Friday, July 29, 2016

Face-Lift 1323

Guess the Plot


1. In a land that draws magic from childbirth, a sorceress uses her own pregnancies to become powerful enough to destroy entire nations. But she wants even more power, the kind of power she can get only if she gives birth to quintuplets.

2. Stuttering Sirius is the name the school kids call him. This poor janitor has kept the halls clean for years. One day, an evil portal appears and unleashes all manner of evil and filth. Can Sirius overcome his stuttering to properly speak the incantation to close the portal?

3. Siri is seriously silly. She's a fan of Dr. Suess and speaks in a sing-song manner. In fact, singing is her passion, but the glee kids as well as the rockers at her posh private school mock her sunny, childish, lyrics. When Siri finds a magic portal in the music room she's transported to Susurrus, a saccharine-sweet land straight out of a Disney musical. Siri's now the star of an all-singing, all-dancing life. But the inhabitants of Susurrus have an evil goal -- reduce Siri to a one-dimensional caricature and steal her emotions. Will Siri succumb to the siren song of Susurrus?

4. The Pharaoh Susurrus lived his life quietly and unobtrusively and intended to spend his death the same way. But when a nosy archaeologist opens his crypt and starts taking selfies with Susurrus's mummified remains, well, what's a decent mummy to do other than go on a murderous rampage?

5. The Susurrus is the geeky dinosaur down the block that all the other kids avoid. He doesn't care since he's heard whispers from space. Madness? Aliens? Or the end of life on the planet?

6. Lassys the water nymph in the stream behind Wendy's bedroom hates people. At night she whispers to Wendy, instructing her to take people off into the woods and leave them in the deep sinkholes created by the stream. Wendy thinks she's going crazy. The city wants to dam the stream and fill those sinkholes in. Does Lassys have to do all the dirty work herself? Or will the satyr Susurrus lend a hand?

7. "Kill, kill, kill," whispers the wind near Joy's office. "Kill, kill, kill," whispers the wind outside her bedroom. And if Rafe leaves the toilet seat up one more time, she's going to do like the wind says.

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I am seeking agency representation. Due to your interest in [theme or genre], I hope that you'll be interested in my adult literary fantasy, Susurrus. It is a standalone novel complete at 83,000 words, and could be described as combining the lyrical voice of Patricia McKillip with the unrelenting intensity of Stephen Donaldson. [In short, my writing combines what's best about Patricia and Stephen, while eliminating what, quite frankly, they suck at.] [It's probably best, if opening with something other than the plot, to keep it brief, something like:  My standalone novel Susurrus is an adult literary fantasy complete at 83,000 words. Anything important I left out may be placed in the next-to-last paragraph with your credits, after which you may delete the last paragraph. And the next-to-last paragraph.] 

In its hot, harsh voice, the wind whispers soft, cool lies. In a desert of mirage and misdirection, [Did you hire Patricia McKillip to write your plot summary in her lyrical voice?] a sorceress searches for lost magic, and finds only sand. Once, she had dark power; once, she led a brutal empire; once, she was the Blood Queen. [Then Stephen Donaldson took the reins, and it all went kablooey.] [Don't mind me; I jest. The truth is, I'm embarrassed to admit I've never even heard of McKillip or Donaldson.] And yet — no evil sorceress is born evil.

Orphaned young, teenaged Iskra wants to learn magic and she wants a home. In a desert land that draws magic from childbirth, she tries to use her own pregnancy to heal her foster father’s illness. Untrained, she fails, and both the child and her foster father die. She’s left with a unique talent for magic, but with each new power she learns comes personal disaster. [This sounds like the plot of Superman, issue #1, wherein Superman kills his foster father, Mr. Kent, by throwing a baseball right through him while they're playing catch, and then burns Smallville to the ground with his new heat vision.] [I won't mention what happened when he woke from his first erotic dream, except to say that Mrs. Kent was not happy with the roof repair bill.] When a new tragedy leaves her half-drowned on foreign shores, [Too late, she discovered that having Aquaman's ability to talk to fish didn't necessarily mean she could also breathe underwater.] she finds a human lover soul-bound animal companion that at last make her happy. [A human lover soul-bound animal companion? Is that one thing or two?]

The next time magic brings tragedy, it’s not her fault; the thralls of a tyrannous wizard kill her family. Iskra embraces the destructive potential of her power to take a bloody revenge, destroying the wizard's entire nation. Now the feared Blood Queen of an empty land, she searches out more and more magic and territory, becoming colder and more isolated in the process. [Does she have to give birth to get more magic?] When she arrives to conquer her late foster-father’s small, weak country, its leaders trap her in an endless mirage. To escape, she will have to face her own illusions.

I've had short fiction published at [venues], and in anthologies such [anthology]. A full publication history is available at [website].

I look forward to hearing from you.



I'm not sure I want Iskra to escape the mirage if she's now a feared Blood Queen capable of destroying entire nations and gleefully conquering small weak countries. Are we supposed to cheer her on?

Wait, is the book called Suserrus instead of Sorceress because the people all mumble?

In the first plot paragraph Iskra is trapped in a mirage. Then we find out what led to this situation. At the end of the query, she has yet to progress beyond being trapped in the mirage. Maybe if you start with the backstory you'll have room at the end to add something about Iskra's plan to escape the mirage and what will happen if she succeeds and what will happen if she fails. So that we care which one happens.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Success Story

Kristi Bradley reports:

 I submitted my query for MYSTA probably five years ago or more. I'd since lost track of Evil Editor, but now that I've been accepted for publication, I looked you up again to extend my thanks. MYSTA, my paranormal romance will be released soon by Dark Oak Press. The manuscript underwent several transformations since my query critique by Evil Editor, but I'd like to thank you and your minions for your candid, yet disheartening critiques, which taught me to toughen up and try again. 

Face-lift 1019:

Saturday, July 16, 2016


EE will be on vacation until the 28th. I'll have time to post comments and tweet, but not to post query critiques. Presumably when I return there'll be a huge batch of queries and openings waiting for me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Success Story

Dawn Martinez-Byrne (AKA Khazar-Khum) reports that her story “The Legend of Pretty Bird”  is published now in the short story anthology Heart of Farkness, available at Amazon. All stories were donated, with the proceeds going to St Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Synopsis 51

Guess the Plot

At the Edge of Dark Water

1. Tommy always looked into the dark water of the pool at the edge of his family's farm. He tested it before and was curious why such a shallow pool was so dark. One midsummer's day, he stared into the dark abyss, until it started staring back.

2. Inadvertently cursed by a girl with a crush on school's top swimmer, Jimmy learns only a kiss will return him to human. Unfortunately, he doesn't know whose kiss and each turns him into a different creature: penguin, seagull, walrus....

3. Dark Water is one of those boring little towns where nothing ever happens, until of course it does and everybody gets upset, leaving a plucky teenage girl and a detective to sort things out. Also, zombies.

4. When her mother dies, Maggie moves in with her grandmother, who lives on the edge of a swamp. As the new kid in town, Maggie gets harassed and bullied. She's unhappy, and it seems the only boy who can ever reach her, is the son of a preacher man. Also, a disturbing freak show.

5. On the cusp of earning his parent’s love through heroism, Maxwell realizes he is afraid of the dark, and sharks. He helplessly watches from the dock as his parent’s sink with their trawler into the bottomless sea. If only he had run away to the big city like his sister.

6. Vivienne lives in a houseboat at the edge of the continental shelf. After her boyfriend dumps her, her dog dies of cancer, and she loses her job, she thinks about ending it all. Then, she hears sirens of the Oedipus kind.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I humbly beseech you to critique the synopsis for my YA novel, AT THE EDGE OF DARK WATER, in which a grieving teen girl and the tormented son of a street preacher take on a monster that feeds on human sin. The creature lives in the Great Dismal Swamp (specifically in the depths of Lake Drummond) - hence the title. BTW 400 words is brutal!

After her mom's death, seventeen-year-old MAGGIE hopes to forge a new life with her grandma, JESSIE-BELLE, in the small, southern town of Leviathan, but things go wrong the minute she steps off the bus. Classmates vandalize her new car, [The minute she steps off the bus? If she has a new car, why didn't she drive it to Leviathan?] swamp water turns to blood when she touches it, and DANNY, the tormented son of a street preacher, tells her to go back to California before it's too late. [Apparently you thought Evil Editor would just gloss over the swamp water turning to blood if you hid it in the middle of the list. Let's see if that works on you: I was having one of those days. First there was no milk for my cereal in the morning, then a Klingon warbird blew up my town, and finally a guy in a clown suit made fun of my socks.]    

Things seem to be looking up when local hottie MITCH invites Maggie to the Peanut Festival. [Only an invitation to the junior prom or the swamp buggy races is more coveted than one to the peanut festival.] But during the date, Maggie is harassed by ELIAS, manager of a disturbing freak show and museum of oddities. [Why? Does he even know who she is?] And when Mitch takes Maggie into the swamp, he is attacked by a shadowy entity. Panicked, Maggie leaps into Mitch's SUV and drives away. [Shouldn't he have taken her into the swamp in an airboat instead of his car? I take it he left the keys to his SUV in the vehicle?]

When school starts, Mitch's ex-girlfriend, ROSALIE, bullies Maggie. [Was she his ex-girlfriend or his girlfriend when he was taking Maggie into the swamp?] [If school hadn't started yet, I'm not sure the people who vandalized Maggie's new car could be called her classmates.] On a class trip, Maggie runs away and gets lost in the swamp. [They should have used the buddy system. What was she running away from?] She finds a girl impaled on the branches of a bizarre tree. [What's bizarre about it, besides the fact that there's a girl impaled on its branches?] She shouts for help and Danny appears. They free the girl and take her to the hospital, but she dies and Danny is arrested for her murder. [Why?]

Maggie returns home to find her grandma disappearing into the swamp. Maggie follows and sees Jessie-Belle conversing with the monster. Maggie learns the monster is her father. She also learns its cells are in her body and if she doesn't become its servant, she will suffer the same excruciating death as her mom. [We're starting to ratchet up the wacko factor here.]

Maggie races to the jail, hoping Danny can help her defeat the monster. She convinces the deputy in charge to release him, [Whoa. Who's this deputy, Barney Fife? He releases a murder suspect because the seventeen-year-old new kid in town says to?] and the two resolve to face the beast together. They force Jessie-Belle to lead them to the monster, but their plan to ambush the beast is derailed when Elias arrives with a kidnapped Rosalie. He intends to offer her to the monster in exchange for immortality. [What makes him think Maggie's monster/father can grant immortality in exchange for human sacrifices? Has anyone else been granted immortality?] 

The monster awakens. Elias is killed, [By the monster?] Rosalie escapes, Danny loses an arm, and Jessie-Belle is knocked unconscious. Maggie drags Danny and Jessie-Belle into Danny's pick-up truck, but Jessie-Belle regains consciousness and crashes the vehicle. Jessie-Belle runs to the monster declaring her love, but it kills her.

Maggie must face the monster alone. [With Elias and Jessie-Belle dead, why can't the police be brought in?] She sets herself and the creature on fire. [Better would have been setting just the creature on fire. Hindsight is 20/20.] 

Several weeks later, Maggie awakens in the hospital where she is reunited with Danny. Danny reassures her the monster is dead. The two embrace, exhilarated to begin a new life together.


The last four paragraphs are mostly a list of things that happen. Which you blame on me for limiting synopses to 400 words. But the key, when given a word limit, is not to squeeze all the information into half as many words, but to get rid of the less important information. For instance, I've reduced it to well under 300 words by getting rid of the vandalism and Elias and Rosalie and most of what made me ask questions:

After her mom's death, seventeen-year-old MAGGIE hopes to forge a new life with her grandma, JESSIE-BELLE, in the small, southern town of Leviathan. But not long after Maggie steps off the bus, DANNY, the tormented son of a street preacher, tells her to go back to California before it's too late.

When school starts, Maggie gets lost during a class trip to the Great Dismal Swamp. She finds a girl impaled on the branches of a tree and shouts for help. Danny appears, seemingly from nowhere. They free the girl and take her to the hospital, but she dies.

Maggie returns home to find her grandma disappearing into the swamp. Maggie follows and sees Jessie-Belle conversing with a shadowy monster. Maggie learns the monster is her father, and is responsible for the death of one of her classmates. It feeds on human sin.

Maggie and Danny resolve to face the beast together. They force Jessie-Belle to lead them to the monster, but their plan to ambush the beast is derailed when they realize they forgot to bring any weapons. The monster awakens and pulls off one of Danny's arms. Jessie-Belle tries to calm the monster, but it kills her.

Forced to face the monster alone, Maggie sets the creature on fire with a Molotov cocktail she finds in a bush, but is burned herself when the creature falls on her in its death throes.

Several weeks later, Maggie awakens in the hospital where she is reunited with Danny. Danny assures her the monster is dead, and cannot return to life unless this book sells big and the publisher demands a sequel. The two embrace, ready to begin a new life together.

Now if you need a 400-word synopsis, you can add 100+ words to this version. If you need 800 words, you can add 500. What you add should elaborate on this with specific details, not just list more things that happen. Tell a story. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Face-Lift 1322

Guess the Plot 


1. A self-help manual for those who aren't getting enough hugs or kisses.

2. Her classmates always called Makayla stupid and ugly. Then she landed a modeling career as the face of XO XO jewelry. Now her classmates are jealous. But they still call her stupid and ugly.

3. When LT receives a love letter, he is paralyzed with apprehension. What does “You’re next. XO XO” mean? Who has eyes on him? His commanding officer with one hug and kiss? Two kisses and hugs from that sergeant? Should he put it under his pillow or put Intelligence on it?

4. When the body of Univision's beloved kid show host Ana "XoXo" Gonzales is found in with the tigers at the LA Zoo, homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: One, none of the tigers can fire a handgun, and two, this will probably end up as a plot on one of his abuelita's beloved telenovelas.

5. Little XO XO O'Malley has captured the king of the leprechauns. But instead of a pot of gold, she wants the rainbow. The king manages to talk her down to seven color-themed wishes, which of course infringes on the genies' turf. Also, enforced tea parties.

6. After listening to John Mayer's song "XO," and Beyonce's cover of the same song, Justine still can't figure out why the title isn't "Love Me Lights Out." So she starts a online petition to change the title. Hilarity ensues.

Original Version

XO XO Is a middle grade novelette completed at 14,453. [I'm assuming that's your word count, but we normally round the word count off, so perhaps 14,453 is the altitude (in feet) you were flying at when you completed the book.] [If you do round it off I suggest rounding it to 45,000.] 

Every day at school, Makayla Massi is faced with her cruel classmates, Madison and Mya they call her ugly and stupid. [It's a bad sign when your first sentence isn't a sentence. Either make it two sentences or change "they" to ", who."] Even though they are always dressed in designer clothes and seem to have it all, for some reason they aren't happy. Things are so bad that if Makayla could make herself invisible she would. [Start a new paragraph here.] After a surprise trip, Makayla's dream of being a model finally comes true.  [It wouldn't take many words to explain how this trip is a surprise.] She couldn't be happier as the new face of Gems XO XO jewelry store. Makayla can't wait for the fashion show where she'll be able to walk the runway for the first time ever. [New paragraph.] As she walks the runway on her way to success she realizes that living her dream comes with a lot of jealously. She never imagined there wasn't a pretty side to modeling. [That suggests that there isn't a pretty side. I think you mean She never imagined there was an ugly side...] Her usually [usual] daily school dilemma [I would call it her torment or anguish.] only gets worse after the fashion show, [Continuing to torment the girl you were calling ugly, after she becomes a successful model, is like if the kids who used to mock LeBron James's basketball skills are still mocking him today. At some point you move on to an easier target, or you look like an idiot.] so Makayla handles matters with kindness by helping Madison and Mia, but things don't go as planned. Now, she's faced with an even bigger challenge and little by little Madison and Mya try to take away what little self- esteem Makayla does have until she discovers it's her self- esteem and no one gets to decide her self-worth, but her. [This last "paragraph" is vague. How does her dilemma get worse? Are her classmates doing worse things than calling her names? What does Makayla do to help Madison and May? What goes wrong when she helps them? What is her bigger challenge?]


 If Makayla has to go on a trip to land her modeling career, it seems odd that she's still in school in her hometown. Wouldn't she have to stay where the work is?

There doesn't seem to be any hugging and kissing, so apparently the title comes from part of the jewelry store's name?

While "novelette" describes a work of a certain length, it's not a length that anyone's likely to publish in book form. Maybe as part of a collection of your stories, but before it gets published anywhere you need to tell us what makes this story stand out.

The dream of being a model comes true with pretty much no explanation. 

XOXO is a brand name of watches and jewelry. Possibly they don't have their own stores. Whether they would be thrilled or annoyed to find their products in your story I don't know, but if they don't like it you can always argue that XO XO is completely different from XOXO. 

My research shows that XOXO means hugs and kisses. Does XO XO mean hug and kiss  hug and kiss?

The four proper names in the query are Mikayla, Massi, Madison, and Mya. This will annoy readers who have enough trouble keeping track of who's who when the names don't all start with the same letter..