Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Brenda Novak Auction... already gearing up for 2012. Held throughout the month of May, the auction is your chance to get your work in front of agents and editors, meet famous authors, purchase vacations, jewelry, autographed books, etc., and most importantly, to force other people to bid higher than they want to for stuff they want and you don't care about, so that they hate you forever. All while helping raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for diabetes research.

The auction site is here, if you'd like to preview the items that have been posted so far.

Evil Editor's editing services and other stuff have brought in about $12,000 over the past four years. This year I'll be offering the following:

Complete line edit of a FULL manuscript.

Complete line edit of your first 10,000 words.

Why You Don't Get Published
, volumes 1 and 2, signed.

Complete line edit of a FULL manuscript before the auction is over! (1-day auction)

My autographed 1st edition of Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Plus other things I haven't thought up yet.

If there's something you wish I were offering, suggest it in the comments.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Beginning 929

Buddy and Vivienne were always putting bruises on each other; I can remember Vivienne with bruises up and down her arms and rope burns across her back and I remember Buddy with bruises and brush burns all over him and a grin on his face saying they'd gotten something just right and Viv was going to use it in her next match.

* * *

What the--? I read it again. Still I couldn't fathom the full meaning of what it said. Yet, what surprised me was not so much the words and what they might imply, but rather that it had fit inside the fortune cookie at all.

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Face-Lift 997

Guess the Plot

An Airship Named Desire

1. Swelled to the point of inevitable rupture, the mighty dirigible Penoid Incarnate pierces the slashed flaps of reality, carrying mankind's hopes and dreams as semen into the most nebulous of unknowns.

2. The real reason for the Hindenburg disaster, and other fiery results of Mae West's hot radio broadcasts.

3. It's the maiden outing of Captain Hendricks's impressive dirigible. And all Miss Maisie has to do to help him get it up is blow here.

4. A disastrous culture clash is in the air when airship captain Stan "Steam" Kowalski reluctantly adds his cyborg sister-in-law Blanche to his crew.

5. Hired to steal a mysterious box, the crew of the airship Desire must defeat the British military, hordes of orcs, and armed mercenaries. Is it worth the trouble? Or will the box contain a case of Cocoa Puffs?

6. Blanca La Blanca leaves her family plantation after some vague unpleasantness. She takes an airship to her sister’s home where all the family’s secrets and vices are revealed.

7. On the Pacific island of Dr. Moreau, Blanche must find and kill her nemesis, Stanley. But she will have to avoid his abominations, and befriend a kangamoo (kangaroo-cow) who will lead her to her only means of escape: An Airship Named Desire.

Original Version

Bea, the first mate, and her crewmates on the airship Desire barely have enough coppers to afford fuel, so when a gentleman from Old Germany hires them to steal a box off a British Merchant ship, she leaps on board. [Literally?] However, their employer conveniently forgot to mention the military and hordes of guards protecting this cargo. [One horde is probably enough to give the impression you want.] [However, if the guards are orcs, you do want to mention that.]

The Brits are pissed, aggressive cannon fire kind of pissed, but once Bea and the crew exchange the box, they’ll sail the skies with enough money to gamble at the resorts by the Reno shores. [Wait, you're talking like they already have the box. What about the military and the hordes of orcs?] At least, until a crewmember [The Brit crew or Bea's crew?] makes off with their meal ticket and murders her captain. Bea and a couple crewmates race to the drop off site, only to find the traitor and their employer’s mercenaries waiting with loaded guns directed towards them. [I thought Bea's crew were the employer's mercenaries. He hires mercenaries to steal a box, and then he hires another set of mercenaries to take the box from the first set of mercenaries, even though they're delivering it to him?] [Is the traitor also in the employ of the employer, or is he just freelancing?] The traitor escapes leaving her with the box the captain died over. [Wait, you're talking like Bea's crew suddenly has the box. What about the mercenaries with loaded guns?] [Is the traitor escaping from Bea or the mercenaries? I had the impression the mercenaries had the upper hand.] Bea can’t imagine taking command of the Desire and would rather drown her grief in bottles of absinthe. But if she doesn’t strap on her captain’s aviator cap and start leading, the Brits and their ex-employer’s mercs will take the box off their hands—offing her crew in the process. [Offing her crew? Based on what I've inferred, the British military with their cannons, the hordes of orcs, and the armed mercenaries should be slinking off with their tails between their legs while Bea's crew are halfway to Reno without a care in the world. If they have the power to off her crew, why haven't they? What did I miss?]

"An Airship Named Desire" is an 87,000 word steampunk fantasy.



What's in the box? They haven't been paid for delivering the box, so I assume they would look inside to find out if it's worth all the trouble they're going to.

The long paragraph is confusing. Slow down and either tell us what happens when they try to steal the box from the hordes of orcs, or leave out the military and hordes, just tell us they succeed in stealing the box, and skip to the traitor and mercenaries part. And tell us what happens there.

Did you name the book first, or the airship?

New Beginning 928

Red sunlight scattered across the rocky terrain of Mora as Jackson Trammel trudged his last few steps, a Galactic soldier pressing a plasma rifle to his head. The tip of the gun felt cold and hard against Jackson’s neck, and he shivered. His eyes caught sight of a dozen or so prisoners all standing in line, mixtures of fear and sadness on their faces.

“Get in line,” barked the soldier holding Jackson as he shoved his prisoner into place.

Jackson obeyed. His hands were bound, and twenty plasma rifles were pointed at him. What choice did he have?

He tried not to think of the brother and sister he would leave behind. They would surely get the news of his death. The Galactics always liked to scare Earthian rebels into submission with news of an execution.

Heart pounding, Jackson put on a courageous face as he stared down the barrels of the executioners’ rifles. One quick shot to the head, and it would all be over. One quick shot…

The executioner, masked and dressed in black, approached Jackson. "Any last words?"

Jackson smiled. "Don't think you have me yet," he said. "It was no accident you finally caught me. We've been planning this for months. The rebels are in position. This is not the end. Today, Lunar Day 24, is the beginning. So if you look behind you--"

"Today is Lunar Day 23."

" . . . Shit."

One quick shot was all it took.

Opening: Ryan Mueller.....Continuation: anon.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The 4th Annual Evie Awards

The Academy Award show has barely gotten the best gaffer in a foreign film award out of the way, and the Evies are already complete. This despite the fact that the Oscars shows twenty-second snippets of their films, while the Evies shows the entire films. No wonder more people have watched the Evies than the Oscars three years running.

Best Musical Score
Kevin MacLeod for Bodywash


Best Actor
Evil Editor for Publishing Piracy


Best Actress:
Hannah Rogers for Agent Query


Best Picture
Right Place, Wrong Time


Saturday, February 25, 2012


Guess the Plot

Elitist Morals

1. Adultery? So last year. Drugs? Are you kidding? Illegitimate kids? Been there, done that. Starvation diet to stay thin? Don't make me laugh. Vote Republican? What--are you some kind of immoral beast or something?

2. In a world where a pantheon of gods kidnap soon-to-be-followers from the streets, Markus Mark attempts to prove he is the holiest of the holy by obeying every law ordained by every god known to man, elf, sylph, or otherling.

3. Very impressive and intense events occur that illustrate the point of the story. The point is all about Elitist Morals and how bad they are. In the end, the reader will be disgusted with the Elitists and their bad Morals. The innocent victims may or may not be saved, but anyway you'll get the point. Elitists have bad Morals or no Morals.

4. All the little mushrooms in the forest like to clump together in haphazard harmony except for one clan--the Morchella, who have created their own enclave girt with pine branches . . . or has Big Agri-Business infiltrated even this sylvan paradise?

5. In the 41st century a World War breaks out between humans and Elytes. Elytes are vampires, but note that vampires is spelled with an "i" rather than a "y." On the other hand, Elytes is spelled with a "y" instead of an "i" so you probably all hate me anyway.

6. Cassie is the new girl at a school where the entire population of students and teachers is divided into two groups: those who are elitists and couldn't give a care about what's right and wrong; and those who have actual morals and know right from wrong. Which side will Cassie choose, knowing that once she does, she's stuck there for her entire elementary school life?

Original Version

Dear EE,

Elitist Morals

It's over two thousand years in the future and the world has been torn into another world war. [World War DCLXVI. When will it end? When will humanity ever learn? When will we stop the senseless numbering of wars in Roman numerals, forcing everyone to spend several minutes trying to translate the numbers into the international language, American?] [I'm not familiar with the expression to be torn into a war. Torn apart by a war or plunged/descended into a war are more common.] Except this one is between the two dominant species on the planet-- [Sharks and cockroaches?] vampires and humans. The humans are fighting for their lives against one species of vampires called Elytes. [They actually have nothing against the Elytes except for the pretentious way they spell "Elytes." They'd have surrendered long ago, but they're afraid if they do, the Elytes will force them to call themselves Humyns.] The Elytes are fighting because they only consider humans as animals. [Didn't you ever take zoology? Humans are animals. We only consider ourselves superior to other animals because we dine on them. That's why sharks consider us animals.] [When vampires enter a World War against humans, don't they risk destroying their food supply? If they wipe us out, whose blood will they drink, given that in 2000 years chimpanzees will be extinct?] [The Elytes must have a better reason to fight than that they consider humans as animals. We consider horses animals, but we don't fight them.] [Of course, we don't need to fight them now that we've enslaved them.]

Riley Zvei is a vampire, but not an Elyte. [She'll drain the occasional human of his blood, but it's not for political reasons, it's because she's thirsty.] She is what is known as a Moralle vampire. [When you start spelling moral with an extra le, you're more Elitist than the Elytes.] She along with her twin brother, Sean, work for the humans on the largest front of the war as spies. The humans pay them to spy on the Elytes who pay them to just fight in the war. Now, though, after meeting a mysterious, mute Moralle by the name of Simon, Riley begins to wonder if she's actually playing for the right team. [She's playing for both teams.] [If you're so loyal to your cause that meeting a mute is enough to make you switch sides, your heart was never in it.] [When mutes try to convert you to their cause, do they start by organizing a game of charades?]

After an argument with the human general, General-- [I would say "the human known as 'General.'"] [Did General always go by General, or did he used to go by Colonel?] he won't tell anyone his name-- over battle tactics, Riley decides to switch sides and convert to being an Elyte. [Her first act is to change her name to Rylë.] Her brother is appalled, General is dead, Simon still loves her, and Riley is an Elyte. What more can go wrong? [It's not clear that any of this is "wrong." Now that Riley's an Elyte, General being dead is a good thing. And what woman wouldn't want to be in a relationship where she gets to do all the talking?]


How does Rylë know Simon is a mute and not a mime?

Elytes were claimed to be a species of vampire. To convert to being an Elyte, wouldn't Riley have to change her species?

I assume you know a query letter needs word count, genre, some kind of closing.

Apparently Riley believes humans are the bad guys, and as she's the main character, we may think she's on to something. Thus we need to know what makes Riley switch sides. You don't join the other team just because you met a mysterious mute or because you disagree with your side's battle tactics. What's the real reason?

Switching sides isn't necessarily healthy when you've been a spy. When you go to the Elytes and say "I've been spying on you for the humans all this time, but now I wanna work with you. So . . . what's our plan?" you can't expect to be welcomed into the fold.

And what difference does it make which side Riley is on in a World War? If she's the key to victory you need to explain why.

Selected Comments

arhooley said...EE took a brief crack at your prose. Your repetitiveness smacks of amateurism. The following isn't what you said, but it's the impression I was left with:

It's over two thousand years in the future, and the world has yet again, in our long and war-torn history, been torn into yet another world war. Except this time, it's different. It's not the same type of world war that we typical humans in the 21st century have always known in the last couple hundred years, which would be a war between different countries with humans fighting each other as usual. No, this time it's a war between two different species: vampires and humans. In this war, the humans are fighting for their lives, and the vampires are the ones who are fighting against them, trying to take the lives of the humans. If the vampires win, the humans will no longer exist on the planet, thus ending the world war.

Riley Zvei is a vampire, except it turns out that there are actually two types of vampires, and she is the type that is NOT fighting the humans. The type that is fighting the humans are called Elytes, and she's not an Elyte -- she's another tyape of vampire, called a Moralle, which is not fighting the humans.

Okay, you get it.

Another thing: why is the title "Elitist Morals"? I see no indication that within the vampire species the Elytes are elitist and the Moralles are moral.

Dave F. said...To paraphrase your hook - 2000 years in the future and war still exists - doesn't work. You need a different hook.

One of the great boring things for me and I would guess others who do not care for the current crop of vampire literature or whatever other books I don't read because of my likes and dislikes is the suggestion that a story is wonderful, magnificent or readable if it contains TWO, TWO, Two types of mints. That is, two types of vampires in one story. My Eyes Glaze Over. I am not your audience. Worse than that, there is a paragraph explaining that there the two flavors of vampire representing good and evil (chocolate and vanilla?) (Pink and Blue?) (ying and yang?). Like, every story ever written presents some side of good and evil from Aesop's fables and Aristophanes' Lysistrata to Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent and that strange sickness in BLACKHOLE by Charles Burns. It's all good and evil.

I guess this is a lot of wind and foolishness to say after reading the query, I don't know why your story is unique and new.

In the year 4010, vampires rule the earth and humans are in short supply. So obviously, the short-sighted vampires want to eat all the humans and the far-sighted vampires want to keep them alive for future survival.

You see the problem there - Like one side wants "drill baby, drill" and the other side wants to "save the whales"... What do the vampires do when they run out of blood?

Those are different sides of the same question.

I surmise that Riley discovers something that causes her to doubt her beliefs and struggles with the old and new belief systems. Now there's a story that anyone might care about. Even a hardened cynic like me loves a good crisis of faith. The point of all my grandiose, bloviating and very windy exposition -- focus on Riley's mind changing experience and the fallout from her changing sides.

batgirl said...This is my dumb question: why are Elite and Moral spelled one way in the story and another way in the title? And if they breed, are the offspring Ethyks?

Phoenix said...Author, I'm going to go all OC on you regarding your choice of the term "species". Since I don't know how vampires are born into your world and they may not be once-humans that were turned, I won't ding you for calling humans and vamps separate species. But you say early in the query that there are two dominant species: humans and vampires. But then you further classify the vampire species into two other separate species.

Now, you can't divide a single species into multiple species. You can divide it into breeds, races or subspecies, but a thing divided is no longer the original thing.

You may have some genetic difference that separates them into their individual classifications, but when you name them so allegorically, it sounds as if there is a choice involved.

Sorry, I was so baffled by the multiple species thing I couldn't figure out what was happening at the end: why Riley changes sides, what the mute has to do with anything, and what the stakes in general are.

M. G. E. said...Puns. I hate them in titles. I doubt I'm alone in this. Let's say that you're book was a wonderfully written, well-done story, chances of it keeping the current title = virtually zero.

Next, you completely skipped over the central rationale for your MC's change of heart. I'd like to know what new information makes her reassess her entire life up to that point. That's key to the query; it's the central motivating incident on which the story hinges.

Focus on things that are important to the story and leave out that which isn't--the fact that a general is named 'General' and doesn't tell people his name is totally irrelevant, or at least is beyond the scope of a query. Leave it out.

The "It's..." sentence construction is weak. Stronger to begin with a real word:

"Two-thousand years from now the world is embroiled in war between..." etc.

Good luck on your re-write!

Joe G said...Two kinds of mints?! What sort of strange world is this you speak of?!

I think perhaps the author realizes nobody in their right mind would pick up a book called Elytist Morrelles. Surely whann that Apprille with his shoures soote, the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote... and bathed every veyne in SWICHE licour...

The most interesting thing in the query to me was the General who is such a General he actually calls himself General. I was in such suspense about what his name might be, and then you killed him off in the last paragraph. Ah well.

Anonymous said...I tinkered/boiled it down to see if I could get clarity.

It's two thousand years in the future and a world war between vampires and humans has erupted.

Riley Zvei is a vampire She and her twin brother, Sean, work for the humans as spies and soldiers for the vampires on the bloodiest front. The humans pay them to spy, the vampires pay them to fight.

After meeting Simon, Riley and her brother have to choose one side and dump the other, making life more dangerous. The general of the humans ends up dead after an argument with Riley. Her brother is scared, Simon loves her, and Riley is running scared (determined whatever fits).

I tried to reduce it to just the facts ma'am. I hope this helps. Rethink, reorder, rewrite. It is very hard to condense a story into a query. Good luck, takes great heart to let it hang out. Look forward to your next version, Bibi

Stick and Move said...Queries are hard, author, and this one needs work. You've already missed the peak of the vampire craze, I'm afraid, but it'll come back around. Get this one ready for the next cycle.

Not Completely Anonymous :-) said...Good for you for posting on here and letting us (good-naturedly) take our cracks at it. As you obviously know writing is a lonely "sport" and any chance to laugh at ourselves (especially if "ourselves means someone else!) is welcome.

As for the "basic facts" -- I'm sure they may seem exciting and unique to you. No author intentionally writes a bad or boring book...yet the fact is that only 1 in 200 (or more) completed novels gets close to a publishing deal. only 1 in 100 gets an author agent representation.

But the painful truth is that the facts of your book...the way they're presented...they're BORING! Not only that they don't really make sense based on our knowledge of vampires/vampyres and humans/humyns. Just saying it's 2,000 years in the future doesn't make it make sense that world war between vampires and humans doesn't really make sense. We need some sort of set up that both makes sense and hooks us.

Read "Hooked" by Les Edgerton. It's an entire writing book that discusses how to hook a reader. My sense is, as someone else commented, you need some time away from this one to get a better sense of what the story is about and how to pitch it to make it sound interesting and unique.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Face-Lift 996

Guess the Plot


1. Evelyn has always felt secure within her own borders. But when she opens a door into a world where dreams are no more reality than her own faith, she finds herself thinking about thoughts and dreaming dreams of reality. And faith.

2. Some superheroes are strong. Some are fast. Some can fly. Gus Rodin, aka "The Thinker" is smart. Thrill as he fights evil by sitting down to contemplate.

3. He used to call her his Lucky Penny, but now that they're divorced, (due to her affair, mind you) he just calls her Ex-Pensive. Why can't he just forget about her? She's all he can think about. It's like witchcraft or something. Hang on! There was that dead goat and pentagram in the garage...

4. To think, or not to think . . . I think. When you have a 10 minute memory it's all a little fuzzy.

5. Anne has just graduated NYU with a degree in Sociology and $100,000 in student loans. There are no jobs to be had in her field of choice: social justice at a top non-profit in NYC. A gin and sex filled weekend will determine her fate: give up and go work at her uncle's accounting firm, or say screw it and be a stripper.

6. Unable to think of a good title, an author goes to a random word generator site, specifies "adjective," and is given . . . Pensive.

Original Version

Sister Evelyn of the C.G. Priori lived her life sheltered and absorbed in the understanding that the Influence would always be a dream away, protecting and securing her future. All of that changes one day and shakes up Evelyn’s fifty years of devotion with the single opening of a rusted and once sealed door, leading her past her own borders, and into a world where dreams are no more reality than her own faith. [I was about to suggest that we drop paragraph 1 and start the query with paragraph 2. Then I looked ahead and discovered that paragraph 1 is the entire plot.]

PENSIVE, a debut novel of 50,100 words, thrusts the reader into a world where thoughts are controlled by the rules of a close-minded society, and consequences are extreme for those that dare to ask what lies outside their own borders. [You keep using that word. I'm not clear on what it means.] A notable work it can be compared to would be The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas. [I Googled The End of Mr. Y, and I agree that it's a good comparison, in that it sounds just as wacko as your book. However, compare the first paragraph of that book's plot description (on Wikipedia):

The book tells the story of Ariel Manto, a PhD student who has been researching the 19th-century writer Thomas Lumas. She finds an extremely rare copy of Lumas's novel The End of Mr. Y in a second-hand bookshop. The book is rumoured to be cursed - everyone who has read it has died not long afterwards.

. . . with your first paragraph. My point being that no matter how incomprehensible your book may be, your query needs to be clear, straightforward, and easily understood so that someone can easily be conned into reading it.]

I have a degree in psychology from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas [UMHBBT] with an emphasis on personality theory and how it affects the individual mind as well as a collection of people. [A theory should explain, not affect.] My credentials come from me taking specific courses such as: human genetics, positive psychology, developmental psychology, history and systems, statistics, experimental psychology, as well as vertebrate and invertebrate biology. [Is vertebrate and invertebrate biology one course or two? If it's one course, I imagine the course work involves dividing the blackboard in two and then the professor calls out the names of animals and the students discuss which column each one goes in. If it's two courses, that would be good for those students who have no interest in animals that have backbones but much interest in animals without backbones. Or vice versa.] [Maybe you can enlighten me. First they decided living creatures should be divided into two categories: plants and animals. Makes sense. Then someone decides animals should be divided into exactly two categories: animals that X and animals that don't X. Someone says, How about animals you might see in a cage, and animals you wouldn't? Someone else says animals that are scary and animals that aren't. Eventually someone, possibly as a joke, suggests Animals that have a backbone and animals that don't. And no one in the room has the backbone to say the idea is ridiculous? So it sells?] [Actual quote from Wikipedia's article on invertebrates: The word invertebrate comes from the word vertebrate with the prefix in- attached to it.] [Okay, now that that's out of my system, Why are you listing all these courses you took in college instead of telling us what happens in your book?]
I read on your bio that you have an interest in psychology and stories that deal with unusual views of the world. [Hey, all I meant was I loved Good Will Hunting and The Matrix.] Despite being a debut author, I feel that even without endorsements I can surprise and intrigue you with a story that not only educates, but causes the reader’s heart to race, break, and look for repair in a world driven by old science and fearsome thought.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Start over. With a blank page, not with a page on which you've saved your favorite parts of the query. Burn any paper on which this was printed and delete it from your computer files. I'll wait.

Done? Now . . .

Set up the situation and tell us what Evelyn wants. Sister Evelyn has always felt secure thanks to the Influence (which is what?). But when X happens (preferably something better than she opens a rusty door--if there's an actual rusty door, tell us where it is.) she realizes whatever.

Now tell us what happens. Does she get to the new world outside her borders? Do the mind police come after her? Is there a villain or some obstacle to getting what she is looking for? What's her plan?

If you summarize your plot in eight or ten sentences, you might get lucky and have no room left for a paragraph about your credentials and another paragraph about your lack of credentials. You have a product to sell. Make it sound irresistible. Be sure to send us the revised version before sending it anywhere else, as we don't trust you.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Beginning 927

After the agony of burning, there was a beach.

Not what I had expected. But then I'd convinced myself I had no expectations. Just went to show.

Pleasant to swim in the cold water. Pleasant to lie on the sand and soak up the sun.

But I was arranging shells in a pattern when I felt Au come. After a quick glance sideways to be sure, I stood up to greet him.

He put both his hands out to me in welcome. "Here's my Lodestar, with his swift and eager look."

"Here's God, come to answer all my questions."

We clasped hands. Interesting to know how much power he was reserving.

"Yet still he thinks I've come to punish him."

"You have," I said, smiling. "You want me to go back."

"Still he thinks it's for him to form the pattern."

"I read it in the shells."

We looked at them together. Then he released his grip on me, and knelt down, and looked at them more closely.

"I formed you well," he said.

"And yet I'm broken."

He looked at me over his shoulder, and his look was swift and eager too. "Perhaps the only break in you is to think you're broken."

"My only crime was not to believe."

His eyes sparkled. "Didn't I bring you here? Didn't I tell you how it would be? Your only crime was not to listen."

"All right, already," I said. "I get it. You're omniscient. Now give me the freaking sun block, Daddy!"

Opening: BuffySquirrel.....Continuation: anon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Face-Lift 995

Guess the Plot

When Kings Fall

1. Jem Bartholomew bets his wife and farm at the gambling table. When rival farmer Bill Dexter trumps Jem’s four kings with four aces, Jem’s future doesn’t look so bright anymore. Though his wife isn't complaining.

2. King Edward II asks Cedric the apprentice tile-maker to tile his royal bathroom. Honored, Young Cedric and his fiancée, Guinevere, dream of fame and fortune . . . until the king slips on Cedric's handiwork and a death warrant is issued for the runaway couple.

3. It's been said that when kings fall, it is their queens who suffer. Well, Queen Alibeth has been waiting twenty years for someone to take out King Kramersty. Watching that magnificent black stallion Prince Lok'N'Reth stride to the throne, she knows she's going to enjoy the 'suffering'.

4. The establishment of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is viewed through the eyes of a destitute Syrian doctor who happens to meet King Saud, and who offers (after his wife mysteriously disappears) to recruit soldiers to tip the scale of war.

5. After the disastrous banking collapse, "Synapse," sacrifices his true name and identity to go undercover and track down the kings of finance responsible. His quest takes him through the riot-ravaged cities of Beijing, London, New York and Dubai and finally to a cigar store on the backstreets of Hong Kong.

6. Aboud Al-Youssef, a pro-democracy activist who predicted the fall of the Arab monarchies three years ago, is about to blow the lid off the coming Arab winter when he mysteriously disappears. Can special agent James Burns find him and uncover a conspiracy threatening to engulf the world in another war?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Dr. Rashad Pharaon is chased into exile when he secretly marries Jamila, the governor of Syria's arranged fiancée. [This would read more clearly as: ... secretly marries Jamila, fiancée of the governor of Syria.] [My research into the history of Syria, hoping to catch you in an embarrassing factual error, turned up this timeline fact: 1910: Mary Ajamy, a recent nursing graduate from AUB, launches the first women’s rights magazine in the Middle East, called al-`Arus (The Bride). Googling Mary Ajamy led to this article. So my question is: Given that women buy most of the books, why isn't your book about Mary Ajamy?] [And my question to Mary Ajamy is: Isn't it amazing how far Syria has come in the past century?] Without money or home, the couple take refuge in nearby Jordan amongst insurgents who call themselves the Brotherhood. Rashad leaps at the opportunity for a fresh start when, in return for helping their wounded, the leader offers them safe passage to the exotic city of Medina in Arabia. [If a doctor shows up at my doorstep, and I have a steady influx of wounded, no way am I shipping him to Medina. I'm chaining him to an operating table and he's working longer shifts than a med school intern.]

The newcomers' illusion of triumph quickly fades as they fall on dire financial times. [They had no money two sentences ago; perhaps they had already fallen on dire financial times.] Their bad fortunes seem momentarily reversed when they meet King Saud, who grants them aid and citizenship, but Arabia simmers with bad blood. A powerful sultan to the North threatens to overthrow Saud.

The king gathers his war-ravaged army and asks Rashad to recruit the Brotherhood, a force needed to tip the scales in their favor. [These armies must be pretty puny if some insurgents 500 miles away can tip the scales of their war. Are they coming by camel?] Rashad is about to petition the rebels when Jamila vanishes. His conviction rocked, he must now soul-search and make a difficult choice. Should he stay in Arabia and help his new people in their time of greatest need? Or should he find his wife, the rose of his life, and let the king fall? [My guess: He stays; King Saud wins, names the country after himself, locks up the oil rights in perpetuity for his descendants, and then releases Jamila.] [Recommendation: have Rashad go after his wife; romance sells a lot better than Arabian history.]

WHEN KINGS FALL is a 94,000 word historical work of fiction based on the true story of Dr. Rashad Pharaon, who became a leading figure in modern Arabian history and helped establish the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is set during the Arabian wars of the early 1900s, and depicts the [his] journey and hardships after his ouster from Syria.

I am an avid reader of your blog and, being a debut writer, find it very helpful. I would love the opportunity to work with you. [If you're a member of the royal family who doesn't know what to do with his billions in oil revenues, let's do lunch.] I can be reached by email at _______________, and will be glad to send chapters or manuscript upon request, with exotic postcard attached of course.


I would like to see the next-to-last paragraph moved to the front of the query. Otherwise I may (did) read the entire plot thinking it's set in modern times and 100% fictional.

Do any kings actually fall in the book?

Why do these Brotherhood guys in Jordan care who wins between Saud and the sultan from the north? Isn't their own insurgency keeping them busy enough?

Does Rashad have to go to Jordan to petition the Brotherhood? Can't he send a telegram or a messenger while he stays back and looks for the rose of his life?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Face-Lift 994

Guess the Plot

Suicide Rider

1. Jack decides to honor his dead brother's memory by entering a horse race over a 200-foot cliff, and breaking every bone in his body. Internal conflict ensues.

2. Adrenaline junkie Carrie has a need for speed. When Universal Studios lobbyists win the battle for lax safety regulations, their new 360 mph roller coaster, the Suicide Rider, officially opens for business. And she is the first in line. One year later, what’s left of Carrie recounts the coaster's first and only ride.

3. Extreme surfer Alex Wanton can't find a wave big enough. When word hits that a tsunami is headed toward the beach, Alex has to choose between bored and board. Part two chronicles his trials as the stupidest quadriplegic on planet Earth.

4. Jockey Johnny May is known as the Suicide Rider--he takes the mounts no one else can handle. When he discovers that one trainer's horses are being given an experimental drug, can he get to the authorities in time to keep from being trampled to death?

5. Yama grew up hearing stories of his father, a WWII Kamikaze flier. After watching his mother slowly die of cancer, he decides to become a Kamikaze too, in a beat up, old farm truck on Route 66.

6. When popular stuntman Jeff Jonas is killed during the filming of the latest summer blockbuster, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, there wasn't supposed to be a bomb in the Harley, and two, maybe he'd better start looking into more life insurance.

Original Version

TITLE: Suicide Rider

After a decade-long absence, Jackson Sundown Lewis, a Chualpay Indian and successful businessman, returns to his reservation in Eastern Washington for a funeral. [Think The Big Chill, Native American style.] While he’s in town, he reluctantly promises to help his brother train for the Annual Suicide Race – a dangerous horse race down a 225’ cliff [Do the horses get any say in this?] and across a river. The race is a family and tribal tradition. [Another family and tribal tradition is the post-race horsemeat barbecue.]

During the following months, [The following months? Most businesses will give you a few days of funeral leave, but if you phone in the next Monday and say you need a few extra months to talk your brother out of jumping off a cliff on a horse, you're gone.] Jack reignites a romance with his teenage sweetheart, Claire Emerson who has just inherited her family’s ranch outside of Omeche, [Omeche makes me think of Don Ameche, who hosted the Miss America pageant for years, which makes me think of the travesty of justice that occurred when Miss Arkansas finished second to Miss Nebraska in 2011. Thus I recommend putting the ranch outside the town of Omak, which only reminds me of a delicious Big Mac.] near the Chualpay reservation. He soon discovers that Claire is struggling to keep the ranch from being foreclosed upon by a mortgage company in Seattle – his company. Fruitlessly, he tries to help her, even jeopardizing his job in the process. [When you're trying to talk your boss into doing your girlfriend a favor, always bring him an assortment of fruit.] But eventually, in spite of her dislike for competition and lack of confidence, Claire’s only remaining option is to compete in the Suicide Race for the prize money. [I find it hard to believe the prize money in this event will cover more than one mortgage payment . . . unless it's being carried by ESPN and sponsored by Red Man chewing tobacco.]

A week before the race, Jack unwittingly causes his brother’s death. Besieged by guilt and sorrow, Jack must decide whether to remain in Omeche to honor his brother by riding in his brother’s stead [The least I can do after getting you killed is jump off a cliff on a horse.] and compete against the woman he loves or to return to Seattle and salvage what’s left of his hard-earned career.

In the end, Jack stays in Omeche to race. [Screw my career. I'm jumping off a cliff on a horse.] Claire wins the race, the prize money and saves her ranch, proving to herself that she is a strong, independent woman. [Jack finishes last, shames his brother's memory and gets fired, proving to himself that he is a pathetic loser.] [She won the race because she's strong and independent? Doesn't the horse get any credit?] Although Jack fails to win the race, he succeeds in honoring his people and securing Claire’s trust, admiration and love. [He wouldn't have secured her trust, admiration and love if he'd won the race and she'd lost the ranch.] [This is the way this story is supposed to go: Jack wins the race, gives Claire the prize money, and they live happily ever after, Claire having proven to herself that she needs a strong man to be happy.] [Or . . . Claire wins the race but Jack falls off his horse and gets trampled by twenty other horses and Claire loses her ranch because she uses the money to pay Jack's hospital bills and they live happily ever after on the reservation with Claire pushing quadriplegic Jack around in his wheelchair.]


Wouldn't it be easier for Jack to lend Claire the money she needs so that neither of them has to jump off a cliff on a horse? She won't even have to pay him back if she marries him.

Why is the race Claire's only option? Can't she sell off some cattle or horses to make her next payment? She was getting along without the ranch before she inherited it; if it's in that much debt, who needs it? Let 'em foreclose. Anyone who's planning to remember me in your will, I don't want anything that's in debt to the tune of half a million dollars.

Claire Emerson sounds like the name of someone whose only horseback riding experience was in dressage. And Jack hasn't been on a horse in ten years. The only good thing about both of them being in the race is that one of them won't finish last.

Is this a romance? What does Claire need Jack for? He should win the race (which she doesn't even enter). Then he gives her the cash. Meanwhile, he's been fired for being gone six months so she gives him a job roping steers. He becomes a rodeo star and makes millions and they live happily ever after. That way each of them contributes to the other's success. In the epilogue they buy the mortgage company and fire Jack's former boss.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Beginning 926

By 1961 four purebred registered Cleveland Bay stallions remained on British soil. The other stallions had been sold, shipped abroad, gelded or at their end of days and usefulness they were finished off at slaughter houses. The Cleveland Bay, a British breed a gasp away from extinction, due to two World Wars, the railroad and the mechanization of agriculture in the British Isles almost vanished. The docile, strong and versatile breed stemming from Chapman stock crossed with Andalusion and Arab blood during the Middle Ages, could pull artillery or plough all day, foxhunt, steeplechase and then managed to pull the family carriage with grace. The once numerous Cleveland Bay horses lost against changing conditions over the previous forty-eight years in Great Britain. The pressures on the breed were too great. The wars killed millions of them and progress eliminated the remainder. Their accelerated decimation was astonishing. Breed extinction is a great loss, in the case of the Cleveland Bay, a tragedy. A horse by the name of Mulgrave Supreme was one of those four remaining stallions in the British Cleveland Bay Horse Society registry in the early 1960’s.

Hamlet of Dalehouse, U.K.

Gerald Mulgrave wrestled with a nasty choice. He dunked his head under the tap to try and dull his throbbing headache. He could sell the colt to secure his farm or sell the farm to secure the horse and pray he didn’t colic, develop laminitis or go through a fence and meet a truck on his way out. Lightning hit horses with great frequency in the country. Early in the 1960’s, Britain had troubles with Yemen, decided to invade Egypt over the Suez Canal with some help from France and had many other internal problems. The world Gerald lived in was uncertain. Being the third generation Mulgrave on the farm it was his duty to keep it for the fourth.

Mulgrave Supreme was foaled in 1961 about four a.m. on a dark, cold morning. Hiw dam nosed him, nudged him and nickered to him. The foal got his legs organized, staggered to his feet then found his mother’s udder. He was an hour old when he pulled at her and tasted her warm milk for the first time. By Cholderton Minstral out of Mulgrave Rose he had a grand pedigree. Four and five generations back he had double Cholderton and Mulgrave lines top and bottom. His impeccable breeding gave him the bone, the height, the muscle, the breed type and temperament. Mulgrave Supreme had the best of the Cleveland Bay. And he had to go. Gerald doused his head again. The headache wasn’t going away.

The phone rang, its shrill bells amplified by the throbbing in Gerald's head.

"Hello. 6810." Gerald said, confirming his number to the caller.

"Mr. Mulgrave?"

"Uh, yes. What is it?"

"I understand you are the owner of a horse farm?"

"Well, yes, I suppose you could--"

"I have a business proposition for you..."

And so began the successful launch of McDonald's into Britain.

Opening: Wilkins McQueen.....Continuation: anon.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Guess the Plot

Over Their Heads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Version

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

No one knows that Garrett Hathaway is a merman. [I would like to retract my previous statement.] When he touches salt water, he sprouts gills and a blue, scaly tail. [I always wondered how Aquaman could swim really fast without a fish tail. I mean, the guy had just feet. You'd think he would have had enough brains to put on swim fins.] Despite his growing love for Frances, he is certain that she will see him as a monster [She's not going to see him as a monster. She's going to see him as a guy who flops around on the floor whenever he's out of the bathtub.] [Hey, better that he has gills and a tail than a fish head.] if she ever learns the truth. [She'll learn the truth when he takes her home to meet his family and she discovers that his parents are a fisherman and a flounder.]

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

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


No need for that last sentence in paragraph 1 to begin with "But."

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

Also, I'm not sure what the time frame is, but she seems to fall in love awfully fast with this guy, considering that she's probably spending most of her time in his merbrary.

Fortunately it's fairly brief, so you have space in which to expand your plot description with additional information, like what happens when she finds out he's half fish.

Selected Comments

Virginia Miss said...EE - is it a hard-and-fast rule that all YA protags should be teenagers?

Evil Editor said...I know of no such rule, but teens can handle adult vocabulary, and teens read adult books, so if the characters are adults, why call the book YA? I would expect to find teens in a book meant for teens. Any of you YA writers have a definitive answer?

Anonymous said...I agree with EE -- very few YA books have adult protagonists. Truth is, many teens read adult books all the time. If you want to market something as YA, there has to be something that's specific to the audience, which usually means it has to relate to their life experiences, not what "boring adults" are doing.

General advice for anyone who wants to write YA -- go to the bookstore or library and read a dozen YA books written in the last 5 years. You'll be surprised with what is out there.

McKoala said...I think 22 is too old for a YA heroine. The basic story might work if she were a teenager working on a project who somehow wangles her way into the library (via the cookies, which seem an unusual way to win over a grown man, unless...magic cookies?!)

HawkOwl said...I couldn't figure out which guess-the-plot was gonna be it, but this is the only one I didn't want to read. How young are "young adults"? I don't think the teenagers in my youth group would want to read this plot, but the nine-year-olds might.

I'd also lose the part about "besting her academic nemesis." It doesn't seem to play a part in the book, it's not really relatable, and it doesn't seem like a good reason for her to be researching mermaids. Why can't you just say she's an English or Classics major and she's doing her thesis on "the mermaid myth in American literature" or something like that? And then move on? The why of her interest in mermaids doesn't seem really important to the story.

Annie said...Okay, I have to admit that as a young teen (12-14), I'd have been all over this plot. I was fascinated by mermaids. However, I would have wanted them to be teenagers, and the whole academic rivalry thing wouldn't have interested me in the least.

pacatrue said...I'm largely with Annie on this. Basic idea of a heroine going to research merfolk, falling in love with a guy, and he is a merman... sounds cool to me, and I might have read such a thing as a teen, though being a typical boy, I might have preferred the story of the merman who falls in love with a young college student while hiding his secret, i.e., from his perspective. Regardless of this, I think the story's got potential as long as it can fit the designated market - about which I have no knowledge.

Anonymous said...I would have liked a mermaid plot as a teen, and possibly even as an adult, if it were handled well. I agree that you should change the protag to a teen, and drop the academic angle. You need a much stronger reason for the girl to be there. Perhaps she is staying for the season in a cottage the prof rents out. Perhaps she observes things and forces herself into his life, and manages to get into his library to buy silence for knowing about him. Or she might be a sweet innocent and he is protecting her. Lots of workable romantic plots available here.

Even better, add a young man as the love interest. He might be related to the prof. The girl and the boy might save the prof.

Anonymous said...I write YA fiction -- and, more importantly, read a great deal of it. I have to say, I think you are all way too obsessed with the age of characters. Much of what is marketed as YA could easily be marketed as adult fiction, and vice versa. Like all "rules," the one about teen protagonists has many, many exceptions.
If you don't like the author's story, fine. But the age of the character alone is not a good reason to dismiss it.

Annie said...I don't think anyone is dismissing it purely based on the age of the characters. Quite a few of us have said that it sounds like an interesting plot, and have offered suggestions that might make it more appealing to the target readers. At 12-14 I was reading both YA and adult fiction. The reason I liked YA is because I was reading about characters who were like me -- especially in age. They don't need to be twelve, but 18-19 is much more relatable than 23-24. If I wanted to read about adults, I'd read an adult novel.

That said, I would not have ignored this book purely because of the age of the characters. If the age/academic plot is integral to the book, leave it. It doesn't ruin the story. But if it could be changed, I think there is room for improvement there.

Zombie Deathfish said...I love mermaids and I'd love to read a thoughtful, intelligent book about them, but this just doesn't seem to have that much solid plot to it. Why does Frances need to best Norbert? Who is Norbert, come to that? What's the significance of the era you've set it in? There doesn't seem to be any real threat to either character - okay, Garrett's afraid Frances will think he's a monster and Frances is ... I don't know ... afraid Norbert will steal her scholarship, but so what? I'm intrigued by the idea of mermen among us, but I'm not sure I care about this particular merman.

ello said...Reads like a romance novel to me instead of a YA. In fact, for all of the fantastic elements in it, it still reads as a generic and kind of boring storyline. This query needs to be spiced up. There would have to be a more serious plot line other than he's afraid that she won't like him cause he is a merman, in order for this to sound interesting. Perhaps there is and the author didn't include it, I hope?

Anonymous said...Hi, gang--Thank you very much for all your comments. You've inspired me to include more of the plot in my query letter-- though this is a romance novel. As for why I consider this to be YA-- The primary reason is that I spent a lot of time as a teenager thinking, "I am a monster and no one will ever love me." Not true, of course, but I think it's a real issue for the YA crowd. So this is YA not so much for the age of the protagonists, but because of the theme. Thanks again to all of you, especially EE.

McKoala said...I also read and write YA. Most heroes/heroines are teenagers. I agree that the 'i am a monster' message is completely bang on for that audience - it's what my current WIP is about, only without the mermaids (but there is another 'monster'...). It's just easier for teenagers to identify with their own age group, that's all. So given that your theme is right, why risk watering down the strength of the appeal with a hero/heroine who is not so easy for them to identify with? I'm not saying don't do it, I'm just saying please think about it very carefully, because it would be a shame to have the right theme and the right story, but a main character who is the wrong age - it might make it harder for you to sell the book.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Guess the Plot

ing Sky

1. A backyard chef glimpses a murder in his neighbor's house through the smoke and haze of his Weber grill.

2. Jaws meets Wolfen in this story of a fledgling private eye drawn into the murky worlds of Internet security and an extinct human race.

3. As trials begin on a new sub-orbital passenger jet, two rival test pilots fall in love. Can they keep their budding romance from their husbands?

4. All life below the shimmering locusts' exoskeletons could cease to exist if Jack and Jill do not get up the hill fast enough with DDT, and expose the sun . . . above the shimmering sky.

5. Three desperate men and a love-starved camel set off on an impossible quest beneath the burning sands of a world turned upside-down.

6. Dustin, a sardine who feels trapped in his school, builds a capsule to help him become the first sardine to fly . . . above the shimmering sky.

Original Version

Dear Ms. Speltagnet,

What if, on a calm day near the beach, a friend's death and police suspicion raised a carnival-house mirror to separate a new life from your old? [What if, we start this query with the second sentence?] What if your other friends and coworkers remained precisely whom you'd thought them to be—but with agendas askew, their focus suddenly obscure? [I meant the third sentence.] Would it mean you had fallen into a new world, beyond the looking-glass? [Yes, I believe I have.] Or…could you have simply missed the truth all along?

Owen Tremaine, 28-year-old founder of a small software company in Corpus Christi, Texas, has spent the last year trying to reinvent himself as a private investigator. But he never expected to need his new skills quite so badly. When his past reaches out to pull him back, the stakes include not only his own life and the lives of those he loves but also the fate of a missing 12-year-old girl, the future of personal security on the Internet, and the hopes of a supposedly extinct people. [The fate of Cro-Magnon Man rests in his hands?] The story encompasses cutting-edge software development, implications of recent anti-terror legislation, and a unique interpretation of local Native American history. In ABOVE THE SHIMMERING SKY (102,000 words), JAWS meets THE NET…via WOLFEN. [Jaws? Are there sharks? You haven't mentioned any sharks. Sharks would definitely improve this book. So would a wolfman. Is there a wolfman?] [If there's a wolfman in a book, it should be stated clearly, up front; it's sure to be a major selling point. The same goes for sharks. You're trying to make me want to read your book. What would I rather read about, sharks and wolfmen or Internet security, implications of legislation, and software development? That was a rhetorical question.] [Here's what I recommend: keep the sharks and the wolfman--make it two wolfmen, in fact--dump the software/private eye guy, and add some zombies, a brutal eunuch, a few ruthless vigilante sorcerers, and the Pooka of Leinster.] [You're probably thinking, But that would make it a completely different book! Exactly!]

Technical elements of the plot are based on my nearly two decades of professional software development experience, ranging from several startups to Dell Computers and a telemedicine project for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. I have been visiting Corpus Christi for years, and have fallen in love with the area. [Try visiting in August, then get back to me.] My professional writing experience to date has been business-related, including advertising copy, press releases, technical documentation and one privately published "how-to" book (ghost-written very quickly for a client who had inadvertently shown the title in an infomercial). I have a second novel (PAGAN SECTS) in progress. [Change the title to Pagan Sex, and you'll quintuple your sales.]

I found your listiings at and, "Googled" your agency, and thought I might introduce myself. I see this project as commercial suspense with an underlying element of the supernatural (think Dean Koontz, though I make no claims as to quality). [Meaning it's not necessarily as good as Koontz? Or not necessarily as bad?]

Please let me know if you would like to see the manuscript, or a portion thereof. I also have a two-page synopsis available.

Thank you for your time.



Listing what's at stake and what the story encompasses doesn't draw me in unless you've set down a solid foundation. Your foundation is "When his past reaches out to pull him back." Totally vague. Specifically, what happened that puts lives, Internet security and Neanderthal Man at stake?

Here's what I actually recommend. Start with these two sentences:

Owen Tremaine, 28-year-old founder of a small software company in Corpus Christi, Texas, has spent the last year trying to reinvent himself as a private investigator. But he never expected to need his new skills so desperately.

Now comes the part you aren't going to like: tell us what happened! What requires the use of his new skills? Is the missing girl his case? Is there a villain trying to destroy the Internet? Are wooly mammoths wiping out Peking Man? Is there a seemingly insurmountable obstacle Owen must overcome to save the world? After you tell us the main things that happen in the book, if there's still some space, you can list a few boring things the book encompasses, and add:

Technical elements of the plot are based on my nearly two decades of professional software development experience, ranging from several startups, to Dell Computers, to a telemedicine project for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

But leave out Jaws and Wolfen and Dean Koontz.

Selected Comments

JTC said...Bill Gates does Sam Spade. Well, I don't mean DOES Sam Spade. I mean, well, I think you know what I mean. It seems like the main character will be taking a huge pay cut with that career move.

Jessica said...I'm still confused about Jaws. Why is the shark in there, and how did he get ahold of a computer? Wouldn't it shock him if the computer was underwater? Oh, maybe Jaws transforms into the wolfman and becomes a wolfshark. The upper body of a shark and the lower body of a wolf.

pjd said...It's interesting to see first query letters like this... back before I knew anything, I thought query letters were supposed to read like the blurbs you'd see on or publishers' own web sites. "A spellbinding tale of seduction, political intrigue, and a hamster's long journey to self-discovery." They NEVER give away the secret of what actually happens in the book. (The hamster gets eaten by the President's cat.)

First-query authors naturally go to publishers' book descriptions to learn how they talk about books, failing to realize that the audience for their query is completely different than the audience for the back jacket text.

kis said...The back-jacket text for some books is quite adaptable to a query letter (although I would avoid words like spellbinding, spectacular, sizzling, heart-rending, or any kind of dumb-ass hyperbole like that). Often, the premise of a book is laid out in three or four succinct sentences on the jacket. Yes, it is meant to leave the reader wondering. But a few more succinct sentences should fill in the blanks for a query letter. The problem is when a writer takes all the wrong aspects of the jacket-copy and comes up with something like this query. The trick is to be able to compress the basic idea/ plot/ premise/ characters of your book into something attention-grabbing.

And personally, when I see words like spellbinding, spectacular, sizzling, or heart-rending on the back cover of a book (unless it's in blurbs from reviewers, who obviously all use the same thesaurus) I put the damn thing down as fast as I can.

ann said...I really think the Alaska telemedicine project sounds a lot more interesting

Anon-in-a-million said...Oh my. That first paragraph is something else. Reminds me of a short story I had to read once, the individual words were fine, but the sentences never made any sense. Very hard story to critique without using the words WTF?

Anonymous said...Sure, there are low-hanging fruit for picking & slinging at me here, and some of them may be rotten, which can only add to the fun.

But I got another partial request today, using this query.

I don't think I have much else to say, though I was hoping for something more useful than ridicule from all this. Guess I went to the wrong place.

But what the heck. Keep havin' fun; it's good for you.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Face-Lift 993

Guess the Plot

The Soul Game

1. All the cool kids are at Robin's big house party, where new kid Damian is going to play with his band, Demonfyre. But when the music ends and the games start, why does everyone suddenly feel...lighter? Also, a totes jelly weeabo.

2. It's the 70's, and the show is so "mod" that it's "groovy." It's...Soul Game! But Charley the Zombie, who could never get anything right, made the mistake of airing it opposite this "hip" new show called Soooooul Train.

3. Two demons in hell have a game they play when they're bored which randomly determines which souls go 'up' and which ones go 'Down.' Until Satan and God discover their little game. Then all hell breaks loose.

4. The world has run out of souls. All people without souls are treated like slaves. Their only hope of becoming full people is to compete in the Soul Games for the soul of the deceased. Ginger has lost the games twice already, if she doesn’t win this time she will never get a soul.

5. For seventy-nine years Martha went to church, prayed, and tried not to cuss. Now that she's dead, She has found God--chuckling in front of a monster TV that has only one program; The Soul Game. Bitter at discovering that we are all just entertainment, she decides to pull his plug and give him a piece of her mind.

6. A demon is sent to Earth with a list of souls to corrupt. At the same time an angel is sent to Earth with the exact same list!

Original Version

Young demon Keira is sent up to Earth with a list of seven souls and a simple mission: to corrupt them. It's the career break she's been waiting for, so whether it means instigating bar room fights or worming her way into a target's life, she's determined to succeed. After all, there'll be Hell to pay if she doesn't.

The arrival of Nathan, an angel, makes things a bit trickier, especially when it turns out that he's after the exact same souls as she is. Keira needs to be clever to avoid getting sent back to the Pit, but no demon worth her horns is going to let some feather-brained do-gooder get the better of her.

However, just when she's getting the hang of it all, a young boy, the most important soul on the list, goes missing, and angel and demon have to work together to find him. Working against Nathan was bad enough. Working with him might just finish her, especially when he's not just trying to stop her - he's trying to save her. It's enough to make her priorities waver, a dangerous prospect when her demonic supervisors are still breathing down the back of her neck.

Besides, demons are beyond redemption.


THE SOUL GAME, an 85,000 word Young Adult Paranormal novel, is my début. The synopsis and full or partial manuscript is available on request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Why, this is . . . delightful. Well done.

I'm stuck with little to do other than pick nits.

Paragraph 1:
s1: Delete "to."
s2: Either dump your examples, leaving: It's the career break she's been waiting for, and she's determined to succeed. Or replace your examples with better ones. I don't see how Keira instigating a barroom (one word) fight corrupts anyone's soul. Maybe seducing a faithful husband or serving ham salad at a bar mitzvah. Funny examples are probably best; they don't need to be examples from the book.

Paragraph 2:
s1: Delete ", especially," "that," "exact," and "as."

Paragraph 3:
s1: Delete "However,". I'd change "have to" to "must." Is there a reason angel and demon must work together to find the boy (that you can include without needing three more sentences)? Is it just, Let's split up; we can cover more ground that way? That won't work, because whoever finds him isn't gonna inform the other one. But searching together isn't much more efficient than searching alone. Unless the boy was kidnapped by a creature that can't be killed by just an angel or just a demon.

s4: Delete "still" and "the back of."

No need to declare it's your debut, and no need for the accent in debut if you do declare it.

Captcha Complaints

Due to a few complaints about captchas not working properly, I've removed the captcha feature from comment modification. I would have done this sooner, but I was unfamiliar with the term "captcha," and assumed the complaints were coming from inebriated spambots.

I've now done some research on the topic, and to save my minions from having to do the same, shall summarize what I've learned.

Captcha (short for Captain Chaos) is a test you must perform in order to convince a computer that you are not a computer. For instance, say it's yesterday and you wish to comment on one of Evil Editor's blog posts. You type out a lengthy comment which is sure to entertain and enlighten the Evil Minions. In order to publish the comment, you must, of course, get it past Evil Editor’s Evil Eye™, but first you must pass the captcha test, in which a series of letters are displayed, and you must type them. Failure to correctly reproduce the series of letters is evidence that you aren't a human, and we don't want you here.

The earliest captchas were easy to read. It was believed that computers couldn't actually read or write, and thus would be unable to reproduce a string of letters such as:

Turned out computers wanted to comment on Evil Editor's blog so badly that they evolved the ability to read and write.

But humans are nothing if not clever to a fault, and came up with the idea of distorting the string of letters:
The idea was to make it so the computer couldn't read the letters. But a lot of humans couldn't tell the difference between a lower-case n and a lower case r, an issue that didn't seem to bother the computers, who were able to use their "undo" function to undistort the string of letters. So while humans were thinking, Shit, that must have been an r, I'll have to try again, computers were thinking, Aha, it's an r. The humans will never get it.

Humans are nothing if not persistent, so they came up with the idea of putting the letters really close together:
But finding the perfect size that would fool computers and not send humans to the opthamologist proved impossible.

Next came the idea of a squiggle through the distorted letters:
Humans thought, Is that an l or a t?
Computers thought, Humans are so cute.

Next came distorted close letters and blurred letters:

What programmers had yet to realize was that computers enjoy solving puzzles, and humans don't. That New York Times crossword puzzle you couldn't get half through? A computer could do it in a billionth of a second.

But humans are nothing if not stubborn, so you can expect to see a new generation of captchas soon:

Seems we'll do anything to keep computers out of our computers.