Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Query Revision 8: Redux

Heartsouls

Original query here.

Dear Agent:

Bird-men with swords in place of hands crash Comtesse Marguerite Navarre’s party, killing her family and sending her tumbling, literally, over the dividing wall between the races. Forced to flee her aristocratic place among the Argents, she turns for help to four men of the subservient race of Silvers. And secrets repressed for thousands of years come spilling out.

Someone has rediscovered the magic of Marguerite’s world, an elemental ability to control fire and air and create monsters, and they intend to crush the Argents to keep it for themselves. For the magic of heartsouls requires an Argent paired with a Silver. Kill the smaller population of Argents and the magic cannot exist.

But in a twist of irony, the blackbirds send Marguerite colliding right into her heartsoul match, granting them alone the magic to return the fight. A fight Marguerite’s sense of duty will not let her evade. Unfortunately, Jorge fails to inspire her confidence. He is her opposite in every way, from his enormous charm to his complete lack of scruples. Can she trust a man who finds lies easier than truth and believes in nothing?

With attacks continuing, Marguerite must turn to Jorge, and learn the magic of heartsouls, to save the Argents and find the killers.

Heartsouls is an epic fantasy with strong elements of romance. My first work, it is the first of a series, with the second well on its way.

Thank you for your consideration.

Comments

I think you've done a good job in focusing down the query to the heart of the story. I do have some comments around some of the structure, though.

Bird-men with swords in place of hands

This is a strong image but it has me focusing too much on these bird-men, I think. Are they steel swords grafted on? If not, how does that biology work? This is one time I'd suggest leaving out the detail.

crash Comtesse Marguerite Navarre’s party, killing her family and sending her tumbling, literally, over the dividing wall between the races.

This doesn't give me a clear idea of Marg's age. Is she older and it's a party she's hosting, or is it a party for her and she's very young or young adult? When Jorge is introduced, the answer becomes clearer, but I'm still not sure if this is YA or not.

Forced to flee her aristocratic place among the Argents,

Except for the reference to Argents, the rest is implied in the sentence before.

she turns for help to four men of the subservient race of Silvers. And secrets repressed for thousands of years come spilling out.

Not clear where the secrets come from. As written, there's strong indication the secrets come out of her.

Someone has rediscovered the magic of Marguerite’s world, an elemental ability to control fire and air and create monsters,

"elemental" seems to go with fire and air, but not so much with monster creation.

and they intend to crush the Argents to keep it for themselves. For the magic of heartsouls requires an Argent paired with a Silver. Kill the smaller population of Argents and the magic cannot exist.

These thoughts seem to contradict themselves: the bad guy wants to keep it for himself but if he kills the Argents it won't exist. Is this a case of "if I can't have it no one will"? But he has it because he's created the blackbirds, right?

But in a twist of irony, the blackbirds send Marguerite colliding right into her heartsoul match, granting them alone the magic to return the fight.

YOU know the bird-men are nicknamed "blackbirds" but the reader doesn't. This thought comes a bit removed from where Marg goes tumbling over the wall. I think you're taking a long time to set up the premise here and being a bit repetitive as you do.

A fight Marguerite’s sense of duty will not let her evade. Unfortunately, Jorge fails to inspire her confidence.

I'd name Jorge sooner or put his name closer to a lead-in sentence about him.

He is her opposite in every way, from his enormous charm to his complete lack of scruples. Can she trust a man who finds lies easier than truth and believes in nothing? With attacks continuing, Marguerite must turn to Jorge, and learn the magic of heartsouls, to save the Argents and find the killers.

A good wrap-up, though I would reverse the finding and saving.

Heartsouls is an epic fantasy with strong elements of romance. My first work, it is the first of a series, with the second well on its way.

Thank you for your consideration.

The "first-first-second" beats here are a bit awkward. Also, you want to be sure you leave the reader with the impression Book 1 can stand on its own. Also, also, don't forget word count (which is a bit on the high side...).

My Revision

When hoardes of unnatural creatures crash Comtesse Marguerite Navarre’s 21st birthday party, they kill her family, burn her villa, and send her tumbling, literally, over the dividing wall between races.

Someone, it's clear, has rediscovered the magic of Marguerite's world, lost now for thousands of years. What else could create such monsters and control fire but the ancient magic of heartsouls? And since it requires a pairing between an aristocratic Argent and a subservient Silver, how else to keep it for themselves but to kill off the smaller population of Argents to ensure their complete dominion.

In a twist of irony, though, the creatures send Marguerite colliding right into her heartsoul match, granting them alone the ability to return the fight -- a fight Marguerite’s sense of duty will not let her evade. But Jorge, the Silver rogue fate pairs her with, fails to inspire her confidence. He is her opposite in every way, from his irritating yet irresistible charm to his utter lack of scruples. Can she trust a man who finds lies easier than truth and believes in nothing?

With attacks continuing and genocide imminent, Marguerite must reconcile her feelings for Jorge to learn the magic of heartsouls -- or lose her people forever.

HEARTSOULS is an epic fantasy with strong romantic elements. Complete at 140,000 words it is a standalone novel with series potential.

Thank you for your consideration.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Synopsis 6: Hang the Thief

Please do comment on synopses and queries! We can all help!

Etan, a misguided student, learns how to open gates that will allow magic to return to Craie, believing it is mankind’s destiny to do so. After a harrowing escape from the guardians of Skull’s Passage, he makes it to the First Altar and performs the ritual necessary. But rather than finding the power and fame he sought, he finds death.

Magic does return, herald by pulsing orbs over stone monuments, natural disasters and monsters of lore. And the deities awaken, allowing clergy to use blessings for healing and protection. The day after Etan is killed the first orb appears in the barbarian lands. Mina, a priestess, is attacked by a griffon. Her death is imminent when she evokes mercy from her goddess and unexpectedly fire flies from her fingertips, slaying the beast. In the Jagged Teeth mountain range, geysers erupt. A trapper is killed and another cornered. Drake, a soldier, rescues him and they barely make it out of the mountains ahead of a fire. In the Six Valleys an old gypsy woman warns Lord Bruce that an exotic woman begins her journey soon and he will have a debt to pay to her. She further warns a time of darkness and evil is coming.

One year later, Ehlana, a gregarious street performer turned thief, is nearly killed in an earthquake that accompanies an orb opening near her city. She survives but hundreds do not, including her parents. Prince Corran and the Patriarch of the official faith of the Kingdom, along with a huntsman, Adair, visit the orb. They discuss the natural disasters, the broken-beasts and healing power of the priests. They further discuss the success and failures of trying to master the power. Adair informs the patriarch that he will be escorting a noblewoman Meria to the Republic so she can learn how to control her magical gift under their tutelage and to find out how successful they are at mastering it.

Ehlana after seeing strangers enter the sewers in her neighborhood decides to find out what they are doing. She witnesses a cult ritual where a man is enchanted to kill himself. A priestess explains that with the return of magic, worship of an evil deity has been revived, but without proof of wrongdoing nothing can be done to stop it. Ehlana infiltrates the cult, using her ability to talk anyone into anything, a gift that has grown stronger since the return of magic, and learns of its plans to assassinate a court official. The cult is raided but not all the leaders are apprehended and Ehlana is convinced to travel to the Six Valleys for her safety. She agrees but first she warns her brother he may be inadvertently helping the cult.

His involvement is far from unintentional and he sets her up for murder. Ehlana is saved from the hangman’s noose when a priest proves her innocence. Her brother isn’t finished with her yet and sends a fellow thief to murder her as part of his coup to overthrow their boss. She is saved by a friend.

Ehlana joins Adair’s party with Meria. She learns of the nightmarish existence of the common folk who have been left to defend themselves from the broken-beasts, bandits and corruption. When her barge is attacked by harpies half the crew is killed. Meria reveals that magic is being used to summon the monsters and for the ultimate evil of raising the dead.

In the Six Valleys, Ehlana masters her musical talents, learns the ancient language of the clansmen and becomes a bard. After helping to defeat an enemy clan by infiltrating it and stealing war plans, the army sees her as their lucky charm. But she is restless and haunted by dreams. She is warned that her nightmares will continue unless she heeds its warnings to travel to a mysterious temple. Advice she rejects. When her lover betroths himself to another for political gain, she decides to return home.

The clan has found her too valuable an asset to simply allow her to leave. In order to force her give her oath to the clan she is imprisoned. Spirits warn her that her food is poisoned and beseech to fulfill her destiny by going the temple. As she wastes away in her cell, refusing to eat or speak, mutiny is threatened and she is set free.

Adair agrees to escort her to the temple but they will need a guide to cross the barbarian lands. After a barbarian tribe is massacred by northern raiders, Mina believes Ehlana was a hero foretold of in an ancient children’s story. She becomes not only her escort but promises to be her shield as well. They hire Drake to be their guide over the Jagged Teeth.

At the temple she learns the orbs are gateways to hell and if they are not closed the
world is doomed. Knowledge how this can be done can be found in the famed Anarian Academy and Library.

On the way, they learn the northern raiders razed the Six Valleys using magic and the raised dead. The group is joined by a surviving knight, Lord Bruce. At the library, Ehlana uses her gift to understand any language she reads or hears and deciphers clues hidden in ancient songs. They also learn magic is exacts a price from its users – their humanity, leeching out all that is good within their souls. They also find Meria who is being held against her will. They rescue her and escape the city.

They must travel to the First Altar by the first day of spring in order to close the gates, which is only weeks away. They are attacked by a demon and survive. Ehlana performs the ritual necessary but before she completes it, Meria kills her. Ehlana’s soul ascends into the heavens, becoming a star next to other heroes who gave their lives in similar acts of bravery. Her friends are unsure whether they succeeded in closing the gates.

Comments

The author sent a long version (997 words) and a short version (552 words). I went with posting the long version because I had many of the same comments for both of them and the longer version gives everyone more meat to work with -- and more fat to cut away.

Reading through, I think it felt a bit listy -- this happens, then this happens -- and a bit rushed at the end.

My main peeve is that there doesn't seem to be enough motivation put forward for why things happen:

  • Why does Ehlana go into the sewers? Why does she step outside her comfort zone to infiltrate the cult if she doesn't care about anything?
  • Why does her brother want to murder her?
  • Why do spirits suddenly take an interest in her since it seems they haven't bothered before?
  • Where did Mina come from and why does she think Ehlana is someone out of legend?
  • Who is Meria? And for me, the biggest question of all, why does she kill Ehlana? I simply don't see any reason for it in either version of the synopsis. I think it's critical to give a woman beholden to Ehlana for rescuing her a reason to kill her.
As an aside about the book rather than the synopsis: The end seems like it doesn't have much of a denouement. Presumably, if they've succeeded, the magic will leave the world. Will it be suddenly or slowly? Seems it would go as fast as it came, so it wouldn't be a lengthy wait and that the characters would know soon enough whether there was success or not. As a reader, I think I'd like that same closure.

I noticed, too, that Ehlana seems to need a lot of rescuing by others. Could just be the way the original synopses portray it, but it stood out for me.

My Revision

This first pass is 857 words and could still use more character development and "reaction shots," I think. I made some guesses and added a couple of elements, such as Meira being her brother's wife, just to demonstrate motivation.

When a misguided student stumbles upon the secret to return magic to Craie, the gods reward him with death for performing the heinous ritual. Magic floods the world, heralded in part by erupting geysers and wildfires in the Jagged Teeth mountains and the reappearance of griffons, chimera and other monsters of lore across the land.

The first to harness the magic are the clergy who use it to heal and protect. But the world leaders have other plans for it, and as they race to master the power, the common folk are left to defend themselves not only against the broken-beasts but the corruption and criminals that rise in its wake. The gypsies see the magic for what it is and warn that a time of darkness and evil is upon them.

A massive earthquake triggered by the opening of a magical gate near her city nearly kills Ehlana, a gregarious street performer turned thief. She survives – but hundreds do not, including her parents. After seeing strangers enter the sewers in her neighborhood, a distraught Ehlana slips after them. There she's horrified to witness a cult ritual where a man, enchanted, is forced to kill himself. Till then Ehlana had little interest in magic, or for that matter, anything beyond her own day-to-day existence. Confronted with the brutality of what it can do, Ehlana decides to challenge those who would turn the magic to evil. That decision is reinforced when she sees cult members purchasing weapons from her brother's shop. Concerned for his safety, she infiltrates the cult using her ability to talk anyone into anything, a gift – along with other unique language skills -- that has grown stronger since the magic's return.

When she saves the life of a court official after discovering he's targeted for assassination, the king's guard raids the cult. Not all the leaders are apprehended, though, and the king convinces Ehlana to travel to the Six Valleys for her safety. She agrees but, sticking true to family, she warns her brother first that he may have been inadvertently helping the cult.

His involvement, however, is far from unintentional and, in a cunning act of betrayal, he frames her for murder. Ehlana is saved from the hangman’s noose when a priest proves her innocence. But her brother isn’t finished with her yet and sends a fellow thief to kill her as part of his coup to overthrow their boss. The plan nearly works; she's cut down and left for dead, saved only by the kindness of a passing clergyman with a touch of healing magic.

Ehlana escapes the city, throwing in with Adair, one of the prince's huntsmen on an escort mission to the Six Valleys. The ravaged countryside and the peasants' nightmarish struggle against magical beasts and outlaws tears at Ehlana's soul. When harpies attack her barge and half the crew is slaughtered, Ehlana is forced to see that whoever wins the fight for control of the magic gains the power to summon monsters and to command the ultimate evil: raising the dead.

In the Six Valleys, Ehlana's silver tongue and thieving ways prove quite useful, gaining her notoriety and wealth as a spy for the local clan. Success brings another unexpected pleasure: a lover she's becoming more attracted to every day. But a growing restlessness and nightmares threaten to suck her spirit dry. When her lover deserts her to marry another for political gain, Ehlana, hurt beyond caring, decides to return home.

The clan, not about to let such a valuable asset simply leave, imprisons her. Drawn by her natural magical talent – and perhaps something more -- spirits swarm about her, beseeching her to follow them to a temple that holds her destiny. With their help she escapes, finding the huntsman Adair and others equally drawn to her plight, waiting to escort her out of the city. They are not long gone when the Six Valleys are razed by an old enemy -- her brother has raised an army of the dead, and he's now on a search-and-destroy mission for Ehlana.

She and her company soon understand why. The gates through which the magic came into the world must be destroyed before the magic tears the land apart and leeches all that is good from the very souls of those that try to wield it. Ancient texts hold the key to how to close the gates – a key Ehlana discovers using her unique abilities to comprehend any language she hears or reads. But the ritual must be performed in the same place the gates were originally opened. A place guarded by a demon Death Knight.

And there is a traitor among Ehlana's company: her brother's wife.

After the company defeats the demon, Ehlana performs the ritual necessary to close the gates. But just as she's completing it, her sister-in-law attacks and slays her using magic. Ehlana’s soul ascends into the heavens, becoming a star next to other heroes who gave up their lives in similar acts of bravery.

Her friends, mourning, can't be sure whether she succeeded in closing the gates. They'll have to wait till tomorrow's sun to find out.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Query Revision 24

Face-Lift 782: Jesus, Mo and Cheesepuffs

Dear Evil Editor,

I'm a little over the suggested 250, but agree cutting out all the blah, blah, blah makes it read better. I hope you think so too.

Flo’s big lie is she tells herself her deformed eye doesn’t bother her a bit. Never mind she wears a brown patch, and darts away from mirrors and sparkling windows.

When she wins $40,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket, her husband Mo decides it’s time for a road trip. The plan is they’ll drive from Indiana to California to one of those TV doctor’s do plastic surgery on her mangled eye. With this premise in mind, she and Mo pile in the car along with extra bags of cheese puffs.

Stops along the way occur in small towns like Liberal, Kansas and Hooker, Oklahoma. The senior citizens run into all sorts of people and situations that force them to question aspects of their nature and alter a few beliefs.

Things don’t go smoothly when they reach Pasadena. The doctor Flo had her appointment with had to leave the country. She’s offerd an appointment with a French Dr. who wants to rework her whole face.

They meet a homeless couple at the farmer market, Angel and Jostlin’ Jack. Flo is appalled at their hardscrabble life, but Angel assures Flo she’s happy. Angel teaches Flo about faith and emphasizes the need to “wear the world like a loose garment.” Flo runs into Angel again at a church, and starts to wonder if Angel might actually be a real angel.

The road trip changes Mo and Flo: Flo accepts her struggle with vanity, realizing the only limitations in life are the ones she puts on herself. Mo lets go of bitterness toward Flo's God and makes peace with losing their only son, Jimmy, who died at seventeen from complications of Down's Syndrome.

Complete at 52,000 words, the novel is available for immediate review. I am a member of RWA and ACFW. A title similar to the length and tone of “Jesus, Mo and Cheese Puffs,” is “The Noticer” by Andy Andrews, published by Thomas Nelson.

I would appreciate your consideration for representation.

Sincerely,

Comments

I think maybe you went a little far in cutting out the blah, blah, blah. Also, notice that you left in secondary details like the town names and Flo's original surgeon leaving the country, making them seem much more important than they are. But then you're vague with the "all sorts of people and situations that force them to question..." which is really the crux of your story. Flo and Mo grow through their encounters with these "all sorts," so including a couple of examples will help bring your query to life.

I think, too, we need to connect to Mo up front. Leaving his issues till the end where you tell us in the same sentence what they are and that they're dealt with, doesn't give the reader time to care about him.

Also, since yours is more a literary and motivational book, voice is paramount. Word choices that really give us a glimpse into some of the characters and situations are very important. You do yourself a disservice when you are too vague with your language.

My Revision

Flo's deformed eye doesn't bother her a bit. Nope. Never mind the eye patch or her aversion to mirrors. But when she wins $40,000 in the lottery, she decides to get one of those "TV doctors" to do plastic surgery. It's a long way from Indiana to California, so she and her husband, Mo, pack along some extra bags of cheese puffs for the trip.

Mo is still grieving over losing their teenage son, Jimmy, to Down Syndrome. It's been 10 years, but he hasn't let go his grudge against God, or his desire to cut himself off from the world. Get on the road, get 'er done, and get back -- that's his goal.

Funny thing about life, it doesn't always follow plan, and they seem to be sidetracked at every turn. For one, there's the Vietnamese family with the broken-down car in Liberal, Kansas, they stop to help. Turns out the young mother is Mo's granddaughter from a forgotten war. And in Hooker, Oklahoma, they're held up by a wake for the town hero -- High Henry, a Clydesdale horse, who shows them it's not the package but the heart inside that matters.

At a farmer's market in Pasadena, Jostlin' Jack and Angel -- a happy if homeless couple filled with faith -- counsel Flo to "wear the world like a loose garment." Angel's words come back to Flo when the plastic surgeon suggests reworking her whole face and making her into something she isn't. Realizing at last the only limitations in life are the ones she puts on herself, Flo takes off her eye patch in the same breath that Mo lets go his bitterness toward God.

Worked through with the same understanding about simple actions and simple people making a difference as Andy Andrews' The Noticer, JESUS, MO AND CHEESE PUFFS is complete at 52,000 words. I look forward to sending you the manuscript.

Sincerely,

Author
Member RWA and ACFW

Sunday, September 26, 2010

E-Pricing: On Agency Models, Generic Drugs and Anti-Trust Agreements

Gee, for some reason, e-publishing has been on mind lately. J.A. Konrath had some interesting posts this past week that provide sales figures for his body of self-published e-work and that not-so-subtly diss his traditional print publishers for not embracing a low-price-point, high-royalty, quantity-based sales model.

The argument for agency pricing goes something like this. Traditional publishers invest a great deal of money in the initial production of the associated print book, including editing, copyediting, layout, artwork, printing, warehousing, and promoting. No matter that these costs are mostly "recycled" when it comes to producing the digital version of the same book, publishers feel it's in the best interest of the company and the reader to maintain a high price that doesn't unfairly compete with the print copy. And if the majority of print books don't earn out their advances, then the second-string digital sales can help cushion the margin. As well, some publishers believe what they consider below-cost or loss-leader prices will harm consumers when that model can no longer be sustained (although the sustainability question is another debate entirely).

Meanwhile, writers like Konrath and small e-publishers are stocking the virtual shelves with cheaply priced product in direct competition.

Sound familiar?

I keep hearing how publishing is a unique beast with unique sales and distribution models. But aside from the whole antiquated returns business, is it really that different?

Other industries deal with unique manufacture and distribution issues, too. Two that readily come to mind are pharmaceuticals and car manufacturers.

An established pharmaceutical may spend hundred of millions of dollars in R&D to develop and test a new drug. There's generally a mandated period of a few years when the company can pretty much set its own price and try to earn back its costs without worry of competition. When that period expires, other companies may begin producing generic versions of the drug and start undercutting Big PharmaCo's prices. Some of these generic products are inferior and a few may even prove harmful. Most, however, are perfectly good substitutions at a price point that lures consumers their way.

Like publishing, the pharmaceutical industry has a high-price justifier in its back pocket. Instead of a returns wildcard playing in the equation, it has initial co-op subsidizing from insurance overshadowed by the question of when insurance company formularies will de-list their brand names and replace with generics.

American and European car manufacturers went through a similar crisis of conscience when upstarts from Japan introduced cheaper and more economical models. The old guard held its ground through eroding margins and profits.

Technology manufacturers also go through this same pricing cycle with every new device released.

So what do you call a consortium of publishers declaring a minumum price and trying to force competitors into compliance? Terms like "monopoly" and "antitrust" come readily to the non-legal mind. Is it a worrisome practice or just good business?

Logically, I can see all three sides to this triangle:

Side 1: Development - wants an acknowledgement that intellectual capital should be compensated throughout the productive lifecycle. Feels the consumer is paying not only for the end product but for all the creativity/research/whatever that went into producing the product to begin with.

Side 2: Business - wants a return on development costs without worry about competition undercutting the value of the item over the life of the product.

Side 3: Consumer - wants to pay the least amount possible for a product that satisfies their needs. Some people "need" a Mercedes, others are happy with a Hyundai.

Who'll win?

The right-brain me who wants to think my words are worth the same no matter what the medium hopes the development side. The mid-brain me who can't help but see both sides to the argument and finds each persuasive on its own hopes the business side. And the left-brain me that has always been practical -- buying generic drugs and Japanese imports and waiting to purchase technology until its price at least plateaus -- is cheerleading for the consumer.

Those latter cheers are loud. Loud enough to drown out the other arguments, IMO.

In the end, I think the lower-priced, quantity-driven sales model will survive and thrive.

What do YOU think?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Call for Submissions!

(Notice who's editing it!)
Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever

It's a new, soon-to-be e-published anthology -- and you could be a part of it!

Pays small advance plus royalties.

Any genre considered as long as it touches on the theme of extinction.

Submission Deadline: January 30, 2011

Publishing Date: March 20, 2011

See the Call for Submissions page for details.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Contest Prize and a Sneak Peak at a Surprise for You

I've been neglectful, forgetting to promote myself on my own blog! (I plead sheer disbelief.) Not long ago, I won a contest hosted by the lovely Janet Reid for a 100-word flashy piece. Now I am looking forward to reading my fabulous prize: Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers!

I also want to thank everyone who's dropped by from Janet's blog -- nice to see you lurking! -- and invite you to come by tomorrow (Thursday) for a very writerly surprise that involves you, your keyboard and lots of beautiful words.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Query Revision 12 Redux: Redux

(My query post titling system seems to have run into a conundrum.)

Earlier revisions for ALAMANDINE'S SONG can be found here and here.

The author sent a revision this weekend, but the electrons had barely sorted themselves out for posting before the author sent a revised revision. She's really working to get this right. But is she working too hard?

Dear Agent:

Mandi's an orphaned faery princess. But for a chick pushing 30 and living in Philadelphia that means exactly squat . The only perk of the position is Hayune, her faery bodyguard, but after years of unrequited love she's (almost) over that, too.

Mandi has never garnered much interest from the residents of Faelyn, but suddenly she's real interesting to the Faery Court. No one will be straight with her, but she manages to learn a few things. One: Mom is very much alive and still the Queen. And two: the skanky lake creature with big boobs and malicious intentions that killed her dad just kidnapped the brother she didn't know she had.

Mandi forces Hayune to give her a crash course in magic. But when the lake skank tries to drown Mandi, her body guard disappears. On her own she has to save her brother and keep him alive in the Human Realm until it's safe to take him back to Faelyn. Because someone--maybe Hayune--wants to take the throne and killing off both the Queen's children is the first step.

ALAMANDINE'S SONG is an adult urban fantasy, complete at 90,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration...

Comments

I'm no expert. All I have is opinion here, just like the rest of the critters chiming in. On my current sub, I've had 8 requests for the full (4 of which are still outstanding) plus another handful of requests for the partial. I've had 2 revision letters from agents. By that account, my query has been successful. Yet my request rate has only been about 12%. You do the math.

It's a tough market. A perfect storm of query, writing, and idea are needed to get a toe in these days. Revise the query, yes, but it may be the first pages you're sending with it that need tweaking. Or the idea isn't hook-y enough.

I didn't go back and read the earlier versions this time, but do you know what stands out for me about the story from an earlier draft or maybe your early comments? The idea of fairy politics being akin to the mob. Juxtaposing a mob-run fairy government against a Philly background made me go Wow! I sat up and took notice. I even tried to capitalize on that idea and infuse a little of that mob comparison/feeling into one of my revises.

I could be off base here, but I'm thinking you need something more raw and urban and different feeling to your story to make it stand out. As it is, from the bits you've chosen to reveal in your query versions, the concept doesn't really leap from the pages as being a lot different from all the other fae stories out there. And while you've played with your voice, it maybe doesn't sound quite authentic enough.

In this latest version, the voice sounds a little forced, but you're using it to carry the query. And hate me though you will as you've mentioned you will never give in to the YA craze, this latest query makes the story sound more YA than adult. IMO.

What does everyone else think?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Smart Marketing or Author Exploitation?

I ran across a short story contest this past week that got me thinking. Not so much about submitting to contests but about contests as promotion. This particular one is sponsored by Penguin and is promoting a bestselling author's new hardcover release of heartwarming stories inspired by a famous library cat, Dewey.

Here's what Penguin says about the author's first title:

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World was a blockbuster bestseller and a publishing phenomenon. It has sold nearly a million copies, spawned three children's books, and will be the basis for an upcoming movie. [With Meryl Streep attached.]
So the follow-up, Dewey's Nine Lives, which is out next month, will likely sell a copy or two. The contest is to submit a "letter" of 200 to 2000 words relating a true story about a cat that changed a life. The winner's entry will be published in the paperback edition of Dewey's Nine Lives out next year.

The prize: A signed copy of the paperback (approximate retail value = $9.99).

Let's read that again. While the winner, the winner's friends and family, and many of the losers who want to see what entry beat out their remarkable story will snap up copies of the book and contribute to its bottom line, the winner gets a signed copy of the book for their trouble.

Here's the relevant fine print.

By accepting a prize the winners grant to Sponsor the right to edit, publish, copy, display and otherwise use their entries in connection with this Contest, and to further use their names, likenesses, and biographical information in advertising and promotional materials, without further compensation or permission, except where prohibited by law.
Plus, Penguin doesn't have to publish any of the entries if the quality isn't up to snuff.

Balanced against all that, of course, are these ideas:
  • The contest is targeting readers as well as pro or hopeful writers.
  • There is value simply in the exposure the winner's work will receive (although someone who is not looking to a career in writing won't necessarily see this same benefit).
So, a poll! (You may need to click through if you're on a reader.) (And if the embedded poll doesn't work, try this direct link.)

 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Synopsis 5: The Miranda Contract

The author calls this one street-level superhero noir.
Dan Galkin is desperately trying to be normal, but when you were a teenage super-villain in high school and your grandfather is an evil psychopath, it's going to take more than a low-paying pizza delivery job and a cynical attitude to convince the police, your probation officer and two house-mates that you're just like any other disaffected eighteen year old.

Dan is an uberhuman, born with the ability to sense and manipulate electricity, and even though he was a member of The Small Gods for only two weeks, the label of supervillain is hard to erase. As part of his rehabilitation, Dan is required to work for the uberguard security firm, under the thumb of Alsana Owens.

While delivering pizza, Dan is caught up in a paparazzi storm outside the hotel of American pop singer, Miranda Brody. Brody's management hires Dan as part of her security detail after seeing him in action, but Brody is not impressed with 'the pizza boy'. The job seems to be all about making Brody look good by manoeuvring undesirables out of her personal space, but then Dan is nearly killed at the airport and he realises that the superstar's life (and his own) are in danger. He is dragged through a police interrogation, insulted by Brody and her entourage, abandoned by his manager, only to find himself under attack again.

With no one to turn to, Dan and Brody slip into the streets to escape. They meet up with Halo, a former team-mate and rival, who has embraced the life of a criminal. Brody enjoys Halo's tour of the city's underworld while Dan tries to find out who is behind the attacks. He suspects his grandfather, the Mad Russian, and after some investigation he stumbles into a trap - set by Halo.

Betrayed and beaten, Dan is confronted by his grandfather who wants him to return to the super-villain fraternity instead of wasting his life delivering pizza. To do this in style, the Mad Russian wants Dan to be credited with Miranda Brody's death - and it doesn't matter whether Dan's interested or not. Using a combination of bluff and his powers, Dan escapes with Brody, bruised and without a plan.

They leave the city in a stolen car and end up at Dan's deranged mother's house where he realises he has gone as far as he can. He stops running - from his grandfather and from his past. Using clues from the previous attacks, his grandfather's contacts, and his limited ability to tap into telecommunications network, he tracks the Mad Russian's location - a shopping centre.

At the centre, Brody uses her celebrity status to cause a stampede of shoppers and distracts security while Dan slips into service corridors and clashes with Halo. The Mad Russian makes a very public stand in the middle of the centre, taking Brody hostage to draw out his grandson. Dan is pushed to his limits keeping the people safe and taking down his grandfather, eventually scrambling the electrical impulses of the Mad Russian's brain, although it nearly kills them both.

In the aftermath, Brody is bathed in the limelight when the media (and her entourage) arrives. Dan finds himself pulled into the throng as well, and becomes a 'hero', although he worries about some of the comments his grandfather made suggesting that Dan isn't in control of his destiny.

Dan wakes up the next day to a front cover news report labelling him a hero. Alsana Owens phones him up with a job but he hangs up, deciding to live his life the way he wants.

Comments

At 599 words, this is tightly – and quite nicely! – written. I think it does a good job capturing the events – the whats. Where I, as a reader going into this cold, feel it could use a bit of fleshing out is in the motivation – the whys. I have a good idea of what Dan does, but not necessarily why.

Here are my pain points:

Dan is nearly killed at the airport, then we see him being attacked again. The synopsis makes it sound like he's the target, but then we find out his grand-dad is somehow setting it up so that Brody gets killed. Yet Brody never really seems to be in danger until the incident at the shopping mall.

The reference to the grandfather's comments about Dan's destiny seems to come a bit out of nowhere. Maybe work that into the earlier paragraph where Dan and his grandfather meet up.

In the last two paragraphs, there are two references to Dan being labeled a hero. I think one would be enough. And even so, I'm not sure how Dan feels about it. What does he constitute as normal now? Being a hero or going back to slacker-dom?

Dan hangs up on Alsana at the end, but 1) I don't know what life he wants to live so am not clear what he's headed off to do, and 2) if Alsana's gig is a court-ordered rehab, won't he wind up in prison and be so not in control of his life at that time?

I also was a little uncertain about why Dan was delivering pizzas and working the security gig for Alsana (even as part of his rehab). Was the uberguard just part-time? And is the uber part of Alsana's guard services secret? Wouldn't Brody be aware Dan is more than a pizza boy if her handlers purposefully hire uber protection? And if it is secret, why would the uberguard be hiring on as celebrity bodyguards and not political bodyguards or guards for witnesses or others generally in more danger than celebs?

For me, none of these questions are deal-breakers in the synopsis; I think the synopsis, even as is, will likely garner some requests! Especially if you attach the first 5 pages and the writing holds up there as well as it does here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Query Revision 23

Face-Lift 650: Hang the Thief

The author asks EE's minions "if they prefer the title HANG THE THIEF or A DEBT OWED. I am partial to HTT but the last title reflects the novel better."

Dear Evil Editor:

Magic returns to Craie and it brings the promise of unimaginable wealth and power, but nothing comes without a price, and, the price exacted for this power may be mankind’s very existence.

Herald by pulsing orbs, it is accompanied by mythical monsters of lore. Griffins, harpies and even demons ravage the countryside, while the world’s leaders race to master a power they were never meant to master before their neighbors do.

Ehlana, a street performer turned thief, lives in this world but she has very little interest in magic or for that matter anything beyond herself, until she discovers how it is being used for great evil. This information saves the life of a court official but not all the culprits are apprehended and she is sent across the continent for her safety. During her journey she witnesses the plight of the common folk who have been left to fend for themselves against the broken-beasts and criminals. She also witnesses how magic is being used for the unimaginable evil of raising the dead.

Far from home, Ehlana acquires all that she desired: fame, wealth and, yes even love, but remains restless, and eventually is haunted by nightmares. She is advised to seek meaning at a mysterious temple; advice she does not readily take until her lover is betrothed to another.

She is guided there by four warriors; three who have been sent by their deities to help her, and an unbeliever who has fallen secretly and hopelessly in love with her. He too seeks meaning for his life and believes he has found it in her.

Together they discover the orbs are gateways to hell and the price magic exacts from its users are their very souls. Gifted with the rare ability to understand any language she hears or reads, Ehlana deciphers clues hidden in ancient songs and learns how to close the gates.

But, time is against them, a betrayer is amongst them and there is a price to be paid. A price that Ehlana, a woman betrayed, may not be prepared to pay.

HANG THE THIEF is a 900,500 word fantasy. Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Per your request I am prepared to send you a full manuscript or partial.

Respectfully,

Comments

I noticed a propensity for repeating words in both the original query and this revise. The word "world" in the original and the word "price" here. Just something to watch for. I think the revise is much clearer and you're almost there regarding Ehlana's motivation and journey toward character growth.

One thing that concerns me if I use this as a sample of your writing: you have a lot of run-on sentences and comma issues. You'll want to be sure your query letter and your manuscript are as free from errors as possible.

BTW, I love the term "broken-beasts," but I'm not sure it conveys the appropriate horror needed here. And I personally like Hang the Thief better as a working title.

My Revise

Magic returns to Craie, bringing with it the promise of unimaginable wealth and power. The cost, though, may well be humanity's very existence. While Craie's leaders race to be the first to master power they were never meant to own, the magic floods the land, accompanied by strange orbs, ravaging monsters, and hellish demons.

Ehlana, a street performer turned thief, has little interest in magic -- or for that matter anything that doesn't directly affect her and her own aspirations. When she inadvertently saves a court official from assassins and is sent across the continent for her safety, she witnesses the plight of common folk left to defend themselves against monsters and criminals. The trip changes her, giving her new-found insight and empathy. So when she sees a petty lord using magic to raise the dead, the ultimate evil, she resolves to do what she can to combat the magic as opportunity arises.

Far from home, Ehlana's exotic looks and performance skills earn her all she's ever desired: fame, wealth and yes, even love. Success, though, is marred by a vague restlessness and nightmares. When her lover betroths himself to another she flees to a distant temple hoping to find enlightenment and peace. Her guides are four warriors, three of whom have been sent by their deity to help her. The fourth, an unbeliever, falls secretly and hopelessly in love with her. Together they find enlightenment of a different kind. The strange orbs, they discover, are gateways to hell -- and the magic is demanding the very souls from those who use it.

The temple provides clues for closing the gates and Ehlana is called to shed the last of her apathy to help her companions banish the gates from her world. But time is against them, a betrayer is amongst them, and there is a price to be paid. One that Ehlana, a woman betrayed, may not be prepared to pay.

HANG THE THIEF is a 100,000-word fantasy. I look forward to sending you the completed manuscript.

Sincerely,

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Fall Swarm

I love that hummingbirds hang around late spring through mid fall or so. I keep two or three feeders full for them. Some of those that visit in the spring continue to fly north. Others stay, nest in nearby trees and raise their young.
I've seen two varieties: the jewel-toned ruby-throated and less-flashy black-chinned. In late fall, they fly across the Gulf of Mexico to winter in Mexico and Central America, though I find it remarkable anything that small and that uses that much energy just beating their wings can fly even a couple of miles.

They are quite aggressive defending their food source. Lots of aerial battles take place around the feeders. Eventually, though, everyone gets a drink.
In the past few days they have begun to swarm the feeders, meaning they're fattening up for their migration. It's a challenge keeping the feeders full but these little guys need all the nectar they can get right now for their 400-500 mile flight. It's bittersweet seeing so many as it's a sign they'll soon be gone .

These pictures were all taken from my desk through a window. I, of course, hang two feeders within sight.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

When Life Hands You an English Degree

When Tropical Storm Hermine dumped over 5 inches (13 cm) of rain on my vacation plans (mainly outdoor repairs and mowing) this week, it left me with a lot of time to think. It should have left me with a lot of time to write, but because I invested in thinking time now, I'm hoping to have a lot more writing time later.

I've worked many long hours, weekends and double-shifts since I was 15, living quite frugally and putting aside as much money as possible into very conservative accounts. Over the past dozen years, my goal has been to retire at 55.

What may interest most of you reading this is that I have made a living writing and editing since 1988 when I was hired to write catalog copy for a distributor of educational materials (which, I'm sure, helped hone my query-writing skills).

Before that, I was a vet tech for 7 years. For a good part of that time I worked days at a small animal clinic and was on call nights for an emergency hospital. I worked 7 days a week doing everything from cleaning cages to performing minor surgery (cat neuters, declaws, ear crops, dentistry, etc.), although laboratory work was my specialty.

Did I mention I was also going to college during this time? That bachelors degree was a long time coming. Not only because I couldn't squeeze in more than a couple of classes a semester, but mainly because I couldn't settle on what career I wanted and so took many more classes than necessary. I wound up majoring in English and minoring in biology, history and Greek. I went on to get a masters in English with a concentration in medieval studies. I crammed my masters into 2 years, working the graveyard shift at an airport in a tollbooth to pay my way.

I took that MA to Hollywood, got a job signing actors with a talent agency (well, working with them on their contracts) and reading scripts for the script agent, then quit when I found out that, while most of the agents were hard-working, reputable folk, the owner was a sleaze. That's when I started writing catalog copy.

When I moved back to Texas in 1989, I got a job with Radio Shack writing ad copy for software and computers. After I was laid off a few years later, I found work as a copywriter for a flooring retailer; as an instructional designer and software manual writer for a financial services provider; as a marketing manager for a technology provider; and as a freelance writer for Motorola, Verizon, and a handful of Internet startups. Then, 11 years ago, I contracted with a large IT services company to write and edit marketing collateral for 6 months. That freelance job turned permanent and eventually morphed into writing and editing proposal content, which is where I'm at today.

Putting pen to paper this week, I realized that it is indeed -- just -- possible for me to retire early. Not at 55 like I had originally targeted, but sooner. Perhaps as early as the end of this year.

I'm 51.

Yesterday, I paid off my mortgage. 25 years early. The house, the barns and the 27 acres are mine. I'm now debt free and, barring anything truly catastrophic -- or social security or medicare not being around in 13 years -- I should be able to maintain myself and my beasties until I'm 80 if I retire now. Longer, if I'm inclined to pick up the odd freelance opportunity or if I can sell a book or two.

I've budgeted money for more fencing, major house repairs, and car and tractor repairs/replacements as they're needed. Short-term, I'll be sacrificing my little dream of updating the bathrooms and kitchen, but wanting those updates should keep me motivated to earn a bit of extra money over the next couple of years to get them done.

So you see, an English degree and a career in writing -- even without risky investments -- can earn you enough to live and retire on in the US. That is, if you budget wisely, are willing to live modestly, and don't have money-sucking children draining your account with their pitiful cries of: "Feed me," "Clothe me," and "But all my friends have one!"

Of course -- just as in getting published -- talent, luck and a good economy go a long way toward making a general writing career worth pursuing. And really, you can't underestimate the part luck plays in either pursuit.

Is it scary? Yes. Very. But it's also exciting. I've embraced the option and have taken the first step toward making it a reality. Now all that's left is the follow-through.

Oh, and you coworkers who know my secret identity: Please don't let the boss know just yet, OK? :o)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Synopsis 4: Heartsouls

The author cut 500 words to make the 1000-word limit. Heartsouls is epic fantasy with a strong component of romance.

The query for it is here.

Comtesse Marguerite Navarre is a naïve young woman from the privileged race of Argents, distinguished by their gold eyes and blonde hair. Argents own all property and control the country of Maore to the exclusion of the other race, Silvers. Heartsouls begins with Comtesse Marguerite Navarre fleeing for her life. Strange creatures, she names blackbirds, are attacking the Compound where she lives, killing Argents including her family. Marguerite escapes over the Compound wall to fall, literally, into the Silver section of town

Silvers find her in the streets after curfew. Dark-haired Silvers are restricted to their homes for curfew, but these men don’t follow the rules. They are dismayed to find a young Argent on their hands, requesting help to warn the Empereur. After hearing her story, their leader, Bolton, decides they will accompany the Comtesse out of town and see what happens

Jorge, the handsomest of the Silvers, is a cocky, confident young man who enjoys teasing and flirting. His cavalier attitude infuriates Marguerite. Morris is a fun loving boy, who is soon telling Marguerite more than the others want revealed, including that Jorge receives warnings of danger and he has the ability to seek people or things out.

The Silvers find Marguerite’s friendly behavior remarkable. They begin to care what happens to her against warnings from Bolton to be cautious. Marguerite finds she is happier with her new friends then she was in the stuffy society of rules and snobbery.

In Maore, people worship a group of Spirits. The greater Spirits are Air or Wind, Earth, Water, Sun, and Moon. Each greater Spirit had a hand in creating some form of life: birds, animals, fish, Silvers, and Argents. The Sun Spirit is associated with Argents while the Moon is the creator of Silvers. Spirits will feature large throughout Heartsoul.

As they reach the capital, Marguerite fears she will never be allowed to see her new friends again. Duty to her dead family compels her to continue with her visit to Empereur Agenor despite her feelings. Jorge offers to find her with his seeking powers if they should be separated. An offer she declines for fear of her friends’ safety. Jorge kisses her and she is filled with confused feelings.

Empereur Agenor and his heir, Captain Hull, tell Marguerite she has manifested a very old magic. Her magic is the result of a bond she has formed with the Silvers. All the people of Maore have the potential for magic- if they find their soul bond. There are two types of bonds. Twins souls are Argents/Silvers in a sibling partnership, while heartsouls is a more intimate matching of love. Agenor decides to confirm Marguerite’s connection to the Silvers. He separates her from the Silvers, holding her as his guest at the palace and sending them on their way, and waits results.

The Silvers are unexpectedly infuriated at being parted from Marguerite. They decide they will use Jorge’s ability and Bolton’s scheming to rescue her. A sneak rescue to find her is foiled when someone tracks Jorge’s magic. Instead of all getting away, Jorge and Bolton let themselves be caught by Captain Hull so the other two with Marguerite can get out of the palace into the city.

Dutifully, Marguerite comes back for them the next morning and gives herself up in exchange for the Silvers’ safety. Empereur Agenor now tells them of their connection to each other. He insists on testing all the Silvers to discover which is bonded to Marguerite. It is, of course, the lying charmer, Jorge.

In return for their promise to learn magic and help Agenor, their group will be allowed to stay together. The Empereur’s last demand is devastating to Marguerite. He declares that she and Jorge are heartsouls and they must marry to strengthen the bond between them or they will be confined and forced to do so. Marguerite must get a handle on her feelings for Jorge. She is confused and unsure, caught between desire to help the Empereur, her curiosity about magic, and her wishes not to be forced into marriage.

After meeting with the Empereur, Jorge and Marguerite end up arguing; affecting their ability to make their magic work. The strength of the magic depends on the strength of the heartsoul or twin soul connection. Like Silvers of ancient times, Jorge is susceptible to a binding oath- meaning when he promises to do something he is held to it or he becomes physically ill. Jorge has promised to marry Marguerite but she refuses. Worn down with Jorge’s increasing suffering, Marguerite finally agrees to marry him

At midsummer, the blackbirds return with their creators to attack the Argents of Starke. In particular, they want Empereur Agenor removed. With no children to follow him, the country would fall into chaos for Captain Hull is not generally accepted as heir. And without the Empereur’s protection the Silvers, and especially Jorge, would be in danger from Argent retribution.

An exciting rescue to save Empereur Agenor, involving many blackbirds, is successful. On their way back a panicked crowd separates the friends. Jorge, Marguerite, and Captain Hull encounter a hooded man. This man, Seth, boasts he is the one behind the blackbirds and mocks their pitiful skill with magic. Not even threatened enough to kill them personally, Seth leaves behind enough blackbirds to do the job for him.

Beset by too many blackbirds to overcome with their beginning skill, they are saved by the intervention of the Moon Spirit, Candrima. She banishes the blackbirds and reveals that Jorge is her favorite child. The Moon Spirit created Jorge with the purpose of bringing magic back to the world. After Candrima releases them, most of them they have no memory of her or her intervention. Candrima looks on at the end knowing Jorge has only begun the journey to fulfill his purpose. Jorge and Marguerite’s relationship is still incomplete. The mocking blackbird creators are still at large and they have much more magic to learn.

Comments

The author mentioned she thinks this synopsis sounds a bit boring and I have to agree (but that can, of course, be fixed!). Why?

Lack of a clear antagonist. In the beginning, the blackbirds seem to be a collective villain. There's not really a hint of a main villain until Seth shows up 90% of the way through the story.

Lack of tension in the middle of the book. The story is bookended by attacks by the blackbirds, but what's really happening in the middle of the book? M&J travel to the capital, the emperor thinks they have a bond, tests that bond, then says they have to marry to make their bond strong. There's talk of magic, but no one seems to perform any and the magic is not explained. Because there are a lot of machinations to discover that bond, it seems to be important, but the reader is left not caring because the synopsis doesn't clearly show what the point of it all is.

Unresolved ending. The emperor is captured and rescued in two sentences. Our protags are beset by blackbirds and they are saved by what seems to be a deus ex machina – the Moon Spirit. There's something special about Jorge, more hints at magic and nothing is resolved between M&J. As written, it feels like a setup for Part 2 rather than a satisfying conclusion to this story's arc.

Plus, I know I seem to be harping on the magic, both in your query revision and now in your synopsis (sorry), but I'm afraid I just don't get what the magic is, how it works, or why it's important. Does anyone else see something here about the magic that's obvious that I'm missing?

I failed in my job of cutting this synopsis down. In my edit, I expanded on some of the ideas (making a guess or two - and using some placeholder words like "gang" and "hoodlum" that will need changing) and tried to cram in a bit more motivation and a more resolved feel to the ending. The original is 999 words; my version is 993. Are there parts that the rest of you feel can go? Or other ways you would tackle this?

My Version

Comtesse Marguerite Navarre is a naïve young woman from the privileged race of gold-eyed, blonde-haired Argents. In Maore, Argents own all the property and live in Compounds that insulate them from the subjugated, dark-haired Silver race. When strange creatures nicknamed blackbirds attack her Compound killing every Argent they find, Marguerite watches in horror as they slaughter her parents. She flees, barely escaping over the Compound wall to fall, literally, into the Silver section of town.

A gang of Silvers finds her in the streets after curfew. The four young hoodlums hear her story of the attack and her pleas to warn the Empereur. Their leader, Bolton, antsy for action, agrees to accompany the Comtesse to the capital.

One handsome hoodlum, Jorge, is a particularly cocky, confident young man who enjoys teasing and flirting. His cavalier attitude infuriates Marguerite, until one of the gang confides that Jorge receives visions of danger and has the uncanny ability to find people and things that are lost -- or don't want to be found. Intrigued despite herself, Marguerite studies the man with new eyes.

In fact, she begins to see all the Silvers – children of Candrima, the Moon Spirit -- with new eyes. The boys are easy-going and fun-loving, far from the stuffy society of rules and snobbery she's been accustomed to. She feels comfortable with them. In turn, the Silvers find Marguerite’s friendly behavior remarkable. Argents made the rules they're rebelling against, but Marguerite is different. And they're starting to care what happens to her.

When they reach the capital, Marguerite fears the Silvers won't be let in and that she won't be allowed to see her new friends again. But duty to her dead family compels her on alone. Jorge promises to find her should they be separated. Then he kisses her, and the resulting flush of warmth and power overwhelms her.

When she appears before Empereur Agenor and his appointed heir, Captain Hull, they sense what Marguerite can't – that she has manifested a very old magic. What they don't know is who she's made the rare and powerful heartsouls bond with. To find out, Agenor detains her and orders the Silvers on their way. Then he waits.

Relying on Jorge's seeking ability and Bolton’s scheming, the Silvers attempt a rescue. The plot, expected as it is, is foiled. Changing plans on the fly, Jorge and Bolton let themselves be caught by Hull so the other two can escape with Marguerite into the faceless city.

Conscience, though, won't let Marguerite abandon her friends. She returns for them the next morning, giving herself up in exchange for the Silvers’ safety. Agenor insists on testing all the Silvers to discover which one is bonded to Marguerite. It is, of course, the cocky charmer, Jorge.

In return for their promise to learn magic and help Agenor, the Empereur will allow the friends to stay together. But his next demand devastates Marguerite. He declares that, as heartsouls, she and Jorge must marry to strengthen the bond between them. If they refuse to marry willingly, they will be confined and forced to consummate the bond to bring the ancient magic back into a world grown sterile from its absence.

To keep Marguerite safe and his friends free, Jorge agrees to the marriage. Marguerite, though, remains caught between desire to help the Empereur, her curiosity about magic, and her wishes not to be forced into marriage. And she still hasn't come to terms with her feelings for Jorge.

Jorge and Marguerite end up arguing, affecting their ability to make their magic work. To complicate matters, Jorge, like Silvers of ancient times, is susceptible to a binding oath -- meaning when he promises to do something he is held to it or he becomes physically ill. The more Marguerite argues against the marriage, the more Jorge suffers. Worn down at last by Jorge’s increasing anguish, Marguerite agrees to marry him

Before that can happen, blackbirds attack the capital. This time they're after Agenor. Since Hull is only an appointed heir and not of royal blood, many Argents do not accept him as successor. With Agenor off the throne, the country would fall into chaos. And without the Empereur’s protection, all Silvers would be in danger from Argent retribution. The raid on the capital is a success and Agenor is captured and spirited off by a squadron of blackbirds.

Recognizing the importance of keeping Agenor safe, Marguerite and the Silver gang join Captain Hull in a successful rescue. On their way back, a panicked crowd separates the friends, leaving Jorge, Marguerite, and Hull on their own. Trapped in an alley by a mysterious hooded man -- who boasts being the one behind the attacks -- and his entourage of blackbirds, Jorge and Marguerite call on their heartsouls bond and the magic they need to save them. Unskilled, their magic is weak, impotent, and the man, Seth, mocks their pitiful attempt. Not even threatened enough to kill them personally, Seth leaves behind enough blackbirds to do the job for him.

Their attempt, however, draws attention. The strong bond resonates with a power they cannot yet tap into but which can be felt by the many spirits of their world. Candrima, Moon Spirit and protector of the Silvers, appears and banishes the blackbirds. In a moment of wistful love she reveals that of all the Silver children she's created, Jorge is her favorite and the one purposed to bring magic back into the world.

Before Candrima leaves, she takes away their memory of her and her intervention. Like any Mother, she must allow Jorge to walk his own path and succeed or fail on his own choices. Before the world can be made whole again, Jorge and Marguerite’s relationship must be completed and they must learn to wield their magic to bring the blackbirds and their creator to bay. But for now, Candrima's allowed them a second chance to learn and – perhaps – to love.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Our First Success Story!

And I couldn't be more delighted! I read the query and first pages way back when and watched the transformation with great anticipation. The author posted to multiple sites, got tons of advice -- some good, some not so good -- sifted through it all, and came up a winner!

The Beauty's Beast by E.D. Walker is now an ebook from Noble Romance.

It was Query Revision #9 here, and Face-lift 409 on Evil Editor's site. (The book formerly known as Garwaf.)

This, folks, is what it's all about! Congratulations, E.D.! I'm off to get my copy now...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day Holiday

It's a holiday weekend here in the States, and I'm actually taking this next week off work as well. While some of my blog buddies have gone rock climbing, snorkeling, bar-hopping in foreign lands, whale-watching, and meeting up with virtual friends on their vacations, I'll be focused on mowing, making general repairs, mowing, cleaning, tilling, organizing and, well, mowing.

Today I thought I'd clean out the camera and share a few fun photos.


This is a frog. Resting comfortably in the crook of a column. Six feet up. Next to a hummingbird feeder. No, I do not know how it got there. Or how it got down.


Vultures are numerous around here, but they do tend to roost away from the house. Which is a good thing because the dogs go nuts when one of these birds is around. I don't know why vultures alone of all birds provoke that kind of reaction in the dogs, but on the occasions one of these birds has settled on the antenna or, as in these pictures, the electric pole, the dogs will bark their heads off at the bird until it flies away. Not that the dogs' frenzied barking or my taking pictures ruffled even a feather of this sleepy fellow.


And, since I've named my little farm Rainbow's End, an obligatory shot of its namesake. (Actually two shots, spliced together.) A perfect arch a few days ago right from my front porch.

Is it any wonder I don't feel the need to actually go anywhere else on holiday?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Synopsis 3: The Trouble With Garlic

There’s more to being a vampire than a change of diet. Thirteen-year-old, half-breed Tommy loves his dad’s Italian cooking, but his vampire half is allergic to it. One too many rounds of garlic zits and his batty mother packs him off to vampire boarding school; where he’s stuck in remedial classes with kids half his age, his assigned mentor is the school bully, and there’s a gang hungry for a taste of the forbidden – human blood.

At school, Gwen encourages Tommy to stand up to the bully, Garth. Tommy doesn’t stand up for long as he slides across the floor on his butt – twice – with a human nose bleed. He’s a Garlic – a derogatory vampire term for a half-breed. Garth sloughs off his mentor duties to seven-year-old George, whose sentences bounce around as much as he does. Tommy’s grateful to have a gregarious guide even if George’s verbal stream of consciousness is hard to interrupt.

Tommy hates doing vampire things. He wants to make friends his own age, but they’ve been flying their whole lives. Tommy’s lack of bat skills is embarrassing. Fortunately, his young classmates are like George, who crash lands when he accidentally transforms in mid-air.

In the blood feast room, Tommy has to suck blood as a bat in front of all the staring boy bats clinging to the ripped red velvet wallpaper. Or worse – join the girls in human form in the dining room where with covered tables and glasses of Bloody Maria – animal blood with Mexican seasonings. In the dining room, he meets Gigi, and learns his dad is the dining room cook.

Half-breeds are fair game – according to the human hunter gang. Tommy can’t avoid Garth. When George turns on him, too, Tommy runs away to the school farm. He learns valuable lessons like sucking dinner from a cow’s neck gets gross stuff on his tongue; and transforming into bat form while falling from a tree might be a useful skill, but breaking branches on the way down is painful.

Necessity helps his bat skills improve, but aiding a hungry orphan, Emeline, prods him into heading back. Instead of being kicked out, he’s upgraded to classes with kids his own age because of his unofficial vampire homework. This comes with a price – the truth about the feud between Garth and Gwen. Tommy can repair the damage, but he might discover Gwen’s been using him. He forces them to hear the truth. Gwen disappears from his radar and Garth is grudgingly grateful. Tommy joins the boys in the blood feast room.

The human hunters trap Tommy in the kitchen pantry. He’s shocked to see Gigi and his new friend Greg amongst them. Then Garth shows up – to rescue Tommy. Garth hates all rule breakers, including Garlics and human hunters. Before a fight can start, George and his entourage of seven- and eight-year-olds swarm the pantry. George tells Tommy to be easier to find the next time he needs rescued.

Bram Stoker’s Birthday maroons Tommy at school. Locked in with nothing to eat, he’s surprised by a visit from his dad and Emeline, who is now an apprentice at the family restaurant. She’s partial to bats since bat Tommy dropped a train ticket into her hand. She doesn’t know about vampires. Tommy enjoys her company but he can’t fly in front of her. And oddly, that bothers him.

In flying class, Tommy realizes he doesn’t know what bat Greg looks like. Any of the bats swooping at him might be this new enemy. Then a statue of Cruorius, the blood bearer, replaces the usual furry feast in the blood feast room. All vampire birthdays are in January and the statue pouring blood from a pitcher will be there every Friday until the big birthday bash.

Greg will accept any human blood as payment to leave Tommy alone. Tommy decides to get some garlic and give the human hunters a bad case of zits. While trying to find a blank grocery list to order the garlic, Tommy stumbles on the new drink for the girl’s dining room – Bloody Emeline. This could be the human blood that will get him off the hook with the human hunters, but he doesn’t want to believe it’s Emeline’s. Tommy confronts his dad and finds out the drink was named after the creator of the recipe and not the blood donor.

Emeline comes to help with the birthday party. Not knowing Cruorius is the end of the school year, an unprepared Tommy struggles through his finals. His last one is flying with both the thirteen- and seven-year-olds. Greg sneaks Emeline into class. The teacher leaves to get the Dean. The students are to do nothing in front of a human. Emeline’s rescue by the seven-year-olds starts the melee. When Tommy crashes through the sixth floor window, he must let Emeline see him fly, or die.

Greg joins him in the sky. Then Garth leaps up from the ground floor yelling “Tommy”. Happy at being called by his real name gives way to fear. Who’s the bigger rule breaker today? He flees for the farm, hoping to find adults who can keep him from being pounded flat or sucked dry. He’s feet from the barn when Greg pounces on him. Then bats blacken the sky.

George flies all around Tommy, squeaking as fast as he normally talks. Tommy realizes those squeaks are a language he doesn’t speak. The brawl continues on the ground, but the brown stuff under the thin layer of snow is not mud. Soon they’re retching instead of fighting. Fire hoses blast off the worst of the muck.

After a long shower, Tommy heads for the party. Screaming kids slide down blood-soaked corridors and belly flop on the flagstone. In the combined blood feast / girl’s dining room, Emeline is calmly filling glasses with blood. She’s more happy that Tommy’s okay then concerned about vampires being real. Around her, he can relax and be himself.

Comments

Whew! Lots of energy here, Sarah. This seems like a fun, campy story for the MG boy crowd and publishers seem to always be in need of those. That's the good news.

However, I got lost a few times in the synopsis. All the vamp names start with G and while I initially thought, "Oh, cute – all the vamp names start with G," the more names that popped up, the more confused I got about who was whom. And many of these characters are introduced without a point of reference: Gwen, Gigi and Greg all just sort of pop up. I don't really see that Gigi is needed here. Tommy randomly meets her, then she shows up among the hunters and that's all we ever see of her. I wrote Gwen out of my version, too, but I didn't understand her part in what was happening. That's a problem, though, because those are your only two female vamps and not having them in the synop may make it seem like an all-boys school otherwise.

It's also a little choppy. But I think that has more to do with your cutting 370+ words to bring it down to the 995 words posted here than anything else. FWIW, here's how I would rewrite and my comments for what I changed, why, and what still needs some clarification, IMO. My revises bring it down to about 760 words.

There’s more to being a vampire than a change of diet. Thirteen-year-old half-breed Tommy loves his dad’s Italian cooking, but his vampire half is allergic to it. One too many rounds of garlic zits and his batty mother packs him off to vampire boarding school where his dad's the cook. There he’s stuck in remedial classes with kids half his age, his assigned mentor is the school bully, and there’s a gang hungry for a taste of the forbidden – human blood. Even half-human will do.

Tommy's attempt to stand up to Garth, the bully, ends with a nose bleed and him sliding across the floor on his butt. The blood marks him a Garlic – vamp for half-breed. A disgusted Garth hands over his mentor duties to seven-year-old George, whose sentences bounce around as much as he does. Even so, Tommy’s grateful to have a gregarious guide to help him learn all the unwritten rules of his new school.

Tommy hates doing vampire things because his lack of skills is embarrassing. He wants to make friends his own age, but how can he when they’ve been flying their whole lives? His young classmates are more like him, accidentally transforming in mid-air then crash landing.

In the blood feast room, Tommy, in bat form, has to suck blood in front of all the staring boy bats. Worse is when he joins the girls in human form to sip glasses of Bloody Maria – animal blood mixed with salsa. [If you need to cut something, this can go, I think. I know it ties into the Bloody Emeline drink later, but as noted, I think that part can go, too.]

Tommy seems to be a target no matter what he does. Garlics are fair game according to the hunter gang, and Tommy can’t avoid Garth. When little George turns on him, too, Tommy runs away to the school farm where he learns valuable lessons like the fact that sucking dinner from a cow’s neck gets gross stuff on his tongue.

Necessity helps his bat skills improve, but it's helping a hungry orphan, Emeline, that prods him into heading back to school. [I'd like to know more about Emeline – where did he find her and how he gets her back to the school. He apparently gives her a train ticket, but where did he get it at the farm? Did he steal it?] Instead of being kicked out, he’s promoted to classes with kids his own age.

This comes with a price – the truth about the feud between Garth and Gwen. Tommy can repair the damage, but he might discover Gwen’s been using him. He forces them to hear the truth. Gwen disappears from his radar and Garth is grudgingly grateful. Tommy joins the boys in the blood feast room.

The human hunters trap Tommy in the kitchen pantry. He’s shocked to see Gigi and his new friend Greg amongst them. Then Garth shows up – to rescue Tommy. Garth hates all rule breakers, including Garlics and human hunters. Before a fight can start, George and his entourage of seven- and eight-year-olds swarm the pantry. George tells Tommy to be easier to find the next time he needs rescued.

[I'm really confused about what's happening here. I don't understand what's going on between Garth and Gwen. Wasn't he already allowed in the blood feast room? I'm not sure why the rule breaker bit is brought up with Garth. And the last we heard, George had turned on Tommy so why is he rescuing him now?]

That just makes him an easier target for the bullies and hunters. When they trap him in the kitchen pantry, he finds Garth's been replaced by an even bigger bully: Greg. To get back at Greg, Garth and George wrangle up the younger kids who swarm the pantry and rescue Tommy before a fight can break out.

Bram Stoker’s Birthday [Ha!] maroons Tommy at school. Locked in with nothing to eat, he’s surprised by a visit from his dad and Emeline, who is now an apprentice at the family restaurant. She’s partial to bats since bat Tommy dropped a train ticket into her hand, but she doesn’t know about vampires. And while Tommy enjoys her company, not being allowed to fly in front of her bothers him for some reason.

When a statue of Cruorius the Blood Bearer pouring blood from a pitcher appears in the blood feast room, Tommy discovers all vampires celebrate their birthdays in January and the statue is there in preparation for a big birthday bash.

Greg will accept any human blood as payment to leave Tommy alone. Tommy decides to get some garlic and give the hunters a bad case of zits. While trying to find a blank grocery list to order the garlic, Tommy stumbles on the new drink for the girl’s dining room – Bloody Emeline. This could be the human blood that will get him off the hook with the human hunters, but he doesn’t want to believe it’s Emeline’s. Tommy confronts his dad and finds out the drink was named after the creator of the recipe and not the blood donor. [None of this really leads anywhere as we know he's crushing a bit on Em already, so I would delete it.]

Tommy's dad brings Emeline to the school to help with the birthday party. Not knowing Cruorius also marks the end of the school year, an unprepared Tommy struggles through his finals. His last one is flying. [In the synopsis, it doesn't really make sense why advanced 13-year-olds would be flying with 7 yo's for their finals.] As a prank, Greg sneaks Emeline into class, knowing the vamp kids won't be allowed to fly in front of her. After the teacher leaves to get the dean, the entire class starts fighting – vamp style. When Tommy crashes through the sixth floor window, he must let Emeline see him fly – or die.

The twisty fear over being caught flying in front of a human gives way to a bigger fear when Greg joins him in the sky. Then Garth leaps up from the ground floor yelling “Tommy”. Happy at being called by his real name [Has Garth been calling him Garlic or other names up until now? Is the yell a warning to Tommy? I would delete.] He flees for the farm, hoping to find adults who can keep him from being pounded flat or sucked dry. He’s only feet from the barn when Greg pounces on him. Then bats blacken the sky.

It's little George and his gang of second graders come to help, but there's only so much a vamp can do as a bat. [The batsqueak language was a nice detail but it made me wonder if bat lingo isn't taught in school and why Tommy hasn't noticed anyone squeaking before when in bat form, so I deleted it]. They change form and the brawl continues on the ground, but the brown stuff under the thin layer of snow is not mud. Soon they’re retching instead of fighting. Fire hoses blast off the worst of the muck.

After a long shower, Tommy heads for the party. Screaming kids slide down blood-soaked corridors and belly flop on the flagstone. In the party room, Emeline is calmly filling glasses with blood. She’s more happy that Tommy’s okay then concerned about vampires being real. Around her, he can relax and be himself. [Seems to need a final wrap-up sentence (though you can do better than my placeholder):] And with an exciting first year in vamp school behind him, Tommy's already looking forward to learning that eye mesmerizing thing and trying it out on Emeline next year.