavia Butler actually used something similar in her Lilith series, where aliens determine that people are going to blow themselves up because they are both hierarchical and intelligent. But where Lilith doesn't convince her aliens to leave humanity alone entirely, it is part of the storyline.

writtenwyrdd said...From a web search: Testosterone deficiency in men leads to symptoms that can often be treated when tested and diagnosed by their doctors. Typical symptoms of Low T include:
- Increased irritability or depression
- Fatigue
- Inability to concentrate
- Reduced muscle mass and strength
- Low sex drive and erectile dysfunction
- Decreased bone density and osteoporosis
- Increased body fat
Okay, so perhaps no T won't kill you; but it does have repercussions.

Julie Weathers said..."and human societies based on the subjugation of women will be turned upside down." I'm sorry, author, but this is so stereotypical I want to throw it against a wall. I'm still not sure this isn't a hoax query. Seriously, have you ever looked at astronomy? Are there any food names of planets or stars? Let alone silly food like jellybeans? Sorry, usually I will try to help out since I received so much help here, but this is just beyond me. Of course, I am not a feminist so that might skew my perception.

BuffySquirrel said... Yeah, I thought the whole inverse society thing was so ridiculous that I blanked it out. However, julie, as you don't have mr julie speaking for you, you are a feminist, of sorts!

Julie Weathers said...You take that back, right now!

BuffySquirrel said... See, assertiveness! More feminism!

Julie Weathers said... On the ranch, my stepdad informed us our summer project was to build five miles of new fence. I told him I couldn't dig post holes, I was a girl. He handed me the post hole diggers. "You've been liberated."

Friday, August 26, 2011


Guess the Plot

Beyond the Past

1. A mix-up in extension cords has reversed the polarity on Tunbridge Wells's time machine, landing him at the Beginning, where he desperately hopes there will be no Big Bang.

2. Doctor McLeod got off on the wrong foot with Christine when he decked her right before Christmas. When his psychic grandmother later declares they're destined to be a couple, can he and Christine get . . . Beyond the Past?

3. When Narushi's time machine lands him in Hiroshima on August 5, 1945, he realizes he has one day to get his grandparents as far from Ground Zero as possible, or his parents--and he--will never be born.

4. Transgendered Otto never seems to know whether he's coming or going--until the day he shockingly falls in love with herself twenty years younger.

5. When Link Thogmorton exited the time machine, he expected to be at his senior prom, 10 years earlier. What he didn't expect was to be at a time when the Earth's surface consisted entirely of molten lava.

6. When twenty-first-century necromancer Raevyn Moonchyld is targeted by a seemingly invincible Dark Mage, she summons up five of her selves from past lives to fight alongside her.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Evil,

I discovered your blog through Miss Snark and felt you might be interested in my submission. [Isn't it about time someone found Miss Snark's blog through Evil Editor?] BEYOND THE PAST is a commercial fiction novel melding mystery, adventure, romance and a touch of paranormal, complete at 98,000 words. [How many times do I have to tell Miss Snark, Stop sending me all your people with commercial/paranormal/mystery/adventure/romance novels.]

What would happen if a low-level accountant accidentally became embroiled in a pharmaceutical scam? [I don't have the answer, which is the good news, because you want me to read on, intrigued by the question. The bad news is, the question isn't that intriguing. Perhaps it's just my current mood, but I find that I don't seem to care what would happen if a low-level accountant accidentally became embroiled in . . . anything.] [I take that back. Try this: What would happen if a drop-dead gorgeous nymphomaniac pharmaceutical employee became embroiled in a torrid love affair with the buxom young head of the FDA just as the firm she worked for was about to introduce a scam drug they claimed was a true aphrodisiac? Note that I got rid of the word "accountant." Readers are predisposed to assume anything involving an accountant is boring.] Why would a doctor break into a pharmaceutical company and violate his Hippocratic Oath with ease? [Evil Editor read the Hippocratic Oath in order to better answer this. I'm thinking the part the doctor violated is this:

Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

My guess is that the doctor broke into the building to have sex with the drug company's slaves.] [What, you weren't aware that virtually all drug companies use slaves as test subjects? Wake up.]

With another Christmas to get through, suicidal Christine Abernathy doesn’t know if she can survive the season. Her accounting job at Leftshwich [That word has just become my favorite tongue twister. Say it four times, fast.] pharmaceutical keeps her occupied, until she decides to take her work home with her—and gets cold cocked for her trouble by Dr. David McLeod. A trashed apartment, [Hers?] attempted suicide, [Hers?] an electrocuted security guard [Electrocuted by the doc, in violation of his oath?]

Christine: You . . . you killed that security guard.

McLeod: Your point being?

Christine: What about the Hippocratic Oath?

McLeod: I don't think you're bound by it if, when you took it, you thought you were promising not to harm hippos.

are only a few of the hazards awaiting them as the situation escalates out of control when David’s psychic grandmother decides to play matchmaker. [This makes it sound like Grandma's matchmaking caused the situation to escalate out of control.] [I'm not even sure what the "situation" is.] Can the two put their differences aside [What are their differences, outside of the fact that he decked her the first time he saw her?] to work together to discover who is behind the pharmaceutical scam? [Why aren't they turning this over to the authorities?] Murder follows them as they work and love each other to move BEYOND THE PAST. [Some people get murdered, maybe; if I was supposed to get anything else out of that sentence, I failed.]

I have worked in the medical field for twenty-three years with intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of a large hospital setting. [In short, you're ratting out all the doctors.] I am an active member of Romance Writers of America, though none of my completed manuscripts could be considered strictly romance. [What?! Is the RWA aware of this?]

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I would be happy to send you the entire manuscript and synopsis upon request.


Revised Version

Dear Mr. Evil,

With another Christmas to get through, suicidal Christine Abernathy doesn’t know if she can survive the season. Her accounting job at Leffwitch . . . Lefswish . . . L e f t s h w i c h Pharmaceutical keeps her occupied, and the free anti-depressants she receives as a perk keep her sane, but her love life is going nowhere, and she'd like to meet a man with whom to spend the holiday. One night, last to leave the office, she does meet a man: Dr. David McLeod, who immediately coldcocks her.

After reviving Christine, McLeod explains that he broke into the building to seek evidence that drugs being produced on the premises are one quarter their advertised strength, and are threatening lives. Christine helps the hunky doctor gather evidence, and even holds down a security guard while McLeod electrocutes him. The two escape, and go to McLeod's apartment, only to discover it's been trashed and all his patients have either been murdered or have committed suicide.

Thanks to a warning from David’s psychic grandmother, he and Christine realize that the local police and the FDA are in the pockets of the drug companies, and that they must solve the case themselves. Can David and Christine put their physical attraction aside long enough to discover who is behind the pharmaceutical scam and the murders (other than the one they committed)?

BEYOND THE PAST is a commercial novel melding mystery, adventure and romance, complete at 98,000 words. I am an active member of Romance Writers of America, and have worked in the medical field for twenty-three years with intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of a large hospital setting.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I would be happy to send you the entire manuscript and synopsis upon request.



The key to utilizing Evil Editor's insanity is to merely note that his version has better organization and specificity, and to replace the incorrect information with information that is known only by you, the author.

If you're leaving work and some guy knocks you unconscious and then asks you help him take down your employer, are you really gonna get on board with the plan and fall for him?

Selected Comments

Anonymous said... EE, your wish is granted: I found MS's blog through this site. I wondered what coldcocked meant. You probably don't want to know what I speculated though.

BuffySquirrel said... can't...stop...laughing...

GettingWarmer said... I think I can breathe now...I, too, didn't know what coldcocked meant, and probably speculated much along the same lines as the first commenter did.

xiqay said...I found Miss Snark's site before EE's. So I'm either an evil snarkling or a snarkalicious minion. Depending on my mood. It's pretty sad when EE says he's not intrigued by the question "hook" the query contains. But the revisions look good, so author of BEYOND THE PAST, take heart.

garden minion said... I found miss snark through you, EE! And i also did not know what coldcocked meant... Could these facts be somehow related?

braun said... Plot #4 is twistedly awesome. Also, am I the only one who sees the title "Beyond the Past" and thinks... "isn't that called 'the future'?"

jqzics said... No, no, "beyond the past" isn't the future, it's "more past than before." Isn't it?

braun said... But the past is anything that's not the future or the present. There is no "before" the past. That would also be the past. This reminds me of that guy in "Sideways" who is writing a novel called "The Day After Yesterday".

Anonymous said... I too found you before Miss Snark! I praise the nexxus of time travel itself for my fortune!

Cartoon 980

Caption: anon.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Face-Lift 946

Guess the Plot

Lost in Atlanta

1. After an appearance at a science fiction convention in Atlanta, the cast of the TV show Lost can't find their way out of the city, leading many to speculate that their inability to get off the island was a result of stupidity.

2. 1862. Mary Jacobs runs away from her abusive master, heading for the North and freedom. When she follows a strange purple light in the woods, she ends up in modern Atlanta. With just the clothes on her back and the two silver coins in her kerchief, can she survive MARTA, hip-hop and Waffle House?

3. Birdie runs away from home to live in the streets of Atlanta. All she ever wanted was a normal life, so when a stranger offers her a fortune to go back in time and free the souls of hundreds of Viking warriors, she jumps at the opportunity.

4. With endless instructions to "turn left on Peachtree", and over 20 streets in the city by that name, Reginald Wasserhaus gets more and more lost. Finally he takes the subway to Lenox Square and sits down and has a Chick-Fil-A and a good cry.

5. A purple alligator-skin wallet, a single hiking boot, and a pair of pink satin boxer shorts-- it's just another day in the Lost and Found office at the Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. Except that there's a little red suitcase on shelf 14B, and the sounds of tiny voices in heated conversation are issuing from inside it. In ancient Sanskrit.

6. When three pre-schoolers disappear from a daycare center in Atlanta, their parents are frantic and furious. Until the daycare manager points out that there are worse fates than being . . . lost in Atlanta.

Original Version

Seventeen-year-old runaway, [Comma not needed.] Birdie Orin will [would] attempt [do] almost anything to gain [have] the normal life that’s eluded her until now. [Sorry, I'll stop nitpicking.] After eight foster homes, her life isn’t improving any. [Do we need that sentence? We already know she's a runaway who's miserable. And it's not like foster parents are all serial torturers.] Atlanta’s city streets make a hostile home until she meets two men that change her life.

The first: a bearded stranger in a trench coat who informs her she’s the last descendant of an ancient Nordic tribe, and gives her an amulet which grants supernatural abilities to its wearer. He promises fortune and power [Power? What kind of power?] if she accepts a quest to free the souls of hundreds of Viking warriors. [I'm imagining how I would react if a bearded stranger in a trench coat told me all of this. I think I'd slowly back away from him and then start sprinting.] Traveling back in time, her task is to release her brethren trapped in a spell cast by one of two rival kings. [You've described Birdie as someone whose sole wish is to have a normal life. Is that type of person likely to care so much about fortune and power that she buys into this Viking story?]

The second: Grey Matthews, the boy who just bought her breakfast. Wary of dependence on anyone, Grey becomes her unlikely guardian and as they work together to master the magic of the amulet Grey works to break down the walls Birdies [Birdie's] built around her heart.

They have only months to master their new skills before she and Grey must travel through time to find the means of destroying the amulet, before those who would use its power for evil find them. [Those who would use its power for evil are looking for them? Who are they? Do they know Birdie has the amulet? If so, why will it take months for them to get to her? If not, how are they going to find out?] [I assumed the task was to go back in time and free the Vikings' souls, and the amulet was needed to accomplish this. Now you're saying the task is to go back in time and destroy the amulet.] [Is the amulet needed for time travel? If so, and they destroy the amulet in the past, how do they get home?]

Kind Regards,


The query is clearly written (I assume you'll put in word count, book title, etc.), but as you see, it inspires many questions. Decide whether you can efficiently answer some of them in the query. Here are a few more:

Was the amulet used by the king to cast the spell?

If so . . .

If Birdie goes back in time with the amulet, will the king who had the amulet back then still have it? Will Birdie still have it? Will there be two amulets?

If not . . .

Why can't she just destroy the amulet in present time?

Can she just throw the amulet to the bottom of the ocean instead of finding the means to destroy it?

Why does this bearded stranger care about these Vikings if he's not one of their descendants?

I assume there's a good reason Birdie's parents and grandparents and great grandparents etc. weren't approached about performing this task?

I'm not clear on what the amulet does. Birdie needs it to break the spell and someone else wants it to do evil. Does it just allow its owner to do anything they want?

How are Birdie and Grey supposed to figure out how it works?

Cartoon 979

Caption: Anon.

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Beginning 877

"Bless me Father, you you have sinned, and we both know what you did. You have never confessed because you thought you were safe..."

"This is the confessional of the Holy Church. A sacrament..."

"Yes it is, Father. And this is a gun. It's pointed at you. All you have to do is yell out and I'll be caught. You'll be dead but I'll be caught."

There was a long pause. The barrel of the automatic pressed against the grill of the confession booth.

"You are sick, my son, and in the name of the Lord I am willing to hear your confession."

"You are afraid, Father. Now, follow me out of the church. There's a small crowd, they won't miss you stirring sermon. Walk with me, Father."

Father Constant rose slowly, left the confessional, and walked out of the Church of St Aloysius.

Three blocks on, down a dim alley, the gunman turned to confront the priest. "Right. Now we-- What the...? Shit! Where'd he go?"

Even so devout a priest as Father Constant could see what the gunman did not: Sometimes, faith alone is not sufficient.

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: Anon.

Cartoon 978

Caption: Anon.

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Success Story

Jennifer Allis Provost reports that her novel Heir to the Sun (Face-Lift 805) is now available from Fantastic Books.

She credits the minions with her success, and admits that her decision not to change Ehkron's name to Honker, as recommended by EE, will come back to bite her in the ass.
Cover at Amazon

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Face-Lift 945

Guess the Plot

Angel's Wings

1. Angel-in-training Serissa uses her spare time to investigate how she died, and learns that she and her angel mentor were involved in a web of betrayal. Did the Big Kahuna know about this, or is He slipping in His old age?

2. Competition in Buffalo's hot wing industry is hot. Maybe too hot. That's what Angel learns when he comes into work and finds his manager head-first in the hot sauce. Angel needs to solve the crime but his chicken disguise won't keep him hidden for long.

3. If Zeke can save one more innocent person from temptation, he can fulfill his basic training as a guardian angel and earn his wings. Too bad new charge Amanda Jeffries is not making this one easy.

4. It's 1942, and Angel Rodriguez is determined to enlist in the US Air Force and become a bomber pilot. There's just one hang-up: he's only ten.

5. Archaeologist Hensley Carpenter unearths a fossilized set of wings near Bethlehem, setting off a theological battle between religious fundamentalists who say it proves angels exist and environmental fundamentalists who say it proves giant condors once inhabited the Middle East.

6. When the California Angels baseball team unveil their new uniforms, which include actual wings, opposing managers complain that this will give them an unfair advantage. Later, when it's revealed that the Angels can't actually fly, and that the cumbersome wings give them a huge disadvantage, the objections are withdrawn.

Original Version

Dear Mr. Editor,

Life sucks. Death isn't much better. Fifteen year old Serissa Williams knows that first hand. [Shouldn't that have been "Life sucked."?] After dying, Serissa awakes in the afterlife and is presented with two choices: spend the rest of eternity doing nothing, [Is this heaven or hell?] or recieve [i before e except after c.] an Imprint and become an angel. [Do we need "receive an Imprint and"? I don't even know what it means.] She picks the wings and becomes an Angel-In-Training. [Typical schedule of Angel-in-Training:

8 AM - 10 AM: Harp lessons
10:00 - 10:15 AM: Morning break
10:15 - Noon: Glee club
Noon - 1 PM: Lunch (angel hair with diavolo sauce)
1 PM - 3 PM: Flying lessons
3 PM - 3:15 PM: Afternoon break
3:15 - 5 PM: Praising God (who tries to remain humble)
5 - 7 PM: Dinner (babyback ribs)
7 - 8 PM: Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune
8 - 10 PM: Acting lessons for appearances in film and TV
10 -11 PM: Polishing other Angels' halos]

Assisted by her dark and sexy mentor Kieran-- an angel with attitude-- [God appreciates attitude--but not too much attitude. You saw what happened to Satan.] she begins to learn the ropes of being an angel all the while trying to figure out how she died in the first place. Soon, the threads of memories begin to unravel and she discovers that her death and Kieran's past are deeply intertwined in a web of love, betrayal, pain and death. [If the threads of memories unravel, I wouldn't expect her to discover anything. Use "untangle" if you insist on the thread metaphor. Or just say the memories return.]

Angel's Wings is a YA Romance Fantasy novel of 50,421 words. This is my first novel and it would be a great honor to me if you would consider it for publishing. [Drop that sentence.] I recently started a blog as well which has some samples of writing already up. It's [And those two.]

Thank you for your time.


Your plot, which was all one paragraph until I broke it up with my angel-in-training schedule should be broken into two paragraphs there. And you'll still have room for a third paragraph to tell us what happens after Serissa regains her memories, which I assume is the book's main plot thread.

I'm not crazy about the opening sentences. You might consider opening: Fifteen year old Serissa Williams awakes in the afterlife and is presented with two choices: spend the rest of eternity lounging around doing nothing, or become an angel.

Of course you could change "doing nothing" to something that sounds a bit less boring. If doing nothing and being an angel are the only choices, there'd be billions of angels. Unless angel boot camp is a real killer.

Cartoon 977

Caption: Wilkins MacQueen/Khazar-khum

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Face-Lift 944

Guess the Plot

Legacy of a Mad Scientist

1. Assorted beakers, flasks and test tubes, an operating table, a million-watt generator, and a big red lever next to a sign that says PULL ONLY IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. Loretta's wondering if the lever opens a secret room in which her father kept emergency funds.

2. A five-year-old Cadillac, two TVs, four thousand dollars, a filing cabinet full of tax returns dating to the fifties, and a key that opens a door to another dimension. Yep, Uncle Ralph left Arlene one hell of an estate.

3. A $900 Subaru? That's it? Sheila is pissed, until she discovers it can fly, float, and submerge. But there's a strange, glowing green lump under the dashboard. And it's getting bigger.

4. Pretty much nothing . . . except a blueprint for blowing up entire cities in one massive chain-reaction! And since his daughter Ashley is a cybernetic killing machine, it's pretty much just what she wanted.

5. To win the upcoming San Francisco Cocktail showdown -- and the notice of the hot local food+drink critic -- Alice Fries must uncover the secret of her father's legendary freeze gun. Will she succeed, or turn the guests into drunk popsicles?

6. At the reading of the will, Cindy discovers that her beloved and departed uncle was a mad scientist. He left her a small metal chest. Tied around it with a red ribbon is a note saying: ‘Do not open near candy’. Also, a talking pig!

Original Version

Dr. Fox is the smartest man in the world [That's something I'd expect to read if this is a book for children. If the book is for adults, include his first name and make him the second smartest man in the world. It's amusing, and it hooks the reader into wondering who could possibly be smarter than Dr. Fox. If the book is for children, make Dr. Fox an actual fox.] and his own worst enemy. Ergo, can he possibly be smart enough to outwit himself? [Ergo? Make that: But is he smart enough to outwit his clone?]

His daughter, Ashley, is a cybernetic killing-machine, programmed to protect her younger brother, Geoff, at all costs. [If this is YA, and Ashley is the MC, make her the subject of the first paragraph. We'd much rather read about a cybernetic killing machine named Ashley than the smartest man in the world.]

When Dr. Fox discovers a kitchen-sink method for blowing up entire cities in one massive chain-reaction, he becomes a threat to national security, and has to be eliminated. [On the other hand, he's also a threat to the national security of his country's enemies, and has to be protected at all costs.]

Now Ashley and Geoff are on the run, [Why?] and not from the enemy but towards them. [Who are they on the run from, and who is the enemy?]


The government wants Fox eliminated. How are Ashley and Geoff involved? Focus on the main character. I can't even tell who the main character is.

If you can't be bothered to provide more of your query letter than the plot summary, at least give us the genre/audience. It's hard to give useful feedback on a query for a book that could be intended for adults or fifth graders.

As for what's here, it's little more than an outline. Combine the first three paragraphs into one. That's your setup. Then give us two more paragraphs in which you tell us who wants what, what's at stake, and what happens. Don't just list stuff, tell an intriguing story. And don't forget that the plot summary is only part of this business letter.

Cartoon 976

Caption: Anon.

Your caption on the next cartoon! Link in sidebar.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


This novel is available through Long Story Short as a self- published ebook.

Guess the Plot

Life Code From Brooklyn

1. Cloning has eliminated genetic diseases, and scientists have engineered highly intelligent people. But in 2112, the perfect world is falling apart. Skip Wellington has gone to a graveyard in Brooklyn, desperate to uncover some viable DNA. Can he clone a plumber before every last toilet in New York City is clogged?

2. After Tony got neutralized by the KTG, he spent all his time lamenting his lost virginity, combing his toupée, and raising levels of urban insecurity by broadcasting ads for "Loretta's Bed-o-rama," an imaginary brothel, on his CB radio. But when he finds a body in a dumpster he knows the culprit: Mr. Whiskers, a dubious across-the-alley neighbor. How can he prove it?

3. When a strange, half-fish half-rat creature crawls from the East River and, gasping its first primitive breaths, tells a tourist, "Fuck You," scientists think they've found the key to unlocking the secrets of evolution. Little Fanny Sue adopts the foul creature as a pet, however, leading to years of lawsuits and two lucrative book deals.

4. Just when Trudy Hench thought it was safe to stage another play, along comes Homeland Security with 584 new safety rules: shoes must be x-rayed, handbags must be checked, lights must stay on bright the whole time, no simulated explosions or costumes that cover the face are allowed, etc., etc. Who can play by those rules? She'd rather take it to court!

5. Bartolino Ferranti, MD teams up with an attractive female geneticist and a longshoreman to collect life forms from the ocean. But their attempt to develop useful microbes forces them to weave through webs of politics and organized crime. Possibly they should have performed their experiments somewhere other than Brooklyn, where the mob has their hands in every bowl of primordial soup.

6. When 9 year old Lala McGee grabs her steel Starbucks cup and conks an unruly customer at the lemonade stand, she doesn't plan how to explain what happened to crooked homicide detective Gus "Chicken-face" Lombardi. Too bad everything she says only makes it worse. Then there's diabolical prosecutor Lloyd "Fatboy" Nelson: he'll soon be running for mayor and wants to toast Lala with the death penalty.

Original Version

Dear Agent:

Scientists no longer think life started on the surface of our planet based on carbon, oxygen and water. The first surface of our planet was like its current molten interior, a mixture of chemicals that can support life forms [Archaea] that exist free from carbon, oxygen and water. [Wouldn't it be better to say carbon, oxygen and hydrogen?] Early Archaea may have evolved into today's creatures. DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid serves as the life code for the reproduction of all creatures. Archaea exist today at deep-sea oil seeps, volcanic ocean vents and perhaps outer space. [What is this, the transcript of a National Geographic documentary?]

Life Code from Brooklyn is based on the science of genetic engineering. While Bartolino Ferranti MD [Change his name to Bart Ferrari. You want him to sound like a stud, not a pizza chef.] is trying to reconcile a relationship with his estranged son, he teams up with an attractive female genetic engineer and a longshoreman leader. With his son they collect Archaea from deep-sea ocean vents. [Shouldn't they team up with some divers instead of a longshoreman?] They attempt to develop useful microbes genetically engineered from these Archaea. Their pursuits force them to weave through entangling webs of politics, big business, and organized crime. Life Code from Brooklyn is an 88,000 word action/adventure novel. [Action/adventure? Your plot is three people try to make useful microbes out of Archaea.]

As a Yale educated physician, I have had an eventful teaching career as Director of Allergy at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. [You're just the guy I need to talk to. This fucking Allegra does nothing to stop me from sneezing. It's fucking January, there shouldn't be any pollen anyway. I never should have gone with the generic version; I can't even pronounce it. Sorry I'm venting on you, but what good would it do to complain to the drug companies? Those bastards want me to be sick. It's the only way they make money.] I in part wrote and edited a textbook titled Food Allergy for allergists that was judged the best by Lancet. As a result I consulted for an agricultural genetic engineering firm, General Foods, and the makers of MSG. [I don't trust any ingredient that's so hard to pronounce they abbreviate it. Plus, MSG has been shown to cause glaucoma in rats (which is why I never take my rat to Chinese restaurants). And you say you're in the pocket of the MSG manufacturers? What am I supposed to do about this burning and the numbness and the bronchospasms? Just stop eating Mongolian shrimp? That'll be the day.] I also co-authored a book for the general public entitled " What your doctor may not have told you about your Child's asthma and allergy" ["He's been sneaking MSG-laden snacks from the school vending machines. That's why he can't breathe, lady."]

Recently I began to write fiction. [Actually, you started writing fiction when you wrote that report on the numerous health benefits of massive amounts of MSG in the diet.] I have won first place in the 2005 Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association Annual Writing Contest. in the Poetry division for my entry "Inner City Asthma Rap".

[You say you can't breathe but you ain't been capped,
Well dig me while I drop on you the asthma rap.
You chillax in the ghetto where there's shit in the air,
Better pack your inhaler when you stuck down there.]

I had a short story "Children are Precious'' published in January, 2006 issue of www. A second short story ``The Impatient Patient at a New York City Hospital'' [I gotta hand it to you: your titles don't leave me wondering what the story's about.] was published in issue 13 of .

Michael Crichton's best selling book Next demonstrates a significant commercial interest in a work of fiction that has the science of genetic engineering as a theme. [I have a different theory: Michael Crichton's ability to get a novel involving genetic engineering published demonstrates a significant commercial interest in works of fiction by Michael Crichton.]



There's too much here about scientists and you, and not enough about your story. Dump that first paragraph and get to the attractive female genetic engineer as soon as possible. Why are they messing with microbes? What use are they hoping to find for them? Who's trying to stop them, and why? Are they in danger? I see nothing to indicate this is an action/adventure. As the old saying goes, you can't sell a pie by describing a saltine.

Selected Comments

Anonymous said... EE-- this might be your most hilarious commentary since the werewolf Popes. Author-- oh my. What EE said.

Sarah said... Hm. Are you trying to sell a fiction action/adventure or a white paper on genetics and the beginning of life on earth? I think your focus is wrong here. Don't explain the science, show us the voice of your novel in the query. And perhaps it would be best to summarize the previous publications as they don't sound all that exciting to a fiction fan. All your credentials are good if this is non-fiction, but they don't really work here. Right now, the 'voice' puts me to sleep and that won't sell a novel.

150 said... Holy crap, dude. You should eliminate your first paragraph. I've often said that when it comes to zombie movies, I couldn't care less what causes the dead to rise, just show me shambling corpses. Same goes for thrillers. (Which I believe is what you'd label this, not action/adventure.) I don't care what the starting-point of life was, I want to see what happens when scientists collect and manipulate it. Your third, fourth, and fifth paragraph should be in one ending paragraph, and limited to the most relevant creds. You have great ones in 4 and 5. Don't say that you recently started writing (why would you highlight that you're an amateur?), and limit your educational information to one short line. The meat of your query is the second paragraph, which should take up most of the space in your letter. Start by introducing your main character and his situation. "When Bart Ferrari, MD, managed to extract the building blocks of life from a deep-sea vent, he had no idea that his own life would soon be in danger." Then what happens next. And next. Finish with the stakes: "If Bart can't create genetic supermonsters by next Tuesday, the government, the Mafia, and the big drug companies will make sure he never tweaks another genome." Please, please, please change the title. And have fun!

BuffySquirrel said... So, we know the female genetic engineer is attractive. What about Barto and the longshoreman? Are they hunky at all?

Dave F. said... Civilization is threatened by genetically altered, mutant microbes from the ocean floor and Bart Biologist MD must find a cure to save the world. That's the basic plot but "civilization is threatened" and "cure to save the world" are cliches. Bart leads a team to save the world. It's Billy his estranged son, Bebe his genetic engineer lover and "Muscles" the longshoreman. Together they (fight the microbes?) or (fight the mad scientist?) to prevent the mutant microbes from altering mankind's genetic code. Something like that...

Robin S. said... Just go ahead and place this in the top five for 2008. I think it's a safe bet. And I'm with Buffy. Tell us about how the MEN look. The MEN. Bright and brainy is nice, well-pecced, well, that's even better. And sensitive. Yeah. That, too. As long as they're not TOO sensitive. I have a long-standing rule, and it's worked for me: "Never go out with a man who has less testosterone than you do." If he's too sensitive, well, that's a sure sign of troubles ahead. Anyway... Hi Author. This sounds like a very interesting story underneath the clinical description. I have to say (and I'm guessing EE will disagree) that your background lends credibility to your capability of telling this story, at least as far as the science goes. And my guess is that's why you've included the background. Perhaps it could stay, but not be the center of attention in the query? And don't worry- almost everyone gets hammered here. I did. And I'm still (sort of) alive.

Wes said... Here's what EE wrote about my query on January 11 (Sangre de Cristo). "We don't mind learning a little history while reading a novel, but the history is not the story. The people are. Make us care about the characters. The book may be different, but the query sounds like you couldn't decide whether to write a novel or a textbook." He was right. Best wishes.

Dr. Freud Dude said...I think you are suffering from a lack of self-confidence. You clearly have credentials on the scientific side--degrees, track record of employment, etc. But you've spent too many years in academia, where degrees are worn like lapel pins and the only measure of value is what you've published lately. Therefore, when you step into the world of publishing fiction, you naturally fall back on your existing credentials to illustrate that you're qualified to write this particular novel. Somehow, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, and that your novel is more worthy of being read if you say how many credentials you have. But that doesn't matter here nearly as much as your ability to tell a story. What you need to do is lose the need to tout credentials. Stand up and say, "I wrote a novel, and dammit I'm worthy!" When you can do that, you will feel liberated to let the story stand on its own. And if you can't let the story stand on its own, then perhaps you need to write a new story. You don't have to be a history professor to write an historical novel. You don't have to be a theology professor or a signals analyst to write The DaVinci Code. You don't have to be a NASA rocket scientist to write science fiction.

Cab Sav said... I love a good scientific thriller like this, and this has the makings of a good story. Unfortunately, I can't tell from what you have written. Listen to Dr Freud Dude when (s)he talks about "... too many years in academia, where degrees are worn like lapel pins and the only measure of value is what you've published lately." All these credentials could be summed up in a single sentence at the end -- if you have to put them in at all. Paragraph two is the only one with real information in it. I think the salient points here are:
- who he is
- that he's genetically engineering microbes
- that politics, big business, and organized crime get involved.
You need to say how or why they get involved, and what sort of trouble that brings him.

Anonymous said... There's a little problem with having "politics, big business, and organized crime" as your host of scoundrels: those are not characters. They need to be personified. Much too abstract.

Liosis said...Okay, you are apparently a well educated sort of person. First, don't speak down, speak on the same level as. Don't tell us the meaning of DNA, if we don't know what it stands for we aren't going to understand the implications of it either.

Phoenix said... Queries for fiction are quite different from proposals for non-fiction. If world- or premise-building is necessary, work it into the query in an exciting way; no lecturing. Agents may well think a lecture in the query will translate into a lot of boring lectures in the book itself. So maybe something like:

Dashing doctor Bart Ferrari's recombinant DNA research produces startling results that promise to change the face of medicine forever. That is, if he and attractive genetic engineer Lola Carolla can keep their focus on the experiments and off each other. And if he and Lola can stay one step ahead of a scheming politician, the CEO of a large drug company whose profits are threatened, and, of course, the mob.

Using primitive life forms, archaea, collected from deep-sea ocean vents, Bart and Lola develop a new virus-eating microbe that might just cure everything from AIDS to the common cold. The microbes are tough: they can't be starved, suffocated, frozen, or burned. Acids and disinfectants can't touch them. And they reproduce so rapidly, once let loose, they could spread across the earth in just a few weeks and eradicate all viral diseases worldwide within a year.

While the scientific world receives the news with great excitement, others feel threatened. Congresswoman Mae Wong, a deeply conservative Catholic, wants to put a stop to anything that smacks of "playing God," and bases the platform in her run at the primaries on halting all genetic research, beginning with Bart's. The CEO of Genex, the largest drug research company in the world, sends a team of saboteurs to Bart's facilities to ensure Genex stays number one. And mob boss, "Chicken" Cacciatore, with his hand in every business in Brooklyn, targets Lola in a kidnapping plot to ensure Bart pays his fair share, too.

But then the engineered microbes begin to mutate, and if they can't be contained in time, it won't be just viruses they attack, but also the beneficial bacteria necessary to support advanced life -- like humans.

LIFE CODE, a thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton's NEXT, is complete at 88,000 words. I'm a Yale-educated physician who has worked for an agricultural genetic engineering firm, General Foods, and the makers of MSG. I co-authored a textbook, "Food Allergies," which earned high praise from Lancet, and a general-interest book, "What Your Doctor May Not Have Told You About Your Child's Asthma and Allergies." Two of my short stories have been e-published.


EE, you'll need to ratchet the funny way up going forward to top yourself here. The rap and where the mob has their hands in every bowl of primordial soup made my morning -- and then some!

And 150, I nearly swiped your "If Bart can't create genetic supermonsters by next Tuesday, the government, the Mafia, and the big drug companies will make sure he never tweaks another genome."

This post is bringing out the best in everyone!

writtenwyrdd said... Doc, a query letter isn't a c.v., so I'd suggest you drop all mention of poems, short stories and such unless you won a major award. Also, don't go on at length about your degree except maybe a single sentence. The object is to sell the novel, not you, so give us more of the characters and their story. We have a lot of set up, and yet I don't know what, exactly, happens.

Anonymous said... Fiction, basically, is about sex and violence. Jabbering about primordial soups in the query worries us because we fear the narrative will be disrupted by long science-guy digressions when the S & V should be zipping along at a rapid pace. Plus the key thing you seem to have missed about the Crichton is that he was always writing fiction, he went to med school because he thought English classes were too boring. He worked on fiction skills for many years, he didn't just pick up the thriller pen and suddenly dash off the Andromeda Strain on a whim.

Anonymous said...Fiction, basically, is about sex and violence. I don't think you should extrapolate the entire universe of fiction on the basis of the stories you read in Playboy.

Anonymous said...Actually, I'm a girl and don't read Playboy. If you think fiction is not about S & V you must be hiding under some "literary" rock in academia. Here's an arbitrary sample of what I read broken down to the essence for you:

Moby Dick - violence
Alice in Wonderland - violence
Stardust -- sex & violence
miscellaneous by PG Wodehouse -- sex
Le Morte D'Arthur -- sex & violence
Harry Potter books -- violence & sex
anything by Michael Crichton -- violence & sex
Metamorphoses -- sex & violence
Odyssey -- sex & violence

Anonymous said...If you think fiction is not about S & V you must be hiding under some "literary" rock in academia. Yeah, because that would be the only other possibility, right?

Robin S. said...Well, you know, I'm thinking breaking it down to sex and violence comes pretty close. Not all the way, but pretty close. Maybe it's not all gun 'em down violence and why-don't-we-do-it-in-the-road sex, but still..

Garp- sex and violence in abundance.
To Kill A Mockingbird - sex and violence as as undercurrent.
Burroughs novels - yeah.
Sophie's Choice- sex and violence.
Almost all mysteries- sex and/or violence of some sort.

So...It may not be the only one, but it's a pretty fucking good guess. Not many other 'genres' get off on navel-gazing and lint collection. I'm talking, and I guess the female anon was talking, about quasi-lit fic, the stuff that isn't widely read but is instead chatted up in a quiet, furrow-browed frenzy of multi-syllabic pats on a fraternity of NYC backs, and eventually, mercifully, forgotten.

Anonymous said...Was it the "academia" reference that irked you so? Or "literary"? Maybe you actually write bestselling picture books for toddlers... Seriously, you're not alone, anon. There are zillions of writers who haven't noticed that fiction always boils down to S &/or V and are trying to make stories out of other stuff. Doing laundry, for instance, like -- Protagonist cannot get the damn spot out! Ooops, that would be MacBeth: violence. Crawl out from under there and go read Robert McKee if this is really shocking news to you.

Anonymous said...There are zillions of writers who haven't noticed that fiction always boils down to S &/or V and are trying to make stories out of other stuff. It's perfectly, totally, OK for you to believe that. Really. No one's suggesting otherwise. There are other people who might not buy that -- who might consider it's somewhat dismissive and missing of the point, who might consider that few or none of the books mentioned are about sex and violence -- and yet still have a functioning place in society. Long shot, I know, but us (non-academic) rock dwellers need some kind of hope to cling to. The lucky thing is, we don't have to agree. We don't even have to fight about it.

Anonymous said...I'm talking, and I guess the female anon was talking...Because only a guy would disagree? Interesting angle. I guess I need to work harder with the epilator.

Robin S. said...Good Lord. Try removing that plank of doom, a/k/a, the slogging burden of the self-righteous, from your shoulder, Elvira. I don't give a rolling fuck whether you're male or female. Or if you shave. Or if you ever have. When you state an opinion with the air of one-who-is-right, capital R, don't expect not to get knocked in the nuts, proverbial, or otherwise. I don't know the other anon, and I didn't know she had posted when I wrote what I wrote. But what I do know is, when you smart ass posted this: "I don't think you should extrapolate the entire universe of fiction on the basis of the stories you read in Playboy" - you shouldn't have expected to have the last word on that self-righteous bullshit. Opinions and discussion are great. Self-righteous aggrandizement. I don't think so.

iago said...Hmm. Doesn't Playboy actually have a history of publishing some pretty damned good stories by very respected writers? -- and thus would actually be a reasonable sampling of the entire universe of fiction?

Robin S. said...Hi iago. Yeah. You got it. Wish I'd thought to say that last night. Renders the original irritating comment moot. At least the spirit in which I believe it was intended. (I may have been out drinking last night with husband and friends at a bar where a guy named Seamus was singing, and I may have come home and read a post and gotten pissed off. It could happen.)