Sunday, September 30, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Blue Screen of Death

1. When weather reporters start turning up dead, Detective Pete Paradiso knows that it's not about their botched forecasts. Can Pete find the killer before perky Suzie Snowflake does her last weather report . . . on the Blue Screen of Death?

2. Vince Malkoff wakes from his daydream to find those IT slackers still haven't fixed his computer. But why do his hands hurt, and where did this bloody, torn Star Trek tee-shirt come from?

3. Theresa has had it. She's caught Jake cheating for the last time. She's going to hit him where it hurts -- she's going to fix his ultrafast gaming computer. That'll teach him for chasing after Gillian.

4. Investigating the death of tech wiz Peter Yuen, Veronica discovers he was at the forefront of artificial intelligence research. The only way to unmask the killer is to complete Peter's project--but if she succeeds she'll bring down the Internet, and then how would she get her email?

5. The end of the world starts with a single blue screen. Then another, then another, then another. As PCs worldwide sizzle and die, Mac users find themselves in the ascendant. But unfortunately a bunch of writers, designers and advertising geeks turn out not to be the best-qualified people to run society.

6. Throughout the world, people have stopped dying. No one is succumbing to anything; not lethal injuries, not terminal illnesses, not even simple natural causes. Religious leaders proclaim this a sign of mankind's imminent transcendence of its mortal bonds, but it takes technogeek-cum-shaman Vishnu O'Halloran to find the real explanation: the Grim Reaper's computer system has crashed.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I'm seeking representation for my murder mystery, Blue Screen of Death.

Veronica Avalon's personal hero, Peter Yuen, is found electrocuted in his bathtub. His parents believe it was a freak accident. [He was trying to get a bagel out of the toaster while bathing during a thunderstorm.] The police call it suicide. Only tech-savvy Veronica sees the clue that points to murder.

Detective: Toaster in the tub. An obvious suicide.

Veronica: Not so fast. A computer geek committing suicide would never use his toaster; he'd use his terminal. Get it? Terminal?]

When Peter's parents ask Veronica to recover banking information from their son's computer, she discovers that it hosts a pornographic web site--a fact she can't reconcile with her perception of Peter as an idealist. [Hey, what could be more ideal than having your own porn site?] Could his secret site have something to do with his murder? Loyalty and unresolved romantic feelings for Peter drive Veronica past her revulsion to the porn. [I admit some porn is revolting, but if I had a job looking into porn sites I'm pretty sure I could handle it. In fact, I'd be handling it all the time.] She digs into Peter's PC and follows the trail from online vice to the frontier of artificial intelligence research. [When I'm on a porn site, the only trail I follow is from one movie clip to the next. (And if I ever did find myself on a page with AI research, I would hit the "back" button so fast . . .)] [Finding the frontier of artificial intelligence research through a porn site is like running into Stephen Hawking at a cock fight.]

But her sleuthing provokes the murderer to strike again.

Uncertain if she can trust her friends, her boss, or even Peter's parents, [Are they all suspects in the murder?] Veronica tries to single-handedly unmask the killer. Her talent for debugging translates well into investigation, but the only way to draw him out may be [by employing her talent for disrobing, and] to step into Peter's dangerous world [by becoming a porn star]. She moves into his apartment, hijacks his email, and tries to complete his AI project.

If she fails, she may become the next victim.

If she succeeds, her discovery could bring down the Internet and destroy the reputation of the man she loved. [Earlier he was referred to as her personal hero. Did she secretly love him? How did he feel about her? If they were in love, "personal hero" sounds weird.]

This would be my first fiction sale [unless I sell something else first]. I have one professional non-fiction sale for a technical magazine.

Thanks for your consideration.


It's not clear what the porn site has to do with anything. How is it connected to the AI project? Is it impossible to get to the AI site without going through the porn site?

The idea of prudish Veronica having to become a porn star to flesh out the killer's plans appeals to me.

Catchier titles: The Porno Murders; The Good, the Bad and the Geeky; The Case of the Bogus Bagel.

Obviously Veronica's computer savvy, but stepping in and trying to complete a project begun by someone on the frontier of AI research?

Also, I get the impression she was unaware he was on the frontier of AI research until she stumbled on his project. Seems like if he's her personal hero and she loves him she would have a better idea what he's into.

A murder mystery usually has suspects who have motives. Are there several suspects? Does finishing the project reveal which one is the murderer?

What do you mean by "bring down the Internet"? Literally destroy it? Make it obsolete? Make it so all urls are automatically forwarded to Evil Editor's blog? Wait, that would make the Internet better.

Selected Comments

blogless_troll said...You had me at porn site.

Getting electrocuted in the bathtub sounds kinda cartoonish, especially since you don't say HOW he got electrocuted. Plus, the Myth Busters proved it was impossible to electrocute yourself in the tub with a hair dryer, unless you were also eating Pop Rocks at the same time.

A little more info on Veronica might help in the beginning. You don't need a bio, but the only qualification you listed is that she's "tech savvy." Then later you say she has a talent for debugging. But we still don't know what she does. If she's some kind of programmer/hacker, you should say that up front.

pacatrue said...I think there's a good novel here, but I had a lot of questions that might keep me from asking to see a partial (if I was a peron who asked to see partials).

1) While the publisher will come up with their own book title anyway, I don't think "Blue Screen of Death" works here. It just sounds like a joke. And yet the query doesn't make the novel sound like a joke.

2) As EE said, I want to know more about our heroine's background and her ability to complete an AI project. You can get away with a little technical mumbo jumbo if she spends all her time chasing people through dark alleys because of an AI McGuffin, but it sounds like one of the crucial components of the story involves her completing Peter's amazing project. Can the heroine talk about autonomous agents, artificial life paradigms, information encoding, categorization algorithms, or whatever else Peter was working on? I don't think you need to talk about them in the book, but we need to believe that Veronica could.

3) I don't know if you really want to get into this in the query but, as they say, there are porn sites and there are porn sites; i.e., Peter's site could run the gambit from sexy stories to people taking off their tops to ... well, I'm sure I don't know. This is only important to know just how seedy a world Peter was involved in. Was his site illegal? Fetish? Manipulative? Racist? Etc.

Anyway, perhaps the key is to develop more fully what it is that Veronica does to solve the crime. Does she perform AI wizardry? Does she follow EE's fantasy of joining the porn world? And why aren't the police of FBI involved at some point?

I'm going to guess that Peter was developing some way to use AI to create fantasy sex partners for customers. It's the best way I can think of to combine AI and porn plots. Is this right? I've thought for a long time that some day someone will eventually pull this off and the world will come crashing to a halt. Or at least crash the internet. (Seriously though, if people think internet addiction is a problem now....)

Dave F. said...I can't imagine an AI firm exploring porn as a subscription service. I did some work with robotics firms in Pittsburgh and I can tell you, porn is not on their minds. War is. But not porn. And AI is what they need to run their machines.

I think that you need to amp your plot up a little bit from being "hump, hump, bump, bump, party girls in action" or "Girls and boys gone completely digitally naked with electronically enhanced genitals" to war machines.

Robot zombies of death and destruction.

Am I farfetched? No. The author of a program for sex in SECOND WORLD is suing someone else for misusing his program to enable sex in SECOND WORLD. Happening as we speak. YAWN!

What you are hinting at is a "killer" application with AI that is going to take over the internet. I think pornography is the wrong way to go. War machines and the overthrow of countries by the internet or sabotage of financial matters will affect more people.

Now if you are writing for Christians and want to point out the evils of porn, then say so. Porn sites that create sex-crazed men and women intent upon seducing the innocents and electrocuting them in their baths? How about porn sites that create devil worshipers and bring on the reign of satan by black magic?
It's like the rapture in the Left Behind series.

I remember that back in 1995 (ancient times), AOL tried to ban certain "naughty" words. One was "breast" and (guess what) the American Breast Cancer society went nuts (for obvious reasons). Porn, while ubiquitous and unwanted, is not the "BIG BAD WOLF" that some want it to be. It requires a second, more evil, agent behind it. A brainwashing program that turns nerds into killers has been done. It's the Manchurian Candidate for virgins (nerds).

Peter Yuen has to be the vanguard of something more evil than porn. A financial program to destroy the world's stock markets, or a giant filter that sifts the world's email for your personal messages and uses them to destroy you, or an application that can take over the military and wipe out mankind. Something really evil and not just a couple making love before a camera.

Ello said...Evil Editor is a dirty boy. And you commenters enjoying the porn! Where's Church Lady to call you all dirty little whores! ;o)

I'm not sure I understand this query that well. I thought it started one way and then went an entirely different direction. I'm going to piggy back on what Dave said cause he's alot smarter than me and I agree with everything he said, even the stuff I didn't understand!

iago said...She moves into his apartment, hijacks his email, and tries to complete his AI project.

Change "AI project" to "scale model of the Marie Celeste" and she sounds exactly like my ex-girlfriend.

Why would Peter's parents need her to dig banking information out of the computer, rater than just go to the bank with the appropriate paperwork?

If the murderer strikes again, he's already been drawn out.

Really not clear how completing a cutting edge AI project is the most practical and efficient way to track down a killer, even if she has the cutting edge AI skills. You may need to explain this a little more.

Sarah said...Being a computer geek, though not dyed-in-the-wool, I read this and thought - ok, maybe. Then I read Dave's post and thought - yep, he knows the ones I work with.

But porn is a good possibility for the ones I work with as well. Very un-PC workplace. Very. I take walks when the talk gets going way overboard. The better to not visit HR.

So, the porn could work, but the query is a bit confusing.

Gotta love those mythbusters!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Bless the Dying

1. Bless the dying, it is said, for they make way for our children. "Fuck that," Oscar Munker says, and so begins his hilarious quest to find a way to cling to this mortal coil forever.

2. Dear old Father Gabriel spends his nights at the hospital, ministering to the terminally ill. But only Ian, the vampire who works in the lab, knows that 'Father Gabriel' is really a devil known as Gabron. Can Ian destroy Gabron before he harvests any more souls?

3. After a routine medical test, a cop checks into the hospital. He's been poisoned! The head of public relations for the hospital suspects he's dying, which would be bad pub, especially if the routine test was administered at the hospital. She decides to solve the case.

4. When evil scientist Ray Winegast accidentally infects himself with homemade zombie microbes and starts an epidemic, it's up to Thor Jones and Bongo Mugwump to save voluptuous Screaming Mimi from the roof of Virus Central before the US Air Force flattens Pittsburgh.

5. Sally Bless has only one month in which to make her handicraft store show a profit, or the bank will seize all her assets. Then she meets Oliver Quilby, an aging hippie who shows her the forgotten art of tie dying. Suddenly a craze for tie-dying hits the USA and Sally finds herself richer than she ever dreamed. But will her new millions alienate the hippie she has grown to love?

6. Candace always wanted to see Africa. When a brutal coup occurs, though, hunky CIA agent Tom Thomas whisks her off to a secret resistance base in the jungle. Can she win his heart by going undercover as a nun into the new regime's hospitals and extracting useful secrets from its soldiers while administering last rites?

Original Version

Dear XX: [Nothing assures a rejection like spelling the editor's name wrong. That's EE.]

When a policeman falls ill after taking a routine medical test, his former lover, head of public relations for the hospital where he’s been admitted, suspects the worst. [I have no idea what "the worst" is because the test and the illness aren't specific enough:

Was his poisoning an accident, or did someone prescribe the test knowing full well the outcome?

[Doctor: Where's Crampton?

Nurse: I sent him to the lab to have some blood drawn.

Doctor: Excellent. Mwaahhh ha ha! Soon he will be dying from a slow-acting poison administered by lab assistant Igor, and we can move on to the next phase of our diabolical plan!]

That’s the premise of a character-driven mystery I’ve written titled BLESS THE DYING.

When not writing fiction, I’m [Whoa! That's all we get? The premise?] a feature writer for the Houston Chronicle. I spent ten years in health care public relations [So this is autobiographical. How does your ex-lover the cop feel about you writing this book in which he dies an excruciating death? Or did that really happen? Did you administer the routine test?] before becoming a journalist, and still have many contacts at the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and other media outlets, which will prove helpful when publicizing the book.

My short stories have appeared in BorderSenses Literary Journal, Farfelu magazine, and Texas Magazine. A portion of BLESS THE DYING, which comes in at 65,000 words, was honored by the Florida First Coast Writer’s Festival in its annual competition.

Written in the vein of Irene Allen’s Elizabeth Elliott series, BLESS THE DYING is the first in a planned series of mysteries. The second novel follows the protagonist as she’s called upon to defend a physician accused of molestation. [BLESS THE MOLESTED will be followed by BLESS THE SNEEZING, in which the protagonist must deal with the aftereffects of pollen being released into the hospital allergy clinic. Accident? Or Mother Nature's henchmen?]

Please feel free to phone or e-mail if you’d like to read BLESS THE DYING. Thank you for your time.


The premise and a bunch of stuff about you isn't enough to get me to read this. If you tell us what the cop was being tested for and what his symptoms were, we'll have some grounding, but this being a mystery, I assume someone gets murdered. Is it the cop? He dies from the poison? Who wanted him dead? Who had opportunity? Who had motive? Get us interested in the mystery.

How do they know the routine test had anything to do with this? Obviously if you have your hearing tested and later get a stomach ache you aren't going to connect the two. If you have an illness you assume it's caused by the usual suspects, not a medical test you had recently.

The cop's former lover is going to be your protagonist in a series of mysteries, and we don't even get her name? The only character named in the query is Elizabeth Elliott, and she's not even your character.

Is a hospital's PR head really qualifieded to solve a series of crimes?

If editors had to decide which manuscripts to request based on two-sentence premises, they'd have to request everything or nothing. I, for one, would go with the latter. Come up with eight or ten sentences summarizing your plot. Your premise can be two of them.

Selected Comments

Sarah said...We seem to be getting a rash of queries that contain very little about the novel and a lot about the author. Is this a new trend?
Part of me hopes so. That way the editors and agents I send my stuff to will be zipping through their slush at a faster rate.

WouldBe said...There'll probably be little substantive comment since there's so little query to comment on. The author could claim to be Steven King, yes THE Steven King, and the query would then be just fine.

Xenith said...Getting the novel down to a one sentence statement isn't something to be sniffed at though ;)

(Actually, it can be a good exercise wrtiting a logline, because you need to really focus on what the novel is about. Once you're got that done, I find the query and synopsis become easier to write.)

talpianna said...I gather that the cop has been poisoned via the "routine test;" but this is problematic, as EE pointed out. However, it might be made to work if you used a routine SHOT or vaccination. I recently read a story in which one of the plot points was that the teenaged heroine was allergic to eggs, so her parents decided not to have her vaccinated before moving to the African jungle because the smallpox vaccine is cultured in eggs. They figured the chances were remote that she'd ever be exposed to smallpox.
Yeah. right.

There are also drug allergies, as for example to penicillin. I myself am allergic to tetracycline.

And in 1952, when I was getting shots before we were sent to Europe, I had a very severe reaction to the typhoid/typhus series. Fainted dead away at a Bluebird Father-Daughter Dinner.

pjd said...I'm not sure there's anything that can be said that EE didn't say. Except I like GTP #2 and hope that Ian the Vampire shows up in more GTPs in the future. And in GTP #4... why, exactly, would we want to stop the US Air Force from flattening Pittsburgh?

Robin S. said...I liked the prostate test bit, with the bug eyes.

(I laughed my ass off watching my husband mince around like he'd been violated after he came home from having had his first prostate exam. We had a little chat about stirrups in exam rooms for women's exams, and why they were there, and all about how much fun, and how painless, childbirth is. And how one finger up his lubricated little...well, you know. Anyway, BFD, Sport.)

OK- on to the query.

I have to say I've read certain agents like to hear about applicable pub credits, about what genre your novel is and where you think it would "fit in" in the scheme of things - I've also heard some say they like (reasonable) comparisons to published authors. I've also read agents wanna know you have more than one book "in you". Then I've read other agents' wants-and-want-nots lists, and they prefer a polar opposite approach to each of these little nuggets. So I'd say this is (obviously) going to be a case-by-case deal.

When I've written a query that EE doesn't dismiss top-to-toe, I'll feel more comfortable saying more about the premise/setup portion of people's queries. As that hasn't happened yet (and as I may chicken out and never rewrite one for him, fearing the wrath of the gods if I screw up again), I'm bowing out of this portion of your query author, except to say, I know it's hard as hell, and I wish you the very best of luck.

pjd said...robin, that is such a cop-out on the query.

I am laughing my prostate off at your story about your hubby, though. I am at that age for my first such exam, and I think I scored big points with my doctor (a woman) when I said, "If my wife can go through childbirth--twice--without drugs of any kind--then I can handle this." I refrained, however, from doing my best W impression and saying, "Bring it on!"

Church Lady said...So glad EE didn't go to medical school.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Face-Lift 1072

Guess the Plot

The Miranda Contract

1. Carmen has ditched the hat and the song-and-dance routine, but Fosse's not ready to let her go yet. Can she get out of her contract to marry John Jakes, the hobo of her dreams, or will she be forced to pretend to be a vivacious Latina till the day she dies?

2. When Arda Arnhem is arrested for a murder she didn't commit, she is offered the right to remain silent. But this contract has a catch-- if she chooses to waive the right to remain silent, anything she says can and will be used against her in a court of law! Fortunately, she has the right to an attorney, public defender and amateur sleuth Wilma Wilkins.

3. When the dead gigolos start piling up at the city morgue, ace detective Zack Martinez knows two things: Guns don't kill people, bullets do; and some gal named Miranda sure had a lot of boy friends.

4. Miranda the Hooker was always getting cheated, beat up, and abused. Taking control of her life, she goes back to school and earns a law degree and an MBA. Now she gets the respect she deserves, because all her johns have to sign...The Miranda Contract.
5. Dan Galkin's grandfather, an evil psychopath known as the Mad Russian, wants Dan to kill pop sensation Miranda. It'll be good publicity for the "family" business. But Dan feels a certain electricity between himself and Miranda, which he thinks may be true love, rather than his electricity-manipulation super power.

6. An exploration of the very different viewpoints in the two original versions of the "Miranda" rights contract, which were eventually merged into the warnings we all know and love. Includes point-counterpoint between 'You have the right to speak, but only in a polite and respectful tone' and 'You have the right -- nay, the responsibility -- to shut the fuck up.'

7. Miranda is a fairy with only 24 hours to live, and though fairies aren't supposed to live as long as mortals, she really is attached to the life she has. She makes a deal with an amateur warlock to extend her life but at the cost of transforming into an imp. After losing her beauty, Miranda realises how shallow the fairy world is and becomes hell-bent on usurping the Fairy Queen to bring in a new regime.

8. Miranda has spent too much time on the Internet, reading about the goofy things people do to make money. When she convinces a local rich family that paying her to pretend to be their cat will be quirky and entertaining to guests, she'll get free housing and food for a year. But can she get out of the contract when she finds out they've also rented her ex-boyfriend as the family dog?

9. Jet-setting businessman Howard Levant usually fathers by phone, but he can't help promising his tearful daughter Miranda he'll be home all day on her birthday. He doesn't plan on having to negotiate the biggest deal of his career while juggling two feuding mistresses and a pissed-off politico demanding Howard's hide.

10. It's 1940. “Lucky” Luciano sends Lenny “Wolf” Lupo to kill Gina Miranda – a jewel thief who burgled the wrong mansion. He watches her and falls in love. When they meet, she tries to kill him while he tries not to kill her. They wed, leave the life, and hide in a sleepy southwestern town. But after the war, change comes to Las Vegas.

11. When the body of crime author extraordinaire Jim Trisham is found dangling from the mast of his yacht "Miranda Contract", Homicide Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, Trisham didn't hang himself by the testicles and two, since keeping a 100 foot yacht at Marina del Rey means you have more money than God he probably shouldn't have contributed to the boat by buying Trisham's books.

12. Actress Miranda Gabriel, fresh from her Iowa community college drama department, is discovered and slated to lead in the edgiest new drama of the season. Her agent tells her she first must sign a contract -- in blood. Welcome to the West Coast, he says, it's all part of the biz.

Original Version

Dan Galkin is seventeen and desperately trying to keep his life unremarkable, but when you were a teenage super-villain for two weeks at the start of high school and your grandfather is an evil psychopath hell-bent on making you his successor at any cost, it’s not going to be easy. [No need to say "at any cost," as it was implied by "hell-bent."]

Dan is an uberhuman, born with the ability to sense and manipulate electricity, [For instance, when he gets out of the shower and wants to dry his hair, he senses that there is electricity on the other side of the bathroom electrical outlet. He manages to access this electricity through the use of the metal prongs dangling off of his hair dryer. He then manipulates the electricity into a steady rush of warm air through the use of the on-off switch. Other controls allow him to regulate the air flow and temperature from low to medium to high. He feels it's only a matter of time before he's starring in his own comic book.] [An appendix in the back of the book details how Dan is able to manipulate electricity to create a grilled cheese sandwich.] and when he accidentally rescues pop sensation Miranda Brody from a mob of fans, he is strongarmed into becoming her bodyguard. [When you're desperately trying to keep your life unremarkable, and you become Britney Spears's bodyguard, you weren't trying desperately enough.] Unfortunately, his grandfather, The Mad Russian, has orchestrated the whole thing and wants Dan to kill Miranda and use the resulting publicity to take over the family business. [The business gets taken over by the family member who kills the most famous person?] Dan has no interest in becoming a killer so he and Miranda end up running for their lives, dodging a string of Dan’s childhood team-mates and developing a love-hate relationship along the way. [He loves her; she hates him.]

As the villains close in, Dan’s powers are acting wildly, but he manages to turn the tables on the Russian and he and Miranda escape the city in a stolen car. They end up at Dan's deranged mother's house where he realises he has gone as far as he can. He stops running - from his grandfather and from his past. Using clues from the previous attacks, [There've been attacks?] his grandfather's contacts, and his ability to tap into the mobile phone network, he tracks the Mad Russian's location to a shopping centre. [Überhumans don't go to shopping centers. They have minions, flunkies and underlings for that.]

It’s here at the endgame that Dan is pushed to his limits keeping the people safe and taking down his grandfather, eventually scrambling the electrical impulses of the Mad Russian's brain, although it nearly kills them both. In the aftermath Dan is labelled a hero. But it’s bittersweet for Dan, as Miranda walks away from their growing attraction, leaving him to find a way to live his own life instead of in the shadow of his past crimes and family. [What?! He saves the world but doesn't get the girl? What was the point?]

The Miranda Contract is a 70,000 word Young Adult superhuman [Überhuman] fiction novel, exploring issues of family pressure, overcoming negative reputation and labels, as well as a healthy dose of redemption, adventure and heroism. [If "fiction" is describing "novel," it's redundant. Or is "superhuman fiction" a single term, like "science fiction"? If so, is "superhuman fiction" a genre, or your opinion of your book?] [I'd go with "superhero novel."]

I have had several short stories published in print and online publications, as well as editing the superhuman fiction ‘zine This Mutant Life for two years. One of my stories, The Scoundrel’s Wife, was short listed for the Chronos Awards in 2011 (Australian science fiction awards).

The Miranda Contract was long-listed for the 2012 Hachette Manuscript Program. [A shrewd but transparent way of saying The Miranda Contract couldn't even get short-listed for the 2012 Hachette Manuscript Program.]

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,


I would drop the paragraph with the deranged mother, as it sounds too synopsisish and move directly to: In the endgame...

It's better to let the issues explored in your book be obvious from the plot description, rather than to point them out.

Pop sensation Miranda Brody would just go by Miranda.

Not sure the term "Miranda rights" is familiar in Australia, but in the US that title will probably give readers expectations of a police procedural.

Usually in a family business the heir to the throne is the most powerful or the most qualified or the first-born, and whether you've killed a pop star doesn't figure into the equation. What kind of business is the psychopathic Mad Russian's family in?

"Überhuman should have an umlaut, shouldn't it? Wait, should "umlaut" have an umlaut? Even if it shouldn't, it should. And we should spell apostrophe apostr'phe. And hyphen hy-phen. Etc.

From Wikipedia: Über (German pronunciation: [ˈyːbɐ]Thanks, that's helpful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Success Story

Suzanne van Rooyen reports:
Just wanted to let you know that around this time last you critted my query for my novel then titled Angels in Atlantis: Based on the issues raised in my query and the constructive comments of EE and readers, I revamped the entire book. The new, improved ms went on to become a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012 and in August, I signed with New York agent Jordy Albert. Just wanted to say thank you for lending a hand in my writing career. I always send aspiring query writers to Evil Editor for a reality check and some good advice before sending their material out into the world.

Thanks again!


Success Story

Dave F reports: What started life as BREAKUP SCENE #3 from June 27, 2010, was published as a short story of 1700 words in SEVEN ARCHON's anthology WRITINGS ON THE WALL. It's an anthology loaded with angry, paranoid, psychotic characters having horrific fun. That bit of writing worked out well.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot


1. When the Earth's magnetic poles shift, suddenly it's freezing at the equator and millions of people move to Antarctica and Siberia, where it's tropical. But there isn't enough food for everyone once the penguins have been eaten, so mankind teeters on the brink of World War III.

2. Australian Christina Margolin is the world's only known weredingo, a fact she has kept hidden, until she involuntarily "Shifts" into dingo form in the presence of Special Agent Donovan Moreno – who himself is a Shifter– a werepussy.

3. Performance artist Tanya Wickinish is thrilled to find an old typewriter to play as a musical instrument in her project for MOMA. But when she fixes the sticky shift key and types MM to test it, she frees the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, who insists they must solve a murder mystery.

4. On a trip to Portland, Anne's car breaks down and she has to borrow her friend's Maserati, but she's always used cars with automatic transmission before, and her failure to shift correctly causes a wreck. Is this the worst day of her life or will the hunk who rear-ended her become her one true love?

5. Hot-blooded boiler mechanic Norm Leech leaves work every morning at seven A.M., just before steamy receptionist Gladys Palmo arrives at seven fifteen. Is a passionate eternal love possible when it takes a serious time clock malfunction before they even meet? Will they ever find happiness? Or are they doomed to each always be on a different . . . Shift?

6. Minor celebrity socialite London Marriot knows it's only a dress. But every time she puts on that vintage Chanel shift, she gets an irresistible urge to wash her face, put on gloves and keep her knees together. She loves it, but boyfriend Justin has other plans for the . . . Shift.

Original Version

Attn. [Agent/Editor],

When the only known weredingo in the world is found out, her neighbor is endangered. [You had me at weredingo.] [But you lost me at neighbor. The threat should be to the entire community. No one is safe when a weredingo is on the prowl.]

The police want private investigator Christina Margolin to liaise with the International Supernatural Board, a.k.a. Internature. [Why? Since when do the police want a private investigator working one of their cases?] Chris's ability to Shift into a dingo is secret, until she involuntarily Shifts in the presence of Special Agent Donovan Moreno – who himself is a Shifter of the feline variety. [Is he a special agent of the police or Internature or the Cat Fanciers Association?] [Does the fact that one guy knows you're a weredingo make you a "known" weredingo? Or does Moreno blab it to the press?]

But when Chris finds out her neighbor is missing, she discovers the case links with Internature in a bad way. Paired with Moreno to investigate, Chris's loyalty to her live-in lover, Scot, [the world's only known werekangaroo,] wanes. It takes a Shifter to understand a Shifter, but to find a supernatural abductor Chris must revisit her past and explore the present. [Those sentences aren't connecting well, and are pretty vague anyway. How do they know the neighbor was abducted by a supernatural being? Tell us how the case links with Internature, rather than say "in a bad way." "Explore the present" tells me nothing. Any investigation of a missing person would involve exploring the present.]

Shift, complete at approximately 69,000 words, is an urban fantasy novel. Written under the penname of Tez Miller, it may appeal to readers of Kelley Armstrong's Bitten, Rachel Vincent's Stray, and Sparkle Hayter's Naked Brunch. The weredingo and Australian setting will interest international readers [(people who read in more than one country)] wanting a different kind of Shifter and paranormal location.

[Agent: I'm sick and tired of books about people turning into wolves. I'm looking for something fresh.
Author: I have a book about people turning into dingos.
Agent: Now you're talking my language.]

I have written columns and reviews for the ACHQ and The Northern Sound, both international websites [(websites that can be accessed from more than one country)]. Two of my short stories won second prize in the Eastern Regional Libraries Short Story Writing Competition (2000 and 2003), with a third receiving an honorable mention (2003). Another short story won the October Writing Challenge (2006), administrated by the international Otherworld Writing Group. [That's three "internationals" in four sentences, and while "international" sounds more impressive than "foreign," even more impressive would be "world-renowned," "universally recognized," or "exalted."] [On the other hand, you've used the word "weredingo" only twice; see if you can work it in again.]

A synopsis, partial or full manuscript will be sent at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.



The transitions between sentences in the plot paragraphs are weak. You need to connect some ideas, not just list facts. This wouldn't sound much different if the sentences were rearranged.

Possibly the problem is that the events are in the wrong order. This order seems logical:

Neighbor disappears.
Private eye Chris investigates.
Chris discovers supernatural aspects.
Police ask her to infiltrate Internature.
Moreno discovers that Chris is a weredingo.
Dingodoll and Manxman have wild animal sex.
Neighbor saved from world's only known wereplatypus.

That may not be the actual order, but it seems unlikely the police would ask a private eye to look into anything if she didn't already have a personal interest in the case.

Instead of Tez, your pen name should be Taz. Does anyone know if there are any books about wereTasmanian devils?

Selected Comments

Dave said...Canis lupus dingo is a dog. So the heroine is associated with dogs and the hero is associated with cats. Interesting switch.

This is a murder mystery / romance / paranormal story. That's confusing. You have to decide what it is. Either Christina Margolin has to solve a muder by paranormal forces that threaten the warp and woof of society. [ARGH! that PUN!]

or Christina, a shapeshifter finds her true love in Donovan as they work together to solve the murder of her neighbor. they live happily ever with mixed breed offspring.

or Shapeshifter Christine discovers a mellow yellow plot to destroy society and along with Donovan the hurdy gurdy man. Together they journey to Atlantis and save the world from the season of the witch.

Joking aside, you need to condense your plot into an exciting one or two sentences. That will focus your query letter.

150 said...Do they call the regular humans "shiftless?"

December/Stacia said...Actually, Dave, murder mystery/romance/paranormal stories are pretty common these days. We need more here about what's at stake, and what happens. What is so sinister about Internature? What's their evil plan? What happens if the mystery isn't solved?

writtenwyrdd said...I wouldn't have been too interested in this idea, based on the letter, because it's a bit schizophrenic. But I think that if you 1) clarify the genre (see Dave's to-the-point comments) and 2) give us a clear main plot to focus on (the mystery or the love story, not both) it will work for you much better.

I liked the cat vs dog dynamic, because you have a built in tension we all will get without your having to expound on it. I think that leads more to the romantic plot, however; so if you play up that dynamic in the letter, it might mean you are selling the book as a romance.

ello said...I have to be honest, I wasn't sure if this was a real query letter or a hoax. Was confused by your query from the get go. Not sure what the first sentence means. I think you are trying to be a little too mysterious. A little more plot please.

Author said...

Attn. [Agent/Editor],

Who wants to work with a cliche paranormal crime-fighting team? Not the only weredingo in the world; his bitch would rather eat a baby.

The overworked police don't want to deal with supernatural nutcases, so they refer the International Supernatural Board (a.k.a. Internature) onto private investigator Christina Margolin. Chris's weredingo status has never been known, until she involuntarily shape-shifts in the presence of Internature's Special Agent Donovan Moreno, an unexpected werecat.

Finding non-dingo animal hairs in Chris's yard is suspicious enough. But is it just coincidental that her neighbor disappears, leaving behind a newspaper scrap featuring an Internature ad? Only the ad was not placed by officials, so Chris and Moreno team up to track down Chris's neighbor and identify the Internature wannabe.

Shift, complete at approximately 69,000 words, is a suburban fantasy novel. Written under the penname of Tez Miller, it may appeal to readers of Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Vincent, and Sparkle Hayter. The weredingo will interest readers wanting a different kind of Shifter.

I have written columns and reviews for the websites ACHQ and The Northern Sound. Two of my short stories won second prize in the Eastern Regional Libraries Short Story Writing Competition (2000 and 2003), with a third receiving an honorable mention (2003). Another short story won the October Writing Challenge (2006), administrated by the Otherworld Writing Group.

A synopsis, partial or full manuscript will be sent at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Anonymous said...Smarter people than I will be able to pinpoint any specific problems. For me, something still falls flat here. Tone? Content? The overarching impression I get from reading this query is that you're pitching a satire/comedy a la Pratchett or Adams, not a serious fantasy. It almost strikes me as a blurb for a low budget TV series....

Sorry can't be helpful with how to sharpen it -- I'll leave that to the experts.

writtenwyrdd said...This is much better, but you omit telling us what is at stake. This research has to matter to these characters, so let us know WHY it matters. That is the thing that will make people want to know more, IMO.

Dave said...Delete - overworked, supernatural, unexpected

The {overworked} police don't want to deal with {supernatural} nutcases, so they refer the CRIME to the International Supernatural Board ( a.k.a. Internature) onto private investigator Christina Margolin. Chris's weredingo status has never been known, until she involuntarily shape-shifts in the presence of Internature's Special Agent Donovan Moreno, an {unexpected} werecat.

Finding non-dingo animal hairs in Chris's yard is suspicious enough. {But is it just coincidental that} WHEN her neighbor disappears, leaving behind a newspaper scrap featuring an Internature ad; {? Only the ad was} AN AD not placed by officials, {so} Chris and Moreno team up to track down {Chris's} THE neighbor and identify the Internature wannabe. (Imposter, pretender, fake, might be a stronger word than wannabee)

phoenix said...I'm sorry. Maybe I'm tired, but I'm just not getting it at all. Not the tone or the story. Is the first paragraph supposed to be funny or sick? I'm supposed to think about that Meryl Streep movie based on the mother who claimed her baby was carried off by a dingo, right? Humor is very personal, and I personally didn't find the reference funny.

I really like the name "Internature," but I'm clueless why the police refer them to Chris and what consequence revealing her were status has and how her outing affects anything.

Who finds animal hairs in Chris' yard, and why was anyone looking? Is she a suspect of some sort? What did I miss? Since this bit comes right after the werecat revelation, I initially thought it must be Donovan's hair and that he and Chris were, well, "tussling" in the front yard, but then who would care?

What is the ad the neighbor left? A want ad or a "need help, call us" ad? Or did someone else leave the newspaper scrap (I'm not clear)? On purpose? If not, that's rather convenient, isn't it?

The only thing I took away from my reading is that Chris is a weredingo, her neighbor is missing, and someone in Internature is a werecat. That's it. I have no idea how any of these things tie together or what's happening. Like I said, maybe I'm tired and just not seeing something obvious. Sorry. I LIKE paranormals. And I want to like this. I'm just not getting it at all.

sylvia said...The first sentence lost me ... I dunno, who? Then I get a negative answer and the confusing information that there is only one weredingo in the world with no context. Immediately followed by what I think is a repeat but I had to circle round myself: the police don't want to either, so they give the job to Chris ... a weredingo. Er, but there's only one weredingo .... OH, so it's Chris who would rather eat a baby, right. Um, so what's the deal with the fur?

I desperately want to be drawn into this but I think I need more basic information about what is happening.

In your new version, I never understand what the crime is, nor why Chris is trying to solve it instead of eating babies. The advert seems to be important, but it isn't from an agency that I don't know and I haven't a clue what it says.

Xenith said...How about just saying what happens, and see if that works?

ello said...I thought this was better than your first one, but your first paragraph is still not working for you. A lot of agents have said to try not to start out with a question so I would scratch that. I liked your previous first paragraph better, although it was also a little confusing. IF you can just nail your first paragraph, and give us a little more plot detail, I think your query would be really interesting.

Author said...A cliché paranormal crime-fighting team is not necessarily the ideal workplace for the only weredingo in the world.

The police don't want to deal with nutcases, so they refer the International Supernatural Board (a.k.a. Internature) onto private investigator Christina Margolin. Chris's weredingo status has never been known, until she involuntarily shape-shifts in the presence of Internature's Special Agent Donovan Moreno, a werecat.

Finding non-dingo animal hairs in Chris's yard is suspicious enough. But then her neighbor disappears, leaving behind an Internature ad - one not placed by officials. So a renegade imposter - a Shifter - is holding an innocent hostage for reasons only the Shifter knows. But to capture the Shifter, Chris must become bait.

Evil Editor said...It's still not clear enough for me. Does Internature go to the police asking them to investigate something, and the police pass it off to the PI? Or are the police investigating Internature, but pass it off because they decide they're nutcases?

This may not be your plot, but it maintains a story line:

When the International Supernatural Board (a.k.a. Internature) demand that the police investigate the possible existence of a weredingo, the police don't want to deal with nutcases, so they refer Internature to private investigator Christina Margolin, not realizing that she's the weredingo! Chris starts by questioning Internature's Special Agent Donovan Moreno . . . not realizing that he's actually a werecat!

(New title suggestion: The Truth About Werecats and Weredingos)

The two fight like cats and dogs, until Chris's neighbor disappears. Now they must work together to find a renegade Shifter and free its hostage. With Chris acting as bait, they lure the Shifter etc. etc.

You have seven sentences. I think you should go for ten, and not by adding new stuff, but by developing what you already have to make it more clear.

writtenwyrdd said...The wording is still awkward and you do not tell us what is at stake nor where you are heading with the plot.

phoenix said...I'm going to step through the query from start to end, noting where I had questions or issues.

A cliché paranormal crime-fighting team
Not sure what this is but do you really want to lead off with something being cliche in your query? Is the team made up of paranormals or do they fight paranormal crimes? If the former, it seems a weredingo would indeed find it an ideal workplace,so I'm already scratching my head reading this.

EE's dealt well with the first sentence of your 2nd 'graph.

If Internature is not the ideal workplace for a weredingo, is it the ideal place for a werecat? And I'm still not getting the consequences of her shifting. Internature now knows she's a weredingo. So what?

Still not getting who finds non-dingo hair in Chris' yard or why anyone's looking. Why But then? Is that meant to imply something? Like Chris is under suspicion? Still not clear what the ad is, and are the "officials" who didn't place the ad Internature folk? Why are they "officials"?

Starting the next sentence with "So" makes me think there was some sort of cause and effect that I seem to have missed out on. The evidence of the ad leads to the conclusion a renegade imposter has kidnapped the neighbor? Huh?

What's a "renegade imposter"? Isn't that an oxymoron? You could have a "renegade team member," but if the imposter has never been an Internature member, how can they be renegade?

How does the team know the hostage is innocent? Is "innocent" necessary here, or don't use the term and keep 'em guessing?

Why lead off the last sentence with "But"? It doesn't seem to follow from anything.

Sorry. But I am still confused about the storyline here, and even confused about whether Chris and Don are an item.

Word Verification

. . . has been turned on for commenting. Sorry. I've been getting thirty or more comments a day telling me what a great blog this is and linking to other people's sites. Most of these comments are on posts from years past, so even if there were no comment moderation, no one would see them. If people are actually paying other people to do this, they're getting scammed.

Possibly if word verification is on, the spambots will give up and I can turn off WV until they start up again.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Cliquing on Time

1. In Dateline High, the cliques are organized by time, and somehow Susan got stuck with the 2 AM crowd, which means they are always, always asleep. But Susan has her sights set on high noon, and she won't stop until she's clawed her way out of the sleepers and into the lunch date crowd.

2. The popular girls torment Andrea about her relentless punctuality. Cute geek Dan breaks out in hives whenever she's near. High school is tough for an android. When a disaster hits, can Andrea save the day, put the cliques in their place, and win the love of a boy with a metal allergy?

3. Detective Morris Night of the Minneapolis Police Department has been handed a crucial assignment: find out why local teenagers are suddenly disappearing in droves. Night uncovers a new, memory-erasing designer drug, street-named "Time." In a troubled city, can Night stop Time before time runs out?

4. Unpopular band geek Hermitrude, obsessed with cuckoo clocks and stopwatches, schemes and murders to secure herself a place in the popular clique at her elementary school.

5. At the Texas maximum security prison, the men doing hard time have formed cliques: murderers, rapists, drug dealers, gang members . . . Now they've suddenly found themselves on another planet where their survival depends on cooperation. Can these societal misfits choose a leader and work together, or will chaos reign?

6. Twelve-year-old Mefistia Wrench downloads an Internet computer game, Tiempo No Molestame. She and her girlfriends start playing the game together online, but each girl's world changes with each move. The game then announces that only one can return home. Will Mefistia return to her proper time? And what of her friends?

Original Version

No one at the Texas maximum security prison knew what happened in the small hours of New Year's Day as their regimented world spun into chaos. Murderers, rapists, gang members, drug dealers, and "freeworlders" collided with each other and with nature on a raw, new world. [Whattaya mean, a raw new world? Have they gone back in time to one million B.C. ? Or was there an earthquake that killed the guards and left the place in rubble? Tell us where they are.]

[Rapist: Where the hell are we?

Drug dealer: I don't know, but it smells bad, and there are strange noises emanating from that canyon.

Murderer: Isn't it obvious? We've somehow been transported to Uranus.]

Community would be redefined by the antisocial. Slowly, order, and even romance, emerged, [So far this sentence has a comma after 67% of its words.] stumbling amid dire setbacks in the tragicomedy of life. [Huh? Maybe a couple more commas were in order.] 
Ultimately, does survival depend more on overcoming the brutality of nature or overcoming the nature of the brutal? [Trying too hard to be clever. "Overcoming the nature of the brutal" is clunky.] 
During my thirteen years as a volunteer in a Texas maximum security prison, [When you're doing twenty to life and you ask them to let you work in the prison library, does that really make you a volunteer?] I have made a number of close friends; most, I pray will never come visit me. [Sounds kinda like me and my minions.] I have used composites of my friends to create characters who have captivated even skeptical readers. [What are they skeptical of?] In showing these characters struggling to survive on an empty clone of Earth, I portrayed them positively but also realistically and honestly. [Your characters are murderers, rapists and gang members . . . and you based them on your friends?]

The positive responses to my first book surprised me. Looking for feedback from the maximum number of readers, I submitted it to Baen Book's unofficial slush pile. The response was so positive that mine was the first and perhaps the only unofficial submission to make it to Mr. Bean's desk. [Mr. Bean's desk?] [Thanks a lot. I just blew two hours watching Mr. Bean skits on Youtube.]


He had asked to see the second book in my series before he would commit, but he died before I finished editing it. [Yep, that sounds like a Mr. Bean plot.] With Mr. Baen gone, I'm unwilling to submit the over 330K word series to anyone without an agent. [You're saying your willingness to submit to a publisher was dependent on Jim Baen's survival? Intriguing. But not as intriguing as if your willingness to submit to a publisher was dependent on Mr. Bean's survival.] 
One last personal note: "a man's got to know his limitations," [Nothing impresses an agent like an author's ability to quote great characters of literature. Although now that agents prefer email queries, there's no reason you can't just embed a video of the actual quote:

and I know that any competent agent could write a better query than I. I've researched you carefully; I understand and value the talents an agent of your caliber provides for a storyteller.

Thank you for your time and careful consideration.


Instead of concluding with a note about how your query sucks, why not improve it? You're writing a business letter to an agent. It needs to include a clear description of your book's plot. Your premise is that the inmates in a maximum security prison find themselves on an empty clone of Earth. I assume there's an explanation, so what is it?

Which prisoner is the main bad guy, the one who prevents anything from getting done? In what way is nature brutal here? Describe the hardships the "good guys" have to overcome with a couple specific examples.

If I were a drug dealer, and I discovered you had created a character based on me plus a rapist and a murderer, I would definitely be paying you a visit when I got out of prison.

An agent is unlikely to care that your book once made it out of an unofficial slush pile.

Drop the Baen paragraph and the following one and you'll have plenty of room to tell us what happens in your book in the plain language you would use if we were sitting on opposite sides of a bulletproof window on visitors day. What's the situation, who are the key characters, what's keeping them from attaining their goal?

Selected Comments

BuffySquirrel said...I'd be careful not to leave it open to interpretation that this novel killed Jim Baen.

Sarah Laurenson said...This one is priceless, EE. 330K for the series? How many books? How many words in the first book? What genre is this?

Interesting thought that you are exempt from having to learn to write good queries because you once made it out of the slush pile.

Anonymous said...The part about Mr. Bean dying before he could propel the book to the bestseller list is funny, but author, really, you should leave it out.

Kiersten said...I wish Mr Bean was an editor.

writtenwyrdd said...I had a difficult time separating your voice from the story information, Author. Reminds me of the time I experimented with "funny" application letters when I was job hunting. Amazingly (she says sarcastically) I did not get one interview out of that batch of humorous letters.

I think the same applies to your query tone of voice. Keep it a business letter in style and save the amusing voice for the book stuff.

Dave F. said...As I understand your letter, Baen liked your first novel and wouldn't do a deal before he saw your second. Unfortunately, he died.
If you had an agent reading your first novel in place of Baen, and that agent passed away before you finished the second, what would you do?

Obviously, query another agent. You know you have a nice piece of writing. Don't be afraid of the query.

Besides, you need an agent anyway. I don't care what legal background you have. You need a dispassionate agent to do that publishing contract.

BTW - is this SCI-FI? Do the prisoners end up on another planet with only their wits to build and survive? That's a neat plot. Like Lord Of The Flies neat.

benwah said..."I have used composites of my friends to create characters." So do many authors.

"The positive responses to my first book surprised me." This suggests that you expected lousy responses, implying you think your work isn't very good.

You have the prison experience, not me, but the word "clique" makes me think of high school, The Breakfast Club, etc. Not The Latin Kings vs. the child molesters in the prison yard.

This query lacks a couple of things. Protagonist. Antagonist. Plot. Specifics details. You've spelled out the themes, but I'm not even sure what genre this is.

What does "their regimented world spun into chaos" mean? I would think a new inmate would find his previously ordered world in chaos. Or to you mean a giant hurricane whipped through Texas, leaving the inmates to shift for themselves? Or is this sci-fi and the prison is beamed to Pluto?

Color me confused and, frankly, not at all interested in the provenance of your MS. What's the story?

Anonymous said...My guess is that you are a lot smarter than this query, but as others have mentioned the tone/quirkiness forces one to take a large step back...

batgirl said...This is actually an intriguing premise, and I can see why Baen would have been considering it. The fairly familiar sf trope of the deserted world and how to survive it, but with the twist that it isn't everyday folks or scientists surviving, but convicts.

But when you aren't able to have your manuscript on display for the agent, you need to tell what your story shows, especially the characters and the setting, because sf depends so much on worldbuilding and a believable setting.
So, yeah, what EE said. Cut the Baen info and pick a very few characters to centre your plot synopsis on. And be specific about the alternate-Earth they find themselves in, to avoid the more 'literary' interpretations of the brave new world.

Renee Collins said...I think the premise is very interesting, but I too wanted to see more in the query. Who are these characters and what are the stakes?

Ditto dropping the whole paragraph about Baen. Also, I'd drop the lines on how great your responses have been and how "even the skeptical were captivated" by your characters.

One final nit, I don't see where you got the title. I think you were going for a play on words, but I didn't get it, at all.

WouldBe said...There are 86 words about the story and 208 about your experience, Baen, and agent-kissing. At best, that's backwards.

Most of the 86 is about the prison community and setting. There is little to nothing about the story, and, unless I missed it, no main character was mentioned. Need more story.

Anonymous said...Do you mean clicking on time, like the characters have to click?

Evil Editor said...The author included a note that Cliquing is a prison term for a group attacking an individual.

150 said...Make this straightforward, and give us the actual plot and characters, and I'd probably give it a close look. I don't like the title at all.

Google tells me that Mr. Baen died in the summer of 2006. That makes me wonder what you've been doing with this manuscript for the past two years. It might be best just to leave all that out.

I'm really looking forward to a new version of the query letter, with big juicy skiffy details--I hope you give us one!

writtenwyrdd said...If "cliquing" is prison jargon, and if the author is set on this being the title, I'd explain in the query. Or, for the purposes of the query, it might be a good idea to have a title that says something about the story that doesn't need to be explained.

But, regardless, more plot stuff please!

Julie Weathers said...Author, you spent very little time "selling" your story and most of your time selling yourself. Story first. Always.

A rejection is a rejection by any other name. If you must mention Baen, one sentence at most.

Give us the protag, villain, specific conflict. The premise is good now make the query match it in 250-350 words.

Dave F. said...I know some people hate rhetorical questions, but you could start out:

Can the worst of society survive the brutality of nature? When the population of a prison is suddenly freed on a barren world, they must recreate society to survive. But whet society would murderers, druggies, rapists and whatever else is in prison, create?

benwah said...Dave, I believe the answer to your rhetorical question is Australia.

Dave F. said...Curiously, I thought the answer to my rhetorical question was "The Wrath of Kahn" in Star Trek. They had a spaceship called "Botany Bay"... I'm a fan of Montalban's overacting.
"I am Legend" is possibly this plot, if you tel it from the zombies POV.
"Lost" can be considered this plot.

Australia was a sort-of penal colony. Not everyone was a criminal. They had to have guards and all that. Even Devil's Island (the one in Papillon) needed guards.

I really think more "Lord of the Flies" with adults. The descent into savagery balanced by an ascent to nobility. What is the individuals responsibility to society?

Of Course, SNL would do a Muppet musical of it.

Moth said...See, I'm curious about the "romance" mentioned.

Author, I hope you put a revised version up with the actual plot and you know...some characters and stuff.

talpianna said...Ursula K. Le Guin has an interesting take on the concept in EYE OF THE HERON, where there are two societies formed on a mostly unexplored planet, one descended from the prisoners and the other from the guards and prison officials. The kicker is that the prisoners were peacenik civil-rights protesters, and the guards were brutal Fascist types. It's a very good book. The peaceniks have let themselves be bossed around by the authoritarians, but the story is about what happens when they finally decide to resist.

Xenith said...There are two types of writers: those who know their work is good and it's just a matter of time until a publisher recognises it (or know that the reason they haven't been recognised is because of the System) and those who know their writing isn't really any good and think people are just being nice if they say otherwise.
I haven't noticed any obvious correlation between the actually quality of writing and the author's belief in it :(

Anonymous said...Xenith, I disagree. There are also writers who have a lot of confidence in their work yet who also are terrified inside themselves that they are just kidding themselves. We really like to get positive feedback, but have a difficult time trusting that it is a) sincere and b) accurate.

Whirlochre said...The wordy ending is bizarre — prune the slush refs and simplify.

What's left is an interesting premise, albeit minimally aired. More detail about the protag and the location of the prison is needed.

Reb said...I want to thank everyone for your critiques. To say this business confuses me is... there must be a better word than understatement. While I'm tossing out clichés, let me add that "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

I tried to follow the agent's guidelines with this letter. I did submit it with a synopsis, and I tried to write "One or two paragraphs that would be appropriate for the back of the book." I was also asked to explain why I should be considered instead of the two hundred or so queries received each week.

Please understand that I really, REALLY appreciate the critique of the EE and of the "minions." I can't believe that two of us missed the Baen/Bean mistake. I also appreciate that the back of the blurb needs to make it clear that they are on a clone of Earth. I'm not as certain about the Baen comments and would love to discuss it.

To my mind one of the strongest things I can say is that over a dozen of Baen's readers were so enthusiastic about the sample chapters I posted that the book was plucked from the UNOFFICIAL slush pile and I was accorded the "same treatment given an established author..." He said, "I'm not about to publish the first book of a series with no guarantee that there will be a second."

I'm also not sure how to talk about my thousands of hours as a volunteer chaplain. The experience has helped form the characters, but I don't want to give the impression that this is a religious or inspirational book. If I were to try to summarize it in one sentence (which an agent I have queried yet has requested) it would be: " This is not just a book about "convicts," but about men and women, who never expected to receive a second chance, given total freedom in a virgin new world."

I will re-work this query and will submit here again, this has been very helpful.


Oh, I should also mention that agent in question has now requested the first ten pages.

Reb said...I love the insight that so many of y'all show, especially with so little information. I tip my hat.

One of my fears is that folks will see this as a LORD OF THE FLIES or Botney Bay sort of story. It actually has more in common with SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON or Heinlein's TUNNEL IN THE SKY.

I think I'm widely read, and I love the work of Ursula K. Le Guin but I never read EYE OF THE HERON.

I'm grateful for the references, I know that there are no new plots, but I had thought I was more original than it seems.

There are just so many great comments, I very much appreciate your time and your insights.

Reb said...150 noted that two years have passed since Mr. BAEN, ouch again, died. Making reference to that has bothered me. In a different query letter I mentioned that he showed great wisdom in demanding a second book because I realized when I got to the end of it that I needed to re-write the first to fix a dilemma. Of course that skirts the major reason for the delay.

It has been "the best of times and the worst of times." I've survived a sextuple by-pass two other major surgeries, a daughter's wedding, and a wife's retirement. I'll give you one guess which was the very worst of times. Now, I've finished the re-write and all the re-editing, I'm hale and hearty... and starting all over looking for the RIGHT agent.

I am trying to carefully follow each agent's guidelines, and most are emphasizing the need to be brief. My problem is how to be brief and still convey that my book is "different."

Let me give you an example. A NYT's bestselling author was kind enough to refer me to beta reader she uses. This reader is an officer at a prison in the mid-west. If there is anyone who is more skeptical of offenders than guard, I don't know who it would be. Yet this reader loved the book and commented that he found the characters believable... although he said he rarely sees the side of them I show. I can't use the author's name and I can't use the beta reader's name, so how do I get the idea across that my characters are "different?" Doesn’t everyone think their characters are different?

Sigh, I'm so misunderstood! ;-)

Evil Editor said...What your friends, family, beta readers, and other editors and agents who didn't buy your book thought of it won't matter to the person you're querying. What matters is whether they think they can make money off your book.
To convince them they can, give them a clear description of your story and your credentials (in this case, your experience with prisoners). You should have room on one page to include 8 to 10 sentences about your story.

Julie Weathers said...I wouldn't worry about the delay. I had to put my fiction writing on hold twice. Crap happens.

Glad you are hale and hearty again. Undergoing that kind of surgery is scary.

And, a tip of the hat to you for your volunteer work. That takes a lot of dedication and fortitude.

Reb said...Thank you EE, I'll drop the Baen references. I assume you wouldn't put those extra sentences in if you are also sending a synopsis. That seems redundant to me.
However, I have a hard time understanding how anyone could read a hundred queries a week and not just want to find a quick reason to reject them, so perhaps I need to use the query to get them to read and think about the synopsis.

I've enjoyed xenith's comments, but I take issue with the "two kinds of author's" I think there's a third who know their writing is "merely adaquate, but their story is really good." For that hack, the real frustration is not being able to get the story read. ;-)

Reb Bacchus
Yes, I do know that Bacchus is the Roman god of debauchery and orgies; however, our side of the family never gets invited to his functions.

Reb said...I do have a main character one based on three real people. He went to prison instead of Harvard because he was part of a drunken stunt that got a man killed. Once there he became a champion, racist, "gladiator." Just before the story starts he's had an epiphany and is trying to put that life behind him. He knows he's never going to get out, but wants to live as positive a life as is possible in prison.

When the "event" happens his determination to make the best of his second chance leads others to follow his example. While the convicts face the types of problems that almost doomed so many early European colonial efforts, the real problems are cultural and societal.

Here are a couple of examples. What sort of family structure should be established when an initial imbalance of males is projected to become an excess of females? What is the role of marriage and weddings in a society where the only Social Security is one's own children? How does a society deal with crime and punishment when they don't have the resources for any sort of incarceration?

Of course these are just part of the story. For example the hero is overmatched as a clueless man trying to prevent the "wedding industry" from getting started.

How does one say, I've got this great hero, but he's trying to avoid killing his fifth man in prison? ;-)

I have only sent out five queries at this point. Two were rejected in less than a day without looking at a single page of the story. A third only wanted a synopsis and gave me a "This isn't for me," in a couple of hours. The fifth just asked for pages.

150 how do I get the idea across that my characters are "different?"

Well, I was going to come here and tell you that giving them names and personalities is a good start. Then I see the last post where you've done that. What you wrote sounds like exactly the kind of thing your query letter should say.

How does one say, I've got this great hero, but he's trying to avoid killing his fifth man in prison? ;-)

You say, "Clifton Jailbird intended to go to Harvard; now he's trying to avoid killing his fifth man in prison. On another planet."

Details! Details details!

Dave F. said...Don't worry that you got five rejections. I don't think there is a writer here that hasn't gotten five rejections. And five is a small number...

And when they say, "this isn't for me" don't take that as saying that there is something wrong with your story. It might just be the truth that they don't represent this genre or sub-genre or however that agent parses/divides/nitpicks the world of books. Just bear in mind that it is not you. That agent not be able to market your book and is telling you honestly that they can't do a good job for you.

Dave F. said...Relax, the hard work is over. A query is a single page letter and you are more than capable of writing it. What you need then is lots of patience with a system that moves like arthritic snails.

writtenwyrdd said...Reb, Just my opinion but I don't think it's needful to prove you know the subject for a fiction novel. We are supposed to be able to research and write without having lived it, and we aren't writing memoirs. If it mattered about real life experience, then me writing a male protagonist might be called into question because I don't pee standing up. So don't drive yourself crazy on that particular point when there are plenty more! :)

Seems like the main point of the novel is a bunch of prisoners end up on Planet X. I'd start there and get the main conflict and the main people involved in the first paragraph.

I think this is a skill that you get the hang of after a few tries. Not as simple as it looks.

9/16/08 3:49 PM
Blogger Sarah Laurenson said...You have an MC, tell his story with the query. Enough to hook the agent/editor to want to read the pages. Don't worry about other characters or trying to cover everything in your book. The main thing is to get your voice and your hook onto one page. And concentrating on the MC can help boil the story down without making it too general. Give us a feel for him and an idea of what he faces. You've got a good start going in these comments.

Benwah said...Reb, Your story comes across much better when talking about it informally here as opposed to in your query. That's a common problem, I think. I'm much more interested in your story now that you've presented us with a main character.

W/r/t your experience as a prison volunteer giving you unique insights into constructing realistic characters, I think it is enough to say simply that you have years of such experience. Let the reader make the inference that your background will influence your work.

Reb said...xenith, you've gone right to the heart of my dilemma. The line in my query where I admitted I couldn't write a good query letter is because I know I haven't been able to write a creditable brief one. There are just too many preconceptions I have to overcome.

It is not false modesty to say, with my English teacher wife's help, I'm a good journeyman writer, but I know that's all I am. I have an occasional good line, but Bartleby won't have to add a new chapter for anything I write. The writing flows, but it is the story that keeps the reader's interest. Hmm, okay, I confess that every few thousand words I'll let my vocabulary slip by using a word like chancre or ensorcelled

However when average reader hears I have a "book about prisoners on a virgin planet" they form a very different image than what I've produced. Yes, there is a big fight scene at the start, but even that is more about showing character growth than fighting.

Then there's the image of a prison chaplain. The only one's I've ever seen are shown as giving last rites to the condemned on their way to the chair. The ones I know are tough minded men who know that they aren't working with choirboys. They also know that they are the closest thing to a sympathetic voice a prisoner will hear. In the first year or so, you learn that even the "good inmates" are lying manipulators. I've heard the intimate details of the lives of hundreds of inmates, I've only heard two who claim to be innocent. One was a very wealthy CEO who murdered his wife, but tried to blame it on his mistress... all while serving as a pillar of his church. The other is a pastor convicted of child molestation. I actually look forward to seeing both men... as long as they're kept in prison!

Sorry, my point is that given time I know I can show that I really have written a very different book and that my characters while real, are very different. Given a few attempts, I can convince most folks that I have a book worth reading. I also know that my first ten pages aren't going wow anyone. I don't want them to. I want them to see a rather staid view of prison. I need to establish my credentials and to set a contrast of confinement to the freedom of the rest of the book. I can't show redemption and growth without showing where the characters start from. I just haven't figured out how to do all that agents are asking in a single page.
Hmm, how about this:

Hi, I've been a volunteer prison chaplain for the last thirteen years and I've written a very good book about a tiny group of maximum security prisoner trying to survive on a clone of Earth just after our last ice age. (whoo, pause for breath) However, the mysterious world isn't this virgin planet, but the world where over a million men and women live, our prisons.

The characters are murders, rapist, drug dealers and gang leaders, but trust me, you'll love them when you get to know them. Now, this might not sound like a great book, but if you'll just give me a half-dozen attempts, I'll convince you. ;-)

Reb said...I've been amazed at the willingness of world renowned experts to share their knowledge with a wannabe writer. One man, an expert in wind power, needed a whole paragraph just to list his degrees. He convinced me that solar power is worthless. It takes more energy to produce and safely dispose of solar panels than they will ever produce.

Of course another man who needed a whole can of alphabet soup for his degrees and honors convinced they the first man didn't know what he was talking about. When I mentioned this to the first man, I got lost in his first equation!

Yes, if we have the background we can research almost anything. I'm not sure that applied to people. I'll give you an example from my book... loosely based on a true story. A man has a contract with a prostitute, and she... hmmm no, it took a whole chapter to tell that story. The point is that even some of my feminist friends agreed that this specific episode of forced sex wasn't rape. It was a crime, but not rape. However, several chapters later when the man dies, I try to show that he had managed to scam everyone. (that part needs work because most of the same feminist didn't pick up on the fact that it WAS rape.) It is very hard for someone with morals and standards to understand those that don't. I don't just mean sociopaths, a nearly useless label, but men and women who fully understand the effect of their actions on other and... the reactions are... different.

I tell every good of new volunteers that if they work in prison long enough they will be scammed. There are men who will spend years setting up and executing a scam. In many cases they might even know that the scam will work against their long term interest. They don't care, for them the most important element is the knowledge that they "won."

Perhaps others can learn to understand these sorts of people from research, but I've done a lot of reading on the topic and I know I that much of what I read doesn’t agree with what I've learned. first hand.

Bottom line, I agree, research is sufficient if you are going to go with "what everyone knows." However, if you are going to try to run against popular knowledge you need some "bonifides."

Dave F. said...Of your paragrpah or two in the response, this might be good as a start to the query letter:

A tiny group of maximum security prisoners trying to survive on a clone of Earth just after our last ice age. However, the mysterious world isn't this virgin planet, but the world where over a million men and women live, our prisons.
The characters are murders, rapist, drug dealers and gang leaders,

I would make it read:
A group of men abandoned to a violent world far from civilization. They might as well be colonists an alien planet but they aren't. They are the murders, rapists, drug dealers and gang leaders imprisoned in the Sequin Maximum Security prison in Texas.

Prisoner Alpha must adjust... etc...

I gather that the prison as prehistoric world is one of your big metaphors in the novel. However, you need a character for the reader to care about. This is the reason they will read the book. So it's either one of the prisoners or the entire prison system itself.

I think more than the alien world metaphor, you might think about the "Birdman of Alcatraz" as a model story for a description - Perhaps "Murder In The First" from 1995 (Although this isn't a novel) which is gritty.

Reb said...Gulp! Yeah, there are a few other metaphors in the book too, but they're not supposed to get in the way of a good fast read. Who, besides us scribblers and English majors wants to read a complicated book by a no one?

Then there's my hero... Just between us chickens, the alpha hero is what those of us who work with prisoner long to see. Someone who changed into someone we can admire. We all know that in a maximum security prison, about 30% of those released ARE new men, the rest we get to see again. We just don't know who the real good guys are. I'll never forget the man who, shortly before he was to be released, jacked (stole) half a can of sugar right in front of me. When he remembered I was a "freeworlder" he just grinned and held a finger to his lips for silence. He is now in his sixth year of a successful street ministry. He's not making any money, but he's helping a lot of people. I never would have guessed.

My hero is a man who was ruined by our prison system but who has made to decision to become a new man. A small part of the story is that no matter how sincere, no man can leave all his baggage behind.

Now, doesn't that sound like an easy character to sell in a portion of a paragraph?

I loved your paragraph and I'll probably steal part of it.

Reb said...Sigh, now it is official, I just got a "Sorry, but this isn't right for my list" note from the agent to whom I sent the query discussed here. At least she requested pages and sent a personal reply and didn't wait a month to do it.

Now, I'll hunt for another candidate and try something else.

Dave F. said...You say such nice things in those long comments. Think about how you can use them in the query:

This: My hero is a man who was ruined by our prison system but who has made to decision to become a new man. A small part of the story is that no matter how sincere, no man can leave all his baggage behind.

Can be this line in a query and present the character involvement. You have to fix this up, of course.
John Smith, driven to murder, sodomy and drug abuse by prison, decides to become a new man*. But, no matter how sincere, no man can leave all his baggage* behind.

*cliche alert (not necessarily bad, just cautionary)

stick and move said...Talk about coming in late to the party... Oh well, Reb, if you're still reading these comments:
Someone else noted that your first explanation of the story told more than the query. It did. It sounded a lot more like a query than your letter did. Start with that, take some of the advice here about details, and drop Mr. Bean from the query and you've got it. You're not that far away.

Always remember the main purpose of the query: to get them reading the pages. That's it. Two sentences on genre and word count and then the hook. If they pick up the first five pages that you've conveniently provided, the query did it's job.

Good luck with it.

Xenith said...Now that you've unconfused me...

In my opinion, when it comes to commercial fiction, servicable prose + good storytelling is what you want. If you look at most popular authors, that's what you'll find. Servicable prose doesn't draw attention to itself but acts as the vehicle for the good story telling, and it's the story telling that brings readers back. (Now, some of them have good prose AND good storytelling but I do think they're the minority.)

Xenith said...This post has a lot of comments.

I have been thinking about the idea of research vs pratical experience.

I'm reminded of a book I read late last year, a sequel to a very popular fantasy novel, where the main characters spend half the book at sea, on a sailing ship. The problem is, this part doesn't ring true. (And there is a note by the author in the back of the book apologising for this.).

Now, I don't have much experience with tall ships myself, about 6 months hands on and too many reference books, but that's enough for me to wonder why anyone would try to write about them with no experience. Some authors are able to create that ring of truth with mostly book learning. (Sometimes because the writers knows just a bit more than the typical reader, which is sufficient to get away with {g}.) I reckon real life experience is the best way to add verisimilitude, assuming you have the skills to make use of it, instead of falling back on cliches.

For that matter, visiting, doing, touching, seeing the real thing is always better than just reading books.

And on that subject, I could have done with some feedback from you Reb for my current WIP.

150 said...Make the title "Freeworlders." Seriously.

Reb said...I do like your idea for the title, it has depth. Ultimately, I'll let the publisher pick one.

batgirl said...A bit late and a minor point, but the term 'clone of our Earth' bothers me. Clone does have a specific meaning, and I'm fairly sure inorganic things (rocks, magma) don't clone that well. What about that old standy 'alternate Earth'?

Reb said...It isn't an alternate Earth... which also has special meaning in Sci-Fi... but a perhaps a 100% Earth Normal planet. The make up of the land masses are different but the precentage of land to water gravity and everything else is the same as Earth.
They quickly realize that they they are millions of light years from Earth, but the planet is normal. So, you're right, I shouldn't say clone... but I'll have to think of a new word.