9.09.2006

Why do you do it Miss Snark?

As grateful as I am -- and I am, oh yes, oh yes, I am -- I still wonder why Her Snarkiness exerts herself so on our behalf. What a load of work! But I've been reluctant to suggest any changes to the Crapometer because they're all about ME and what I want/need/wish etc.



Because in the not so distant past, and up through this very day, people have helped me. My colleagues, my clients, the readers of this blog.

I have to say no to a lot of people every day. "No thanks" without a single word of explanation about why (and no, we're not going to have the 'please comment on query letters' discussion again).

I know there are real live people behind those letters. People who wrote in early hours of the morning before the kids got up, in the ladies room on lunch hours, late at night while the laundry spins endlessly. People who want nothing more than to be writers. People who are willing to work hard, listen to advice, and start all over again when they see the purple "this is a mess" or "wtf". Start all over again after saying "thank you" and not "you stink SnarkforBrains".

The question isn't how can I. The question is, given the technology of the blogosphere we have at our disposal, how could I not.

Nitwit of the Day? Yes, it's Miss Snark herself

Looking for a lost comment or 50 perhaps?
yea,well, I accidently deleted instead of published.
good ones too. Ones that offered Mr. Clooney's home phone number.
I must have been all a'twitter.

If your comment didn't post, it's not cause I rejected it.
It's cause I am my own nitwit today.

....slinking off, hiding behind the fruit stand on the corner, directly behind orange...well, you get the idea.



PS Repost

Whew!

Well, a week later, 11o entries, and Miss Snark is crawling off to mumble "never more" in a corner.

I'm in awe there was only one comment akin to Miss Snark Wears Army Boots. One of the reasons I don't give feedback to queriers is cause I'd get "go fug yourself" in reply sometimes. None of you did that. Not one. I'm really really grateful.

I respect your willingness to be critiqued in public. Yes, I know it's part of the game but still, it's hard, you did it and you were gracious. You may give me credit for helping you focus your work, but I give you a lot of credit for behaving like pros.

Thank you for reading this blog, for making comments on it, and for the time you invested in reading the entries and offering up opinions on where you agreed or didn't.

Thank you.

3rd SR Crapometer #100

Dear Miss Snark,

What if you suddenly suspected, eighteen months later, that your husband's fatal accident might not have been an accident?

Cassandra (Casey) Edgar, a freelance researcher, makes a good living providing information to Silicon Valley companies and individuals.

Casey spent eighteen months battling depression while she adjusted to the sudden death of her husband, Barry Stewart, in a hiking accident. Still not quite her old self again, she reluctantly attends a wake for Michael Mohr, a friend who had been on the hike with Barry. At the wake, Casey learns that two other hikers who'd been with Barry that day have also died.

Is the cluster of deaths coincidence or something more sinister? Was Barry's death really an accident? Casey decides to investigate. Soon, she is almost killed, a victim of a hit-and-run. Is she a threat to someone who has murdered before and would murder again or is the hit-and-run just another coincidence?

INTO THE WEB is an eighty thousand word mystery. I've enclosed the first ten pages.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.

well, this is a good set up but there's no sense of the plot. We obviously don't want a synopsis here, but we should get some sense of the antagonist and the conflict.
-------

Silicon Valley movers and shakers had all known and trusted Michael Mohr. Mohr & Jacobs wrote wills, setup trusts, bullet-proofed pre-nups, and argued divorce cases when the firm wasn't handling IPOs, stock options, mergers, and acquisitions. If a client's child was picked up and facing charges, Mohr & Jacobs handled that too.

The wake was a crush. Casey Edgar was late. College students in Silicon Valet uniforms had filled Hill Prep's parking lot and were now parking cars on the tranquil, tree-lined street in front of the Mohrs' sprawling, pseudo-Italian villa. The Hill Prep lot looked like the sales floor of Silicon Valley Auto Group in Los Gatos, filled with swank cars up to and including a couple Rolls Royces and a vintage gull-wing Mercedes. Beemers, Mercedeses, Boxters and a Hummer or two lined the street for a quarter mile in either direction. Casey's ten-year-old Honda Accord with 180,000 miles on the odometer was outclassed.

The rainstorm had lightened to drizzle. Damp, fall leaves splattered the vans from A Moveable Feast that were parked out front. From the sidewalk, Casey could hear the low rumble of conversation, the muted clink of crystal, and Jackson Browne's "For A Dancer."

Music from her college days was now on oldies stations and also appropriate background music for wakes, it seemed. They were all getting older. Scratch that. Michael Mohr wasn't getting older. Neither was Barry.

Casey started up the flagstone path. She'd managed to muster the nerve to mingle with people, some of whom she hadn't seen since Barry died, but she dreaded it. Was it too late to turn back, go home, make some excuse? Too late, she told herself. Besides, Pamela expected her.

Earlier, at Huntington's Memorial Chapel, she'd found herself caught up unexpectedly in the emotional undertow of Michael's service. She'd thought she had her memories and emotions under tight control, but when Michael's daughter, Jenna sang "You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings" a capella, Casey's heart ached. She fought back tears as memories of Barry's service eighteen months earlier overwhelmed her. The melancholy pipe organ, the flickering candles, the stained glass windows in Memorial Chapel, the minister's somber voice as he spoke of the sudden death of someone who'd been so vibrant, so alive, and so seemingly invincible. Barry. Michael. Michael. Barry.

After the closing prayer, she'd stood near the glass doors at the back of the church, waiting for the rain to let up, wrapped in her own misery.

Someone clutched her arm, startling her.

(here's your starting point)
"You're coming back to the house, aren't you, Case?"

Casey turned as Pamela Mohr repeated the question, "Aren't you?"

"I hadn't planned to, Pamela. I, I wouldn't be much help."

Pamela Mohr's voice softened to a whisper. "They're saying Michael was drunk when he drove into that tree. Michael couldn't have, wouldn't have, Case. You know that. Come back, please? Talk with me. No one else understands."

How could she say no?

So here she was after finding her nerve.

Casey stepped up on the porch. The heavy, carved door opened quietly, before she could knock. Handing her dripping raincoat to the attendant at the door, Casey side-stepped the swirling conversations and tray-carrying catering staff and went in search of Pamela. She knew (where) she'd find her, in front of the antique pink Carrera marble fireplace that served as the living room's focal point. (take out -where- and you have a sentence that doesn't clunk as much)

###

you're awash in description. ACTION.
No plot, too much description, concept is pretty run of the mill.
Form rejection.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 10

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm seeking representation for my 75,000 word fantasy novel entitled Seeing the Knot.

Ok, it's Friday night. I've been working on these for a solid week and I've held it in but now, NO MORE!! Why on Dog's Pink Tam do you use the word "entitled". You mean "titled; called; named; or baptized in the River Snark". I got out my threadbare red Websters vintage edition and looked up "entitled". Herewith: Entitle (vt---transitive verb) To give a title to; designate.

Now, is this an auto-zap. No.
Why should you care? Because I look for a facility with language. I look for people who want to use the right words and bleed buckets on the page worrying about the difference between title and entitle. I want the people with shredded dics.

This isn't as obvious to the naked eye as peek/picque or to/to0/two, but it's the same kind of mistake. Stop doing this.

ok...why am I standing on this soapbox and why are there men in white jackets creeping up behind me??

Princess Norrah falls in love with an unsuitable young man, as princesses often do. During their elopement, he is killed. Norrah manages to run far enough away to find an upstanding man who doesn't count too closely the number of months her pregnancy lasts. Unfortunately, Norahh dies in childbirth, leaving her daughter, Alyse, to find her way back to the kingdom of Carnavon.

The novel takes place sixteen years after the princess's death. Several years have passed since her upstanding man died as well, leaving Alyse to life alone with her Aunt Soria and 4 (four) male cousins. At odds with the social and, mostly silent, etiquette requirements, Alyse strikes out on her own to the royal city and encounters all her mother left behind.

Enclosed please find an excerpt of the first chapter. If you would like to read a lengthier sample of this work, please contact me (yadda yadda zipcoda)

Sincerely,


There's no plot to speak of. You start off talking about a character who is dead.
You call the character several different things (by name, "mother" "princess" in the same paragraph which makes me stop and think about who you're talking about. This is not a good thing.

-------

In the end, her world turned on a small carving in stone. Propelled by the crowd behind her, Alyse stumbled to the side of the river of people and tried to remember how to breathe. She couldn't take her eyes off the small knot that she knew so well. How could this be? Her mother had told her the symbol was of a faraway seafaring tribe. Adjusting her cloak as she moved to the next stall, Alyse studiously kept from looking back at the door. When she'd looked at the bolts of cloth for a suitable amount of time, she looked back at the trestle table filled with piles of pottery.

(here's your starting point)
"Fancy a bowl, my dear?"At Alyse's confused look, the clothseller continued "Or a plate, or a nice vase?" Tobias does quality work. He's.. taking a break right now". The large woman continued winding a spool of ribbon. "we try to look out for his wares when he's working."

"Oh, thank you but no, I was just looking." Alyse said softly.

"Go ahead, he's quite good", and she waved alyse back over to the pottery table.

Six steps had never taken so long as she (this is a different she from the previous one. This makes me crazy) moved back and picked up a large platter. It was surprisingly beautiful, a pale green wash with a sprig of pussywillow glancing up the middle. "Don't drop it, don't drop it," Alyse thought as she turned it over to see the knot again. The knot of artisan's mark pierced her heart

Setting the platter down gently, Alyse turned to the neighboring stall and asked the woman, "Is he in?"

"Yes my dear, go right in," as her winding slowed, "the door should be open."


Yea well, ok, I like this.
(snarl)
I get all bent out of shape about these sucky query letters and then you give me something good enough to read, after pruning that first paragraph. I'd read the rest of the pages if you sent them. If you just had a momentary lapse with that first paragraph, I might ask for a partial. If I saw one more flabby paragraph though: ZAP.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 9

Dear Miss Snark,

Following is my first page submission from my manuscript, Channeling Tinkerbell. Mirage is unaware she can see a fairy because she's about to become one. She finds herself dealing with a boyfriend, jealous sisters, a boss who puts out contracts, and friends she never expected to find when she needed them.

Cordially,

Did you miss the part about sending a query letter? Cause this just might be the most minimal query letter I've seen in a while. Genre? Word count? Points for getting my name right, of course. And points for doing a very brief set up in the query letter instead of on the page.



Chapter 1

"Jenny, come quickly!"

"What's up, Mirage?"

"You have to see this! Hurry before it's frightened away," Mirage said.

Jenny walked across the path from where she'd been admiring some roses. "Well, uh, yeah, that's a pretty dandelion, I guess."

"Not the weed. You don't see it? It's flying in the air just above and behind the dandelion."

"I see grass, except for a bald spot that they're reseeding and a dandelion that decided to mess up their lawn anyway despite their efforts," Jenny replied. "Is it some bug you see flying?"

"Then you do see it?"

Jenny turned her head in Mirage's direction. "You better point to what I'm supposed to see. I don't see anything unusual."

"You don't see the...?"

"You're gonna have to spell it out for me. "

"Uh, never mind. I don't see it now."

"Spring didn't come soon enough for you," Jenny said. She looked at her watch and shook her head. "We've been here too long as it is. Time to get back or find another job."

Mirage nodded numbly before turning away to walk back along the path they'd followed on their lunch break. Her lightweight walking shoes made it easy for her to walk quietly along the path so that it was possible for her to hear someone walking up behind her unless more walking shoes were in the equation. (only the sentence clunks I guess, not her shoes) She glanced back once, but it wasn't there any longer. At least, not that she could see.

"So, what was it?" Jenny asked.

"Probably just a strange bug. It was hovering just past the dandelion when I asked you to look."

"You got good eyes, girl. I sure didn't see it so it must have been small."

"Uh, yeah. It was tiny," Mirage agreed

"So, what's for tonight. Going clubbin'?"

"No date for tonight. Don't want to look like I'm searching a meat locker, either. Friday's different though."

"You got a date then?"

"I'm meeting someone. Hopefully, he'll turn out to be decent."

"You haven't met him?"

"Only online," Mirage replied.

"You've got to be kidding. You've got brains. You've got talent. You've got looks. You even have what men want. You can have your choice." (girls do not talk to each other like this. Ever.)

"Meeting men in a bar tends to make them ignore two of those qualifications. Sometimes three."

"Well, yes, but it's only a date. Nothing says anything has to happen."

"Unless they get you to drink enough. My mother...."

"... always told me that I should avoid drugs and drinking because it takes away my options."

"Have I said that too often?" Mirage asked.

"Often enough that I know that line. So, where are you going?"

"Dinner and dancing at the Alliteration."

"That's a fun place. Just be careful there."

"What's wrong with it?"

"Just depends upon who you're with. If he's all right, shouldn't be a problem. Otherwise, he might slip something in your drink. Then you wake up in the morning in a strange bed," Jenny said.

"He's not going to slip anything into my drink. Can you fix my hair before I meet him?"

"How long will I have?"

"Probably a half-hour," Mirage answered.

"Right after you get off or at lunch?"

"I'd rather do it after work."

"I'll fit you into my schedule," Jenny replied. "So, what's scheduled for tonight since you don't have a date?"

"I'm not sure. Some reading, perhaps."

"Oh, you're killing me with excitement."

"I'm sure you'll have me wet with desire after I hear about your night tomorrow."

"Well, I gotta have something for my book. It can't all be about hairdressing."

"Very little in your book is about hairdressing."

"So, I write what I know."

Leaving the walking trail, the two women stopped at the street for the light to change. Moments later, they crossed only to split up seconds later as Jenny went to a salon near the center of the block and Mirage entered the lobby of the building at the corner.

"You're back early."

Mirage looked at her watch. "Uh-huh, a whopping five minutes. Hold the phone while I freshen up."


Here are some pruning shears. You've got the set up, we see the fairy, or rather she does, we don't, and then you drop us off into some lame conversation about going clubbin'. You're trying to build tension but you haven't given us a big enough lift off in the first five sentences to sustain such a long swan dive. More action up front, less girl talk. And it's time for you to hover in some bars and listen to girls talk. Totally.


I'd send this back with pretty much exactly that and be willing to read a ruthlessly manicured version.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 8

Dear Miss Snark,

I am looking for an agent for a narrative-driven literary novel titled "A Wedding, Water."

The wedding is a game, a bluff, a make-you-say-first "I want. I care. I do." A game like all the other unfulfilled, naked, squirming teases between them. So what if they've shared a bed since they first met months ago and they still haven't "done it" yet? It's crazy high stakes. And fun. And Ellen won't let a few nosy guests asking if she's pregnant ruin her weekend wedding along the northern California coast. She won't be distracted by a friend claiming "rights" to her and offering to give her an abortion. (YUCK YUCK YUCK...ZAP) Just give her time to plan her next move. But it may be too late. Two of the groom's guests, a couple unraveling after years of infidelity and too much drink, are pulling her into their self-destruction and discontent. The fighting has begun. And then on the water in a skiff off the shore, there is a shameful accident. Or something worse.

"A Wedding, Water" is a novel with tone: crackling high nervousness, squeamish second-guessing, and outlandish mockery. It neither fetishizes the wedding ceremony, nor worships the grit of commitment. It is about tantrums and angry shouts, the awkward forced intimacy of friends of friends, and not too little flirting. The dialogue is juicy, often witty, usually rude, and readers may find it reminiscent--in spirit--of an Edward Albee play.

Some characters here were taken from work I wrote that received the University of ABC's Blank award. Enclosed is an SASE and the first ten pages of the manuscript. It starts with a pouncing invitation. The complete manuscript is 85,000 words. Please let me know if you are interested in seeing any more of it.

Many thanks for your time.

Sincerely,


wtf?
I'm repulsed and confused. I think there's a movie about this. Oh wait, no, Dazed and Confused. That too.

You're so busy telling me what this is, you're showing me you can't write a focused paragraph.
This is a form rejection right here.

Chapter One

An invitation, of sorts

You.
You are invited. We want you to come. (To come is what you want.) (If I didn't stop at the query, I'd stop here) The honor of your presence is hereby requested. We beg you; we plead. We do. This wedding screams for your attendance and the screams are so loud. Come to be seen and to see. You are like everybody else but better. (Or not. Who knows? It does not matter to us.) Your face has been slated for its warmth and its heft. Your smile is there to hide disbelief and momentary horror. It is your beacon and shield, that which persuades and protects. Lips and teeth, air, words and bite.
You will join, participate, be forced upon.
As you so sweetly know, a wedding is more than vows, more than twenty minutes to fill with the up and down traipsing of aisles, the staring at of dresses and gowns (the fingering of silk and panties), of untucked shirts and skin that welters under collars. It is the uneasy pondering of the minister's hands. It is the crying of tears both spontaneous and calculated. The excited shrieks of newborn babes. The ushering of matrons in hairnets and flowered caps. (The deflated men shuffle in alone.) Search, search. Do you see it? Bride and groom say "I do," and when you hear the pact-clenching final smack of their lips are they not transformed before your very eyes? Maybe, maybe not, but a wedding is more than vows. It is a place like an Inn, secluded and rimmed with a second-story balcony where you will sit outside and breath for once (finally, at last!) the Pacific Ocean air. You will drink dry California champagne (all right! sparkling wine! we can't pull any more fast ones on you!) and specialty beer brewed in small private tanks. Is there more frosting or cake? There is Chilean sea bass steamed in parchment (a French word on the menu) and wands of asparagus, disposable cameras like so many breeding robotic crabs and a trick using South African coins, arguments over an "upset" boxing match, a pair of shoes whose owner cannot be found, and a child who wants her to see him pee.
A ghost, or whatever passes for a haunting nowadays.
Which day? A wedding is the day before, or more than one day, from the first drink to the last. From one young body to the next. (Some soft, some hard). A boy from a farm and boy from a film. (They are not boys.) Unmarried college sweethearts, a grope from unknown hands, a mysterious streak across the skies, boisterous, boisterous pride, and a mirror.


This is a mess.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 7

Dear Miss Snark,

I am seeking representation for my novel, THE BONES BENEATH (80,000 fantasy/romance). I am writing to you because I love (Killer Yapp Buries the Bone).

Fifty years ago Frank Hartman watched Gert Murphy walk out of his life. It’s a loss he never got over -- not even after he died. Doomed to haunt the Connecticut farm on which he grew up, Frank has plenty of time to ponder his mistakes, but little power to change them.

When Frank's niece Andie shows up with Gert, the executor of his estate, Frank sees an opportunity for redemption. But Andie has problems of her own. She’s torn between two men who offer very different futures: Neal, a cosmopolitan lover who promises escape from her small-town past but is fuzzy on the concept of commitment; and Cort, who has nursed a crush on Andie for years but is firmly rooted in rural Connecticut. Andie must choose which path to take while also settling the fate of the 150-year-old farm. As Frank and Gert both vie to influence her, Andie’s decision could bring peace to the Murphy family, or tear it apart forever.

As a staff reporter and then a freelancer in Connecticut, I've watched as the public has gone from ignoring the plight of family farms to seeing them as a valuable resource, both in terms of open space and the diversity they bring to the agricultural industry. In THE BONES BENEATH, the land is an ever-present character.

I’ve enclosed the first page. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

uh...is Gert dead too?
Frank's a ghost?
ok...a trifle Ghost and Mrs Muir-ish but what the heck, why not.

------------------

Nina sees the man first. It’s a warm summer day, the kind where, when I was alive, you’d have found me down the creek. Fishing, I’d have said if anyone asked, though the only thing worth catching there was a long, cool breeze.

There’s no such breeze in the attic today -- not even the ghost of one. A dry heat radiates from the wooden beams above me, although the floor itself is cool, squeaking slightly under the movement of my rocking chair. The wide, solid boards, the angular shape of the room, the boxes and trunks that fill the dark corners, all put me in mind of a ship, as if I’m taking some kind of voyage up here instead of just passing time.

Beside me, Nina lifts her head, and her ears prick forward.

“What is it, girl?” I ask. She looks at me mournfully. Nina wishes she could speak. (this is a pov shift) Instead, she barks once and glances at the window.

A swatch of lace curtain blocks our view. In our 40 years together, Clara must have tatted enough lace to cover every window in the house and more. If she’d lived, I would have had a lace-lined coffin. But of course Clara passed before me.

Nina barks again, impatient. Through the patterns in the lace I see something moving. “All right,” I say. “Hold your horses.” I think of the breeze down the creek, and the curtain flaps sideways and stays there.

The fellow’s young. I see that right away. He parks his red truck and steps out wearing faded jeans, hiking boots, a white tee- shirt. He stands in the drive, shades his eyes, and gazes up at the house.

Even if I close my eyes, I still see what he does: the arbor to the right of the house, plump concord grapes ripening in the sun; the fieldstone steps, laid by my grandfather and carved with his initials; the shady patio, where Clara used to bring me lemonade. And the house itself, rising out of the Connecticut ground at the edge of the woods, its white facade peeling a little but still proud after 200 years.

The boy -- for that’s what he truly is -- passes a hand along his jaw. He stands still, taking in the house and the valley spread below. I look at Nina.

“Doesn’t look like a thief,” I say, and she whines in agreement.

“Still, best to make sure.” Nina stands, shakes herself, and trots toward the door, where she sits and looks back at me.

“I’m coming, I’m coming.” These days, it’s easier for me just to think of the place I’m going and find myself there, but Nina finds it disconcerting, and so, I suppose, do I. Instead I raise myself from the chair and follow along behind her, and the two of us make our way downstairs.



ok, you've got a first person POV ghost story. The query letter makes Andie seem like the main character. That's a very very tough narrative challenge. You've set Frank up as having no power to change things...so how is he going to get resolution to anything? He's going to be acted upon..the passive recipient. That's a HUGE narrative challenge.

This is probably a form rejection letter cause how you've structured this doesn't seem to serve the story you want to tell. I could be wrong, dog knows I've been wrong before, but because there's no compelling start, and I think you've set yourself up for a big splat, I'm probably not going to read beyond the pages you send.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 6

Dear Miss Snark,

What would you do if a half sister you never knew about suddenly showed up in your life? And what if the only person who could explain her existence wasn't able to tell you?

Thirty-three-year-old April Sullivan-LaMonaca must answer these questions in my novel, Permission to Go. April has endured the deaths of her husband and son as well as her mother's descent into Alzheimer's disease. Just when she thinks she can't handle anything else, Maggie Prescott, a famous broadcast journalist 18 years older than April, shows up and claims to be April's half sister.

This discovery forces both women to examine their lives and confront people from the past. Maggie discovers an old love from whom she's kept a 30-year-old secret, while April finds an unexpected ally in Hugh, a resident's husband in the nursing home where April works as activities director and where her mother now resides. Readers of women's fiction will
relate to the struggles between family duty, such as caring for mom, and the desire to find a life that's separate from parents and siblings. (oh yuck, don't tell me how readers will relate. Every novelist in the world has six anecdotes minimum about readers who saw things in the novel they didn't intend. All you can tell me right now is what YOU intend, and I don't care. All I want to know right now is what the story is and whether you can write)

Permission to Go is approximately 94,000 words, and it's my first novel. As a freelance writer for the past four years, I've written for Writer's Digest, The Boston Globe, and corporate websites and publications. I'm also on air at a Boston radio station on the weekends. (So, how's the Big Dig going?)

I'm including the first page per your submission guidelines. I look forward to hearing what you think. (no you don't. You look forward to me falling off my chair with fervent admiration but you're from Boston so you won't actually say that)

Thank you very much for your time.

Best regards,
Hopefully-Not-a Nitwit


Chapter One

"I have the DNA results." Maggie stands in my office doorway in a form-fitting black suit and high heels that I'd break my neck in. She hands me an oversized red envelope. "Here you go."

Like everything else about Maggie Prescott, the envelope is over-the-top. I mean, really--this isn't the fucking Oscars. I toss it on my desk's quickly reproducing paper piles and return to the new resident assessment sheet I've been staring at for the last 20 minutes. (take out everything in green)

"Aren't you going to open it?" she asks.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Why should I?"

"Don't you want to know?"

I shrug. "Why? Are there any surprises?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean."

"Afraid not. Enlighten me." There's an edge to her normally smooth, broadcast voice.

"Well, you were so sure of what the results were going to be. So." I look up. "Were you surprised?"

Maggie casts me her infamous cool hard gaze that she normally reserves for surly interview subjects. "No. I wasn't surprised at all."

"Well, okay then. What do you want me to do, sister?" My meanness is deliberate, yet part of me feels like complete shit for acting this way. I promised myself, however, that I'd take this tactic. I don't have room in my life for a long-lost half sister. I don't want a reunion. I don't want to share childhood pictures. And while I'm sorry I don't have any explanations for her--like why our mother gave her up for adoption over 50 years ago and chose to tell no one about it--I don't want to turn my life upside down even more by trying to dig up some answers.

Maggie shakes her head. Her shoulder-length blunt cut doesn't move, which gives the residents' Aqua-Net helmets a run for their money. "I don't want you to do anything, April. Just wanted to let you know. That's all."

I stare again at the assessment form, amazed at how English words have somehow transformed into Chinese characters. "Okay. You've let me know. I need to get back to work now."

"Fine. I'm going to see Kate." She pauses. "If that's okay with you."

"Go ahead. I can't stop you."

"Right," she says, while turning on her heels and strutting off. "You can't."

As she walks through the empty activities room toward the exit, her ass swaggers. I wonder if my butt does the same thing, and suddenly my mind descends into the "Does-She" dance. Does she have freckles on her back, like I do? Does she like the way orange juice tastes after brushing her teeth? Does she sneeze in multiples of threes? Does she sing as god-awful as me?
We're not twins, I remind myself, just sisters. HALF sisters. Born 18 years apart from the same mother but different fathers. It's a big difference, but how big, I don't know. And I don't want to know.

Right?





You've got too much tell.
You've got a good concept. With the open records laws lots of people are finding themselves with relatives they never knew they had.

this needs serious pruning and shaping but you've got potential.

Form rejection though, it's not ready to invest time in.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 5

Dear Miss Snark,
Set in modern-day France, LA CACHETTE (The Hiding Place) is a 50,000-word, adventure story for children. err...what kind of children? first grade? eighth grade? adult children of Brie loving mothers?

Nicolas Parlier has a flair for seeing the logic of science in everything. That's probably why he is bait for bullies and his seventh-grade teachers find him exasperating. He would love to runaway (run away is two words. Runaway is a noun) from his problems, sail around the world and maybe, become a legendary adventurer. (yea, me too, let's go)

His dreams may soon come true. His parents have found the perfect sailboat in St. Malo. The port-city where corsairs once roamed is home to Alistair Machant. The ruthless politician is obsessed with a long-lost treasure hidden somewhere on the rugged coast.

Everyone knows getting in Machant's way means trouble. But Nicolas stumbles across a clue, then looks for others as he tries to unravel the mystery. Can his "irksome intelligence" lead him to the greatest treasure on Earth? Will he be able to outsmart Machant, a man who fights dirtier than the cruelest schoolyard bully?

There's no running away this time. With help from his best friend, Alfred, and quirky, kid sister, Nicolas is in a race to La Cachette.

Would you be interested in representing this story? Well I'm interested in reading it, let's start with that.

Thank you for considering this submission.

Warm regards,

this is a good query letter. It gives us a glimpse of plot,the hero, the villain AND the conflict.
It's spare enough to make it easy to follow, and descriptive enough to entice me.

Now, let's see if you can write.


La Cachette

The house was quiet except for a noise that did not seem quite right. Alistair Machant dropped his keys in the antique tray by the door and muttered to himself. Wiping imaginary dust off his tailored suit and smoothing a silver strand in his perfectly groomed hair, he took the stairs at a stately pace. THAT NOISE AGAIN. Maybe it was the skittish maid.

As he reached the top step Elsa came out of the room opposite the library. Her starched cap quivered and her wrinkled face paled when she saw him. The teacup and saucer tumbled from her hands onto the polished wood floor.

"You fool! Why work yourself into such a fright because I've come home early?" He started to say more, but the old woman grasped at her heart. Her eyes stretched wide. She was staring at something behind him. Machant turned in time to glimpse a man in the doorway of the library.

"Who the devil?" he yelled. Elsa was too busy gasping and sputtering to answer, so he turned on his heels and followed after the intruder. The thief, SURELY IT WAS A THIEF, ran towards the French doors on the far side of the room. The man tossed aside the silken curtains, gave a quick twist to the brass handles, then leaped over the terrace. Machant crossed the library in time to see the stranger sprinting for the woods.

"Elsa, who the devil was that?" he shouted, irritated that the scoundrel had bested him. "What is going on here? Elsa, come here this instant!"

The old woman did not appear.

Machant bristled. He was not used to being ignored so he stormed back into the hallway.

"Elsa, you had better start explaining...." Looking down at the parquet floor, Machant studied the maid's crumpled form. He decided she looked like a discarded tissue. "You've already made enough of a mess. Get up from there," he ordered in disgust.

She didn't move. So he gave her arm a nudge with the polished toe of his shoe. Nothing. He sneered at her for being so useless then stomped back into the library.

When Machant spied the ladder propped against a bookcase he realized with a snap of clarity what had caused the noise. At least one mystery was solved.

He climbed a few rungs. At first, nothing seemed out of place. Then he thought he could see an empty space on the highest shelf where the oldest books were kept. Carefully he made his way up to get a better look. Yes, he was certain there was one missing. Next to the gap were the journals of his long-dead relative, Napoleon's trusted officer, ADMIRAL Gerard Machant. The books were still in perfect order, but the last one was gone.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT THAT DUSTY THING? HOW RIDICULOUS. Machant pushed his finger against the tip of his considerable nose as he tried to remember if the diary had mentioned anything valuable. There were only scribbles about the old admiral's life after the navy: managing business affairs, tinkering with experiments, visiting friends, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. No, he didn't recall there being anything even vaguely interesting ...except for the final entry. Nearly tumbling from the ladder, Machant realized that could be it.


oh yes, yes yes. Did I mention yes?
I like this a lot even though it needs a bit more polishing up.
I'd read on. I'd ask for a partial.
I love love love the dead maid pushed aside with a sneer. It illustrates this guy's character without a single bit of description.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 4

Dear Miss Snark,

AVERY'S STORY is a 92,000 word psychological suspense about a neighborhood feud that refuses to die. It's set in the fictional Pittsburgh borough of Kaiser Heights, where they like their sidewalks swept clean and their secrets buried deep.

Thirty years ago an illicit affair burned as hot and steamy as a rustbelt summer – until the couple's secret love child went missing. The passion turned violent. Before it ended, two men landed in the Allegheny Cemetery, and one woman took out a long-term lease in the Mayview State Hospital.

Now it's the thirtieth anniversary of the child's disappearance. Dr. Avery Graves, the eighty-three year old borough physician, looks agitated to his protégé, Rebel Figg. Avery paces his darkened den. Rebel waits. Avery's preparing to tell him about the feud that haunts him. Moments later, a bullet shatters the window of the den – and Rebel's life – as the man he loves like a father dies.

In Kaiser Heights, nothing is as black and white as truth and lies. Rebel's quest to write AVERY'S STORY pits him against the iron will of his uncle, the Commissioner of Kaiser Heights, who's determined to obscure his own father's duplicity in the crime, and the revenge agenda of the woman newly released from Mayview State Hospital. Even worse, it places him squarely in the middle of the escalating feud between Avery's son and grandson.

Thank you for considering my query.

Sincerely,

You can't expect me to take you seriouisly if you name a character Rebel, in Pittsburgh. Macon, Georgia maybe..but Pittsburgh?

This query letter is hype on steroids. You have a couple good starting points then you fly off into hyperbole.

Just answer these questions:

Who is the protaganist?
What dilemma does he face?
How does it get resolved?

Answer each question in less than 25 words. That's the skeleton for a good query letter. It may not be your finished version, but it will give you the bone structure you need.

If you CAN'T do that...don't query me. Your novel needs the work then, not the query.

AVERY'S STORY

Ever since he was a yard ape, Rebel Figg felt about as relevant to the world as the slag heaps out Nine Mile Run. The only thing he had going for him was his name. So he used what he had. He was Rebel, not Reb, and it was Figg with two g's.

The only person who thought Rebel's future was bigger than surviving an unfortunate name stood across the den from him that night. Dr. Avery Graves was dictating his life into a top-of-the-line, 256 megabyte digital recorder. Ninety-three friggin hours of capacity. Rebel doubted his own life could fill up a 32 megabyte cheapo. Maybe, if he could count all the things that didn't happen. Rebel drained the last of his orange pop – flat now. Tangy but fizzless.

Avery lifted the recorder to his cracked lips. He continued his message to his grandson, Ramón. "Will I die with a bellyful of regret?" He winced as he folded at the waist and sat. The lamp on his desk illuminated his project. The rest of the den – the three chess boards in play, the dust-free portraits of his favorite mathematicians, Rebel's fingers kneading the old, soft leather of Avery's reading chair – was in shadow.

"A legitimate question, I suppose." Avery sucked a breath through his teeth making his freaky whistling sound. "A legitimate question if one were to look only at the case of Tina Savage."

The dead girl rose again to haunt Avery. Rebel saw it in his eyes.

Avery pushed the pause button, turned his faded denim pupils toward Rebel. "Did you verify the changes with Wakefield ?"

Rebel nodded. Of course he'd verified the changes with Wakefield. "In your middle drawer. You sign tomorrow at ten." Rebel had lost count of the revisions. He'd gleaned a decent understanding of Pennsylvania probate law though.

The foyer clock chimed twelve times. Rebel sat forward. "Getting late."

"It's not late." Avery's head trembled as he pushed a scrawny finger tip along the edges of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette clippings he'd pasted onto parrot-green card stock. Thirty-year-old news. About the dead girl.

The tangy odor of the glue Avery used soured in Rebel's nostrils. It reminded him of the poster he made his last semester at CMU – his new methodology for finding the primary solution to the Four Queens chess puzzle. Three of Avery's mathematician buddies in his chat room declared it brilliant. Professor Ling didn't agree. The failing grade scribbled on Rebel's project was punctuated by the mock: You? Right!

Avery pushed out of his chair and shuffled to the lone window in his den. He reached for the heavy rust-colored drape, his fingers curling inward like a dying spider's legs. He pulled the fabric aside.

"It's eerie. So like it was thirty years ago," he said. His head was bent forward and it trembled so that the pale tip of his nose almost touched the frosty pane. "Come see."

Rebel bent over to look out. Avery's breath fogged the window. Rebel used the sleeve of his sweater to wipe the glass.


This is a mess.
Find a critique group, junk yard dog variety.
Listen to them.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 3

September 1, 2006

Dear Miss Snark:

Having read and enjoyed your client George Clooney's novel, The Facts of Life, I think we might have similar sensibilities. I would appreciate your assessment of my mainstream novel [name of novel] (80,000 words) to see if my hunch holds true. You're asking me to assess your novel? Does it have gold filagree? What you want is to have me read it. Just say so.

When you are involved in a relationship -- be it romantic, platonic, or familial -- in which your
partner can't or won't reciprocate, how long can you sustain that relationship before something snaps? In [name of novel], three women wrestle with this issue during the summer of 1992. Jane Stanton (14) dreads spending the coming summer in Daedalus Falls -- a
small, tourist-laden town in Ohio -- at least, until she is offered a job watching a young boy with autism. Her mother Bonnie (34) isn't thrilled either, since all she has to look forward to are visits with her cantankerous mother Elizabeth (72), stricken with Alzheimer's disease. Only Meg Newman (24), Jane's newly engaged cousin, views the season with any enthusiasm. But after her fiance is brutally mugged, will she want to marry a man who won’t leave the apartment to go to the altar?

oh dear dog, I feel morose just reading this.

Told in alternating points of view, the women's voices chronicle how anyone, no matter the age, can discover her own strength through loving another in spite of that person's weakness. It's a coming-of-age story for all three heroines.

oh double dog, yuck.

I was a finalist in the 2006 PNWA literary contest and placed second in the 2003 Best of Ohio Writers literary contest. I have worked as a freelance writer for several years, during which time I juggle my other duties as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and general toddler-wrangler.

and yet...here's hope. THIS is why you enter those competitions and send your work out to magazines. I was ready to write this off as a morose coming of age story, but here you tell me that someone else read it and liked it. And "toddler-wrangler" makes me think you might have some comic sensibilities.



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

Sincerely yours,

----

Call me Eeyore, Jane thought as she trudged down the sidewalk on her way home, her mood as grey as the day was bright. Nice day, if you liked that sunshine sort of thing. The last day of school always made her feel hopeless. Not that she liked school all that much, but
at least it was something to do in this town where the year’s highlight was the Pink-and-Green Parade, with the villagers all dressing in their Izod polos and sauntering down Main Street for the tourists. Summer's perky sunshininess annoyed her; it was just a cover-up for sweat and discomfort. With no job and no access to air conditioning or a pool, Jane looked forward to the
next three months with all the enthusiasm of a dog being taken to the vet.

Jane's hair fell into her face as she kicked at the pebbles on the concrete. She watched them skitter down the long hill. A group of boys from the middle school was twenty paces ahead. Random syllables floating back in her direction suggested that they were not exactly
debating quantum physics. Concentrating all her powers of wallflower-enhanced invisibility, Jane watched as they hooted and high-fived one another. One of them had probably farted.

The boys stopped in front of a small bungalow where a child about five or six years old was playing on the porch. Jane knelt down and pretended to tie her shoe so that she did not have to overtake them. Her t-shirt, two sizes too big, grazed the sidewalk. She didn’t know why the boys had stopped, but she knew this house. This kid was always on the porch, oblivious to the rest of the world, lining stuff up in perfectly straight lines. Some days, it was cars. Some days, it was blocks. Today, it was cars. The boy sat cross-legged on the floorboards, bangs in his eyes. There was something not right about him, doughy, like
a loaf of bread not completely baked through.

"Hey, kid," one of the boys yelled. The child continued to move his cars back and forth, back and forth. He did not look up.

(here's your starting point)
"Yo, retard! I'm talking to you!"

Still the boy ignored them. No, he wasn't ignoring them: it was as if they did not really exist for him, so there was nothing to ignore.

Jane, still kneeling, picked at a scab on her ankle. Just leave him alone. She contemplated turning back and walking the long way home, but figured she'd draw more attention that way than if she simply stayed put. And attention was the last thing she wanted from these
morons.


This has promise. I'd read on. I think the challenge of three points of view is huge so I'd be watching that closely. I actually think this might have more potential as a YA novel right now but that's probably because I haven't seen the other, adult, POVs.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 2

Dear Miss Snark,

A View from the Top is a satiric novel chronicling a year in the life of Alexa Dover, an ambitious and sarcastic twenty-three-year-old who has reluctantly accepted a position in the marketing department of a globally renowned software company. The company, affectionately dubbed the Factory by its swelling ranks of employees, has come to dominate its once-rural landscape, creating a modern company town full of competition, backstabbing, and gossip.

Alexa leads the reader through her corporate existence, from her collegiate recruiting experiences through her inauspicious opening days to her unprofessional colleagues and political manipulations. She rises and falls with her wit and honesty intact, and her
observations on the Factory's machinery makes her tale not only one of personal adversity but of the often-comical inner workings of today's technology industry.

I graduated from [Ivy League] in 2005 and have worked in marketing at [software company] for the past thirteen months. The novel is partially based upon these experiences.

Thank you for your consideration of my work.

Best regards,


Very few satiric novels are published in any given year. It’s a very very tough category. Satire tends not to backlist well. Novels with satiric elements fare better but you’ve got to have fabulous writing to carry it off.

Also, this novel has already been done. Max Barry wrote The Company and it’s front list this year. He’s set the bar pretty high.

These kind of “work place travails, isn’t corporate America stupid" novels from people who’ve been in the workplace for thirteen months set my teeth on edge. When I look back to the time I’d been working 13 months I cringe at how little I knew. Maybe that’s just me…but I’ll bet you a doughnut it’s not.


-----

They all lied. "Oh, such a great company. And it's so beautiful out there. If I had an opportunity like that, I would totally take it." They too had secured jobs, but in relevant and provocative locales such as Manhattan, and they could afford to be optimistically gracious in their assurances that I was on the fast track to success in the global corporate world which we had ostensibly spent the last four years preparing to enter. Their evident relief that another potential competitor had been neatly rendered insignificant by virtue of geographic and industrial exile made me cringe. I knew I had failed.

This knowledge was confirmed in early September, merely three months and several thousand miles after I had received my diploma – with honors, no less – on a glorious June day. It was new hire marketing training at the Factory, and as I stared at the distribution of schools to which the sixty of us had matriculated, I read state school, state school, obscure private college, state school times ten.

"We have the most selective hiring practices in the nation," recruiters had assured me. I, as a member of the upwardly mobile middle class for whom hard work and intelligence was rewarded with admission to a superior academic institution as designated by both reputation and highly objective rankings, now suspected this was false.

Ten months later, I find myself at a trade show in Boston with twenty of my organizational contemporaries. Ten of us are listening to the fifty-year-old woman whose office is next to mine complain about how infrequently she gets laid and contemplate ending her drought that
evening via an industry acquaintance with whom she's had a long-standing flirtation. Another divorcee, who functions as the executive assistant to our VP, is twenty feet away scamming on some suit. She is a few years older than me, and I am both horrified and fascinated by this scene. She catches me staring, and glares at me, and I can't hide a smirk as I turn away, knowing that if she sleeps with him, we will all find out and laugh about it for days behind
closed doors.

Ginny, the reluctant celibate, thinks I'm laughing at her. Fortunately, though she has power, I'm not in her chain of command. I give her my most disdainful look and announce my departure to the surrounding crowd. I've scored enough face time for this evening.

My manager decides to accompany me. "Have a good time, Alex?" she asks as we exit the bar in which I've been held captive with four hundred sweaty nerds for the past three hours.

"Sure," I reply. "I'm just exhausted. Long day in the booth."

"I bet you weren't expecting this much travel," she comments for the hundredth time since I began working for her.

In truth, I had no idea what to expect from the Factory, the world's largest technology company (and, as I've learned to recite enthusiastically, the number three global brand according to highly objective rankings). I am entirely disinterested in technology beyond
the consumption of entertainment. Two summers ago I was handed a plum internship through the connections of a relative concerned that my dreams of writing and producing artistically brilliant yet commercially successful films would lead me into yet more unpaid servitude with a former Hollywood lightweight constantly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy whose one-room office in Hell's Kitchen was accessible only via five flights of stairs. (did you even re-read this once before sending it? That sentence is 63 words with NO punctuation.)

This is a form rejection.

I was pre-disposed not to like it, and I don’t.
I can point out all the flaws but even if the writing had been good I probably wouldn’t have read much past the start.

3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 1

Dear Miss Snark,

Game Day is a YA book complete at 50,000 words, aimed at a mature teen audience.

It's tough to fit in when you're the new kid in a small, close-knit high school. It's tougher when you're a gothed-out boy in a black trenchcoat, eyeliner, and nail polish. And when some kid who dresses like you shoots up his school somewhere upstate, it's just about impossible.
(there's a hook--you've got my focused attention)

After the death of his father, Edan Donahue and his mother move to Sutterville. Though he knows it could help him socially, he refuses to tone down his look, which leads to conflict with the school's football star and bully, Jackson Armitage. Edan is befriended by some of the school's other misfits: a punk princess who hides her secrets behind rose-tinted glasses, a devout Wiccan, a stoner who does little more than take up space, a math genius who'd rather play his guitar, and a shy artist. Other than being outcasts, they seem to have little in common, but they gradually form a group identity that supports them all.

All of that is torn apart when Jackson is found dead, apparently murdered, the morning after the last game of the season. Suspicion falls on Edan, even from within his circle of friends.

Thank you for your consideration.



Sincerely,

A. Writer


Yup, you've got a good query letter.
You've got the arc of a plot without a synopsis.
Now, let's see if you can write.

Chapter 1

Game day.

The football players, following tradition, had all come to school in dress shirts and ties. They'd roamed the halls in packs, high spirited, making noise, slapping high-fives, pretending they didn't see the looks they got, imagining them all admiring or envious.

The cheerleaders were all in uniform too: short white pleated skirts, matching tops with a royal purple "S" emblazoned on the front, cute little white shoes. They'd traveled in packs and made noise, too: rhythmic clapping and chanting or random squeals.

But not now. Now the school was on lockdown. The halls were empty, or nearly so. A lone figure strolled between banks of lockers and closed doors. He wasn't impressive by his size or by his looks. Just an ordinary kid, puny by most standards. Invisible, unnoticed most of the time.

Now, they noticed. Now, for the first time in his life, he felt powerful. Tucked under his right arm was a rifle, used the previous autumn by his next door neighbor for deer hunting. There were extra bullets in his cargo pockets. His left hand held a pistol, heavy and warm. A variety of knives, all banned by the school's Zero Tolerance policy, were tucked into boots or sheaths strapped to his belt. Oh yeah, it was game day, all right. Just not the game they were hoping for.

There was movement ahead and soft sounds of weeping, and he moved closer. Three cheerleaders huddled in an alcove, the janitor's closet door they'd chosen as a hiding place already locked. Panicked, they didn't know where else to go and now stood with their arms around each other, shaking and crying.

They quieted when he approached. One of the blondes glared at him, the other hid her face on the shoulder of the girl with the black ponytail. He lifted the pistol at arm's length and sighted them. Life, or death? It was his decision to make. He decided, magnanimously, to let them live. He smiled at them. It would be in the news tomorrow, he knew. He'd aimed a gun at them and smiled.

After he was past them, he heard soft running footsteps receding behind him. One of them had called up her courage and broke for the office, to make sure they knew.

Oh, they knew, all right.

(here's your start)
He turned and lifted the pistol, getting her in the sights, and squeezed off a shot. It missed, but she fell anyway, fear tripping her up. She slid to a halt in a heap in the center of the hall and he stepped toward her. She shook with sobs. Wasn't this the girl he bumped in the hall last week? An accident, of course. Someone like him didn't deliberately touch a girl like her. He'd mumbled an apology and she'd looked at him like lint she would flick off her sweater, and then she'd moved on like he didn't even exist. They'd gone to school together since kindergarten, but she looked at him like he was a bug.


I'm guessing this is a prologue.
You don't need it.
Your story is the aftermath, not the shooting.
We don't need another description of a high school shooting.
We all know what it looks like, sounds like, feels like.

Your story is the consequences, not the action.

I'd send you a rejection letter saying so and offering to look at the first ten pages of revisions.

3rd SR Crapometer #99

Dear Miss Snark:

I am seeking representation for Precious Ghost, an upper middle grade novel of approximately 44,000 words.

When Carrie Jefferson hears mysterious nighttime tappings in her bedroom wall, her summer before seventh grade takes an unexpected twist. Their “new” old house was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Carrie’s bedroom is right above the slaves’ secret hiding place.

Andrew, a descendent of former slaves, helps her decode the tapping using Morse Code. She decides to share her secret with Trey, her gorgeous new boyfriend. But, when Trey and Andrew meet, Carrie discovers that not everything from the past is dead. And she must choose between illusion and truth. (some specifics here would help me figure out what the HELL you mean).

Not a typical ghost story (since there are no "real" ghosts), Precious Ghost deals with growing, changing, and discovering what a girl will and won't do when her core beliefs are challenged. (clunk) I would love the opportunity to send you a synopsis and the first few chapters of Precious Ghost or the complete manuscript for your consideration. (Thank you for your time and consideration is all you need to say. I know you want to send your stuff. )

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

Sincerely,


Chapter One
My life is ruined. Carrie Jefferson stared out the car window at the ancient house in front of her. It’s all Mom’s fault. She had to live in this stupid house. I hate it. Looking away, Carrie shoved the cage beside her toward her little sister, Lucy.

ok, what the hell?
"My life is ruined" is first person
"Carrie Jefferson stared out of the car window" is third person.

You're either missing punctuation or ..well, the other doesn't even bear thinking about. If in fact, she is THINKING this, then you need to say "My life is ruined," Carrie thought as she stared out the car window. Don't depend on formatting to convey your meaning. Lots of agents will take email queries now and you have to strip out all the formatting to get past the email conversions.


“Stop it!” Lucy exclaimed. “You’ll hurt Olga.” She put a protective arm around the cage. “Mom, make her stop.”
“Girls,” their father said. “Let’s be careful.
I would never hurt Olga, Carrie thought. But, she wasn’t going to tell Lucy. It was her own business that she loved Olga, too.
Something rumbled behind the car.
“Here’s the moving van,” Mr. Jefferson said. “Let’s get Olga into the house, Shortcakes.”
“Okay.” Lucy hopped out of the car, removing the wire cage; a tawny-colored guinea pig huddled in one corner. “It’s all right, Olga,” Lucy cooed. “I have you, you’re safe.” Then she yelled, “I get the corner room! Dibs on the corner room!”
“Yes, dear, we know…” Mrs. Jefferson said. She glanced over her shoulder at Carrie. “You coming?”
“Mom...” Carrie’s lower lip quivered. “Can’t I still go to Thornton? Please?”
“Honey, we’ve been all through that. It’s impossible to drive you across town to go to school outside the district. You have to be here in the afternoon when Lucy gets home. You’ll see Molly and Jo often, and in two years you’ll be with them in high school. It’s not like we’ve moved to the moon, you know.”
Carrie dropped her gaze, tracing the paisley pattern on her shirt. “It isn’t the same,” she mumbled.
“Carrie, come on…now.” Her mother’s tone and The Look told her further discussion was pointless.
She got out of the car and noticed the neighbors across the street peeking through their drapes. Carrie had the sudden urge to stick her tongue out at them. But, no self-respecting, almost seventh grade girl would do something so childish. Lucy might, but not her big sister. She did it anyway, hiding the gesture behind her arm as she closed the door. So there, she thought. I might have to live here – but I don’t have to be nice.
Carrie followed her mom into the house.
"This will be the breakfast room," Mrs. Jefferson announced.
Carrie figured she’d better not press her luck by noting that the kitchen table had been good enough for breakfast at their old house. She dragged her feet through that room, the kitchen and the “formal” dining room. (It looked like a plain old dining room to her.) Barely glancing out the French doors at the stone patio beyond, she went straight through the hallway and stomped up the stairs.
Carrie stopped at Lucy’s open door, watching her walk around the room; Olga cradled in her arms. Lucy showed Olga the closet, the window and window seat; explaining where everything would go when the movers brought them upstairs.
Carrie stuck her tongue out at her sister’s back, and then scuffled into her own room. She had a window seat, too, and that’s where she plopped down; elbows on the sill, her chin in her hands. Carrie looked outside.

If the house is a character you need to show it as such. This is telling, not showing. This is pedestrian, and your first paragraph has made me reel back in horror.

You're starting at the beginning. Dropping us into the middle of the story is almost always a better choice. Like when she first hears the knocking.

Form rejection.

3rd SR Crapometer #98

Dear Miss Snark,

Everyone wants to be a star. Dana Delacy is one. Dana never outgrew her dreams of being a ballerina when she grew up. Instead of going to school at her local public high school, Dana moved to New York City, where she lived in the dorms and went to the elite New York School for Young Dancers. While normal teenagers were frantically trying to find homeroom on the first day of high school, Dana was doing Pilates. She went to the opening night of Swan Lake instead of the Homecoming football game. But when she fell during an audition at the beginning of her Junior year and did irreparable damage to her knee, Dana’s beloved ballet school swiftly expelled her. (you know that the Dance season is summer, not Fall, right? Swan Lake is much more likely to be presented in June than November.)

Back home in Colorado, Dana discovers that all the grace she learned in ballet classes is useless in high school Algebra 1, and having perfect extension definitely did not equip her to open a jammed locker. Of course, that doesn’t matter, because Dana plans to move back to New York as soon as her leg heals. In the meantime, she’s going to try to experience everything she can’t experience at private school. She has an unfortunate encounter with a hot air balloon, befriends the world’s biggest klutz, and discovers a knack for twisting balloons into animals. In fact, learning not to dance is so much fun that by the end of the year Dana is no longer sure she wants to return to New York.

Learning Grace is a young adult novel with a chick-lit tone, complete at 65,000 words. It is my first novel. I have more than fifteen years of experience in the pre-professional dance world, as both a teacher and a student. Unfortunately, my most memorable performance involved a face plant into a white-feathered fan during Swan Lake. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Sincerely,


You're focused on events here when, as you know, ballerinas are mostly about obsession. This isn't a novel about algebra, this is a novel about a young girl either coming to terms with not getting her heart's desire, or, worse, getting it.



-----------------
There were no lockers. No bells. There certainly was no yucky cafeteria food. Despite appearances I did actually eat the food we were served – and it was fabulous. But the best part of going to the New York School for Young Dancers was that we never had homework or tests. We had auditions, rehearsals, and performances. Much more fun. Especially when I was the one in the spotlight.

The music crescendoed as I stepped up into position. Grande allegro has always been my strongest type of dance. For this audition, I planned to fly. My best friend Mei was just finishing her combination. She leapt effortlessly, like she was born with springs in her legs, and ended with a brilliant arabesque that put her leg up above her head. Much less graceful walking than she was dancing; she waddled back towards the end of the line. She paused by me.
“Slippery floor today,” she whispered as the very next dancer lost her footing midway through the combination and fell less than gracefully out of a series of turns. I was already counting down to my cue as she spoke. Rosin, which would make my shoes sticky, was on the far side of the room. No time to change my shoes, no way to change the floor, and if I held back it would ruin my audition.

So I danced. I started with a fast-paced set of pique turns, spinning faster and faster across the floor until the last one changed direction and I stopped dead in an arabesque balance. I held the balance until the split second before the music changed and then I was off across the floor a second time in a set of fabulous, flying leaps. Going into the final leap, it was flawless. I wish time could have stopped in that perfect split leap, miles higher than any other leaps performed that day.

But I came down again. And when I came down with my weight shifted slightly to the inside of my left foot. (here's your lead --->) There were two snapping sounds. One came from my shoe. The other one came from my knee. The next thing I knew, I was facedown staring at the honey colored floor, and my whole body hurt. I heard someone comment that they’ve never seen a leg bend that way. It’s not good when a dancer says that.

You're telling me how you feel, not showing me. Dancers can describe pain in ways that amaze me. You don't do that here.

Form rejection.

3rd SR Crapometer #97

O Great Mistress of Snarktitude, (ok, cute but no dice)

Arhian could have run away from danger, but instead, she chose to risk her life to deliver a message. A thirty-something widow most comfortable at her loom, Arhian Weaver doesn't look like a hero. But (here's your lead) when the death of her brother-in-law leaves her in possession of vital information, she risks a perilous journey to the headquarters of the Rangers, far in the North.

The Coming Storm is a 90,000 word Fantasy novel. Though the story stands on its own, there is room for a sequel starring some of the supporting characters. (deft way to handle this info)

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Me

No plot.
Not even a mention of an antagonist or a conflict. This is a bad bad sign.

----------------
Chapter One

Arhian Weaver sat at her large upright loom, intent on her work. Her commission for Ysingerd, Baron of Darhurst and Tetrarch of Ve Alia, was due to be finished in three days, and the fever that had laid her low for a week had put her behind schedule. Her strength had finally returned, but there was still so much work to do. She had already burned three candles catching up. (she should try burning them at both ends if she really wants to get stuff done)

She'd spent the day warping her loom for the final bolt, a plain-weave linen she could have done it without a problem when she was ten years old. (huh?) After dinner, she had come straight up to her workroom to begin the weaving. Now, her shuttle flew back and forth, and all her concentration went to keeping her rhythm, keeping her speed.

The heavy thud against the side of her house startled her so much that the shuttle escaped her fingers and clattered to the floor.

She held her breath, listening, but she could hear nothing but the rattle of raindrops on the roof, and the rumbling of far-off thunder.

She shook her head, and bent to pick up the shuttle. "It's nothing," she told herself. Her voice sounded too loud, and strange in her own ears. "Probably just a bear." That thought didn't frighten her -- her house was strong. It had been standing for fifty years before she purchased it from her predecessor, Master Miarra, and would probably be standing a hundred years after she was dead and gone.

She stretched, pressing her hands against the small of her back, and then re-tied the widow's cap she wore. Then she ran her fingers over her work, inspecting it for snags or loops and finding none. Just the feel of the fabric beneath her fingers calmed her, reassured her that order was restored, and whatever had crashed against the side of her house had gone away and left her in peace.

She'd done a lot of work tonight; her commission was almost complete. She was only mildly surprised by how much she'd accomplished; she often lost track of time when she sat before her loom.

Now, she was aware of the burning in her eyes and the ache in her back and arms. She shrugged to loosen the tension in her shoulders, and bent to pick up a tankard.

Something slammed against the side of her house, then she heard a long scrape, metal against wood.

"Great Weaver, protect me!" she whispered. "Something's out there!"

* * *

Jona Aberides drove the four-wheeled wagon, appropriate to his disguise as a traveling merchant, slowly along the backcountry road. The thunderstorm, unseasonably early in the summer, matched his mood. The rain that soaked through his cloak and formed rivulets on the canvas protecting his wares, had also turned the road into something akin to stew. Not that he minded; he had been cold and wet before, and he was in no particular hurry to reach Arhian's house.

Ever since he'd been ordered back to Darhurst, he'd been dreading seeing her again. What could he say to her?

He should have stayed with her longer, four years ago. Instead, he'd given her the news of Daz's death, and run like a coward. Though he'd been in the area twice since then, he'd always had the excuse of urgent business to keep him away.

He should have gone back, years ago.

He wished he had some sort of excuse, anything to delay him, even just a few minutes more.

And then the voice pierced the stillness. "You! Traveler! Stop in the name of Baron Ysingerd!"




oh yawnyawnyawn.
Static backstory.

You don't have to actually light someone on fire, but could we start with the noise outside or the voice in the wilderness or something dynamic? You just don't have a lot of time in a slush pile. Clue of the decade: even if you end up changing the novel later, give us some action up front. Your goal right now isn't publication. Your goal right this very second is to get and hold my attention past page one.

A Snarkling sent me the youtube video of Torvil and Dean in the 1984 Olympics recently. If you watch this, you see that T&D don't begin with a huge splashy throw-themselves-all-over-the-ice kind of thing. In fact, they are ON the ice, kneeling and they do the same move three times at a very slow tempo. Yet, you cannot look away. You don't have to know much about ice dancing to know this is special. If you DO know something about ice dancing you know this understated elegance is technically close to perfection, unusual, fresh and original.

So, when I say 'set someone on fire' it can be literal fire (always a good choice) or the fire of a diamond's brillance, or the fire of technical perfection, original style and a purple feather costume set to the sexiest music ever written.

I love that film clip because it reminds me that elegent execution makes ice dancing look easy. Only if you strapped on a pair of skates, grabbed the sweaty palm of Muncy Williams and tried to skate as a pair do you begin to understand just how not-easy that is.

Great writers make it look like the words are just there. You and I both know that is never the case. Your job is to make it look easy.

This one is a form rejection.

9.08.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #96

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a fan of the character-driven novels of your clients Author A and Author B. I hope that you will represent me for Mysterious Paris, a literary novel of approximately 65,000 words. (well you've avoided the cliche error of saying your book is like A or B--good). "Literary novel" isn't what you mean. It's a novel or it's literary fiction. However, I'm basically skimming here so don't panic)

Manon Roberts can't ask her mother for career advice after graduating college. Her only connection with her dead mother is through the mysteries her mother wrote, set in Paris. The novel opens in New York City at the opera on the eve of Manon's trip to Paris. When Manon meets Thierry, a young wealthy jet-setter, they are attracted, but repulsed by differing attitudes on fate and self-determination. Their paths cross through a series of chance encounters, until they finally hook up at a Buddhist service. "hook up at a Buddhist service" oh dear dog. The sequel to "If You Meet the Buddha In the Road, Kill Him" is now clear: "If You Meet the Buddha In the Road, Fuck Him".

In Paris, Manon receives shocking information about her mother's past. She feels betrayed, and wants to learn what happened to her mother. It is her mother's books that reveal the clues to unlock the mystery. Meanwhile, Thierry is frantically trying to break off his little sister’s relationship with a motorcycle-riding thug. (In Paris, they ride Vespas. Even the thugs) Manon and Thierry's investigations take them to hidden tunnels in an old Parisian cemetery, where they must act quickly to prevent an even worse calamity. In the end, Thierry is left in charge of his sister Isabelle, and can no longer travel the world. He offers Manon a job to help him expand his art collection. Is it just the late hour of the day, or does that not make sense on any level?

Although this is my first novel, I have worked many years as a technical writer. The National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, ran a series of interviews with me while I wrote the first draft of Mysterious Paris. (if they ran a series of interviews with you, that's someone else writing the article. That's not a pub credit for you no matter what. And it's meaningless for judging how you write.)

Please find enclosed the first page of my novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regards,




Inspector Jardin followed the sound of the distant footsteps. He was on the tail of the murderer, Louis-Robert, and did not want to lose his man.

Earlier, he had caught a glimpse of Louis-Robert entering the cemetery, recognizing him by his muddy red hair and royal blue coat. But Jardin lost him in the labyrinth of headstones and sculptures and was now closing in slowly. Crunch. He could hear Louis-Robert’s quick step on the gravel path. Jardin always wore sensible rubber soled shoes to avoid being heard.

A door creaked open. The steps disappeared. Jardin approached the mausoleum, a large low building with moss growing in stone crevices. The door swung shut. He followed inside. Flickering light from memorial candles broke the darkness of the corridor. He heard the sharp step of Louis-Robert.

Jardin rounded the corner with care, but the villain seemed to have disappeared once more. Impossible. This corridor ended with nothing but stone walls and monuments.

As Jardin passed the Monument to the Dead of Bartholomew, he paused. He looked at the edges of a door-sized block of stone. Only the size of the block revealed its purpose. An angel, carved in bas-relief decorated the door. In front, stone hands folded in prayer. Jardin wrapped his fingers around the stone hand. He traced the firm ridges. He pressed harder against the unyielding stone. The hands started to twist. Ingenious! This must be the knob! As Jardin pushed the door open into the monument, a musty odor of mildew and dust escaped. Stairs lead down into the darkness.

#
oh..it's the book. How clever.
Say so in the cover letter. Do you open each chapter with something from the dead mother's books? Say so.

A sudden and overpowering whiff of perfume transported Manon Roberts from the Parisian cemetery back to the Lincoln Center Opera House. (There is no such thing as the Lincoln Center Opera House. If you've been to the Met, you've been to the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. . If you've been to City Opera, you've also been to Lincoln Center. Getting this kind of detail wrong makes me CRAZY.) She twisted in her seat to let a gray-haired lady pass, her loose black velvet tunic brushing Manon's hand. Manon looked down at Jardin Catches a Murderer, not wanting to follow her friend Rosie, who couldn't sit still during intermission. While she held the book in one hand, she played with her necklace and read the familiar words. The jarring mix of melodies and scales, played by musicians preparing for the second act prevented concentration. Manon looked down, and down, and down towards the stage. She couldn't see the musicians, half-below the stage. (yes, you can, even from the nose bleed seats, in both opera houses.)

Manon and Rosie came to Massenet's "Manon" to put them in the mood for their upcoming trip to Paris. Manon loved the drama and the tragedy. She first read of the story in French class and dreamed of a passionate love that would last forever. She hoped for excitement; she wanted great things to happen. But she didn't know how to start.


I hate this device of opening a book within a book. It's the literary equivilent of a dream sequence. Combined with the lack of plot, the error in detail, this is a form rejection.

3rd SR Crapometer #95

Dear Miss Snark,

Hotel owner Ping Pong is a duckess on the move. She’s avoiding dealing with the pain of her father’s death, ignoring the wily charms of her ex-husband, and hiding from her mother and sister as often as possible. Unfortunately, her ex-husband has set up residence in a room of her hotel, her sister works part-time as her assistant, and her mother has just recruited her to host the 100th annual Duck Beak Bill Ball (DBBB). Her father is the only one she is successful at missing, and the one duck person she most yearns to see.

Donald Dewey is Ping’s ex-husband. A former con-man, with a chip on his shoulder towards royalty in general, he is the main suspect in recent threats regarding the DBBB. Intent on winning back his ex, he’ll do anything to clear his name, while doing his best to seduce her, and at the same time hiding a secret that if revealed, may make him lose her forever. (he's fowl!)

JUST DUCKY, complete at 80,000 words, is a mystery in a fantasy setting with a comic tone and a hint of romance. It is a first novel; however a chapter from the book was published as short story in the August 2006 issue of xxx.com

Please contact me by email, snail mail, or phone. Thank you for considering my story, and I look forward to hearing from you. (Thank you for your time and consideration works just fine. I could send you a smoke signal and you'd reply--one reason Miss Snark tries to keep from setting her hair on fire too often)

Sincerely,



Ok, this is weird weird weird.
However.
I love the Freddy the Pig books almost as much as I love my sleek new martini shaker so I'd read this.

Ping strutted down the street, moving to the beat of her own iPOD. Glancing up, she saw that the sky was threatening to rain. Sighing, she slapped a couple of buttons on the device. She picked up the pace, stalking the street as coolly and quickly as she could to the tune of ‘Fox on the Run’. After all, the rain may slide off her duck’s back easily enough, but her silk jacket and tails tended not to be so dismissive of precipitation.

Kicking the voluminous legs of her corduroys behind her, she reached her destination. Bundling herself and her pants into a section of a glass revolving door, she scooted inside just as the clouds let go of their tears to drench the sky and everything below. Ping untangled herself from her trousers and unplugged herself from her iPOD. She glanced around the hip, high-end hotel.

Duck-chicks and duck-dudes were either meandering or walking purposely around the lobby. Seeing that her lunch date had not arrived, she walked over and plopped into casually chic plush comfort. She hooked a leg over the chair arm and swung it lazily. She could perceive in a glance the purpose, intention, and mood of everyone within eyeshot around the room. Ping relaxed and closed her eyes most of the way. Head pillowed against the high back, she continued to survey the current population of the lobby of Hotel Higginbotham.

“Always working.”

Ping’s eyes flew open, all the way. She looked to the left and up at the tall drake that loomed over her condescendingly. Sarcasm matched sarcasm as she shot back, “You’re one to talk!”

Donald’s eyes twinkled, and he reached out to tweak her beak playfully. She slapped his hand away, and he paused, hurt. Seeming to remember their rift, he shrugged in what a less cynical person than Ping would have taken as regretfully.

“You still hijacking a room in my hotel?” she asked, with cool sarcasm.

His grin was reflexive, but it did reach his eyes. That was something Ping now hated about her ex-husband. His ability to find something to laugh about in every situation. Including the fact that she hated him and wanted him out of her life. Shrugging, he answered, “Not at the moment.”

At Ping’s risen eyebrows, he held up a hand. “Right now I have a business meeting I’m late for.” He seemed to want to reach out again, and Ping tensed. Reading her, he smiled again, and turned away.

She turned her attention from him, and scouted the lobby for trouble. Lost baggage, sunburned guests, anything at all that would allow her to take her mind off of him.


This is all tell not show. You're over explaining (she reached her destination)
You've got to take out the obvious clunkers like "the sky was threatening to rain". If you don't know why that is a clunker...Turkey City Lexicon is your friend.

Form rejection.

3rd SR Crapometer #94

Dear Ms. Snark:

Please forgive me if Ms. Snark is not the way you prefer to be addressed. I considered the formal Her Snarkness and the casual Yo, Snarko. After much deliberation, I selected the middle ground. (yea well, the middle ground isn't always the right choice is it?--here's your snarl)

Query---

Dear Ms. Agent: (snarl)

Wry and utterly confident, Mason LaCroix must choose between wit and weapon when his semi-estranged wife and her mother are kidnapped—on the same day—by different thugs—for different reasons.

LaCroix transports valuable or sentimental items for wealthy clients. Life turns sour when a detective tries to relieve him of $1 million in bearer bonds he is delivering to a wealthy widow’s sister. What is already sour, curdles quickly when he agrees to locate the man who stole business plans worth a glittering ransom from his wife’s billionaire brother.
LaCroix is in a race where waves of adrenalin and fear may be the tsunami which destroys his customary confidence.

I'm adrift in an ocean of adjectives. Perhaps you'd care to send a life raft.

Complete at 79,000 words, Double Take, blends suspense, humor, strong female characters, and a quirky romance.

My humor columns appear in eight XXXX-area community newspapers.

Thank you for your consideration. May I send you the complete manuscript? (no-but you can ask me to read the enclosed pages)

Sincerely,


First page---

The distinctive sound of a nearby gunshot splintering wood made me jerk. The second round jolted me fully awake and wary. After the adrenaline rush subsided, I realized I had left the television on in my hotel room. It was playing an old Clint Eastwood spaghetti.

I don’t brood about having been shot before, so my reaction surprised me. Caught myself absently rubbing the scar on my neck and wondered whether Caroline’s oft-expressed fears were in the back of my mind. The few scars I’ve accumulated nourish the root of her discontent. Which is why we now live in separate houses even though we’re married. I don’t like being apart, and I’m not sure she does either. But that’s where we are.

Shoved myself up on my elbows. Clock revealed it was 5:30 a.m. Reality wormed its way back in. Last night I had driven down from Seattle to Eugene. This morning my job was to pick up a million in bearer bonds from a wealthy middle-aged widow named Susan Allardyce. My task, mundane as it seemed, was to deliver them to her sister in Coeur d’Alene. (that's in Idaho for those of you looking in your Rand McNally)

The remaining slurry of adrenalin working its way through my system meant I wasn’t going back to sleep.

After my morning ablutions I donned my usuals, pale-blue oxford shirt tucked into khaki Dockers, and a navy sport jacket. I walked up Coburg Road to the intimate 24/7 plastic-and-chrome place where I’d had dinner the night before. Breakfast consisted of tea and rye toast, please, and don’t even think about pouring any orange juice from the pitcher in your hand, thank you. While chewing the toast, I gnawed on Dieter Lange’s comment that his client had sounded tense when she called to arrange transportation for the bonds.

Yawn yawn yawn.
Why you think it's a good idea to open with someone sleeping absolutely eludes me.
You're telling everything, showing nothing.
The premise of this novel wouldn't fly.

This is a form rejection.

3rd SR Crapometer #93--a partial for sure

Dear Miss Snark,


GRAVE MATTERS is the tale of two events: the world's most perfect wedding, and the world's most imperfect grave robbery.

It's 1977. Lesley Meier wants to make sure her sister Amy has the wedding of her dreams. Meanwhile, her uncle Leo needs to get out of debt, and if he accomplishes one small task, he's home free.

Leo, an unsuccessful conman, flees Miami (with a loan shark enforcer following all too close behind) arriving in Parkersburg, West Virginia in time to attend Amy's wedding. He hopes that the "Wedding That Ate Parkersburg" will provide an opportunity for him to recoup his stake. If nothing else, it's a place to hide. Then his sister April makes Leo an offer he can't refuse. If he can get their father's body moved from the wrong graveyard in Parkersburg to the right graveyard in Miami, April will pay off his debts.

Good thing Leo isn't above a little small time crime.
Too bad grave robbery is a felony.
Lesley already has to juggle her neurotic mother, snobbish in-laws, a lovesick student Rabbi, matchmaking relatives, and 300 wedding guests. That, plus the blundering Leo, two double-crossing ex-football players, a furious Rabbi, the loan-shark enforcer, and one newly unearthed casket equals a wedding that no one will ever forget.

Growing up Jewish in West Virginia gave me plenty of material for this 90,000 word novel. I've since moved to Minnesota, where I have completed several plays and screenplays. Unfortunately, my great-grandfather is still buried in the wrong cemetery, and the last time I checked, my mother's cousins were still planning to move it... one way or another.

Let me know if you want to read more.

Thank you for your time,
A. Snarkling


Now THAT is a query letter.
Remember how I told you I didn't like one word adjectives to describe character?
Well, if you do it like this, I do.



____________

"Amy! The last time I saw you, you were only a curly haired tot, trying to eat a jellyfish! And now, look at you, a bride!"

Lesley had only seconds to register a yellow and blue plaid sport coat before she was yanked off the door stoop and pulled into a bear hug. Her nose banged against a stringy chest, registering first pain, then the odor of cigar smoke a la Aqua Velva. "I'm Lesley," she said into the coat's depths.

The arms released her instantly. Lesley stepped back and nearly fell over a suitcase that had mysteriously sailed over the threshold, Greyhound tags still fluttering in the wake.

"Ah, er, Lesley! Last time I saw you, you were only a curly haired tot... frolicking in the ocean. And now, look at you... um... all grown up!" The man looked her up and down, from frizzy ponytail to battered clogs, then took out a cigar and stuck it in his mouth.

Lesley squinted into the morning sun and tried to figure out which one of the three hundred wedding guests had just arrived, exactly one week before the ceremony. Oi! Had she put the wrong date on the invitation? Her mother would platz when she learned that Lesley had screwed things up again! She already owned the reputation of being her family's worst prodigal since... "Uncle Leo?"

"That's me." Leo ran his pinkies across pomaded hair.

This? This was the infamous Uncle Leo? Wasn't he supposed to be some kind of criminal? "Tanta April says you never leave Miami."

Her uncle let out a barking laugh. "My beloved niece is getting married! Of course I want to be here. As soon as I got the invite, I hopped a bus, and here I am!" He lit the cigar, flicked the match into her mother's Rhododendrons, and stepped past her into the house. "Ah my childhood abode. It gets me, right here." After placing his hand over his heart, he glanced back at her. "Hmph. I could have sworn you were the one who ate the jellyfish."

"I was." Lesley quickly kicked the match under the garden chips and followed the trail of ash into the house, where Tanta April was emphatically greeting her long lost brother.

"Migulgl zol er vern in a henglayhter, by tog zol er hengen, un bay nakht zol er brenen!" If the Angel of Death wore a purple muumuu and threatened to guillotine his victims with a whisk, he would be Tanta April.

Uncle Leo ducked under the flapping whisk. "Did she just call me a chandelier?"

"Yeah. Hang by day and burn by night." Lesley was impressed. The worst Tanta April had ever wished upon her was a bellybutton plague.


If only to find out what a bellybutton plague is, I'd read this.