Thursday, December 29, 2016

Feedback Request

The author of the opening featured in New Beginning 1061 requests feedback on the following revision:

Blisters. Again.

My entire body was covered in them: pus-filled, bursting, itching boils. They could’ve attacked when I was at home, or later, during my appointment. But no. Striking when I was sitting in the dermatology clinic, waiting for the doctor, was much funnier, right?. Other patients had zits, warts, and strange-looking birthmarks, but I was different. because One moment my skin was smooth, and two minutes later – all covered in blisters. [new paragraph] I knew my condition could freak people out, so I did what I usually do when I break out in public – I ran to a place with nobody around: the clinic’s back parking lot. Adri followed.

“Wow, Daniel!” she said. “Did you come [out] here to call Mom and tell her that you’re covered in blisters? D'you want her to [again, in hopes that she'll] bake you another chocolate cake?”

“Wow, Adri! Did you figure it [that] out all by yourself?”

She scowled. “Let’s go [back] in.”

“I can’t go in. Not looking like this.”

I don’t care, ‘cuz [It's too hot out here,” she said. “] I’m burning up!”

The temperature was already in the nineties, but Adri had nothing to complain about. and My blistered body sweated [was sweating] under my long-sleeved shirt and pants [, while she was] wearing a pink mini and tank top.

"You're gonna miss your turn," [she told me.]

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Face-Lift 1339

Guess the Plot

Alexander and Rosalind

1. Freezing, starving, blinded by snow, two tiny kittens struggle to survive on the streets of Milwaukee.

2. Two kids, three homicides, one very sharp knife. It's The Bad Seed, squared. Also, a gerbil.

3. Director, writer, and producer Declan Leibowicz believes that his tender romance Alexander and Rosalind, set during the Holocaust, will be the culmination of his career and he'll be showered with awards. When the critics shower him with something other than acclaim, however, he decides to get his revenge, one critic at a time.

4. They're fourteen, they're twins, and they're vampires. There's a sage in Canterbury who could make them human again, so they trick an Arabian pirate into taking them there. Finally, a Canterbury Tale written in modern English.

5. Alexander, a goldfish, largely ignored by the humans and often left unfed, wonders what he has to live for. Until the arrival of Rosalind, a tabby kitten entranced by the shiny fish that moves around the bowl in an unpredictable manner. Alexander loves the attention she gives him. Even more, those thighs would have good eating on them. If he can only tempt her into leaping into the tank...

6. A girl named Alexander, raised as a boy to be heir to her kingdom, is engaged to a (male) princess named Rosalind, second child of the neighboring kingdom. Comedy ensues as the duo attempt to keep their genders secret from each other, and their kingdoms from going to war.

7. She was named for a previous child lost. He chose the name he uses now. Follow this tale of two people with unexpected names as they go through life. Plus three dogs, a lightning struck tree, and a whole lot of cats.

8. Alexander slays zombies for a living. Rosalind kills hunters for the dead. Can this hunter and necromancer find a commonality when the world ends up in danger from a third force?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

One night in medieval England, the smell of blood draws fourteen-year-old vampires Alex and his twin sister to a dead body in the woods. While Alex is trying to stop his blood-starved sister from biting the body, a local trapper spots them, and they panic and flee.

Alex faints at the sight of blood and dreams of becoming a bard, and Rosa loves animals and is fiercely protective of her brother. They don’t hunt to satiate their thirst—their human mother cuts her hand, and their father, a physician, brings blood home from the hospital. [So why was Rosa blood-starved?] None of the villagers knows their secret, and the family strives to keep it that way.

But when the trapper tells the village priest what he saw, [Father, you'll never believe who I saw trying to drink the blood of a corpse yesterday.] Father Carroll becomes immediately suspicious. He starts spying on them, and when he uncovers the truth, Alex and Rosa must flee to survive.

Soon they encounter an Arabian pirate, whom they trick into escorting them to Canterbury, where they believe a sage can make them human again. But the priest is tracking them, and they’re running low on blood. [Hmmm. Maybe they can kill two birds with one stone.] And to be restored, they’ll have to risk not only their souls, but breaking the bond that’s defined them all their lives.

ALEXANDER AND ROSALIND, a 62,000-word YA horror novel, is available upon request. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your consideration,


A well-written query. Many agents declare that they don't handle poetry, screenplays, and especially anything involving vampires, so your prospects may be limited.

Here are a few items more plot-related than query-related that may or may not bother readers; you might consider addressing one or two of them in the query:

It seems the trapper and the priest are both more concerned with the actions of a couple kids who stumbled upon a dead body in the woods than with the fact that there is a dead body in the woods. I could see them suspecting the kids committed a murder before suspecting that they're vampires. Unless Rosa's mouth was on the body's throat. Does the trapper report the body to the sheriff? 

If the kids are getting their blood from their parents, presumably at home, it would be difficult for Father Carroll to uncover the truth. He can't spy on them 24/7, and he doesn't have binoculars or surveillance equipment.

If you need an escort to Canterbury, it seems there are better choices than an Arabian pirate.  Most people you encounter would know the way, and some of them probably go there regularly so you wouldn't have to trick them.

My limited research into medieval hospitals suggests that they were more likely to employ barbers than physicians, as medical hospitals came into existence after the French Revolution. On the other hand, some hospitals did house lepers or the insane or the incurable poor, so if dad did have a job in one, there was probably no shortage of corpses from which to drain some blood.

How far from Canterbury is the village? There's a limit to how far a priest can travel in pursuit of vampires without neglecting his congregation. In medieval times, thirty miles was a long way.

As the smell of blood drew the kids to the body, I'm wondering why Alex didn't faint. I guess the blood wasn't visible? When you say "Alex faints at the sight of blood," a reader could assume you mean he faints when he sees blood on the dead body. To get around this, maybe it would be better if the first two paragraphs were organized something like:

Fourteen-year-old Alexander faints at the sight of blood and dreams of becoming a bard. His twin sister Rosalind loves animals and is fiercely protective of her brother. In other words, they aren't your typical vampires.  They don’t hunt to satiate their thirst—their human mother cuts her hand, and their father, a physician, brings blood home from the hospital. None of the villagers suspects their secret, and the family strive to keep it that way.

One night, the smell of blood draws Alex and Rosa to a dead body in the woods. While Alex is trying to pull his sister off the body, a local trapper spots them, and they panic and flee.

When the trapper tells . . . 

It wasn't convenient to mention medieval England in this version, but Alex wanting to be a bard is suggestive, and at the end you can say ALEXANDER AND ROSALIND, a 62,000-word YA horror novel set in medieval England, is available upon request.

Apparently the word "vampire" first appeared in the eighteenth century. Do your characters use the word? Eastern European folklore had other terms for similar "creatures."

Monday, December 26, 2016

New Beginning 1061

Come on, not blisters again.

My entire body was covered in them: pus-filled, bursting, itching boils. They could’ve attacked when I was at home, or later, during my appointment. But no. The Blister Chief Commander probably thought, Daniel hasn’t shown up for gym class since the beginning of the school year, so why don’t we strike when he’s right in the middle of the clinic, and watch him gallop outside as fast as he can?

And that’s exactly what I did; I ran to a place with nobody around: the clinic’s back parking lot. Adri followed.

“I know what you’re doing,” she said. “You wanna call Mom and tell her that you’re covered in blisters. ‘Cuz you want her to bake you a chocolate cake.”

“Wow, Adri! Did you figure it out all by yourself?”

She pulled a face. “Let’s go in.”

“I can’t go in. Not looking like this.”

“I don’t care, ‘cuz I’m burning up!”

The temperature hit ninety-three degrees, and my blistered face sweated under my knit cap. I stared at her through the eye holes I'd cut and retorted, “You’re burning up?”

She took her cell phone out of a small fuchsia clutch and began fanning herself. In her mini and tank top, I had no idea what she was complaining about. She didn’t have a wool cap covering her head. I went to peel the cap off when a car drove into the parking lot.

“You’re gonna miss – “

“No, I’m not. We’ll be exactly on time,” I glanced at my watch.

That's when I noticed the saliva-dripping growth on my wrist, the size and shape of my tongue. Apparently the Lipoma Rear Admiral figured, Daniel hasn't gone swimming in months, so why don't we strike while he's standing in a parking lot and see if he jumps in front of that car?

And that’s exactly what I did.

Opening: Ela Mishne.....Continuation: Evil Editor


P1: I'd go with just: Blisters. Again.

P2: Is it a doctor appointment? Psychiatric appointment? Job interview? Be specific.

Not clear what gym class has to do with anything. If he were currently in gym class, I could see the Commander wanting to strike now because he might not be back for months.

If he's in the clinic because of his condition, why would he run outside? It's not unusual for lots of people in a medical clinic to have symptoms. Is this a dermatology clinic? If so, say so, be specific.

In P1 he wishes the blisters appeared during his appointment. If his appointment is in the clinic, and he's already in the clinic, it seems like the blisters did wait until his appointment.

P4: I'd go with "bake you a chocolate cake again" or Bake you another chocolate cake," suggesting that he got a cake last time he had blisters. Otherwise there isn't a connection between cake and blisters.

P6: Is "pulled a face" a common expression? I'm familiar with "made a face." More specific would be rolled her eyes or scowled or frowned...

P7: He has a wool cap over his face. And he has to go in sooner or later, and the place is probably air conditioned and I assume if he's carrying a wool cap when it's 93 degrees, he's also wearing a long-sleeve shirt and pants, so he shouldn't be this reluctant to sit in a waiting room with other people who have warts and acne and skin cancer and rashes.

P9: That's a pretty specific temperature for him to know. More likely he'd say "The temperature was already in the nineties." If he does know the exact temperature, I'd use "was" instead of "hit," as "hit" suggests that it just happened as he was standing there.

P10: I doubt this kid would look at the clutch and describe it as fuchsia. I'm not even sure he'd come up with the word "clutch."

It sounds like she's fanning herself with her phone. Seems like her hand would be just as effective. In which case we don't need the cell phone sentence. And you already told us he's sweating under his wool cap, so we don't need that again. If you put Adri's clothing at the end of the previous paragraph you won't  need this paragraph at all. Unless that car pulling in is important to the plot, in which case you can give it its own paragraph.

P11: Let her finish the sentence.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Christmas Guess the Plot

The fake plots below appeared on this blog during the past 11 years. But not all of them proved to be fake. Which six  are the actual plots of minions' novels?

1. Poverty and creativity went hand in hand for Pearl, until her homemade Christmas ornaments became big sellers in Winston-Salem. Success is a puff away, but can she find the right partner for her Cigarette Angel factory or will her plans go up in smoke?

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Investigative journalist Shiela Nagig is working on an expose of the child beauty contest circuit when the Archdiocese of Sheboygan hires her to find out why six of their little angels from the Christmas Play have mysteriously disappeared along with a valuable altarpiece.

10. 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?

11. 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 can both solve the mystery and deal with the Returns office at Macy's.

12. 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.

13. 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.

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

15. 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?

16. When Santa and the reindeer crash on Christmas Eve, all the cavemen are excited about the sudden abundance of free food. Mugoo fires up the barbeque while Santa searches the snow for his broken time turner so he can get back to the right century and save Christmas. Plus, seven angry elves.

17. 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?

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.

21. While following yonder star, the three wise men find themselves in Rome. Lost and confused, they must depend on a senile mapmaker to get them back on their path to destiny.

22. Annie has been set up on so many blind dates she's considering learning braille. The latest installment arrives on her doorstep on Christmas Eve wearing a large red bow. Only a large red bow. 

23. Time traveler Giovanni intercepts the Magi outside of Bethlehem and replaces the frankincense with sensimilla, dooming Jesus to be forever pictured as a long-haired hippie.

24. The true story of what happened that fateful night when three rich, swarthy, lost travelers asked for directions to the stable, but could not speak Italian.

25. Papa regrets telling the Santa Claus at Macy's what he REALLY wants for Christmas . . . when he discovers Santa is really an undercover vice squad cop.

26. At Christmas, Mandi and Daniel each make great sacrifices in hopes of providing the other with happiness. Will their sacrifices tragically render their gifts useless? Or will a robot MAGIcally save the day with his Deus ex Machina appearance?

27. Abandoning his family on Christmas day is the only decent thing Jeffrey's done for them in years. At least he didn't take all the presents with him.

28. When Mark messes up his solo in the Christmas musical, his dad is so upset with him he crashes the family car into a gasoline tanker truck on a foggy bridge while driving home.

29. Sick of his stressful job guarding a labyrinth, the Minotaur applies for a position pulling a sleigh. Can the taurine recluse learn to be jolly and get the job before Theseus finds him?

Answers below

The actual plots are:

5, 8, 10, 26, 27, 28 

Night Before Christmas Quiz

There are dozens of books with The Night Before Christmas in their titles. For instance, you can fill in the blank in The _______ Night Before Christmas with any of the following words, and that's an actual book:

Nurse's, Firefighter's, Soldier's, Cat's, Dog's, Principal's, Texas...

Below I've listed 34 ways the blank could be filled in. Seventeen are actual books according to Barnes and Noble's web site. The other seventeen could exist, but as far as I know they're fakes submitted by the Evil Minions.

Drunk Driver's
ER Surgeon's
Heartbroken Hooker's
Meth head's
Naughty Nanny's
Racecar Driver's
Red Hat Society
Scratch and Sniff
Serial Killer's
Sober Socialite's
Wise Men’s

Answers below.

The fakes were submitted by Jo Antereau, Khazar-khum, Mister Furkles, and Veronica Rundell.

The actual book titles are:

Racecar Driver's
Red Hat Society
Scratch and Sniff

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1335 would like feedback on the revised version below.


I’m a friend of your client XXXXX. [Or, to save space, L.] She thought you might like a first read of SACRIFICE, the medieval fantasy novel I’ve just completed, and recommended I email you directly.

Marina’s husband is a smuggler. Strictly small-time. Turns out he has secrets even from her, though. The Duke’s men come for her - and her kids – and she bolts, eventually making a desperate bid for sanctuary. [Not clear why the Duke's men are coming for Marina and her kids or what that has to do with her husband. Did his smuggling operation interfere with the Duke's plans? Would it help us to know what the husband's secrets are?]When it fails, she must give her daughter Quirt up to the Order. [She must give her daughter up to the Order? Is this a law? What is the Order?]

The monks are the only true masters of magic – a force others find maddeningly unreliable. Quirt is fascinated. [How old is Quirt?] She even finds a friend or two among the brothers. But she sees hints that the monks’ creative power – and their mastery of bloody destruction – springs from a dark secret. [Are we talking about a religious order of monks? I only ask because monks are rarely associated with bloody destruction, and those who are are rarely trusted with the care of young girls.]  

Marina bluffs her way from the Order’s smoky cloisters to the sluggish backwaters of the great swamp. She can’t quite see how she - and Hap, the son who remains to her - are going to build a new life, and she increasingly regrets giving up her daughter.

Hedge-wizard Cremona has suffered through a painful education, in the course of trying – and failing - to reap rewards from his magical talent. Meeting Marina, he realizes her story holds clues to the riddle of power that has begun to obsess him.

When Hap is trapped in a fire, only Cremona’s intervention saves him. Marina realizes she must choose between an empty exile and the daunting prospect of reversing her sacrifice. [Is there a connection between this realization and Cremona saving Hap? I don't actually see why Cremona is in the query.] She risks running foul [afoul] of the Duke if she returns home, and the Order are an even more intimidating prospect. But she must face them both to reclaim her daughter, her family and her life. [Is her husband still a part of her family? He was the subject of the first sentence, which makes him seem important, but he quickly disappeared.]

SACRIFICE aspires to the tone, complexity, and moral ambivalence of KJ Parker. [Does K.J. know you consider him morally ambivalent?] At 166k words, it is the first installment in a trilogy. It will appeal to adult readers of fantasy. [The query's somewhat shorter now, but the book is still as massive as ever. That's gonna be a problem.]

I’ve attached a synopsis and initial chapters as per your guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration.


You seem to like using dashes. I don't think you'd lose anything by changing all of them to less-annoying commas.

We need better connections between ideas, and you need to assume we know nothing about your world. 

If Marina doesn't know why the Duke is after her, you don't need to try to explain it to us. If she does know, then what are the secrets her husband is keeping? If those secrets aren't important in the query, don't bring them up.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Face-Lift 1338

Guess the Plot

The Awakening

1. Sixteen-year-old Jonieal awakens to her usual, drab surroundings. She has not been transformed into a warrior princess, nor is she now in a magical realm. Nada. Will tomorrow be different?

2. They have slept thousands of years; in the dark caves, under the sheltering willows, and at the highest mountain top. Now they have awakened, and no human is safe from their wrath. Earth has been defiled, and what humans have known as myths prove themselves very real.

3. People at work didn't know what to tell Leslie when she described the strange gray slime that had appeared in her kitchen sink and shower drain. A few days later, Ben has the same problem. Soon everyone in town is afflicted with it. Plumbers can't eliminate it, exterminators are useless, bleach does nothing. It's strange, all right...and then the sludge starts talking on peoples' phones.

4. College student Jessica knew there was something unusual about the guy she'd fallen in love with, and now she 
awakens to the fact that he's actually an elf. And not just any elf, the elf destined to become king of all the elves. She never thought this would happen.

5. Every person who has ever died awakens all at the same time. Living humans are outnumbered 14 to 1 by zombies, mummies, ash creatures, mobile skeletons, and slimy ghosts. It's highly awkward for those who have indulged in cannibalism.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

College student Jessica Grove never expected an extraordinary life. Orphaned at a young age, Jessica is content to follow a conventional path until she meets Aiden, a handsome older student oozing with mystery. They’re drawn to each other, and Jessica soon finds her life filled with excitement and peril she never imagined. She knows there is something different about Aiden, but never would have guessed the truth—that Aiden is an elf, gifted with extreme physical abilities and a slowed aging process.

The further Jessica delves into Aiden’s world, the more consumed she becomes with Aiden. Aiden tries to convince Jessica he’s bad for her, and even Jessica knows she should follow [live] the life everyone assumed she’d lead, graduating college and marrying Lucas, her hunky best friend since childhood. Jessica soon realizes, though, that passion and logic don’t always coexist and that her heart doesn’t necessarily lead her to [follow] the safest route.

Before meeting Jessica, Aiden never dreamed of deviating from his destiny. His entire life has been preparation for him to become the leader of his people, but when Aiden meets Jessica, he finds himself questioning how much he is willing to sacrifice for an ambition he did not select for himself. Aiden knows he cannot marry a human and still be king of the elves, but does he have the strength to choose his own course? [My guess is yes, but I'm not sure I want to read the book to find out, because you haven't told me much of anything that happens in the book. Does he tell her he's an elf or does she figure it out when she sees him picking up a car?]

Kingdoms: Book 1, The Awakening is an 84,000 word new adult fantasy romance that will have fans of Jennifer Armentrout, Stephenie Meyer, and J.K. Rowling [Here I'm thinking this is a take on the Wallis Simpson/Edward VIII story, and you're saying it's for fans of Harry Potter, boy wizard?] eager for the next installment of the Kingdoms Trilogy. [Will they be eager for it because nothing was resolved in this book? Or does this book have a satisfying ending? Convincing publishers to put out one book with the potential for a series is easier than convincing them to buy a trilogy.] The full manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your consideration.


Jessica never expected 
an extraordinary life...   ...she never imagined a life filled with peril...   she never would have guessed the truth...  Aiden never dreamed he'd deviate from his destiny...  Is it necessary to continuously tell us a human and an elf are surprised they've met and fallen for each other? Back when L. Frank Baum queried me about The Wizard of Oz, he didn't say:

Dorothy never expected a tornado to transport her from Kansas to a magical world called Oz. And she never imagined she'd meet a living scarecrow and a talking lion. She never would have guessed a witch would try to kill her for her shoes. And the legendary wizard of Oz never dreamed all these characters would show up at his palace requesting favors.

He just told me these events happened in his book, and assumed I would realize they were unexpected, because nobody would expect them. By the way, the fact that the first two letters of L. Frank Baum are pronounced elf explains why the man insisted I call him Elfie. Though he never allowed anyone else to call him that. You might consider naming one of the elves in your book Rankbomb. Humans will call him Elf Rankbomb. An homage to Elfie.

It's a clearly written query. But it does little beyond introducing the characters and setting up their situation. Nothing here about what happens. There has to be more in 84,000 words than these two mulling over the pros and cons. What's all this excitement and peril Jessica experiences before she even realizes Aiden is an elf? Is elfdom (Faerie?) doing something to obstruct the romance? Is Lucas? Does something happen that almost ends their romance? What's their plan, assuming they're both on the same page? Are elves secretly planning to go to war with humans? Will Aiden still love Jessica when she's 80 and he's thirty in human years?

Condense the setup into one paragraph. Something like: Jessica and Aiden are in love, but Jessica just wants to graduate from college, while Aiden wants to become the ruler of all elves. Okay, that was one sentence, not one paragraph, so you can expand it with a couple more sentences. Then get to the plot.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Face-Lift 1337

Guess the Plot


1. An immortal guy kills Nolan's family, and is now hunting Nolan, when suddenly a crystal falls from the sky, granting Nolan magical powers. But will he use his powers for vengeance, or to do good works? 

2. Seems like the sky is falling at some point in every novel, but this time it's literally falling.

3. When a cabal of soulless politicians launches a scheme to anesthetize progressive voters before they can reach the polls, ace investigator Zack Martinez knows two things: This could be the answer to his chronic insomnia, and he'd better get his zzzzzzzzz... 

4. An exciting, fictionalized, very-approachable-without-a-technical-background narrative of scientific progress in physics in the late 1800s-early 1900s, including Maxwell's equations, general and special relativity, and, of course, the fall of luminiferous ether theory and the introduction of space as a(n almost) void. 

5. Ethan swears to get even with everyone who's ever dissed, harassed or bullied him. Using an old goat skull, he asks Satan to punish them all. No problem, as Satan possesses the Internet.

6. The green fairy descends from the heavens. Or rather it falls, smacks a few pedestrians with insanity, goes for a night on the town, and visits two sisters, giving them divine inspiration only to make them forget it all come morning. 

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Nolan of Greenbrook has no hope of a peaceful death. The immortal Eldest hunts him, intent on finishing what he started when he killed Nolan's family and left him crippled. [#38 on the list of Things I Would Do if I Were an Evil Overlord, paraphrased: "If an enemy I have just killed has offspring anywhere, I will have them killed immediately, instead of letting them grow up to harbor feelings of vengeance toward me." Seems like if Nolan was left crippled, the Eldest's minions would have had no trouble finishing him off. Then again, no one ever said evil overlords were bright.] Now Nolan lives in the shadows, consumed by fear of the Eldest. His luck runs out when he stumbles across a mysterious glowing crystal. When the Eldest's genetically-engineered minions arrive to investigate the crystal, they find Nolan as well. They spirit him away to the Eldest's prison where he awaits an excruciating death.

Though it costs him his freedom, the crystal gives Nolan something in return - strange magical powers. [Did they let him keep the crystal? Can someone else get magic from the crystal now, or is it like an empty Cherry Garcia carton, emptied of its magical contents and ready to be discarded in the rubbish bin?] [Also, calling his magical powers "strange" forces me to wonder what's strange about them. Are there people who have magical powers that aren't strange?] They are weak at first, but in Nolan’s hands they become a formidable tool. After a daring magic-enabled escape, Nolan falls in with a band of fellow outcasts marked for death. They embark on a journey to a haven beyond the Eldest's reach.

The hopes of Nolan's companions grow along with his powers as he fights off the Eldest's repeated attacks, [I thought they were beyond the Eldest's reach. Are they still en route?] even defeating creatures thought to be invincible.  [Although you said his luck ran out when he found the crystal, it could be argued that his luck changed for the better when he found it. In fact, he's gone from being a disabled, frightened victim hiding in the shadows to a warrior protecting his friends and defeating invincible creatures. Finding the crystal was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him.] But Nolan is not the Eldest-slaying hero his allies want. His past still haunts him, and he desires only to live without fear and rebuild his shattered life. Even when he discovers that his powers can be spread to others, he refuses to trade peace and safety for an unwinnable war. [What peace and safety? He's being repeatedly attacked by the Eldest and the creatures.] [Also, if he doesn't want to fight, and his companions do, why not spread his powers to them, and let them go fight the unwinnable war.

Then the Eldest strikes again, and safety proves an illusion. Nolan flees once more, unable to save those he loves. Driven to despair and pursued to the very edge of the earth, he finally understands why he is being hunted. The Eldest is also afraid.

He fears what Nolan will become when he stops running. 

ETHERFALL is a 123K-word fantasy that will appeal to readers of Brandon Sanderson or E. E. Knight. Thank you for your time and consideration.

The title refers to the substance that lets the main character work magic, which falls from the sky in a crystal at the start of the book. [It just falls from the sky? If that happened right when he most needed it we'd call it a deus ex machina, so I guess it's good that it happens a couple chapters before he needs it. Still, is there an explanation of where it fell from?]


Why did the Eldest want Nolan dead even before he found the crystal? Was his entire family a threat to the Eldest? The guy has genetically engineered minions and invincible creatures under his command, and yet he's obsessed with wiping out one family? Did the Eldest's seer predict someone named Nolan of Greenbrook would one day rule the world?

It reads well. Maybe it goes back and forth more than necessary. He has no hope, but then he gets the crystal, but then he's captured, but then he escapes, but then he's attacked but then he reaches the safe haven, but then it's not safe after all and he flees...  If we had less of this we'd have room for a specific example of what Nolan's magic can (or can't) do. And what the Eldest's ultimate goal is. And what Nolan's plan is now that he's on the run yet again.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Face-Lift 1336

Guess the Plot

Princes and Pawns

1. Darryl and Carl think they've got a sure thing in their new RPG, Princes and Pawns. But when their friend and play-tester Kyle runs to a publisher with a beta copy of the game and gets it accepted, they'll be damned if they'll let this would-be game master rook them.

2. It's time to determine which of the princes is to be heir to the throne, through a series of trials. But one of the princes is trying to sabotage the other, and a  notorious gambler is trying to rig the trials, and someone on the Council is using dark magic to kill both princes. Christ, this is worse than the FIFA World Cup.

 3. Annoyed at eight princes lined up to inherit, eight peasants hash out a plan to get out from under their collective thumbs and bump them all off. Starting off with creating a game on a checkered board with a hidden message, and nary a prince in sight.

4. The Prince family's pawn shop faces closure after four generations due to plunging profits. But when William Prince finds a rusty old lamp containing a genie, he might hold the solution to their problems. In your face, E-bay, your days are numbered.

5. The heir to the underwater throne is annoyed with a local crustacean for altering the tidal pattern and starts a turf war and . . . what? Oh, pawns, not prawns? Never mind.

6. Drytown is a dystopian hellhole in the desert, where the people are controlled by a fascist military dictator. Philip, son of the last of the desert's true monarchs, wants to fight for his kingdom as the rightful heir, but he's just sixteen and secretly loves the niece of the dictator, who is secretly in love with Philip. But to prove himself worthy of her he must complete an obstacle course that virtually guarantees his death and Jesus Christ, haven't we seen enough of these murder the teenager novels yet?
7. Prince--that's his given name--Phillips joins the chess club in an attempt to spend some one-on-one time with the girl he likes. They're so desperate for members that they don't care if he sometimes forgets how horsey pieces move. But then Prince's father wants him to prove it's not a sissy activity, or he'll ship Prince off to military school.

Original Version

Dear Name-Spelled-Correctly Agent,

Fifteen-year-old Prince Kyan has been preparing to become Creftenbaugh’s next king for as long as he can remember. A skilled debater with a gift for charming even the stodgiest of diplomats, he knows he can keep the kingdom peaceful and prosperous. But his quick-tempered identical twin brother, Sayled, wants the crown just as much as Kyan, and he’s been preparing just as hard. Kyan fears that if Sayled becomes king, he’ll lead the kingdom into war.

When King Rowden and his Council announce a series of five trials will determine Creftenbaugh’s next ruler, Kyan sees an opportunity to prove he deserves the crown. But there’s a twist – each prince will compete with nine criminals from the prisons, ordering them through the trials as a general would his troops. The trials will be dangerous, and as far as the King is concerned, criminals are expendable.

With Sayled trying to sabotage him at every turn, Kyan struggles to gain his prisoners’ loyalties. Sayled motivates his men with fear and violence, while Kyan offers his their freedom – and riches – if they work with him to win.

Enn, a twelve-year-old boy with sharp eyes and quick feet, plays a key role in Kyan’s first two victories. [Sayled gets nine prisoners on his team while Kyan gets nine prisoners plus a twelve-year-old kid? That's cheating, and Kyan should be disqualified.] But Kyan doesn’t know Enn is hiding two secrets – ‘he’ is really a ‘she’ named Enna, and before the third trial a notorious gambler blackmailed her with her sister’s life to ensure long-shot Sayled wins. Her ‘mistakes’ in the third and fourth trials bring Sayled even with Kyan. 

As the final trial begins with only a few survivors on each side, Kyan learns that Sayled is not his most dangerous enemy – someone on the Council wants both princes dead, and they’ve used dark magic to sabotage the trial. Unable to warn his father or stop the competition, Kyan must fight not only for the crown, but for his life.

Told in alternating points of view between Kyan and Enna, PRINCES AND PAWNS is a 70,000-word upper-middle-grade fantasy. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is clear and well-written, but a bit long. What can we do without? For starters, you provide information that sounds like it might be important in the book, but whose importance isn't shown in the query. For instance, Kyan is a skilled debater with a gift for charming even the stodgiest of diplomats; the boy Enn is really a girl, Enna.

The two longest paragraphs introduce the characters and tell us their situation. They can be combined into one short paragraph, leaving more room for the plot: 

King Rowden has announced that a series of five trials will determine the heir to Creftenbaugh’s throne. Fifteen-year-old Prince Kyan will compete against his twin brother, the quick-tempered Sayled. Each prince will lead a team of nine criminals from the prisons, ordering them through the trials as a general would his troops.

There seem to be an unnecessarily large number of people involved in sabotaging the trials, considering that it could be decades before the winner actually becomes king. (Or is the king dying?) You've got Sayled trying to sabotage Kyan at every turn, a notorious gambler trying to rig the trials, someone on the Council wanting both princes dead, plus the gambler's pawn, Enna. It's almost as bad as the US presidential election. For the query, it's enough to tell us that someone's trying to rig the trials. Even in the book, maybe it's better for Sayled, rather than a gambler, to blackmail Enna.

A monarchy that decides the heir through trial rather than date and time of birth seems progressive, but it seems like if they're that progressive, they'd hold off on the trials till the princes were in their twenties. Again, is the king's death imminent?

Each prince has a team of adults to command in the trials. I don't see how a twelve-year-old kid ends up being the key to who wins each of the first four trials. Is Enna one of the prisoners? If not, what are the rules with regard to recruiting additional team members? If Kyan can recruit someone capable of influencing the outcome of every trial, Sayled should be allowed to recruit a brigade of mercenaries.

To me, the trials themselves are the most interesting part. If we eliminate Enna from of the query entirely (which also eliminates the root of my annoying questions), making the evil councilperson and Sayled the only villains, there'd be room to tell us what a couple of the trials are like.

Is the point of making the princes twins to give them the same birthday, thus requiring a means to choose an heir? Because monarchies are prepared for such an eventuality. Or did you make them twins so that one can easily impersonate the other?

Monday, December 05, 2016

Face-Lift 1335

Guess the Plot


1. Everything is perfect in Evelyn's life except for one thing: she has no soulmate. After meeting the perfect candidate, will she sacrifice everything for a chance to catch his eye? Including her soul?

2. Verrin, the keeper of the holy goats, is horrified to find  the animals have been slaughtered by a traitor, days before the annual sacrifice for the kingdom's prosperity. And he's even more horrified when the priests decide Verrin is a close-enough substitute.

3. Ray sells his Xbox to get money to buy Ellen a Netflix subscription, only to discover that Ellen sold her Roku to get money to buy Ray Assassins Creed III. It's like that other story, but for millennials.

4. Cremona wants to become a powerful wizard, so he's looking for clues to how. Marina keeps uncovering clues, but ignores them because she has no interest in magic. If only these two lovable kooks would meet, they might live happily ever after.

Original Version

Dear Ms. XXXXXXX [x7]

I’m a friend of YYYYY [one of the agent’s clients]. She thought you might like a first read of SACRIFICE, the mdieval [medieval] fantasy novel I’ve just completed, and recommended I email you directly.

Cremona [Cremona looks too much like Cremora. It's like calling a character Coffeenate or Nudella or Coca-cota. Also, there's no such name as Cremona in any language.] thought he’d [He'd? Cremona is a girl's name.] managed to spin his straw into gold. Problem is, magic doesn’t work more than one time in two. Or maybe one in five. It can’t bail you out of every scrape you blunder into. A little overconfidence, a couple of lapses in judgment, and Cremona’s payday slips though his grasp. [What do you mean he thought he'd spun straw into gold? Can't he tell whether his straw is still straw or has changed to gold? You suggest that he failed to spin his straw into gold, but you then say magic doesn't work more than half the time, which suggests he has spun straw into gold, but doesn't succeed every time he tries. So why doesn't he just keep trying until it works? Also, when you refer to his payday I can't tell whether you mean the gold itself or the money someone paid him to spin some gold. Also, what lapses in judgment contributed to his plight?]

Cereal Reversal

Now he’s stumbling through serial reversals and disasters. Nailed into a barrel and dropped off a dock. Mugged by thugs in uniform. [AKA police.] A nasty hangover. [Somehow that hangover doesn't seem to belong. It's like saying Jesus was whipped by Roman soldiers, nailed to a cross and left to die, and had an ingrown toenail.] And it’s downhill from there. A more plausible [familiar] fate for a hedge-wizard, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

Marina’s husband is a smuggler. Strictly small-time, as far as she knew, but his secrets have the Duke’s enforcers twitchy, and they try to grab her - and her kids. She sees no choice but to run. Worse, she must give up her young daughter to save her. [If a group of them try to grab one woman and a couple kids, and fail, they forfeit the right to call themselves Enforcers.]

She leaves Quirt in the hands of the monks of the Order, the only true masters of magic. Quirt will penetrate their mysteries, they promise. The girl is eager to learn, and she finds a friend or two among the monks. [What ever happened to whatshisname? Are we in the same book?]  But she’s alone, and there are hints of shadow in their power. [Penetrate their mysteries, hints of shadow: pretty vague.]

Marina bluffs her way from the smoky halls of the Order’s monastery to the sluggish backwaters of the great swamp, uncovering clues to the riddle of controlling power as she runs . [She'll be able to run faster if the Duke makes good on his campaign promise to drain the swamp.] She’s oblivious, though. Increasingly bitter over giving up her daughter, she’s got to figure out how she - and the son who remains to her - are going to survive in exile.

Someone like Cremona might fit the puzzle pieces together, if he heard her story. He’s a bit distracted just now, though. Someone’s cottoned on to his magical abilities. They want to catch him, exploit his power. [Wouldn't it be better to catch a monk, since the monks are the only true masters and Cremona is a bungler?] They’ve set some surly bastards on his trail, 

[We've cottoned on to a guy who sucks at magic. 

Great. But how do we catch him?

It's too big a job for us. Let's hire some bastards.

Good idea. But not just any bastards. Surly bastards.]

who are proving hard to shake. Along the way Cremona encounters magic of perceptive subtlety, and of lethal power. It’s more than he thought possible. So now, he’s looking for clues. [Clues to what? Is he looking for the same clues Marina uncovered in the previous paragraph? Too bad he's distracted and she's oblivious and they never meet.]

SACRIFICE is 166k words. It’s the first book of a trilogy (AN UNCERTAIN POWER), and will appeal to adult readers of fantasy. It aspires to the tone, complexity, and moral ambivalence of KJ Parker or Joe Abercrombie. There’s considerably less mayhem, though – it’s more personal and political, as in Robin Hobb’s books. [Wait, you consider less mayhem a selling point?]

I’ve attached a synopsis and initial chapters as per your firm’s guidelines. YYYYY also suggested I mention I have other books planned. I’ve outlined the rest of the trilogy, and have ideas for additional projects, both independent and set in the same world as SACRIFICE. [I hate to disagree with YYYYY, as she seems wise, but telling us this is part of a trilogy is plenty; no need to bring up other books and projects.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.



The query and the book would both be better at half the length.

Specific examples are preferable to general statements.

If you are going to compare your book to someone else's I recommend choosing one author rather than three.

If Marina and Cremona are co-main characters, I'd open with Marina, as the gold-spinning/barrel/thugs/hangover paragraphs don't tell us what the book is about. Once you tell us what Marina's problem is, get to the part where they meet and what they hope to accomplish together and what's stopping them.