Friday, November 30, 2012

Face-Lift 1089

Guess the Plot
Bright Star
1. The heartrending tale of how a starred review in Publishers' Weekly fails to lead to literary fame and fortune.

2. When the body of Mark Sigmond, executive producer of the star-search reality show "Bright Star", is found in a dumpster off Sunset, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, Sigmond didn't cram that machete through his own back, and two, that stupid girl with the fedora better get eliminated from the show this week or he's done with it.

3. Janice’s singing career is soaring; she’s booking gigs in nightclubs across the city. When a past lover returns from afar, will she give it all up for a dream she thought was lost forever? 
4. Sam and Belle Starr’s great granddaughter Midge is smart. She changes the spelling of the family name to “Star”. After Stanford Business School, she works on Wall Street. Finally, she starts an investment bank and thieves her way onto the Forbes 400 list. It’s much better than stealing horses or running a whore house.

5. When her father dies in the crash of the airship Bright Star, 15-year-old Sadira Pascal knows two things: One, she's not going to get the birthday present he was planning to give her, and two, she's now free to hook up with hunky Baruj Haddad, the army private her father insisted was too old for her.

6. Margot makes a wish upon the first bright star she sees, little knowing that's it's actually the planet Arbuthnot. Now the Arbuthnotians have arrived and want her to go back to their planet and be their hero in the forthcoming war with Gorgonia. Why, oh why, didn't she specify the planet Earth when she asked for some excitement in her life?

Original Version
Dear Evil Editor,

I'd like to submit my synopsis of 'Bright Star' for close, humiliating scrutiny. I've chosen to self-publish this book, so my 'query' is more of blurb to hook potential buyers. I'd love some feedback to help me polish the blurb to make it as interesting and exciting as possible.

Sadira Pascal is upset when her father doesn't make it home to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. He might be a busy hovership engineer pulling overtime on a new design, but he's always been home for the important things. Then she discovers her father decided to ride on the maiden voyage of his newest ship, the CAS Bright Star, without even telling her. [Who did tell her?] During Sadira's field trip with her class to observe the hovership launch, things really fall apart. Instead of a successful flight, she watches the Bright Star fall out of the sky. [Is the launch on her birthday? If not, how long has it been since she's seen her father? Do they live in the same home? Is her mother alive?]

The government confirms her father's death, leaving Sadira to pick up the pieces of her former life. [Her former life? Was she reincarnated?] While she struggles with her loss, Private Baruj Haddad tries to convince her that her father and the rest of the Bright Star crew are still alive. [Where did he get that idea?] At first, Sadira doesn't believe there's any hope. But then she stumbles across a message that makes her think her father might be alive. [Sadira Stop Crash was staged. Stop. Don't tell anyone, but I'm alive. Stop. Happy belated birthday. Stop. Love, Dad] As she and Baruj dig deeper into the Bright Star's crash, Sadira uncovers secrets about her father's work, secrets that put her and everyone she loves in danger. [Is this hovercraft a military project? If so, it seems likely that Haddad would take his suspicions to his superiors rather than to Sadira. Privates don't have enough spare time to investigate military aircraft crashes.] [Also, even if Haddad doesn't trust his superiors, if he thinks the entire crew is still alive, why is he approaching a 15-year-old with this theory, rather than a sibling or parent of one of the crew members, someone old enough to do something useful?]

'Bright Star' is a young adult sci-fi/dystopian novel complete at 62,000 words.



You don't need to answer my questions in the blurb. But a blurb that doesn't inspire a lot of questions about the story's logic would be more effective. 

If you could hint at what these secrets are that put everyone in danger, we might be more interested. "Secrets about her father's work" is pretty vague.

A slightly expanded version of the following might be what you're looking for:

On a field trip with her 10th-grade class to observe the launch of the CAS Bright  Star, a military hovercraft her father helped design--and is aboard--Sadira Pascal watches in horror as the ship falls out of the sky.

Struggling with her loss in the weeks that follow, Sadira stumbles across evidence that her father and the rest of the Bright Star's crew might be alive. As she digs into her father's notes, she begins to suspect that the crash was orchestrated by the government, a secret they'll kill to keep from the press and the public.

Is Sadira a proactive character? We see her discover and stumble across and dig and uncover, but now that she suspects the truth and is in danger, does she have a plan? What's her first move? Is her goal to solve the mystery? To rescue her father? To bring down the government?

Of course if you truly want the blurb to be as interesting and exciting as possible, you need to introduce the one foolproof element it currently lacks: sharks.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Face-Lift 1088

Guess the Plot

The Non-Profit

1. The first in-depth guide for aspiring writers that tells it like it really is. Also, soup recipes and a pull-out page of food stamps.

2. Sister Mary Agony experiences a series of doomsday visions involving Jesus, JFK, and a dachshund. But it seems no one will listen to the dire prognostications of... the Nun-Prophet.

3. Mark was supost to be his nashun's spirichal savyur, but he can't even spel--much less profesai. When a nayboring kingdum invads, Mark's peepul ask him to leed ther armees. Will this non-profit manadge to save his peepul from anialashun?

4. In rural Haiti, a group of earnest if surprisingly pale volunteers is eager to start a village school. But why must the classes be held at night? And why are the corpses of local residents starting to turn up in out-of-the-way locales, completely drained of blood?

5. Keisha Holloway loves her new job entering data about children for a nonprofit organization that runs after-school programs--until she discovers that every child she enters into the data system gets kidnapped. Before she can blow the whistle, Keisha is targeted for elimination. Now hundreds of social service workers are after her, willing to kill for the price on her head. Maybe she shoulda taken that job as a law firm receptionist.

6. Jeb Stone likes money. Unfortunately, he's just graduated from college with enormous student loan debt. All his attempts to get a job have failed, so he's forced to take a job at the new local "Non-Profit" food bank. Strangely enough, he's soon making more money than he could ever have imagined. Could there be some magic in those home-made snickerdoodles? And why are all the homeless people wearing designer watches?

7. Jill graduates from Harvard Business School and starts work as a financial analyst at the Peabody Fund – a nonprofit organization. She accidentally finds two sets of books and confides in Jack, another new hire. They snoop and discover the fund launders money for Mafia drug smugglers. But Jack is a made-man. Now there’s no profit in being Jill.

Original Version

Query Letter:

Children’s Holistic Services operates afterschool programs and food closets, but when an evil computer system hijacks their funding, children disappear and Keisha Holloway, secretary to a murdered boss, must flee for her life. [On the one hand, we don't need this paragraph, as it merely summarizes the five paragraphs that follow. On the other hand, this paragraph has way more clarity than the expanded version.]

Keisha Holloway lands the perfect job, secretary for a program that gives back to the community.  Children’s Holistic uses, a government website that provides funding for non-profits and collects data generated by programs nationwide. [That sentence is dullsville. Nothing to do with the writing; any sentence containing the words "government," "data," "programs," and "generated" is a one-way ticket to the rejection pile.]

Keisha enters the student-level data for her program, and in response, the system kidnaps all the children. [Say what? Did we leave out a step or two? What is "the system"? The computer system? She types a kid's name into a database, and the computer system kidnaps the kid? Does the computer system have henchmen who do the dirty work? And whattaya mean, "all" the children? If every child who enrolls in an after-school program gets kidnapped, wouldn't someone notice? What's being done by the authorities?] The computer hacker who seized control of GovernmentGrants is determined to make a difference by forcing social change on organizations hindered by law and ethics. [If the villain is the hacker, why did you call it an "evil" computer system? Does the computer system have its own agenda?] [What exactly is the hacker's goal? If I kidnap all the children who enroll in after-school programs, the government will see the light and . . . do what?]

Darrell Ford, Keisha’s handsome co-worker, scours the ghetto streets for signs of the children.  He encounters residents who saw the missing children secreted into vans in the middle of the night by men in black clothing. [Are they the Men in Black? Because that would be an unexpected but welcome development.]

Keisha’s boss, Dr. Scott, goes looking for the missing children and is never heard from again.  Darrell and Keisha investigate, searching the riverfront where Dr. Scott was last seen. Keisha beats the system by writing a grant application for the return of the missing children, and is targeted by for elimination.


Childrens Holistic Services would like to apply for a government grant in the amount of $75,000. The money will be used to provide lunches for students, supplies for teachers, and to recover the children you kidnapped.] 

Running for her life, Keisha encounters hundreds of social service workers who will kill for the price on her head. [My first thought is, you wouldn't think there'd be hundreds of people who are both willing to commit murder for hire and who also have chosen social work as their career field. My second thought is, if you've been a social worker longer than six months, it would be amazing if you weren't eager to commit murder.] If she can survive long enough, maybe the government can trace the computer hacker. If they can’t, she’s on her own.

THE NON-PROFIT is a 70,000 word thriller.

I have worked as secretary for non-profits all my life, encountering many grant making bodies and government websites. They are not user-friendly. [I feel it's time someone blew the whistle on these corrupt bastards, and that someone may as well be me, as long as I do it in a work of fiction under a pen name, because hey, I don't wanna get murdered tomorrow.]


For starters, let's get rid of "all" the children are being kidnapped, and "hundreds" of social service workers are out to kill Keisha. Those sound like wild exaggerations. Save them for the book. Also, saying the system kidnaps the children isn't advisable. Keisha doesn't know who's kidnapping them, so no need to reveal it to us. It's the mystery she's out to solve.

We don't care about Focus on Keisha. Children are being kidnapped. Keisha is alerted to the common thread in the kidnappings when she realizes she entered all the missing children into the after-school program database. Someone must have hacked into her computer! Keisha investigates, but soon finds that someone thinks she's getting too close to the truth. Fearing for her life, she teams up with hunky Darrell and . . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The 4th Serial Killers Guess the Plot Quiz

The following Guess the Plots appeared here during the past year. But not all were fakes. Which one(s) turned out to be the actual plots of minions' novels?

1. A new serial killer leaves a bizarre signature - he hacks out his victims teeth and puts dandelions in the gums. As investigators waste time arguing over whether his nickname should be "dandelion mouth" or "the floral dentist," he manages to kill three more times.

2. Due to prison overcrowding, serial killer Richard Snead is released after three months of incarceration and ordered to keep a log detailing all his activities.

3. After escaping from a serial killer and then getting captured by him again, Lila declares that she's a failure as a human, and when she dies she'll be a . . . Bitter Angel.

4. Someone is leaving death-threat poems on Gina's front door. Is it the serial killer known as . . . "The Rhymester"? Maybe, but Gina hasn't rejected the possibility she has a secret admirer.

5. As Josh Booth camps in the north woods, vampires capture him, binding him to a tree. He escapes and warns authorities but Detective Abby Lincoln says he’s crazy. When bodies--drained of blood--are found bound to other trees in the woods, Lincoln thinks Booth is the serial killer.

6. Hiking in the forest, Ami finds a box of trinkets. Could each of them be a trophy from some killer's thirty-year murder spree? She thinks so. But can she avoid becoming the killer's next victim?

7. When the bodies of four women turn up in different parts of the city, homicide detective Zack Martinez puts it down to football violence. But when a fifth girl is found missing a piece of her scalp, it brings back memories of a chilling serial killer from the beginning of his career. He knows two things: If this is the Genesis killer, then they sent the wrong man to San Quentin; and the Genesis Killer knows where he used to live.

Answer below.

The actual plots are:

3, 4, and 6

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Face-Lift 1087

Guess the Plot

Girl in the Dark

1. She's a girl. She's in the dark. Also, some rats, a baseball bat, and a flashlight with failing batteries.

2. After dying, seventeen-year-old Julie finds herself in a Dark world where she must stop a Darkness in its quest to claim the earth as its own. But can she focus on her task when there's a hunky stranger hanging with her? Did I mention it was Dark?

3. When the severed head of iconic 'scream queen' Devilicious is found stuffed in a cooler inside a burning car, homicide Detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, she didn't drive herself, and two, that horror film scream-a-thon at the Egyptian won't be the same without her as hostess.

4. Sophia works in Brussels as a high class ‘night escort’. She goes to the most exclusive parties with Europe’s most powerful men. She is privy to many nations’ secrets. Others want those secrets and they are after Sophia. She hides during the day and ventures out only at night. Can Sophia’s ‘friends’ catch the stalkers before she is caught?

5. Shanna is an ordinary teenager, worrying about college acceptance letters and a date for the prom, but when a freak accident unlocks her hidden clairvoyance, her life takes an unexpected turn. Suddenly, Shanna knows things she shouldn’t know, and her idealistic family life is anything but what it seems.

6. Jason, a young Catholic priest in fin-de-siecle New Orleans, sees the Girl in the darkened rectory hallway every night. After a steamy candle-lit bath, Jason discovers a message from the Girl on his fogged mirror. It warns of doomsday -- and asks Jason to help save the world.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Julie's last thought before she closes her eyes is that dying isn't too hard, but dying alone sucks. [Her first thought after she opens her eyes is that sex isn't bad, but sex alone is even better.]

The world looks different on the other side - here, she can see the Darkness, an evil force that thrives on bloodshed. It's out to claim the earth as its own, [Anyone can claim the earth; it's getting earthlings to accept your claim that's the tricky part.] and must be stopped at all costs. The collectors are devoted to doing just that, and see something in Julie worth saving. But her new life comes with a price: she must either succeed as a collector, or die. Again. For real, this time. But even with great gifts - the ability to stop time, a regenerating and ever-young body, and a weapon powerful enough to slice the devil in two - Julie knows she's going to be a big fat fail as a collector. Because Julie knows all about stacked heels. The best spring lip color. How to tell the real Prada from a knock-off. [Knowing those things isn't what's going to cause her to fail. If we must know Julie has great fashion sense, tell us when you introduce her. Otherwise, save it for the book.]

She has no idea how to be a hero. 

[Actually, it's pretty easy. 

1. Stop time. 
2. Take your weapon and slice the bad guys in two. 
3. Go home and restart time.]

Julie's uncoordinated. Unpretty. Not even particularly brave. She might be immortal, but she's no hero. And her mentor, the girl who's supposed to be showing her the ropes, seems like she's more interested in throwing Julie to the wolves. She has Julie wondering[:] if the collectors are supposed to be the good guys, then why do they seem so bad? [In what way do they seem bad?] And then there's the blue-eyed stranger, [Isn't everyone in this place a stranger?] the only kind thing in this new Dark world. Will she live long enough to reveal the secret he carries about Julie's past? [Does that sentence say what you think it says? How can she reveal the secret he carries? To whom would she reveal it?]

Julie's got to get this right. This is her last chance. Last chance at redemption for a seventeen year-old that died alone on some forgotten stretch of road. It's her last chance at something resembling life. Maybe even love. [Love with a blue-eyed stranger.]

She just has to be that girl. That superhero girl.


Girl in the Dark is a YA urban fantasy, 80,000 words.



An occasional non-sentence is fine for effect. But. You have at least ten sentences with no verb. Annoying. Irritating. To me. I start wondering if the whole book is like that. Choppy. Like this. Is there anything wrong with:

Sure, Julie knows all about stacked heels, the best spring lip color, and how to tell the real Prada from a knock-off.

But she has no idea how to be a hero.


She must succeed as a collector, or die--for real this time.

Why are the collectors called the collectors? What do they collect? Should "collectors" be capitalized?

We know very little about the story. Julie dies on a highway, and finds herself being mentored as a collector, someone devoted to stopping some "Darkness" that thrives on bloodshed. And there's a stranger. What little we know is vague. 

The Darkness wants to claim the earth as its own? What does that mean? What specific things has the Darkness done in this attempt to claim the earth? Has it killed three people? Has it caused a World War? Is it a visible entity or just a nebulous idea?

Her mentor seems to be throwing her to the wolves? What did her mentor do? We want specifics about the plot.


The following "Guess the Plots" all appeared during the past year. But three of them turned out to be the actual plots of minions' novels. Can you remember which three?

1. Molly the mole is worried. There were enough predators out there even before all the humans became zombies. Because zombies are slow, they've taken to digging up prey. So Molly is building an army of moles to bash the zombie heads and make Earth safe for mole-kind.

2. Zombie mummy cats chase zombie mummy mice in Tutankhamen's tomb after an earthquake releases a spell from a sealed vase. Plus, a hapless archaeologist.

3. Emma comes home for her ten-year reunion, hoping to reconnect with her best friend, Rose. But she didn't count on Rose being a zombie queen who has turned all Emma's closest relations into flesh-eating undead who want Emma as their next snack.

4. Katie Holloway always signed her love letters to her hockey goalie fiance Malcolm Daley “Forever yours”. The words take on a new meaning when Malcolm dies in a freak Zamboni accident and is buried in the newly opened Eternal Springs cemetery where the residents don’t rest peacefully. Can Malcolm prove his undying love, or will Katie convince him once and for all that “forever” doesn’t mean spending the rest of her days as a zombie bride?

5. When his brother is killed, Ethan seeks revenge by unleashing an army of zombies on the nation's capital while a war between heaven and hell spills over into everyday life. Chaos ensues.

6. An attention-starved, cross-dressing zombie yearns to be human again, but to purge himself of his curse, he must convince the local pastor to let him enter purgatory. Will he agree to give up his tutu and heels?

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

8. The zombie apocalypse was supposed to be the stuff of blockbusters. So why does Jeff still need to report to his cubicle by eight to get brains on the table for his family? At least his zombified state makes the drudgery of data entry easier to bear. For him. For the reader, not so much.

9. Since she can remember, Sandra has wanted to be only one thing; a gravedigger. Sandra's parents are already horrified when she lands a dig-gig right after high school instead of going to college, but when she starts bringing her work home with her...

10. A zombie sidles into Tombstone with nary an idear the newspaper misspelled "ghoul" for "girl" in the help wanteds. He gets so upset he upchucks his last meal of brains and cream gravy, which the newspaper terms "White Erp" in its next edition ... and a legend is borned.

11. The hookers on Fremont's Wharf are all long dead. Some of them got their start lifting their hoopskirts for Civil War soldiers. But now some one is murdering them for real.

12. There's a war. People die. There's a plague. More people die. There's a smith and a doctor. They philosophize about life, do business, and die to the ZOMBIE HORDES!!!!!!

13. The residents of Darkmoon City are undead, and they don't want humans encroaching on their homeland. It's a territorial thing. Of course, when the person doing the encroaching is gorgeous, all bets are off. Also, an unemployed drummer.

14. Hitler, Napoleon, and Attila race chariots towards a row of exploding shopping carts where clones of zombie Marilyn Monroe line dance. More things explode. A sensitive monologue about the cost of explosions on the environment ensues. And things explode some more.

15. What's a witch to do when alien plant monsters invade, cats go on strike, and the town council condemns her condo? Create a better love potion with the help of an Egyptian zombie. Also, illicit fertilizer usage.

Answer below.

The actual plots are:

3, 5, and 13

Monday, November 26, 2012


The following Guess the Plots have appeared since the last time we did a Satan quiz a few years ago. Four of them turned out to be the actual plots of minions' novels. Which four?

1. After Adam and Eve screw up, God replaces them with a more self-reliant pair. As Eden is overrun by rodent-spawn, God realizes He's just been conned . . . by Satan.

2. Mort Rimby, ace reporter, agrees to run a newspaper for Satan. But all Hell breaks loose when Mort discovers that Satan's wife Marge is the real power behind the pitchfork -- and Marge has the hots for Mort.

3. Wannabe artist Nigel was never as talented as his brother Simon. In desperation he cuts a deal with Satan, selling his soul in return for the ability to paint with the Devil's own oils. He begins work on a picture he knows will be a masterpiece, not realizing that he is about to unleash Armageddon.

4. First Maya goes to her husband's funeral, but there's no body in the casket. Then her new boyfriend turns out to be a rogue FBI agent hunting her "dead" husband, whose name "just happens" to be an anagram of Evil Satan. It's all par for the course in a town where . . . Nothing is what it seems.

5. Elke has always been unattractive, so when Satan offers to make her beautiful if she'll burn down a nunnery, she agrees. Hey, she's not even Catholic. But when she discovers that her long-lost twin sister is living in the nunnery, will she go through with the deal or try to con Satan into letting her renege?

6. Holy visions appearing in the sky. Miraculous cures. Global warming eliminated. Turns out, Satan's teenage daughter is going through a rebellious phase. But when her good deeds actually earn her a ticket to the Pearly Gates, can she win the cute angel's heart before Heaven changes its mind?

7. Evangeline is banished to hell for something she didn't do, as God screws up for the first time ever. There, she is nominated to become the next Satan. Hey, it's better than working at Starbucks.

8. After her terrible experiences with the first nine grades of sin, Gladys decides she's had enough and converts to atheism. But can she really get off that easy? Not if Satan has anything to say about it.

9. Despite having his own gallery in the best part of Manhattan, Satan's work isn't selling. He hires Jane Dumont to help with this marketing crisis, unaware she is an angel in disguise on a secret mission to inspire him to redeem himself.

10. Angel sees dead people. She thought they were ghosts, but it turns out what she's been seeing are demons, and they force her to choose eternal damnation in Satan's realm or insanity. Are the living conditions better in hell or an asylum?

11. When Hannah first meets her new college roommate, Giselle strikes her as a little odd. Nice enough, but a trifle . . . off. And that's before Hannah notices the horns, the tail, and the smoking cloven hoofprints that Giselle leaves on the carpet.

12. Executed serial killer Ed Parker Hull, awaiting his afterlife fate, finds both Satan and Adramelech vying for his soul. One he's never heard of, the other has a pretty bad reputation. Is it better to sign on with . . . The Devil You Know?

13. Michael wants to be one of the glamorous fashion designers he loves, so when Satan offers him a fashion line of his own in return for his soul, he jumps at the chance. He never thought Satan would stick him with a line of plus-size clothes for a cheap catalog catering to trailer park clientele. Is there any way to cut the thread?

14. When Jason attempts an escape from prison, he is hit by a runaway golf cart. In limbo he meets Satan who offers him a deal; eat seven people who embody the seven deadly sins, or rot with him in hell. Jason’s a vegan. Will he accept the deal or barter for a vegetarian alternative?

15. When Petunia's art teacher vanishes, she discovers he sold his soul to Satan 700 years ago for the ability to paint . . . and now he wants Petunia to trade her soul for his so he can get back to his studio.

Answer below.

The actual plots are:

4, 7, 10, 15

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Walk the Broken Road

1. It's not easy to get to Ambercross. Mostly because it's a fictional world created by author Casey Winter. But Casey's ex-husband has gotten there, and he's planning to destroy the place with C4 and Napalm. Which will pretty much ruin Casey's writing career. Also, a cannibal.

2. Isolated since 1917, when floods washed the road out, everyone in Ridgeville is paranoid of the Outside. But 14-year-old hillbilly genius Buddy Boone is determined to take his banjo to Nashville and embrace modernity. First he must invent an inflatable raft using pigskin glued with tree sap. Or maybe he'll just . . . walk the broken road.

3. Hunter Jones is on the verge of country music stardom with an album about growing up on a farm in Kentucky. Only one problem: Hunter is actually part of the British peerage. How long can he keep up the charade before that cute reporter digs up the truth?

4. Road worker Melanie is having a bad day. Her civil engineering degree hangs useless on the caravan wall as the sun blazes down on her. A bunch of drunk and disorderly giants have stolen all the road signs on route 43. And as Melanie fills another foot-shaped pothole, she fails to notice the spaceship descending toward her.

5. One day Josh oversleeps and wakes up to find zombies attacking the city. What's worse, his brain has already been eaten, yet somehow he's still walking around. Being dead feels great! He decides to help others find the same undead bliss he's discovered--while at the same time satisfying his craving for grey matter.

6. With Dorothy gone you'd think Oz had been set straight. But with her sisters out of the way, the good witch Glinda has become the wicked bitch of the South, and she's ruling Oz with an iron wand. Can the once-cowardly Lion convince the Scarecrow to stop waxing philosophic as he wanders the poppy-fields, and to drag Tinman away from crying over his tv-soaps and rusting himself, so they can finally free Oz from the last despotic witch-sister?

Original Version

Dear Evil Ed.,

Fantasy novelist Casey Winter isn’t a hero. She just writes about them. Jack, her violent ex-husband, is the famous pastor of a powerful mega-church and wants her to defend his abusive history on national television. [My husband abused me throughout our miserable marriage, Oprah, but I defend to the death his right to do so.] [He wants her to defend his abusive history? What does that mean? I can only guess that instead of "defend" you mean "disavow." Or maybe "forgive." Either way, if she does this on national television, won't that just call more attention to his abusive history? Is that what he wants? You wouldn't think a guy with a widely known abusive history would have enough parishioners to fill a mega-church.] [Unless . . . Is he a Baptist?] He attempts legal blackmail, threatening to seize her house if she doesn’t co-operate. [If they're divorced, surely the ownership of the house has been settled. If it's her house, how can he seize it?] [Also, if I were Jack, I would be seriously worried that Casey would go on national television and say, "Jack has threatened to seize my house if I don't disavow his abuse, but I can't lie, he brutalized me like Mike Tyson brutalizes his cellmate," and then pastor Jack loses whatever reputation he had. I'd feel safer buying her a new house in New Zealand than putting her on television.] When she contacts his former lawyer, [Why not contact his current lawyer? What's in it (whatever "it" is) for his former lawyer?] she receives a letter from a younger, saner Jack. He left Casey a set of magical paintings in the event of his death, and his artwork and letters lead to a startling discovery: her fictional world, Ambercross, is real and in need of her help. [You've lost me. If the paintings go to Casey when Jack dies, and he's still alive, how has his artwork led anywhere? Presumably she hasn't inherited it yet.] [Also, when your ex sends you a letter in which he claims to have a set of magical paintings that will take you to a fictional world, I doubt you'd think of him as "saner."] [Also, it's a little late in the query for such a radical turn of events. If your main character is a mermaid, reveal it up front.]

Her novel’s protagonist is framed for an attack on the King of the Faeries and can’t defend himself, as he’s currently stuck in the villain’s body. [Who's in the protagonist's body? The villain? Jack?] [Also, WTF?] The King is MIA. His temporary regent is in her ex’s employ and will gladly trade the treasury for a chance to turn humans into slaves (and the occasional snack). When the King’s attacker appears in Casey’s living room, she realizes fairy-tale bad-guys don’t wear Nikes or carry .45s. [That makes no logical sense. Well, it makes sense if what you mean is that Casey used to think fairy tale bad guys wore Nikes and carried .45s, but now that a fairy tale bad guy who's not wearing Nikes and not carrying a .45 has appeared before her, she realizes she's been wrong all these years; but what I think you mean is that someone claiming to be the fairy tale bad guy has appeared before her, except he's wearing Nikes and carrying a .45, so he can't possibly be the fairy tale bad guy, in which case you might tweak the sentence to read, When the King’s attacker appears in Casey’s living room, she quickly realizes he's an impostor--fairy-tale bad-guys don’t wear Nikes and carry .45s.] Pastor Jack’s on the prowl, and she’s the only one who can warn Ambercross before he introduces it to C4 and Napalm. And when Jack reveals that he’s actually the disembodied villain, Casey realizes she must fight for more than just her fiction. The fate of two worlds hangs on her choices, and whatever happens, it had better make one hell of a book.

WALK THE BROKEN ROAD is complete at just under 85,000 words. It is intended as the first of a trilogy. This is my first novel. I am a commercial baker in the trenches of a large grocery chain. I also do digital, fantasy themed artwork and have done several covers for a small press. Thank you for your time.


Not part of query: (The title comes from the main theme of faith, and the MC's realization that no matter how nasty things get, she has to keep going.) [The title and its origin sound like literary fiction. The plot summary sounds more like Who Framed Roger Rabbit.]


The first paragraph is a bunch of random backstory plot threads about a woman whose violent ex-husband is making her life miserable. Then suddenly she's tasked with saving the king of the Faeries while saving humanity from cannibals. Or whatever. That may work in the book, but in the query it's a bit much. I'd base the query mainly in one world, starting:

Fantasy novelist Casey Winter isn’t a hero; she just writes about them. But that all changes when she discovers that her "fictional" world of Ambercross suddenly exists, and her despicable ex-husband Jack is plotting to blow it up.

The second paragraph is a list of the absurd things that are happening in Toon Town, but I think you can work some of that in without losing the main thread. Perhaps by finishing up something like:

This is not the Ambercross Casey created. Her protagonist is stuck in her villain’s body. The King of the faeries is MIA. And his temporary replacement is a cannibal working for Jack! She can't write her way out of this one; she's going to have to go to Ambercross if she wants to save her world . . . and her book.

In between those paragraphs you can have the character show up in Casey's living room to tell her what's happening in Ambercross (I assume that's how she finds out?).

Selected Comments

Anonymous said...One of the difficulties of writing query letters is the figuring how to best describe the story for clueless readers. You took on some major logic challenges and the real/false/real world thing is complicated.

With the query structured like this we fear the first 300 pages are all about coping with this domestic violence guy, then you make an abrupt excursion to Oz to solve things. It might all be brilliant in the book, but after reading this query we FEAR your plot was hijacked mid-story. We're afraid the manuscript reads like two half books of different genres.

Dorothy had domestic issues before she went to Oz, too, but they didn't take half the book. So maybe the query will work better if you barely mention the X and mostly tell about the rest of the story.

Angela Robbins said...i was thrown for a loop with this one. i agree, why would he want to dredge up a past that will only harm him, unless it's already come into light and he's wanting her to deny it.
ee's brought up some valid points that i think need taken into consideration not only with the query but the storyline as well.

arhooley said...What happened to the "younger, saner Jack"? Was he killed and his body possessed by the abusive pastor? Please un-dangle that thread.

The fate of two worlds hangs on her choices, and whatever happens, it had better make one hell of a book.

I get that Ambercross might end, but is the fate of our world hanging on her choices? If so, how? All Jack has is C4 and napalm. And why had it "better" make one hell of a book? Has her publisher told her one more midlist snoozefest and she's out?

M. G. E. said...Your bad-guy reads like "super-bad-guy." He has no redeeming qualities, he's one-dimensional:

He's an ex-husband, a hypocrite, a liar, a blackmailer, extortionist, a wife-beater(!), and now getting ready to commit mass literary murder by introducing explosives, etc.

In short, he's a cartoon. So, it's pretty good that you make him one by saying he basically came out of her mind.

But, my question is, how far are you taking this? Is the book actually about how Casey is quite literally insane and the final shot of the book is a pan away from her tied down, drooling, to a hospital bed?

This plot just isn't appealing to me -unless- it's actually about her struggle to regain her sanity and end the hallucinations. But if that's the real plot you can't leave that out of the query.

vkw said...Again, I think it's the query monster.

"So what's your story about?" the man asked in the elevator.

"Well it's about this woman who is a victim of domestic violence and her ex is still making her life miserable by trying to exploit her into making a national television appearance saying it didn't happen and he's. . . . wait, er the door's opening, don't you want to hear the plot?" the query monster says.

"Well I wanted to hear about the plot that's why I asked. But I'm sorry I don't have time to hear about the character." The man walks out of the elevator.

In the query we want to know the PLOT not the details of the characters.

Start with the plot, then tell us about the characters.

It's a story about an evil villian taking over a fairy tale world that was developed by an author in this world.

The villain does this in the fairy world by . . for the purpose of.

The author has to save the world by doing this.

Failure to solve the plot will result in . . . .

Adam Heine said...When you start with an abusive pastor blackmailing his wife, it makes it really hard for me to care about what happens to Fairyland. It doesn't help that I know nothing about the characters there.

AA said...Author: What M.G.E. said. I had a hard time believing Casey's books sell if she creates such unrealistic characters. Then again, I'm assuming Jack started out as a good guy or she wouldn't have married him. Unless she was abused as a child and this is part of the vicious cycle.

I, also, was confused about the former lawyer, and why a lawyer would betray his client's confidence, etc. Basically, none of this makes sense the way it's written.

You seem to have forgotten how to plot a story in writing this letter. The plot of this story would go something like this:

First, MC. Who she is and why we should care. Second, Villain introduction. Important choice MC must make, or goal she must achieve. Villain gets in the way of her achieving her goals how? MC then- what? Confronts and fights, hides and makes a plan, receives help from a magical source, another character intervenes, or what? Some instances described, leading to the final confrontation, and the ending.

Definitely leave out the part about this being your first novel, you being a baker, etc. All the agent wants is the word count and generic thank you.

Stephen Prosapio said...What they all said AND my normal rant about titles. Go to the bookstore. Read the titles there. Go to netflix. Read the titles there in your genre. Then dump "Walk the Broken Road" into the bin with "Wear the Smelly Shoes" "Sing the Discordant Song" and "Meet the Disgruntled Postal Worker"

rachel*_ said...I might try starting with the novel itself: Roger's the protagonist of an unfinished fantasy novel. He's been framed for murder, had his soul stuck in the villain's body, and been fed popcorn-flavored jelly beans. All this and he's got to beat a "humans make great snacks" sort of guy, the faery king.

Then the author's ex-husband shows up in the novel with C4 and napalm, planning to destroy the one thing Casey, the author, still loves. Things have gone from bad to worse--but if Casey and Roger team up, they might just win.

Joe G said...Um, for the record, I am actually intrigued by this book. There's a lot of imagination on display and I'm fond of outside of the box fantasy stories. I agree that it's a scatterbrained query but there's a story there. It sounds like a bizarre Murakami Haruki novel. I think E.E.'s got it right... you don't need to throw all the crazy at us at once.

"So and so is a popular fiction writer, the creator of Ambercross, who is being harrassed by her evil ex husband. But when she finds herself in the magical world she created..." etc.

But I like the combination of domestic issues with fantasy.

M. G. E. said...Well, at the least, the fantasy aspects should be frontloaded much more. They really take the reader by surprise in this query.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

This Changed World

1. This morning it was sunny. This afternoon, it rained. How will mankind adapt to a world where water falls from the sky?

2. Vampires Gabriel and Michael move to the little city of Oskaloosa to harvest blood from the unsuspecting--only to find their home besieged by vampire-crazed teenagers. Maybe they should have stayed at that retirement home on Key West.

3. Only forty years ago, children would walk ten miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways, work 25 hours a day and be happy. Now they're always twittering and face-blogging on the interwebs. And they're miserable. Except the ones on Prozac.

4. Raised by an all-American war hero father he could never measure up to, Bill decides to make his own mark on the world: he travels to Tibet to murder a monk who's the key to everlasting world peace.

5. At 43, Jack Skellar finds his world turned upside down. His teenaged daughter has shaved her head and his son wants a pet anteater. All becomes clear when Jack is beamed up to a UFO and told that he's going back to his home planet -- Earth!

6. Priscilla Denby time-travels from Victorian England to modern-day Manhattan and finds herself in a sex club. She's shocked by what she sees, but even more shocked to discover that she's the one lady every guy--and woman--in the place wants to hook up with.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

By the time Bill realized he should have let the boy die that day in Chengdu, Sichuan, instead of jumping in with CPR, it was too late. [For the boy was already alive.] The world changed the day he breathed life and pounded a pulse back into the still body. Natural disasters hit at an all time high. Bill's personal disasters ran a close second. The chain of calamities started when Bill interferred [interfered] and saved a life that wasn't meant to continue. [I don't see how he can make a connection between saving a life and an increase in natural disasters. It's like Evil Editor saying, "Man, there've been two floods, a tsunami, a disastrous hurricane and three earthquakes in the past decade; I never should have rejected that guy's manuscript in 1999."]

Bill decides to find the boy and when [he] does he's going to kill him. Not sure if he's crazy or right, [Traveling from the US to Tibet to murder a 14-year-old boy: crazy or right? Crazy or right? I'm just not sure.] Bill ends up face to face with the boy in Tibet where Bill is forced to rethink his decision. It's hard to murder a fourteen year old [but if it might solve your personal problems, it's worth it]. It is harder when he is a novitiate monk, lives in a temple and he could be the world's conduit to enlightenment and the peace it will bring - if you buy into the hype the kid's generated. [In other words, murdering a 14-year-old is a lot easier if it's an eighth-grade girl who spends too much time on the phone?] The government, not fond of mass hysteria over any charismatic personality, doesn't believe the boy should live either. [But their armies have been thwarted in every attempt to murder him.] Bill's choices become much harder as he comes to know this simplistic boy. [The first rule of being a professional hitman: Don't spend a lot of time getting to know your target.]

Bill, raised in an all American home with a real war hero for a father who raised his 8 kids in his Voodoo religion, [I'm not sure I'd describe a home in which the father and eight kids practice the Voodoo religion as all-American.] [Bill could have saved a lot of time and money by staying home and sticking pins in a Tibetan monk doll.] has a few things to learn about the circle of life from the youngster he came to kill. [The circle of life? Isn't that where the wildebeest eats the grass and the lion eats the wildebeest and the lion dies from e coli and the insects eat the lion and the bird eats the insects and the crocodile eats the bird and . . . the wildebeest eats the crocodile? Wait, where'd I go wrong?]

This Changed World is complete at 60,000 words and I'm seeking representation.

Thank you for the time you took reading my query.



We need to know why, out of the billions of things that happened right before the disasters started, Bill decides that his CPR incident is the one that's responsible.

Leave the Voodoo out of the query. It makes the story sound even nuttier.

So your novel attempts to solve the age-old moral dilemma: Is it better to have world peace with frequent natural disasters, or to be at war with occasional natural disasters?

Selected Comments

Bibi said...Dear Evil, So sorry for the spelling mistake. You make me laug and my hart sign. (Joke!) Grand coments. Thanks, oh Evilness,

Adam Heine said...I actually really like this story idea and the voice of the query. But yeah, EE's comments are spot freaking on.

Bibi said...Just an aside here - the guy, MC Bill didn't travel from the US to save the kid. He was already in China (and had been for years) when he saved the kid in Chengdu. He was working there and came across a comtose/dead kid - no pulse. He did cpr. To this day he regrets it. This is a true story, maybe I haven't done it justice.

vkw said...This is a true story? An American, voodoo practioner, saves the life of a kid who becomes a peace leader? The American determines that saving this kid has resulted in natural disasters and personal problems. So, he therefore, decides to kill the child.


The American is a paranoid personality disorder with psychosis and ends up checking himself into the state psychiatric hospital after a long philisophical discussion with a child.

Wait: That's crazy. A paranoid personality disorder would never do anything rational after a discussion with the person he thinks is the cause of his problems. He would kill the kid. No need to have a discussion and certainly would not "get to know the kid" unless it was for the purpose of finding more evidence to support his delusions, which he will do.

150 said...Like Adam, I'm actually a little intrigued, but that's despite the query letter, not because of it. Try again according to EE's suggestions and with a clearer sense of cause and effect. This has a fairly high concept but I'm not yet convinced the story lives up to it.

Mother (Re)produces. said...I found the beginning of the query repetitive. We are told a couple of times in different ways that he saved a kid he should have let die. The jump from saving the kid to trying to kill the kid needs to be explained, as EE said, but I'm intrigued by the query all the same.

arhooley said...Author, Bill travels from far away to reach Tibet to kill the kid though, right?

A few commenters are doing a good job of diagnosing Bill. If you still need convincing as to how nutty this comes off, here's my version of your query:

Raised in an all-American voodoo household, Bill knows why he's had nothing but bad dates and IRS audits while the earth has been plagued with earthquakes, floods, and global warming: years earlier, Bill saved the life of the wrong boy in Chengdu, China. Bill knows there is only one way to rectify this mistake, so he resolves to track the boy down and kill him.

By the time Bill catches up to the boy, he has moved to Tibet, become Krishnamurti, and attracted the hostility of the Chinese Communist Party. Krishnamurti explains to Bill that earthquakes, floods, and fires are necessary to make room on the earth for more people to be born. This has never occurred to Bill. Now he's not sure whether to proceed with his murder plans.

Bibi said...Thanks all. I missed the mark, but I'm learning. The true part is after saving a kid's life the guy's life went into the loo personally and several world disasters happened. We were "what if-ing" a couple of years later and bang - there was the story. Appreciate the comments so much. Retreat and revise. Valuable input. Thanks for the help.

arhooley said...Whoa, Bibi. Now you're describing something I could get into. A guy who's had a crazy upbringing -- seven siblings and Voodoo Veteran dad -- is going through a series of personal disasters. His thoughts wander to the headlines -- floods, fires, earthquakes! A little math, a dash of chaos theory, maybe some really good hash, and our hero winds up on a quest to this junior Dalai Lama . . . not to consult him, but to kill him! And heck, it turns out the kid can relate.

It sounds to me like a great twist on the trip to The Wise One, if this is what you've done.

Anenome said...No, no. He was trying to say that Bill traded his all-American up-bringing for living in the house of the Tibetan he's now trying to kill, a Tibetan who's now raising his own kids in a voodoo religion, and that Bill is trying to fit in with them.

Although, characterizing Tibetan Buddhism as "voodoo" isn't exactly nice :P

What I don't like about the story is that it's the causal fallacy in story form. Saving a life simply cannot cause natural disasters.

And if it's really a character-study of a guy who's actually sick in the head it should probably be presented that way.

You know what, one night I broke up with my girlfriend, the next day was September 11, 2001. Doesn't mean the world was coming to an end just because we broke up... or does it :P

Well, it does mean no one asked me why I looked sad and mopey for the next month :P They all thought they knew. It was a completely invisible break-up :P

Bibi said...Arlhooely: Great re-write. Thanks. Your second comment, you got it.

Anonenome: "characterizing Tibetan Buddhism as "voodoo" isn't exactly nice." I didn't do that, promise, honest. Where did I write that? How did that come across? (I know my query sucks.)And maybe... who knows.

Mother: Thanks, I know I am repetitive. Would I like to kill that. It's like I don't see what I've written. Appreciate you pointing it out. Have to work on it.

150: As always, hit me on the head with your hammer- in a good way. Thanks.
Yup, gonna do what Evil says - Evil, the voodoo thing seemed to turn a few cranks. I will obey our dear King, but I'm getting interest in the voodoo. So let's smear ourselves in chicken blood and dance naked around the fire. Okay?
Best, thanks for reading my cruddy query and commenting, Bibi

Joe G said...I understood the story, but I'm generally in the camp that a confusing query letter filled with awkward English will accurately reflect the novel itself.

You seem to have, really, written a philosophical novel. As I found the ideas in your query disconnected, I imagine the novel is much the same way. I'm not sure this idea is fully realized yet, or that you've polished your skills enough to write a novel. A query should give me confidence that the book will be well written and the ideas in it will be clear and have internal logic.

I think this is why people are criticizing your hero as seeming nutty, when it's clear that while others in the story may see him as nutty, the reader should be able to see that he is really the only person seeing truth. Internal logic is everything.

mb said...Bibi -- it's not so cruddy, just needs polishing. I also think this has the germ of an intriguing idea. Just see if you can get to the heart of it and maybe make it clearer (in a few words) what Bill's thought process is here. It's not so far off.

batgirl said...Bibi, keep your dictionary handy while revising this. For instance, 'simplistic' is not the word you want, if you mean something like divine innocence.
I hope that doesn't sound insulting. I keep a Pocket Oxford Dictionary beside my laptop so I can doublecheck words I'm unsure of.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Evil Editor Thanksgiving Classics

1. (from Evil Editor Teaches School)

I was just sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with King Solomon when there came a knock on the door. "Who could that be?" I wondered aloud.

"Only one way to find out, EE," Sol said.

"Ah, your wisdom has not diminished with age," I told him. I opened the door, and for a moment thought I was looking into a mirror, until I realized the man standing there was slightly less attractive than myself. "What's the idea?" I asked. "Where'd you get the Evil Editor mask?"

"Whattaya mean?" he replied. "I'm Evil Editor. What are you doing in my house?"

"Better let me handle this," King S. said. "It's right up my alley." He looked around the room and said, "I note that there's a mountain of manuscripts in the corner. You shall each take half of them. Whoever finds a salable book first is clearly the real EE."

"Fine," said our new guest. He grabbed up a manuscript, read a sentence and tossed it, then grabbed another, and another, and another. He was fast, I had to admit.

I went to work myself: I got out a snow shovel and within a minute had deposited my half of the manuscripts in the fireplace, just as the other EE announced he'd found a potential bestseller. "I win," he said, but he hadn't counted on the wisdom of Solomon.

"Get out," the king told him. "You're clearly an imposter. The real EE would never admit to finding a salable manuscript in the slush. Pass the gravy, would you EE?"

--Evil Editor

2. (from Novel Deviations, vol. 1)

“We’ve got something men want, don’t we, Aunt Faye?” Nicole said, punctuating her statement with a smirk.

“How’d you get to be so cynical?”

“Experience!” the twenty-one-year-old shot back. Another small coup. Her control of the table was established.

Nicole and Faye sat near the end of a Thanksgiving table laden with wealth. The value of the paintings in the dining room alone would have been enough to make a small, impoverished country give thanks. Nicole was wearing one of her silky black dresses. It might have looked slutty, if it hadn’t had a four digit price tag.

“Mark understands the score,” Nicole continued.

Frumpy Aunt Faye, who had one husband in the ground, one ex-husband barely above ground, and another man on the way to the altar, didn’t like being upstaged by 21-year-old Nicole on the question of relationships.

She dabbed her lips with her napkin and said, "Not to brag, my dear, but I've quaffed more meat popsicle in my time than you will if you live to be a hundred."

The room went silent.

"Including your precious Mark's," Aunt Faye added with a wink. That last part wasn't true, but what did it matter? She had regained control of the table.

Opening: Bichon.....Continuation: Evil Editor

3. Thanksgiving Toons

4. Guess the Title

Thanksgiving being a day we celebrate by eating, I've taken the subtitles of ten food-and-drink-related books that are for sale online from Barnes and Noble. Your job is to guess which title goes with each subtitle.

The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine!

Gourmet Grill

Manifold Destiny
Radiator Roadkill
Carburetor Cuisine
The Six-Cylinder Superchef
On the Road . . . With Meatloaf and Steak Fries

Recipes and Rants

The Cranky Chef

Kristen Nelson Cooks!
Bitchin In The Kitchen
Gordon Ramsay's Fuckfest
The Crabby Cook Cookbook
Frost My Chocolates and Roast My Butt

Drinking Games for Times You'll Never Remember with Friends You'll Never Forget

Shit Faced

The Imbible
Pickle My Liver
Beer Pong and Beyond
Wasted and No Remembrance
George W. Bush’s Guide to College

Recipes for Self-Loathing

Humble Pies

Bevittle Yourself
Eat Your Feelings
The Blimp in the Mirror
The Sylvia Plath Cookbook
How Sharp is Your Chef's Knife?

Grim and Ghastly Recipes for the Gruesome Gourmand

Awful Offal

First, Peel the Otter
Ghoulish Gastronomy
The Zombie Cookbook
The Brains are the Best Part
When I Asked You to Bring Me Some Grub, I Didn't Mean it Literally

Have Your Best Friend for Dinner

Poached Pooch

The Pet Cookbook
The Culinary Cannibal
The Donner Party Recipes
The Cuisine of Papua New Guinea
Hannibal Lecter’s Guide to Entertaining

A Philosopher's Guide to Wine

Plato on Pinot

Vintage Insights
Que Syrah Syrah
Descartes Decanted
I Drink Therefore I Am
The Transcendental Oenophile

The Art of Miserable Meal Making

Just Nuke It

When I Cook, They Run
Last Meals in the Worst Prisons on Earth
The Cat Food Commission's Gourmet Automat
The Gray Ground Meat and Brown Vegetable Cookbook
The Worse I Cook, The More He Takes Me Out to Dinner

Hold the Mayo, Muffy--I'm Feeling Miracle Whipped Tonight

Deli Delights

Condiment Love
Sandwich Frenzy
The Ellora's Cave Cook Book
How to Eat Like a Republican
There's Something About Reuben

Thirty Eight Lip-Smackin' Meals Men Can Cook in the Garage...Using Their Own Tools!

Me Hungry

Cook Like A Stud
Man Cave Recipes
Eat This--I Dare Ya!
Who Needs a Kitchen?
Grab a plate! It’s Hammertime!

Answers below

Fake titles were submitted by Dave F., Angela Robbins, Khazar-khum, anon., Faceless Minion, Slush, Steve Prosapio, Evil Editor, Marissa Doyle, BuffySquirrel, Madison, and Maureen.

Actual Book Titles:

Manifold Destiny

The Crabby Cook Cookbook

The Imbible

Eat Your Feelings

First, Peel the Otter

The Pet Cookbook

I Drink Therefore I Am

When I Cook, They Run

How to Eat Like a Republican


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankgiving Dinner Needn't be the Same Old Same Old

Make this year's Thanksgiving dinner special.

I posted this recipe a couple years ago, but no one reported back that they had tried it. It sounds like more work than just roasting a turkey, but when you see the results, I think you'll agree it's worth it.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Face-Lift 1086

Guess the Plot


1. The magical beings in my book are called wildlings. For instance, Mia Twinblades is a wildling. The book is called Wilding. For instance, Lock your doors while Wilding's wily wildlings are wilding.

2. Chronicles of a weredingo that refused to conform.

3. The multigenerational saga of the Wilding family, whose plucky women struggle to regain control of the fashion empire built by the poor but feisty Emily, and ripped from them by scheming rich girl Adeline. On the way they battle heartaches...oh, you can fill in the blanks.

4. A nation is horrified as a group of young boys, apparently engaged in "wilding," brutally attack a woman jogging in a park. Twenty-some years later, when it turns out that the now-grown-men, all of whom served prison terms, hadn't actually attacked anybody, a nation shrugs.

5. Amish youth have Rumspringa, a time to sample the decadent outside world before committing to Amish life. Were-creatures have the Wilding: two weeks without the Magistrate’s rules, a time to slake blood-lusts (and other lusts). When Rumspringa and Wilding collide in Lancaster County, teen Amanda Hofstetter must decide which lifepath to take: hallowed, heretical, or hairy.

6. Gangs of hooligans have made Gloucester the most dangerous town in the country. And the police are helpless to stop it. Enter ex-Navy SEAL Jake Carter, aka . . . The Vigilante.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Being a wildling has its advantages: perpetual youth, enhanced strength, and accelerated healing. [They're like that angel guy on Supernatural. Or vampires.] Unfortunately for Mia Twinblades, it also comes with side effects like hallucinations, uncontrollable magic, and incipient madness that may lead to an explosive death.

When Mia stumbles upon a murder and kidnapping in progress, [Or is it one of her hallucinations?] she finds herself caught in a web of political intrigue and slavery. Magically gifted children are disappearing from the streets of Iliana, and demons are being ripped from the Abyss against their will. [By whom?] Forced into a deal with a demonic auditor, she has seven days to stop the abductions or spend eternity in the Abyss. [Why is she the one who has to do this? I don't see perpetual youth, enhanced strength, accelerated healing . . . and uncontrollable magic making her a better candidate than the authorities (or a demonic auditor) to handle this job.] Having a newly orphaned kid underfoot is bad enough, [I take this to mean the kid was the target of the kidnappers and she rescued him? And this somehow forces her into a deal with a demonic auditor?] [Is she supposed to just stop the gifted children abductions or also the demon abductions?] but things really get complicated when another wildling enters the mix. After nearly fifty years of searching, Mia’s elation at finding another one of her kind—and a gorgeous male one at that—quickly fades when she discovers that he is determined to sacrifice the boy she has sworn to protect. [So the boy isn't a wildling?] Will she choose the man she could come dangerously close to loving or the child who has captured her heart? [Or will she find a third option, one that makes everyone happy?]

Set in the fantasy world of Mara where demons operate casinos an [and] aristocrats use magically gifted children as weapons, my novel, Wilding, is complete at 92,000 words and will appeal to fans of Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares books.

Currently employed as a nuclear chemist in southern Vermont, I’ve done everything from wrestling alligators to modeling. [Needless to say, my modeling career pretty much hit the skids after that last alligator wrestling match.] [On the alphabetical list of occupations that goes: aardvark breeder, actuary, aeronautical engineer, airplane pilot, alligator wrestler, anaconda wrestler, Aquaman, hundreds of other occupations, model, I doubt you've been everything from alligator wrestler to model. However, on the randomly ordered list of occupations that goes . . . cartographer, demonic auditor, alligator wrestler, waitress, cosmetics salesperson, model, falcon trainer . . . okay.] Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.


[Note to EE: Wildlings are a race of nearly extinct magical beings to which Mia Twinblades and the primary antagonist belong.] [So the new wilding is the primary antagonist? I had the impression he was the love interest.]


Presumably you've misspelled the only word in your title?

If the magically gifted children being abducted aren't wildlings, what are they?

Aristocrats are kidnapping magically gifted children and using them as weapons? Against whom? Are the aristocrats also the ones behind the demons being pulled from the abyss? Is that what they need the children for? What is the goal of the aristocrats?

In a world where demons are being ripped from the abyss against their will, I wouldn't expect them to also be running casinos.

Why doesn't the demonic auditor suggest that Mia team up with him instead of telling her she has seven days to fix things on her own or else?

How does Mia know this new guy is a wildling? Can you tell by looking at someone that he/she is a wildling?

The story isn't presented with enough clarity. Talk to us like we're idiots incapable of understanding anything that isn't explained with baby steps.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot


1. Atheist Harold Parks enrolls in divinity school because "there's easy money in religion." But he gets the shock of his life when he shows up for his Introduction to Spirituality class and discovers it's being taught by God.

2. When Isis’s family moves to Cairo, Illinois, she just knows there is something strange about the popular kids at her new high school. When mysterious Osiris invites her to the prom, she decides to look past his green skin and amusingly long goatee. But what will she say when he asks her to rule the underworld with him?

3. When Divinity, the Kentucky Derby hopeful belonging to Hollywood bigwig Saul Cohen, is found eating the remains of his jockey Ramon Peralta, Homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: the horse didn't shoot the jock, and he's never going to give that animal a carrot.

4. Twelve-year-old twin boys are tasked with stealing the power of a goddess. One of them decides to torture her and the other decides to have sex with her. Which one will succeed, thus becoming heir to the throne?

5. Making sweets is never easy, especially now that sugar is outlawed. In a world overrun by diabetics, Stan Barker is one of the last candy bootleggers alive--though his recent order for a large shipment of Divinity may change that.

6. Unknown to the layman, the truly pious and benevolent popes receive the ultimate promotion: to godhood. Or so it's long been believed; so far no one's actually made it.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Princes Veylan and Starfa had long awaited their twelfth birthday, when they were finally entrusted with the secret behind their kingdom’s prosperity and their father’s power: the goddess Caera, who they have worshipped all their lives, is a human girl, and a prisoner of the royal family of Forsyia, and it is her power that their ancestors have wielded [Is this sentence ever going to end? I've read novellas that were shorter.] for Forsyia’s benefit, controlling the weather, the wealth, and even the . [Amazing. It didn't end. Apparently you realized you were trapped in a literary time warp and that the only way out was to abandon the sentence.] [I'm guessing the sentence was supposed to end with another "w" for its alliterative quality, probably: . . . controlling the weather, the wealth, and even the weasels.] [Actually, that's not half bad. We have Tarzan, who controls elephants, and Aquaman, who controls fish, why not a weasel-controlling superhero? We'll call her Weasel. And when she's in trouble she summons her sneak of weasels to save the day. Hey, it's got to be an improvement over the actual story.] [Seriously, there'd be fewer unsolved crimes if the cops used trained weasels.] The princes were also given a task. They had six years to learn the secrets of extracting her power though [through] sex and torture, [Didn't you say they were twelve years old? And they're supposed to use sex and torture?] and whichever of them acquires magic from her first will become the official heir to the throne [as well as the unofficial target of the other one].

A week before their scheduled trials with the goddess, [If the trials are scheduled in advance, how will they know who acquired the goddess's magic first if they've both acquired it?] Veylan liberates and runs away with her, hoping to convince the goddess to share her magic with him, but is thwarted by her hatred of his family. In the meantime, Starfa is commanded to take charge of the search for the fugitives. Life gets even more complicated when a servant poisons the king, and without Caerassa’s magic to keep things in order, Forsyia is thrown into chaos. [Is Caerassa the same character who was Caera in the preceding paragraph?] Rain starts pouring down, [Do we need to know it's raining?] the plants are showing signs of disease, and panic fills the air. Starfa must find a way to stop the slow death of the kingdom [If you want us to accept that the kingdom is dying, you need better evidence than a rainstorm and some wilting plants. It's raining here and my plants all died long ago, but I'm not panicking over the state of the union.] until he can capture the pair, and steal Caerassa’s magic to put everything right again.

My fantasy novel, DIVINITY, is complete at 90,000 words. I have included the prologue and first two chapters here for your perusal. My flash fiction has been published in Thaumatrope, an online Twitter magazine. [Twitter magazine? Meaning your published fiction was about twenty words long? This isn't a selling point when you're pushing a 90,000-word book.] [The first sentence of this query is long enough to be four Twitter submissions.] [What's the difference between getting published in Thaumatrope and having one of your tweets retweeted?]

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



Forsyia needs a better name, one that's pronounceable. Like Forsythia.

Why is it that someone with magical powers can't escape on her own? And once Veylan gets her out of town, why doesn't she just kill him with a bolt of lightning or turn him into a weasel?

I don't get the six years part. If one prince figures out how to steal the goddess's power in two years, he has to wait for the trials that are scheduled four years later, by which time the other prince may have also figured it out? Your trial with the goddess should be arranged the moment you think you have the answer.

Is this book intended for adults?

It's not clear how sex and torture come in, or whether weasels are involved.

If the goddess is actually a human girl, does she have powers or not? Can she at least summon weasels?

This needs clarity. I have too many questions. Answer some of them or remove whatever is inspiring them. I'd focus on the princes and how each of them plans to get the goddess's power and how the "contest" affects their relationship. The chaos in the kingdom can be left out.

Research shows that "sneak" is not the only collective noun for weasels. A weasel sneak can also be called a nate, boogle, pack, confusion, or colony.

Selected Comments

josephrobertlewis said...There are many holes in this query, but I will focus on the characters:

1. Why are a couple of 12-year-olds given access to a god that sustains the world?

2. Why are a couple of 12-year-olds entrusted with analyzing a god?

3. Why are a couple of 12-year-olds having sex?

4. If these 12-year-olds aren't human, what are they?

5. Who is the target reader? As an adult, I don't want to read about 12-year-olds. As a parent, I don't want my kids reading about 12-year-olds having sex.

Evil Editor said...The 12-year-olds had six years to prepare for their "trial" with the goddess, so it's likely they are 18 when the actual torture/sex occurs (if it does occur--apparently the goddess is liberated before it occurs).

Of course, they supposedly spent those six years learning the secrets of extracting Caela's power through sex and torture, and 12 does seem a bit young to be learning such secrets, but perhaps the earlier years of their training were spent torturing and having sex with weasels.

josephrobertlewis said...Ah, so, you read it to mean that at age 12 they began training to abuse their goddess sexually for the purpose of stealing her magic?

Does the book chronicle these six years of S and M schooling? Or does it just jump into the actual abuse at age 18?

So Veylan is a "hero" because he chooses to not abuse her?

The query is too much backstory, not enough plot or character.

Phoenix said...Author: Imagine a beautiful, leggy blonde standing beside you, patting your arm, and saying very gently, "Honey, this query isn't very good."

What IS good is that you recognized your query might need some work and submitted it here for constructive criticism before you sent it out into the real world. Kudos to you! That takes smarts and courage!

EE has given you a strong start for your rewrite. I'll be back later with more constructive thoughts, but first I've got to see if I can find a beautiful, leggy blonde somewhere ...

pacatrue said...Thanks to Phoenix, I now have Flight of the Conchords' Leggy Blonde in my head.

For the query, if we've got teens learning the way to extract power through sex and torture, I assume the novel is intended to be delightfully dark and twisted, and we enjoy it all because it's clearly not real. That tone needs to be seen throughout the query.

Incidentally, I'd think there'd be a large market for learning the techniques of extracting power through sex, so can you turn this into a self-help book? Something like "Conquer the World Through Orgasm." Even if everyone else has the book so that no one becomes King or Queen, well, the battles will be the stuff of legend. And sell for quite a bit on the Internet. This has suddenly become my favorite query in months!

150 said...I metaphorically put this query down once it got all rapey.

I was in Thaumatrope too, but I wouldn't include it as a pub cred.

Whichever brother is your main character, focus the query on him.

If you post a revised version in the comments, we'll take another look. Good luck!

Angie said...This concept really creeped me out, and I am not the kind of girl who usually gets creeped out easily, you see because I am a little on the R rated or maybe even X rated side, I am not sure, but for all practical purposes, you see, I am just that, and so when something creeps me out, like implying that a couple of twelve year-old boys are having their ways with some goddess, who I am still not sure is human or not, or if she has powers or not, that just really gives me the willies.

I bet you didn't enjoy reading that long run on sentence did you?
Sorry. Couldn't resist. Keep your sentences shorter, more concise. Someone is going to get tired of reading on and on like that in your query. And then the sentence just stops with no conclusive thought. They'll be wondering if your entire book is like that, too.

Also, who is your audience? I'm not sure teens or adults are going to be thrilled over the 12yo boys having it on with the goddess. And adults certainly aren't going to want their teens reading that.

I agree with EE's points. Focus on them. I give you an A for having the guts to submit to EE and his minions.

no_bull_steve said...I hate to pile on here, but the odds of a literary agent getting beyond this query and reading pages is unlikely. Bravo/a to the author for submitting this here. My advice would be to NOT query for this novel, put it away for 3-6 months and work on something else. When you've completed the first draft of that manuscript, reopen this one, print it out and reread it with fresh eyes. I suspect you'll notice errors that you're currently not able to see.

Nicolette said...I was pretty creeped out by this query too. Mostly by the goddess being a girl and the boys' father somehow knowing that her magic is extracted by torture and sex. How did he find out? Did someone tell him? Or did he experiment until he came to that conclusion? Shudder.

Apart from that and all the other unwelcome images that this query projected into my mind, I think that there lies some interesting story in this, if you leave out the actual S and M-scenes. If you focus on how all this influences the boys and the goddess mentally, it might make an interesting yet still very disturbing read. Do they commence with the torture and sex without hesitation, just because they are told they should? Do they try to out-cruel each other in hopes of getting to the magic first? Do they ever feel sorry for the girl? I'm thinking in the direction of the Milgram-experiments but creepier.

Still, while reading a story like that, I really wouldn't be very interested in whether or not the plants die.

If you have taken an approach like that, you should make that clear in the query.

Steve Wright said...Well, you can sort out simple proofreading errors (like the very long unfinished sentence, or the inconsistent character name). The bigger problem, though, is that this story is coming across as really creepy, and I'm not sure how you can deal with that.

Are the sex and torture integral to the story, or can they reasonably be toned down in the query? (I'm not necessarily opposed to sex and torture - in books, that is. And some people have done quite well out of them: Jacqueline Carey springs to mind. But you've got to admit, when you've got teenagers going to S and M school, you're aiming at a niche market, at best.)

Dave F. said...I have this feeling that your story is not what you wrote about in the query.

I'm sure that when Nabokov shopped "Lolita" to publishers that he got a few reactions that bordered on profanity, if not shear disbelief: "She's jailbait!" or "He's lusting over a child!" And I use Nabokov to illustrate that controversial subjects can be dealt with. But the author has to pick better words than those presented in this query.

It would help to know the grand climax of the novel. Does one brother triumph? Or do both find a way to govern? That's going to be the emotional story you want to sell to an agent.

It might be better to start the query from the when the princes are older, like 18 and not tie your hands. "After six years of training, Princes Velan and Starfa must control the Goddess Cara to rule the kingdom. But only one can rule and the other must sink into obscurity.

That gets you into the poisoning of the King and the Goddess' flight with one of the brothers as complications.

I'm guessing that you set up the dichotomy between black and white, good and evil -- love and torture -- as a metaphor for the decisions reached in the story. Since the Princes are twins, then one must win and the other must lose. Perhaps you should focus on the winning side in the query.

Is it possible that this is the Goddess Cara's story? That she convinces the princes to let her free and run the kingdom without magic? That POV might help you. Love and torture become merely minor elements to the plot. The Goddess Cara has been held captive for centuries in order to keep the kingdom of Fresca prosperous. She must once again choose between two princes, one of whom will love her and the other who will torment her. But this time, thanks to the king being poisoned and etc...

Those are all possibilities for the author to consider.

Sina'i Enantia said...Ok, time for me to stop hiding behind the pillar, I guess.

I knew this query letter had some serious issues, and I'm glad I submitted it here first. So, thank you all for your comments. They're very helpful and give me a pretty good idea of what needs work. (For one thing, I am now deeply, deeply ashamed of that first sentence and the fact that it escaped me.) I'll definitely be spending some time revising. I'm also glad I got feedback on the Thaumatrope credit - it is a paid market, so I wasn't sure if that would make a difference to an editor.

A few things I would like to clarify: 1. The princes are NOT 12 years old throughout most of the book (which is probably one of my bigger issues in the query). They're 18.

2. Caera/Caerassa are the same person - she's a human that is thought to be a goddess. She does have magic, but has a spell on her so she can't use it.

3. An adult book. Definitely an adult book. There is no way I'd market this as anything but adult fantasy.

(And I'll have to work on making sure that's understandable within a query, as an editor's not going to give me a chance to answer questions later.)

Thanks again, EE and minions, for all the feedback!

josephrobertlewis said...If the princes are main characters, and this is an adult book, do they have to be 18? Because frankly, I remember senior year of high school and I don't want to read about a bunch of those people saving/destroying the world.

Can't they at least be young adults, or even pushing 30?

Sina'i Enantia said...I've thought about doing parts of the book from Caerassa's POV (there's a total of four viewpoint characters in the book), but always had major reservations about it (other than just adding another viewpoint character).

Caerassa, right now, is the x-factor in the story, and the one whose actions and moods everyone else depends on. If I had her POV, especially later in the story, it would take all of the mystery out of it. In a way, this is her story, but she's not the right person to tell it.

Judith Engracia said...You're not an evil editor--your notes are a godsend.

Adam Heine said...I think the problem is that the protagonists are 12 in sentence one. That first sentence sets the tone for the reader, and this one says Middle Grade, or maybe YA.

Then you throw in sex and torture and that's where everybody gets lost.

Start where the story starts. Something like: "Princes Veylan and Starfa have been trained their whole lives to subdue or seduce one woman, the source of the kingdom's power." Or something better/more accurate to the manuscript.

And just in case you were still on the fence about it: Thaumatrope is not a publishing credential, pay market or no. (Trust me, I wish it were too).

Polenth said...The thing that stuck me with the synopsis is you seem to be trying to justify what the princes are doing. Partly it's down to word choice (using the word sex, rather than rape... saying he wants to steal her magic, when we know that means rape and torture).

Then there's the way it ends, which sounds like the happy ending version would be finding the goddess, raping and torturing her, getting the power back and saving the kingdom.

It's that feeling of the justification of the rape, torture and imprisonment which makes it creepy in the wrong sort of way. The characters in the book may feel justified, but the synopsis isn't written by those characters.

To see what I'm saying, I could describe Lolita as: "This is a romance about a man who fell in love with a child... but will she ever look past his wrinkles and love him in return?" If the man in the book said that, it'd be fine. When I say it, it has a different feel (and might lead readers to believe it's a pro-paedophilia book).

batgirl said...The premise makes me think of a blend of two stories - Ursula Le Guin's 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas', where the blissful paradise of one kingdom is paid for by the emotional and physical abuse of a child, and the Neil Gaiman story (forgot the title, sorry) where a writer holds a Muse prisoner, and rapes her to receive inspiration, until she's freed and he's punished in an altogether appropriate way.

Just mentioning these and wondering if the morality of basing your kingdom's existence on the torment of a young girl (for how many generations?) is examined? Is that why the prince flees with her? I think considering the ethical choices might add some depth to the query.