Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Face-Lift 1055

Guess the Plot

The Fish Preserve

1. After Olympic swimmer Bryan Lock deflowers the University President's daughter in public and the video goes viral on the Internet, his life seems ruined--until a Mexican drug lord hires Lock to operate his new ocean research center.

2. Sweden is surrounded by fish, and the population loves it. However, it rots quickly and the smell is hurting the tourism industry. Sven Dalgaard, one of the premiere scientists in the country, discovers a new way to preserve the nation's favorite food - it's a little thing he's named "salt".

3. When the body of 70s eco-warrior Jacques Champlain is found by kids fishing in MacArthur Park, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things. One, the old man didn't harpoon himself; and two, some camarones would be great for dinner.

4. 1969. High schoolers Rachel, a native of the ruined Owens Valley, and Gabriel, a transplant from Sherman Oaks, discover love, life, environmentalism and each other in this coming-of-age story set in California's historic fish hatchery on Highway 395.

5. Detective Jorge Calderon thought his danger days were over when he retired from the NYPD. He moved to sleepy Cortez Florida and joined the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage. One day he investigates a slaughtered manatee. On the way back, his jeep is forced off the road by a large pickup. Two days later he finds three teens shot execution style. Now Jorge knows he can’t retire yet.

Original Version

[It's another fake query, this one from Dave F. We do have a couple real queries in the queue now, waiting for fake plot writers to notice them.]

Dear EE

Olympic swimmer Bryan Lock dreams he is a butterfly flapping his wings in China... But wait, let's change that butterfly to a fish and China to the Yucatan. The proposition becomes: If a doctoral student and champion swimmer who dreams of becoming a world renowned oceanographer deflowers the University President's Daughter in public and the video goes viral on the internet, what sort of job can he expect after graduation? The answer, a dead end job in the fast food industry. However, the storms of chaos theory blow a fair wind his way in the form of a Drug Lord in the Yucatan. The Drug Lord hires Lock to operate his new ocean research center.

Our butterfly, being chaos personified, returns in the form of the Drug Lord's son who boozes, trips, whores, rapes, and kills in the villages where the drugs grow. Even bad dreams come true in chaos theory. A Drug Lord's son can't escape punishment for wanton murder and the punishment is death. As the storms of chaos abate, justice will be served. The murderous son, his partner and the researchers are not killed are given a strange new lease on life, the Drug Lord gains their silence, and Lock his dream job -- a successful oceanic researcher. However, he's no longer human. He's more of a half-man, half-fish creature, with gills.

My novel, THE FISH PRESERVE is bizarro Sci Fi complete at 80K. It is breaking out of its cocoon just for you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Face-Lift 1054

Guess the Plot

Tales of the Tail-less

1. Pop-up book featuring characters from the hundred-acre wood. When Eeyore's tail gets pulled off, he decides to take revenge on anyone and everyone, but mostly Tigger--who had nothing to do with it!

2. Living with another species can be challenging and rewarding. A collection of memoirs, written by Poodle Silver Silk Porscha, to explain the vagaries of naked apes for the amusement and enlightenment of their Poodle masters.

3. The story of three-blind mice and their extraordinary pal, Max, an Australian Shepherd and how they were able to overcome adversity and reap revenge on the terrorist known only as The Farmer's Wife.

4. Four tadpoles. Four stories. One pond. Learn about friendship, survival and family as Leapy, Larvy, Ihop and Legs metamorphose their way to adulthood. Children picture book, complete with vodka for the caring mother.

5. Horatio, the Manx cat, doesn't believe he was born this way, and he's determined to take revenge on whoever cut off his tail. He's still got his claws...

Original Version

[It's a fake query for a fake book, submitted by Lisa and presented for your entertainment as we await the submission of actual queries and openings.]

When the owl first pulled off my tail, I knew it wasn’t personal. The problem was, Chris stuck it back on with a tack. What was he thinking? Who do I look like anyway? A stupid kids’ party game?

I learned to live not only with the tack, but also with that annoying bear and his silly high-voiced porcine sidekick, but when the bouncing tiger moved in, that was the last straw. I couldn’t hold it together anymore.

Follow my exploits as I attempt to oust the tiger from the Hundred Acre Wood. Thrill as I weigh down his nether regions with sawdust. Marvel at my ingenious plot to steal the honey pot and convince the moronic marsupials the blame should be placed on that frivolous feline. Feel your heart break as, once again, I lose my tail in the river and am forced to wade out into the icy cold water to retrieve it.

From perusing your website, I have concluded that you have more of a brain than most of the other agents in the forest. I would be pleased if you would consider my memoir, TALES OF THE TAIL-LESS, a 250 word pop-up book, for representation. I have included an SASE for your convenience, and some tiger whisker clippings for your enjoyment.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fake Plots for Published Books

Back in 2006 we had a competition to see who could write the funniest fake plots for titles on a given list of published books. These were the winning entries:

Bet Me
Bill looked at the four Jacks in his hand, and at the rugged cowboy across the table. He had nothing else to wager until his girlfriend whispered in his ear . . .  "Bet me."

The Door Into Summer
Summer knew she was having a lot of operations lately, but she really didn't appreciate her surgeon's new time-saving innovation.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
A sorceress teaches Detroit's star running back about life, love, and the pursuit of proper accessories.

The League of Frightened Men

Sick of the over-courageous heroics of the world's standard superheroes, Mr. Timorous, Phobiaman, Captain France and The ScaredyCat team up to fight evil--as long as it doesn't make any loud noises.

Portnoy's Complaint
He doesn't care how many times they put him on hold; Dan Portnoy is determined to tell off his cell phone provider, or die trying.

The Crack in Space

I have no idea what happens, but it's obviously on Uranus.

As the queries aren't exactly rolling in these days, those who enjoy composing fake plots have nothing to do. So, I've chosen six books from my bookshelf. Your job: come up with amusing fake plots for any or all.

Without Feathers
The Thin Man
Confessions of a Crap Artist
Virtual Banality
Juliet, Naked
The Hunger Games

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

The Pride

1. Cliffnote Brown on safari tries to solve the murder of a water buffalo whose carcass is found picked clean by some type of carnivore.

2. Emotional struggles are played out as professional wrestling matches in a convention center in Lubbock, Texas. Volume 1: The Pride versus The Altruism. (Altruism gives up freely.)

3. When a teenaged girl escapes a religious cult, she discovers her connection to the Lion People. She teams up with a werelion, a shapeshifter, a grizzly bear, and an eccentric scientist to seek revenge on the cult leader.

4. In this self-published companion volume to The Prejudice, literary critic Bulwer Bluenose presents a compelling personal diatribe against agents, editors, publishers and readers. Citing the entire publishing industry, he vents his venom on uppity New York agents, wickedly evil editors, the Library of Congress and poodles in tams. Profusely illustrated.

5. Vicar Cy Loutly in the the quaint village of Boring-on-End is justifiably proud of his collection of Staffordshire porcelain. But will pride go before a fall when spinster detective Amelia Pettipants discovers a priceless Staffordshire spaniel in the lifeless hands of the village barmaid, Rosie Bottoms?

6. It's midnight in the Museum of Natural History, and Chief Curator of African Mammals Dr. Pinkney Mupps is horrified when the "Lions on the Savannah" diorama is vandalized. But the sight of his wife and the Assistant Curator of Primitive Tools cavorting naked among the tall grasses is what really hurts his pride.

Original Version

Dear Agent, (followed by a short sentence about why I chose them)

THE PRIDE is a young adult urban fantasy, complete at 77,000 words. When seventeen-year-old Alexis escapes certain death [Once someone escapes from it, I don't think you're allowed to call it "certain death" anymore.] from the religious cult that raised her, she doesn’t know she’s only half human. [How could she not know? What's the other half? If you're half ostrich or half cow, it should be pretty obvious.] She gains a protector in Gideon, a shapeshifter out for revenge against the mercenary who murdered his family, and learns the truth about her own connection to the Lion People. [Namely that she's one of them. She's half human, half lion? Does she look like a person in a lame lion costume? Or does she have a lion's body and a human head, like a sphinx? It could be a woman's body with a lion's head, I suppose, but being female, Alexis wouldn't have the cool mane, so the lion head idea doesn't get my vote.] [No matter which half of her is lion, it's hard to believe she doesn't know she isn't 100% human. Doesn't it strike her as odd that no other humans chase wildebeests?] Working together, Alexis and Gideon discover that the cult’s leader is a banished god named Nassaner. Deriving his power from willing sacrifices, Nassaner has convinced his followers, including Alexis’s own mother, to kill their firstborn children. [That's some mighty persuasive convincing. I wonder, what's the best method for convincing your followers to kill their children? Should you talk to them individually, or is it better to gather them all together in an auditorium and speak from behind a podium? Probably the latter. People will believe anything you say if you're standing behind a podium.]

To stop the rogue god and save Alexis’s life, Gideon and Alexis must face the demons of their past and form an uneasy alliance with a newly turned werelion, an eccentric scientist, and an ancient grizzly. [Lions and scientists and bears--oh my!] But Nassanner won’t give up without a fight. He can take the form of a forty-foot snake, his venom will kill a shapeshifter in seconds and his devoted followers will stop at nothing protect him. In the final confrontation, [The shapeshifter takes the form of a forty-foot mongoose and they battle it out.] Alexis must find the strength inside to save herself and those she’s grown to love. [She's grown to love the cowardly werelion the most.]

THE PRIDE is full of action, suspense and a hint of romance. Although this is my first novel, my short stories have appeared in Review and Herald’s Insight Magazine (student contest winner) Horizon, Hope for Women, Angels on Earth, Aoife’s Kiss, Beyond Centauri and Peridot Books. I have enclosed the first five pages for review. For more information about Alexis, Gideon and THE PRIDE, or to read the complete manuscript, please contact me using the information provided below.



It doesn't have enough cohesion. It sounds listy; it needs to pause and elaborate on something. Maybe it would help to explain what you mean by "her own connection to the Lion People," "willing sacrifices," "the demons of their past."

I'd leave out the werelion, eccentric scientist and ancient grizzly. It'll sound less wacko without them.

Why is Alexis's life in danger if she's escaped? Is she going back for revenge? Is she being chased?

Selected Comments

kiss-me-at-the-gate said...People will believe anything you say if you're standing behind a podium. ROFL  It's only so funny because it's true...

Anonymous said...Thanks for taking the time to help me, Evil Editor. I see what you mean and shall take your words to heart.

Naomi said...I really hoped it would be this plot. I love urban fantasy and shapeshifters. I think there's a lot of good stuff in here, but there are a few points I think you could clarify.

I assumed that Alexis is a firstborn child and that's why she's running away from the cult, which led me to question her age. If you're going to sacrifice your first-born child, surely it's better to do it before she's old enough to object?

And if she's not a first-born, does she run away because she discovers an elder sibling was murdered? Yeah, I guess my point is, what leads her to run away to start with?

What power does the cult leader actually gain from these sacrifices and why is Alexis' recapture so important to him?

I'd pick this up if I saw it in a shop. Good luck with the query.

Nut said...author: Sounds like a fun book. I especially like the idea of a lion-people cult.

Anonymous said...Thank you Naomi and Nut. I really apreciate the kudos and the advice. Does anyone know if we can re-submitt improved queries to Evil Editor? Or does he frown on that?

Evil Editor said...Improved queries may be submitted as comments (There's one at Face-lift 230 right now), but since Guess the Plot and EE's amusing remarks would be gone or minimal, it won't be front-page material.

redcap said...Would it be cruel of me to ask why people think books like that would sell in the first place? If I picked that up in a book shop, I would expect to be standing at the "dump" table at the time.

nut said...redcap: different people like different books. This book looks great for fantasy fans, you might like some other genre. Everyone has their preferences. If you don't like the genre, or even the author's style, don't assume, that you're the only one with a sence of taste. I mean, I'm really not into romance, but there are plenty of people who are, so, great for them. Just cause its not your cup of tea, doesn't mean others won't drink it.

December Quinn said...Would it be cruel of me to ask why people think books like that would sell in the first place? No, just unimaginative. I guess you like exactly the same things as everyone you know, and don't ever try anything new. It also shows a distinct lack of research and awareness, as urban fantasy is quite a popular genre.

If I picked that up in a book shop, I would expect to be standing at the "dump" table at the time.

That's cruel.

illiterate said...Okay, redcap, looking at your profile, you do read fantasy(JKR). But you do understand that before the books you love were published, they were once unfinished works in progress, right?

This book sounds like the things I like, ones that take me on an adventure. That's why I'd read it.

BuffySquirrel said...It might be cruel if anyone took it seriously.

Kate Thornton said...This is the kind of fantasy adventure I'd have to pry out of my young niece's hands - the female protagonist, culty stuff, talking animals, and a final crescendo of a confrontation.

There's a thrivng market out there for this sort of story - and plenty of Aunties with credit cards to buy them, too!

Rei said...This isn't a query. It's a short synopsis.

Anonymous said...I had hoped it was gtp #3 also. it was the best one. I suppose redcap is being honest about his/her personal feelings but I agree with december.

Rhona said...Okay...here is the new and improved query. Thank you for all your comments and advice. If anyone cares to rip this one up too...I'd really appreciate it! I’ve worked so hard on this book; I owe it to it and myself to represent it well, dagnabbit!

THE PRIDE is a young adult urban fantasy, complete at 77,000 words.

When seventeen-year-old Alexis escapes death from the religious cult that raised her, she doesn’t know she’s only half human. She’s never driven a car, never made her own decisions and never been alone. Hitchhiking down the highway at midnight disguised as a boy, she’s picked up by Gideon, a shapeshifter with problems of his own. Alexis finds a friend in Gideon and together they discover the cult’s leader is a banished god named Nassaner, who derives his power from willing human sacrifices. Alexis cannot escape him for long, because he knows she carries the blood of the lion people and her sacrifice will give him much more power than that of a human. He’s spent years brainwashing his followers and since one is Alexis’s own mother, Nassaner will stop at nothing to get her back. If she is to survive, Alexis must learn to stop running, embrace her true self and let the lioness stand up and fight.

Followed by my published clips and contact info of course....

Thanks guys!

Nut said...I like it; I think its much more to the point, and looks more adventurous.

I hope the ones that know what they're doing show up soon though, since all I can give you is an amateur's opinion.

illiterate said...The remake does look good to me. Keep in mind that many of us here are completely unpublished, and some may not ever be, so don't take the mimions' opinions too seriously.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Improving the Olympics

I suggested some of the following ideas four years ago. It'll be interesting to see how many of them they've incorporated. Also, I've added some new ones. Change with the times, IOC.

1. In beach volleyball, the tall players have an advantage. Thus, I recommend that springboards be installed in the area of the net to aid the shorter players in spiking and blocking.

2. In the men's high bar, the athletes are lifted to the bar by a guy. This is humiliating. I suggest that it would be more spectacular if they had to pole vault over the high bar and then grab it on the way down, smoothly beginning their routine as they do.

3. No one ever sticks the landing on the gymnastics vault, as they have too much horizontal momentum. Thus, instead of landing on mats they should land on one of those small trampolines--the kind mascots use to dunk basketballs at halftime. This would allow them to spring upward, creating vertical momentum and allowing them to land without stepping or hopping.

4. The men's pommel horse tends to be extremely dull, despite the great skill involved, because they just go around and around. I propose that the routine be performed on an actual horse as it gallops around the arena.

5. The swimsuits of the synchronized divers are identical; they should be mirror images, with the design of one on the opposite side as the design of the other, so it looks like one diver is a mirror image of the other. Also, the divers should have to be twins. Actually, it's too easy to synchronize with one other diver. The event should involve eight divers going simultaneously, preferably octuplets.

6. No one actually swims the butterfly, so why is it an event? It should be replaced with the dog paddle. That may sound ridiculous, but it's no more ridiculous than race walking. I mean really, walking? In real life, if you're in a hurry, no matter how fast you can walk you'll be left in the dust of people who have enough sense to run.

7. There's no way of knowing who wins a point in fencing unless you just watch the electronic light come on. The only way the actual fencing will ever be worth watching is if they use real swords and fight to the death.

8. There should be a coxswain in every scull, even the singles, and the coxswains should all be equipped with those huge drums like in Ben Hur, to help the rowers get the rhythm.

9. Anyone can hit a stationary target. Archery contestants should line up along the track. In the early heats they shoot at the race walkers and in the finals they shoot at the 100-meter dashers. It wouldn't be dangerous to the runners because they would wear plastic targets and the arrows would have suction cup tips.

10. I don't think it's right that they have cameras in the ladies' showers at the diving venue. One of these days someone's gonna do her last dive and absent-mindedly take off her suit before showering.

11. The rhythmic gymnastics apparatus (ribbon, ball, clubs, rope, and hoop) should be replaced with funnel, egg & spoon, frisbee, stepladder and parrot.

12. It would be easier for the spectators in the back rows to see the balance beam competition if the beam were about forty feet high.

13. Water polo would be much more exciting if the participants were in those bumper boats, like they have at the state fair. I can't believe no one else has thought of that one.

14. Chariot races, but instead of horses, cheetahs.

15. Instead of swimming pools, the divers should dive into those containers of plastic balls like they have at Chucky Cheese. Make the balls transparent so the below-surface cameras can see the divers' entries. It would be like a kaleidoscope.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Success Story

A Kiersten White Retrospective

Lapsed minion (and contributor to Evil Editor Teaches School) Kiersten White has a book out, titled Endlessly. It's the third book of a YA trilogy. Long-time minions may remember Kiersten as the author of numerous cartoon captions, including:

...as well as numerous writing exercises, including this "Write Like Poe" exercise, in which she apologizes for abandoning us and makes an empty promise to return to minionhood.

Here's another sample of Kiersten's best work.

And one of her film screenplays.

Face-Lift 1053

[Not sure if "Guess the Plot" is worth playing with fake queries, but there are a couple titles now in the queue if you wish to pen a fake plot. Meanwhile, the query below arrived without a title, so . . . ]

Evil Editor--

I speak to you as a peer and not as a mere supplicant.

Since my earliest days I have been destined for greatness. Born apart from other men, my strength, knowledge and mastery the forces which bind all together have been unequaled.

My story is one of love, yes; and betrayal, pain and loss. But I have survived, and conquered my greatest tormentor.

I suggest that you will be wise enough to do what others less like ourselves will not dare to do, and publish my memoirs. Not only for us, but for children, and their generations yet unborn.


Lord Darth Vader

The Dickens Pitch Session

Click strip to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Face-Lift 1052

Guess the Plot

Bloodstone Creek

1. Scarlet Rivers investigates an alleged haunting in which the stones of Bloodstone Creek run red with blood—but only during the Blood Moon.

2. A'Brn'Y and the rest of her Clan live under the waterfall of Bloodstone Creek, where they act as liaisons for the numerous teenagers whose coming-of-age is marked by discovery of their Faery heritage.

3. Bloodstone Creek was the brainchild of George Rusnak. George is dead now, but his daughter Lillian works at the haunted Halloween attraction. This is the story of Bloodstone Creek’s cast and staff during its first season. Boo!

4. For years the people of Bloodstone Creek, Montana, have assumed that bachelor ranchers Jeremy and Franklin were gay. Only Lakota Billy knows the truth: They're not gay, they're really aliens. But will anyone believe a 10-year-old autistic boy?

5. What happens after all the humans leave Earth? The pigs lord it over the less intelligent species. Then Paula Prickles leads the porcupines of Bloodstone Creek in rebellion. Their allies are the bobcats, the owls and the skunks; their enemies are the pigs, the snakes and the lizards.

6. Whoever said you can’t get blood from a stone was a fool. Ever since Josiah turned up that rock while plowing the back forty and threw it in the creek, the water’s been running red. The cows won’t drink it and the milk supply’s running short. If Meg has to summon the witch to get this fixed, she knows that this time it’s gonna cost more than her first-born child.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Opening for its first October in a secluded creekside warehouse, Bloodstone Creek, a Halloween attraction with its own haunted past, [If it has its own past, how is it opening for its first October? Was it somewhere else in previous years?] draws from the surrounding towns eager crowds of victims and monsters alike. Everyone craves a taste of blood-racing, finger-knotting, plexiglass-smacking mortal terror—or else like Lillian Rusnak, a mostly average high school junior with a theatrical flair, they just love to terrify.

But Lilly believes that no other volunteer lurker within the Creek's walls is so drawn to lurk there as she is, and that no one carries the legacy she does. [For she is, in actuality, Lilith, mother of all vampires.]

Because among all the joke epitaphs etched in the foam grave markers by the entrance is a real one for Lilly's father, who named Bloodstone Creek and wrote its back story. *George Rusnak*, the marker reads, *The Mind Behind the Madness*, and the date of his death three years ago.

And while Lilly's not the only girl at the Creek ready to eat the stage blood off the face of Blake Carver, whose crazed green eyed-glare [eyed-glare?] and rasping voice sends [send] patrons running from whatever room he's working, she doubts even his frustrated ex-girlfriend has a connection to him quite as strong as her own. [No other volunteer is so drawn to lurk there as she is, no one carries the legacy she does, no one is as connected to Blake Carver as she is . . . These aren't things people aspire to. Teens want to be known as the one with the coolest car and clothes, not the one who is most drawn to lurk at a Halloween attraction.]

Because Lilly's the one who first met Blake back when he was a loud, sad, drunk kid stumbling through the parking lot of a third-rate "Spookyhouse" in another state.  That happened late in the long cross-country road trip Lilly once took with her parents. That was the trip she missed half of seventh grade for. The trip her father enthusiastically planned and called their Haunt Tour, while her mother tried to quietly swallow her objections. [If mom didn't want to go on the Haunt Tour, and it meant Lilly missing half of 7th grade, why didn't dad go alone?] The trip that finally finished a little more than three years ago…

In 60,000 words and three alternating timelines, Lilly Rusnak narrates the story of her family during the last few years of her father’s life, the story of Bloodstone Creek’s cast and staff during its first season, and the story of herself and Blake during their final encounter with one another. [That's all pretty vague. Is there a story?] Part drama, part romance, and part dark backstage comedy, [It's not coming across as dramatic or comedic, and a romance would end with Lilly and Blake together, not having had a final encounter three years ago. It's not horror or mystery?] *Bloodstone Creek* is a literary Young Adult novel about the desire to create imaginary ghosts, so that we can bear to live among the real ones. [Is "literary" a word you want to use when trying to attract YA readers?]

My short story “Redacted” has appeared in Redacted Press’s *Redacted Anthology,* published in Recent Date.

Thank you for your consideration.



Is there a plot thread that holds everything together? For instance, did dad die under suspicious circumstances, and his killer is still at Bloodstone Creek? Is the haunted attraction really haunted? What do you mean by Lilly and Blake's "final encounter"?

This query is mostly back story and the setting. I'm reminded of The Night Circus, which is mostly about the circus and its cast and staff, but your haunted warehouse is going to have to be spectacular if it's the main character. If Lillian is the main character, what is her goal? Who or what is keeping her from achieving it? What is she planning to do about it? What happens in your book? You want teenagers to read this, so focus on the good stuff. Sex, violence, ghosts. Don't tell us it's a story about X. Tell us the story. In ten sentences.

You can condense this whole thing into one sentence: Ever since Lilly Rusnak's father died three years ago at Bloodstone Creek, the Halloween attraction he created, Lilly has been (choose one) [quietly looking for clues to what killed him/ keeping his legacy alive by recruiting her friends to work there/ turning tricks in the "Zombie Bride's Bedroom."] That leaves plenty of room to provide specific details about what happens.

Writing Exercise

EE, is it time for fake queries again? A writing exercise? Something? Anything? 

I suppose the best way to get through the summer drought in queries and openings is another query-writing exercise, allowing me to post fake queries when we have no real ones. So . . .

You are a well-known person or animal, living or dead, fictional or real, who has just completed your memoirs. Write a query letter that's sure to get me to request the manuscript. 250 words max. Submit as a comment to this post. Humor appreciated.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Success Story

Dave F. reports:

My story "The Demon Invasion" which you saw in New Beginning 938 is available at AMAZON in FANTASTIC HORROR #4 - GOOD V EVIL.

This is the KINDLE version and the print edition will appear in a week or so.
Fantastic Horror is a paying market and has several anthologies open - http://www.fantastichorror.net/

New Beginning 963

In my grandmother's day, there had been no lack of Physicians, Menders, or Mender Physicians. The roads were good, the seas were safe, and the Physical Academies were open to any Imperial citizen.

In my father's day, the seas were not so safe. Enrollment dropped and schools closed as more and more women with the healing touch decided just plain Mending was good enough for them. I would have gone, I would have given anything to go, but my father forbade it with his dying breath.

"The Empire, she's turned her back on us," he moaned and, God forgive me, I hushed him with a nervous glance to the window.

My father laughed bitterly. "Who'll report me? Who will they report me to? There hasn't been a Legion ship through here in months. The Relayers know it, they're pulling their people from the Isles."

He laid his head back on the pillow with a weak cough and I brushed his white hair back. I could feel the pain in his limbs, the ache in his lungs that we both knew was beyond our skill to Mend.

"They've forgotten us, Acacia. We're on our own and we've grown so soft." His colors were roiling so heavily it frightened me. Thick red flecks of anger fought for dominance with a poisonous yellow cloud of fear around his head. I took his hand, willing strength into the few blue and violet tendrils remaining.

Suddenly his fingers clenched mine. "You take care of yourself."

His aura morphed into a chartreuse and puce checkerboard pattern, and I knew he was almost gone. A burst of lime green specks told me he had more to say. I leaned in close, lest I miss his dying words. He struggled to open his eyes and whispered, "I forbid you to enroll in the Physical Academy."

I thought, "Shit!" But then I realized that his halo cloud had turned the black of death, and thought, Screw him; it's my life, and med school's a great place to meet guys.

Opening: Sarah Hawthorne.....Continuation: Evil Editor

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

The Burning of Issobell Key

1. The tragic story of how the first annual Pyromaniacs Anonymous meeting at Issobell Key went terribly, terribly wrong.

2. Issobell accepts fiance David's invitation to move to an island colony in his home state of Washington. But the religious sect he grew up in acts weird, all this talk of the "Burning Woman" festival. She's getting a baaad feeling.

3. Vacationing in Scotland, Lou takes an interest in the 300-year-old case of Issobell Key, who was burned as a witch. Lou tries to prove Issobell didn't commit all those murders. Not that exonerating her will bring her back to life . . . unless she really was a witch.

4. Salem-born Issobell has it tough. Saddled with illiterate parents, warts and a fondness for newt-eye soup, it was only a matter of time before the mob turned on her. As the flames rise, she wonders how life would have been different if only she'd preferred minestrone.

5. Hundreds of years ago, she was convicted of witchcraft as a teenager and burned at the stake. Now her ghost is back for revenge. The first thing she has to get used to in the American suburb where she's been reincarnated is 21st-century spelling. "Issobell"!? Now she feels like roasting someone.

6. When her neighbor in the tiny Cotswold village of Boring-on-End meets an untimely end as result of an exploding gas cooker, amateur sleuth Amelia Pettipants knows it wasn't just because Issobell made one mean curry. Or maybe it was, and someone's out for revenge . . . someone with a history of stomach problems. Which means 75% of the village are suspects.

Original Version

PLEASE be brutal! Thanks. [Sure, you say Be brutal, but later when you're in tears because I've suggested that you give up this hopeless writing pipe dream and become a pole dancer in some skid row dive, how do I know you won't send your ex-con boyfriend over to teach me a little etiquette, Attica-style?] [On the other hand, how often do I get the opportunity to tell people, Be careful what you wish for?]

Dear Evil Editor,

The Scottish highlands have a rich history of magic and romance, but 26 year old Lou wasn’t looking for either when she traveled there with her best friend. Recently unemployed, Lou [Better to say "Unemployed"; if you call her "recently unemployed" we might think she is no longer unemployed. "Recently laid off" is okay, as is "recently fired." Even better, however, is to not mention her employment status at all, as it has nothing to do with the rest of the sentence or the rest of the query.] wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, [If you're gonna tell us in sentence 2 that she wasn't looking for anything in particular, there's no need to tell us in sentence 1 that she wasn't looking for magic or romance. However, I recommend keeping the romance and magic and ditching the anything, as I much prefer in particular to vague.] except perhaps some answers about her uncertain future. [You may argue that her joblessness is relevant because it's what makes her future uncertain. But I would argue that unless you can explain in the query how a vacation in Scotland is going to provide answers to her uncertain employment status, it's best to leave that out and let us believe she's just traveling.] [Some minions may now argue that maybe Lou isn't here on vacation, but is seeking a job. But I would argue that maybe you should read the next sentence before you open your big mouth.] But the past captivated her from the minute her vacation started, and Lou found herself digging for clues in a three-hundred year old murder mystery. [Queries are more interesting if they're in present tense. Like your next paragraph. Convert this one.] [Also, one could interpret that sentence to mean Lou started digging for clues the minute her vacation started.] [Also, are you sure murder was considered a crime 300 years ago in Scotland? I ask because my research into Scotland's history reveals:

14 April 1736: Efforts to quell a riot by the Captain of the City Guard in Edinburgh, Captain John Porteous, lead to six deaths. Porteous is later found guilty of murder.

7 September 1736: An Edinburgh crowd hear that Captain Porteous has been pardoned. That night they break into his cell and publicly lynch him. None of those responsible is caught.

As you see, the guy who was found guilty of murder was pardoned, and the authorities "claimed" they couldn't find anyone who was part of the lynch mob, even though the lynch mob was right there in the jailhouse.]

Mysterious dreams and bizarre coincidences begin to propel Lou [They propel her. If you tell us they propel her, we can deduce that at some point the propulsion began.] towards the fragments of truth [The truth. The truth is the truth; it doesn't come in fragments. It used to. Nowadays we have to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because in the old days the oath was, Do you swear the testimony you're about to give contains at least a few fragments of the truth? And even the guilty could safely say yes to that.] surrounding Issobell Key, a woman condemned as a witch in the seventeenth century. [As the 17th century was 310 to 410 years ago, I'll assume you were rounding off when you said the murder trial was 300 years ago. Which is okay, though I see no harm in calling it a 320-year-old murder trial, assuming the date of the trial is known to Lou.] As Lou blindly tries to follow her intuition, [She follows. If you say she follows, we'll deduce that she tried to follow. And "blindly" isn't needed unless she's blind, as that's understood when you follow your intuition instead of your senses.] she uncovers the grisly circumstances of Issobell’s trial and conviction: witnesses claimed that she murdered her sister, nephew, and brother-in-law in cold blood. [Those are the grisly circumstances of the crime, not of the trial and conviction.] [More proof that murder wasn't a crime:

Procurator: The woman murdered three people in cold blood. We have eyewitnesses.
Assistant: I know, sir, but what can we do?
Procurator: You're right, without a law against mur--Wait, we can charge her with witchcraft!
Assistant: Ah, Old Reliable. Brilliant, sir.]

With the help of Brian, the gorgeous native tour guide, and Tammy, her skeptical best friend, [If you'd told us the best friend's name the first time you mentioned her, you could just name her now without having to repeat that she's Lou's best friend.] Lou begins to delve [She delves.] into the tragedies of the distant past. But what she learns about her own past may be enough to completely change her life. [That's pretty vague. If she learns that she was Issobell in a past life, and has been summoned here to take revenge on all the descendants of the witnesses responsible for her first death, say so. It'll be the most intriguing piece of information in the query.]

Complete at 60,000 words, The Burning of Issobell Key blends modern and historical settings in a truly unique work of women’s fiction. [1. Everything that's unique is, by definition, truly unique. 2. If you mean no other book is identical to it, that's true, but it's true of every book. 3. If you mean something a bit less absolute, you need a word other than "unique." In any case, if you show the book's fabulosity with a compelling plot description, there's no need to declare it, so let the agent/editor decide if it's truly increduloso.]

Okay, what we've boiled this down to is something like:

The Scottish highlands have a rich history of magic and romance, but 26-year-old Lou is looking for neither when she books her vacation. Still, the past captivates her from the moment she arrives, and it's not long before Lou finds herself digging for clues in a 333-year-old murder mystery.

Mysterious dreams and bizarre coincidences propel Lou toward the truth surrounding Issobell Key, a woman condemned as a witch in the seventeenth century. Following her intuition, Lou uncovers the grisly details of Issobell’s crime: witnesses claimed that she murdered her sister, nephew, and brother-in-law in cold blood.

Complete at 60,000 words, The Burning of Issobell Key is women's fiction that blends modern and historical settings.

That won't be the complete query; first you'll want to smoothly slip in some (or all) of the following: Does Lou find info that suggests or proves Issobell was innocent? Is Lou investigating old records, or basing everything on dreams and supernatural visitations? How do you dig for clues in a 300-year-old murder in a foreign country? How does delving into this case specifically change Lou's life?

Is this a ghost story or a mystery? Is it Brian's hunkiness that makes this women's fiction? Because I don't see why women are the expected audience. Guys like grisly murders and people being burned alive almost as much as women do.

Selected Comments

Angela Robbins said...I believe EE's query was more solid, to the point, catchier. But I'm still skeptical of the premise. How is some average American girl on a vacation in Scotland qualified or capable of solving some 300+ year-old murder mystery? How is she getting her information/leads, and who is going to cooperate with her in a county with which she is not even remotely familiar? I could see if she was a cop or reporter or someone used to digging up info, but if she was just fired from the local coffee house...

Anonymous said...More specifics are needed to really distinguish this plot in the query pile. Too much hinting instead of wowing us with the intrigue. Reminds me of the time I was on an arduous desert hike with a former boyfriend and he announced he had brought along a delicious secret snack that would be marvelously refreshing for all. Which turned out to be a raw onion.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...Women's fiction generally tends to be about a female protagonist on a journey of self-discovery. From what you've described, "Issobell Key" is about a female protagonist having visions that lead her to solve a 300 year old murder.

Are you sure you don't have a cozy mystery on your hands? Because that's a pretty popular genre.

Also, I agree with Angela and Anon above. We need more details on how Lou takes action to investigate, because right now it sounds a bit like she has a dream, wakes up, and says "I know who did it!"

_*rachel*_ said...It's so vaaaaague, I almost think this query's about me....

Rewrite, and be specific this time. I need a clearer sense of what your characters actually do, as well as how the two stories tie into each other. Does Lou find a sense of fulfillment in solving the case? What's the point of solving it if it's so old? Is Issobell a character in flashbacks, a ghost, or what? I want to know why I should care about something that finished so long ago (and was, for all I know, historically unimportant). What happens after Lou figures out the truth?

up so many floating bells down said...I agree with all of the above comments, as well. There are really no plot details at all. We want to know how the story flows and what happens along the way, instead of words that don't really say much, such as: mysterious dreams, bizarre coincidences, and fragments of truth.

One other comment that I'd like to make is that the very first sentence of the query, which if I am correct should set us up for what follows, talks of the rich history of magic and romance in the Scottish Highlands; but neither of these is ever mentioned again. If the first sentence is about magic and romance, I'm disappointed at the end of the query that no magic or romance seems to be a part of the book..at least, from what the query tells us.

Remember that it's your plot that we want to know about not just some nice sounding words! Good luck, author!

Dave F. said...I suspect that Lou is a descendant of Issobell and discovers that in her research. By the way, any person with good library skills and a decent memory could credibly discover facts about a witch burning 300 years ago. It's a tried, true and respectable plot device.

However, that all seems to fit more of a mystery novel than a women's novel. The query makes this sound like a mystery. While I'm stepping on thin ice, the stageplay, AGNES OF GOD, is what I would call a women's story but it is told as a thrilling mystery. I've seen it both ways, live and film. (just my opinion)

Stephen Prosapio said...EE's query is much better, but the story still needs detail. I agree with Angela, the MC needs something pushing her or pulling her through the investigation other than "blindly trying to follow her intuition."

I don't buy the 60k words/women's fiction either. Sounds like a mysterry... which is a much easier sell than women's fiction-- which is apparently a redundant term these days anyway since men merely watch football and play video games.

vkw said...Men watch football and play video games and read fantasy books. I'm kind of counting on that, so don't ruin my delusions with facts or skeptism.

As for the query, yeah its been said, I'm not going to beat the author anymore with the idea that more facts are needed to set the query apart from the slush. I actually would suggest that more details about the MC maybe nice. All we know about her is that she is unemployed and these days that doesn't set her apart from any other Jane Smith.

So if she's special, let us know. If Hunky tour guide is just eye candy, cut him out but if he plays an important part then let us know this as well.

Khazar-khum said...If Hunky Mc TourGuide is a descendant of Issobell Key, you have a second reason to solve the crime. And maybe someone who can really help.

M. G. E. said...The sorts of style-points EE gave here are difficult for many writers to spot in their own work. It takes practice and a discerning eye. Learning to remove excess words, stay on tense, vary sentence constructions, and make sure your language remains internally logical and consistent is a higher-order level of writing.

You can't just master grammar and punctuation and expect to write well, this is the next level of a thousand more. Of course, many queries don't even display mastery of grammar and punctuation :P much less spelling :P I wish EE would do this sort of close-reading critique more often.

Evil Editor said...Of course, most authors don't give me the green light to be brutal. Or rather brutally thorough.

Joe G said...I guess I just don't really have a sense of Lou (although I love that her name is Lou) or of what consequence any of this is.

You compare it to, say, something like The Sixth Sense, which is also a relatively low key ghost story about people who must deal with the problems of the dead, where you have a highly compelling protagonist (a young boy who sees ghosts but is too young to emotionally handle it) and a great twist at the end. That movie was about something, it was about people.

In a roundabout way, what I'm saying is that nothing at all is at stake in this query. Is Lou's life in danger, or is this witch burning story a means toward self renewal/discovery? What's the twist, hook, element of drama? The lack of plot details suggests that a lot of the book is Lou sitting in the library reading about the witch. Is anything happening in the present day to our ostensible protagonist besides a hunky tour guide? Isobell should be the spice and Lou the meat. Otherwise it's all white wash.

Adam Heine said...Joe G (and Rachel, and others) points out the same thing that bothers me about this query. Why is it set in the present? How does the mystery matter at all to Lou?

The plot (as written in the query) is: Woman gets fired. Woman goes on vacation. Woman learns a lot about 17th-century Scotland witch trials.

The story would be a lot more exciting if it took place, say, 300 years ago and it was Issobel's daughter trying to prove her mother's innocence. Not that you have to do that. I'm sure your story IS about Lou, but we need to see how in the query.

What does Lou gain by solving the mystery? What does she lose if she fails? If the answer to either of those is "nothing," consider Issobel's daughter.

Sarah said...Note of caution: Robin Cook wrote about a female protagonist who moves to Salem and ends up researching her female ancestor who was killed for supposedly being a witch. The protag identifies hugely with her ancestor and becomes obsessed (weird dreams and odd coincidences abound), while researching the "witch" through available historical documents. The "witch" turns out to have been innocent.

Now, it usually bugs the crap out of me that many queries get the "ah, but someone has written a story with a magic X/set in Y, so you can't do that". Normally it's quite obscure books that the writer almost certainly has never heard of. I'm just chipping in because Robin Cook is pretty popular, so there's a fair chance the agent you're writing to has come across it.

So, my suggestion is to focus more on the murders. I'm actually really interested in them, so I'd like to see them get more words. The blood and guts and witchcraft are the interesting selling-point of your story (presuming the romance takes a back seat), and it'll help differentiate your story from the Cook one.

batgirl said...This sounds like something I would pick up from the shelf, at least. I'd actually caution against saying it's unique, and rather suggest you mention what it resembles. Would readers of Mary Stewart or Susan Kearsley like it, or is it darker, like Barbara Michaels? If you'll excuse me for being all 'ooh I have an agent' for a moment, now that Willow Knot is going out to editors, my agent asked me for titles of books that were like it, because that helps marketing. (I know EE cautions against throwing names around, but if your potential agent can sell a particular genre, s/he should know some of the standard names in it)

Second - why does Lou need blind intuition to lead her to trial records? Anyone with college (senior high?) level research experience should be able to find those. It also makes her sound quite passive - she doesn't take action, she's led around by fate. Can you bring out what actions and decisions she makes herself?

writtenwyrdd said...Author, EE's comments, as always, make the query much more lucid. However, I am finding the premise is DULL. This is because we need a hook that makes us care (and understand) why your protagonist is haring off to discover the answer to an ancient murder mystery.

You mention the handsome tour guide, and that makes me think you are hinting there's a romance, but you allude to it rather unskillfully instead of saying it's a complication (or not) and why. "Aided by her handsome tourguide for whom she has a growing attraction" might be one means rather than relying on just mentioning he's good looking.

Additionally, you stop short of giving us a hint at what the ending is about. I think the crisis is left out here, and without that, the query lacks any enticement at all.

So, what does your protagonist want? To figure out an ancient murder mystery. Emotional hook is why would she want to solve this? and the conflict is unknown entirely. Also, we need an idea that something gets in the way of her reaching the goal (someone trying to kill her?)

A query needs to answer those sorts of questions because a query's job is to make the read sound enticing. And what makes a story enticing is generally stuff related to emotions and conflict.

Keep at it, practice makes perfect. (But do watch for extra words like 'begins to' as EE points out.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Book of the Baba Yaga

1. Dmitri's family died in the Holocaust. All he has is a battered copy of "The Book of the Baba Yaga" to guide him to his Russian roots. Can Svetlana from the library help him--or is she trying to thwart him?

2. Young Baba was sent by her parents to learn magic with the local witch. But when famine strikes, the witch declares her intent to eat Baba to survive. With the help of another captive, a handsome boy, Baba must use what little magic she's learned to trick the witch and escape before she's turned into brisket.

3. 13-year-old Samantha is invited to attend Dr. Xenon's Olympic archery training facility, which is also the tree-dwelling Baba Yaga's home. Xenon is responsible for making the Olympic medals, using gold he creates from souls in hell. When Sam discovers her friend Jonah, who's been missing two years, is in hell, she heads off to rescue him. Think Dante's Inferno for the middle school crowd.

4. Tessa wants to be Prom Queen but she's short, plump, and homely--until she finds a mysterious book of beauty secrets that really work. The first time she uses it, her complexion clears but her best friend is covered in zits. She tries the spells for glossy hair and a slimmer waist; other friends get bald and fat, confirming that not only do the beauty tips work, each comes with an unexpected bonus.

5. It wasn't enough that David became Oxford's youngest ever linguistics professor, admired for his abstract ravings. Now the little toddler has a book contract. Will David succeed in replacing the English language with gibberish before publication?

6. To read the book of Baba Yaga is to have your eyes opened--quite literally--to every ghoul and spirit visiting our plane. But to survive the experience you must not only finish the book, you must pass it on to the next unsuspecting soul. When Father Gregory happens upon the book he must decide whether to die or damn another to his fate.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my middle reader fantasy, BOOK OF THE BABA YAGA. In this story of alchemy, wealth and mystery, thirteen-year-old Samantha Liffey must cross a forbidden Gate and journey through Hell – literally – to save a friend from losing his soul.

Thirteen-year-old uber-archer Sam [Are you going to tell us her age every time you mention her? She's 13. We got it.] is super excited when she qualifies for top-secret, exclusive Xenith Academy, where the world’s leading young athletes train for the Olympics. [How can a place remain top-secret, if the world’s leading young athletes regularly go there?] From the moment she arrives in the Baba Yaga’s treetop cabin with a talking doll as her guide, she's engulfed in a world like nothing she ever imagined. [I can't tell if you've jumped ahead three chapters or if it's the normal chain of events for someone going to Xenith Academy to be guided to the Baba Yaga's treetop cabin by a talking doll. Also, you might want to identify the Baba Yaga for those who've never heard the name. Start that sentence with a transitional phrase that lets us know you haven't switched to a different novel. Something like: But instead of the Academy, her guide whisks her off to the treetop cabin of the evil witch known as . . . the Baba Yaga!] [Or: Arriving on the Academy campus, Sam is taken to her archery instructor, a strict disciplinarian who lives in a tree and is known only by the terror-inducing name . . . Baba Yaga!] [Note that in both cases I left out the part about her guide being a talking doll.] [Although now that I think about it, Baba Yaga does sound like something a talking doll would say.] [Baba Yaga being introduced to Lady Gaga by Lady Gaga's daughter: "Baba Yaga, Mama Gaga. Mama Gaga, Baba Yaga."]

Dr. Xenon, president of the Academy, has a remarkable skill: he makes gold using soul energy, or qi, in the land beyond a forbidden Gate. [If you don't want people going through your Gate, you probably shouldn't keep capitalizing the word "Gate." Human nature dictates that people who would totally ignore a gate will do anything in their power to pass through a Gate.] That’s where Olympic medals come from, [Does qi also make silver and bronze?] and there’s plenty left over to make the Academy extremely wealthy. But Sam’s dreams of Olympic gold begin to crumble when she’s sucked into the search for her childhood friend Jonah, who vanished after sneaking into Dr. Xenon’s laboratory two years ago. [How did Jonah know where this top secret place was?] With the help of her friends, she figures out how to get through the Gate, [With the qi, of course.] only to discover it leads to Hell. [How can she tell where it leads? Is there a sign? A road paved with good intentions?] Inside, soul eating monsters are on the prowl. They steal qi from anyone brave enough – or stupid enough – to enter. Sam’s journey grows more difficult when Hell turns out to be as psychological as it is physical. [Drop that sentence or give a specific example that shows what you mean.] Even Sam’s own sister turns out to be a far different person than the girl Sam thought she knew. [Where did that come from? What's her sister doing here? This place is supposedly top secret and everyone seems to know about it.] Sam must find a way to rescue Jonah [Did she happen to bring her bow and arrows when she went through the Gate?] without losing those she loves, all the while struggling to accept painful truths about herself and her family. [Sis and family haven't even been in the query, and now they're of vital importance. Get rid of them.]

Loosely based on Dante’s Inferno and Slavic mythology, BOOK OF THE BABA YAGA is complete at 63,000 words. I would be delighted to send you a partial or a full manuscript should you be interested.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


First of all, the opening paragraph is a waste of space. There's nothing in it that you don't repeat later on. Get rid of it.

The International Olympic Committee is extremely touchy about things like claiming their medals are forged in hell. Maybe Sam should be looking into the World Junior Archery Championships.

It sounds like the main plot is rescuing Jonah. If Sam accepted the invitation to the Academy knowing that Jonah vanished from it two years earlier, and hoping to solve the mystery, make that clear early on.

What was Jonah doing in Xenon's lab two years ago? The place is top-secret. Was he an aspiring Olympic athlete too? I don't see how a world-class athlete could vanish forever from Xenith Academy, and the place still be top-secret. It should have been in the news for weeks.

Is it called Book of the Baba Yaga because there's an important book involved, or just because it is a book?

Can anyone remember the last time we had a query that wasn't set partially in hell?

Selected Comments

Eric said...With that title, I want some more about Baba Yaga herself, or at least her book. As it was, I was disappointed to see that, in the query at least, B.Y. has seemingly retired from the kid-eating business and is running a boarding house for young athletes. An incidental character in her own book--And no chicken feet? This won't do. 
Being trapped by an ancient Slavic witch who's planning to eat you is, to me at least, a lot more scary and exciting than a rehash of Dante's Inferno and hidden passages in a school. Imagine a combination of GTP 1, 2, and 6-- now that's some good stuff. 
Of course, I'm saying all this as a sucker for Slavic folklore, but that's the kind of person who's likely to pick up a book with that title.
Sarah from Hawthorne said...There are so many elements going on here. Olympic junior archers, qi from dead souls being turned into gold, Baba Yaga and talking dolls, trips to hell, long lost friends and mysterious family members. There's no reason why it can't all work, but right now it just comes across as a confusing mishmash. 
The biggest question I'm left with is why on earth a man who can make gold would use his wealth to make Olympic medals and fund a camp for athletic youngsters instead of, oh, say, buying his own island nation where he can create even more gold in peace.

AnonymousStephen Prosapio said...This whole thing just doesn't make any sense. Author you've got us asking all of the WRONG kinds of questions:
- How and (and maybe more confusing) why is an Olympic training camp top secret?
- If it's top secret, then how did Sam know Jonah went there? If she didn't know, how did she learn it?
- Why is she sneaking past the Gate when Jonah disappeared in the laboratory?
- Where did Sam's sister come from?
The connection between all these elements may be clear in your mind but they're not making any sense to us. We shouldn't have to guess at your plot in a query.

Joe G said...To be honest, the problem for me is that you haven't taken the fantasy to a logical point. You have interesting elements in your story (a scientist who can manipulate matter, a girl who descends into hell to save a friend), but I'm not buying the motivations. Why is the guy manufacturing gold from the souls of hell? It just seems like such a prosaic use for the powers of alchemy... first of all, the guy has proof of hell. And of a soul. And he uses it to make gold for, for some reason, Olympic medals? What? How does a 13 year old girl get to the Olympics? What? I could believe gymnastics... Why does this story involve the Olympics at all? It feels incidental. Is archery like, a weapon for her? I've always thought archery was the worst weapon a fantasy character could have. I keep wondering when the arrows are going to run out. Unless you're a cartoon character, or only use them at the last second because you have spiritual powers.
Also, you have two different plots and you haven't demonstrated how they relate to one another. The introduction of the "psychological horror of hell" towards the end strengthens the suspicion that there isn't a logical progression to your story.
Look, you have a villain: the scientist. You have a heroine on a quest. I don't know if it all comes together in the book, but it isn't in the query. It sounds like Inuyasha crossed with The Golden Compass.
I don't really care about Baba Yaga. Frankly I'm not sure why she's in the story at all, or how she made it into the title.

AnonymousMaura said...I was first struck by a pretty clear idea that "Olympics," etc. are trademarks, and a visit to the International Trademark Association seems to confirm this (http://www.inta.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=187&Itemid=&getcontent=1). Like EE, I don't think this is a use the IOC is going to be anxious to approve, and echo his suggestion you might select a different name for your tournament.
Meanwhile, I'm left feeling like this query is missing important pieces of information. Why does Xenon have to go to Hell to get gold to make Olympic medals? Is this an alternate universe? Why can't the gold just be mined in the usual fashion? Is it part of some sinister plot to capture the souls of the victors, or what? If there's a reason for it, it ought to be stated in the query; otherwise it just seems like a plot hole.
I was also puzzled by the sudden appearance of the sister in the last paragraph, and by the use of "qi." That's an Asian philosophy and a little bit odd popping up in a plot that seems to draw on "The Snow Queen." There's just... so much going on here. If this query were a contestant on Project Runway, Tim Gunn would say it was a lot of look. Pick the important story elements, set your scene/world, and lay it out up front.

AnonymousAuthor of BOTBY said...Hi everyone, Thank you all for your feedback - you've been extremely helpful! You've outlined the exact problems I was struggling with when writing this query, and made them very clear to me. I definitely need to downplay the Baba Yaga and am thinking up new titles. I see where it's confusing, and I'm definitely going to work on it. The villain of the story is based on Madoff, and the idea is that he runs this school in order to harvest souls to fuel an army (hey, it is fantasy, I'm allowed zombies), not to make gold - they actually are just stealing it (by using the army). Kids provide souls, souls raise the army, army steals gold. I guess that's the basic plot. One kid gets too curious, problems ensue.
I love all of your feedback, even the stuff that at first made me bristle. You're fabulous. Thank you for taking the time and energy to read my query, and a HUGE thank you to Evil Editor for doing this. I wish I could get you all cocktails!

Joe G said...Well, the last three queries have also been Hell stories. I still think your villain has awfully prosaic goals. Does he want to build an army of Olympic hell spawn or something so he can harvest gold? I just don't really get it.

BloggerM. G. E. said......So the whole thing is an allegory for Bernie Madoff and his ponzi scheme? When I finished reading the query the word that came to mind was "mishmash." Why the Olympics? 
People are saying your query doesn't make a lot of sense; that's because there's no sense of logical cause and effect throughout. Also, you don't need to mention everything in your plot, especially if it's going to confuse us. You can gloss over plot details for the sake of clarity and space--include just the central conflict and its elements.

Grateful Author Again said...yep - hear you on your comments. Thanks so much again for taking the time to read this, will be reworking based on all of your valuable comments and feedback. I appreciate the time you took to do it. 
My villian wants to be wealthy, respected, important, the guy who takes care of everyone, indestructible, etc. Pretty much what I imagine was the motivation of Madoff - and most villians. I don't think most villians go out there saying "I want to be the epitome of evil" - they want to be what everyone thinks of as great. It is kind of prosaic, I agree - but that's sort of the point, how quickly one can shift from being your average person to being Madoff.

150 said...Hi, author. Try writing out what happens, in order, in short, clear sentences. I think a lot of query writers get caught up in trying to make things sound mysterious when it's much more important just to get across what is happening to whom.

AnonymousAuthor Again said...150 - thanks - will definitely try that! Appreciate the suggestion. I've already changed the title, and I'm debating on whether to discard Hell or not. We'll see. Thanks for all your help, everyone.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Face-Lift 1051

Guess the Plot   

The Life of a Teenaged Hero

1. Choosing a name that hasn’t been used by some stupid comic book. Finding tights that don’t bunch. Pretending you need glasses when you have telescopic vision. Not retaliating when the high school quarterback kicks sand in your face at the beach bonfire.

2. When your parents won’t let you out on school nights and hold you to a ten o’clock curfew on the weekend. How are you supposed to fight crime, save chicks in peril, and deflect in-coming asteroids if you're studying algebra and civics instead?

3. Being the country's greatest superhero, but you kinda want to hang up your cape and just be an average teenager, except an evil scientist in a robot suit threatens to destroy the world and you're pretty sure all the other superheros would screw this one up.

4. Not using your powers to become the star of the basketball team so that Samantha Jordan would finally notice you. Having to resist using your X-ray vision to see through Samantha Jordan's clothes, even though she wouldn't suspect a thing, so probably it wouldn't hurt to take a peek. Or even a nice long gaze.

5. Getting in trouble for cutting class even though the only reason you cut was because your arch-nemesis Wrecking Ball was planning to destroy the gym and who the heck else was gonna stop him?

6. Having to put up with your little brother's torment just because the time you used your super powers on your little sister who kept bugging you, you killed her and now you have to follow all these silly rules.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor

Being a teenager is stressful enough when dealing with cute boys, messy Biology lab accidents, and a girl ready to expose your darkest secret, but try having to save the world on the side.

Sixteen year old, Momoko Yoshimi, [No commas needed. Also, her name sounds like a sushi museum.] is an everyday teenaged girl, [I'd go with "average"; pretty much all teenagers are teenagers every day.] but she's also her country's greatest superhero, Shadow Warrior. Her double life becomes even harder to manage when an evil scientist in a robot suit threatens to steal the powerful Shadow Crystals thatcould possible [that could possibly] destroy the world. [An actual robot would be scarier.
Man in Robot Suit
A man in a robot suit is about as scary as a man in a chicken suit.] [Also, I don't see that stealing these shadow crystals is any easier while dressed as a robot.] [Also, if you're planning to steal the powerful shadow crystals that could destroy the world, it's probably not a good idea to first threaten to do so. You don't want them bolstering security right before you make your move.] As Momo fights to save the day, she has to decide whether or not she wants to continue her life as a teenaged superhero or if she's ready to hang up her cape forever. [I don't see why she has to decide this as she's fighting.]
THE LIFE OF A TEENAGED HERO is an action packed YA Fiction novel [All novels are fiction, unless the author calls it a novel so no one will know it really happened to him because it was so embarrassing. In any case, when a book has a superhero and powerful shadow crystals that could destroy the world, we know it's fiction.] about a young girl who has to make the decision of a life time, ranking [weighing] in at 74K words. 



What chance does a guy in a robot costume have against the country's greatest superhero?

Does Momo have the shadow crystals? Where does she keep them? Shouldn't they be destroyed? Are they the source of Momo's power?

Maybe this should have a younger audience. The YA crowd may not buy into a guy in a robot suit as the villain.

Your plot summary is four sentences. Double that by elaborating on what's already here. What are Shadow warrior's powers? What are the crystals used for? What is the robot guy planning to do with them? (Presumably not destroy the world.) What kind of fighting is going on?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Query Letters by Characters

Occasionally query letters are written from the POV of a character in the book rather than the author. I don't recommend it, but it happens. Which has led me to wonder if this has been true throughout history. So I've put together the opening paragraph of some query letters that might have been submitted for well-known books.

My leg? A whale ate it. Most guys would retire from whaling once they were down to one leg, but not me. I'm gonna find that whale and put a harpoon in his side. Preferably before he eats my other leg.

My sister Sally and I are sitting around the house. As usual mom didn't get us a babysitter or a nanny. So we're killing time when this cat shows up and then all hell breaks loose. The cat was as tall as my dad and could talk and he was wearing a big hat and I'm thinking WTF?

The name's Hindley. Life was good around here. Then this homeless kid shows up and suddenly my sister and father like him better than me. Heathcliff's what he goes by. Yes, like the comic strip cat, who isn't even funny. Anyway, I've made it my goal in life to ruin this Heathcliff asshole. Otherwise no one will even remember that I was in the frigging book.

Did you ever have one of those days where nothing goes right, like you travel to Europe to apply for a job and when you get to the place where you're supposed to work the boss won't let you leave and it turns out he's a vampire? I did.

Call me Silas. Yes, I'm a hulking albino. What of it? It so happens I got involved in a tale of intrigue that will shock the Christian world. That I'm a hulking albino is beside the point. Stop staring at me!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Face-Lift 1050

Guess the Plot

Murder and Mayhem

1. Rescuing two pit bull pups from certain death in the shelter was one of Angela's proudest moments. She was equally proud of the clever names she gave the littermates. But when someone or something starts terrorizing small children and domestic pets in her urban neighborhood, she begins to wonder if taking in Murder and Mayhem might have been a big mistake.

2. Little Joey DeGriff used to pull the legs off insects. Now all grown up, he goes on a crime spree, leaving murder and mayhem in his wake. That’s about it.

3. Two writers' group members specializing in romance, Dwight and Barbara, secretly start dating. They love gossiping about the other writers, whom they give code names. It all seems delightfully witty and hilarious until an email goes wrong, inspiring Ms. Murder and Mr. Mayhem to bring shotguns to the next critique session.

4. What are the odds that TWO writers' conventions would both want the same hotel the same weekend? Not high enough to make sales manager Susie Hernandez suspicious until both show up - and she realizes she's double booked CozyMurderCon and Hard Boiled Books into the same rooms.

5. In the quaint Cotswolds village of Mayhem, the biggest worry is usually whose dahlias will win the prize at the church fete. That is, until the vicar turns up dead, stabbed in the narthex with a pair of gardening shears, and Miss Higginbotham finds herself the main suspect. Well, he was the one who said her roses looked "tatty".

6. The Prime Minister's been murdered. The only witness has just become a target, and needs help to disappear. That's where I come in. I'm the magical superhero/quasi-crook known as . . . Delete Key!

Original Version

[This was declared to be a practice query; not sure if it's for a work in progress or a work that doesn't exist.]

Dear Evil Editor and all the Malicious Minions,

I make things disappear. Not in a magicky kind of way (though I can do that too), but in a problems-aren’t-there-anymore kind of way. Those two arrests for drunk-and-disorderly that’ll cost you your job? Gone. That super-creepy chick stalking you because she likes your hair? Gone. [Not clear what the distinction is between what you do and the magicky way unless you specify how you do it.] That guy who witnessed a murder and needs to hide? Um…yeah, gone.

Except after I make the witness disappear, all of his problems come to me. His ex-girlfriend, who trashes my place in lieu of his. His incredibly beautiful sister, who doesn’t believe that I don’t know where he is. [This is a problem? String her along; as long as she thinks you know something, you get to hang out with her.] And, oh yeah, the murderers. The murderers who want to find the witness and make him disappear a little more permanently. And make me disappear next, because I know about the murder.

The murder of the Prime Minister.

But I’m not going down easily. Cops aren’t going to help a quasi-crook like me, so I’ll have to do it my way: with my own private arsenal and a lot of luck. [Why can't you do it your usual way? Or the magicky way?]

Yours faithfully,


The list of things you make disappear lacks symmetry. With the drunk and disorderly arrests and the creepy chick, you make the client's problem disappear. With the murder, you make the client disappear. If you had made the client's problems (ex-girlfriend, sister, murderers) disappear, you wouldn't be in this mess.

Of course, as making problems disappear is your talent, why not make these problems disappear now?

A query written in the POV of one of the characters is not always well-received. Assuming this character has a name in the book, I see no reason not to switch to third person. An added advantage being that we'll know whether the MC is a man or woman.

One could get the impression from paragraph 2/sentence 1 (especially with the mention of magic being real), that every time you make someone's problem disappear, it comes back on you. But it seems this may be the case only with the murder. Maybe we can do without the examples of problems you erase and just say:

I'm what's known in the trade as an eliminator. I make problems disappear. So when Joe Blow witnessed a murder and needed to vanish, he came to me. Now Joe's tucked away, safe and sound . . . and I'm the one with a problem.