Monday, December 31, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

A Felony of Birds

1. An ostenta- tion of peacocks flaunts their tailfeathers one too many times and gets whacked by a murder of crows. Even though a parliament of owls had recently outlawed hate crimes against flamboyant fowl, the crows are found not guilty after a deceit of lapwings perjure themselves at the trial.

2. After bird-crime investigator Rhoda Deerwalker breaks up a parrot smuggling ring in Wisconsin, she takes on her biggest case yet: bringing down a survivalist militia group devoted to weaponizing bird flu and killing millions. Can she make them sing like canaries, or will she be forced to eat crow?

3. Stu Slivovitz seemed to turn himself around in prison, ready to go straight after learning how to train falcons. Can he win parole before the screws figure out that he's trained his birds to hunt diamond merchants, or will he be convicted of . . . A Felony of Birds?

4. When a murder of crows and a tittering of magpies get into a turf war over Susie Wu's eucalyptus, the real winner is Susie's cat, Mittens.

5. Though indisputable scientific evidence has traced the spread of bird flu to an innocuous strain of Budgerigar, disbelieving little old ladies unite to form a cabal bent on discrediting those who have maligned their talkative avian companions. Their primary weapon: humiliating world leaders with floods of mail upbraiding them for neglecting to write thank-you notes to their grandmothers.

6. Mexican drug smugglers are on the decline . . . until they find a way to stuff their cocaine into birds. Now, a lone border guard has to unravel their plans, all while avoiding the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is on his case for shooting down endangered species.

Original Version

A Felony of Birds, 105k words, tells the story of Native American Fish and Wildlife investigator, Rhoda Deerwalker in three parts.

[Part One: The Early Years. Six year-old Rhoda feels sorry for her neighbor's $300,000 Spix's Macaw and sets it free in Manhattan. In February.

Part Two: The On-Her-Own Years. Tired of squirrels cleaning out her bird feeders every day, Rhoda takes sharpshooting lessons and scans the Internet for rodent recipes.

Part Three: Living in the Suburbs. When the world's last ivory-billed woodpecker flies over Rhoda's newly washed car, she decides that in the broad scheme of things, one more extinct species isn't that big a deal.]

Book one introduces the reader to those characters that tie the separate stories together. The first story follows the inexperienced rookie cop on her first big case— a parrot smuggling ring operating from a farmhouse in a small Wisconsin town. [Is it really cost-effective to transport the birds you smuggled across the Mexican border all the way to Wisconsin?] As Rhoda gets involved with the local people, politics, [parrots] and police, the desperate smugglers turn violent as they attempt to save their criminal enterprise. [Parrot smuggling is more dangerous than diamond smuggling, because parrots can repeat anything you say and their testimony is admissible in court.]

In book two, a newly promoted Rhoda is given responsibility for policing an immense wilderness area with a small staff of her own. A chance discovery of a number of dead birds leads Rhoda first to a survivalist militia camp deep in the woods and then to a clandestine laboratory devoted to weaponizing bird flu— a terrorist plot that comes within a hair of succeeding. Rhoda's impetuousness leads to the death of her friend [What frmend? Someone on her staff?] but succeeds in saving millions of lives. Rhoda is confused and takes a leave of absence from the service. [Rhoda is confused doesn't strike me as a satisfying ending. End with the millions of lives saved and start the next part with confused Rhoda.]

The third story follows a chastened Rhoda now returned to her childhood home on the reservation to think about her future. [Chastened in what way?] The presence of a casino has drastically altered life on the reservation. Corrupt indian [Indian] officials and a mob owned corporation have succeeded in stealing the money intended for the people. [The people had nothing. The casino was built, but thanks to corruption, the people still have nothing. So how has the presence of the casino drastically altered life on the reservation?] Rhoda joins a group of plotters in a desperate attempt to win the huge jackpot on [the] casino's progressive slot machine. The elaborate scheme falls victim to some unintended consequences but an equally unexpected ending puts things right. [We have our first entrant in the Vaguest Sentence of the Week competition.]

Rhoda Deerwalker is a fresh and engaging heroine. Readers are sure to find her back-story and present romantic entanglements realistic and interesting. [Better to describe the book than to gush over it. All authors think their stories and characters are fantabuloso. As most of them are wrong, editors pay no attention.] She is a complex and vulnerable woman, intelligent, brave and resourceful and in spite of a multitude of adventures, she never looses [loses] her humanity and her appeal. If this novel seems like something you would care to read, I would be happy to send you any or all of it.


An elaborate scheme to win a slot machine jackpot? Aren't there authorities they can call in if they know there's corruption?

I think if I get interested in Rhoda the bird detective, I'd rather keep reading about her ornithological exploits. Mob casino infiltration isn't a case for the fish and wildlife service's lead detective, whether she's on a leave of absence or not. The wildlife/birds gimmick is your hook, and you abandon it for a case any cop can handle.

Plus, foiling a plot that would have cost millions of lives is a major accomplishment. Making it the middle case and finishing with an attempt to win a slot machine jackpot is deflating. Book 1: parrot smugglers; Book 2: Eagle poisoners; Book 3: Bird flu terrorists.

Selected Comments

Anonymous said...A Felony of Birds, 105k words, tells the story of Native American Fish and Wildlife investigator, Rhoda Deerwalker in three parts.

Does it really, or is it telling three stories about Rhoda Deerwalker? From the query I get the impression of three distinct novellas with the same MC. It's not clear that there's a story arc running through all three "books" that tell the story of the MC.

Is there a uniting theme or thread that I'm just missing?

sylvia said...That's interesting, my WiP (which you all have seen parts of) suffers from exactly that problem: it's separate stories (which unite in the end to tell the first one). I have been trying to do a synopsis so that maybe I can get some help in trying to reduce it down but I'm not sure how.

I think this query, although it has faults, does a decent job of introducing the three stories of Rhoda (assuming that was intended).

Ello said...Consider ditching that last paragraph, it definitely does not win you any points. I think it is confusing to call them "books" as it almost sounds like you are talking about a trilogy. Instead of splitting it out into 3 stories like this for the query, why don't you summarize the entire story as one book with several plot elements told in 3 parts. Like anonymous said, you really need a unifying story arc even if it is as simple as an inexperienced cop turns into a veteran through blankety blank adventures. But I think you have a lot going on. Almost too much - especially since you are at 105K!

Robin S. said...I like the idea of the first two stories quite a bit - different and interesting. I know that linked short stories are published- maybe there are linked longer ones as well - (I just don't know).

But, could the second of your two stories simply follow on from the plot developed in the first, so that it becomes one?

The book may read differently than the query does- but I agree that the third section doesn't seem to "go" with the others. Does it connect in some way we don't see here?

And I agree the paragraph about Rhoda's personality traits should probably go - her personality can shine through from the profession she has chosen, and the decisions she makes, right?

EE, love your word: fantabuloso.

Anonymous said...If you want to write about crimes against animals, making your protagonist be an enforcer of laws protecting them is brilliant.

If you want to write about bioterrorists who intend to kill humans, wildlife protection doesn't seem to be the most apt expertise, especially in a world where the USA has something like 17 different secret agent networks dedicated to finding and squelching bioterrorists, etc. I'm guessing you found an unexpected connection to make that work.

But your underdeveloped description of the evil casino plot at the end makes it sound too incongruous. What's the connection to wildlife?

If there isn't one, maybe that plot belongs in a different book.

writtenwyrdd said...I agree with EE, the F and W agent is the hook for your story. Stick with it. You sound like you're talking about two books.
Taking down the terrorists would easily be a single book, and I think I might even read it. I just hope you avoid the bear gall bladder smuggling, which is big-business but disgusting to read about.

Sarah said...This looks to me like the story is about Rhoda's emotional growth through her first job, the loss of a friend because of her actions, and a return to the place of her childhood that isn't what it used to be.

Perhaps focusing on the emotional journey as your overarcing story might be helpful in the query instead of breaking it down into 3 parts.

I was confused by the 'books'. It does make it seem like a query for a series rather than a novel.

What I get from the query: In the beginning, we have an insecure Rhoda who is doing major OJT on the 'right' side of the law. Then for the second part, Rhoda's cockiness gets a friend killed. She becomes overwhelmed with guilt. This guilt drives her home and to some dubious activities on the 'left' side of the law. But maybe these activities serve a higher prupose for the good of the reservation?

Queries are hell!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

One High- land Night

1. How many Highland Nights does it take to stuff a Scottish kilt? After an unfortunate wager and six pints of Skullsplitter Ale, Gregor Gilroy is about to find out.

2. Brianna is excited to be spending her vacation at a real haunted castle. But when the ghost of Duncan MacNeil appears in her bedroom, will she be ready to meet all his demands?

3. A spunky lass who couldn't keep her knickers on. A laddie with an eye for the ladies. A secret meeting, a warm night in the Highlands--what were the chances it would lead to . . . alien abduction?

4. Traveling in the Highlands, a physicist is suddenly transported 300 years into the past, and must try to prevent the notorious Earl of Breadalbane from committing the infamous Glencoe Massacre.

5. A prim English maiden, lost in the wilds of Scotland. A handsome Scotsman, who's also a vampire and can't come out in the day. Can they find true love . . . One Highland Night?

6. Due to Planet Askew's eccentric orbit, night usually falls only in the lowlands, while the highlands bask in perpetual sunshine. But once every 30,000 years, there comes . . . One Highland Night. Will Ja'na come out of hibernation to propose to Sti'su?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

ONE HIGHLAND NIGHT is a time-travel romance in the vein of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and the Highlander series by Karen Marie Moning, among others. [No, I think the Highlander series by Ms. Moning is only by Ms. Moning.] [Also while those series involve time travel and romance, I don't believe they're so similar that a book could be in the same vein with both of them.] [Also, it's not so important to tell us whose books you think yours is like. It's a time travel romance is sufficient.] Complete at 100,000 words, it is set primarily in the Loch Awe [That sounds like the noise I make when I hack up a phlegmball.] area of the Scottish Highlands, 1691-92, and includes the historical backdrop of the infamous Glencoe Massacre.

Physicist Elizabeth Martin travels to the Highlands of Scotland in an attempt to flee the heartache of a broken engagement. Her cheating ex becomes the least of her worries when she ends up trapped over 300 years in the past, [Can you furnish a clue to how she ends up 300 years in the past? (You didn't think you were going to just slip that past us, did you?)] [Wait, never mind. You said she was a physicist, so of course she can time travel.)] pursued by the politically avaricious Earl of Breadalbane who wants to use her "Sight" to further his consolidation of power. [How does he know about her "Sight"?] Her only choice is to take refuge with an outlaw clan. [I'd divide this long paragraph into two, right here.] Despite her desire to discover a way back to her own time, she finds herself falling for handsome Alec MacGregor: protector, son of the laird, and the only person who knows her true origins. [How did that conversation go?

Liz: Alec, there's something I need to tell you.

Alec: What's that my darling?

Liz: I'm from a strange world where there are flying machines, where there's a tunnel under the English Channel, where popcorn can be made in a bag, where--

Alec: Stoke up the fire, laddies, we've got us a witch!]

Together they try to prevent the treacherous massacre at Glencoe—Breadalbane's doing— [Doesn't physicist Liz know that changing history could lead to disastrous future consequences, like Evil Editor's blog not even existing?] but Alec is captured and sentenced to death. She spends one night in his arms on the eve of his execution, [What is this, a conjugal visit? Awfully generous of Breadalbane. (I assume she didn't time travel into his cell, as earlier she was hoping to discover a way back to her own time, which led me to deduce that she hadn't invented time travel yet.)] then secretly surrenders herself to the Earl in exchange for Alec's release. When he learns of her sacrifice and subsequent death at the Earl's hands, [Why would the Earl kill her? I thought he wanted to use her "Sight."] Alec's only choice is to attempt time-travel himself to be reunited with the woman he loves. [I hope Alec's plan isn't to time travel to a day in the 21st century before Liz went back in time, because a guy showing up and . . .

Alec: Liz, there's something I need to tell you.

Liz: What's that my darling?

Alec: I've come from the year 1692, where you and I were lovers but you got murdered by the Earl of Breadalbane, so--

Liz: Say no more! Here in the 21st century we have special places where people like you, I mean us, can be happy, so let me take you to one of them.]

ONE HIGHLAND NIGHT is my first novel. I am a member of RWA national, as well as my local chapter and the Celtic Hearts chapter.

The synopsis, partial, or full manuscript are available at your request; I have included the first five pages for your review. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.



It's one thing for a 21st-century physicist to attempt time travel. I'm not sure I'm buying a 1692 Scotsman from an outlaw clan figuring out how to do it.

We need to know how one time travels. If Liz could do it at will, she'd time travel out of the Earl's clutches as soon as he released Alec. In Highlander, time travel is a power of the characters; in Outlander, it's accomplished by walking between certain stones. Do your characters have any idea how it's done?

Speaking of which, when Liz offers herself to the Earl in exchange for Alec, what's stopping the Earl from keeping both of them?

Elizabeth should refer to the Earl as Beetlebrain for comic relief.

The writing isn't the problem, it's that the plot is eliciting questions that aren't answered. Answer some of them. If something's too complicated to explain, omit the material that's inspiring the question.

Selected Comments

Dave said...There is a huge time paradox here. When you leave the present for the past, you cease to be in the future. So EE is right when he points out that to save Elizabeth,

{POSSIBILITY NUMBER ONE} Alec must prevent her from going back into the past. That is, he must travel to her time before she left for his time. But if that's the case, then as a consequence, he never meets her in the past and has no reason to travel to the future. Also, If Alec doesn't travel back to the past, then he ceases to exist back there and quite possibly, he never has the confrontation with Breadalbane - - - My head hurts.

{POSSIBILITY NUMBER TWO} Alec goes into the future and informs Elizabeth of her history in the past. That arms her with the knowledge of the future that in her timeline hasn't happened yet. It predestines the future. Since if she prevents her death, Alec has no reason to time travel and hence, he never tells her of her future.

Now we have a awkward problem, at that point. She has to leave a message for herself about the two previous pasts so that when she travels back her first time, she has the knowledge of two possible futures. Because, you see, she went back and died, he time traveled and then she went back the second time, didn't die but then he didn't go forward, so she sent herself a message to return the third time knowing what happened the previous two times.

pain, pain, pain...

Jenny C. said...Author here...

LOVED #3. And "Planet Askew"...hehehe. *g*

Thanks EE. I was so worried about keeping it succinct, some of the stuff I cut out is the stuff you asked about. Go figure.

Short answer on the time travel: it's accidental, but she theorizes how and where it can happen - being a physicist, after all - and explains this to Alec. But neither can be sure it works until they try, and getting to where they need to be to do so is difficult (see the "long" answer for why).

Long answer on the time travel: it's through a wormhole which is energetically stabilized via higher-dimensional resonance with a meteoritic crystal (containing an allotropic form of diamond that happens to have higher-dimensional properties). These wormholes spontaneously form and collapse at "points of confluence" where two layers of space-time sit "near" each other. One of these POC happens to be in Kilchurn castle...which is Breadalbane's.

I do deal with the potential paradox issue.

And yeah, in the first draft I mentioned she "bribes her way into his cell" on the night before his execution. Guess I should leave that in.

I also deal with why Breadalbane doesn't just hold both of them after she goes to him to bargain.

As for why he kills her (or tries to), let's just say she pisses him off and he becomes convinced she's no use to him.

Alec does travel forward, but to a point after she's returned from his time. Though the scenario you described would be interesting, if he convinced her not to commit him on sight and then had to win her back. (Don't worry - I'm not thinking rewrites!)

I will take this all off and let it simmer, along with what the minions say, and see what I come up with. Gah, queries...

Thanks again.

pacatrue said...Whoa, whoa! The protagonist ends up (at least for a while) dead after letting the bad guy assault her to save her loved one? Is that a little... rough... for the genre, or do protagonists often die (for a while) in time travel romances?

December/Stacia said...What is Elizabeth's "sight"? Is it her knowledge of history, in which case, she's kind of dumb for spouting off five minutes after landing, or is it actual psychic abilities?

Why is her only choice to take refuge with an outlaw clan? Why doesn't she travel back? You need to address this.

Also, this is a romance, which means the conflict between the romantic leads needs to be paramount. Telling us Elizabeth meets Alec and they fall in love doesn't tell us what the meat of the story is. If it's only external issues keeping them apart (being captured, etc.) then the book won't work as a genre romance. There must be an internal conflict, a reason aside from time travel or mean old Earls why these two people do not believe they can be together. It's probably in the book. It needs to be in the query, right up front.

I also agree about changing the past. A modern physicist would know that no matter how much she might want to, it's not a good idea.

When you say she "surrenders herself to the Earl", so you mean turns herself in (which I don't get, because isn't she right there in Alec's cell?) or that she surrenders herself, which could be kind of hot. But again, not strictly genre romance.

And yeah, why does the Earl kill her?

All of this needs to be in the query, but the conflict of the romantic characters is the most important thing. There must be something that keeps them apart aside from the plot.

BuffySquirrel said...I think this suffers from the usual problem of the time-travel story--we can anticipate that the attempt to prevent Glencoe is either going to fail or cause some kind of changes "upstream", as it were. Maybe play down that aspect, and play up the romance angle? How do the lovers even communicate?

jenny c. said...I don't know what the protocol is for how many times I can comment *g* but I'll keep plugging away until someone says "shut that girl up!"

I do appreciate all the comments/questions raised, because it helps me see what I need to do to make this understandable.

I think one thing that is tripping people up is: Elizabeth doesn't actually die. From Alec's POV, she does, because that is what he is told. But then he comes to believe she traveled back to her own time instead, and goes looking for her there. I tried to leave the mystery in as a "hook", but maybe I should clarify that.

I'm going with a (self-consistent) "causal loop" explanation. As a character says to Elizabeth at one point: "You canna change the past, you can only do what you have already done." Therefore, Elizabeth's memory of the history of Glencoe includes her own actions, though she doesn't know it beforehand.

Or, to borrow from the Matrix, "What's really going to bake your noodle many would have died if she _hadn't_ been there?"

I'm actually a physicist myself, so I'm trying to work these things out, I promise. *g*

To answer December/Stacia, yes, her "Sight" is her knowledge of history. The Earl confiscates her possessions when she pops up in his castle, and these include the notebook in which she's been writing down the historical trivia from her trip to Scotland.

She can't travel back at first because she's not sure how it happened, and then once she figures that out (or guesses) the only place to do so is inside the Earl's stronghold. She takes up with the MacGregors after she flees the Earl the first time, so getting back to travel without being captured is a tricky proposition.

I will play up the romance conflict. Some part of her knows she has to go back, and for a while she still thinks she wants to get back together with her ex. Also, Alec has to make a good marriage for land and dowry and alliance, since his clan is having hard times. Elizabeth, as a "coigreach" (stranger/foreigner) doesn't have the status to marry the Laird's son. That changes once he's a convicted outlaw and about to be executed.

To answer buffysquirrel, yeah, I guess I played up Glencoe to highlight the historical background (and the research I did for it) but I'll change tack in favor of the romance. As for communication, Alec - being an educated man of the time - speaks English, French, Latin, and Greek in addition to Gaelic. Elizabeth has to learn Gaelic to communicate with most of the rest of the clan, but the educated members of his family can speak to her in English.

Anonymous said...Can you furnish a clue to how she ends up 300 years in the past?

Weren't you paying attention? She went to Scotland.

Robin S. said...Time travel is appealing as a story line, and I can't imagine that changing.

Being able to step back in time is, I think, a human desire as old as "if I only knew then what I know now", and/or the yearning to relive (and change) your own personal past, or could find a literal or figurative /restorative fountain of youth.

I think you've chosen an interesting departure point for your story- events surrounding the Glencoe Massacre. I love Scotland -and I love men in kilts.

I wish you luck with your manuscript.

mb said...Author, I agree you need to work some of the explanations back into the query. But I wouldn't worry about all the "Grr- I hate time travel" comments. Some people do hate it, but many folks love it (I do), and as long as you either don't bring up stuff that's too complicated to explain, or explain it concisely, it should be fine. I forget -- did you mention in the query that you're a physicist? 'Cause that would give you some credibility.

Bernita said...I'm a firm believer that the main purpose of time travel is to ensure the future-present, not change the past-present. A re-living, as it were. To avoid the infinity of a time/being, recursive, Heideggerian fugue, and other phenomenological exercises, I just have a time traveller conclude, somewhat cursorily - because she's to busy to do otherwise - that she must with what is.
Since your time traveller is a physicist, she naturally would speculate on the mechanics, and so you don't have an easy out.

blogless_troll said...Short answer on the time travel: it's accidental...

Long answer on the time travel: it's through a wormhole which is energetically stabilized via higher-dimensional resonance with a meteoritic crystal (containing an allotropic form of diamond that happens to have higher-dimensional properties).

Is the long answer explained in the book? To me, the long answer suggests there is someone or something behind it. It seems a convoluted route to take if in the end it's accidental, especially in a romance. Unless finding and using the crystal is how Alec travels to the future, in which case it's not accidental.

Ali said...Overall, I thought it was a good query, though I agree with some of the changes already mentioned (a non-scientific clue about how she time travels, clarity about the fact that she doesn't actually die at the hands of the Earl). Something's been nagging at me, though, and I might be completely wrong here but it seems like time travel back to Scotland has been done. I'm thinking that a publisher is going to need to see something extraordinarily unique about this book as compared to the others. So, instead of saying "in the vein of Outlander and Highlander," which basically emphasizes the fact that the idea's been done to death (sorry)--tell us what distinguishes your book from those. What makes it not a copycat?

Evil Editor said...Excellent time travel books that aren't heavy into science of time travel:

The Chronoliths
The Door Into Summer
Pretty much anything by Connie Willis

BuffySquirrel said...The Door Into Summer is one of my favourite books ever. I love the bit where it's 50/50 whether he travels into the future or the past, and he ends up in the nudist colony. Hilarious.

Heck, never mind the time travel, just put in a grouchy cat :)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

Sticks and Stones

1. Schoolboy Harris Whittle learns the hard way that you should never respond to name-calling with a phrase that gives the bully an idea.

2. The first book in my trilogy (to be followed by Broken Bones and Words Will Never Hurt Me) about spoiled, mean students and the misery they cause.

3. French Neanderthals debate whether or not it's time to take a break from sex and go ask what the neighbors are gathering all those weapons for. They decide it isn't.

4. What's that Neanderthal doing with the hand ax? Will Gupple ever make fire again? Would the volcano stop spewing fire if they quit tossing virgins in? Ergig must answer these questions, and more -- or his tribe won't make it through the Pleistocene.

5. Dale Green has never been a good private detective; he'd rather be at the track than on the case. But when favorite Sticks and Stones collapses and dies on the backstretch at Aqueduct, he realizes that the perp from one of his unsolved cases has returned.

6. When the levees break, the peasant cottages made of sticks are washed away, but so are the landlords' manors of stone. When the emperor tours the devastation but offers little help, the rich and poor must work side by side to rebuild their city. Along the way, they learn many things that just might lead to revolution.

Original Version

Dear [Agent],

I have read that you represent literature for young adults. I would like to ask you to consider representing my YA novel Sticks and Stones. Having read (Book You Rep), I feel you would be a good fit for my novel. Sticks and Stones is complete at roughly 70,000 words.

Evelyn Grant has had more crazy assignments for the George Washington Academy's school paper than she cares to recollect. Her latest? Infiltrate the Academy's secret society, The Rose and Thorns, and find out what they're up to. Evelyn thinks it's a waste of time and repeatedly refuses efforts made by Jack, her student editor, to talk her into it. That is until she becomes romantically involved with Scott Howard, one of the society members Jack tried to recruit Evelyn to spy on. Scott isn't the spoiled jerk Evelyn had assumed he was, but the more she gets to know his friends, the more she realizes that they are. [She refused to do the story when she thought everyone in the society was a spoiled jerk. Then she discovers all but one of the members are spoiled jerks, and decides to do the story? I would expect some momentous discovery to change her mind. This is pretty much nothing.]

Evelyn has had to do a lot of strange things for stories before, [You keep saying that. Like what?] but she's never had to endure so much for those stories as she is to be with Scott. His friends are the 'it' crowd of their school, and they don't take kindly to outsiders, especially Evelyn. Evelyn has taken every opportunity to make their lives hard. [What has she done? Explain.] It seems they remember this all too well. [This suggests that she was making their lives hard even before she got this assignment. Of course they would remember what she's done recently.]  [How does one infiltrate a secret society? Walk into their secret meeting and announce that you want to join? Since "Evelyn has taken every opportunity to make their lives hard," why would they let her join? It would be like George Bush trying to infiltrate al Qaida:

GB: Who do I see about joining up?
AQ: You look familiar.
GB: Yeah, I get that a lot.
AQ: Wait, I've got it. Aren't you that guy who's been taking every opportunity to make our lives hard?

GB: Hey, I just do what Cheney tells me to do.]

As inconvenient as their attempts to drive her away are, she's sure she can hold her own against them. They may not like Evelyn and she may not have the designer clothes and sports cars they do, but she doesn't care. Scott doesn't seem to either, and that's what's important to Evelyn. [If Scott cared at all about her, he'd buy her a designer wardrobe and a Corvette.] They're going to have to do a whole lot better than dumping drinks on her, backhanding her, and pushing her in a pool if they think they can get Evelyn Grant to give up. [Finally some specifics. Up to here this paragraph (which begins up at "Evelyn has had...") was too general and wordy.] When Evelyn has a near miss with a sports car in a parking lot and the local police are less than helpful, she begins to investigate just what privileges the society members have been enjoying. The more she finds out the more she begins to suspect this might have something a little less to do with petty rivalries and more to do with deeply covered secrets that someone doesn't want exposed.

In all the secrets Evelyn digs up there is a story, one about secret traditions at the academy that Jack would love to print. Still, she hesitates to write the story. Evelyn likes Scott and while his friends are spoiled, mean, and get away with a lot, it's not like they're hurting anyone. Is it? Is the story really worth driving away Scott, someone she really cares about? [You're spinning your wheels. Get on with it.] When she discovers that the secret The Rose and Thorns have been working to hide involves their responsibility in hurting someone close to her, she knows she can't look away from the truth. Could Scott be more like his friends than Evelyn thought? Can Evelyn put aside her feeling for Scott and write the story she's been trying to avoid? [And if things are this bad in fifth grade, what's it going to be like in junior high?]

I am writer from western Michigan where I live with my fiancé and cat. [One of them has to go. Here's a chart to help you decide:


Noises.....................Purring........Snoring, farting

character he

reminds me of.......Catwoman..........Joker

Totally devoted to......Me................Himself

Fave movie.............Lion King.........Porky's II

Spent last night....On my bed....In my sister's bed

Is like my 
character..............Likes me for......Won't buy me
Scott because........who I am............Corvette.]

Sticks and Stones is my first novel. It has not been seen by any editors. It could be sold as a stand alone novel, but ideally is part of a trilogy. The sequel entitled, Broken Bones, is in the first draft stage and the last book of series, Words Will Never Hurt Me, is in the planning stage. [Meaning I'm planning to write it some day.] My novel is ready to be emailed in partial or full should you choose to request it. Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.


Revised Version

Please consider representing my YA novel Sticks and Stones, complete at roughly 70,000 words.

Evelyn Grant is a reporter for George Washington Academy's school paper. Her latest assignment? Infiltrate the Academy's secret society, The Rose and Thorns, and find out what they're up to. But Evelyn is romantically involved with Scott Howard, one of the society members, and she doesn't want this assignment to drive Scott away.

Scott's friends in the society are the 'it' crowd at their school, and they don't take kindly to outsiders snooping into their business. But they're going to have to do a lot worse than dumping drinks on Evelyn, backhanding her, and pushing her into a pool if they want her to stop. When she has a near miss with a sports car in the parking lot, she realizes she may be in over her head.

As Evelyn investigates just what privileges the society members have been enjoying, she begins to suspect they may be hiding something more serious than petty rivalries. She learns that the secret they've been hiding is that they murdered her best friend, Lorna Doone. Can Evelyn look away from the awful truth, or will she put aside her feelings for Scott and write the story she's been trying to avoid?

Sticks and Stones could be sold as a stand alone novel, but ideally is the first book in a series about Evelyn's adventures as an ace reporter. Thank you for your time.



It was way too long, and didn't say much that isn't in the revised version.

Okay, they didn't actually kill Lorna, but if you don't tell us what they did do, we may think they spilled chocolate milk on her new jeans, and Evelyn's overreacting.

What, exactly, is secret about the secret society? Everyone seems to know it exists and who's in it.

Selected Comments

Anonymous the cat vs boyfriend chart. it's too true.

I couldn't figure the age of these people in your book or the age of readers it's aimed at. You seem to be all over the map in that regard. Which is not good. The title sounds like grade school kids, especially if you do a trilogy with the titles mentioned. A lot of the behavior and concerns seem to reflect junior high maturity, but driving around is high school.

Blabbering about other unpublished manuscripts, especially if unwritten = wasted space, as discussed in numerous Facelifts prior to this.

Robin said...Love, love the chart. I think I may have dated the fiance's relative a long time ago.

And loved the mention of Lorna Doone - "Okay, they didn't actually kill Lorna".

The story could be good, but the query meanders. I recognized the style immediately, having written one of these meandering guys myself.

pjd said...Halfway through this, I stopped reading and started skimming just so I could get the context for EE's humor. It's way too long and rambling, and as I read it I thought it sounded less like a sales pitch and more like an author's brainstorming notes. For an example, this entire paragraph:

In all the secrets Evelyn digs up there is a story, one about secret traditions at the academy that Jack would love to print. Still, she hesitates to write the story. Evelyn likes Scott and while his friends are spoiled, mean, and get away with a lot, it's not like they're hurting anyone. Is it? Is the story really worth driving away Scott, someone she really cares about? When she discovers that the secret The Rose and Thorns have been working to hide involves their responsibility in hurting someone close to her, she knows she can't look away from the truth. Could Scott be more like his friends than Evelyn thought? Can Evelyn put aside her feeling for Scott and write the story she's been trying to avoid?

Perhaps you meant it to sound like those urgent questions before commercial breaks in old cartoons, but to me it sounded like you just hadn't figured out the plot yet. Maybe it's because the questions aren't terribly compelling.

What's at stake for Evelyn besides her high school boyfriend? We all know that Scott will dump her when he goes off to Harvard anyway. And it's just the school newspaper. What's Jack going to do, fire her if she doesn't get the story?

I sense that you're driving to a moral dilemma that runs deeper than "HS boyfriend versus HS newspaper," but it does not come through in the query. I don't read YA now that I've passed well out of the "Y" part of life, but I suspect that the YA audience will identify with moral choices between the easy way out and the right thing to do. It seems you've got a story here, but like Evelyn you're afraid to actually write it.

Rei said...You're kidding: it actually *was* #2? Ouch. Let me guess: the next trilogy will be "I Am Rubber", "You Are Glue", and "Bounces Off Me, Sticks To You"?

Anonymous said...Infiltrating a secret society? That is a pretty standard plot. I'd want to see a good twist before I would read it (eg. in Secret Society Girl, a girl who wasn't interested in the society is tapped to join as one of the first women in the group, and ends up helping them reform their chauvinistic ways).

Anonymous said...I have got to get me a cat!

Author, the language and style of this query reads more like an older middle grade novel rather than a YA. That the romance is a bit center stage, though, throws it into YA territory, as does the word count.

If your story sounds anything like this query, it will be too unsophisticated for a YA crowd and too "romantic" for the middle-grade set. And if an agent or editor can't pigeonhole it ...

pulp said...[The more I see of romance, the more I heart my cat.]

I agree with pjd, particularly about the query's resemblance to brainstorming notes. That's what mine look like, anyhow. It seems as if a lot of submitters don't even try to write a good query; they just want EE to write one for them. Only guessing.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Double Feature

Not much point in posting something new when so few are visiting the blog. So here are a couple films from the vault.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Beginning 984

I paced up and down our small living room with its peeling walls and shabby furniture. My living room now. If I could make the rent.

I picked up a photograph of my mother from the mantelpiece. The small, pinched face had never looked this beautiful to me when she was alive. She had never been much of a companion to me, but right now I missed her acutely. At seventeen, I felt half a mother was better than none. If you’d asked me at thirteen, I might have felt differently.

The phone rang. I hesitated. It was probably yet another person calling to offer condolences. Let it ring.

But it wouldn’t stop, so I grabbed the receiver just to make it shut up. “Hello?”

“Iona?” An unfamiliar voice, but one that spoke with an accent I recognized.

“Who is this?” Even as I asked, I knew. There could be only one man with that particular European accent who would contact me.

“This is your father.”

My legs suddenly felt like Jello, so I sank into an armchair.

What was I supposed to say? Hi, Dad. Nice to hear from you. A shame you missed the first seventeen years of my life?

I decided to just wait. Let him explain himself.

"Iona? You there?"

"Mm-hmm," I replied.

"Oh, okay. Well look, just tell your mother I'm on my way home, and I couldn't get any; she'll have to use potatoes. I've looked literally everywhere and..."

On the bright side, I thought, he apparently knows the correct usage of the word "literally."

Opening: Crossword.....Continuation: Anon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Guess the Plot

It's been three years since we did a Christmas Guess the Plot Quiz, but in all that time none of the Christmas GTPs were the actual plot of anyone's book. Thus I've taken the fake ones and mixed them with the real plots and some fake ones from past Christmas GTP Quizzes. So . . . Three of the following twenty plots were the actual plots of minions' novels. Which three?

1. A guy who pees on her boots. A porn-obsessed crybaby. A cheese thief. Sofia always seems to end up with losers. Her latest boyfriend has just given her her Christmas present: a crummy loaf of bread! Is this the final straw? Or is this what she gets for moving to LA?

2. Something sinister is afoot when the insurance office does its Secret Santa drawing and everyone draws Lucretia's name. Lucretia gets 35 gifts -- and a bullet in the head. Only mailroom boy Clark Cooper has what it takes to solve the mystery and deal with the Returns office at Macy's.

3. Sunol, California, 1998. Jeff Dunley and Mark Morris are engaged in an all-out, take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred war between their rival Christmas Tree farms.

4. When Santa's henchmen get tipsy on grog left beside the tree on Christmas Eve and end up busted for burglary, they soon realize the only way to survive incarceration is to form their own gang. They can't be "elves" any more. So they pierce their substantial pointy ears and swagger around, calling themselves the Holiday Lords.

5. Tina is beginning to hate Christmas. Every year it's the same two weeks of stress-inducing hell. Her family, in-laws, her family, in-laws. That is, until she finds out that she's married into the richest, most powerful group of witches and warlocks in the country. Can Tina convince them to halt their assault on the holidays and just relax already?

6. Christmastime, gentle snow falls, merry Santas, bludgeoned girls whose hair falls over their crushed skulls like strands of silver . . . it's just another day for Rudolph.

7. Secret Santa is all fun and games, until Hayley opens her package and finds a human hand. Should she report it to the cops or investigate herself? How hard can it be to spot someone who's missing a hand?

8. Evelyn told her mother-in-law that she wears a size 12, when a 16 is closer to the truth. With the family reunion drawing near, will Evelyn resign herself to wearing the ill-fitting gifts her mother-in-law sent her for Christmas, or will she find a way to escape. . . The Lies that Bind?

9. Charlotte has a thing for holidays. She poisoned the marshmallow chicks in her first husband's Easter basket, strangled her second husband with the ribbon from the Valentine's Day chocolate box, and suffocated her third with the helium balloons at his own birthday party. Now, as Christmas approaches, hubby #4 wonders why that package under the tree is ticking.

10. Every year, Carrie's creepy boss has groped and French-kissed her at the office holiday party. With the antidote in her hip pocket, she waits near the mistletoe and keeps her tongue away from her poisoned lipstick. By this time next year, she'll be the VP doing the groping.

11. Christmas at the estate of Lord Ajax was supposed to be the climax of this year's social season-- and the moment Lord Ajax proposes to her. But Clarissa discovers she is not to be the recipient of a marriage proposal, when she discovers her Ajax under the mistletoe, locked in the embrace of . . . her brother.

12. It's Christmas, and Christine has no one to spend it with--until she gets drawn into an international drug conspiracy by hunky doctor David McLeod. Now that she's found true love, can she stay alive long enough to enjoy it? Also, Johnny Cash.

13. Kelly Coosman volunteered to work the kissing booth for the parish Christmas Gala…it was the least she could do after Father McElroy rescued her from the streets of Chicago. But she’s been on her feet for fourteen hours straight, smooching hundreds of nicotine-fouled old men with rotten yellow teeth, and she's thinking prostitution wasn't so bad after all.

14. Confident his parents won't be getting him a Christmas present, Nate runs away from home and moves into Wal-Mart. When a night security guard finds him and realizes he's the missing boy she read about in the newspaper, she sets up a tent, gets Nate a sleeping bag, and helps him set up a household. Hey, the place gets lonely at night.

15. What started as an innocent kiss at the Devorson’s posh Christmas party turns into an obsession that leaves a trail of bodies from New York to Nevada. Beautiful detective Mary Sky must find the X-mas Killer, following the clues he leaves her, before Christmas rolls around again and his knife finds her under the Mistletoe.

16. When the scarves Aya is knitting for Christmas presents start to fray, so does her mind - convincing her doctor that knitting and mental illness are linked. Can he prove it in time to save his wife, a knittaholic?

17. Fourteen year old Cassie hates her life: she lives in Alabama; the guys at school ignore her; and her mom's a beauty queen. Sent to retrieve the Christmas lights from the attic, she stumbles on a strange box that glows. Opening it reveals a tiny man who tells her she's the princess of Faerie. Adventure ensues.

18. Fiona is lonely and miserable at the dorms her freshman year. With no friends or family, she's stuck there over Christmas vacation. Making things worse, the dorms are supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a student who hung himself in the lobby. Fiona doesn't believe it...until the strange love letters start appearing on her pillows.

19. Bob's trip to the toy store to get little Timmy something for Christmas turns into an epic battle of good vs evil when the evil elf running the cash register slips him the magic kaleidoscope he stole from Wizard Ferkle, who is desperate to retrieve it before the Dark Threesome can get their grubby hands on it.

20. As a nonogenarian wraps Christmas gifts for each of her relatives, she reflects on things they and others have done to annoy her over the course of her long life.

Answers below

The actual plots are:

1, 12, and 14.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

One Small Night

1. It was just one small night, out of 365 that year, but June 18th, when a herd of zombie cows came through Butte, seemed like it would last forever.

2. Smedrick the Sorcerer congealed the entire year's nights into marbles to impress the object of his affections, Princess Plubea. She couldn't have cared less, until he lost one: her sixteenth birthday. Now she'll never be old enough to drive, and oh! is she pissed.

3. Sentenced to dig trenches one night from dusk till dawn, serial killer Joe Ogilvie figures he's gotten off easy--until he learns his sentence will be served at the south pole, where one night lasts six months.

4. Madeline Jones wakes up one night to find that she's only six inches tall. Any other time, it would have been okay, but if she can't return to normal before dawn today, she'll miss the first day of school.

5. Noreen had been looking forward with excitement to the junior prom. Now she's looking forward with trepidation to the results of her pregnancy test.

6. The tale of Sir Enneth, a diny night from Denmar, and the sneay warloc who idnaped all the letter 's.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

Waking up in the middle of the night to discover you’ve been shrunk to one-tenth your normal height would be disturbing. [Let's examine that claim:

Advantages of being tiny

Lower food, clothing and housing costs.
Easy to sneak into movie theater.
Elevator never so full you can't squeeze in.

Chihuahua rides.
Able to hide in bowl of mixed nuts.

Disadvantages of being tiny

Far-sighted hairstylist could cut your head off.

Can't lift bowling ball.
Too short to ride roller coaster.

Learning you may be stuck that way forever would be devastating [enough]. But realizing you’re going to miss the first day of school? Catastrophic on an epic scale. [Is any teacher gonna buy this: Please excuse Madeline for missing school yesterday; she was only six inches tall, so she couldn't climb the steps of the school bus.]

Madeline Jones, a twelve-year-old girl who loves school, marshmallows, and toe socks, [Evil Editor likes to put a mini-marshmallow in each toe of his toe socks. It cushions the blow when I kick authors out of my office. Plus my toes end up smelling--and tasting--sweet.] wakes up one night to discover she’s only six inches tall. To blame is a kindly, absent-minded sleep gnome named Jerry, who, between tearful outbursts, tells her he doesn’t know how to fix her.

One Small Night is a middle grade novel filled with mythical creatures, magic, and conspiracy. With the help of a cranky elf named Frank, his hyperactive sister Doris, and a beautiful but conflicted fairy named Ingrid, Maddie and Jerry race against the waning night and a group of power-hungry fairies to find a way to return Maddie to her normal size in time to start seventh grade the next morning. [Being excited about the first day of school strikes me as an elementary school thing; when you're starting 7th grade, you're already jaded.] In the process, they discover a truth that has been hidden from the magical world since the time of Eden. [Which is . . . ?]

With its light, humorous tone and quirky, lovable characters, One Small Night is a delightful, slightly off-the-wall read that will appeal to boys and girls ages eight to twelve. [Few books with fairies and elves can appeal to both an eight-year-old girl and a twelve-year-old boy. To appeal to the older crowd, you might want to focus more on the conspiracy. Who wants Maddie to stay small, and why?] At approximately 42,500 words, this novel is complete.

While at college, I tossed away a promising career as a veterinarian in order to become a creative writing major, much to my parents’ dismay. [Next time, listen to your parents.]

[A Veterinarian's Life

Make animals feel better.
Make pet owners feel better.
Cash huge paycheck every week.

A Writer's Life 

Try to think of something to write.
Wait for inevitable rejection.
Cash puny check every six months.]

I now work as an editorial assistant for a division of Random House. [See if anyone there wants to publish Novel Deviations 4, will you?] Though presently unpublished, I plan to base my career—and life—on the craft of words. [Considering what they're paying you, the least Random House should do is publish your book. Think what laughingstocks they'd be if their own employee wrote the next Harry Potter, and it got published by Scholastic. They can't afford to take that risk. Make sure you point that out to them when you submit it.]
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.



Clearly written and sounds cute. I'd probably leave off the word "delightful." The idea is to convince the reader that the book is delightful without actually declaring it as fact. As for the part about switching from veterinary school to creative writing, the last thing you want to do in a query letter is convince the reader you're insane.

If this book is to appeal to boys in 6th and 7th grade, you might want to elaborate on the conspiracy and make the bad guys power-hungry dwarfs. Fairies may not cut it as villains for 12-year-old boys now that they've seen orcs.

Selected Comments

Brenda Bradshaw said...I LIKE this and I'm not even the target audience. I know my two middle daughters would pick it up.

Sweet tasting toes...

Anonymous said...Seems like it could be a nice little story.

The letter threw too many names at me too quickly. I lost track of who was a fairy and who was human. I'd simplify and leave some names out.

The bit about the vet might be okay, maybe. The part about basing career and life on "craft of words" was pretty annoying.

Anonymous said..."With the help of a cranky elf named Frank, his hyperactive sister Doris, and a beautiful but conflicted fairy named Ingrid, Maddie and Jerry race against the waning night and a group of power-hungry fairies to find a way to return Maddie to her normal size in time to start seventh grade the next morning."

That sentence needs work. So many names in succession -- Frank, Doris, Ingrid, Maddie, Jerry, Maddie again -- is too much information.

Did Madeleine turn to Maddie one paragraph later, or is Maddie another fairy? (I know the answer but am making a point.)

It looks like the conflicted fairy's name is "Ingrid, Maddie and Jerry". It took several reads to understand what was going on there.

Dave said...I'd certainly be a conflicted fairy if my name were "Ingrid, Maddie and Jerry" all at once.

This sounds like fun. Kids are going to like it.

Anonymous said...You might reconsider the "starting seventh grade" part in favor of fifth or maybe sixth. Seventh graders are a fairly sophisticated crew these days, and a story featuring fairies and gnomes comes across as sounding like it's geared toward a younger audience (and yes, I know that most MG stories usually feature protagonists a year or two older than the targeted audience.)

Robin said...I like this; the summarization is easy to follow. It's written in a light tone to match the tone of your novel. I especially like the ending sentence of the descriptive portion of the query:

"In the process, they discover a truth that has been hidden from the magical world since the time of Eden."

The only thing I might leave out is the sentence about veterinary school versus a writing career -(and please feel free to take this with a large grain of salt, as I'm still working on my query) -

Phoenix said...Don't you let EE get you down, author. I was a Registered Vet Tech on my way to a degree in Vet Med when I dumped it all in favor of an MA in English. Today I make a comfortable living writing fiction. Of course, it's ad and marketing copy for a national corporation. But it can get pretty creative at times ;).

There are always options. You have a bright voice and a fun concept here.

But in light of the recent Q and A, doesn't this query need more plot description? Or characterization? Or motivation? Why would a cranky elf and his sis help out when it's clearly the gnome's fault and they could just point fingers without getting involved? What's the conspiracy? Why's Ingrid conflicted? What makes an elf power-hungry? I'm fine with not seeing these things explained in the query, but is EE and his ilk really so easily appeased?

I do think the whole paragraph that begins "With its light, humorous tone…" can go. You've adequately demonstrated all this already, with two exceptions. The first, word count, you can easily throw into the previous paragraph. As far as 12-year-old boys getting caught up in a story with a girl as the MC and fairies as her backup singers, well, I, like EE, would need some heavy convincing -- and a book cover that isn't pink. Plus, taking that 'graph out leaves room to answer the burning questions above!

Good job all around.

writtenwyrdd said...What's with the Vet theme today? I too dumped a preVet degree to major in English/Creative Writing.

phoenix said...Wow, one small author, writtenwyrdd -- just look at how many of us vet-wannabe's-turned-literate-types are coming out of the closet! Maybe we should form a support group. Get a blog going. Better yet, write our memoirs, go on Oprah, and set ourselves up as role models for those not quite ready to admit that they, too, preferred a major with far fewer labs!

one small author said...Thanks so much everyone (and, of course, Evil Editor)! I adore constructive criticism and have sorely missed it since finishing college and no longer having classes with grad students out to prove how much they know. :) My maschistic side on display.

Great comments and suggestions by all. I can't wait to put them to use.
Thank you!

sarkychick said..."My maschistic side on display."

Jesus, and you're an editorial assistant at Randon House? God help us all, the worst part is that the fact that you can't spell isn't even that much of a surprise...

Evil Editor said...I could say, If you can't spell "Random," where do you get off berating someone who can't spell "masochistic," but my guess is that both of you can spell. It's eazy too gett kairless inn the coments.

snarkychick said...cos I'm not paid to be an editor. duh.

Evil Editor said...If you're saying those who aren't paid to edit shouldn't have to be able to spell, I must take exception. My point was that when you're sending to someone's blog you often aren't as careful as when you're editing your manuscript, or someone else's. Also, you spelled your name sarkychick the first time and snarkychick the second.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Evil Editor Classics

Guess the Plot

The Astrolo- ger's Death

1. I was an innocent teenager when the astrologer forecast I would meet the last of the big-time spenders. Now I'm not, and I didn't, and someone's gonna pay.

2. An astrologer decides he wants to study the powers of the undead. But how? Then he hits upon an obvious solution. Step one: die.

3. On a flight to LA, on the cusp of joining the Mile High Club, celebrity astrologer Mazel Tov learns that he was actually born an hour earlier than he thought. His corrected horoscope warns of an early demise in a plane crash. Hilarity ensues as he makes the most of his last minutes on earth.

4. Maxine Tuttle is shocked to read the date of her own demise. Monday! She buys a lot of skimpy clothes, a wig, and dark glasses, flies to Paris, and has a blast pretending to be a glamorous superspy. But Tuesday morning she wakes up next to a dead Saudi prince and realizes she was wrong about Venus and her troubles have only just begun.

5. After predicting his own early death, an astrologer seeks to become an astronaut so he can blow up the moon, thus rearranging his fatal starchart.

6. Emperor Myrmyx the Ever-Victorious has a secret weapon. His anonymous prisoner is the astrologer Goshdaarf the Unerring. When Goshdaarf is found slain in the palace privy, Myrmyx calls on his second most trusted adviser, Norroming the Nosy, to unravel the mysterious death.

Original Version

Dear Perfect Agent,

In early seventeenth-century England, magic is real, as are other, darker things. THE ASTROLOGER'S DEATH is an 80,000 word historical fantasy set in a passionate, fearful time, when witchfinders reigned and even a King's head was not secure. [You know, they probably wouldn't behead the King or Queen of England in modern times, but think about it: you can't buy the kind of publicity that would generate.]

Village midwife Nan Moray does her best to avoid trouble and the suspicion of witchcraft. When runaway apprentice Tom begs a night's shelter, her kind heart overrules her good sense and she lets him stay. [Her good sense is telling her, If you let this guy sleep in the barn, you'll be accused of witchcraft?] But Tom is pursued not only by his angry master--a secret magician--but by that master's new allies: undead revenants. [Undead revenants? No one knows what that means. Most people are going to read "undead revenants" and think "undead ruminants," aka zombie cows. In fact, while you'll probably think I'm joking, I have to say it anyway: Your book is guaranteed to be better if you change the undead revenants to zombie cows.]

Armed with Tom's half-learned sorcery and Nan's herb-lore, the two survive the first attacks [Nothing beats half-learned sorcery and herb-lore when it comes to thwarting a series of attacks by the undead:

Tom: The house is surrounded by zombie cows!
Nan: Quick, check the spice rack. I'll need some cumin and some figwort.
Tom: Abra ca . . . Hocus . . . Damn it!]

and learn the nature of their enemy. Tom returns to the home he fled, [The magician and the undead are attacking them in Nan's house, so Tom ditches her and goes home?] taking the battle to the revenant stronghold, and earns a brief respite. [How is taking the battle to the revenant stronghold a respite?] As witch-fever grows in England, [Salem had witch fever. I'm less inclined to call it a fever in a world that has powerful magicians, undead revenants, and zombie cows.] [Evil Editor would be burning witches and cows right and left if magic really existed.] Tom and Nan discover that the living can be crueler than the undead.

When Nan is imprisoned for witchcraft, Tom makes the revenants his tool for vengeance, risking his life and soul. [This is where the zombie cow idea would be brilliant. Think Tom riding the foremost zombie cow as the herd stampedes through the witch hunters' stronghold.] [If a zombie cow eats your brains, do you turn into a regular zombie or a zombie cow? That's one of the things you'll have to work out when you brainstorm the plot with your critique group.] [Let's turn this into a screenplay and get Oliver Stone interested.] [British tabloid headline, 1618: Revenant Ruminants Run Rampant.]

I have attended ________ and have a story in _________ . I've been involved in Living History [In other words, I've been alive.] for several years, but this is my first foray into Undead History. Thank you for your time and consideration. SASE is enclosed.


(Explanation of title: Tom's master, Gybbins, is ostensibly an astrologer, secretly a magician. He dies purposely, in order to gain and study the powers of the undead.)


I know you're not going to change the book so it has zombie cows, but as an experiment, send out a couple queries with zombie cows, and report back your results.

You can do without the first sentence. It's not clear what you mean by "other, darker things."

It could use more specificity and information. I know the opening situation, but I don't know enough of what happens.

What did Nan do that got her accused of witchcraft? Must be the old Catch 22: If the zombie cows can kill you, you must not be a witch. If you manage to thwart the zombie cows, you must be a witch, thus you must die.

Selected Comments

Dave said...If I were you I would start out the query from the initial problem -

"When Tom's Master and mentor, {name} kills himself to become one of the undead, Tom finds himself on the run not only from witchcraft but for murder."

That's only a start, but I think it would be the place to start.

Marissa Doyle said...I can see this needing both more and less specificity--making clearer who's behind the zombies (bovine or not) and why he's attacking while at the same time losing things like "Tom returns...earning a brief respite..." and that sort of thing. That's synopsis. Give a little more "why" and less "what".
In romance it's called GMC--telling the main characters' goals, motivations, and conflicts.

Speaking of which, is there a romance between Tom and Nan? Or are their relative ages different? You might clarify that.

merper said...Your two points seem unlinked. First, they're fighting the revenants (and yes I've played enough RPGs to know what those are) then suddenly the MC runs back and starts using them to fight the king? Whatever happened to the master who was after him?
Clear up the connection.

Xenith said...'Magic is real' in a historical fantasy? It usually is. Big deal. That does not make for a very attention getting opening.

Anonymous said...The Zombie cow concept, I understand and find amusing. Undead remnants or whatever? I'm clueless. Did you find them in a book re 17th Century magic theory? Or some videogame?
If they're videogame characters, it might be time to go back to the drawing board or history and stay there until you have a horde of ghouls that are not covered with someone else's copyrights/trademarks. If they're historic, you might give the agent a few clues what they're like.

pacatrue said...I had a similar thought to xenith's after reading the line about 17th century england and magic being real. I read this as the author saying, "I've take Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and moved it back a couple centuries. Brilliant!" Maybe just saying it's a historical fantasy does the trick and stops the mistaken parallels to the other book?
If its historical setting is fundamental to the story (I started looking up places and people in the Strange and Norrell book, because I couldn't tell what was history and what was fiction), then you will want some sentence so that the agent gets this. However, as currently written, it seems the classic story of apprentice sorceror and herbologist fight undead revenants could be set in any century and any place.

Since the historical setting does seem relevant and you chose revenants and not zombies (which according to wikipedia are distinguished from zombies by their specificity, also here), maybe you could structure the query so that it sounds almost like a bit of English history for the first paragraph. I.e., name names. So instead of fighting undead revenants, have Magistrate Smithee and his cat Floofums come back from the dead and go after Tom.

Another thought was, "Wow, I've let my house get pretty messy some times, but I've never come home to find undead revenants lying about." The author should just ignore this thought. And probably the ones above, too.

I'm now going to go stock up on cumin - just in case. Great job, EE.

xdgem said...When I read revenants, I thought of revenuers (or however that's spelled) and thought of hidden stills in Appalachia.


LOL at zombie cows.

Your story sounds very ordinary--woman with secrets helps young boy against impossible odds and life threatening battle. They succeed. All of the undead and setting don't change that much.

Ordinary plots can work, but you have to give us a reason to want to read them. Undead and revenants doesn't do it for me.

Good luck.

Evil Editor said...By the way, isn't the term "undead revenants" redundant? Revenant can mean someone who returns after a long absence, but here it means someone who has returned from the dead. And all such revenants would, by definition, be undead.

blogless_troll said...So... if I understand pacatrue's links correctly, revenants are friends, but zombies are more like acquaintances? Friends, inasmuch as you might've been close to the guy once, but he still wants to eat you.

And which one's harder to kill? Or, rekill, or whatever?

tia nia said...To the Author, I have a suggestion based on my own fruitless attempts to construct a satisfying magical world. James H Schmitz suspended my disbelief with a never-ending unfolding of magical abilities, but everyone else needs to specify what can and cannot be done with magic. That is, incant spells? Or throw spells? Change into other species? Fly? Beam me up, Scotty? Cause warts by judicious application of toad sweat?

So instead of saying magic is real, why not give one or two examples of what different capabilities exist in your alternate reality.

And to GTP number 1, please, please, please write this novel. Your voice is luminous, even in those two short sentences. Actually, not exactly luminous, more like snarky and sarcastic. I love it. I want more.

batgirl said...Evil, you are brilliant. Thank you. This size of precis is driving me mad. I can do a synopsis easily, but when I pull the focus back far enough to get the whole plot in a couple of paragraphs I lose all the detail. Gah!

The zombie cows are a wonderful concept. I wonder if I should add them to the alien-possessed sheep story, or just replace the alien sheep with zombie cows?
The revenants are dead people who don't stay dead. They're, um, kinda, vampires, but the word 'vampire' doesn't reach England for another century, and there's no English folk tradition of bloodsucking dead, though there are malevolent dead aplenty. So vampires as interpreted through 17th c. folklore. If that helps. This is a pathetically non-commercial book. The main characters are an overweight middle-aged woman and an ugly resentful teenager, there's a twenty-year break in the middle of the action (pt.1: revenants, pt.2, witchfinders) and it ends unhappily. Oh, and the dialogue uses a lot of archaic words.

The zombie cows stand a much better chance of selling - I'll credit you in the acknowledgements when I sell that one.

writtenwyrdd said...A thought: Don't call this a historical fantasy, just call it a fantasy. So many are set in historical (sort of) worlds that you can have your cake (historical) and eat it too (anachronisms like the word vampire.) Yay! You can thus be less cryptic in your query AND the text.

Also, just a thought, but in a query, why worry about using the word vampire? You are not writing the backmatter, you are hooking an agent or editor. So use the words that work. I would recommend starting where Dave suggests (go Dave! another great idea!) and use a word that no one will misconstrue (vampires.)

I think the basic plot also comes across as a bit too commonplace the way you describe it, so I would try to find wording that sparks. (That's not to say that it sounds like a dull story.)

Fuchsia Groan said...I'd way rather read a fantasy about "an overweight middle-aged woman and an ugly resentful teenager" than about a gorgeous elf princess and a beefcake knight. Do these characters have distinctive voices? Are they funny? Do they help us see the impact of witch-hunting on ordinary people? Can you convey more about them in the query?

Also, witch-hunting does seem a bit more... sensible in a world where magic exists. Maybe the alternate-history aspect needs to be (briefly) addressed... witch-hunting arises from a justifiable fear, but it gets out of hand and makes no distinctions between good magic and bad, blah blah blah.

Angus Weeks said...I agree with "fuchsia groan" that your characters sound much more interesting the way you have described them in the comments section. While it is true that in a novel you would tend to 'show not tell', in a query you can afford to be direct and say 'ugly resentful teenager' if that's what Tom is.

Revenants sound interesting, now that I have read the Wikipedia link someone provided. I think it would help if you spent a word or two describing what a revenant is (but don't say 'undead revenant' because it's clear that's a tautology). If the revenants have similarities with vampires, I'd add that detail, even if 'vampire' as you say doesn't become a term until later in history.

kiss-me-at-the-gate said...Author, I think it has promise -- like some of the other commenters, I'd much rather read about an overweight middle-aged woman and a resentful ugly teenager than the gorgeous cliched characters that seem to populate fantasy these days -- but your query is a little too much synopsis and not enough "why should we care", I think. I know that doesn't help much, but maybe you could focus on why instead of what?

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012 New Beginning Award Winners

It was 10:30 and we were halfway through the quarterly meeting when my clothing combusted. Several people gasped, and Celine Carter started giggling. I just stood up, dumped my cup of water down the front of my pantsuit, grabbed my briefcase, and said, “Excuse me.” Jennings pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand and waved me out with the other. 

I fumed all the way to the bathroom, clothes sizzling and the whole office gawking. Maddening. Just maddening. I’d always heard menopause was painful for super heroines, but this? This was humiliating! This was my third pantsuit in a week to explode; the second in a month to explode during a meeting.

I shucked off the ashy pantsuit and pulled a skirt and blouse from my briefcase. As I struggled into the new outfit, I called my husband on my cell.

“Jeff? I need an asbestos wardrobe!”

Jeff sighed. “Oh, sweetie. The flame retardant didn’t help?”

“No! I had a hot flash, and my clothes blew up. Again! It’s just…it’s so frustrating.”

“Maybe we could get Edna to make something for you? She dresses all the hip you--hip superheroes, doesn’t she? Or, wait, maybe we can just pull your old suit out of the attic!”

I huffed into the phone. “Even if I could fit into it, which I seriously doubt, I’d like to remind you that when I wore that thing, I only shot fire from my hands. It won’t do anything against a full body hot flash!”

“You could always quit your job and just sit around the house naked.”

* * *

Enough!" Stan hollered. "I Know I said we needed a female superhero in our comics line, and that I wanted it written by a woman, but issue 1 was breast feeding in public, issue 2 was that time of the month, and now menopause?! Firebabe has yet to take on a single villain!"

"But Boss," Chatsworth replied, "it's outselling Spiderman and Superman. It's the hottest title in comics."

"I know, I know. It just feels . . . wrong."

"Not to worry, Boss. Next month Firebabe faces her toughest foe yet. The Misogynist!"

"Who's he?"

"The shoe salesman from hell!"


 Opening: Rachel Roy......Continuation: Evil Editor

Some months after my cousin took a bad fall down the grand staircase of his home, I called on him for an extended stay. I arrived but a short hour before the doctor was to arrive for one last examination, and he, having burned off any inherent bashfulness at boarding school and again in the army, invited me to stay and chat throughout the examination.

The doctor struck a match and passed it before my cousin's eyes to watch his pupils follow it; snapped his fingers at either ear to see if he started. My cousin's joints were flicked and found adequate. The doctor seemed pleased with his recovery."

"Has your appetite been well?" he asked, writing mysterious marks into a notebook.

"Strong as ever," said my cousin. "Stay for tea and I shall prove it."

"And your libido?"

"Positively libid."

"And how have you slept?"

I saw my cousin hesitate for a slip of a moment before saying, "Never deeper. Never deeper."

"Appetite and libido good?" The doctor's face wrinkled his concern. "And yet you're sleeping deep? Hmmm."

The omnipresent author slipped my cousin a note. His face lit up, and he spoke with a renewed vigour.

"Maybe I've discovered some fantasy dream world the rest of this story will be about, in which I'm some testosterone-fueled centaur laird taking a stand against the nouveau teen vampire chic with hooves a-blazing."

"Might work," said the doctor, tossing aside his stethoscope, "but you reckoned without the Snake Lords of the Preposterous!"

As serpents slid from beneath his Red Cross poncho, I sensed it was time to play my own hand. It roared from my wrist, half Addams Family appendage, half Fireball XL5 rocket propulsion blast, and stabbed a series of alien-looking sigils into my cousin's bare chest.


"Ha!" cried the doctor. "Your edict has fallen foul of the terminal navel. If you're gonna inscribe a call to arms on a torso, do it on a giant where there's more room to flow freely."

The omnipresent author slipped my cousin another note.

"Forget the horses and the snakes. Looks like we're going with romance."

No need for further words. The three of us embraced each other on the hospital bed. Then we kissed like harlots, ready to spawn some fantasy love child...

Opening: 150.....Continuation: Whirlochre

When the world came to, it came, not to its senses, but to its madness. Those who were left alive learned what their needs were—these of course, were the same as they ever had been, as the nature of the ones left behind was no different from the nature of the ones who had gone on—and from one’s nature come one’s needs. They learned what their true needs were, which was almost as important as learning how to get them met.

Air, of course, then water, then food. Those who were left alive were at the mercy of place, and some lingered long enough to learn how to get their needs met in the place where they were; others did not, and died. Still others began to travel the broken roads, to band together, to beat back or be beaten back, to become victims or victors. Eventually, life resumed its potent, inviolable rhythm. And eventually, the things that had been left behind began to become normal.

The crone’s name was Senga. That’s what everyone called her, anyway. She was not quite the eldest of their group, but if she wasn’t, no one knew anyone older.

Senga knew what life had been like in the old days, the days before the days of now and the days before the days of before the days of now and even the days before the days of before the days of before the days of now. She could teach us how to function again. We could emerge, blinking, into the light. Society could regain its structure.

Our future depended on Senga's memories, and on only one other thing: that she could finish imparting these memories to us before we could no longer resist eating her.

Opening: Helen O'Reilly.....Continuation: Anon.

2012 Face-Lift Award Winners

3rd Place

Face-Lift 1029

Don't Date a Bro

2nd Place

Face-Lift 1008

The Final Clue

1st Place

Face-Lift 984

The Star Bear Odyssey